This month we'd like you to meet element14 Community's September Member of the Month: peteroakes
element14: First of all, I just wanted to say congratulations on your second Member of the Month award this year.
Peter: Thanks, it was a big surprise to me!
element14: How did you come to the element14 Community?
Peter: At the end of last year my son started his first year at university and had to use Raspberry Pi, and had some issues with the power, so I started doing some googling, found a thread on the element14 Community with people who were discussing some of the power issues they had with model B. After reading through some of the discussions I felt that some of them were really off the mark as far as what people thought were the problems. I started doing research on my own and put all of my findings back on the element14 Community blog to help. I thought wow; this is pretty fun to do. I like helping people, teaching people the things that I have learnt myself. From there it really took off! From there I discovered RoadTests and applied, thinking wow, this is cool!
element14: So did your son continue learning more about the Raspberry Pi ?
Peter: No, he has moved on to doing more programming directly on his computer, not so much with the Pi. I have starting to do more things with the Pi and other controllers. I’ve always enjoyed Industrial and Home Automation. Previous to my current career I was an electronics engineer in the UK for British Gas and a few other companies doing large scale automations. Working with the Pi was brushing off the cobwebs and getting back to my roots.
element14: How did you originally get into electronics?
Peter: When I was about 16 years old looking around thinking what do I really want to do, we had some career people come in with apprenticeships. One of them was with Welwyn Electronics, which I believe is Vishay now- days I thought that looked pretty cool and thought why not try to get into that. I applied and got accepted, and everything took off from there. I always played around with radios and whatnot but was never really serious and when I got into learning more about it I became very interested in it. I think I really hit it at a critical time, right around the mid 1970s when microprocessors were just taking off. HP, Tektronix and all of their scopes and equipment were all analog with these great big HP calculators, which were the size of the desk and controlled with the HPIB (IEE488)thing. I was able to get into electronics and rapidly with digital after a year into the apprenticeship ended up as a calibration and maintenance engineer. This explains why I am so familiar with the scopes, waveform generators and lasers. As a 17 year old I was able to work with some really cool equipment and looking back it gave me a very solid background in my training
As computers evolved I started building micro-controllers, which back then would have been 6800 based or Z80 based and things like that. Before there were IBM PC’s or anything like that for industrial control. I slowly started focusing more on the software end of it when it became easier just to buy the computer.
For the last 16-20 years I have been a software architect, designing software for health industries and Governments. About the same time my son was working with the Pi, my friend started playing with Arduinos and it just really got under my skin to see what he was doing. I bought one, and another, then I started making a whole bunch of them, allowing me to have the base of knowledge to help members on the Community.
What I am focused on right now is helping people on the Community, creating tutorials on various topics and posting for members to learn more things. I also have been uploading videos on YouTube which link back to the element14 Community website.
element14: When you first came onto the element14 Community you applied for a RoadTest and was selected. Tell us about that experience.
Peter: The first RoadTest I did was the Texas Instruments Fuel Tank BoosterPack. That really set me up for things to come. Before I received the unit I downloaded the data sheets and software and found issues with it. During the test, I tried to provide feedback in a positive way. I ended up doing hours upon hours of video on a $50 Battery Booster Pack. It turned out well, but I set myself up for how I need to continue the momentum for future RoadTest’s.
element14: So, we see you have a pretty cool set-up for testing. Could you tell us how the “Bat-Cave”, as you refer it , came to fruition?
Peter: My wife and I bought a house in Toronto, Canada. I needed a space to work as I was heavy into computers and such. We designated an area and I could literally touch either side of the room with my arms stretched out. It’s maybe ten feet long, it’s not very big. I have a server rack in here, my storage, four monitors, chair, and my desk. There is not much room to do much of anything, once I started getting back into electronics I had to slide things back on my desk to make room for others. Since I started doing the tutorials and videos for elment14 I had to negotiate with my wife to have half of the basement. In the Top Members group we were already talking about how we have really messy labs at home and need things bigger. I thought well this is perfect, why don’t I not only do it, but video tape the progress and post it on the element14 Community.
element14: What has the reception been from the element14 Community about your blogs, tutorials, and video’s?
Peter: I think in general the reception has been very good. Some think they are too long, some think they need to be more in depth. You’re never going to keep everyone happy. I try to do them off the cuff and in general people respond to them quite well. I do find that certain topics accelerate more than other one’s, for example; the thing with the Raspberry Pi and the power issues just keeps reoccurring. You get so many people interested in figuring out why it’s going wrong and how to fix it. I think the project I just started that element 14 sponsored me, falls into that category. In that project, I am designing and building a bench power supply and more. I am also leading through tutorials, starting off with a student analog power supply and then working it right through to a multi-channel , multi-function, remote controllable micro controller power supply. I really don’t know where it’s going to end up, but there is a huge amount of interest in that because I think it applied to every electronics engineer. If you haven’t built a power supply for your lab experiments, you should. It has a lot of opportunity to learn different technologies and techniques.
elemet14: Your content is more educational focused. Is that something you have always been interested in?
