Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy New Year!

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Well, here we are at the end of another eventful year at SparkFun!

2012 was an exciting one for us – we traveled all over the country, made a whole heap of new friends, survived the apocalypse, taught some folks about electronics and learned a little bit about a lot of important things. We have nothing but high hopes and enthusiasm for the coming year and are, as always, so grateful to greet a new year as part of such a strong community – thank you for another wonderful year of support! We wish you all a 2013 filled with fun, inspiration, and just enough safety to give you some great stories to usher in 2014 with.

SparkFun will be closed tomorrow (January 1) as we all recover from an excess of gratitude, and we’ll resume operations on Wednesday the second. But for now, let’s take a look back at some highlights from 2012 with one o' them fancy infographics (thanks to Pamela, one of our graphic designers).

alt text

See you in 2013!


via Raspberry Pi

If you go shopping for a time lapse dolly rig for your camera, you’re going to be in for a hefty sum of money. So Rick Adam has put together a website showing you how to construct your own - taking you through software, hardware, construction and all that good stuff. You’ll be using a Raspberry Pi, a motor and timing belt (Rick’s were from eBay), and some bits and pieces from the DIY store. He reckons the whole rig will cost you less than a tenth of what a professional rig might, with results just as good as the pro version. I had a chat with him on Twitter about it. He said: “It’s a first draft, but it works all the same!” And boy, does it. Here’s some video of the setup working – and of its gorgeous output.


Little Box of Geek from Geek Gurl Diaries

via Raspberry Pi

The magnificent Miss Philbin from Geek Gurl Diaries has been having fun with a Raspberry Pi, a thermal printer (the sort that till receipts are printed out on) and a big shiny button. She’s made a little Python fortune-telling box, which prints off geek pronouncements when the button’s pressed.

Miss Philbin is the sort of teacher you always wanted. She has some video which will take you step-by-step through setting up the printer, connecting it to the Pi’s GPIO, sorting out the serial port on your Pi, pulling thermal printer Python libraries off Github and getting the thing printing. That sort of thing might sound intimidating to beginners, but Carrie Anne is so good at explaining what’s going on that even those who have never picked up a Pi or used Linux before will be able to follow the tutorial. It’s a really good project if you’re somebody who wants to dive straight in to electronics engineering from a standing start. You’ll learn something, you’ll have made something fun, and you’ll never be afraid of wire strippers again.

There’s a full and very detailed blog post to accompany this video at Geek Gurl Diaries. You’ll find part two of the tutorial at Geek Gurl Diaries too (part two is, if anything, even more fun) along with more video. Get to it – and let us know if you give it a whirl!

Thanks Carrie Anne!

Twelve Pis of Christmas: Eben

via Raspberry Pi

Today’s the last day we’ll be listing a very limited pre-production Model A bundle for auction. We’re selecting charities to benefit from the money raised; today’s charity was actually both my and Eben’s first choice, but we couldn’t choose the same one for two auctions, so saved today’s for last. Today’s auction proceeds are going to The Samaritans.

In 2007, one of our very dearest friends, Chris Lightfoot (whom we all called Oggie, so he’ll be Oggie for the rest of this post) killed himself. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35 in the UK, and what happened to Oggie still bewilders us; he had battled depression for all of his life, but we’ll never know why he did it. He and I had been at school, then later at Cambridge together, where we both met Eben around the same time. He was the cleverest of all of us; Oggie wasn’t famous, but he still merited a half-page obituary in the Times for the astonishing work he’d achieved in his 28 years. He was a founder of MySociety, the e-democracy charity, and…well, Oggie’s Wikipedia page can precis what he did there better than I can. His friends also kept his personal website online – it’s worth spending a little while there to get to know him better. Oggie’s worth knowing.

Oggie, punting in Grantchester Meadows. Ironing was not one of his many talents. Click to visit auction.

Oggie was a modern polymath. He had an innate talent as a social statistician; he was adept at politics. He was a superb coder; an exceptional writer; a mathematician and a funny, funny man. I saw him just before he died, and we were falling about laughing over some of the submissions to the new e-Petitions website (that’s the site that the UK government now uses) which he had built and had to moderate; we clinked glasses over someone’s petition to make Tony Blair take a bath in baked beans. And then he was gone.

