Storm Surge - myStorm debuts at OSHCamp 2016

In this post Ken describes the hectic weekend in Hebden Bridge - for OSHCamp 2016 - where myStorm was about to make it's UK debut.

Thursday

Our annual pilgrimage to Hebden Bridge started at 7am on Thursday. The only problem was that I had been out in Hove until 2am, and there was the small question of where the special fried rice and knicker-bocker glory spoon found later in my rucksack had come from exactly.

It took a couple of hours to get my stuff together and decant my possessions from my bedsit to my car and inform Alan at 9am that I was "running a little late"

I got up to Farnham around 11am and after repacking the car and fitting the bike rack, we were on our way North at around 11:50.

The journey was fairly uneventful - traffic was light as we headed up the M40 and A43 to Northampton and then up the M1 towards Nottingham. Alan's eldest daughter was cadging a lift as far as Nottingham, Trowell services - for a week with a friend before starting at University.

We made Sheffield by 16:00 and met the Pimoroni guys - who had offered us the loan of some Raspberry PIs for the OSHCamp Weekend Workshop - so we could run our myStorm course on the Sunday morning.

What should have been a 10 minute pop-in and pick up the Pis - turned into a 3 hour micro brewery session - at Sheffield's latest brew pub "The Sentinel" - just opened a few weeks ago - and only 200 metres from Pimoroni's pirate base The one noteworthy feature of the Sentinel - was the exceptional good beer - the benches outside in the sunshine and the novelty urinals - that were made from stainless steel beer kegs - laser cut into an effective pissoir and mounted on the wall. So this was steel working in Sheffield 2016!.

We headed over the hills towards Halifax and reached Hebden Bridge around 9:30pm. "Mama Weirdigan's - The Hebden bridge Hostel" is a modern youth hostel - just £20 a night for comfortable bunk room accommodation. This was our third trip to OSHCamp - and after dumping our bags - we were back off into the town to grab a few pints and a late take away curry.

We ended up at the Fox & Goose Inn - a popular haunt at the base of the Heptonstall Road. I got taking to some local Hebden residents - and before I knew it - it was 2am and most definitely time to go home. I staggered up the steep hills of Birchcliffe - back to the hostel - where I managed to wake most of my room mates - around 3am.

Friday

Up at 7am - shaved and showered, breakfasted and down to Hebden Bridge Town Hall for "Festival Day" - the start of the week long Hebden Bridge digital festival - "Wuthering Bytes".

First Up was Dr Lucy Rogers - with her keynote talk about digital animatronic dinosaurs - at Black Gang Chine - on the Isle of Wight. This set the tone for the day - a series of informative, entertaining talks from speakers from across the UK - with widely varying experiences of the UK's digital tech scene.

My most enjoyable talk, and also popular amongst the audience - was that of Seb Lee-Deisle, describing his Laser Gun which had recently gone viral. Seb is an artist based around Brighton- with an international reputation for doing cool things artistically with powerful scanning lasers.

I had put my name up for a lightning talk - so at 5pm I gave them 15 minutes off the cuff on myStorm - the scene was set - all we had to do now - was deliver.

Saturday.

I don't recall much of Friday night - but beer was a part of it. Hebden Bridge is blessed with good pubs, excellent beers and a friendly holiday atmosphere.

Early Saturday - and it was off to the Birchcliffe Centre for a day of talks at OSHCamp - on arrival I asked our compere Jeremy Bennet when I was speaking in the line-up? Second he said. I muttered something like JHMFC - which is a choice profanity I use for when something is truly bad - and resigned to the fact that I had about 30 minutes to prepare my presentation - and just how bad could it possibly be?

Ken's open education presentation

I bluffed my way through about 20 slides, on an open source approach to education - and how we were going to train the next generation of engineers - prepared to face the challenges of the digital revolution. It went down fine and I was happy to be able to relax a little.

Opening up education

Saturday was a mixture of excellent talks - but I unfortunately did not have time to hear them all as I spent a couple of hours sitting at a table soldering the GPIO headers onto the myStorm pcbs. I was truly grateful that Alex Lang helped me out with this slightly irksome task.
Ken soldering headers Saturday afternoon was wet, grey and drizzling - low cloud had descended into the Calderdale Valley.

