Wednesday and Thursday in Tokyo

It’s Thursday early evening and we’ve been pretty busy! We’re currently relaxing at our new hotel and getting ready for dinner, which will be traditional. Turkey in Tokyo! Hooray!

Wednesday we slept in a bit and took our time getting ready. We had to change hotels cause we only booked three nights at the Sunroute Plaza. I think if we come back to Tokyo we’ll plan to stay there the whole time. The location is killer and the room is very nice.

Once we got ready and planted our luggage with the staff we head back out to Akihabara to hit some stuff we had missed on Monday and some stuff that was closed. I got a card reader I really liked and Courtney got an iPhone case. We were both feeling kinda run down from all the walking of the last few days and after a quick lunch at Yoshinoya we went back to the hotel to lounge around in the lobby till it was time to move.

Our next hotel was The Hotel Villa Fontaine Shiodome in same. So far it’s very nice! The staff speak excellent English and it’s even a little more swanky than the previous. The entrance to the hotel is an 11 story atrium which is really imposing and very cool. We checked in and lounged around for a while, being a little toured out. We finally decided on dinner at The Oregon Bar and Grill next door which was awesome. It’s on the 42nd floor of a high rise and had great views of Ginza and surrounds. We both had Japanese steak which was very tasty. Kinda fatty for me, but the fat was delicious and buttery so it was great. The Oregon was pretty funny. They had some kind of weird fetish with Oregon and everything was all about Oregon. Oregon approved beef, Oregon wines, a big American flag, a picture of the governor, etc. It was strange. I felt very under dressed and was a little uncomfortable, but they treated us well. One of my favorite memories will forever be the maître d’ helping Courtney into her hoody.

After dinner we were done in, so after a quick stop at the Am/Pm where I found a red colored cola in a bottle with a  logo that was clearly ripped off from Tabasco we headed back to the hotel and crashed. We had to be up very, very early this morning.

Which brings us today. We got up at 4am to make the pilgrimage to the Tsukiji fish market to see the tuna auction. The auction is where all the tuna caught the day before are bid on and purchased to fill the restaurants of Japan with the day’s fish. Courtney found a little trivia factoid that said 1 of every 5 fish caught in the WORLD pass through the Tsukiji fish market.

We eventually found our way to the market but it’s very tourist hostile and had a hard time finding our way. There are thousands of stalls, hundreds of people and hundreds of these little one man fish carrying carts that blast down little rows no more than 6 feet wide. You quickly learn to have eyes in the back of your head, the side of your head, the backs of your ankles and everywhere else. Frankly, it’s terrifying.

Since we had no idea where we were going, we made a mistake and entered the market just a few feet too early. If we had gone another 20 feet we would have seen a sign, a map and a info book. Instead we wandered into mass insanity and got totally lost. We eventually decided to just run for it and got out of there. As we were looking for the way back to the hotel I decided we should just cross the street and look down a road and there was the map and everything else. That helped us pretty quickly get to the tuna auction and we caught the last 15 minutes of it.

The tuna auction is pretty wild. There are hundreds of giant tuna fish laid all over the floor with their heads off and a cut in the tail that I assume shows the quality of the meat. A dude starts to ring a bell and everyone crowds around a fish and then everyone starts yelling. I had no idea how much they are selling for; I’d love to know. Finally, when you win your fish you grab it and drag it out the door. It’s all very, very low tech and visceral.

The long walk and the insane energy put us back at the hotel pretty quickly, and we cleaned up for breakfast and then a long, long nap. Finally, we headed back out to Roppongi to check out Roppongi Hills, which is a 56 story shopping mall. We skipped the shopping part and went right to the top and then the TOP called the Sky Deck. There is an observation deck at the 52nd floor which is enclosed but for another ¥300 you can go to the Sky Deck, level 56, which is actually the roof of the building. You are up there in the open air with the helipad and all the machinery that lives on the top of a modern skyscraper. It was a geek wet dream and I took lots of pictures of giant AC compressors and window cleaning cranes and machines.

And now we are back at the hotel resting up again before dinner. We’re having American Thanksgiving dinner at Roti Roppongi at 9pm. It’s going to be great. Roasted turkey and all the fixings. We’ll have to see how it compares to the last turkey Thanksgiving I had – at Ruth’s Chris in Seattle.


Tuesday in Tokyo

So it’s Tuesday evening and we’ve been having a wonderful time in Tokyo. Monday we started the day wandering around Akihabara. We spent a ton of time in Radio Departo, which is a 4 story building full of tiny stalls where old guys sell every kind of new and vintage electronics you can think of, and in Radio Center which is a one story version of same with a little more focus on consumer stuff. I really wish I had access to this place back home. It wouldn’t replace Digikey, but it would be really handy when I needed a certain fan, or enclosure, or weird ass wire wound resistor from 1950. We also went to Yodobashi Camera which is the largest electronics store in the world. It’s something like 9 stories with each one being as large as a good sized Best Buy. It was a lot of fun to look around and Courtney picked up a few small gifts and such. And we also spent some time in the small robots and hobby stores. Fun!

After Akihabara we came back to the hotel to rest a bit and then we headed out to wander around Shinjuku. We ended up in an English pub called Hub that was pretty good. Good beer, good fish and chips and really bad company. There were a trio of Americans sitting a few tables away being complete assholes. One guy spent a solid hour telling the others about how many models his friends fucked at the top of his lungs. I noticed he never mentioned how many models HE fucked. Not surprising. They were loud, brash and rude. Exactly what people expect of us in foreign countries. I was sad to see it. It’s the first time I’ve seen that kind of behavior from Americans in another country.

