After the registers and the ALU, the program counter module was pretty easy. It is a 74LS161 4-bit binary counter connected to a 74LS245 8-bit transceiver. As with the other modules, the transceiver is only there to easily control reading or writing to the bus.

Using a binary counter IC to build a program counter may seem like cheating, but there’s no reason to make everything harder than it needs to be. The counter’s output and input are wired to the transceiver, the enabled pin is put high, connect the clock, and you’re good to go…

Well, that’s what the instructions said. Whenever I tried to run the counter it kept flashing “one”. After a few seconds of feeling crushingly defeated on what was supposed to be the easiest build of the project, I thought it felt like the counter was being constantly reset. I looked at the chip’s data sheet and saw that pin 1 is the clear pin. We hadn’t wired it to anything so it was floating. The pin is inverted, so I tried tying it high. Lo and behold, the counter now works.

I still need to wire up some permanent lights for the module. The ones in the video are part of the pack of lights I wired up for quick testing last time (or the time before that… sometime). They have resistors built in and just have a pair of pin Dupont connectors on the bottom so I can easily plug them in anywhere I want.

42 + 7 = 49

Now that I have two registers to store whatever (8-bit) values I want in them, what next? Let’s add them together! (Or subtract them).


The ALU reads directly from the A and B registers and computes the sum of those two values. It bypasses the bus and reads directly from the registers, whether or not they are set to output their values. The ALU has two modes, add and subtract.

In subtract mode (when the control line is brought high), it subtracts the value in register B from register A. Subtraction works by negating the output of the B register and then adding that negative number to A. Two’s Complement is used to represent a negative number in binary. This pretty much boils down to flipping all the bit and then adding one. Eight XOR gates are used to flip the bits (the subtract signal is the other input to the gate) and then add one by setting the carry bit on the adder high. The carry bit is normally used when using multiple 4-bit adder chips together to add 8 bits together (or 12 or 16… etc).

Building and Debugging

So far this is has been the most complicated part of the computer to build. This is purely because of the number of connections to be made and how much they overlap. If you’re off by one pin for one wire the entire output is messed up and you have to wade through all the criss crossing wires to figure out what is wrong. The problem gets worse when you have multiple wires in the wrong spot… which is what happened to me.

I learned two useful approaches to this problem

  1. Write out a table of all of the connections
  2. Use a multimeter to test for voltage levels in addition to continuity

Tabling Connections

In order to know which if a wire is connecting the wrong pins on two IC’s, you need to know which are the right pins. So after blindly staring at the forest of wires, I went back to the pin outs of the IC’s and wrote a few tables to track what I should expect to be where. I did them by hand in a notebook, but this is essentially what I have.

The A Input

The A register is simpler than the B register since it connects directly to the adder and does not need to be negated.

A Register Bit A Transceiver Pin Adder Pin Name Adder Pin
8 2 A4 Left 12
7 3 A3 Left 14
6 4 A2 Left 3
5 5 A1 Left 5
4 6 A4 Right 12
3 7 A3 Right 14
2 8 A2 Right 3
1 9 A1 Right 5

This basically just tells me that if I think I’m having an issue with the most significant bit in the A register (bit 8), then I need to check to see if the wire from the transceiver’s second pin connects to the twelfth pin on the left adder. Once I run down all the pins combinations to make sure that they are correct, I can be confident that the register is wired up correctly and move on to the B register.

The B Input

As alluded to above, the B register is a touch more complicated because it goes through a set of XOR IC’s as well.

B Register Bit B Transceiver Pin XOR Pin Name XOR Pin
8 2 A4 Left 12
7 3 A3 Left 9
6 4 A2 Left 4
5 5 A1 Left 1
4 6 A4 Right 12
3 7 A3 Right 9
2 8 A2 Right 4
1 9 A1 Right 1

The other input pins on the XOR chips were easy and didn’t really require a complex table. All of the B pins were connected to eachother and then the carry in bit on the rigth adder

Pin Name XOR Pin
XOR B4 Left 14
XOR B3 Left 10
XOR B2 Left 5
XOR B1 Left 2
XOR B4 Right 14
XOR B3 Right 10
XOR B2 Right 5
XOR B1 Right 2
Adder Carry In 7

And then the output of the XOR chips feeds back into the two adders

B Register Bit XOR Pin Name XOR Pin Adder Pin Name Adder Pin
8 Y4 Left 11 B4 Left 11
7 Y3 Left 8 B3 Left 15
6 Y2 Left 6 B2 Left 2
5 Y1 Left 2 B1 Left 6
4 Y4 Right 11 B4 Right 11
3 Y3 Right 8 B3 Right 15
2 Y2 Right 6 B2 Right 2
1 Y1 Right 2 B1 Right 6

One of the bigger mistakes here is that I wired the left XOR to the right adder. Not sure why I was so certain that was the right thing to do at the time but I did it consciously and certain that it would work out.

Adder Output

And now all that we need to do is wire the adder outputs to the transceiver.

Summation Bit Output Transceiver Pin Adder Pin Name Adder Pin
8 2 Left Σ4 Left 11
7 3 Left Σ3 Left 15
6 4 Left Σ2 Left 2
5 5 Left Σ1 Left 6
4 6 Right Σ4 Right 11
3 7 Right Σ3 Right 15
2 8 Right Σ2 Right 2
1 9 Right Σ1 Right 6

Using a Multimeter

The most straightforward way to use the multimeter to verify the connections is to use the continuity feature:

  1. Turn on the multimeter
  2. Put the red lead on one pin
  3. Put the black lead on the pin you hope it’s connected to (this is where the charts come in handy)

If you hear a tone, then the wiring is good. If you don’t, then you found a problem. Move the black lead to other pins to determine which pin the other end of the wire is connected to. Even if there was a tone, it may be useful to place the black lead on other pins to check for a short. This would mean that another wire connected to this IC is incorrect.

The upside of this approach is that it is simple. The downside is that it requires testing every connection. This is a pretty simple layout and it has upwards of forty connections to check. Another option is to do voltage reading to test which connections have voltage running through them. This is essentially the same as hooking up an LED in parallel to each of the pins to see its output. Set the multimeter to 5v DC setting, put the black wire to ground, and then put the red wire on the IC pin. I like to use alligator clamps coming out of the multimeter connected to jumper wires. That way the wires can be plugged directly into the breadboard and you can monitor voltages as the state changes.


The final component here is wiring up LED’s. I decided it would be easiest to read the output if I made more LED strips that could plug into the breadboard with headers. I’ve improved on the original design by using LED’s with with the resistors built in. This reduces the amount of soldering I need to do and makes the result a little more compact. Speaking of which, I also used 3mm LED’s instead of the original 5mm.





I’ve finished the registers for y project of building an 8-bit computer using TTL chips. I have built two general purpose registers (an “A register” and a “B register) as well as the instructor register for the computer. This step took a lot more time than the clock module. The main difficulties were cutting the wires to the correct size and then after that the thing just didn’t work. I couldn’t store or transfer any data.

What is a Register?

So what exactly did I build in the past few weeks? The computer I’m working on will have a certain amount of RAM to store information during the execution of a program. This information is both the data in the program as well as the program itself. For example, I can write a program that will add the numbers 2 and 4. The values 2 and 4 will be stored in RAM when the program is loaded into the computer. In addition to that, the program itself will be stored in memory. In a modern computer, the program would be stored on the hard drive, but it would eventually be loaded into RAM before it executes, and the data would probably be entered by a user. My computer won’t have either a hard drive or any form of user input. It will all just be stored directly in RAM.

Following the 2 plus 4 example, my computer can’t operate directly on the data in RAM. It can only add (or subtract) numbers that are stored in the registers. This means that we’ll need to copy the data from their location in RAM into either the A or B register. Once there the arithmetic-logic unit (the next part of the build) can operate on them. Basically, the register is short term storage for data being used very soon.

