What’s Happening With Heathkit and Radio Shack? | Communiqué


Some interesting words from Lou Frenzel. What are your thoughts?

I feel it would be a shame to see the last   place that a kid without a credit card and internet can buy some parts with their allowance to tinker with.

It’s hard to get customers excited about electronics kits and parts when the employees don’t know a resistor from a transistor.

With the massive variety of DIY electronics and the bargain basement prices the market demands, it feels that a small chain store has no way to compete without the human value add.

It will be interesting to see if radio shack changes their focus.

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The circle of life… well sort of.

In my last post I was documenting the potential reclamation of the ECP5 from our rev A prototype. We carefully baked the part and then used it in a build. Things went well. This poor little part has been through a lot between two separate attempts at the CM, the reclamation process shown in my last post, baking, and one final reflow.

Impedance measurements after the build seemed to indicate that the part may be damaged, so we spent some time carefully inspecting and removing other parts prior to applying power. Today John applied power and validated that all the I/O pins on the expansion ports work! As John always says, you have to take your sprinkles.

As it does appear that some damage was sustained by the part we are not expecting to get PCI express or DDR3 working on this unit. However, we are busily making a few tweaks to the design based on things we have learned from Rev B. Hopefully more parts are on their way.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Some thoughts on flux

Below is a picture of the ECP5 we tried to have placed on rev A of Titan by a local CM. Recently during normal handling, it just fell off of the board. This could be good news if the balls are in good shape.

ECP5 from Titan rev A 14-20 A-E

So much flux! But the balls look to be intact.

Unfortunately it is a little hard to tell at present. While pondering if I should try to get a better look by cleaning the flux I ran across this discussion.

It was interesting to observe the two different layers of solder flux. Here is a picture after the initial cleaning.

After 1st cleaning - sample 2

After carefully scalding my fingers in some mild detergent, we get a better look.

After final cleaning

Ultra close up

This ball appears to be the only one that actually soldered.

Only one that seemed to solder - Ball A3

So, it looks like we have a pretty good shot at using this part on another board.

Stay tuned for updates.



The birth of a lab.

I have been a practicing electrical engineer since 2004. I figured a decade was long enough to go without the ability to ply my trade at home. A soldering iron and multimeter will only get you so far.

I have had my soldering iron and multimeter since college and love them. I have used many a soldering iron including Hakkos and Metcals. For the price and versatility, I will pick my Edsyn over and over again. The standard chisel tip has easily soldered mounting lugs and 0201 resistors.

Earlier this year I set aside a small amount of money to put together my lab. About what you might spend on a nice computer. I wanted to see what sort of lab I would be able to put together for this amount. Having had the experience of a low bandwidth scope hiding problems from me in the past I was not going to settle for a 100MHz scope. If you have been following my blog you have witnessed my love affair with the Tektronix MDO3000. Even the promotional price for this guy was double my budget. Coupling that with a few minor draw backs, like lower bandwidth, lower RF sensitivity (on the spectrum analyzer function) and the logic analyzer was not enabled even with the free analysis upgrade I decided to quit dreaming and get practical. Having standards, and a budget is hard. I could spend the next decade pining over the $20k instruments I can’t afford, hoping to save up for one, or I could pare down my wish list to what really mattered and compromise as necessary elsewhere to meet my budget.

I make no claims that my selection of equipment is magical or complete by anyone’s standards but my own. The beauty of electrical engineering is the seemingly infinite variety of applications, and thus the specification of the equipment required.

A lab has to actually exist somewhere. My generation loves to sit on the couch and work on their laptops, and I am no exception. However, this does not lend itself to lots of cables, large equipment, nor static sensitive devices. So I recently got my wife to agree to let me take over a closet in our house for my lab. It is only 5′ x 7′. It had a small dividing wall in it that she recommended I remove so I could fit my desk in it. That desk is a large corner desk I built from a pile of Western Hemlock Fir 2×4’s when I was in high school.

Closet?!?!? Why a closet? I chose the closet for a couple of reasons.

  • Location: It is isolated from my daughter’s bedroom and near the master bedroom. This way I can work on a project into the wee hours of the night without disturbing my daughter, and be near my wife who likes having me near when she is sleeping.
  • Isolation: I wanted a dedicated single purpose space that I could keep my 4-year old’s curious fingers out of my fragile and static sensitive projects.


My prioritized shopping list:

Spectrum Analyzer
Logic Analyzer
Docking Station


I think this post is as long as most would want to read, so I will relinquish text for pictures. Below is a picture diary of putting the lab together:



Tektronix TDS744A (500MHz, with DPX)

I decided to focus on this vintage oscilloscope and try to find one used in working condition with as much bandwidth as possible. I would have preferred 1GHz, but this guy was in really good shape, still in calibration, and the price was right. Only $550!


Agilent E4411B (9kHz – 1.5GHz) (Taking a look at the local radio stations)

This find was pure luck! I was looking in the right place at the right time! For a relatively inexperienced e-bay bidder I was very fortunate to win this bid at $8 above my budget with 3 seconds on the clock. It is a year out of cal, but been lightly used and well maintained. It only goes out to 1.5GHz, so I won’t be debugging wifi issues with this guy, but that’s not why I bought it. 🙂

Zoe at the analyzer

My 4 year old playing with my spectrum analyzer the day it arrived.

The closet a new beginning

The humble closet with all the “closet” accessories removed.


Demolition begins!!!

Demolition begins!!!

The white board comes home

A fresh coat of paint and a white board should do the trick. A 4×8 sheet of white melamine from Lowe’s for $13 fit the bill.



Moving in the desk!!!

Moving in the desk!!!



Move in day!

Move in day!


Welcome home


I have spent a lot of time researching test equipment the last year. And finally settled on some specs for used equipment I could afford that suits my needs. This week I was very fortunate to win a couple of auctions on eBay for a couple of items on my list that were in uncommonly good condition. This baby is the first to arrive. Now she just needs a name.