PICkit2 Programmer To Go + 3M ChipClip = Pure Awesomeness™

I was fearing switching all my Renard gear to DMX this year because I thought it would take a while, and I might need to debug things for a while so I put it off until setup day, today.

I had no reason to fear the switch! I compiled the PIC16F688 Renard DMX asm code into a hex file, loaded it onto my PICkit2 in “Programmer to go” and used my 3M ChipClip.

Those things combined made for complete awesomeness.

If you’re unfamiliar with either the “Programmer To Go” or the Chip Clip, here’s some more info:

Programmer To Go

Programmer To Go is a mode supported by the PICkit2 (and likely other Microchip programmers/debuggers). In a nutshell, in the PICkit software you flash the hex file to the PICkit2 itself and then you only need to provide power to the programmer and press the red button to flash µCs. It will then power and flash the target chip. It will blink the yellow light twice to indicate the device is in “programmer to go” mode and it will immediately forget those settings once you connect to the PICkit2 again using MPLAB or the PICkit2 software itself.

3M ChipClip

The 3M ChipClip is a spring-loaded clip that resembles a clothespin, but with .1″ contacts for clipping to standard DIP packaging. It has pin connectors on the top so you can run jumper wires to a programmer, breadboard, etc. I have them hooked up to pins, and the PICkit2 in the proper pin-out for programming. Chip Clips are available from mouser here.

Note that the pin-out for programming a PIC16F688 is the same as a PIC12F675 and likely many other PIC products. The two PICs I mentioned are the ones in use for my display. 2 of the PIC12F675s for the strobe randomization, and many 16F688s for the Renard controllers.

In case you’re wondering, with most of the Renard hardware at DIYC, you don’t even need to remove the PIC from the circuit, you can simply program them on board. Don’t power the board, simply plug the PICkit into USB for power, put the clip on the PIC and press the button. Today I updated all of the PICs on a Renard 64XC, one Renard 24 v3.3, one Renard SS24, a Renard SS8, and one Renard 24 HC (very similar to the v3.3). All of these worked in-circuit very quickly and easily. Within about 5 minutes I had all of my hardware switched from Renard to DMX!

Mega Beginnings

Mega Tree

Today we began construction of the Mega Tree. It has been in the planning stages for months and most pieces were acquired. Special thanks go to Ted Wiest (tweist from DIYC) for picking up the 1-1/4″ steel pipe for the center pole of the mega tree. Second special thanks goes to Jeff who made steel rings out of some scrap metal using his lathe that are like giant washers to center and secure the 1-1/4″ steel pipe in the 3″ flag pole sleeve we have installed in the front yard. All other items were purchased long ago and have been baking in the garage.

Today I began by welding the “washers” to the pipe. I realized how terrible of a welder I am, but actually, half the reason I wanted to use this method of securing the pipe was for practice. Unfortunately I was going for too close of a clearance on the ID of the washers when giving measurements to Jeff so I had to use the dremel to make the centers slightly wider. I figured this would be slightly easier than filing down burrs, and other imperfections of the pipe. Once all of the washers were welded on, the OD was a little tight for the ID of the sleeve so out came the grinder with a flap disc. Again, this was because the OD I gave Jeff was so perfect, they fit individually, but with the friction of 7 “washers” the fit was so tight I was worried I’d never get the center pole back out for the flag pole the rest of the year!

After a bit of grinding, the first piece of the center pole went up. I re-checked the angles I thought I wanted and cut the second 1-1/4″ pipe down such that I had 16’6″ of pipe above the ground for the center. With 18′ rope light for the strands and angles of 30°-60°-90° I thought I had things perfect. I began crimping the swage connectors on the wound steel rope and finished 4 lines for today. This gave me an idea that of the size/shape/stability of the tree. As I alluded to in this paragraph I wish I hadn’t cut quite as much off the center pole and the bottom was a little less “fat”, but this will have to do for this year.