There are three operations you can do with a register:

  1. Write to it
  2. Read from it
  3. Clear it

Normally, you can’t easily inspect the data currently in the register. That would be boring and make it super hard to understand what’s going on at any given time in the computer. These registers have 8 red LED’s that will show the current state of the register.

Transferring data from one register to another (or to another part of the computer), that data is written and then read from the bus. The bus is pretty simple component that wires all the components together using 8 parallel input/outputs. Coordination is required so that only one thing is writing to the bus at a given time and that the component that wants that data is reading from it. For now that’s done manually, but wiring in that logic will be an important part of what makes this a computer.

Cutting Wires

Last time, I built the clock module for my 8-bit computer and I had a hell of a time cutting and stripping the wires just right. I could reliably cut the wires the right length, but then I couldn’t take off exactly 0.3” of insulation on either side using my strippers. I had two options: get good or buy more reliable strippers.

I went with the latter and picked up a set of Knipex wire strippers. These things are amazing. Set the length to strip, insert wire, pull trigger, repeat. The exact right amount is stripped each and every time. No worries about setting the right gauge wire, it auto adjusts. Pure joy to work with after fumbling around last week. I can now complete wiring tasks in minutes that would take hours without them.


They are a little on the pricey side but they will save me so much time and effort that they are worth it. I’d highly recommend them if you can afford it.

The Build


Each register uses :

  • 2 4-bit 74LS173 (register)
  • 1 8-bit 74LS245 (transceiver)

The remaining transceiver, OR gates, and adders in the picture will be used for the ALU.

The register chips are 4 bits each, which is why two are needed to store 8 bits total. They are wired together (clocks, read signal, output signal, etc) so that they can be used as a single logical unit. They are wired to always output their data so that we can see their state in the LED’s. That’s why the transceiver is needed to toggle writing that state to the bus when the computer needs to read from the register.


Each breadboard will be dedicated to a register. The top two will be the A and B registers, the bottom one will be used for the instruction register. The top two will be on the right side of the computer, the bottom one will be on the left. The transceiver chip will need to be connected to the bus (which will be in the middle) so it will be convenient to have that as close to the bus as possible (just to avoid messy wiring). Other than that, the three registers will be identical


Here we can see the connections keeping the pairs of register chips in sync with each other. The white wires (on the bottom) will be used as the clock input, the yellows are signals to read or clear data.


The rest of the work is to just wire up the 8 channels connecting the registers and transceivers.


After wiring everything up and testing it by trying to read off of a mocked out bus … Nothing worked.

I spent hours following the video checking and rechecking my connections. Everything looked right. Reading r/beneater had a lot of posts about how important resistors are to the project despite being largely omitted from the videos. So I tried adding some in series to the LEDs to see if it would make a difference. Yes it did! Everything works now (well mostly, I still had a few wires crossed).

Now my question was: how do I want to lay out the LED’s and resistors? There’s not a lot of space when it’s just the LED’s, how am I supposed to cleanly sneak eight resistors in? My first attempt was to wire one resistor up in parallel with all of the LED’s. After checking with Reddit, it became apparent that the brightness of the LED’s would fluctuate depending how many were turned on at any given time. That didn’t sound great so back the drawing board.

I thought I could solder a row of male headers to some protoboard and then add the eight LEDs and resistors. I’d need to add a female header on the side to connect it to ground. This felt like it was just about in my skill set, so I gave it a try.

I figured I’d make four of these for the three registers and the ALU. The first step was to cut the protoboard down to size and then sand the edges so they were no longer sharp.


I cut the first one by scoring it with a razor blade and then snapping the ends off and then filing it down by hand. It took a while but in the end I had a nice result. Too bad I didn’t account for all the space I needed so I cut that one too small 🙁. It was late so I tabled it for the next day when I needed to break out the Dremel for another project anyway. This time I quickly cut the ends with the Dremel and then used the tool to do a first pass on the filing. I still finished it up by hand, but it was much faster.


Turns out that the coaster my in-laws brought me back from a trip a few years ago is the perfect size to hold a PCB. I used that as a base and then filed the sides down to be nice and smooth.


It took some trial and error to figure out the exact best way to solder everything in place. First I soldered two 4 pin male headers to the bottom of the board. They were spaced so they’d fit directly into the breadboard and connect to the registers.


Next I placed the LED on the top of the board and bent the anode lead back up through the board to solder to the top of header. This may have been easier if I had done it first and then soldered in the headers.


The cathode leads were then soldered to a resistor that was placed at an angle behind it. The angle allowed me to line up all of the resistors and just solder them together in a line leading to the female header on the end.

This mostly worked (I had a bad LED in the middle I had to swap out) but took me all day to do the soldering and testing for one LED strip. I could probably do the second strip a little faster now that I worked out some of the kinks. Instead of tackling that project, the next day I woke up and bought a few packs of LED’s with resistors built in. This would at least let me make progress in my tests without having to solder everything first. And maybe I can come up with a better plan.

I bought two types of LEDs. One kind has the resistor directly in the housing. I bought the mixed bag of colors as well as another hundred each of the reds and blues. These are 3mm instead of the 5mm ones I already had. Worst case scenario, I can work them into the same type of LED strip but have it take up less space and not have to solder in an additional resistor. The other type has the resistor soldered to the anode lead in a long wire. I got the mix pack for these as well, twenty each of white, red, blue, green, orange, and yellow. To simplify testing, I crimped Dupont connectors to the ends of a bunch of these in groups of four.


And with that, I was able to test all of the registers and bus at the same time.


I recently picked up Ben Eater’s 8-bit computer kit. The entire walk through for Ben’s computer can be found on youtube. The idea is to build a fully functioning 8-bit computer entirely on a breadboard. This should be a great learning experience for me considering I’ve never built anything particularly complicated in electronics. The first step is to create the clock module that powers the rest of the computer. The clock he’s designed has some interesting features

  1. Speed control using a potentiometer
  2. Step through mode - the clock advances when you manually press a button
  3. A circuit to switch between these two modes
  4. Halting the clock by setting the halt line high

This is step 1 of the clock module, the variable speed portion. It uses a 555 timer to produce the square wave that powers the LED. That LED is eventually going to be removed from the board when the entire module is done, which is why it hasn’t been cut down.

Ben’s Video

The clock kit comes with pre-cut jumper wires that you can use. The drawback to them is that you can’t control the color for each length of wire. So I dug into the second kit to pull out the spools of 25 foot colored wires. I figure if I start with those wires now then the color coding will be consistent for the entire project. Not only that, but the red wires will be the same shade for the entire time.

That said, my biggest difficulty so far has been gettin’ gud at trimming the breadboard wires. Ben’s computer winds up being very neat and orderly with the wires. I’m hoping to get something close to that. I’ve tried breaking out my calipers to start measuring every wire I cut. That’s helped a bit. I’ve also tried bending the wires across the edge of the breadboard. I’ll keep it up and jot down any more notes as I try new methods.

After several hours of practice, I think I have a system.

  1. Cut a length of wire and strip some off the end (really doesn’t matter how much)
  2. Use the bare part as a grip as you pull off the remainder of the insulation
  3. Put the wire into the end of the breadboard, N-1 from the edge, where N is the number of breadboard holes you need the wire to travel.
  4. Bend the wire down 90 degrees exactly where it comes out of the breadboard (this ensures you leave the exact right amount of bare wire to go into the breadboard)
  5. Angle the rest of the wire going off the breadboard
  6. Cut a piece of insulation the same length as the distance from where the wire is placed in the board to the end of the breadboard
  7. Slip that insulation back on to the wire
  8. Bend the remaining bare wire 90 down, using the edge of the board as a guide
  9. Trim the excess wire just above the bottom of the breadboard

If you need a bunch of wires at once, measure out the right length past the edge of the breadboard and leave that piece of wire in. Then use that as the guide for other pieces you need to cut. There are eight holes at the bottom end of the board, so you can do eight wires pretty quick.

