One Designer’s Trash, Another’s Treasure

PCB Earrings by "The Belle Rings ", modeled by Belinda "Belle" Brain
PCB Earrings by "The Belle Rings ", modeled by Belinda "Belle" Brain

In hardware design, as with any endeavor, one strives to minimize errors.  However, as with anything, some errors are more important to prevent or eliminate than others.  When dealing with microcontroller-based projects, I concentrate on the printed circuit board and components.  Software errors can be fixed after production, but once the hardware and PCB are produced, there are few opportunities for change.

Still, even with doublechecking the design and prototyping, an error crops up every so often.  When that happens, I can’t bear to pitch the boards immediately, so I usually stuff them somewhere in the shop.  You never know, they might have some use at some point.

I recently ran a tiny PCB with “gold immersion” plating, with black soldermask.  Though it contained an error, the board proved visually striking.  I showed them to my daughter, who enjoys pretty items, the smaller the better.  She loves adding castoffs and “trash” items to her collection, and was understandably impressed by the “baby” circuit board.  I told her she might find a use for them, at some point.

Less than a day later, she and her mother had determined the tiny PCBs might make unique jewelry items.  After purchasing some earring hoops from a local shop, she and I created hoop earrings from the small circuit boards.  We then created small storage cards for the jewelry, setting a price for the product, and dreaming up a name for her “business”.  We informed her that once she meets expenses (the boards are free, since I’ve written them off as useless, but the hoops were purchased), the remaining sales income will be hers.  I offered to promote them at the upcoming “World of Commodore” show and then list them in the online store for sale.

If you or someone you care for wants a unique single or set of earrings from “The Belle Rings”, look for them in the store shortly and enjoy!


We’re on Facebook

Thought not everyone spends time on the prevalent social network, it’s clearly a valuable way to stay in touch with consumers.  As well, it gives satisfied customers another way to promote our products with a minimum of effort.

However, I’ll admit that’s not why I signed up for a business account.  I did so for two reasons:

    • There are times when I want to share a minor update with others about the company, but it’s not worthy of a blog post.
    • Many satisfied customers are interesting in “friending” my personal Facebook account.  I’m flattered, but I feel like my life is the intersection of two social graphs.  I sincerely doubt my college roommates care about business updates, and I can’t imaging customers want to know about family issues and triumphs.

      Thus, RETRO Innovations has joined Facebook at I will continue to post worthwhile items to the web site, and will post incremental updates or interesting project information to Facebook.

      As soon as the Facebook Developer site is fixed (I’m getting errors today, and I’m not alone), I will finish the integration between this site and FB.  That should allow the FB items to display on the site as well.

      New Company Car :-)

      I remember attending the World of Commodore 2004 and falling in love with a small commuter vehicle seen while going out to eat one night in Canada.  At the time, there was no need for a commuter vehicle, and the idea passed on.

      Fast forward to 2010.  With this new position and our new location in the country, I will be commuting 30 minutes to work each day.  Since the Ford F350 truck is not known for great gas mileage (and, diesel tends to be more expensive than gasoline), I once again thought of that commuter vehicle.

      After some research (including a test drive of one in Omaha while enroute to Sioux Falls), I was able to purchase a used model with all of the options I desired.

      The vehicle?  It’s a Red 2009 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet:

      Red 2009 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet
      Red 2009 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet

      The photo shows it with our RV in the background.  It gets ~41MPG, weighs less than 2000 pounds, will indeed fit in the bed of the pickup, and can go at least 80MPH (Interstates in SD are 75).  The convertible option is truly non-essential, but some would say the entire car fits that description.  My 6’2″ frame fits comfortably in the vehicle, with plenty of legroom.  The kids fight over who gets to ride in the passenger seat, and it has been nicknamed “Smartie” already.  It does seem fitting that the Brain family would own a “Smart” car.

      Obviously, it’s no match for the worst of Winter in Sioux Falls, but those are days when the truck will justify itself as a commuter vehicle.