Alan's FPGA presentation

Whilst I was soldering headers to pcbs, Alan was desperately finishing off the firmware and working towards getting an image for the microSD card that would be used in the Raspberry Pi's that we had borrowed to act as the toolchain hosts, this was difficult as the original RPi zero image was not behaving on the Raspbery Pi 2s that we hade for the workshop. At the same time Mark was working down south on the previous night and day shift to get the complete myStorm toolchain up and running on his raspberry Pi zero. Inserted into all of this was Al's presentation slot "Going Beyond the von Neumann Architecture with FPGAs", Somehow he manged to sandwich in this and finish his Verilog workshop documentation whilst attending the other talks.

Alan's YOSYS Presentation

The firmware marathon task continued into the Saturday night re-configuring for Raspberry Pi 2's instead of Zeros, but we found time to get up to the White Lion in Heptonstall for our usual Saturday Night Social - a pub meal and a few pints with other attendees of the OSHCamp.

Sunday

An early start on Sunday, and I got to the breakfast room around 7:30am to find Alan still battling with the Pi code. Some of the other course attendees came and helped out - so at 9am there were four laptops duplicating the microSD cards - so that we would have enough to hand out to the course attendees.

The FPGA Workshop was 30% over-subscribed for the 25 places and equipment we had allowed for. When the Birchcliffe Centre opened at 9:30, it was a case of all helping out to set up the tables and chairs - so that we could run the 4 parallel hardware workshop sessions.

By 10am we were organised - so I repeated my introduction to myStorm presentation to the delegates - re-emphasising that they were receiving brand new hardware that was barely a week old - since it had been reflowed in Shenzhen - and this course was literally the first time that their boards had been powered up. They were in fact acting as our guinea pigs - and as such they would receive a free myStorm board to take home with them away the end of the workshop.

myStorm workshop

As Alan was starting his part of the introduction to Verilog programming and the Ice Storm tool chain - I set up a table at the side of the room - where I could continue soldering on the connectors. I then discovered that the myStorm boards were missing two mission critical 22pF capacitors used on the crystal oscillator circuit of the STM32 ARM mcu - and without these the board would not work. Fortunately we had brought a complete set of spare parts up from Surrey, so it would be a case of modifying each of the 25 demo boards in turn throughout the course of the Workshop session.

It was at this time that I was joined by our youngest attendee - Dan Mather, not quite 15 but already an expert with Raspberry Pis, Arduinos and most importantly he knew how to solder SMT components. So we sat down at the "FPGA Clinic" and began the upgrade process on the boards working 2 at a time until by 2pm - all the boards had been upgraded with the SMT capacitors and also the all important "Boot Header".

After lunch, Alan had completed his introduction to Verilog - and it was time to start wiring the myStorm boards up to the Raspberry PIs so that they could be programmed. Unfortunately, we were short of the 40 way GPIO cables, and the replacements that we had ordered from Pimoroni had not arrived. The solution was simply to use 4 female to female jumper wires, carrying serial Rx, Tx, +5V and 0V - as the STM32 could be bootloaded via a serial connection.

Within about 30 minutes, some of the attendees had sucessfully programmed the myStorm board - and had the red LED blinking - in a "Hello World" manner. This was a wonderful moment - and Alan and I could breath again - we had successfully got myStorm running on multiple boards and 30 delegates trained on the toolchain.

However some of the boards were not behaving correctly - they seemed to program but the red LED did not blink. They appeared to all have the same symptom - the red LED would remain off. We then modified the Verilog to blink the next LED in the sequence and that also remained off. Time to get the oscilloscope out and diagnose this problem that was affecting about 20% of the boards. It was quickly traced to the 100MHz oscillator module - that just was not producing any clock output. We had 3 spare oscillator modules - and Dan swapped out the defective modules using the SMT hot air rework "pencil". This immediately fixed the problem and the bad boards were fixed.

The most likely cause of this was the oscillator had been over baked during the reflow process - possibly with the wrong reflow temperature profile. This could be easily remedied - and I bought some additional modules from RS Components so that the rest of the pcbs could be fixed and sent out to their anxious new owners.

At 4pm we brought the workshop to a close - with a quick debrief and agreements to hold a followup workshop at one of the forthcoming OSHUG meetings in London.

It had been a successful weekend - so we went off to one of Hebden's popular pubs for a celebratory beer!