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Page updated Friday
26th 2010f March 2010
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South Australian Microprocessor Group Incorporated

  • ELECTRONICS
  • ROBOTICS
  • SOFTWARE
  • HARDWARE
  • ARTIFICIAL INTELIGENCE
  • COMPUTER LANGUAGES
  • MICROPROCESSORS
  • & ASSORTED TECHNOLOGY

Last Update: 24 March, 2010.

COMING EVENTS:

FRIDAY 9 APRIL 2010 starting 7:00pm at WEA "Cottage B" 223 Angas St Adelaide - CROSSWORD PUZZLES, SODUKO, ETC. John Stevens has been writing software to generate word and number puzzles for over 18 years and is known world-wide for his puzzles that feature daily in much of the world's printed media. John's first version ran under DOS and was known as The Daily Crossword. That led to Windows and MacIntosh versions called Crossword Express. The latest Java offering is called Magnum Opus that John will concentrate on for most of his presentation. John will also tell you how you can download Magnum Opus free to try for yourself. John is an engineer with an extensive background in telecommunications' network design, construction and operation.

FRIDAY 14 MAY 2010 starting 7:00pm VISIT TO THE NEW HINDMARSH STUDIOS OF RADIO 5MBS. We have been invited by the manager, John Ingham, to visit the new Hindmarsh studios of Radio 5MBS (99.9MHz) for our May meeting. You will remember that we previously visited 5MBS at their former Hutt St Adelaide premises and marvelled at how they had somehow managed to shoehorn their entire operation into such a small space. Well, they have a lot more space now and are very happy to invite us to see it. More details of the station can be seen on http://www.5mbs.com/ Maps and parking information will follow shortly.

FUTURE MEETING TOPICS:

A look at some of the works of Claude Shannon. Other items coming up soon are: , GPS, MIDI, Digital Radio Broadcasting (DRB), CD & DVD format standards.Python Programming, Aircraft Positioning System (ADSB), and Bluetooth.

SPECIAL ITEMS:

BENCHMARK TEST: A number of members who attended the AGM had tried at home the Richards' benchmark test in Windows and Linux. The Python script can be obtained here and then run from the command line: "python richards.py". Results were in the range 400 mS to 1100 mS (lowest numbers indicate fastest CPUs.) We expect to use Python for more projects during the year.

PAST EVENT REPORTS:

FRIDAY MARCH 12, starting 7:00pm at WEA "Cottage B" 223 Angas St Adelaide - RISING SUN PICTURES. This was a landmark meeting with Ian Cope, Communications Manager, Rising Sun Pictures with a degree in Design (Visual Communication) from the University of Technology Sydney presenting and describing the Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) and Special Effects (sfx) production methods used by his company for such films as the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter franchise The Goblet of Fire, The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Watchmen", "Australia", "Prince Caspian", "28 Weeks Later," "Blood Diamond", "Superman Returns", Terminator Salvation, and "Batman Begins". Presently RSP are working on more of the highly successful Harry Potter series The Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2, and Peter Weir's The Way Back. Rising Sun's filmography has now grown to exceed sixty feature films. You can see more, including a demo reel, at http://www.rsp.com.au/news.htm

Ian's presentation generated a lot of interest and intense questioning from an enthusiastic but fairly depleted audience. (The audience was smaller than usual due to the Arts Festival, car racing and other concurrent events. We might have to review having meetings in future that coincide with those other events in March.)

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 12 - Annual General Meeting. The only changes were to fill a committee and the auditor vacancies. The program for 2010 has got off to a good start with Rising Sun Pictures in March and a visit to radio station 5MBS 99.9MHz FM at their brand new very spacious studios at Hindmarsh and a talk by an Adelaide Hills software developer who produces the software that is used by most daily newspapers world-wide to produce crossword and Soduko puzzles.

Also at the January meeting was a prototype of a web server that Adam Webb has assembled. This unit is along the lines of one featured recently in a local electronics magazine. Its main components are a PIC chip, an Ethernet controller, a MAC chip, and an SD Flash memory card. It holds many web pages (only limited by the capacity of the SD card), can read analog voltages and read/write to digital I/O ports. It only consumes 1 Watt so it could be left permanently on-line at very low cost. A lot of interest was generated by Adam's demo.

