Thursday, January 29, 2015

Relearning to Mad Science

As of about six months ago, I had to put aside my mad science equipment. My robotics, my microcontrollers, and my welding gear all went into the closet. The reason? I had transferred from a two year college to a full university. To pursue art.

Yes. You heard me right.


If you've ready my previous articles, this probably isn't super weird. I've always prided myself on the diverse nature of my various talents, technology only being one of them. I eventually want to be a computer animator. (You know, for my cover story.) So art is the logical degree to pursue. 

This was a bit of a sad transition, since I'd pull my MC stuff out at least a couple times a month. Since I was making a four hour round-trip to and from college, my time got sparse. So I got to do homework. And homework. Oh, and did I mention sleeping? Waking up at 4 am will do that to you. Not that I begrudge it. I learned a lot at college. I mostly took art history classes, so that was pretty easy homework-wise; there was just a lot of it.

Moving on...

I finally got my mad scientist kit out of the closet last week and have been playing around with the stuff in it almost every day. I started out relearning how to connect an LED to a Parallax Propeller MC and make it blink. I kid you not. This took me two hours to figure out. I wouldn't have had as much trouble with the BS2, since I used it a lot more before I had to put my stuff aside and eventually pack it away.

After I overcame that initial hurtle, things started coming back to me at a logarithmic pace. I started out with Programming and Customizing the Multicore Propeller Microcontroller: The Official Guide, which goes over the basics of the Propeller, the cores, and the LED blinking program. Ideas started flooding into my head faster than I could keep up with, so I started jumping between books and projects. With the LEDs working, I wanted to check to see if any of the RevA PIR sensors I'd gotten three years back actually worked or not. This took me to my other Parallax book: Microcontroller Kickstarts

Microcontroller Kickstarts is a must-have for any Parallax enthusiast. It's not super detail in the program descriptions, but it comments the code liberally and starts out with a strong description of the module to be used. Also, if you're not into the Parallax BS2 or Propeller, it also has sample code for the Arduino. It covers a wide variety of the modules and give you a few ideas and just enough code to get your brain cranking away. Which is exactly what happened for me.

detecto bots: revA and revBI tested my PIR sensors and found out that they do indeed work. I also relearned how to hook up a piezo speaker and control it. So I now have the working knowledge to operate and utilize LEDs, PIR sensors, and piezo speakers. If this doesn't say Evil Detecto Bots to you, than you aren't a mad scientist.

So this will probably be my first project to complete this year! A motion detector that lights up an LED and buzzes at anyone foolish enough to approach my evil lab/studio apartment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Parallax, Microcontrollers, and Mad Science

I've loved computers for as long as I can remember. I've always had a good time programming them, disassembling them, and, sometimes, even reassembling them. My dad got me hooked on computers and electronics at a young age. Such a young age that I go through withdrawls if I don't do something computer related. And I don't mean video games or Facebook. I mean coding and hardware assembly.

When I was a young teenager (either 14 or 15), my dad gave my baby sister a microcontroller. And not just any microcontroller, but a Parallax Basic Stamp 2 as part of their Boe-Bot robotics kit. I was so jealous. I tried bargaining with my sister to let me use her kit. She would have none of it, so I had to watch wistfully as she buzzed it around the house. After what seemed like years, but was more likely a few months, my dad got me a microcontroller kit from Parallax, too. Specifically the 'What's a Microcontroller?' kit. I was ecstatic. It didn't take me long to start writing my own programs, rather than just copying the code from the book. I had my own evil plans to develop. After all the success I was having, my dad decided to get me a Boe-Bot kit, too.

Around the time I was graduating high school, my sister gave me her Boe-Bot kit. So I had not one, but two robots. My plans for world domination were gaining speed. Sadly, that was also the year that I started college. Anyone that has been to college can understand why. I already felt bad because my sister's Bot had been collecting dust, so I had desperately wanted to brush that dust off.

After my first semester, my time opened up again. I also started working at a local telescope shop. Stellarvue Telescopes, to be precise. (See their awesome stuff!) Every summer, they host a week-long astronomy event for Stellarvue telescope owners and Stellarvue employees. My dad and I decided to go to this, since astronomy is one of the many hobbies we share. That turned out to be a very good plan to further my plans for world domination. I met a fellow mad scientist youngster, Big Tony. We immediately formed an evil team-up.

A couple times a year, we have a Mad Science Day, where we blow the dust off of our evil implements of destruction and start playing with microcontrollers. After going to an event hosted by Parallax at their location, I brought back some evil loot for use in our evil, evil plans.

The cool thing about living near Parallax is having easy access to them and to their freebie table. At the event, I got most of what constitutes my mad scientist kit:

  • Erector set and box
  • 2 Javelin MCs
  • Several proto and bread boards
  • A bunch of the RevA PIR sensors
  • And a broad collection of loose components
This kit also includes everything from my two Boe-Bot kits, my 'What's a Microcontroller?' kit, and my Propeller Quickstart board. (My dad also got me a QuickProto board from Gadget Gangster.) I also have a bunch of other stuff that this blog article is too short to go into. Suffice it to say that I could dominate the world with killer robots with what I own.

As if all that wasn't enough, I went in to Parallax yesterday with a resume and to pick up a XBee Wireless Pack. (Don't ask. It's a secret evil plan.) Unfortunately, I didn't get the job, but I got a quick tour of the joint when I asked after the freebie table. A very nice gentleman, Chris, I believe, escorted me to what I have dubbed the 'freebie lair.' In short, they consolidated and rented out the extra space. The space that they used to have the freebie table was in the space they rented, and so the freebie stuff was all relocated to a little, abandoned work space in the back. To a normal viewer, I'm sure the room looked like an elephant barfed, presuming said elephant barfed Parallax stuff. For me, it was like home.

Chris was all too pleased to send me home with a large pile of stuff. And I was all too pleased to talk to him about my various evil projects (although I didn't project them as evil). He kept handing me stuff, which thrilled me to no end. I would have squealed like a little girl, but I was wearing my grown-up clothes.

I am now the proud owner of not one, not two, but three! Three beautiful Boe-Bot kits! I also have a bunch of other modules to dink around with, a box of servo motors, and 2 DC motors.

I guess I need to post my evil exploits, now that I have so much amazing stuff. And, in the not-too-distant future, I might be able to proclaim proudly, "Amaryllis-bots! Attack!"