A note on using the TinyDuino platform

_IGP9121I thought it might be good to put a few words in here on working with the Tinyduino system, because, although I really love the small footprint, and power optimization, you could say they were a “trial by fire” for someone with basic soldering skills.  Initially, I took one of their protoboards and added three rows of jumper pins to connect my RTC. This appeared to go ok so I painstakingly did this to all the proto-boards I had on hand.

But while it all seemed to go pretty well at first, I just could not get the darned RTC to work reliably.  I labored long under the chrondotassumption that I was making mistakes in the code (which hey, I probably was), or I had not pulled up the I2C bus properly, or there was something else I just had not learned yet. I eventually discovered that the tiny protoboard was slowly bending under the force of the jumper wires themselves, loosing contact with the stack, or shorting out on the layer below ( I did not have spacers in place to prevent this). And even when I fixed that, I still had weird intermittent faults occurring. Nothing is more frustrating than something that works fine most of the time, but then randomly cuts out on you.

_IGP9129In the end it turned out to be bridging between those really small contacts. I must have done it when I was soldering the pins on, but even after really close inspection, I could not see the bridge anywhere.  I ordered more boards, and started soldering thinner wires directly on, but then the wires themselves started breaking, because they were so fragile. I eventually figured out how to add some extra “support solder” by folding the wires over into a bit of ‘J’ hook, but even then they still couldn’t take much jostling around.  Now, I know there’s plenty of people out there just waiting to post a comment like: “If you are not already working with surface mount, just go home rookie”.

But I made this project blog in the hope that it might help other folks get rolling, so if, unlike me, you still have all your hair: do yourself a favor and buy a really good temperature controlled soldering iron, with ultra fine points in ‘mint’ condition. And I would recommend a fair bit of soldering practice, with a solder wick, before you jump in on those 0.1 inch Tinyduino proto-boards. Even then, buy extras, because you are probably going to go through them much faster than you think. I know I did.

Addendum 2014-02-10
And you don’t need to replicate my errors here any more because Tiny-Circuits has released an extended protoboard that you can buy naked for $5, or with terminal blocks!  These let you place the extension board in the middle of the tinyduino stack &  with all that extra space, I have soldered of riser pins on dozens of those new “double-wide” proto boards without any problems.  Also I now use soft multi-strand test lead wire with silicone insulation (instead of stiff PVC), which dramatically reduces strain on the solder joints.