Recent Blog Posts

05.26.15
Rapid Prototyping with Fusion 360 and the Othermill
by Randy Ting

At Mindtribe, we’re always exploring new economical ways to rapidly prototype our designs. When our electrical engineering team purchased an Othermill for routing out simple 2-layer PCBs, our mechanical engineers immediately started thinking about how to use the new tool for fabrication of 3D parts.

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward and well-documented process for exporting g-code for the Othermill directly from Solidworks. After some searching, we found a nice tutorial on Instructables that details out the process of exporting g-code from Fusion 360, Autodesk’s cloud-based 3D CAD/CAM tool.

A quick glance at the features of Fusion 360 revealed that it supports T-splines surfacing, modeling, cloud-based document control, simulation, and CAM all with the same interface. All this for the low price of $free.99 for students, enthusiasts, hobbyists, and startups. To see if this product was too good to be true, I tried making a creamsicle ornament and took some pictures along the way.

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05.04.15
Becoming an Unusually Effective Debugger
by Andrew Dupree

Recently, I was perusing the tech blagosphere when I came across a post called Unusually Effective Debugging, by Carlos Bueno. In this writeup, Carlos teaches us his philosophy for debugging code. It’s a great read, and concise, so you should definitely read it for yourself. But for our purposes, I’ll give a quick summary. Basically, Carlos argues that debugging is not about iteratively devising and testing potential causes of the problem. While this process works for the simplest pieces of code, for even a moderately complex system it quickly becomes unrealistic. There are just too many things that could be wrong. Instead, Carlos recommends that we visualize all the possible causes of the problem and then work to define tests that eliminate whole sections at once. In his words:

It’s about imagining a huge multidimensional search space of possibilities and looking for ways to eliminate half or whole dimensions,

 » Read more about: Becoming an Unusually Effective Debugger  »

04.16.15
Semihosting: A Cautionary Tale
by Jerry Ryle

Some of us were rambling about semihosting the other night and what a pain it can be. “What’s semihosting,” you ask? Why, it’s this.

In a nutshell, it’s a way to redirect stdio to the debugger. This lets you call printf() from within your embedded target and watch the output magically appear inside a console window inside your IDE. No serial ports, serial port drivers, or USB-to-RS232 adapters needed.

“But that sounds awesome! Why is this a pain‽” you interrobang.

Well, while it’s nice for development, it’s yet another thing you have to figure out how to correctly deal with for production. Semihosting, by definition, requires a debugger attached. Without a debugger attached, semihosted applications often flat-out refuse to run. Unless you expect your customers to have debuggers attached while operating your product, you can’t expect semihosted code to work properly in your customers’

 » Read more about: Semihosting: A Cautionary Tale  »

04.03.15
Visualizing network topologies
by Elisa Duggan

Recently I wanted to come up with visual analogies for different network topologies. WiFi infrastructure networks act a lot like the post office. When a device has a message they put on an address and send it to the post office to deliver. Messages can move in between any of the addresses on the network but it requires the post office or router to deliver them. If the router goes down the devices are not able to communicate.

 

With a direct connection like a typical Bluetooth connection you have a single channel of communication. I think of this like a walkie-talkie. Bluetooth is a little more complicated because a host device can have several slave devices connected but basically each connection is direct between the two devices.

 

But when I came to a mesh network I was stumped.

 » Read more about: Visualizing network topologies  »

03.06.15
Wreck-it Wednesday: LCD Teardown
by Jason Gonzalez

A Mindtribe tradition was recently resurrected. Teardown Thursdays was sadly forgotten, lost in the hustle and bustle of growing our team. Luckily a voice spoke up, and now it has been replaced with Wreck-it Wednesdays.

Before you get hung up on our awkward attempt at alliteration, I think teardowns can be a fun and engaging way of sparking a young, inquisitive mind. If you know a kid who shows some interest in engineering or technology, what better way to foster that interest than to explore the design and construction of household objects. Before broken toys are sent to the landfill, or before dead electronics are tossed into the ever-growing pile of e-waste, take a screwdriver to them. Open them up and learn about how they operate, or even why they are broken. It’s the perfect opportunity to ensure the next generation of engineers gets an early start. Of course,

 » Read more about: Wreck-it Wednesday: LCD Teardown  »

02.06.15
Introducing Flea, Mindtribe’s Fast and Familiar Bluetooth Smart Path
by Brian Cherbak

The Internet of Things is upon us. CES projectile vomited connected devices like a five year old on a road trip through the mountains. From a consumer’s point of view it means that your plants get the right amount of water and your belt tells you that you’re fat. From our point of view at Mindtribe it means we’re quickly becoming pros at Bluetooth Smart, formerly Bluetooth Low Energy.

We’re in the business of quickly building high quality products, so anything we can do ahead of time to be prepared for product requirements will get us closer to the first works-like prototype, the first fully integrated prototype, and ultimately production. So we’ve been doing some homework in the field of Bluetooth Smart, talking to vendors about the latest chipsets and finding evaluation modules to prototype and test with.

