Tonight at 7:30 PM EDT, I will be giving a presentation on Amateur Radio at the University of Florida. The event will be live streamed via the YouTube link above. If you are interested in making with electronics, getting your amateur radio license can open up a whole new world of opportunities. Come learn a little about the original makers and the various aspects of this exciting hobby!

UPDATE: I was asked to share some of the links in a clickable form. Check out the links below!

Remember you can use Amazon Smile to donate to the Gator Amateur Radio Club! Just search for “Alumni and Friends of Gator Amateur Radio”.

Maker Tip: Label Your Tools

Posted: September 21, 2016 in Maker Tips
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One of the great joys of making is building things with friends. However, sometimes tools end up going home with the wrong maker. Typically in the rush of cleanup, tools get misplaced. Labeling tools is an easy way to ensure they end up going home with the correct person.

This lesson I learned from my grandfather, a master plumber. He would work on job sites with multiple other trades. Keeping track of tools was very important, especially moving from job site to job site. Most of my tools have been passed down to me from my grandfather. Many already are marked with my grandfather’s last name and my middle name, Jesse. As I have acquired new tools, like the work light pictured in this post, I have kept the tradition of marking my tools with “Jesse”. Using the same name makes it easier to keep track of tools and even though he lives nearly a thousand miles away in Ohio, it ensures he is part of every project I make!

 

This week I want to share a video of a presentation I made back in July on Digital Mobile Radio or DMR. DMR is a cool technology for commercial and amateur radio. It uses TDMA technology to enable two independent conversations on one frenquency at any given moment. Check out the video above for an overview of multiple digital voice options in amateur radio, as well as some in-depth discussion on DMR. Sorry the lighting on me is dim in the video. It was lowered to help the contrast for people attending live.

If you enjoyed this video, I will be hosting a live Introduction to Amateur Radio next week on Thursday! Stay tuned for more details and links to the live stream in a bonus blog post next week!

Test Setup

This past summer my brother and I ventured to the Bahamas for a short vacation. As amateur radio operators, we thought it might be fun to work from a different country. Several weeks before our trip, we received our reciprocal licenses from the Bahamas. Assigned the suffix “/C6A”, it was then time to figure out my rig.

Traveling with a radio is hard. Antennas for HF typically require lots of area, and people ask lots of questions.I wanted to have a small radio that I could operate from the beach. My brother brought his Elecraft KX2, but my Icom 706MKII would be too bulky. Follow me after the break to learn more about my solution.

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This week I thought I would write an extra post to share a couple of links that I was involved with. The first comes from an outstanding MINDSTORMS resource, EV3lessons.com. I was offered the opportunity to write a guest blog post. Naturally, I took this opportunity to share my thoughts on Build Robots with Gracious Professionalism. Head over to EV3 Lessons and checkout the post!

The other link comes from Sketchup. Last year at World Maker Faire in New York they had a camera crew capturing the event. They interviewed me, asking about making. The video is above. I did so many interviews, it was tough to keep with all the final videos. A friend of my brother found this video and shared it on social media. Check it out the awesome video and learn a bit about us Makers!

 

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.

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