Saturday, January 28, 2012

Amazing Grace!

Grace is AMAZING! So is Texas Instruments (TI) Grace, a graphical application for setting up a MSP430 microprocessor. Going through all of the LaunchPad labs, I gained an appreciation for the complexity of this little chip: nearly 1000 pages of reference material to set up all of the registers, to configure the clock, timers, I/O ports and A/D converters. The normal process involves flipping bits in a bunch of registers using cryptic ANSI C. The material and examples they provided in that wiki made it possible for me. The very last lab in the series introduced Grace. You just can't appreciate Grace until you see how difficult it is without it, and how much it cost. Someone made a great sacrifice to make this kind of access available. Yet it is FREE!
It is like the Denny's menu: you point to the pretty pictures and make a selection through pull downs. Once you make all of your selections on the graphical interface, you can see the actual C code that it generated on another page tab. Grace is called up in your program as a function. It permits you to spend more time on developing your application and less on setting it up. It is really GREAT!

Grace wiki [Link]

Screen shots of all Grace windows [Link]

LaunchPad wiki [Link]

My other interests [Link]

Sunday, January 22, 2012

LaunchPad MSP430 Fan Blog

I have long admired the creative development kits that Texas Instruments (TI) has come up with over the years: USB programming dongels with detatchable processor boards, wireless links, even a wrist watch with a RF link, accelerometer and temperature sensor. These kits are inexpensive (all under $100, several under $20) and the MSP430 is a versatile chip. Over the last 10 years, I have purchased a variety of them; but quicky run into some high hurdles and steep learning curves that frustrated my efforts. Novice teaching materials took a few years to catch up with TI's innovative products. I would attack the 430 for a few months, and then go back to something easy , like a PICAXE processor, (in BASIC), to feel a small sense of accomplishment, though I knew I was reverting back to the 'little league' of embedded programming. Fortunately a workshop has been composed for the TI LaunchPad board, which is extremely detailed, (i.e. even for 'dummies' like me) that explains and de-encrypts the C code needed to control the MSP430 line of processors. They practically give the kit away at under $5, and the free versions of Code Composer Studio (CCS), IAR, GRACE and other tools are of phenominal value. I just successfully completed all of the experiments in the entire 182 page LaunchPad workshop (less the capacitive touchpad, 'cause I didn't have one) and I could not be happier with the system, literature and TI. Not only did this make sense of the MSP430G2231 chip included; but it opened the door to my making use of all of the other hardware that I have purchased over the years: the RF links, my Chronos watch and the USB dongles.

The bar for MSP430 is higher than for PICAXE BASIC: anyone climbing this hill will have to be more committed and willing to wade through nearly 1000 pages of references (see link to list below). However, the extra effort will be rewarded through understanding at a much deeper level how the processor operates, and in having much more control of how it carries out instructions and even controlling its power consumption. Now that I have performed all of the labs, I'm going back through all of the code to study just how and why each register was set they way they were; and then I will pursue some of my own projects. Ultimately, I'd like to teach a small group of people how to do this.

Essential References [Link]

My other Interests [Link]