Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Teardown: Portland 2018

The inaugural Crowd Supply conference, Teardown: Portland 2018, was one of the best hardware and DIY electronics conferences I have ever attended. The event took place on May 11th - 13th, 2018 at the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in Portland, OR. The conference featured an all star lineup of hardware hacking speakers like Andrew "Bunnie" Huang, Joe Fitzpatrick, and Joe "Kingpin" Grand, just to name a few.

I, Jeremy Hong of Hong's Electronics, had the unique opportunity and privilege to join the ranks of these speakers by giving a talk on hardware design and reverse engineering. I used this opportunity to also promote a book that I thought is a necessity for anyone interested in hardware reverse engineering, Ng Keng Tiong's PCB:RE Tools and Techniques.  

Here is my talk from the event:

Monday, January 1, 2018

Circuit Classics Kits

It all started when...

Image result for forrest m mims III
Forrest M. Mims III
On a cold winter evening in early February of 2011, I convinced my mother to take me to the local Radio Shack to purchase two specific items that I had spent a few days researching. Hard to believe that I can trace the start of my hobby and career to a specific date. Those two items were the Getting Started in Electronics book and Radioshack Electronics Learning Lab. Both of these items were authored/created by Forrest M. Mims III. Like thousands of other engineers and hobbyists I can attribute the launch of my career to Forrest Mims.

Star Simpson
Fast forward to 2016; Star Simpson recreated 3 of Mims' iconic circuits that were documented in his Various Engineer's Notebooks, by turning them into beautiful PCBs with Mims' hand drawn circuit diagrams and descriptions silk-screened onto the board.

"Forrest M. Mims III is a trusted name in the electronics world for good reason: his charming and engaging texts have drawn millions of people into the world of electronics for the first time. I have brought three of those hand-drawn circuits projects to life by creating an exquisitely designed series of finely crafted and highly detailed boards. These are the Circuit Classics. They make a great gift for a first-time learner, an expert tinkerer, or even just as a fun conversation piece for your desk." - Star Simpson

Image result for circuit classics
Circuit Classics by Star Simpson (

The Kits

The Stepped Tone Generator (a.k.a The Atari Punk Console)

Dual LED Flasher

Bargraph Voltage Indicator


I think that the kit is wonderfully crafted and in my opinion definitely worth the price. Especially since these circuits have had such an impact on me. Each kit separately is $39, but if you buy all three bundled it is $99 (Save $18) + Free US Shipping/$10-$20 Worldwide shipping. It's a great gift for beginners who are getting started in electronics, and for engineers who started with Forrest's books it is a great collectible item to display on shelf with your reference books!

Order Here:

Further Reading:

I have a lot of Forrest M Mims III books listed here:

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Maker's Box Kits

I love Tindie, it's like Etsy, but for DIY electronics. I have found so many useful breakout boards, fun kits and interesting gadgets to tinker around with.

I kept on seeing the Maker's Box (Tindie store) kits trending on the main page. Finally I have purchased three fantastic looking kits and at first glance I love seeing the OSHPark Purple PCBs. Yes these kits are completely open hardware and you can view them in shared projects and order your own PCBs to replicate or improve the kits. 

I purchased the Joule Thief, I Can Surface Mount Solder, and the SMD Challenge kit, which I will primarily be focusing on in this post.

Joule Thief Kit

The Easy Joule Thief Soldering Kit, is primarily a through-hole soldering kit targeted toward beginners. For those of you who don't know what a Joule Thief circuit is, it is a clever and simple circuit that can light a LED with a nearly dead battery.
I really like the silkscreen schematic on the PCB

I appreciate that you can configure this kit to take either AAA or AA Batteries

This kit has a really nice Instructables guide. In my opinion this kit is pretty high quality and for only $5, it is quite a great value!

I Can Surface Mount Solder kit

This kit is meant to be a gentle introduction for beginners to surface mount soldering. In the kit you get to solder a surface mount LED, Resistor, Capacitor, Switch, Battery holder, and microcontroller! 

I used solder paste and my hot air to reflow the components. 

It's a pulsating Heart! 

SMD Challenge Kit

I originally intended to only purchase the SMD Challenge, because I really wanted to solder the challenging 0201 package components. On a daily basis I work with parts that are 0402 in size and above, and usually use a X10 microscope. At home I don't have the convenience of microscope, and I decided to assemble this at home to prove my worth and literally wear this bragging rights badge (Yes this kit is a badge that you can pin on your clothes).

No automatic alt text available.
FYI: A grain of sugar is typically 0.7 - 1.5 mm in size

I could solder the 0402 to 1206 packages by hand with my Hakko FX-888D, but I have solder paste and a hot air rework station! 

Solder Paste and Component Placement

Reflowing the Components

Component placement of the 0201 was quite tedious and I had to keep on checking that I had the LED in the right polarity. I was even more worried about the hot air blowing the 0201 components off the board... Fortunately the only issue was that there was a solder bridge (short) on one of the ATTINY pins, but this was easily fixed with some flux and a quick dab of the iron to take some of the excess solder between the two pins.

Testing the LEDs

Making sure that none of the LEDs have fried from the hot air and that there are no shorts underneath the SMD components.

Final Test

WOW IT ACTUALLY WORKS!!!!! I just soldered a component the size of a sugar grain, without a microscope! 

No automatic alt text available.


Maker's Box makes quality and inexpensive soldering kits for beginners to experts. Definitely worth purchasing one of their kits to practice with and have fun. I was very satisfied with the SMD challenge kit and getting to solder the 0201 resistor and LED. I also think it is very fitting that with the two SMD kits that you can literally wear them as a badge of honor.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Review: Analog Discovery 2

The Analog Discovery 2 by Digilent is the sequel to the popular Analog Discovery. The first Analog Discovery, which Hong's Electronics reviewed in 2013, was released in late 2012; The Analog Discovery 2 made its debut in late 2016. 

