Ammo Counters – Researching Competition to Push a New Generation

I have been selling ammo counters since 2009. After I made my energy sword, ammo counters were the most requested kit. Over the years, I have probably sold 200-300 kits. Back then, I easily beat out the lame old competition. However, sales dried up last year. I was busy with my EMF and NES projects so I didn’t look into it.

Today, I searched around for new competition. Oh man. Things have changed. I think I still got them beat on size and price, but I need to work on my offerings to stay competitive.

Old competition

New competition

  • Nathaniel Deal: Nerf Ammo Counters
    • Good price for what you get.
    • Offers both bare bones and complete kits. Some kits include 3d printed shells.
    • Mostly focused on nerf builds. Requires additional circuit boards that must be hidden inside your build.
    • ammocounter.com

    Nathaniel Deal: Nerf Ammo Counters

What is most interesting about Nathaniel Deal’s offerings are the complete kits for a reasonable price, the 3D printed shells, and YouTube tutorials.

Comparing Nathan’s Ammo Counter design to my own Ammo Counter design. We both use a custom display board, but mine is much much smaller in size because I mount the microcontroller on the same board as the display. While he uses an off the shelf microcontroller development board (arduino) to run the display over a cable harness and additional shift register / display resistors shield board. That is a lot of extra bulk that he is asking the builder to hide in their project! The additional switches he places under the display are on/off, reset, and clip select. In my Ammo Counter kit, I do away with the need of extra switches by using button combinations to select clip size (hold a dart in front of the light break sensor or hold the fire trigger while also cycling the ammo clip to activate the clip size selection menu).

My own ammo counter design is minimalistic. The size can be fit into any project and does not need any additional circuit boards.
Ammo Counter v3

I love my design so much! However, there are a few things I can learn from Nathan Deal.

  • Create kit listings on Etsy - etsy.com/shop/thatdecade
  • Add a count up mode to my Ammo Counter software
  • 3D printed shells to fit a variety of rail systems
  • Make the light break sensor as a standard option
    • I already do have a light break sensor kit, but I only make them on request.
  • YouTube tutorial videos


Mini NES Build w/ Functioning Cartridge Loader

Mini NES Build

This is a summary post about my Mini NES build.  This project is a derivative of the original efforts of DaftMike.  I used his 3D print files and basic source code, then reverse engineered the circuit from his Electronics Kit that allows the Raspberry Pi to talk to a NFC reader and an Arduino to control power.  Improving on the design with added features such as Fan Control and NFC Writing.  While also fixing bugs including lost Controller Configuration, Bad Power, and allowing  Out of Order Assembly.

If you are interested in making one of these, you can checkout my build instructions here:

Complete Guide: How to make a Mini NES~!

Features:

  • NFC Reader I2C will read tags to launch games AND write tags based on the last played game selected from EmulationStation. No additional devices or software needed to write tags.
  • Working Front Panel POWER and RESET Buttons with functionality not limited to launching games and safe shutdown of the pi.
  • Red Front Power LED (basic system status)
  • MultiColor RGB LED (advanced system status), can be disabled if distracting while playing with a simple double button press.
  • Power cut off circuit, similar to the popular Pi PowerBlock kits.
  • Cooling Fan turns on/off based on temperature.
  • USB Socket Extender to reposition the Raspberry Pi’s USB ports to the front of the case.

I will be selling full Electronics Kits with Surface Mount Assembled PCBs on the Facebook Mini NES Builders group.

 

 

NES Raspberry Pi - 3D PrintedFront button alignmentButton AssemblyPCB: Pi Power and NFC wiringTesting fit of PCB design

My Businesses

Hello, my name is Dustin Westaby.  I am from La Crosse Wisconsin, currently living in Platteville Wisconsin, and am married to Katherine Westaby.  I hold an undergraduate in Electrical Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, with special interests in low level machine languages and PCB design.  My day job is to develop and test software for Avionic Control Panels.  I am also an elected officer for Hidden Valleys Amateur Radio Club.

Beyond all that, I run several small businesses.  This post is a quick summary of the services I provide for my communities.