There isn’t a single day that goes past when Eben and I don’t think and talk about him. Oggie: I use the silly giant pepper grinder you bought us for our wedding daily. I use your tools to check up on what my MP’s up to, to read Hansard and to host this website. I keep the books you left behind when you died in the bedroom. I wish you were here to enjoy Raspberry Pi with us. You’d have loved it. I miss you.

The Samaritans are there to offer emotional support to people who, like Oggie, are in deep distress. Their job is a hard and taxing one, and they rely entirely on volunteers. They save lives; please bid on this auction.

Pi-Point – turn your Raspberry Pi into a wireless access point

via Raspberry Pi

I was shown Pi Point before the holidays, but thought it was best to wait until now to spring it on you, because so many of you have got Pis for Christmas and are looking for projects to use them in.

Guy Eastwood has documentation and an SD card image which will allow you to turn your Pi into a wireless access point. With a bit of imagination applied, you can find a million uses for a tiny, waterproofable (think Tupperware and epoxy), cheap access point; of course, you can just use it to extend your home network, but the possibilities get really interesting if you think outside the box. You can build a guest network, firewalled off from your local network. You can learn about network hardening. With the addition of a home-made cantenna, you could set up a line of Pis as relays to get WiFi down to the shed in your allotment, or point a signal at your treehouse. If you’re an altruist, you can provide your local bus stop with free WiFi. 

Let us know what you end up doing with Pi-Point. We’d love to hear what you come up with!

Twelve Pis of Christmas: Jack Lang

via Raspberry Pi

We’re auctioning off the very first 12 pre-production Model A Raspberry Pis, with some other goodies like signed books, shirts and an Adafruit Pi Plate, to raise money for charities over the holidays. Only 12 of these pre-production boards will ever be made. The first two boards we’re auctioning end in under 24 hours; go and have a look if you want to own a piece of computing history.

Jack Lang, a Founding Trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the Foundation’s Chair, is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. His career hasn’t just been fascinating; it’s positively surreal. He’s been an award-winning restaurateur, a developer for the BBC Micro in its very early days, and founder of a number of successful tech startups. He’s Entrepreneur in Residence at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, lectures at the Judge Institute at Cambridge, and is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. He smokes his own bacon, has a brick pizza oven in his garden, writes for food journals, and makes Consommé à la Royale so wonderful it’ll bring tears to the eyes. He also has a licence for Class IV fireworks displays, and used to be a roadie for Pink Floyd. Jack is brilliant.

Jack Lang, doing something interesting. As usual. Click to bid on Jack’s Pi.

Jack’s chosen charity is one he has a long association with. The Humanitarian Centre is an international development network that connects people working in academia, industry, government and charities to develop more effective ways of working together to tackle global poverty and inequality. The Humanitarian Centre is based in Cambridge, and is affiliated with the University.

Bid on Jack’s Pi here, or click on the picture.

New Book from Elektor: Android Apps

via News

Do you have an Android smartphone or tablet? Would you like to use it to control your espresso machine, your toaster or to improve your animated Christmas decorations? Do you have an idea for a cool game or some other useful app? If you answered yes to these questions then you may have to do some Android application programming. For those who do not know where to start we have the solution: our brand new Android Apps programming book. This book takes you step by step through the Android...

Free Day, Lotteries, and Tours

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Last week, Free Day 2013 came to an end.

Free Day is a strange beast in the SparkFun menagerie. It started in January 2010 with $100k in free orders in a mad rush. A year later $150k in promo codes went free in an equally mad rush involving customer seniority, quiz questions, and a hefty kick to charity. Some of you may remember January 2012, our third Free Day, as a $200k purgatory of Captchas driven by a Geiger counter.

Obviously, Free Day is a shape-shifting beast. Every year the stakes get higher, and every year a flood of ideas is ultimately condensed into… something. Free Day’s fourth incarnation went by several names:

  • Free Day 2013
  • Free Daily
  • Free All The Days
  • Every Day Is Free Day

And, yes, it’s already over.

