Savage///Circuits is a project website devoted to electronics and microcontrollers and the things we create. If you’re here and confused about the website looking different or wondering where the forums are, you should read the History & Changes page.
Do you have a project or product design in mind but don’t quite have the technical knowledge or resources to realize it? Savage///Circuits can provide consulting or contracting services to help you realize your project or product goals. If Savage///Circuits has helped you with a project or product before, please add to our testimonials page by filling out the testimonials form.
We have Complete Projects which include any photos, schematics, source code and bill of materials when available. We have Product Reviews on test tools, bench equipment, diagnostic tools and other hardware and electronics used by experimenters, hobbyists, hackers and engineers. We have videos on electronics, microcontrollers, projects, reviews and interviews such as Savage///Circuits TV. We also have short demo and tutorial clips such as Short Circuits and Other Videos as well.
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About Chris Savage
|I have been interested in electronics and mechanical stuff for as long as I can remember. Whenever I got a toy that was electronic or had complex mechanics I would take it apart to see how it worked. I was always fascinated with technology, everything from the simple operation of a flashlight to the complex operation of a television set piqued my curiosity and I was compelled to learn. This interest in technology has led me to where I am today and the help I received from so many people over the years has compelled me to give something back.
Savage///Circuits provides a conduit with which I can share my knowledge, projects, reviews and videos with like-minded people. This has never been a for-profit endeavor and as a hobby, has always been an expense, just as people pay to go golfing, bowling or whatever. This is my hobby. As long as I can afford to keep going I will.
1980 – Radio Shack and Forrest M. Mims III
|In 1980 at the age of 11 I got my break when my parents decided to let me purchase some parts from Radio Shack with my birthday money. I bought switches, light bulbs, a crystal radio kit and an Engineer’s Notebook Volume 1. This became my electronics bible and I found myself requesting inter-district library book transfers to get more information, since my school only had one book on electronics and it was about Vacuum Tubes.
I started hacking toys and appliances at an early age sometimes resulting in interesting changes and sometimes resulting in the loss of the device. Some of my first radios and record players fell victim to my curiosity as did some of my toys. I had an innate desire to figure out how things worked and I didn’t mind sacrificing things to further my knowledge and experience.
|Eventually I got a 150-in-1 Electronics Kit which had the greatest impact on me learning about components and circuits. The instructional manual was very thorough and taught me a lot throughout the range of projects included.
Over time I collected the Engineer’s Notebook II and several Mini-Notebooks to supplement my knowledge and took advantage of Radio Shack’s vast array of cool parts to play with. Breadboarding the various circuits was like graduating from the 150-in-1 kit and its spring terminals. Working with discrete components and integrated circuits was fun and let’s not forget the 555 timer and all those LEDs!
1982 – Commodore, the VIC-20 and the Apple II
|Some time around 1982 my school acquired a Commodore VIC-20 through a grant. It sat in a classroom collecting dust because nobody knew how to connect it or use it. The school actually purchased the VIC-20 Programmer’s Reference Guide. Everything sat on the corner table and one day I asked the teacher if I could read through the manuals. She was impressed that someone had interest and I spent the week reading both the manual and the reference guide front to back. The next week when I came in I asked if I could set the computer up and program it. She couldn’t believe I would know how to do that. Pretty soon I had the thing displaying “HELLO WORLD!” and flashing colors and even playing sounds.|
|I saved programs onto the datasette recorder and kept a copy of everything I wrote including every revision of every program. Eventually we got an assembler cartridge and I learned how to do some assembly programming with the help of the Programmer’s Reference Guide. Before the end of the year was out I knew the machine inside and out and was confident I could interface to its user port. Unfortunately those last few months saw it impossible to get to the PC as my interest inspired others to get to the study hall early so they could get to the computer first and pretty soon it was all but impossible to get any time on it. I did get a chance to program the Apple IIc and Apple IIe though, including typing in some program listings from Compute! magazine. It was interesting waiting for the next issue of the magazine to see what program listings would be included. I was also introduced to my first Apple games, “Jordan VS Bird: One on One” and “Conan”.|
1984 – Commodore and the C=64
|While there was something magic about turning on the VIC-20 and seeing, “CBM BASIC V2 3583 BYTES FREE” and the inviting “READY.” prompt it was even more impressive when the school got a C=64 and I powered it on to see, “COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 64K RAM SYSTEM 38911 BASIC BYTES FREE”. I had just gone from 3.5K to 38K. I knew I would actually be able to write some useful programs on this new computer, and the colors were awesome. This computer also had some of the best quality games I had ever seen.|
|I had to go back to the datasette recorder for a while (albeit a new model), but it was worth it. Floppy Disk Drives were very expensive at the time. Over the course of the next 5 years I had acquired much hardware, joined the local Commodore User Group and started doing repairs and modifications for some members. Modifications included adding the JiffyDOS Kernel, custom character ROM and even a Stereo SID chip modification. I also started doing some BBS modifications and doors and eventually wrote my own BBS software which was later ported to Amiga and finally to PC. I wrote several useful applications on the C=64, including database applications, all of which were later ported to the Amiga and PC. I met many people on the local BBS community and gained many new Commodore fan friends.|
