Tag: How to Build a Computer

How to Build a Computer 22: Hard Disk Drives


We’re going to take a jaunt entirely out of sequence here, moving from circuits and silicon into larger scale components. Today we’re talking about hard disk drives. Why? Because it’s a fun and interesting technology, because I know a thing or two about it from first-hand experience, but mostly because I’ve got a book to return. And so we’ll take a quick dive into the world of hard disk drives to see what, as the bear over the mountain intended, we can see.

An example HDD. Entirely too dusty to be functional.

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As a kid in the Boy Scouts we’d go camping occasionally at Fort Gibson. This, you see, was the name the eponymous Mr. Gibson gave to his extensive tract of land along the south fork of the Flambeau River. Being a firm proponent of the principle that Men are just Boys with bigger Toys he […]

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How to Build a Computer 20: Digital Watches


Because I’m the sort of simian who still thinks that digital watches are pretty neat, I figured I’d work through a practical example. We know how to represent binary numbers, and we know how to express logic with gates. That’s enough knowledge to be dangerous. From there I worked out how to light the lights on a digital watch face. Here, let me show you. But first a quick disclaimer. This isn’t my area of expertise; odds are there are plenty of ways to do this better or more efficiently. I can say at least that this one works.

Okay, let’s talk numbers. Recall from the discussion of binary that you can express any normal number as a series of ones and zeros. So, for example, you could draw One (that is, the presence of bread) in the 4’s place, one in the 2’s place, one in the 1’s place. 4 + 2 + 1 = 7

How to Build a Computer 19: Logic Gates


Welcome back to How to Build a Computer. You recall where we’re at, right? Hah! Trick question. As if I’d stick to a rational sequence. Today we’re going over some of the details in how you go from electrical circuits doing whatever it is that electrical circuits do and turn that into logic. We’re talking Logical Gates

Logic gates! Each one more logical than the last.

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Listen, I’m going to be straight with you. This one is mostly for my fun. I mean, they’re all up largely because I like to hear the sound of my own voice. But this one, this one is a bit superfluous. This is the quantum mechanical explanation for how semiconductors work. I’ve already described the […]

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Today we’re talking about strippers. By which I mean the machines and the process of stripping photoresist off of your material once the pattern has been applied. Now, the main problem with the strip operation, before you even get to the chemistry involved, is the number of bad jokes that are available. You don’t start […]

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How to Build a Computer 15: Developing


No, this isn’t a story that’s still in progress, this is a process step. ‘Developing’ in this context means you’re chemically removing half your photoresist (either the stuff that was exposed in a positive photoresist or the stuff that wasn’t in a negative photoresist.) And no, it’s not about guys making software either. Look, if you’re going to stop us every single time the chance for a bad joke comes up… actually that’s pretty much the game plan. Carry on.

An exposed photoresist molecule. The cheese is carbon, the sausage is oxygen, and I’m thinking it’s high time to conduct some more chemistry, if you know what I mean.

The Texas Two-Step


In a recent installment of @hankrhody ‘s excellent (and delicious) series on building a computer, he wrote about how to do a binary search. In the comments, I made an oblique reference to a better way to do that kind of matching, referring to something I called the Texas Two-Step.

Now don’t get me wrong; in many situations Hank’s solution is an excellent choice, particularly if you want to do a single, real-time lookup. For a single or only a few lookups, Hank’s way is hard to beat. But what if you want to shuffle the whole deck?

How to Build a Computer 14: Alignment


Last time we saw how you physically expose a panel. That is, how you shoot it with ultraviolet light to get a pattern into the stuff so that you can do things to that pattern later on. Today the plan is to talk about all the ways this can go wrong. We’ll start with the big one: alignment. If you’ll recall the profile of the jumping trace we looked at a couple weeks ago:

Hooray for a well-stocked media library!

How to Build a Computer 12: Exposing


We know how photoresist works and how to get it on your material. Or my material rather; most of you aren’t going to be running laminators but no matter. How about transferring a pattern to the photoresist? That’s what we’re going over today. To change the photoresist you’ve got to hit it with an ultraviolet photon. Here, let me demonstrate:

A chunk of photoresist with a bunch of common engineering tools on it. Especially the fez.

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We’ve seen how photoresist works, now we’re going to see how that actually works in the real world. Before you can print things with the patterns you draw in your photoresist you’ve got to draw those patterns. Before you can draw those patterns you’ve got to stick your photoresist on there. Today we’re going to […]

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How to Build a Computer 8: Organic Chemistry


I started with a discussion of the magic of photoresist, however (say it with me!) it got long-winded and I cut it down to the organic chemistry review. Next week photoresist. This week we’re going over some basic organic chemistry. Sounds fun, right? It’s going to be even more fun than that! You wait and see. We’re going to start small though, with methane.

You smell something? No? It’s probably just me.

How to Build a Computer 9: Photoresist


We’ve just got off a quick overview on organic chemistry. Now we’re getting back to photoresist. The point of photoresist, if you’ll recall, is to take a pattern so you can print stuff on your wafer. To do that it has to be a chemical that responds to ultraviolet light. And I mean more “responds to” than get a mild sunburn; it’s got to chemically change so you can transfer the pattern of light into a pattern of stuff.

It’s a polymer made of benzene rings. Someone’s showing off.

How to Build a Computer 6: Simple Transistor Circuits


The problem with simple transistor circuits is that any circuit with a transistor in it isn’t all that simple. And frankly, I don’t know how much you know about circuits; I’m guessing it ranges from “nothing at all” to “teach your grandmother to suck eggs why don’t you.” At the risk of boring the latter crowd we’re going to give this a slow and superficial treatment. Let’s start with a circuit that’s just about as simple as I can make it. So simple it doesn’t even have a transistor in it!

I’d make this circuit more interesting but I don’t know the symbol for ‘electric chair’.

How to Build a Computer 5: Fundamental Chemistry


I know I promised simple transistor uses last time. Thinking about it though, I’d rather go into a bit more detail about the electron golfing I described earlier. It’s a neat analogy, but it doesn’t cover some things you can do with diodes. Interesting things. Therefore we’re gonna dive in for a deeper understanding of chemistry, atoms, and cartoons. Let’s look at a model of an atom using common household objects:

You all have your Ricochet mugs, right?

How to Build a Computer 4: Diodes and Transistors


We all love blasting things with ions, and most of us could spend all day shooting at wafers, but eventually someone is going to ask you to build something useful. What am I doing with all this mess of silicon anyhow? Here’s where we see the use of all that stuff. What do you suppose happens when you put a p-doped chunk of silicon next to an n-doped chunk of silicon?

One last cookie photo, then I’m going on a diet. Swearsies.