I used the above method to cut the wires for the rest of the work:

Manual Clock Advance

Ben’s Video

Debounced Switch

Ben’s Video

Switching Between Inputs

Before I got started with this slightly more complicated step, I sorted and labeled the chips:


High tech, I know!

Ben’s Video

Today’s build was fun. It took most of the day (I really need to get better at cutting wires to length), but I did a lot of other things in there like make dinner and watch an episode of Better Call Saul.

For all of the details on how this works, I recommend checking out Ben’s youtube videos. He goes into more details than I could.

Since we started working remote I’ve been asking my team 1 “Question of the Day” during standup. I started by posing the question at the start of the meeting, but have since switched to asking before the meeting. This gives people some time to come up with better answers. I try to avoid asking for “favorites” because that can put too much pressure on people to come up with the right answer. So instead of “What’s your favorite movie?” (which is definitely on the list) I’d ask “What’s a movie you’ve enjoyed recently?”

  1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  2. As a kid, what was your go-to routine for a sick day?
  3. Besides insects and spiders, what animals annoy you the most?
  4. Best movie that would be improved if all characters were muppets except one. Name the non-muppet character.
  5. Brewsters Millions: If you had to spend $10 M in one month, how would you do it? Like the movie, you can’t have anything to show for it at the end of the month.
  6. Favorite Movie
  7. Favorite Sci Fi
  8. Favorite color to wear
  9. Favorite lunch spot (when you were working in your most recent office)
  10. Favorite lunch spot currently
  11. Favorite quick service restaurant in NYC
  12. Favorite restaurant in NYC
  13. Favorite song in a genre you don’t normally like
  14. Have you ever broken a bone or gotten a scar? How’d it happen?
  15. How much wood COULD a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
  16. If someone made a movie of your life, what genre would it be?
  17. If you could be a cartoon character for a week, who would you be?
  18. If you could go back in time and pay more attention to any class in high school, what would you choose?
  19. If you could have an actual spirit animal what would they be?
  20. If you could have any job in the org for a week, what would it be?
  21. If you could magically become fluent in any language, what would it be?
  22. If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?
  23. If you could meet any living person for dinner, who would you pick and why?
  24. If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?
  25. If you could shop for free at one store, which one would you choose?
  26. If you could start a charity, what would it be for?
  27. If you had a personal assistant, what would be the first thing you ask them to do?
  28. If you had to perform on a talent show, what would you do?
  29. If you had to teach a class, what class would it be?
  30. If you left your current life behind and ran away to follow your dreams, what would you be doing?
  31. If you were a wrestler what would be your entrance theme song?
  32. Name a brand you are loyal to
  33. Name a fun historical fact.
  34. Name a toy you enjoyed playing with as a kid.
  35. Name one thing that was on your bucket list that you’ve done
  36. What are you kind of snobby about?
  37. What band would you travel back in time to see?
  38. What book have you read lately (it’s been a while since the last time this was asked, maybe you’ve read a new thing since then?)
  39. What celebrities have you met?
  40. What class would you want to take?
  41. What country is on your bucket list to visit?
  42. What do you look forward to about getting older?
  43. What fictional family would you be a member of?
  44. What have you done your entire life but are still bad at
  45. What hobby would be a lot of fun to get into?
  46. What household chore do enjoy the most?
  47. What ice cream flavor do you like?
  48. What is the best fruit?
  49. What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
  50. What is the most useless thing on your desk right now?
  51. What is the weirdest food combination you’ve made and tried?
  52. What is the worst fruit?
  53. What is your biggest pet peeve?
  54. What is your cellphone wallpaper?
  55. What is your favorite childhood vacation?
  56. What is your favorite family tradition?
  57. What is your favorite holiday and why?
  58. What is your favorite magical or mythological animal?
  59. What is your favorite or memorable childhood vacation?
  60. What is your favorite sport to watch? If you don’t like watching sports, take the question as broadly as possible.
  61. What movie have you seen lately (it’s been a while since the last time this was asked, maybe you’ve read a new thing since then?)
  62. What music do you put on when you want to get pumped?
  63. What song do you hate and have to turn off the radio when it comes on?
  64. What subjects should be taught in school but aren’t?
  65. What superpower would you want?
  66. What teacher did you have that you didn’t like? Why?
  67. What topic could you give a 20-minute presentation on without any preparation?
  68. What was a notable costume (maybe for Halloween) you had growing up or later?
  69. What was something you thought would be easy until you tried it?
  70. What was something you thought would be hard until you tried it?
  71. What was the first album/tape/cd/mp3 you bought?
  72. What was the name of the street you grew up on?
  73. What was the worst job you ever had?
  74. What was your favorite game to play when you were a kid?
  75. What was your worst haircut experience?
  76. What works of art have really made an impression on you?
  77. What would the title of your autobiography be?
  78. What would you change if you were CEO?
  79. What would you do if you were invisible for a day?
  80. What’s a book you enjoyed as a kid?
  81. What’s a movie you enjoyed as a kid?
  82. What’s a work (not necessarily here) achievement that you are proud of?
  83. What’s the first thing you do when you get home from a trip?
  84. What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
  85. What’s your “goto” joke?
  86. What’s your favorite Summer Olympics sport?
  87. What’s your favorite baked good?
  88. What’s your favorite cheese?
  89. What’s your favorite dessert?
  90. What’s your favorite smell?
  91. What’s your favorite sport to play (as usual for sporting questions, please interpret the term “sport” as broadly as you need in order to answer the question)
  92. What’s your go-to diner order?
  93. What’s your perfect sandwich?
  94. What’s the best or worst prank you’ve played on someone?
  95. What’s the most outdated piece of tech you still use regularly?
  96. What’s your drink of choice? (Either alcoholic or non.)
  97. When did you like the movie more than the book?
  98. When you’re having a bad day, what do you do to make yourself feel better?
  99. Where’s the most surreal area you been to?
  100. Where’s your favorite place to nap?
  101. Which celebrity chef would you like to fix you a meal?
  102. Who is one of your favorite (living) musicians?
  103. Who is your favorite athlete?
  104. Who was your favorite teacher?
  105. Who would play you in a movie of your life?
  106. You have a week to spend in a place you’ve never been before (travel not included), where do you go?
  107. You have to sing karaoke, what song do you pick?
  108. You have your own late night talk show, who do you invite as your first guest?

(Updated 8/18/2020 with 20 more questions!)

I’ve been working on a project to create a Bluetooth “keyboard” with arcade buttons as the switches. Of course I want the buttons to light up. And I’d like to do this without using too many pins on my microcontroller. Naively if I had ten buttons (which I do) that would be 20 pins for the buttons and LED’s. The board I’m using has 21 pins. So that’s doable, but then doesn’t leave room for a lot of expansion (I also want a volume knob for instance…).

Button Matrix

matrix diagram

The solution I looked at was well documented around the web. I mostly used this sample from Adafruit since I was looking for examples using CircuitPython. I used a pair of Adafruit’s STEMMA wired buttonsto wire this up. The two rows of five colored buttons mimicked my real world project so it helped to visualize what I was doing. Each button has a 3 wire JST connection coming out of it with a white, black, and red wire. The white and black wires form a circuit when the button is pressed. For each board of five wires (my row), I connected all the black wires to the ground rail on a breadboard to wire them together (the rail wasn’t connected to ground). The other board was wired to the other power rail. For my columns, I just paired up each of the colors (the two blues, the two whites, etc). I plugged their corresponding white wires to a row on the breadboard. I believe that the red button is intended to be wired to a pull-up resistor which I didn’t need for this project. Just so they wouldn’t be in the way, I wired them up similar to the white wires.