|During this time I had also obtained a 1541 disk drive. It was interesting to learn from the schematic that the 1541 had essentially a VIC-20 inside of it. An entire 6502-based system with I/O inside each 1541! This led to some interesting disk drive hacks. I modified many disk drives to have a three position switch to override the write protect sensor. I also started repairing and upgrading Apple computers. I started building small control boards around the 6502 CPU and even hacked a few TRS-80 Coco’s from Radio Shack for their 6809 CPU. I had this table-driven assembler that could cross-compile for about a dozen different CPUs and MCUs.|
|Over time I acquired an Amiga 500, 3000 and eventually a 1200. I did some ray tracing in a program called Imagine and started learning how to use MovieSetter to make animations. I wrote music using my MIDI keyboard and Bars & Pipes. I wrote tracker MODs using MED and later OctaMED. I stuck with Commodore until the company went under. Unfortunately in my attempt to keep my business going I started acquiring PC equipment and dumping off my Commodore equipment. By 1997 I had dumped all my Commodore hardware, something I still regret to this day. I wish I still had just a fraction of what I had in 1995.|
1990 – Zilog and the Z80 CPU
|In 1990 I was visiting a friend of a friend because he thought we might hit it off. This other guy was into some of the same things as I was and I was sorely lacking of anyone to share ideas with. When we got to his house we found he had given up his pursuit of electronics and the first thing he did was hand me a programming guide for the Zilog Z80 CPU telling me he thought I would find it very interesting. He was correct.
On the way home I started reading it and realized this CPU was much more straight forward to me than even the 6502 had been. Instead of dealing with memory-mapped I/O the Z80 had separate memory and I/O banks. And it was also much easier to interface to and had a simpler clock circuit. It also had built-in refresh functions for DRAM though I was always a bigger fan of SRAM memory.
An interesting thing at the time was Commodore would eventually release the Commodore 128 (and 128D, my favorite) which would include a Z80 capable of running CP/M, an operating system eventually displaced by DOS. But it did provide a platform for those into the 6502 CPU to experiment with Z80 programming. Did I mention that I miss my highly customized 128D?
|I bought a Needham’s PB-10 EEPROM Programmer and a Datarase II EPROM eraser and quickly started experimenting with interfacing to EPROMs, SRAM, LCD, etc. I trained a couple of my friends on Z80 design in the hopes of building a user group around that. Over the next year I had built a small business (Knight Designs) and was building custom controllers for various applications, including control applications that interfaced to the PC and were controlled by PC applications written for DOS.
Later I acquired an Needham’s EMP-20 Device Programmer and got into Audio/Video switching and custom security systems. It was also somewhere around this time that Commodore had gone under, leaving me unable to maintain my Commodore business interests. I sold and gave away all of my Commodore hardware. I dissolved my partnership and started working on PCs after that.
This took me through 1995 when I was faced with microcontroller competition beating me up with single IC-based solutions which were as fast as my Z80 boards (even faster) but much cheaper and smaller. I decided to focus on the PC market for awhile and started looking into alternatives for my next generation of controllers, but the Z80 will always hold a special place for me. It was over a year before I got back into controllers and custom applications.
1996 – Relocation and the BASIC Stamp 2
|By 1996 I had relocated to my home town of Watkins Glen, NY. I didn’t realize how this would affect my business as I had never really felt dependent on being in the city before. Actually the move severely hurt me in a number of ways. For starters I no longer had a local electronics distributor and the closest Radio Shack was over 20 miles away.
Contacts were more difficult to get to and there was no local internet service provider (except AOL). In a magazine I learned about the Parallax BASIC Stamp 2 and promptly ordered a starter kit from Jameco Electronics, finding that I could do almost everything with it that I did with the Z80 except things that required interrupts.
Due to the nature of the last systems I built, interrupts were not needed in lieu of an RTC chip (DS1302) which could be used for some of the same functions. It took 2 years to get started developing with the BS2 since I still had to get rid of all my Z80 parts and stock and I still had a few commitments I could not break. I also had a lot of code to port over. With my PC business going smoothly I slowed down on design work for year or so, but in 2000 I got more serious about it and started pushing the limits of the BS2, using it in many new projects including security system designs.
|Soon I started using the BS2p40 exclusively in all new designs because of the extra memory slots, double the I/O pins, being faster than the BS2 and having I2C and Parallel LCD interface commands built in. I even created an OEM version of the BS2p40 to keep costs down.
While I was designing in a commercial capacity I decided to become more noticed in a hobbyist capacity and joined the Parallax Support Group (then, a Yahoo Group). I quickly became a contributing member and started sharing some of my non-commercial designs with others.
When the Yahoo Group switched to a more traditional forum I started linking projects from my website which had been shut down a few times, due to excessive traffic caused by my projects being posted on the likes of Slashdot.