 

Electronic Circuit Commissions

Since 2008, I have designed and assembled at scale runs of many circuits.  From light and sound ghostbuster and halo props, to writing software for a full graphic display for nerf with RFID lockout.  I also design lasertag gear,  including a handheld IR programmer (host station).

Most of my circuit projects, I post about on this website.  You can browse around to preview my work.  If you would like me to make something for you, send me an email and we can work on the details.  thatdecade@gmail.com

Prop Business Card

 

Laser Tag Parties and Rentals

I have a sub-domain that I run my lasertag business from, party.westaby.net.  This is a mobile lasertag company, we bring the fun of larger lasertag arenas to your local park, school, church, or even backyard~!

http://party.westaby.net

LaserTag Business Card

 

TV Antenna Guidance and Installs

On facebook. I run a help page for buying and installing antennas.  Antenna reception is difficult / expensive in my town.  I offer free advice to people in the Platteville area on basic antenna selection, mounting, and aiming strategies.  I have a success rate of 90%.  Which is why I also offer a more personal service where I visit a client’s home with a temporary antenna mount and scan for channels you can actually receive.  Saving them from going through all the trouble themselves.

http://www.facebook.com/groups/PlattevilleTV/

Cleanup Antenna Business Card

 

Ghostbusters 2016 Proton Pack

Proton Packs are special for me.  A proton pack was the first costume prop I ever made and was very much a junk build.  Working light and sound circuits and only the alice frame is screen accurate.  I worked on mine in parallel with my brother, so we could both be Ghostbusters for Halloween 2008.  I have been making props and commission circuits ever since.

My original proton pack took me 3 months to research and construct, start to finish.  So when my wife told me she wanted to be Ghostbusters for Halloween 2016, my reaction was to skip the proton pack for her costume.  Stick to the jumpsuit and arm patches, then she can borrow my PKE meter for the night.  But as the wedding date came and went, I found a youtube video by indy mogul of a junk build.  That was all the inspiration I needed.  Some quick research on gbfans in the Reboot Pack parts identification thread and I was able to complete my wife’s proton pack in 8 days.

If you would like to make one of these. All my plans, references, part lists, source code, etc… are on Google Drive.

Light Animation Demo Video

 

Reboot Ghostbusters Proton Pack

 

Links to my original proton pack builds:

My Ghostbuster's Proto Pack

Updated EMF Reader – Assembly Guide

IMG_2839.JPG

In 2015, I did a run of EMF readers with an updated design using an upgraded sound effects circuit.  This is an assembly guide for making that EMF reader. For my older EMF Reader design that is not dependent on custom parts, see here.

There are two custom parts that you can purchase from me: thatdecade@gmail.com on etsy

 

Part List

Part Name Part Number Qty
Circuit Board Purchase from thatdecade@gmail.com on etsy 1
Preprogrammed Chip Purchase from thatdecade@gmail.com on etsy 1
Needle Graphic Photo Print this image 1
P-Clips http://shop.fiberopticproducts.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=308&search=clip 2
Meter http://www.menards.com/main/electrical/rough-electrical/wiring-accessories/testers/analog-multimeter-5-function-12-range/p-1460423-c-6452.htm 1
Screw Posts https://www.fastenal.com/web/products/details/0145977 2
Screws https://www.fastenal.com/web/products/details/1128643 4
Washers https://www.fastenal.com/web/products/details/1133066 12
Antenna https://www.radioshack.com/products/28-replacement-telescoping-antenna 1
Magnet Wire https://www.radioshack.com/products/magnet-wire-set 0.2
Yellow Square Capacitors http://www.ebay.com/itm/111258078237 2
Gray Square Capacitors http://www.ebay.com/itm/361161937588 2
EECO Rotary Switch http://www.ebay.com/itm/150984508033 1
Toggle Switch CKN1047 1
Trim Pot 3362U-103LF 2
Capacitor Blue 1uF P5306-ND 1
Capacitor Black 10uF 493-1372-ND 1
Speaker* https://www.adafruit.com/products/1890 1
Audio FX + Amp** https://www.adafruit.com/products/2210 1
Button https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10442 1
Rainbow Wire https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10647 1
Battery Clip https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10891 1
Resistor 100 ohm https://www.sparkfun.com/products/13761 6
Resistor 10k ohm https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11508 4
Capacitor 0.1uF https://www.sparkfun.com/products/8375 1
Diode https://www.sparkfun.com/products/8589 1
LEDs https://www.sparkfun.com/products/528 5

Note *: The speaker linked on the list is under-wattage for the sound effect circuit amplifier.  2W vs 0.5W

Note **: If the recommended Audio FX module is not available.  Here is how to wire the alternate modules.

