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Maxed Out: Building a Microcontroller-Based System
Wednesday, February 06, 2013 | Clive "Max" Maxfield, Maxfield High-Tech Consulting

Well, things are bouncing along at their usual frantic pace. As you may recall from my previous blog, I'm going to be presenting a couple of papers at the forthcoming Design West Conference and Exhibition, scheduled for April 22-25, 2013, at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California.

One of these sessions is titled Danger Will Robinson! How Radiation Can Affect Your Embedded Systems. As part of this, I'm in the process of constructing a prop to illustrate how different forms of radiation can affect your electronics components and systems.

I started with a rather interesting wood-and-leather case from Amazon as shown here; my inventor friend Brian LaGrave, a master of rooting interesting things out on the Internet, tracked this little rascal down for me. I’ve just finished augmenting it with three antique telephone switches and three antique faceted light covers as shown here.

The antique telephone switches are a joy to behold. Even though they must be at least 50 or 60 years old, their feel shouts quality and this is the way things should be made.

The same thing applies to the light covers on the right side – by just looking at them and touching them, you know that these are well made.  Although it's a bit hard to see in the image, the three covers are, from top-to-bottom: green, amber, and red. In addition to being rugged, they are very well defined in terms of the light spectrum they will pass. I took a super-bright orange LED and held it behind them – the light passed easily through the amber filter, but almost nothing could be seen through the green and red filters.  

It's amazing to me just how long it took for me to decide just where to place these on the case. I'm not an industrial designer, but I know enough about the aesthetics of things to know that you don’t want everything obviously centered (like you don't want the three switches bang in the middle of the case); also, an odd number of items is generally more pleasing to the eye than even numbers, unless you are presenting them in a rectangular or square array, of course.

On the other hand, things also look bad if you just randomly scatter them all over the place. Thus, I mounted the switches with 1/2" clearance from the dark wood at the top and 1/2" clearance from the leather strap on the side. Also, the mid-line of the upper-most light cover is centered on the pivot point of the switches. All in all I think it's looking rather good so far.

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