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Interfacing a new microchip can be a hassle. Breadboarding a circuit, writing code, hauling out the programmer, or maybe even prototyping a PCB. We never seem to get it right on the first try.
The 'Bus Pirate' is a universal bus interface that talks to most chips from a PC serial terminal, eliminating a ton of early prototyping effort when working with new or unknown chips. Many serial protocols are supported at 0-5.5volts, more can be added.
Adafruit is the official US distributor of Ian Lesnet's Bus Pirate, each purchase directly supports Dangerous Prototypes! You may also want to pick up a probe set.
Protocols: 1-Wire, I2C, SPI, JTAG, asynchronous serial (UART), MIDI, PC keyboard, HD44780 LCDs, and generic 2- and 3-wire libraries for custom protocols.