 

Solder the Back Circuit

Tools Needed: Solder Iron, Solder, and a Wire Cutter.

Parts Needed: Circuit Board, Preprogrammed Chip, 5x LEDs, 6x Resistors 100 ohm, 4x Resistors 10k ohm, Capacitor 0.1uF, Button, Diode, Audio FX Circuit, Speaker.

Instructions: Assemble as shown in the picture.  The Audio FX Circuit needs 6 wires connected.  Vin, Gnd, Bus, TX, RX, UB.

Step 1 - Back - Solder Parts

Click for larger image

 

Trim, Tape, and Needle

Tools Needed: Electrical Tape, Scissors, Glue, Solder Iron, Solder, and a Wire Cutter.

Parts Needed: Needle Graphic, Meter Parts, 6x Washers

Instructions: Take apart the meter and remove the plastic wheel.  You can now de-solder the potentiometer from the meter’s circuit board. Set aside.  Next, cut the wires to the meter’s needle assembly leaving enough length to re-attach to the emf circuit.  The needle assembly is screwed down and beneath the clear plastic housing that is also screwed down.  Remove both.  Be VERY careful with the needle assembly, it is fragile.  Re-use the two screws from the needle to help align with the emf reader holes.  You can use 6x washers to add some spacing between the needle assembly and the circuit board.  This helps provide clearance and allows free movement of the needle.  But be careful, as the washers are magnetic.

Step 2 - Front - Trim and Tape

Click for larger image

 

Solder the Front Circuit

Tools Needed: Screwdriver, Electrical Tape, Solder Iron, Solder, and a Wire Cutter.

Parts Used: 2x Yellow Square Capacitors, 2x Gray Square Capacitors, Toggle Switch, 2x Trim Pot, Rotary, Capacitor Blue 1uF, Capacitor Black 10uF, Potentiometer (salvaged from meter circuit).

Step 3 - Front - Solder Parts

Click for larger image

 

Meter and Coils

Tools Needed: Screwdriver, Solder Iron, Solder, and a Wire Cutter.

Parts Needed: Antenna, Magnet Wire, P-Clips, Solid Core Wire (strip off the rubber sheath)

Step 4 - Front - Meter and Coils

Click for larger image

 

Wire Clips

Tools Needed: Pliers, Solder Iron, Solder, and a Wire Cutter.

Parts Needed: Rainbow Wire, Solid Core Wire (strip off the rubber sheath)

Step 5 - Front - Wire Clips

Click for larger image

 

Battery Box

Tools Needed: Pencil, Drill, 1/8″ Drill Bit, Screwdriver

Parts Needed: 2x Screw Posts, 4x Screws, 6x Washers, Battery Clip.

Instructions: Make room in the battery box for the screws in the battery box by removing a bit of plastic from behind the switch.  No cutting needed, the plastic pops out.  Align the battery box cover with the circuit board.  Make two marks in the cover with your pencil.  Make 1/8 inch holes with the drill in the marked spot.  Use the washers as follows: SCREW |== (WASHER) |PCB| (WASHER) ==POST== (WASHER) |COVER| ==| SCREW

Assembly is now complete, calibrate and learn how to use your emf reader below.

IMG_2697.JPG

Click for larger image

Load the Sound Clips

Adding new sound effects to the EMF Reader is simple.  Just plug into the usb port to a pc.  The EMF Reader will mount as flash storage on the pc.  Drag and drop the new .wav or .ogg file, then “eject” to safely remove the usb device.