JANUARY 2010 - NO JANUARY MEETING as usual.

FRIDAY DECEMBER 4 - SHORT TALKS/DEMOS - We had an aggregate of some shorter items that occupied about 15 to 30 minutes each. (We hope that the advertised DAB+ talk might be arranged for 2010 when the invited speaker is not so flat out.) Instead, the items discussed were fixing radio/TV interference from all new switch-mode power supplies, a clever height measuring device that combines a few simple measurements with a spreadsheet, intro to a local software developer's Crossword, Sudoku, etc generator/solver (with hopefully a full talk by the developer in 2010), and what the CSIRO WiFi patent is (see further down).

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 13 - VIDEO PROCESSING - Howard Harvey discussed and demonstrated the use of video editing and processing to produce very professional results from several digital video sources and formats using Corel's Ulead video editing software. A lot of you were trying to copy down some of the details in the semi-darkness, so Howard has sent on the Power Point slides to make sure that you get the details correctly. Slides in Power Point and in pdf. Obviously there is a lot of interest in video processing so look forward to more soon.

FRIDAY OCTOBER 9 - Meeting was presented by Thomas Sprinkmeier and discussed Arduino micro kits. A pdf of the talk can be downloaded here (including useful links an contact email address). It was a very interesting talk about a very impressive microcontroler development system, thanks Thomas for a great talk especially at such short notice. More info; playground, bits available from littlebird. Another interesting site by Jonathan Oxer is here, well worth a look.

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 11 - We discussed a number of items that have emerged recently. The first item was a look at the fascinating new operating system, Kolibri available as a live CD iso download. It looks roughly like most operating systems with all the usual features, but at just under 3 MB (can you believe it!) it is by far the smallest O/S ever and it runs more than 50 times faster than any other O/S, especially Windows. It is only early days yet, but it could be a good candidate for embedded systems and phones where size, speed, battery consumption and performance with minimal hardware is vital. It is entirely written in assembler and comes from a Russian team. We also had a quick look at some of the huge number of features of Linux's ffmpeg for video processing. We had a brief look at cyber attacks and privacy invasions linked to all those free email services, we had a look at Lagrangian Points (see Wikipedia) that appear in scifi and are now actually applied in space, we had a quick intro to digital broadcasting (DAB+ and DRM), and we had a Science Week report. There were a number of items left over for other meetings.

FRIDAY AUGUST 14 - REMOTE CONTROLLED MODELS - Adam Webb showed/demoed some components and fully operational remote controlled model racing cars and multi degrees of freedom arms. This was further to Cliff Hignett's presentation in July - see "IDEAS FOR KIDS WORKSHOPS" report below. It was an opportunity to discuss ideas, see some working models. Vehicles and robots that Adam demoed were:- Microbric Viper http://www.microbric.com.au/
- Real Robots two robots
(both of the above as shown by Cliff)
- Lynxmotion hexapod (6 legged walker)
- Lego Mindstorms.

FRIDAY JULY 10 - THERE WERE TWO PRESENTATIONS -

(1) IDEAS FOR KIDS WORKSHOPS - Disillusioned by the direction modern education is taking and disappointed by the lack of exposure and appeal that there is for electronics to kids these days, Cliff Hignett presented some concepts to expand on the idea of the PICAXE kits that we have presented several times to the kids at the Hindmarsh Science Centre. Cliff thinks there is a good opportunity to improve on model car racing by introducing electronic intelligence to replace the real-time human interactive component by making the cars fully self-controlled and auto-responsive to their environment including other cars. Such behaviour is seen "virtually" in many computer games, but so far not seen in the "real world" even though there are a number of venues set up these days for fast model car racing with a variety of tracks and conditions. The challenge for us would be to provide the kids with suggestions, parts, assemblies, development software, etc to achieve this. Apart from being exciting to participate in as well as to watch, it would provide plenty of incentive to learn about the hardware and/or software design techniques that are taking place now and will become so much more important in future. To further develop Cliff's ideas, Adam Webb will bring some components and fully operational models for demo and discussion to the August meeting of the SAMG. What ideas do you have?

