Archive for May, 2010
While I was busy at #spacearduino in London, there was much greater geekery going on, at the Maker Faire over in the California. In principle, I like the idea of adapting cars, whether with Lego panels or just general stuff, though I can’t imagine ever doing anything similar to my own car. I can imagine, however, trying to make some artbots, so I had a look round the web and found this collection from 2008. It turns out (though I shouldn’t be surprised) that there’s a lot of these things around.
The Arduino course at #spacearduino is over. We covered more material yesterday morning that was new to me, including some links to intriguing books (such as Artificial Reality by Myron Krueger) and resources such as the Oomlout online shop and the infrequent blog by Tod Kurt.
The afternoon session was, for me, less successful. I worked with a guy called Phil, trying to link Arduino and Processing with the datastreams of Pachube that are linked to various sensors all over the world. I’d looked at this briefly a long time ago but gave up as it was very obscure, so I thought this workshop would be a good opportunity to pursue it further. Phil and I tried to follow online tutorials, which involved downloading and installing libraries and copying code, as well as setting up our own feeds to Pachube, but we couldn’t get it to work. Indeed, the Processing code we copied from the Pachube tutorial sent too many requests to Pachube (there’s a limit of fifty requests within three minutes), so we soon received warnings that our requests were now blocked.
I gave up after a while, and instead tried to get a stepper motor to respond to changes in light levels, with the eventual aim of getting a toy’s head to turn towards one of several motion detectors, so that it would appear to be following someone moving nearby. (I later found that Tod Kruft has a recent project doing something very similar, though it wasn’t linked to sensors.)
I couldn’t remember how we’d set up a circuit with light dependent resistors yesterday, so there was something wrong with my circuit design, and I got very small voltage readings from the LDR. Still, I know that I’ve got a similar circuit design in a book at home, so I can continue to explore this later.
At the end of the session, each group showed off what they’d achieved (or at least tried). Twitter was a popular theme. One guy replicated Baker Tweet to send automatic tweets at the push of a button, while another group tried but failed to get LEDs to respond to specific hashtags. The most impressively successful group, however, kept things simple (a good tactic) by hacking a toy car’s remote control by replacing the left/right and back/forwards buttons with four tilt switches mounted on a cycling helmet, so that the person wearing the helmet could control the car by tilting his or her head in different directions.
Conclusion – an enjoyable but slightly frustrating weekend. I know more about Arduino now, and feel more confident about exploring further, with a list of ideas I want to test, but it would have been better had I commandeered more of the workshop leader’s time to help sort out problems with Pachube. Best part of the weekend? Being inspired by this video…
It’s been quite a week. ‘The Computational Beauty of Nature’ by G W Flake arrived in the post, and it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. The chapter on genetic algorithms alone is ideal for my needs, and there’s so much more in the book that’s both fascinating and pitched at my level i.e. enthusiastic amateur.
Not only that, but this weekend I’m on an introductory Arduino course. It’s a two-day workshop, and from the programme I expected that the first day would cover material that I’ve already read about and explored, but I’d hoped that at least the second day, which involves group work to design and build simple projects would be useful. Even if it wasn’t particularly relevant, just the experience of participating in such a workshop would be helpful in deciding whether or not to organise one in connection with the digital art exhibition next year, so I made copious notes of the course structure and identified areas of potential difficulty.
As it turned out, though, the first day showed me things that I hadn’t already covered, such as getting Processing and Arduino to talk to each other using the serial port, and how to recognise and deal with thee limitations of this method. That’s great in itself, but it also opens up so many more possibilities as well because so many things understand serial communication (except Flash). There was also a brief explanation of different types of shields, which are things I’ve seen for sale and read about, but never understood how they work. Just having someone knowledgeable available to answer questions is great.
So here I am, sitting on a train to London early on a Sunday morning, tired after do-se-doeing and swinging my partner at a barn dance in St Neots last night, and enjoying the gentle warmth of what promises to be another glorious summer’s day, yet eagerly anticipating another day indoors tinkering with hardware and code.
My cold is preventing me from concentrating on anything, so I’m gathering things to do in the future when my capacity returns. I’ve ordered The Computational Beauty of Nature by G W Flake, which I found in the Nature of Code section of Daniel Shiffman‘s website.
This cold is costing me a lot of money.
The breakout board for the touchscreen connector arrived in the post today, but on reading through the project instructions more thoroughly, I’ve come across terms not mentioned in the parts list, such as a “a four-core strip of ribbon cable would come in handy” and “you can solder…” It also talks of some, but not all, touchscreens shipping with a shim attached, which is required to grip the connector cable.
I knew I wasn’t fully taking in the instructions for the project because the cold had muddled my head, but I hadn’t realised just how much. I’ve ordered some ribbon cable, and taken the opportunity to buy a USB A to B cable, to link the Arduino board to my laptop – a requirement I should have spotted a while ago!
I’ve yet to investigate whether my touchscreen has this scrim – I hope I can make it work without resorting to soldering.
The package of parts for the touchscreen project arrived today. Well, I say package – it was just the touchscreen itself and a connector, but I’d failed to appreciate that I need not just the connector but also a breakout board to connect the connector to the rest of the project.
Perhaps it’s just as well. My head’s full of a cold just now, and who knows how much more confusion I could have caused myself while unable to concentrate properly. I’ve found a supplier for the breakout board, so will have to wait a few more days for it to arrive before I can try it out.
I’ve not done much creatively for several months, but just recently I’ve had a surge of interest. Playing Martian Fluxx encouraged me to start designing a version based on Star Wars, not just substituting one set of text and graphics with another but altering the mechanics in an appropriate way.
I’ve also resumed reading about genetic algorithms, and arranged for online tuition sessions with Ollie Glass to help me use them in Processing. The tutoring was due to start last night, but had to be postponed for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, at Ollie’s suggestion, I’ve summarised my understanding of evolution in plain English then expressed it as a flowchart. I can glimpse the structure of a Processing sketch, but I’ve still to grasp some of the bigger hows and whys.
Thirdly, I’ve been exploring some elementary Arduino projects, and ordered parts for a touch screen controller, taken from Practical Arduino, which I might link initially to the virtual colour mixer example on the Arduino website. Yes, I know that touchscreens are no longer exotic, but I’m intrigued by the possibilities. I can imagine using the touch screen controller to adjust a genetic algorithm project, perhaps even intervening wirelessly as simple robots attempt to pass on their learning to future generations.
Alternatively, the touch screen could be a remote controller for a stop motion camera…