Audio Files:
https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0uZYP7AohyhMG91a2hWR1hSNkE

Guides:
https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-audio-fx-sound-board/copying-audio-files
https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-audio-fx-sound-board/creating-audio-files

 

Next step is selecting the new sound on the EMF Reader.  The EMF Reader reads the first 5 files in storage and maps them.

To select the new sound, turn on the EMF Reader then move the mode select toggle switch to the center position.  There is no center position, so you will have to balance it there.  When you have correctly set the center position, the light on the back of the reader will rapidly flash.

With the EMF Reader in setup mode; press the button on the back to cycle through any of the first 5 files.  When the correct file plays, flip the toggle switch to exit setup mode.

 

 

EMF Reader Outline

Get to know your EMF reader.  Note the numbered arrows in the picture.

circuit outline with numbers v3

  1. Needle Calibration Screw Wheel, Sets high position
  2. Toggle Switch: Mode selection.
  3. Hidden Button: Located on the back of the EMF Reader, use this button to override normal EMF operation and force a “ghost” event.

 

Meter Calibration

Left blue screw wheel calibrates the analog meter needle high position.  Place the EMF Reader in interactive mode, and hold the hidden button. This will hold the meter needle high.  While holding the button, use a screwdriver to adjust the needle’s high position.

 

Modes of Operation

How to Enter Primary Modes Alternate Modes
Prop Modes
Change toggle switch to the right position.
Pressing the hidden button will activate the sound and light pattern. Sound and light pattern will run in a loop, cycling between high and low readings.
Interactive Modes
Change the toggle switch to the left position.
Press the hidden button to activate the meter.  Meter and lights stay high until the button is released. EMF Reader will always read as high until the hidden button is pressed.

*Hold the hidden button while power cycling to enter an alternate mode.

**In modes that do nothing until the button is pressed, lights will blink every few seconds to indicate the meter is on.

Troubleshooting

Meter does not sweep or sweeps too high

  1. Needle is touching the back.  Use a tweezers to push away, bending slightly out.
  2. Meter potentiometer needs calibration.  See Meter Calibration above.
  3. Debris has gotten stuck in the meter’s electromagnet.  Gently spin the magnet and ensure that it doesn’t “catch” anywhere.  Even something as small as a hair can prevent free spinning.

Sound is garbled and sounds bad

  1. Voltage to the speaker amp is too low.  Replace the batteries.
  2. Not all sound files sound great on the small speaker, experiment with other sounds.

Note: Be sure to use good batteries.  Recommend: Energizer Ultimate Lithium.

 

Laser Tag Take-Over

Howdy folks, quick announcement from Robert Bontrager (Windjammer) and myself (thatdecade). Windjammer recently reached out to me asking if I would fully take over our team developments. I agreed and intend to breath some life into some old projects. Details to come!

Robert and I together are known for creating some amazing lasertag compatible equipment; the zombie sensor, echo base, and the handheld hosting station. I designed the circuits and Robert wrote the software.  I will now be taking over the software side too.
http://lt-mmo.blogspot.com/

 

On my own, I have designed and sold a number of LTAR display designs. I look forward to what updates I can make to the Nomad especially.
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7VO0PthPOcJOeTjcbzzS-815vx-OZF7e

Software will save us

Summary: Some old insights are still true. Hardware has almost 2000 times more transistors in each chip comparing 1995 to 2015, but steadily increasing software demands of hardware have given us slower and slower systems. A basic task on a 1995 machine completes only slightly faster on a modern machine.  Our computers are not 2000 times better or make us 2000 times more productive.

i7 PC散熱

I was reading a press release from Intel on the feasibility of chip advancements after the next gen 10nm chips. Ideas do exist, but nothing will gain the power and speed that the brute force method of “make it smaller with more transistors” approach has for the last 60 years.

Got me thinking about the end game. We have been privileged to sit back and enjoy ever increasing gains from improvement to chip hardware. However, the nature of exponential growth means we have to hit a limit at some point. That point is fast approaching. Could be 2017 or 2020, doesn’t matter, we are already there.