Mega Wreath

We have another Mega item that we’ve only told a few people about… A Mega Wreath. We’ve seen a few variations of a Mega Wreath when searching the internet, but nothing quite like what we’re going with. It is a 16 segment monster that will adorn the roof above our garage. The roof above our garage felt very “blank” last year and Tiffany thought of a giant wreath to fill it. The wreath itself was constructed using PVC. Each of the 16 segments (easier for storage) is made up of 7 individual sections of PVC with 2 tees, and 4 elbows. Once that is complete, each has a combination of twine, plastic rabbit fencing, and garland obtained at after-Christmas sales last year. The garland will make the wreath more aesthetically pleasing during the day.

In addition to the garland making the wreath more aesthetically pleasing, we purchased a box full of “unbreakable ornaments” mid-summer that were hot-glued together to make large ornaments to spice up the wreath as well. Each of these will contain a strobe light for certain parts of our sequences to make things “pop” a little more.

Each section of the mega tree contains 3 sets of incandescent lights for approximately 1 amp per section totaling 16 amps for the wreath. Next year we hope to budget to upgrade this to LED for the power requirements. The wreath is about 60% complete as of today and we hope to be close to completion of tomorrow.

Mega Wreath segments laid out. Our daughter was about 34″ tall when this picture was taken.

Repairs, progress…

Labor day gave me time away from the labor that pays so I could do some labor on the controllers. I was able to fix the 3 bad triacs I mentioned in my last post. When I had it apart I replaced 2 additional triacs that were on the same bank with the CHN912 date code for a total of 5 replaced. After fixing those and re-assembling the controller the 17th channel wasn’t working. In my diagnosis I found that it was simply the optocoupler. Whew! I was hoping I wouldn’t have to take it apart again.

I was able to pull down the RPM E1.31->DMX Bridge for diagnosis as well. As I was hoping, the wall-wart I was using only read .48 volts so I figured that was the problem. A new wall-wart and the board appears to be working just fine again so it’s remounted up high.

I also cut CAT-5 for the extensions from the E681 controller to the pixel strips along our roofline, however they likely won’t work. I plan on purchasing some 18/3 to use instead as I’ve heard good reports of that stuff working. I think it will work better with the waterproof connectors I purchased anyways, so it’ll be win-win with the only loss being that I have to spend a little more money.

It’s going to be a long year…

I’m getting a sinking feeling that with all the things we’re adding this year the complexity is going to cause us a lot more trouble than last year. In our inaugural show last year we had no hardware failures and once things were all up and running, the only issue we had was a couple GFCI trips during some storms.

This year I already need to replace at least 3 triacs on a 24 channel controller (1/8 of the controller is dead) and now it seems my RPM E1.31->DMX bridge also needs repair and we’ve only begun a few simple tests!

Wish us luck!

August Updates

We’re now officially in crunch time. Between now and setup time we far less time than we have to accomplish. Mega tree is being worked on, a new surprise is being worked on, songs are chosen, sequencing software has been selected, and pixel work will be starting soon. Stay tuned for updates as things are built.

Mega Tree

The flag pole was erected and parts were purchased for the construction. The things left to be purchased are ground stakes and the center pole material (although hook head, pin, guy wire material, etc. has been purchased). The controller that’s planned for this also needs 3 channels replaced because they have the infamous CHN912 triacs that need to be replaced. While I have it apart, I may replace all CHN912 date-code triacs to sleep better at night.


Let’s just say that our surprise has the word “mega” in it, is a slight twist on something only a few others we know of have ever done, requires it’s own 24 channel controller, and will require it’s own 15 amp circuit.


These we’ll keep a surprise, but we have 13 songs chosen with only 2 are the same songs as last year that will be entirely re-sequenced. We likely won’t get to all 13, which is one of the reasons we are keeping this as a surprise as well.


This year we have chosen HLS as our software due to it’s low memory/CPU footprint, relatively well supported pixel handling, RGB support, and quick bug-fixing turnaround time. We have just begun the arduous process of sequencing and in addition to learning a new tool, we’ve added hundreds of channels (each pixel is 3 channels). We definitely have our work cut out for us.


Last year I used my custom solution to control our pixel strands as “dumb rgb” strips. This year we’re using a SanDevices E681 controller for individual pixel control. At the end of last year there was some initial testing done for the pixels, but they’ve been tied to the rafters and untested since. Hopefully soon the pixel extensions will be complete so further testing with Nutcracker and HLS can progress.

That’s all for now, keep checking back for updates between now and ssssshhhhhhowtime!