Free Day 2013 Game Mechanics

More on Free Day’s abrupt end below. First, here’s how it worked. To capture some of the zing from the inaugural Free Day, we ditched the promo codes and went right to orders being placed for free. Eligible orders (customer and educator credit card orders between $50 and $500) would trigger a random number generator for a chance to win. Winners would see this:

Free Day even had an official seal this year.
Free Day even had an official seal this year.

And their card would not be charged. Their entire order (shipping, tax, and all) was totally covered.

It was to run every day starting at midnight Mountain Time and ending immediately after $500 was given away. If $499.99 had been given away and an order totalling exactly $500.00 came through as a winner we’d see our theoretically biggest day at $999.99. Originally, we talked about going one full year (spawning yet another name for the event: Free Year). Given that and doing the math: $500.00 – $999.99 every day for 365 days yields a total giveaway ranging from $182,500.00 to $364,996.35. Most likely we’d land somewhere north of $200k.

Every Day Is Free Day was shut down on its 40th day (December 18, having started November 9th). What happened?

A Primer on US Lottery Law

Before diving into the early shutdown, it’s time for a disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. Nobody at SparkFun is. Like many companies our size we do have a lawyer on retainer, but sweepstakes are not his area of expertise. Regardless, only after Free Year was up and running did the word sweepstakes pop up and prompt the question: Is Free Day completely legal? In retrospect, this is a question that should always be fully explored before launching into a thing, but Free Day never carried a seed of doubt before. This time it did. So everyone began digging.

It was around the time that we were really learning a thing or two about US lottery law that I decided to have Free Whatever the Days It’s Called shut down. We had yet to advertise or even announce the event. It was clear, however, that doubt had clouded the event, and none of the many ideas put forth to spin it in different ways were adding clarity. Just to be safe: off it went.

Now, technically Free Day is a lottery. US law defines a lottery by a simple formula:

Prize + Chance + Consideration = Lottery

This describes all lotteries, legal or otherwise. In order for the contest to become a sweepstakes, a type of contest which is far less regulated, one of the three elements of a lottery must be neutralized. It’s your classic triangle you-pick-two problem:

Not as cool as Wisdom, Courage, and Power.
Not as cool as Wisdom, Courage, and Power.

Prize and chance are straightforward: winnings and randomness.

Consideration is more nuanced. It’s basically the barrier-to-entry. A contest in the form of a sweepstakes neutralizes consideration, resulting in a prize offered and awarded by random chance with no barrier-to-entry. We’ve all heard the phrase “No Purchase Necessary,” and that’s a telltale sign of your standard sweepstakes; you can enter by buying something, or by a simple, free means of entry. Officially, this is called an Alternate Means of Entry (AMOE). All the best sweepstakes have them.

Free Day didn’t appear to have an AMOE. Did it need one? I don’t really know for sure; I’m not a lawyer. We could add one, I suppose… but how would that change the game? How easy does it have to be? The only hard-and-fast rule about AMOEs I could find is this: The odds of winning by purchase should not exceed the odds of winning by AMOE. I welcome you, dear reader, to calculate the odds of the contest as described and try to construct your own AMOE to make it work. As you’ll likely find, things begin to look very different very quickly. Don’t forget to put yourself in the shoes of a computer-savvy hacker type looking to milk the system for all it’s worth!

Ghosts of Free Days Past

Now then, knowing what we know now, what of Free Days past? Were they all fair and square under these rules?

I would argue that Free Day Classic was fair because chance was effectively eliminated. Consideration was certainly present, as purchase was required for the prize of a free order, but given that anyone who got their order through got the prize, any chance was left to elements beyond our control, such as latency to our servers from wherever an entrant lived. But maybe that is still chance. Oy.

Free Day II – the year of the quiz – well, again the chance-neutral argument could be made because there was no drawing of any kind. First folks through got the prizes. Consideration was considerably less as well, since all purchasing was removed from the contest. But consideration can be more than money, because time also has value, and time spent answering quiz questions can potentially be a barrier-to-entry worthy of being considered consideration.