We hit that limit around 2006. That was the point where chip manufacturers could no longer double the number of transistors per chip every 2 years. Instead, Intel and others began making chips with 2+ cores. The guts of two chips inside of one chip casing. You could consider this cheating. These new multi core chips needed special software to run in parallel. Software does not run faster simply by adding more cores. The multicore overhead limits gains like this. For example, the jump from 2 cores to 4 cores was 200% the number of transistors, but only 20% faster running the same multicore software.

Where do we go next after the completion of moore’s law and the end of brute force improvements to hardware? Optimizing what we already got. There are still improvements remaining to be made to hardware, but nothing that will deliver us any magnitude improvements of what we already have. Instead, software engineers are going to have to save the day.

Modern software won’t run very well on chips from 2006, but you can look at similar software available at that time to do a comparison. The scary thing? With the boom of parallel processing, software has gotten slower.

Software bloat is the real reason for computers slowing as time trenches on. Is a concept worth a read on wikipedia. I will summarize some of the causes:

1. Lazy software engineers. As hardware has been improving 100s of fold since 1990s. Software folks have been enjoying making new generations of software that are not very efficient but is hidden by the faster hardware speeds.

2. Change in software tools. Prior to the 1990s, software engineers were limited in memory and speed. By necessity, they had to work much harder to create the most efficient solution. Often this meant writing code in assembly, the machine language. Today’s software folks use high level debugging tools. Are useful sure, but are far removed from the actual code that runs on the chip.

3. Software has become huge. No single person understands every part of what has been cobbled together. How could they? The modern operating system is developed by hundreds and thousands of individual people contributing millions of pages of code.

Many futurists will talk about something called the technological singularity. The point where a computer can design a better version of itself. Rewriting better and faster versions of itself, at a incomprehensible speed. Leading to an explosion of powerful computers that humans no longer understand. Too late…

Links:

 

Light Break Sensor for Ammo Counter

I have offered ammo counter kits for nerf dart guns for a while now.  With a tweak to the ammo counter software’s min time between fire events and the addition of a photo sensor, you can install my ammo counter kit on a nerf gun and keep track of shots remaining in your clip even while full auto firing.

What allows this to work is a light break sensor.  The part number I recommend is the OPB100Z.  It comes with an IR LED and a Phototransistor.  The LED creates a beam of light, and the phototransistor acts as a switch.  When the light shines on the sensor, the transistor conducts and the ammo counter reads voltage.  However, when a shadow is cast on the sensor the circuit is broken and the ammo counter fire input is grounded.

More info on how Phototransistors work: http://learn.parallax.com/node/258

Below is how to wire the light break sensor into an ammo counter.  The wire leads on the light break sensor are color coded, follow the colors in the diagram below.  Place the sensor and light on your barrel so each dart fired creates a shadow between the sensor and light.

Notes:

  • During your install and testing, you will be unable to see the light with your eyes.  Your human eyes are not sensitive to IR light.  Instead, point a camera or smartphone at the light and you should see the white/blue light on the screen.
  • I do not currently sell light break sensors, but do tell me when purchasing a kit that you intend to use one.  I will program with special software and include the extra two resistors seen in the diagram.
  • Places to buy a light break sensor, part number OPB100Z:

Cropped - Light Break Sensor Wiring Diagram for Ammo Counter

Reminiscing about XBConnect

What is XBConnect? It was an online gaming service for the original Xbox.  This was before Xbox Live was popular.  XBConnect used the system link mode built into many Xbox games, basically hijacking the network traffic and rerouting over the internet.  XBC stayed relevant through the years due to two factors: 1. it was free and 2. it was compatible with the “new” xbox 360 which used the same system link as the original xbox.

screen1

XBConnect was a great service for broke college kids who had access to non-dial-up internet.   After writing several help guides, I was invited to be a moderator and eventually an admin of the forums from 2004 – 2014.  You can still find some of the guides I wrote, hosted here:

As of last year, XBConnect went offline for good, and it’s sad.  The downfall started when the software was abandoned by the original author, leaving only a copyrighted closed source to the remaining team to keep the servers running.  They had permission to add new games to the gamelist, but no new features or bug fixes were possible.