After Hub we went over to Tokyo Tower to enjoy the nighttime view from 330 meters and eventually made our way back to the hotel where we passed out hard.

Today we got a bit later of a start but we made up for it in seeing stuff. We spent a few hours roaming around Shibuya and saw Hachiko’s statue and the famous Shibuya crossing which looks like all those scenes from Braveheart every time the light changes and we went to Asakusa which is the “old town” in Tokyo. Most of Tokyo is neon and craziness, where Asakusa is a little more like old Japan. It also boasts a very, very large lantern.

In Shibuya we were looking for a place to eat lunch and we came across a pizza place. We decided to check it out and it turned out to be a pizza buffet with a totally reasonable price and it was great. Some of the pizza was a little weird, and some of it was very weird but there was plenty that was really good. Check out Shakey’s if you are in Shibuya!

Now we are once again back in the hotel resting up for the evening. I think we’re going to have a pint or two at Hub again and then maybe hit some bars in Roppongi. Woo!

Sad State of Affairs

It’s sad for me to see that as I write this post from our hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan I can still see posts from last year’s Japan trip on my front page. I used to post a lot but I’ve stopped! It’s not that less is going on; there’s more, if anything. It’s just that every time I sit down to write I realize it’s going to take hours to catch up and instead I post something pithy on my Twitter feed and get back to work.

Anyway! We’re on vacation again in Japan. It’s pretty exciting! This time we’ve decided to stick purely to Tokyo and really dig in. We have lots of stuff planned this time around and intend to really make the most of our time. We’ll be going to the International Robotics Exhibition at the end of the week which is super exciting and we intend to spend a full day in Akihabara this time around. I’m for the the stalls of Radio Town and Courtney for the highrises filled with 8 bit history. It’s gonna rock.

We’re staying in Shinjuku for the first half of the trip due to some excellent hotel sleuthing by Courtney. It’s totally affordable and we’re about 1 block from all the action. It’s great. We also found out we could take the Narita Express from the airport straight to Shinjuku by paying a 170 Yen fare adjust when we got off, so that rocked.

It’s Monday morning here, pretty early since we’re a bit jet lagged. We’re about to head out and hit the city.

We’re staying at the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. So far, highly recommended.

Making PCBs

I’ve been struggling for years to come up with a good process to make quality prototype PCBs at home before sending them off for professional manufacture. It seems like I’ve always run into one problem or another. Recently I decided to just work on it until I got a process that works and I think I’ve done that. Or at least I’m pretty close.

I’m documenting this so that I have a reference, and hopefully it helps you too.

Make your schematic and board in Eagle.

Put a vRestrict rect around all components. This keeps you from having to solder vias and then put components above it. If you use a plating method you can skip this. I use bits of wire.

Put a tRestrict around all through hole components that will be placed on the top of the board and a bRestrict around ones that will be on the bottom. This keep you from having to solder the top and bottom sides of components. You can skip this for easy things like resistors and capacitors. I recommend it for things like ICs and any component whose body is close to the board.

Set up your DRC for minimum clearances of 12 mil and minimum trace size of 16 mil. The larger you can go here the better. I like to start very high and go down until the board is routable. The larger values you use here the more likely your board will come out correct.

Pour ground planes on top and bottom. Choose the POLY tool, select the top layer, set width to 16, isolate to 40, and spacing to 50 if you are using hatching. I prefer solid. Draw the poly around your entire board. Choose the NAME tool and set the name of the poly to GND (or whatever your ground signal is) and then hit RATSNEST. This will pour the ground plane and connect it where appropriate. Do the same for the bottom layer. The ground serves two purposes: One, it’s good design and decreases noise and two it’s less copper you have to etch off which makes your etching go faster and saves your etchant.

Probably need to use RESTRING here to increase size of vias. They were too small.

Draw your board outline on the dimension layer. It’s important that you draw it in one operation, or at least keep in mind the direction you draw the individual lines. You should choose a starting point and then draw  your outline clockwise, never reversing direction or crossing the board. The is important for milling out the outline later.

Save your board, show all layers, select the entire board and CUT.

Create a new board separate from your schema. This will be the board we use to actually etch and mill.

Place three registration marks on the new board. I’m using the 1/8″ marks in the JVN library. Place the marks at:
0.25″, 0.25″
1.25″, 0.25″
0.25″, 1.25″

These marks are used to zero everything for the rest of the process. You’ll use them to line up artwork, drills, milling, etc.

Use the PASTE tool to paste in your board and place it at about 0.50″, 0.50″.

Use the CHANGE tool to change the layer for the outline of your board from Dimension to Milling.

Open LAYERS and select None, then Top, Pads, Vias, Milling.

Print to transparency using Mirror, Black and Caption options.

Open LAYERS, unselect Top and select Bottom.

Print to transparency using Black and Caption options.

RUN pcb-gcode to generate top drills and top milling.

Go to the garage…

Measure the dimensions of the board artwork including the registration marks and cut out a chunk of board using these dimensions.

Drill a 1/8″ pilot hole in the bottom left corner of the board. This will become the bottom left pinning hole for the registration marks.

Pin the board to the mill using this hole and a clamp trying to make it line up reasonably square with the table.

Using the location of the center of the pin as 0,0 use the mill to drill two more 1/8″ holes at 1,0 and 0,1. The board can now be pinned down in two axes and we know it will be straight when we bring it back.

Take the board to etching station and align the top artwork with the registration marks toner side down.

Expose for 12 minutes.

Flip the board and align the bottom artwork with the registration marks toner side down.

Expose for 12 minutes.

Develop and etch the board.

Pin the board back to the milling machine and run the pcb-gcode top drill file.

Run the pcb-gcode top milling file.