Another thing that happened was that in 2000 my PC business, Knight Designs Computers (closed now since 2005) started picking up but I had been working out of my house. It was clear I needed a downtown store front so in 2002 I opened a shop in downtown Montour Falls, NY and moved my design work to that shop as well.
Besides building, upgrading and repairing computers as I had always done, my wife and I started a DJ business called Savage Music Service and did pretty well for quite a while doing weddings, parties, etc. Savage Music Service was a weekend business that provided an extra income to fund, not only my electronics hobby, but my gaming hobby as well.
We frequently hosted LAN parties of 8 to 16 people, focusing primarily on first-person shooters and later some RTS games as well. These were hosted by Knight Designs Computers and we always brought a multi-port switch and cables for everyone to connect and play. Some of the games we played were Quake 2, Quake 3 Arena, Unreal Tournament, Warcraft 2 and Worms Armageddon. Many of the players were also customers of my computer shop.
2005 – Relocation (again) and the Propeller Chip
|As a Parallax customer I had some insider knowledge about what was going on in Parallax. In 2005 Parallax had a Tech Support position open and it was obvious that I was very knowledgeable about the products, but Parallax was in CA and I was in NY. After some background discussion I was offered a position and relocated to CA where I worked in the Tech Support Department. Sadly, I had only 30 days to shut down my Computer Shop, DJ business and consulting business and liquidate off the assets. I also had to pack and prepare to drive a 26 foot moving truck 2700 miles from NY to CA.|
|Meeting Chip Gracey for the first was both an honor and a privilege. I knew his name from my Commodore days as the creator of the ISEPIC, which our user group had several of. But it was also a huge surprise when he showed me the Propeller chip, which, at the time had not yet been announced or released. My mind immediately flashed back to 1990 and the wheels started turning. The capabilities of this chip were incredible and it would easily replace everything I had done up to now. After being with the company for some time a position opened in the Engineering Department and I was able to get back to my roots of designing new products and improving existing ones as well as creating test procedures, test fixtures and writing example code. Up to this point I had been so busy that my personal projects had tapered off.|
2017 – Relocation (again) and Life after Parallax
|After 12 years of loyal service to Parallax I was laid off. I was already in the process of buying a house in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. So now I am trying to stay afloat while I look for new work in this area. I have decided to do consulting work again, something I could not do while employed by Parallax, due to a conflict of interest. I spent the last 12 years completely engrossed in everything Parallax, so now finding work outside is difficult because companies want Arduino, Raspberry Pi and PC programming experience, but I spent the last 12 years working exclusively with Parallax stuff.
I was removed from the Parallax Authorized Consultants page, apparently due to a perceived dislike of the company. Not sure where that came from, but it cost me some income, so to stay afloat I am going to sell off the majority of my Parallax equipment. Please check the store page for great deals on Parallax products, including discontinued items you can easily get any more. I will keep adding things to the store page over time, so keep checking back.
|Expect to see more Atmel MCU, Arduino, Raspberry Pi and PC related content on Savage///Circuits in the near future. I was already an Atmel MCU user before I started at Parallax. I have started learning more about the Arduino and Raspberry Pi via some projects I have been thinking about since the Raspberry Pi B+ was released.
I have already joined some Arduino and Raspberry Pi groups. If you have any suggestions for groups or forums you think I should check out, please send me an email. Good resources are always appreciated. I am not interested in any of the Facebook pages though. Those groups / pages only add to the noise I already get on Facebook.
Other Interests & Information
|In my free time (I know, right? Who has that?) I like to write music and I play drums and keyboards. You can check out some of my music at my SoundCloud page. I do write some PC applications here and there. Some are in the projects section on this site. I have programmed on the PC in assembly, QuickBASIC 4.5, PDS 7.1 and Visual BASIC. Most of my PC applications these days are designed to interface to my other microcontroller related projects. In the wake of moving to C programming on the Arduino I am also moving to Visual C# for future PC applications.|
|I am an avid gamer. I used to play on consoles back in the day and have fond memories of the many hours spent on my NES, Sega Master System, SNES, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, GameCube and Wii. I no longer have any console game systems. I gave them all away. I prefer PC gaming, especially online multiplayer games.
I have also recently joined the growing community of retro gamers playing old-school games on the Raspberry Pi using RetroPie. My goal is to eventually build a full-size arcade cabinet that is double-sided to make it easier for 2-player games. Once I complete this project I will post it here. Until then, you can follow my progress here: [LINK COMING SOON]
|Currently I play PC games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 as well as many of the other CoD games. I used to play many first person shooters in LAN parties I used to host through my computer business. I even used to play World of Warcraft with my wife and kids, though over time they stopped playing. I still have a ton of games through the Steam interface.
This is a highly condensed history for me as I have done so much more than I could really get into here. If you really want to get to know me, chat with me on Google Hangouts, since I no longer use Skype. Be sure to check out my blog, Savagisms and don’t be afraid to send me a message and introduce yourself. Maybe we’ll meet at a future expo or other event. Here’s my interview with EEWeb. Of course, when I was interviewed I was working for Parallax Inc, so some of the information is obsolete.
Until next time, Happy Hacking!</td
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