Oct 23

FTDI chips, a CNC Mill, Micro Arduinos and Hardware Confessions

Ok, I changed the order. But still. Here's some goings on in the outside world for inspiration.

The FTDI FT232 is (I guess) a very popular USB to serial converter. There's an article here about how windows made a driver to brick fake chips. Fun way to stop hackers, set their chips to "don't work."

This article is just titled like a hilarious joke from the past. It's called "What is This, A Microcontroller Board for Ants?" (Yep, Zoolander). It's about an ATiny85 board where the board is slightly bigger than the chip. Kudos for saving space (if I need a small arduino, I know where to go).

There is a MakerBot equivalent for a CNC machine. It's called Carvey. Article is here.

There is also a confessions of a hardware startup page. I haven't actually read it, so I do not condone what is said there. I will read it later and find it by posting it on my blog.

Oct 19

Updates in the world of Open Source Laser Tag

To quote GLaDOS, "It's been a long time."

While I've been away, there have been plenty of things going on in the world of open source, laser tag, etc. A quick google search showed me some recent developments that look exciting.

Skirmos is an open source laser tag game made by college students. It is based on the arduino, uses IR LED's to send tags (with a range of 500 feet according to their kickstarter page), X-bee radios to sync data, tricolor LED's for coloring the tag unit, has a screen (which seems to be their differentiator), and has a cool shell. Since it uses an arduino, it is hack-tastic for other arduino enthusiasts. I missed the initial kickstater, and will have to follow up with this in the future. Based on their website and kickstarter goals, the final product may not have all of the functionality that they state in their kickstarter video. But hey, they are building something cool, and I am supportive of building cool things.

The guys at Skirmos mention that they are working with Kevin Darrah. He's another person who has a tutorial for using those silly NRF24L01+ radios (and I say that they are silly because, while I have read their data sheet and understand how one could control them, I haven't spent the time to write a library for controlling them and don't want to. I want a free one that I can use for whatever I want. Including teaching children how to build laser tag). Kevin has a website here with some cool projects relating to LED cubes (shift registers, multiplexing, etc.) and some home automation stuff with the aforementioned radios (which turns out are really cheap on ebay). He also made a breakout board for those things. Because who wants to solder 8 pins every time they use one?

IBM developerWorks has a three part tutorial on building laser tag. Who knew? I had some trouble navigating from part 1 to part 2 (there wasn't a link from part 1 to part 2 that I found faster than googling for part 2, so I'm posting the links to all 3 parts). I may have to look at developerWorks from IBM for more cool projects.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Aug 18

In system Programmer, Sparkfun Curriculum, Marketing for makerspaces, etc.

I came across an in system programmer for microcontrollers. I'm not sure I'd need one, since I usually just take the ATmega328p out of my arduino to program raw chips, but hey, if I want dedicated hardware to do so, this is one way to do it.

Sparkfun has a curriculum. I checked out a few of the beginner pages, and it looks good. I haven't gone in depth, but it may be something that I can use or send people to if they want a bunch of things to learn. But who knows.

There is an article in Make about a makerspace selling advertising space on their kits to finance them. I may be able to do something similar to finance kits for wherever I end up helping out. Ideas for later.

Aug 13

Key Qualities for a school Makerspace and Bareduino

I came across and article on Make about the key qualities that are needed in a makerspace for kids in school. The main point of the article was that people need a few things to make. First, they need the basic skills of what tool to use and how to use it. Then they need to problem solve, to determine the reason that the thing they are making isn't working. Finally, they need the confidence to try something new. To learn something as they go. That confidence is what I want to impart on people. I want to empower them, to make them realize that they can build something complex, like laser tag. To be able to feel like they can do it and that it is within their reach to understand, to build, to create. The original article is here.

In other news, Niek Blankers at NiekProductions posted schematics for a bareduino, an arduino compatible based off of the ATiny45/85 that uses a small circuit board and minimal support components. It may be something that i could use if I wanted to have a separate controller that looked for tags, say on someone's head. His post is here.

Jun 01

Electronics Out There

And we're back. This is a post of things for me to look at/emulate in the coming years as I go forth in the DIY community.

DIY.org is a website for kids to "make themselves into makers." It's a site where kids can earn patches for completing projects to learn skills and share their projects with other kids. I think it's a great way to teach kids things they'd never learn about another way and to give kids a sense that they can learn new things and forge their own path. They have a great video about the website called Fearless Kids.

Two Bit Circus is a steam punk circus designed to teach kids about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). They are almost done with their kickstarter campaign. Hooray STEAM education! They also reach out to underprivileged students, which I think is awesome.

Peter Diamandis wrote an article about cutting costs when he made his company DIY drones. He talks about how he got people to help him build drones who he never could have paid because they wanted to solve those problems. I can try to replicate that by solving a problem that I want solved and will make efforts to solve even if nothing comes out of it.

There is an article in Open Electronics about documenting your work. The main point is that by documenting what you make, you can share it with people and potentially get in contact with people who build it too or want to work with you on the project. Networking to build a team and get more done than an individual can help create great projects.

There is an article in the EE Times about a $69 arduino board to plug people into the cloud. Nice.

MIT news posted about Ladyada, and it said some inspiring things about how she started doing what she loved and made a business out of it. If she can do it, then why not other people as well? Adafruit is a great company and a leader in the Maker movement.

Lifehacker had an article about getting started with DIY electronics. It goes over some of the basics, but it mostly made me realize how there isn't a structured path to learning this. Even a guide that is supposed to provide a path leads people to the internet, where hackers have been roaming towards whatever ignites their passion. I hopefully can help add yet another path to the tangle.

Apr 25

PCB design, Power Management, Custom Cables,

The Electronics Lab blog posted an article about a free online PCB design software called PCBWeb. It's currently in Beta, but it could potentially be useful for students to have access to a free, browser based software for designing PCB's.

In addition, Texas Instruments released their power management guide to assist in choosing components for supplying power. It's quite a read, including lots of information on their products and example circuits.

For those interested in creating custom cables for connecting PCB's, motors, sensors, etc., adafruit posted a video made by Derek Molloy of the School of Electronic Engineering at Dublin City University, Ireland about creating custom cables using crimp pins.

Apr 25

New Electronics Books and Super-Awesome Sylvia in the White House

There is a new book by Simon Monk, who has written books on arduino, raspberry pi, etc., about hacking electronics. It looks like a good read, but I won't have time to look into it now, so I'm blogging about it so that I can find it later.

There is also a free release of Hacking the Xbox, which is said to be a great book on reverse engineering. I wish I had some time to read it, but for now it will be archived here.

In other news, Super-Awesome Sylvia went to the White House to show Mr. Obama her water color painting robot that is controlled via IPad (built with a little help from the people at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories). It's great to see people spreading knowledge.

Apr 01

Open Source Microcontroller Development

uCtools is an open source collection of microprocessor programming tools. So far they support development for AVR, ARM, MSP430, STM32L1xx and are developing tools for others. If I need to develop firmware for embedded systems, this will be a handy tool to have at my disposal. For now, the arduino IDE seems like the best choice for teaching, since it is simple to use and understand. But who knows? Maybe something else will be better. You don't know unless you explore the possibilities.

Mar 15

Bitlash: Arduino interpreter language shell

I love having a shell. When I want to know what a single line of code will do, I don't want to add print statements to code just to see what's going to happen. Bitlash is an arduino interpreter, so you can send individual commands to your arduino. I haven't used it yet, but once I get back into arduino development, it will be on my to learn list. It may be helpful for students to be able to run individual lines of code. Or I'll just have them write extensive test benches to test their code. Maybe both?