Peter: I think part of it is giving back to other people. I really like sharing what I have learned over the years. I had a gap in my electronics career, and one of the things I want to do is help other people to learn and get an appreciation of electronics engineering. It seem for a while there all the stores that sell the gadgets, transistors, and everything keep disappearing. Now it seems to be starting to come back a bit. There are a lot of people that are trying to run before they can walk, I see this in some of the new members on the Community. The Top Members slow them down, say “hey you need to do a bit of research” and things like that . I always look for things to help people learn electronics. I come up with themes or topics that benefit me as well as help other people learn. I think I just love doing it. My wife has said to me on more than one occasion, she hasn’t seen me more passionate about something I have been doing since I started doing different things on the element14 Community.
element14: What is this avatar Minion thing that you and the other Top Members have adopted?
Peter: For people reading this that may not know, the Top Member group is a group of people that spend a lot of time on the element14 Community and contribute. Top Members build up; I guess you can call credibility, within the element14 Community. Within that private group we have a lot of fun with each other. I cannot remember exactly what happened, but someone posted something that resembled Despicable Me, oh, when I was doing my Batman themed RoadTest, the other Top Members said you need an avatar to go along with that. They presented me with a Minion thing. All of a sudden it became the almost mandatory thing that if you want to come to the Top Members group, you had to come along with a Minion, if you don’t get your own Minion we will assign one to you. I think I use three different ones, at this present time I am using an educational Minion. I think that is how the Top Members view it, we are your Minions ha ha. We don’t get paid or anything like that , but, we thoroughly love what we do and we like to help the element14 Community. When the element14 Community gives things away, they allocate it to the Minions to go play with it, to figure out how it works and evaluate it. The rest of the element14 Community can benefit from. It fits into the theme that we love to help people just like the Minions in the movie.
element14: I know you are really active in RoadTest, Top Members, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and Test & Measurement. Are here any other areas that you keep an eye on? Walk me through the first things you do when you log onto the element14 Community.
Peter: Well, I have a lot of my top topics flagged to go to my personal email. When I am mobile, I fire up my tablet or laptop and reply directly from email. When I return back home I will go to the website , cover the events that are happening, look in the general areas to see if there are any that have not been resolved or responded to. I don’t think there are any area’s that I will not dive into and try and help if I can. I have many boards at home, but if I don’t have something and I see a reoccurring theme, I will talk to element14 to see if they can provide me with what is needed so I can help the Community . For example The Raspberry Pi Model B, has a couple of issues. I have one here that I can play with and start answering questions for the Community.
Regarding RoadTest, newer people or younger engineers sometimes will get a bit stuck with what to do. I won’t always participate in a RoadTest directly, but I will set myself up with some equipment and put content up on the website that lends a helping hand . That way if you are having trouble getting sensors working for something, do this. That way they will then be able to continue with and focus on the RoadTest instead of trying to get the thing running. element14 Community is also really good at helping out with things like that.
elemet14: Have you participated for any of the Design Challenges?
Peter: No, I have been doing a summer project. I didn't want to comprise that, and now I have my power supply project that I am building content for as well. I thought about applying but thought, well, what I am going to do is get some of the parts and I will produce some content that will help people that are doing the challenge without actually doing the challenge itself. Some of the prizes I can’t take up on anyway even if I did win. Not saying I would win, but if I did, I wouldn't be able to take on the prize and some of the parts that were being offered because I already have. It made more sense for me to just help out by making some tutorial content for the people actually doing the challenge in case they get stuck in a specific area.
element14: So even though you are not participating in specific RoadTest or design challenge, you are still engaged in more of a supportive educational role. Do you find that the participants of these reach out to you directly or via the Community by posting on your content?
Peter: Most of the time, they start out by posting comments into the challenge or into a specific area on the Community. Sometimes it will turn into a direct email to me with specific questions about how do I do this, or how can I resolve my issues. I will then post into the forums, because responding to just one person helps one person, but replying on the forums helps everyone. I will try and get the members directly messaging me back to the forums as fast as I can.
element14: Do you have anything planned for your next project?
Peter: Well I think this current bench power supply project is going to take 2-3 months, but yes. I am always looking beyond. I am actually looking forward to more RoadTest’s coming up. I know at the beginning of the year I managed to get selected for the wave form generator/ Right now I have a limited amount of test equipment that I can use for things. I do have a good power supply and a couple of good hand held meters. Some of the things I don’t have I am hoping will come up in future Roadtest’s for me to apply to.
element14: Last question for you, are there any members that you follow or can’t wait for a chance to read their posts?
Peter: I do make it a point to follow some people. Some of these are Top Members, but it is not because they are in the Top Members group. These are people that are doing very active and interesting content. People like Michael Kellett, mcb1, and jw0752. Shabaz and a few others are doing these really awesome reviews of the spectrum analyzer. I applied for that RoadTest but didn't win one. I am seeing what these guys are doing, and it’s like, you know these guys are the ones that needed to have these things. These members are doing such an awesome job of presenting really cool things you can do with it. I get a chance to see what they are doing with it and learn for myself at the same time.
element14: Thanks Peter!