I wanted to start a new series on things I have learned while making. I figured this would be a good place to start. Always start a project with a clean makerspace!

Making things always seems to clutter up my desk. From tools to parts to test equipment, things quickly get messy. While cleaning up after my last project, I snapped a quick pic. This is my desk after cleaning up most of the mess. I still have my work lights hanging (you can see the cables), but the desk is mostly lean.

Cleaning up after a project is really a good idea. A clean workspace/bench makes it easier to find parts and tools. It also ensures you have the room required for your project. While my makerspace is a spare room in my apartment, you might have a full shop or garage. Cleaning might be more involved, but well worth the effort!

 

CoverNo Starch Press recently released a new book in the making space. This latest entry, titled Arduino Project Handbook by Mark Geddes, joins the many existing Arduino books on the market. Over the past few weeks I have been reading the book and making some of the projects. The book has a wealth of knowledge to share.

Overall, I really liked the book. I do want to get my one main complaint out of the way now. Based on the title and description, I was expecting a book of projects from start to finish. This book only goes as far as the breadboard. I was expecting projects to have enclosures and mounting of elections, a mixed-media problem faced by many new makers. However, none of the projects make it that far.

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Sample page, used with permission from No Starch Press.

Once I adjusted my expectations, I really got into the book. Most projects are presented with some pictures and then a wiring schematic. You can see that in the sample page to the right or below.  The wiring schematic uses symbols that closely match what the actual part looks like, instead of the traditional electronics schematic. This is really helpful for new makers. From both the wiring schematic and the pictures it is really easy to make sure you wired your project correctly.

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Sample page, used with permission from No Starch Press.

All of the projects, save the last few, use the Arduino Uno. The last few projects do not use the Uno, rather using the ATMEGA328 on a breadboard. While still using the Arduino firmware, this is a good way for makers to condense the number of boards in a project.

The projects are creative and fun, ranging from blinking lights to a weather station. Some projects require just a few parts while others are a bit more complex. Many of the individual skills are easily applied to other projects. For example, several projects use an LCD screen or servo motors, two of the most common devices in maker projects. Furthermore, the sample code is clearly commented and published in the book. This is huge as many publishers are moving this content online, making it harder to follow. I found this helpful when working on my desk when my internet went down. I was able to keep tinkering and following the instructions without having to worry about reaching the publisher’s website.

Overall this is another great Arduino book. Mark Geddes does a great job of showing how new makers can leverage an Arduino. I recommend the Arduino Project Handbook for any aspiring makers and those new to electronics! You can find the book on amazon for under $20. For that price, I think it would be a great addition to any maker’s library!

 

Rebooting the Blog

Posted: August 24, 2016 in News

It has been a while since I last posted. I think it’s time to change that. My new plan is to make a new post every Wednesday. Topics will continue to be making with a special focus on LEGO, Amateur Radio, Electronics, and of course, Robotics! Check back later today for book review to reboot the blog!

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These came in a while ago, but with all the travel this fall, I have been behind in my posting. I wanted to get share my review before the holiday season started as these are certainly must-haves for any LEGO Technic builder!

Before we dig into the books, let’s talk about the author, Yoshihito Isogawa. Yoshihito is one of the best Technic/MINDSTORMS builders out there. He hosts countless workshops in Japan and is always creating! What is so cool is that his creations can be used in so many different projects! They really are a great starting point. I highly recommend his LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Idea Book.

Now let’s talk about the LEGO Power Functions Idea Book Volume 1: Machines and Mechanisms. The first volume’s focus on machines is spot on! Many of the modules, for lack of a better term, are innovative ways to mount LEGO Power Functions motors and transfer power in a useful way.

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As you can see from the example page, there quick little projects provide lots of photos and a bill of materials. While the book does not give you step-by-step instructions, much of the design is easy to figure out. More on that later.

The various machines Yoshihito provide lots of attachment points. I spent a few hours building some of the mechanisms from his book. I learned some good building techniques and I can really see myself using them in upcoming projects.

LEGO Power Functions Idea Book Volume 2: Cars and Contraptions is probably the more useful book for me. Many of the robots I build move. Cars and Contraptions shows some really unique drivetrains. These ideas would be super useful for FIRST LEGO League teams.