Then to connect to the board, I plugged the two rows (the power rails) to pins 6 and 7 of my board. The columns were plugged into 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. I pulled sample code from the Adafruit site and tweaked it to my configuration (2 rows instead of 4, 5 columns instead of 3, pin numbers, etc). The adafruit_matrixkeypad library does most (all) of the heavy lifting here.

import time
import digitalio
import board
import adafruit_matrixkeypad

cols = [digitalio.DigitalInOut(x) for x in (board.D9, board.D10, board.D11, board.D12, board.D13)]
rows = [digitalio.DigitalInOut(x) for x in (board.D6, board.D7)]
keys = (("Blue 1", "White 1", "Yellow 1", "Black 1", "Red 1"),
        ("Blue 2", "White 2", "Yellow 2", "Black 2", "Red 2"))

keypad = adafruit_matrixkeypad.Matrix_Keypad(rows, cols, keys)

print ("Start pressing buttons")
while True:
    keys = keypad.pressed_keys
    if keys:
        print("Pressed: ", keys)


And it worked. Almost.

Whenever I pressed any button, it would show up as if the corresponding button on the next row was also pressed. After some hand wringing and checking all of my connections I realized that my breadboard actually has a short across those power rails. After pulling out all of the connections, rotating the board, and trying again, it worked just fine.

button matrix wired

IC the Lights

Next I needed to get the lights working. I knew you easily create this type of output using shift registers. And as it happens I have about a dozen of 74HC595’s kicking around in a drawer. Problem is, I had no clue how to use them. I got lucky with some articles I happened to stumbled upon that had an example. Page 98 (according to the PDF, it’s 111 if you’re using the numbers on the bottom of page) of the Experiments Guide for Metrohas an article about adding “More LED’s”. That’s a good start for the wiring up. Only two problems.

  1. The sample code is in C not CircuitPython
  2. I want 10 LED’s not 8

Instead of figuring things out from scratch, I did a little googling and came across nuke66’s project which was pretty much exactly what I needed. Again, all I had to do was change the pins to what I had. The sample pretty much just toggled everything on or off. Controlling all of the lights at the same time is pretty easy, so why not something more fun? Let’s create a binary timer. Count from 1 to 256 (2 raised to the 8th) using the LED’s as outputs. So I made (minimal) changes to code. Sadly, I didn’t think to take a video of this marvel of modern electronics.

import time
import digitalio
import board
import simpleio

data = digitalio.DigitalInOut(board.D2)
data.direction = digitalio.Direction.OUTPUT

latch = digitalio.DigitalInOut(board.D4)
latch.direction = digitalio.Direction.OUTPUT

clk = digitalio.DigitalInOut(board.D3)
clk.direction = digitalio.Direction.OUTPUT

data = 0
while True:

    data += 1
    if (data == 256):
       data = 0

    # write to 595 chip
    latch.value = False
    simpleio.shift_out(data, clk, data) 
    print("sending: {0:#010b} {0}".format(data),end="\n")
    latch.value = True

Next up: light them up based on which button is pressed. The button matrix already allows you to attach data to the button object which you get back when you query what’s been pressed. Instead of a meaningless label, why not just put in the id of the LED? Numbering each LED with a power of two will let me simply add up the keys pressed and send that out to shift register.

keys = ((1, 2, 4, 8, 16),
        (32, 64, 128, 256, 512))

# ...

while True
    keys = keypad.pressed_keys
    data = sum(keys)

    # ...
    simpleio.shift_out(data, clk, data) 

That works except for the last two buttons which are greater than the default 8 bit limit of simpleio.shift_out. How do I wire in those two LEDs? I could just wire in a second shift register with 3 more wires but that would be more wires than it would take to just wire in two more LED’s, make the code more complicated, and be really dumb.

The designers of the 595 agree with me. As it turns out, you can daisy chain multiple chips together. The bad news: I have no idea how to approach that. After some more google I found a bunch of videos that were helpful in that they showed what I wanted to do, but unhelpful in that it was a mess of wires and not clear what they were doing. OK, videos out. Guess I’ll have to read to get the answer here.

Mostly I was looking for a good diagram, which is what I found on protostack. Following this I saw that all I needed to do was:

  1. Connect pin 9 from the first shift register to pin 14 of the second one
  2. Connect pin 11 on both chips together
  3. Connect pin 12 on both chips together

I had started off on a half size breadboard so I needed to tear down everything I had to make room for the new chip and LED’s. In doing so I forgot to tie the OE (output enabled) to ground. This had some annoying and confusing results. Essentially the output would flicker because nothing was telling it whether to be on or off. The output would be more reliable if I held some of the wires (which really confused me). This reminded me of last time when I forgot to include a pull-up resistor in a button. I’d like to say that’s how I discovered the problem. But no, I went the classic route of taking it apart again and redoing all of the connections. I realized I didn’t have enough wires to connect the pins to ground and that’s what I had forgot.

Now that I had everything wired correctly, I still needed to figure out how to control the additional input. If I tried sending anything higher than 255 I was still not getting my new LED’s to light up. Reading through the CircuitPython doco, I saw that the shift_out function has a default paramter of bitcount set to

  1. Well… I want 16 bits. Setting that parameter worked.


Here are some pictures of the “completed” project



Frizting diagram


All of the code can be found in the Day 12 pull request in my repo.

In my last go round I spent a lot of time mucking about with C++ to get things working. While searching through the Adafruit site, I came across a newer Bluetooth friendly device, this one capable of running CircuitPython. There’s even a tutorial for turning it into a Bluetooth keyboard. So I bought two. Due to Covid and the fact that Adafruit is focusing on producing PPE, it took an extra week or so to arrive. I got them this week and immediately started playing.


CircuitPython is a version of Python that will run on a whole bunch of boards. Anything in the Adafruit line that is “Express” seems to be able to run it. Some Arduino boards support it as well.

Installation is pretty trivial on the Feather Express I got. The Adafruit site has a pretty thorough explanation. Pretty simply though, you plug it in to your computer. It will install itself and then automatically present itself as a file system.


When that happens, go to the CircuitPython download site, download the installation for your board, and then drop that into the new folder. The board will restart and now the root folder will have Write your python there. Whenever you save it will automatically reload and run that script.

Hello World

The Hello World app is pretty easy (in fact it’s what comes in by default.

print("Hello World")

That’s it. This will just print “Hello World” to the serial bus. You see it by opening up the serial port and watching it. While you can use the Serial Monitor from the Arduino IDE, it’d be nice to no longer need that tool at all. Luckily, PuTTY can handle serial ports as well as SSH. First you need to figure out what port the device is connected to. If you have multiple devices they’ll all connect to a different port, even if they aren’t plugged in at the same time. Which is convenient since you can mentally associate a different port with each device. To determine which port it’s using open up the Device Manager and expand the Ports (COM & LPT) node. It will be listed there. In my case, it was port 12.

Looking up the COM port

Fire up PuTTY, select the serial radio button, and enter COM12 in the address bar. I left the speed at 9600 and it worked fine. Press connect and you’re now connected to the console output of your board. You may need to restart the program (just save it again).


I had some issues using vim, which was disappointing. Saving wouldn’t trigger a restart. I moved to Visual Studio Code. My preferred way to work is actually with both tools running, using VS Code for most editing tasks and switching to vim for specific types of edits. This actually works out pretty well. The only hiccup is that after saving in vim, I need to switch to VS Code and save it again if I want the code to run. It seems that the interpreter tries to evaluate the code before vim is done saving it.

Another nice touch is that any syntax or runtime errors automatically go to the serial output. For example, if you try to call a function that doesn’t exist, the board will stop evaluating and just dump the error out. Since you may not be looking at the serial output all the time, the board will flash it’s lights so you know there’s an error.

Back to the Box

Seeing as I already had a working set of buttons implemented in C++ on my button box, I wanted to try and rewrite that code in Python. It took me a couple of nights (and some frustration) to get it working in C++. On the other hand, it was about an hour or so to rewrite it all in Python. I had a couple of things going for me.