What’s left? There are some cool people that still know what XBConnect was on facebook, and run a fan page.
facebook.com/XBConnect

Other than that, is not much.  The website is gone, the servers turned off.  You have to scrounge the internet wayback machine to find any mention of XBC.
XBConnect doesn’t even appear in the english wikipedia, here is a finnish one: https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/XBConnect

dennis_revenge_iasip

Final forum post count: 5,298

Guide: Boba Fett Chest Display

If you are making a Boba Fett costume, the display on the chest piece can be especially troubling.  Outside of a one or two available on thedentedhelmet.com, there isn’t a lot available.  Leaving a builder to come up with alternate displays.  Such as using a decal or placing a light behind a printed graphic on transparency sheet.  Cheap and it looks ok, but is not animated.  An animated display is much more appealing.

In this guide, we will go over how to create an animated display for the boba fett’s chest armor.  You will need at least beginner soldering skills to complete the circuit.  All the parts add up to less than $40.

Boba Fett Chest Display v2

Tools:

  • Solder Iron & Solder
  • Wire Cutter
  • Solder Wick

Part List:

  • 2 – Red LED Bargraph Displays
  • 5 – Red LED 0.3″ CA 7seg Displays
  • 5 – 33 ohm resistors
  • 5 – 1k ohm resistors
  • 5 – NPN Transistors
  • 1 – 1uF capacitor
  • 1 – 10k ohm resistor
  • 1 – AA Battery Holder w/ Switch
  • Some wire (to connect the boards)

You can purchase all the above from mouser, use this link for a ‘one click purchase’ part list:  https://www.mouser.com/ProjectManager/ProjectDetail.aspx?AccessID=7c6a316116

Lastly, you will also need the two PCBs and a programmed chip.  I sell the custom parts for cheap.  Email me for details.  thatdecade@gmail.com

Alternately, if you have means to program chips yourself (arduino), you can purchase the custom parts yourself.  Source code can be found on codebender.

Assembly:

Once you have gathered all the parts, you can begin putting it together.  Start with the bargraph board.

  • Examine a bargraph display part and look for the small notch in one corner, this marks the anode side.
  • Examine the bargraph display PCB.  With the bargraph picture side facing you and the 6pin connector on the left, the top is the anode and the bottom is the cathode.

bargraph_circuit_outline

  • Solder the two bargraphs into place, being careful to install right side up.  They will not function is installed upside down.

Next is to solder the rear parts on to the main board.

  • The row of ten resistors at the top are labeled 1k and 50.  The part list does not include 50 ohm resistors.  Instead any value from 33 to 47 may be used, lower is brighter.
    • Solder on the 5 x 1k ohm resistors to the spots marked with 1k.
    • Solder on the 5 x 47 ohm resistors to the spots marked with 50.
  •  The next row down are the transistors.  Orient the transistors so the flat side faces the same way as pictured. Solder them in place.
    Optionally, after inserting each transistor into the board, you can fold it down flat against the board before soldering.  Thinner circuit is easier to install in your chest piece.
  • The remaining two parts are the capacitor and 10k resistor.  Solder in place where indicated.
  • Clean up.  Turn the board around and clip the excess leads off.

main_circuit_back_outline

Now to solder the front parts on the main board.

  • Examine a digit display part, look for the small notch. This marks the orientation.
  • Insert each of the 5 displays, but do not solder down yet.  Double check that they are inserted right side up. They will not function is installed upside down.
  • You may now solder the displays.  The solder points are between the resistors on the other side.  Use the solder wick to clean up any unintentional solder connections.
  • The final part to go on the front of the main board is the chip.  Again, note the notch for the orientation.

main_circuit_front_outline

Last is to wire the two boards together and power up.

  • Figure how much space you need between the two displays.
  • Examine the area on each board labeled display connector.  The line next to one of the pins indicates orientation.
  • Cut 6 wires to cover the distance between the connectors adding an extra inch for positioning.
  • Solder each of the six wires, positioning pin 1 to pin 1, pin 2 to pin 2, and so on
  • Connect the battery pack, the wires are color coded. Red goes to +, Black goes to -.  Do not mix these up, you will destroy the chip.

fett_display_wiring

Power it up and enjoy!

 

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