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I rarely uses LEGO Power Functions in my drivetrains. These ideas will certainly change that. The beauty of LEGO Power Functions is that it super easy to integrate into a robot. While the motors are not encoded, they do provide a lot of power in a small package. These presents a unique design challenge and something that I am looking really forward to exploring.

My favorite part of this book is that it doesn’t give the entire design. So many of us are attached to building instructions. I love idea of just sharing pictures and letting others build off that idea. Yoshihito does exactly that. I found myself having to improvise when I couldn’t quite figure out how to make something or lacking a part. This was great fun and just added to the enjoyment from these books. The various models are simple enough that you get by with just photos, but yet also open ended so that is room to make your own take on everything! I would highly suggest this approach for anyone who feels that step-by-step instructions are too simple, but not quite ready to create from scratch.

Long story short, I would highly suggest both of these books and they should make it on to any holiday shopping list! Yoshihito is an amazing LEGO builder and it is truly a gift that he is sharing these ideas with the global LEGO community!

DSC_0830It’s hard to deny that “STEM” is the new buzzword in education. We need more STEM education! With the focus on this buzzword, schools are scrambling to figure out how to put STEM classes into their curriculum.

Robotics for me was the hook; it got me to explore, to question, to discover.

One of the most common ways schools are “adding STEM” is introducing robotics classes. I have seen countless schools that have introduced VEX IQ or LEGO MINDSTORMS as a way to address the need for STEM. These classes are “teaching” robotics, which as an engineer I don’t really understand.

Read the rest of this entry »

Remember that LEGO GoPro Gyro Stabilizer I showed in my Make Faires post? If not, check out the picture below!

Now you can 3D print that same GoPro to Technic Mount! I have posted it on Thingiverse. Go Check it out! All you need is 1 EV3, 3 Gyros, 3 Motors and an afternoon to make your own! Have fun!

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September was a busy month for me! The highlights were both Maker Faire Orlando at the Orlando Science Center and World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science. You might have noticed a hint of what I have been up to over the past weeks. This post will be pretty heavy when it comes to pictures to help share the AWESOME that is the maker movement.

Never heard of Maker Faire? A Maker Faire is an event put on in conjunction with Make: magazine to celebrate “makers”. What is a maker? Well that is a little more difficult to understand. At its core a maker is someone who makes things. There is no age requirement to be a maker. There are lots of different types of makers. Some are ROBOT MAK3RS or people that make with LEGO MINDSTORMS. However that is hardly an official category. You might make robots, cars, giant flaming robot sculptures, paper models, apps, clothes. Making can use a range of materials from 3D printing to LEGO to metal/wood to fabric. Making is a form of expression and hands-on learning.

You can checkout coverage of the LEGO MINDSTORMS Booth, including some of my bots at The NXT Step!

Follow me after the break for more.

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Something is coming…

Posted: September 11, 2015 in News

Quick teaser of what is coming to World Maker Faire 2015. What might be inside?

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Want a sneak peak? Stop by and check out the FIRST Robotics booth at Maker Faire Orlando. You might find me and my big box, hanging out with some of the coolest robots in the South!

I was working on my Icom 706MKII a little while ago. I had gotten a new Heil mic for my rig earlier this summer and needed to tweak the ALC on the radio. When I was telling my brother, Tony (KD8RTT), about it, he asked me to make a video to help viewers of his channel. Check out the video above if you’re having mic issues with your Icom 706!

Video  —  Posted: August 14, 2015 in Amateur Radio, Engineering
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About 9 months ago, FATCATLAB posted a Kickstarter for an EV3 cape for the BeagleBone Black, an open source embedded Linux computer created by Texas Instruments. Their product was called the EVB. It was successfully funded and kits shipped out a few months ago. I received mine  a little while back. Generally I prefer using an EV3 brick, but I have loaned a bunch of my EV3s out to a local school district for training for FIRST LEGO League as they were awaiting their shipment of EV3s from LEGO Education.

See my thoughts (that didn’t make the video) after the break. Read the rest of this entry »

Video  —  Posted: August 11, 2015 in Engineering, LEGO, Robotics, Texas Instruments
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