  1. I had better examples (including nearly exactly what I wanted) in CircuitPython
  2. I already compiled a list of all keystrokes I wanted to be able to perform
  3. Adafruit has put together a great set of libraries that makes the tasks I was looking to perform really easy

In addition to that, the feedback loop is super fast in CircuitPython. Write code. Save. Debug. Repeat. No compiling, no lengthy deploy process since it’s just a small script.

So not only was I able to bang out the code to get me back to where I was pretty easily, I was able to add the code to turn the rotary encoder (spinning knob) that was already on the box into a volume knob.

Today’s pull request has a bunch of files in it, but mostly because I checked in the python dependencies I need in order to get. I also included a couple of scripts that I wrote to just test specific things in isolation (like buttons or the rotary encoder).


The hardware side was a little trickier. First, these boards don’t come with the headers attached. So I had to solder them myself. This is normally a scary point for me, but because of another project I had been working on, I was a little more confident going in. In fact I took this as an opportunity to solder a bunch of headers on a variety of boards I had lying around. This went pretty well (no shorts!) and didn’t take too long. I made some mistakes, but was able to fix them all.

This is what the board looked like when I was done. The blue sticker is there to differentiate it from other types of boards (which have another color sticker) and my other board of the same type (which has a different number written on it)

Soldered Feather

And here’s a close up of the soldering work.

Close Up of Solder Work

My next problem was that the buttons seemed to be firing presses pretty sporadically. After about half an hour of frustrated debugging, I realized that the sample code I was using wasn’t explicitly setting the buttons to use a pull-up resistor. Adding the line button_top_red.pull = Pull.UP for each button fixed that! There was another way to handle this, plugging a third wire from the button to the 3.3v pin on the board. The STEMMA buttons I have for breadboarding do have a third wire, and I was able to confirm that plugging it into power would fix the issue. The reason I prefer the pull-up resistor solution was because I have no idea where I’d attach a third wire to the buttons I have. This is a hole in my understanding how buttons work. I’m fine with it for now, but will need to figure this out at some point.

At this point, I was at parity with what I had before but I really wanted a volume knob. I found that I would absentmindedly spin the knob on the box even though I knew it didn’t do anything. I really wanted it to work. The code was easy, and it was easy to test with my breadboard friendly rotary encoder that I had. But the one I had in my box didn’t have the easy to attach to header pins. So I grabbed a piece of protoboard, cut it down to size a bit, and soldered the encoder to it along with some wires.

My Solder Job

This is what it looks like from the top (and plugged into a breadboard for testing)

Rotary Encoder


It was a really busy day, but much more productive than I have been in the past. Between the speed of developing with CircuitPython and confidence built up with the electronics aspects, I was able to take on more than I normally would and be confident that I would finish everything.

With all of the Zoom meetings and working from home, I decided to tackle the task of configuring my buttons project to be able to control Zoom. The big things I wanted were:

  1. Start a new Zoom meeting
  2. Mute/unmute
  3. Enable/disable video
  4. Close my Zoom meeting (I hate fumbling with the UI and clicking multiple buttons on the screen to get out of a meeting)
  5. Share screen

Zoom has a list of shortcuts on their site. Most of what I want are easy key combos. For example, starting a meeting is command + control + v. Some of them were a bit more complicated though. Closing a Zoom meeting or sharing a screen both have shortcuts, but the shortcuts bring up a dialog box. Having to click more buttons on my keyboard or with mouse defeats the purpose of dedicated hardware buttons. Luckily, both of those situations have pretty standard flows. Closing a Zoom maps to command + w followed by enter. Sharing maps to command + shift + s then right arrow and then finally enter.


Basically I need to be able to support chords. This will take a refactor. As it stood, the code just had a giant switch block (really lots of if’s) that figured out which key set to send. Now I need to be able to send multiple keys per button press. It’s high time I create a command class. For lack of a better name, I’ll call it QuinCommand. It can take up to five different key combinations that it will play out in order. (get it? “quin”… okay so it’s my name too. It works on multiple levels.) It will need to be able to send out Bluetooth commands, so we’ll need to abstract that out to a dedicated class too. Sticking with my theme of picking bad names, that’ll be called Blue. This cleans up a lot of my main file. All that that’s left is to pull out all of the constants that define the specific key combos and comments that describe them and where to get more info on creating more. That was a lot of code that gets moved to CommandsConstants (probably the best name of the bunch…).

With all of this cleanup done a couple of things stood out at me. First, there’s still a lot of boilerplate code that I’m no longer using. Delete it. Second, there’s a whole sub-folder of code kicking around that was copy and pasted of this project. It confuses me whenever I open up the project. Delete that too.

Much better.

Relearning C++

It’s been ~20 years since I’ve seriously written any C++. And that was high school. So this entire refactor took a lot of googling. How to make classes, how to define a header file in such a way that you can include it multiple times. How to handle arrays or strings. That last bit kicked my ass quite a bit. I’d like to say I researched and figured out the right way to do things. But no, I just stack overflowed (the site) for a bit tried a bunch of things until something worked. I’m 💯 percent sure that it’s not the best answer. I’m trying to send constant length constant strings around, there has to be a way to do that without resorting to a memcpy. At the end of the day (and it really was the end of the day when I was working on this – I was tired) I went with a cludge that worked.

Wrapping up

I’d like to change the commanding architecture to be based off of an interface (or an abstract class with all virtual methods… cuz C++) and have completely custom logic for what happens when each command is invoked. It’d also be nice to wrap the command in a button class that tracks the state of the button press and handles whether or not to resend a command if I haven’t taken my finger off the button yet. Realistically, that’s probably not going to happen for a long while. The box works well enough for now and I have a couple of new boards on order that run python. So it’s likely that I’ll be porting this over to that, which should have a faster development feedback loop for me.

Writing all of this C++ really made me miss the simplicity of C#.

Here’s the code for this post.

I’ve finally taken the time to configure Windows Terminal. I’ve been a big fan of ConEmu in the past. It has tons of configurable settings and features. But honestly, I switched to it for the easier copy/pasting in the command line. Since the new Windows Terminal can do that, then I thought it would be worth giving a shot.

Below is my current configuration after about an hour of reading docs and fiddling. I like that I was easily able to find the Desert theme (which is what I’ve been using for vim for over a decade now).

    "$schema": "",

    "defaultProfile": "{0caa0dad-35be-5f56-a8ff-afceeeaa6101}",
    "useAcrylic": "true",

    "copyOnSelect": false,
    "copyFormatting": false,

            // Put settings here that you want to apply to all profiles.
                // Make changes here to the cmd.exe profile.
                "guid": "{0caa0dad-35be-5f56-a8ff-afceeeaa6101}",
                "name": "Josh Command Prompt",
                "commandline": "cmd.exe /k %HOMEPATH%\\OneDrive\\bin\\cmdinit.bat -new_console",
                "colorScheme": "Desert",
                "hidden": false

    "schemes": [
            "name": "Desert",
            "black": "#4d4d4d",
            "red": "#ff2b2b",
            "green": "#98fb98",
            "yellow": "#f0e68c",
            "blue": "#cd853f",
            "purple": "#ffdead",
            "cyan": "#ffa0a0",
            "white": "#f5deb3",
            "brightBlack": "#555555",
            "brightRed": "#ff5555",
            "brightGreen": "#55ff55",
            "brightYellow": "#ffff55",
            "brightBlue": "#87ceff",
            "brightPurple": "#ff55ff",
            "brightCyan": "#ffd700",
            "brightWhite": "#ffffff",
            "background": "#333333",
            "foreground": "#ffffff"

        { "command": "duplicateTab", "keys": ["ctrl+t"] },
        { "command": "closePane", "keys": ["ctrl+w"] },
        { "command": {"action": "copy", "singleLine": false }, "keys": "ctrl+c" },
        { "command": "paste", "keys": "ctrl+v" },

        // Press Ctrl+Shift+F to open the search box
        { "command": "find", "keys": "ctrl+shift+f" },

        // Press Alt+Shift+D to open a new pane.
        { "command": { "action": "splitPane", "split": "auto", "splitMode": "duplicate" }, "keys": "alt+shift+d" }

Interesting tidbits I stumbled across while reading the docs

  • Holding alt while opening the settings will open the default settings
  • Pressing any arrow key while holding alt will jump to the pane in that direction.
  • Pressing any arrow key while holding alt-shift will resize current the pane in that direction
  • Settings are reloaded as soon as you save the settings file. No need to reload tabs. This confused me while I was trying out different color schemes
  • Chrome-style shortcuts work for zooming in/out in a pane
  • Aero doesn’t work on my Surface3 🙀


It would be nice to be able to click on links in the console and have them open in my browse. There’s an issue open for that, so hopefully it makes it into an upcoming version.