*Acryonms to be used: 
  • AD = Analog Discovery 
  • AD2 = Analog Discovery 2

First Impressions

From my usage of the first AD, I was pleased to find that Digilent kept the form factor about the same and that they stuck with the same pin-out in the AD2. For those of you like me who have the BNC adapter board for the original, it will work with the AD2 and the same flywires from the original will work on the AD2.

With the original AD, the advertised performance of the oscilloscope and function generator is 14 bit, 100 MS/s and a bandwidth of 5 MHz. Now Digilent advertises the AD2 with more detailed specifications, and specifies the bandwidth to be 9 MHz with the included flywires, and 30+ MHz with the BNC adapter board. The waveform generator now performs at bandwidths of 9 MHz (flywires) and 12 MHz (BNC adapter). 

Key specifications:

Analog Discovery
Analog Discovery 2
O-Scope BW
5 MHz
30 MHz+ (BNC Adapter) 9 MHz (Flywires)
O-Scope Samples
100 MS/s
100 MS/s
5 MHz
12 MHz (BNC Adapter) 9 MHz (Flywires)
AWG Samples
100 MS/s
100 MS/s
Resolution (both)
Power Supply
+/- 5V @100 mA
Adj. +/- 0.5 to 5 V (500 mW USB, 2.1 W, Aux)


The AD2 uses Waveforms 2015, which also supports the original AD and Electronics Explorer board (Hong's Electronics reviewed the EE Board). The Waveforms software runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

It also runs on the Raspberry Pi! I have ran the software on a Raspberry Pi 3 with the Electronics Explorer board in a project that I documented on Hong's Electronics called Pi Bench.

The Analog Discovery 2 Website has a nice interactive demo videos showcasing the instruments supported by Waveforms 2015.

In action:


Overall I think it is worth it to upgrade from the original to Analog Discovery 2, because the performance gains in bandwidth for the scope and AWG are well worth it. The upgrade to an adjustable power supply and the option to add more power via an auxiliary DC power connector is the cherry on top. I am looking forward to adding the AD2 to my hardware travel toolkit. The $279 price tag might be a barrier to some, but to those who can afford it and travels to conferences and hackathons as much as I do, I believe it is well worth the cost. It is one amazing hardware hacking tool!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Atmel/Microchip SAMA5D2 RoadTest Review

Originally posted on:

Thank you to and Randall Scasny for selecting me for my very first RoadTest! 

Initial Impressions:

I was super hyped to get started when I got this package at the beginning of August. I have had some experience in using some of the Atmel/Microchip Xplained boards, especially the 328P, but this was a completely different beast.

On paper (Atmel | SMART SAMA5 ARM Cortex-A5 Based eMPUs ) this board, along with the rest of the SAMA5 family, has a lot going for it. The SAMA5D2 Xplained features an ARM Cortex-A5 processor clocked at 500 MHz, 4 Gb of DDR3L RAM, and 4 Gb eMMC. In addition to some other peripherals on board, this sounds like an embedded platform that you can rapidly prototype on.

What excited me most were the security features:

The SAMA5 family includes features to prevent cloning, ensure the authenticity, and secure the communications and data storage of your application.
  • Secure boot
  • Hardware encryption engines such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)/Triple Data Encryption Standard (DES), RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) and ECC (Elliptic Curves Cryptography), as well as Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) and True Random Number Generator (TRNG)
  • On the fly encryption/decryption of code from external DDR memories
  • Pin tamper detection to protect the system against physical intrusion
  • Secure storage of keys and data
  • ARM Trust Zone to partition system, peripherals and memory resources to isolate security-critical software from an open environment OS"

As a hardware engineer that conducts penetration testing against Internet of Things (IoT) devices, this board definitely sounds like tough device to crack if configured properly.

Testing and project demo:

Unfortunately getting to tinker with the security features in the SAMA5D2 was not as easy as I thought. Despite my attempts to connect to the board, support and documentation was quite lacking. I pretty much gave up after about a month of various attempts.

I ended up buying the Precision Design Associates Inc.(PDA) TM3401B LCD touch screen (Digi-Key) to try a "cool demo", as it appeared that there weren't any clear ways to get even a basic Arduino shield running on this board.

I downloaded and flashed a SD Card with the Crank Software demo image for the SAMA5D2 and started up the board:
There is a lot of potential for easy creation of IoT devices with the SAMA5D2. I could definitely see HVAC, Security systems, AV Lightning controls, and biomedical applications using it.

Engineers can easily create an interface using Crank Software Inc.'s Story board suite:

If there were some easy way to configure the security settings of the SAMA5D2, this could be easily integrated into a rock solid IoT device that can thwart hackers and pen-testers like myself.

Final thoughts and summary:
For my first RoadTest, this was very tough! I really wanted to evaluate this product with some Arduino Shields, because of the compatible header layout on the board. Microchip claims that the SAMA5D2 Xpalined "is a fast prototyping and evaluation platform", but my first hand experience using it and battle to getting started says otherwise. I was forced to cut my losses and buy a touchscreen that was compatible with this board to get something "cool" to run on this board. I really wanted to like this development board, but from the start the support and documentation to get the board up and running was an uphill battle, that I ended up giving up on. I have a strong hardware background and have significant experience with embedded devices in design and reverse engineering, but this development board single-handedly defeated me, by losing my interest and motivation to continue to work with it more. I gave this board a score of 29/60, because it has fantastic hardware, but very poor documentation for software and getting it started. I really hope that Microchip will add more documentation and example projects for this very capable device.

I want to thank and Randall Scansy again for giving me the opportunity to do this review and I hope to participate in more RoadTests!