In the last couple months, I’ve been getting back into electronics for the first time in ages. Back in my teen years, I built a number of small electronics projects. I remember a couple I built from the Radio Shack Engineer’s Mini-Notebook series by Forrest Mims and another based on a design in Model Railroader magazine. Since I left for college, though, I’ve barely touched a soldering iron.
I’ve been a subscriber to MAKE magazine since the very first issue. It’s full of cool ideas and DIY projects in electronics, robotics, metal and woodworking, and just about any other DIY field you can imagine. Over the years, I’ve built quite a few things, from a Wooden Gear Clock a few years ago to the Chicken Coop and workbench I built last summer. Inspired by MAKE, I decided it was about time to jump back into electronics. I bought a new soldering iron and a handful of little kits to hone my skills and got to work.
First up was a tiny version of Simon. I put it together in about an hour and ended up with an electronic gizmo capable of entertaining the boys for tens of minutes. Cool. Next up was a Dice Kit. Drop it on the table and the LEDs light up to indicate your die roll. Another success. I taught Henry how to solder as we built the Larson Scanner together. Another LED kit, this one simulates the back-and-forth scanning of a Cylon from the old Battlestar Galactica (or maybe the front of Knight Rider, if that’s more your style). Henry was very proud of his handiwork and so was I. Kathy even got in on the action, wielding the iron on a Lux Spectralis kit.
Confident in our skills, it was time to step things up. I bought a Peggy 2 kit from Evil Mad Science (the Egg-Bot folks) and Henry and I set to work. Peggy 2 is a huge 25x25 array of LEDs run by a programmable microcontroller. I’ve loaded it with a few programs written by others and it’s a blast. I have it loaded with a Multi-game thing now that includes Snake, Pong, and Breakout. I have a few ideas for thing to try on my own when I get a chance, too.
Confident in my soldering skills, I decided it was time to poke my nose into an area of electronics I’d never explored before: microcontrollers. As of today, that means Arduino, an open-source microcontroller that comes with its own easy-to-use programming environment that runs on a PC or Mac. I bought the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit, which guided me through a series of tutorials all based on the Arduino. Cool. I have tons of ideas I want to explore in the future, but for now:
(On further thought, I realize I have worked with microcontrollers before. When I was at S. D. Warren, I built a microcontroller-powered Goniophotometer. The controller board I used had an embedded version of Forth, which I programmed from a laptop. Good times.)