Another ConEmu feature that I would love to see is the ability to open up a tab as an administrator The current workaround is to Ctrl+Shift+click on the icon in the taskbar to open a dedicated admin prompt. This is a bit more work than I’m used to, but most of what I’m adminning about for is to just run Chocolatey. I can make due.

Arduino, How-To comments edit

It’s been a while since I’ve worked on my Arduino project to create a Bluetooth keyboard. In that time I have been using my keyboard a little bit, but it needs some work, ranging from small tweaks to major overhauls. This post is to remind me how to do the small tweaks. Some of it will be very specific to my current setup.

The first thing I’m remembering, and this sounds really dumb but I had to relearn it, was that the Arduino needs to be on. I had assumed that merely plugging it into my laptop would have been enough, but nope. Fully powered on. Check. ✔

Now that the board is on, we can verify all of the settings in Arduino IDE, including making sure the correct board is selected and the correct com port is being used. For my setup Adafruit Feather 32u4 and COM3 are the expected values.

Select Board

Select Board

Select COM Port

Select COM Port

Now that the board is connected, to view debug output while it’s running you can open up the Serial Monitor with Ctrl-Shift-M.

My board has an guid of d7:63:b2:85:c4:24


Today I was able to complete the first fully working prototype of my keyboard. It has 6 16mm arcade buttons – two each of green, yellow, and red – runs on a 350mAh lithium ion battery, and is completly wireless. It doesn’t even have a wire to charge it since I didn’t have enough space to mount the port in the case.

Build It

Mostly today was a build day. I had most of the code in place, so all that was left was to assemble everything. First I made a template on paper to figure out the placement of the buttons. I wanted to make sure that the arcade buttons were placed far enough apart so that I could fit the power button on the side. After a lot of measuring and some fiddling I settled on the below layout.

Step 1: Create a template

To be sure the spacing worked, I placed the buttons directly on the paper. This was the third layout I tried. Also, I originally planned on blue, green, and red buttons. After seeing them lined up, the blue and the green were too similar in color, so I swapped in the yellow buttons for some contrast.

Step 2: Check the layout

To be absolutely certain, I created a quick mock up a cardboard box. The layout was just right.

Step 3: Check the placement

To transfer the layout to the case, I taped the pattern to the top and drilled 1/16th holes in the center.

Step 4: Place the template

Forstner bits were used to drill out the 16mm holes for the buttons. It took me a little bit to get the hang of drilling the holes. Sometimes the drill caught on the plastic and scratched the surface of the case.

Step 5: Drill holes

The wires took up more space than I expected. It would have been helpful to daisy chain all of the grounds across a common wire, removing half of the wires needed. Also, the rest of the wires could have been cut much shorter or routed around the edge of the enclosuer, taking up less room.

All of the wires terminate in a breakout FeatherWing.

Step 6: Wiring

The fit was tight enough that I didn’t need to mount the feather to the case. The wires held it in place with little to no movement when the bottom was screwed on.

Front View

You can see the power button on the side.

Side View


With everything assembled it was time to test it out. And it didn’t work. After a little trial and error, I realized that the keyboard would only work if my laptop was plugged into it via USB and I had the Arduino serial monitor plugged in. Looking over my code a bit, I see that I still had a line of code at the very beginning telling the board not to start up unless it detected a serial console. Removing that fixed the first problem.

Next, whenever I pressed the volume down or up buttons for a brief moment, the volume would go all the way to 0 or 100. No in between. It registered as way too many key presses. Adding a small delay at the end of the loop solved this problem.

Here’s the useful command I used to create the thumbnails for this post: magick mogrify -resize 33% -path ./thumbnails *.jpg.


Today’s progress is a bit misplaced in the “Pi Project” folder. I wound up using my Adafruit Feather 32u4 Bluefruit LE to emulate a keyboard. Since this is exactly what it was designed to do, it really wasn’t that hard. Which means it took me a long time. My goal was to use a Bluefruit LE UART Friend connected to my Raspberry Pi. That was beyond my current skills so I decided to take smaller steps. The Feather has lots of samples doing exactly what I want to do, so I went that route.

The plan is still to go back to the Pi though since my end goal is to make a keyboard that gets updates from the computer it’s connected to and I assume it’d be easiest to do that with a restful API. But that’s for Future Josh to work through.

Working with several tutorials and code samples I was able to create a simple app that sends custom strings of keyboard codes to whatever device is paired.


Below are the highlights of the application. First it declares the commands to send as constants, and then polls for button state and sends corresponding messages.

BLE Commands

Two types of BLE commands are supported, keyboard codes, and control commands. Keyboard codes are sequences of key downs (key ups are inferred by sending either the next code, or by sending a message with no codes). Keyboard codes are sent in a message that is up to 8 bytes long.

  • The first byte is a bit mask of any modifiers (shift, alt, etc)
  • The second byte is always 00
  • Bytes 3 through 8 are the keys to send

For example 08-00-07 is the command for pressing the Windows Key + D. 08 is the left Windows key, and 07 is the letter D (it’s case insensitive, if you want to have an upper case D, then also send shift).

As stated above, up to 6 keys can be sent at once. So to send abc, that would be 00-00-04-05-06. But then this would continue to send c repeatedly since we never sent the key up signal. To do that, just send an empty message with 00-00.

A complete listing of the keys can be found in section 12 here.

The other type of message that I’m sending is a control command. This is used to emulate media buttons like play, stop, and volume control. In my example I use it just for play (which will also pause). Adafruit’s sample code has a listing of some available commands.

Code Logic

Each loop of the main method polls the state of the buttons to determine which messages to send. It also records its state so the next iteration can either send the key up signal in the case of the keyboard codes, or to simply not resend the play command a second time (thereby pausing the music if the button is held down for more than a fraction of a second).

It’s all pretty hard coded now, but the idea is to have it evolve to be more configurable over time.

char CMD_MISSION_CONTROL[] = "01-00-52"; // (Left) Control + Arrow Up
char CMD_APP_WINDOWS[]     = "01-00-51"; // (Left) Control + Arrow Down
char CMD_SHOW_DESKTOP[]    = "08-00-07"; // (Left) Window + D
char CMD_VOLUME_UP[]       = "00-00-80"; // Volume Up
char CMD_VOLUME_DOWN[]     = "00-00-81"; // Volume Down
char CMD_VOLUME_MUTE[]     = "00-00-7F"; // Volume Mute
char CMD_F14[]             = "00-00-69"; // F14
char CMD_KEYS_UP[]         = "00-00";    // No keys held

void loop(void)
  int pressed = 0;
  int playPressed = false;
  if ( digitalRead(5) == LOW )
  if ( digitalRead(6) == LOW )
  if ( digitalRead(9) == LOW )
  if ( digitalRead(10) == LOW )
    playPressed = true;
    if (!playButtonPressedLastTime)
  if ( digitalRead(11) == LOW )
  if ( digitalRead(12) == LOW )

   if (pressed < 1 && buttonsPressedLastTime > 0){
    // send the key-up command

   buttonsPressedLastTime = pressed;
  playButtonPressedLastTime = playPressed;

 void printKeyboardCode(char keys[])

 void printControlKey(char keys[])


Close Up

Wiring is pretty simple for this device since it’s essentially made for this use case. I strung together 5 buttons with a common ground, and plugged each of the buttons into the pins 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, and 12. I have a Battery on order, and will wire up that and a power switch once they arrive.