(2) JED PRODUCT PRESENTATION - Ed Schoell is CEO of JED Microprocessors Pty Ltd, Boronia, Melbourne VIC. He graduated from the SAIT (now Uni SA) Adelaide in 1968. Ed explained that after working in the electronics' industry here and overseas for a few years he realized that there was an untapped market for microprocessor-based systems featuring low power, user-programmability and with plenty of I/O options, so he decided to set up JED. By previously working for National Semiconductor and therefore being very familiar with their microprocessor products, Ed's early systems were based on the PACE INS8900 16-bit series. To reduce users' development time and effort, the systems were mainly programmed in variants of BASIC that proved very popular then and is still very popular today. Ed tried some Intel based systems, but because of Intel's short production life times for their support chip such as the "Super-IO" they were eventually abandoned. More recent JED products are now AVR microprocessor based. Ease of testing, debugging, transferring the code to EPROMs and more recently to Flash, have been very attractive features. For data logging applications F-RAM (ferro-electric RAM) is now used on many products to buffer the data before transferring it to the far greater capacity of Flash while accommodating Flash's "block writing" requirement. Data projector controllers have emerged as one of the most successful of JED products. These are wall-mounted in class-rooms to avoid using remote controls that get lost, stolen, trodden on, etc. JED's controls select what to view/hear from a variety of video/audio sources. Some other of JED's large product range are the PC/104, STD, Tiny Tiger and AVR based computers, displays in b/w & colour, RS485 comms, and analog/digital I/O "for scientists and engineers who build things". JED products now sell world-wide in a rare Australian success story.

FRIDAY JUNE 12 - NEW COMPUTER HARDWARE STANDARDS. Adam Webb described and demonstrated a dazzling array of new computer hardware standards that included a quad-core Intel CPU fitted to a large, top-of-the-range motherboard with plenty of 16X PCI-e slots and running SATA hard drives configured in a raid array all housed in a large, well-ventilated, multi-fan cooled tower case overflowing with high-capacity power supplies. The nVidia video card covered several PCI-e slots, weighed a ton, and was connected to a wide-screen fast response LCD screen. This is the kind of system needed to run modern computer games or similar high demand computing tasks. The audience was very impressed by the game Far Cry 2, a war game set in Africa, running on this hardware. It showed incredible detail and super-fast rendering that provided a degree of realism not seen and not even possible before this. You would do well to consider at least some of this hardware, if not for gaming, then for very high performance machines capable of connecting to a wide range of peripheral hardware and capable of highly intensive processing such as needed for video editing and processing, virtualization, and servers for busy networks.

FRIDAY MAY 8 - TURING MACHINES. David Tilbrooke gave a presentation on Turing Machines. Alan Turing was a leading British researcher who worked on deciphering Germany's Enigma machines' "uncrackable" coded messages during World War 2. He led a team that developed machines using electromechanical logic (mostly relays) to do the deciphering. After the war he continued his research into the development of early computers such as ACE that introduced programs stored in memory rather than using wired logic. In some of his early papers and presentations he introduced the idea of machines (now known as "Turing Machines" in memory of him) that, in spite of their simplicity and impractibility, can simulate any computer algorithm. While Alan Turing never saw a Turing Machine, modern computers can fairly readily simulate them. Check here and here for more.Here are a few useful book references and web site locations supplied by David for those who may be interested:

References:

"Engines of Logic", Martin Davis, W.W. Norton & Co New York, 2000.
"Computability and Unsolvability", Martin Davis, Dover Publications Inc., 1982.
"The Undecidable", Ed. Martin Davis, Dover Publications Inc., 2004.

Web Sites:

www.turing.org.uk/turing/scrapbook/machine.html
www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_Logic
www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/Beginnings_of_set_theory.html
www.turing.org.uk/turing/scrapbook/tmjava.html
(This latter site has an active Turing Machine simulation.)

