Sunday, March 24, 2013

Galago and Annika O'Brien's boards

On Wednesday, as promised, I received my Galago board.  Galago is a kickstarter project that provides a built in debugger for prototyping arduino boards.  It is on the small side about 1.5" by 2/3".  It is much smaller than Annika O'Brien's board but costs lots more.  Annika's is about $5 a board whereas Galago is 5 times the cost.  The key to the Galago is the debugger.   I experimented with it for about 30 min yesterday and it seemed reasonable.  Note that the debugger environment currently requires programming in C rather than the arduino mainstay, processing and the resultant sketches.  I ordered a 5 pack of Annika' s boards on kickstarter and can't wait to get them so I can do some "beyond the blinking lights and switches projects" this summer.   Something liberating about a $5 arduino board!  Of course a nice debugging environment also is liberating.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

Note that although the bulk of my posts have been on hardware that is not my overall intention.  I should diversify soon.  Later!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Solder On!

After my Maker post folks asked me how I reacquired my soldering skills.  Well they are not totally back but I am making progress using kits.  I first purchased  a learn to solder kit from amazon.  It was really a nice practice kit replete with bare metal pads to simply practice melting solder, really a good starting kit save for one element,  the soldering iron sucks.  I subsequently bought an iron at Radio Shack which was a bit better but my solder iron of choice is a digital soldering station.  It rivls more standard brands at almost half the cost.  The only downside is that the digital temperature you set is in Celsius.

The next kit I built was Conway's game of life kit from adafruit.  This kit rocks not only because it is very cool but also because the baord is well laid out with plenty of space between the soldering pads.  This is important for the novice.  I highly recommend adafruit, excellent service superb tools and kits.

The third kit for soldering tested my meddle.  It was a single board forth (yes forth) computer called the fignition.  Ignore the horribly designed website, it truly is a marvelous board for ~$40.  It has a supporting message board and folks are super helpful.  The challenge of the kit is that although it has a socketed IC (see picture) the soldering pads are rather close.  The fignition folks provide an extensive check list with a multimeter but I rolled the dice and turned mine on once finished and it worked!  One of the down sides is that input is done through chording of buttons on the board (see second picture).  However there is a keyboard kit coming soon.

Several things have changed in thirty years.  The first is the push towards lead free solder.  Although I use it it does not have the same flow behavior as normal solder and I do prefer leaded solder.  However I am trying to be environmentally responsible.  The second change is my eyes!  I dearly need magnification and so far what I found most helpful was this lamp.  It really helps and I find it more comfortable than head based magnifiers.

I hope you find some use to this post.  Please let me know what kits and equipment you found useful.  My next kit has some surface mount devices on it.  I will let you know how that goes in a few weeks.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

HTML5 and JavaScript Books

A quick post on a request from my students for recommended HTML5 and JavaScript books.  I posted a list of my four favorites on my web site.  This is just the beginning of my  recommendations for JavaScript and HTML5.  I am urging all my students to become proficient in both.

If you haven't done so, check out JavaScript.  It certainly appeals to my LISP background.  I use the node.js interpreter to experiment with the computational parts of the language.  It has a simple yet powerful object model and is closely tied to HTML5.

If you have more recommendations on HTML5 and JavaScript books, web pages, references or recommendations for additional languages, I would appreciate it if you posted them here.  I encourage my students to learn at least one new language a year.

You can tell I was an OPS5/Clips developer for rule bases.  Two paragraphs beginning with "if's."

I hope to get a post later this weekend on kits that will hone your soldering skills and are fun.  Later!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Retro Sci-Fi

I just finished, The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov.  Many of the folks I have met in my hacker travels have been rabid sci-fi fans for example Bill "Ches" Cheswick and John Mashey.  I remember as a budding hacker walking to the library and finding what science fiction was available.

The Naked Sun is part of Asimov's robot series and like many of the classic age science fiction authors like Arthur C. Clarke he contributed much to science, in this case the laws of robotics.
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Every student taking my HCI class learns these laws since they apply just as well to software.  Although the Golden Age of sci-fi may be considered mundane compared to the Charlie Stross's  and China Mieville's of current sci-fi (more about them in a later posts) they are well worth recreading and have amazing currency to such things as Computer Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW.  Asimov in the book makes a distinction between "seeing" and "viewing" resulting in an interesting plot line strangely current with Yahoo and Best Buys stand on remote work. 

This will not be my last post on past and current scii-fi.  Later!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The maker movement has reestablished a connection with hardware that I think many of us had lost as things were mass produced and we no longer had to adjust the tension of tapes or exchange disk platters.  Somehow plugging and unplugging a disk drive is not the same.  I now have a serious soldering iron in my study and have breezed my way through several kits.  Haven't lost my soldering talent but I do have to use serious magnification when I do solder!

One of the tools that never leaves my pocket is is a Leatherman Squirt.  It is very handy when building kits, in fact I usually use it instead of going to my kit to get needle nose pliers.  It also has other attributes for the aging hacker.  If your hands are a bit sore after decades of emacs chording, the multitude of tools really helps from opening packages to prying lids.  As Jerry Pournelle would say, another aging hacker mainstay, highly recommended.

A future post will explore the interaction of STEM, the Maker movement, arduinos, rasp pis sensors, cosm and big data.  Later!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Digital Beyond

Getting this off to a joyful start, I begin with a recommendation of a blog that discusses issues with your electronic life and natural death, the digital beyond.  I will discuss this now and again but I would like to spend much more time on the living hacker.  In an upcoming post I will give you our strategy for recording important sites and digital signatures.  Nonetheless we have to devote some time for securing our digital life and legacy for our loved ones.  I would appreciate you sharing any advice you might have.  Later!
Welcome to the aging hacker chronicles.  This site is about mature hackers but should be of general interest because you all will get there.  For all of us who love computing and will not go gentle into that good night!