I followed a mix of instructions, including Adafruit, and ElectronicWings to start playing with talking to and from my Raspberry Pi over a serial connection from my Windows Surface. I used a TTL cable from Adafruit.

Following are instructions for setting up communication between a Raspberry Pi 3 (not a zero) and a Windows laptop.

Setting up the Pi

First thing to do on the Pi is to turn of shell login via serial port.

  1. sudo raspi-config
  2. Select “Interfacing Options”
  3. Select “Serial”
  4. When asked “Would you like a login shell to be accessible over serial?” select no
  5. When asked “Would you like the serial port hardware to be enabled?” select yes
  6. Reboot the device

Next is to connect the cable to my Pi. My Pi was powered by USB already, so I didn’t connect the red (5v) wire to the Pi. Just hook up the wires up as follows, (or see the picture below).

  • Black -> Ground
  • White -> TXD
  • Green -> RXD

Wiring the Pi

Setting up the Windows Laptop

First step is to install the drivers on my laptop for the cable. I had the older version of the cable, so I needed the Prolific Drivers. There’s also a link to this from the Adafruit tutorial.

Now once the the USB cable is plugged into the laptop it will show up as a new COM port. To figure out which one it is either find it in the Device Manager or use the mode command.

Device Manager


Status for device COM5:
    Baud:            9600
    Parity:          None
    Data Bits:       8
    Stop Bits:       1
    Timeout:         OFF
    XON/XOFF:        ON
    CTS handshaking: OFF
    DSR handshaking: OFF
    DSR sensitivity: OFF
    DTR circuit:     ON
    RTS circuit:     ON

Status for device CON:
    Lines:          32766
    Columns:        112
    Keyboard rate:  31
    Keyboard delay: 1
    Code page:      437

Notice that the mode command will also conveniently print out the baud rate (you’ll need this in the next step). This information is also available from device manager too by going in to the port’s properties.

Open up the serial port in PuTTY, using the COM5 port found above.



Back on the Pi find the correct serial port. As I understand it (which is 90% likely to be wrong), on the Raspberry Pi 3, the UART port is going to be ttyS0 and the Bluetooth port (also serial) will be ttyAMA0. ls -l /dev will give you information about the ports.

$ ls -l /dev/serial*
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 5 Jun 22 15:12 /dev/serial0 -> ttyS0
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 7 Jun 22 15:12 /dev/serial1 -> ttyAMA0

From here echoing out a string in the Pi to /dev/serial0 will have it show up in PuTTY.

$ echo "hello world" > /dev/serial0


Power Button In Action

This weekend I focused on getting the GB LED in my power button to work. I needed to use an SPI PWM board from Adafruit to control the LED. You can see it working above. When the device is on, the light is green. Hold the button down for 5 seconds and it turns purple, signaling that when you release it the device will power down. When it powers down the light turns (and stays) red.

I have detailed instructions on using the PWM with a Raspberry Pi. A couple of highlights (mistakes) that didn’t make it into the post are worth noting here.

First off, I didn’t do a great job soldering the header pins to the board. I had too much solder on some of the pins, which resulted in a sphere on the end of the board that didn’t make enough contact to keep the pin firmly attached. Which is to say the pins fell out. Next, I realized that I had soldered the header on to the output side of the board, not the input, meaning that it was ready for me to daisy chain on another board… but that I couldn’t use the current board without soldering the other side on. A textbook case of Murphy’s Law.

All of these soldering mistakes meant it was time to break out the soldering iron and fix my mistakes. I resoldered the bad pins, and added another header to the CORRECT side of the board. While I was there I added a male header to expose the voltage pinouts. One convenient mistake I had made weeks ago was soldering a female jumper wire to the voltage pin on my power LED. With the new male header on the board, it was easy to wire this up.

Speaking of wiring, I used some rainbow tape to on the red, green, and blue jumpers coming from the power LED to keep them organized, and then plugged them into my breadboard, connecting them to the PWM board. From there, wiring up the Pi to the board was pretty simple. I used some more rainbow tape to keep those wires in order and make it easy for me to connect and disconnect the board entirely.

Next it was time to dip into Python to integrate the LED to my existing volume controller app. The code can be found in my Day 7 pull request. The majority of went into a dedicated RgbLed class. It doesn’t expose a lot of the features, but enough for now.


Prototyping with the Pi

Moving on to wiring directly to the Pi

PWM Module Wired Up

Here it is fully wired and turned on with the lid off

Fully Wired

Here are some quick notes on getting the 12 channel 16-bit PWM driver from Adafruit. (It’s not that different from the 24 channel version) As usual, Adafruit’s documentation was super useful, and they even had a page about getting it to work with the pi.

What is a PWM Driver?

A Pulse Width Modulation driver allows you to either connect a whole bunch of regular LEDs with just a few pins (and the PSI protocol). The 12 channel driver can support 12 LEDs. Additional drivers can be daisy chained on allowing near limitless LEDs. If regular LEDs don’t interest you, you can use 3 channels to drive a single RGB LED (for 4 total per module).

Software Setup

  1. Enable SPI. (
    1. Run sudo vim /boot/config.txt
    2. Ensure dtparam=spi=on is uncommented (or add it)
    3. Reboot with sudo reboot
    4. Verify it worked with ls /dev/spi*
  2. Python Dependencies
    1. Install python-venv with sudo apt-get install python3-venv
    2. Install pip with sudo apt-get install python3-pip
    3. Create a virtual environment for your project with python3 -m venv pvenv
  3. Install Circuit Python on the Pi
    1. Install Circuit Python with pip3 install adafruit-blinka
    2. Install the Adafruit library pip3 install adafruit-circuitpython-tlc59711
    3. Verify everything works by going into the python interpreter and importing the new packages (you shouldn’t get any errors)
       import board
       import busio
       import digitalio
       import adafruit_tlc59711
  4. Optionally save your imports with pip3 freeze > requirements.txt

Hardware Setup

  1. Optionally follow the instructions on Adafruit’s site to solder on headers so the module can be plugged into a breadboard.
  2. Optionally solder on headers to the voltage pins on the board. This helps wiring when it’s inconvenient to just wire the LED’s leg directly to power.
  3. Wire it up! Use the below table or image. Make sure that you orient the board correctly and that you’re plugging into the input side and not the output side

Wiring Diagram

The table goes from the top down on the pins on the left side of the module. When there are multiple pins to choose from, I have bolded the pin that I used.

PWM (TLC59711) Raspberry Pi Pi Pin Number
GND Ground 6, 9, 14, 20, 25, 30, 34, or 39
VCC 5v Power 2 or 4
V+ 5v Power 2 or 4
CI Serial Clock (SLK) 17

After this, plug an RGB LED in to any of the RGB pins on the board with the longest pin going to one of the 12 voltage pins.

Testing it

Fire up a python3 REPL and import everything from above and then start turning on some LEDS:

import board
import busio
import digitalio
import adafruit_tlc59711

spi = busio.SPI(clock=board.SCK, MOSI=board.MOSI)
rgb = adafruit_tlc59711.TLC59711(spi)

# Full Red, Green, or Blue (mix/match as much as you like)
rgb[1] = (65535, 0, 0)
rgb[1] = (0, 65535, 0)
rgb[1] = (0, 0, 65535)

rgb.b1 = 32768
rgb.g1 = 16384
rgb.r1 = 8192

rgb.red_brightness = 10
rgb.green_brightness = 10
rgb.blue_brightness = 10

Today was a simple day. I wired up the on/off button. Pressing it when it’s powered off powers it on. Holding it while it’s on starts a clean shutdown. My next step is to use the LED in the button to provide status (shutting down, on, release to turn off, etc).