(There was NO APRIL MEETING because Easter fell on the 2nd Friday of April)

FRIDAY MARCH 13 - VIRTUALIZATION. Our Chairman, Andrew, presented and demoed Virtualization at our March meeting. This is a method of running one or more different operating systems from just one boot-up and operating them completely separately or, if desired, with various degrees of interaction with one another supervised by the virtual control software and/or hardware. Keeping overall control in this virtual environment is very attractive for testing, checking that updates actually work, the operation of servers, etc. wherever there is some risk of things going wrong or you are running an O/S and want a feature on another O/S without a full shutdown and reboot. Andrew uses virtualization to completely isolate and protect his company records from the Internet while other O/Ss on the same machine.are Internet connected. Virtualization puts some additional load on the processor, so the CPU needs to be fairly quick, and it uses a fair bit more memory than non-virtualized systems. Andrew used VMware running on an Apple laptop with Windows XP running virtually in one demo to be followed by another demo of a desktop PC running Xen as the control for a virtualized server system. With both virtual systems running and connected by a wireless link the situation got very complex and yet continued to operate happily. To get a glipse of the sort of things to expect from virtualization see the recently demoed Nokia N800 mobile phone (see video) installed with VMware that boots and then offers quick swaps between Windows CE and Google Android operating systems depending on what features you want?

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 13 - ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING. The election of officers for 2009 resulted in just one change to the committee - Adam replaces David.

The program for 2009 will add some items to the list left over from last year. Turing Machines, Aircraft Positioning System (ADSB) from last year and now add Python, Bluetooth, new hardware standards (PCI-e, SATA, HDMI), GPS, MIDI, CD & DVD format standards.

Other events that we hope to include are auctions that we have not held for some years of electronic equipment, show-and-tell nights where a number of you can briefly describe and/or demo items that would not fill a meeting by themselves. There is also Bluetooth hardware that is now down to $10 per dongle. See Bluetooth Special Interest Group for explanation of Bluetooth.

Rick demoed an LCD display from Aztronics that connects to his laptop using his interface cabling plus software he wrote in C for both Windows and Linux.

We viewed Peters set of flv videos showing electric cars being assembled and road tested in Sydney. The engines in standard model road cars were being replaced with electric motors just ahead of the gearbox together with lots of special high energy/weight ratio batteries (lithium-iron-polymer - note: it is "iron" and not "ion"), vacuum pumps (for the brakes), heaters/demisters, etc. Even those not very interested in electric cars got very interested in the vidoes. See here for one of the video series. Make sure you check out the others.

Lastly, if you have trouble viewing videos such as those electric car videos then try the Western Australian "live" Puppy Linux that is less than 100 MB download. Being a "live" version, it boots and runs without any disturbance to your hard drive and the real bonus is that it comes with all multi-media software installed and per-configured to display all video and photo formats in common use (ie. video works straight off without the need for a net connection, or downloads, or installation, or configuration - it just works!).

DECEMBER 5 - Virtualization was to be demoed, but will now be held during 2009. (Virtualization is where 2 or more operating systems can run on the same machine simultaneously.) Instead, the December meeting we had a preliminary look at Virtualization and Turing machines that will both be covered in the new year. We also had a look at those maths problems (above) and we had enough time for a Xmas drink in one of the nearby cafes in Hutt St.

NOVEMBER 14: On Friday November 14, Peter Rosenthal, Convenor of the SA PIC Users Group, gave a talk and demo of Vapour Phase Soldering that is now used extensively throughout the electronics industry to assemble printed circuit boards. Peter explained that the process was developed primarily for surface mounted (SMD) components. The method solves the problem of providing a uniform temperature sufficient to melt the solder on all soldered connections while simultaneously keeping the temperature as low as possible for as little time as possible to minimize the risk of damage to a boards components. Very expensive and amazingly heavy liquids based on fluorides are used that are heated to their boiling point (phase change). The boards are immersed in the vapour above the liquid for just long enough for the solder to melt and then removed. Most components are usually held in place by a solder paste masked onto the printed circuit during preparation for soldering. Both leaded or lead-free solder can be used in the process, but with different fluoridated liquids because of the different solder melting points (210 C and 240 C). Peter used his video microscope that he developed for SMD work to show us what was happening. Peter also clearly showed us that the home constructor is able to construct electronic equipment using essentially commercial SMD methods.

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