One of our favorite development kits is the LightBlue Bean by Punch Through.

 » Read more about: Introducing Flea, Mindtribe’s Fast and Familiar Bluetooth Smart Path  »

01.19.15
Getting Grounded: A Thermocouple Rite of Passage
by Kevin Mori

In today’s consumer product design world, thermal design is often the dark sheep of engineering.  The spider webbed phone screen – or even the waterlogged laptop on critical life support in a bag of rice – is a familiar sight in our tech-acclimated society.  But the blank screen with an error message, “iPhone needs to cool down before you can use it”?  Sacrebleu!

 

Testing thermal limits just doesn’t sound as glamorous as pushing processor speed or stretching screen size. And yet it’s perhaps the greatest limit to faster computers, quick-charging electric cars, and affordable LED lighting. I’ll save my defense for another post, but I urge you to become a better-informed thermal citizen by paying a little more attention to what’s hot (or not) in your surroundings. Nurture your inner engineer and grab a thermometer, or even a thermocouple.

Ah, the humble,

 » Read more about: Getting Grounded: A Thermocouple Rite of Passage  »

01.05.15
Chip Antennas
by Alison Thurber

As I start the new year and with it new projects both professional and personal, I’m reminded of how we here at Mindtribe don’t stop engineering when we leave the office.  We are engineers not only by education and profession, but also by nature.  We innovate, we create, we tinker, we build, and most importantly we learn.  In my new year’s landscape I see an enticing list of projects revolving around wireless devices and in particular Bluetooth.  My personal project as I leave the holidays behind is to make a Bluetooth controlled light for the wheels of my bike.  Sure, I could have bought a bike light or even decided to make a simple wired one, but what fun would that be?  I’ve decided to use a chip antenna and I’ve spent some time refreshing my knowledge on them.  So, in case anyone else out there wants to take a stab at a compact wireless design,

 » Read more about: Chip Antennas  »

12.22.14
Mindtribe Holiday Suggestions 2014
by Tom Hsiu

As our service to those of our dear readers who either are themselves technology, science, or DIY enthusiasts, or know a loved one who is, we present our second annual Mindtribe Suggestions for Holiday Gifts or Activities.  We’ll try not to repeat anything from our 2013 Suggestions. This is a collection of neat things tried or seen by individual Mindtribers which we hope will provide you with inspiration.

 

Play a real life Escape from the Room Game

We love puzzles, mysteries and adventure.  Escape from the Room games are real life challenges staged in specially set up rooms in which you participate as part of a team.  You have to find and decipher clues staged in the room which lead you to the ultimate solution of how to “escape the room.” Originally from Japan, these are part scavenger hunt, part Mensa test,

 » Read more about: Mindtribe Holiday Suggestions 2014  »

12.09.14
Prototype to Product: The Important Details of Launching Good Hardware
by Andrew Dupree

About a year ago, a couple of friends and I toyed with the idea of doing a hardware startup. We had a decent idea (I think) and a good deal of hardware prototyping experience. The three of us figured we could make a go of it. We put together an Arduino-based prototype, got some user feedback, applied to a few incubators… and that was about it. At the end of the day my friends had interesting PhDs to get back to, and I had just accepted a job offer from a great company called Mindtribe. So we shelved the startup dream.

The question remains – could we have launched a good product? Ultimately, we’ll never know. But after working at Mindtribe for a few months, I can say that there are roughly 873 important facets of making a real product that I had never considered as a fledgling hardware hacker.

 » Read more about: Prototype to Product: The Important Details of Launching Good Hardware  »

11.24.14
Thoughts on Apple’s WatchKit
by Greg Muscolino

Apple announced WatchKit last week, and with it has come a torrent of information about the Apple Watch platform. I’ve been poring over the documentation and playing with the Xcode 6.2 and iOS 8.2 betas ever since, learning as much as I can. It’s especially important for us at Mindtribe to be mindful of how new technologies impact our capabilities and the kinds of products that we and our clients can create for users. It’s with that mindset that I’ve been considering WatchKit, and have come to a few conclusions:

  • Apple Watch is going to be heavily dependent on apps adopting modern iOS8 technologies. If you as an app maker aren’t supporting them yet, you should probably start now.
  • The WatchKit APIs are representative of how resource constrained the Apple Watch will be. It’s important to understand what the WatchKit technologies are,

 » Read more about: Thoughts on Apple’s WatchKit  »

11.06.14
When Engineers Hack
by Brian Cherbak

I hear the word “hack” a lot these days. The concept of “life hacks” has gone so out of control that people are opening beer bottles with bananas—crazy!

IDEO Labs engineer Mark Harrison wrote an article last spring about his four all-time favorite workarounds, and we loved reading it here at Mindtribe. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the article was his use of the word “workarounds”. Why didn’t he call them hacks? Why didn’t he just call them “clever engineering solutions”? It’s got me thinking about the work we do as engineers: is engineering just hacking? Is hacking a subset of engineering?

 » Read more about: When Engineers Hack  »

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