I’ve wanted to have a proper IDE environment on my Windows machine that can execute code on my Raspberry Pi. Turns out that there’s a new VS Code extension that purports to do just that. Except if you read the fine print it currently only supports an x86_64 Linux-based OS.

But still, it’s worth keeping an eye on the Remote SSH extension. It’s new as of a few days ago and I expect that they’ll make improvements and allow more environments over time.

In the mean time, I’m trying out SSH FS, which allows you to treat an SSH host as a workspace. By default it treats the host’s entire file structure as your workspace, so make sure you specify a root. It’d be more ideal if you could run commands directly on the host. But you can always just ssh to the host in Code’s terminal.

Once the extension is installed, run the command SSH FS: Edit configuration to add a configuration. Once you’ve configured it (see below), run the command SSH FS: Connect as Workspace folder and select the configured host.

"sshfs.configs": [
    "host": "piz01",
    "label": "piz01 - PiProject",
    "name": "ssh_fs",
    "privateKeyPath": "$HOMEDRIVE$HOMEPATH/.ssh/id_rsa",
    "root": "~/PiProject",
    "username": "pi"


After working with this for a few hours it proved to be unreliable. When it was working it was great, but there were plenty of times when trying to set up the configuration was flaky. This resulted in not always being able to read the configuration which meant that I couldn’t connect.

In the end it was easier to just remote in to the pi and use vim.

Not only am I late with this status report for last Sunday. I finished getting everything wired up and cleaned up my desk with 3 minutes to spare before the season premier of Game of Thrones. There was no chance I was going to write up a status report at that point. Since then I’ve done more work so it’s not really a true status for day 4. Let’s call it 4.5.


I decided to shelve any work towards getting the BlueTooth connectivity to work for the time being. I was putting a lot of effort into that without a lot of results. My goal for an MVP is now to get a box that has a volume knob that works. The quickest route without too much throwaway work is a device that makes rest calls to a configured laptop running a webservice that handles the volume control. This will let me concentrate on getting the electronics up and running and the physical box built.

Towards that, the first thing I did was refactor out the SimpleButon and SimpleRotary scripts I had from last week into python classes and use them in a python script that calls a webservice.

With that done, I quickly transferred the proof of concept to a Pi Zero W. Or at least I tried to. For whatever reason, whenever I tried to do a git pull the command line hung. After some googling I tried a last ditch attempt of just updating the OS with

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Surprisingly, that actually did the trick. Now my only issue is that I never installed the prereqs on the Zeros. So a few apt-gets later, and I’m back in business.

sudo apt-get -y install python3-rpi.gpio
sudo apt-get -y install python3-venv

Once the code’s running on the Pi, I have to figure out how to get it to run whenever it stats. Some more googling and I find Pi’s documentation on rc.local.

sudo vim /etc/rc.local


Coding. Done. Linux administration. Done. Next up is actually making the box.

A few weeks ago I picked up a black plastic enclosure from Tinkersphere. To make it easy to expand in the future, I used the glue backing on the back of an extra mini breadboard to affix it to the bottom of the case. I had to take the power rails off first so it would fit in the slot.

Bottom of the enclosure with Pi mount and breadboard

Next, I use Sugru on the bolts of my PiBow case to affix it to case. I used the full assembled case to ensure that there was sufficient space for the bolts, but removed disassembled the case and left only the bottom plate and the bolts while it set. I’m actually pretty surprised it worked so well.

The Sugru is solid enough that it didn’t ooze anywhere it wasn’t supposed to. I kind of want to try the same thing with a glue gun since it’s a little cheaper and easier to have on hand (my Sugru was technically expired…). I just don’t think it’ll work as well.

Close up of Pi mount

Now on to the top. I used a 15mm Forstner bit to drill a hole in the top for the power button. Then I used a 16mm bit to widen it because I misread the size on the button.

I used standard drill bits to make a 5/16” hole in the side for the rotary encoder. This time I started with a quarter inch bit on Sunday, and then had to buy the 5/16” bit during the week. It was a perfect fit with the additional 1/16” inch.

Enclosure with holes for power button, encoder, and power cord

I couldn’t figure out how to cleanly get a small hole for the power USB cable in the bottom of the case. I went drilling a hole near the edge and then using my Leatherman to whittle the notch to the desired size. Worked well enough, but it wasn’t as smooth as the other holes.

Power cord hole

I needed to get rid of the ridges on the interior side for the encoder to sit flush and extend far enough out. I didn’t have any better ideas so I grabbed a drill bit a little larger than the space between the grooves. I used that to drill out some of the ridges and then went in with the blade of my Leatherman to remove the rest. Next the file on the Leatherman helped smooth out any uneven ridges. Not super pretty, but it worked; the encoder sat flush.

Hole for encoder with ridges filed out

Speaking of the encoder, I was concerned about how I was going to attach the wires to it in reliable way. I didn’t have any better ideas, so I figured now was a good enough time as any to learn how to solder.

Including burning myself (twice), it went much better than I expected. I cut off one end of some jumper wires and soldered them on to the encoder and then button. I was on such a roll I even soldered the head on to a TLC5947 from Adafruit. I plan on using that in my next step to power the RGB light ring on the button.

Solder points for encoder Soldered encoder and jumper wires Push button Push button

The button has a RGB LED in it so I color coded the wires. Red for the red channel, green for the green, and blue for the blue. The yellow and orange are for the button itself.

Color coding on soldered push button

During the week, a heat gun I had ordered arrived so I slipped some plastic shrink around all of my soldered connections and then larger ones to group the wires together a bit.

Thanks to some advice from a friend, I picked up some heat resistant gloves on Amazon and didn’t burn myself with the heat gun at all.

Soldered encoder with plastic shrink

With all the wires soldered in place. I just have to assemble everything again. I screwed in the button, and glued in the encoder. Then I remembered that the encoder had a bolt as well, so I attached that and it was much more secure.

I upgraded the knob on the encoder to a nice metal 1” job from Adafruit. It has a nice feel to it. Just needed a 2mm hex wrench to secure it in place. Which I got today, just in time.

Enclosure with button and enclosure

Now that the Sugru has had enough time to set, I reassembled the Pi case . . .

Mounted Pi

. . . and plugged it into the breadboard.

Wired up Pi

I had color coordinated the wires for the Pi with the rotary encoder, so it was easy to remember what goes where.

Wired up encoder

For now, I’m plugging the power button in randomly to the breadboard just so the wires aren’t loose. My next step is to get that bit working.

Everything wired up

And voila.

Fully assembled

I was surprised by home much I was able to get done in one day. It still doesn’t really do much except call a webservice that just logs that it was called, but it’s a start.

Here’s all the code on github as of this posting.

Pi, Raspberry Pi comments edit
  1. Login (username: pi password: raspberry)
  2. Run the wizard: sudo raspi-config
  3. Reset password (1)
  4. Set hostname (2, N1)
  5. Setup Wifi (2, N2)
  6. Enable SSH (5, P2)
  7. Change timezone (4, I2)
  8. (alternate method) Connect to WiFI
    1. Edit the supplicant file:
      sudo vi /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf`
    2. Reset the interface and test it
      wpa_cli -i wlan0 reconfigure
      ifconfig wlan0
  9. Fix keyboard layout
  10. sudo vi /etc/defaults/keyboard
  11. Set XKBLAYOUT="us"
  12. Reboot
  13. Verify by typing a "
  14. Updates
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get upgrade
  15. Install Softwares
    sudo apt-get install vim screen tmux
    sudo update-alternatives --config editor
  16. Install .Net
  17. Generate new SSH host keys (if you are using an image used by another Pi)
  18. sudo ssh-keygen -b 4096 -h -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key