Free Day III was hallmarked by the truest random chance ever in the form of an elaborate Geiger counter setup. Players could enter as many times as they liked by entering a Captcha and clicking a button. It was by far our lowest barrier-to-entry and was uniform for all players, so I think here we can make the strongest case for appropriately neutralizing consideration. But would that stand up under true legal scrutiny? Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.

So were the past three Free Days all legit? Probably. Lottery law is, however, not cut and dry.

Every Day Is Free Day – Results

Over the forty days that Free Year was able to run we gave away $21,536.53 to 153 customers in 15 countries. Though most were in the US, some winners were from as far away as New Zealand and Nigeria. As all Free Days are a trove of fun data to visualize, here’s Free Year at a glance. The red dots signify final orders for a given day.

Attempting to fit a trend line to these data is inadvisable.
Attempting to fit a trend line to these data is inadvisable.

So, what next? Will Free Day 2013 return in some other form?

Officially, no. Free Days take a lot of energy and resources to put on. Especially given what we know now, a future Free Day should be free of any legal doubt, and that takes doing some homework. There are too many other moving pieces to dive back into that gauntlet just now.

In light of these events, SparkFun may be a tad gun-shy about games like Free Day in the future. We’re not a tiny company operating out of a closet anymore, and we’ve been targeted by legal proceedings in the past. Out of self preservation we need to be careful and diligent.

Now, that’s to say nothing of the many irons in the fire that will also make the average SparkFun customer a happier camper. Things like broader same-day shipping, bringing back free shipping in some form, and a full-on customer appreciation program are all on the horizon, along with continually improving content like tutorials, projects, and tear-downs. We can do those freely out of love for you, the community, without getting all nervous about legal murkiness. As head of the development team at SparkFun I can also tell you those are way more fun and rewarding to work on than Free Days (which tend to be grueling slogs).

How this all ties in with KickStarter and the National Tour

One of those other moving pieces happened to be the SparkFun National Tour KickStarter Campaign. It was an ambitious project to crowd-fund $150,000 to teach 50 Intro to Arduino workshops to teachers in schools across the US, leaving behind 50 SparkFun Inventor’s Kit Lab Packs for years of students to learn electronics. Many contributed, but ultimately the campaign failed to reach its goal. The community spoke: If we really want to do this, we had better fund it ourselves.

So, no grand announcements yet, but we will be touring in 2013, using those same Free Day funds to invest in schools around the country and beyond. Running the KickStarter campaign was an illuminating experience. In the process, we were able to reach interested tinkerers we had never reached before. Connections have been forged with previously unknown schools and libraries who are excited and passionate about what we can do together. Canada – my goodness Canada – a country so progressive in electronics education, answered our call but were de facto excluded since it was to be a US tour. Now, free of self-imposed restrictions, we can get there in 2013.

I’ll leave the rest to our growing Department of Education to expound upon as details gel. Suffice it to say, this turn of events has been strange and at times unnerving, but 2013 looks incredibly bright.

Paperduino Pi

via Arduino Blog

This is a project for people a little bit skilled in soldering and design PCB. The user [dernulleffekt] designed an homemade shield for Raspberry Pi that integrate an Arduino Board.

The Paper-Duino-Pi is an Arduino shield for the Raspberry Pi. Due to the fact that it is designed as Paper-PCB it is easy to create and one doesn’t need a printed circuit board. Some small modificaten in the OS and IDE and you have a perfect interface for the Raspberry Pi.

This [video] shows how one can use it with the Firmata and Pure Data. On the [website] there is a very well written tutorial to build your Raspberry/Arduino shield at home.

Phoebe is hinting that she wants some LEDs

via Raspberry Pi

Meltwater, who you may know from our forums or from the MagPi, where he’s a regular contributor, has been introducing Phoebe, who celebrates her sixth birthday in February, to electronics engineering. He says:

I’ve been working on producing a RGB LED module to use with the Raspberry Pi, since the bright colours and being able to control something so instant is ideal for playing with. I’m using GPIO, LEDs and Scratch being on the to do list (motors to follow).


Anyway, I was writing some notes out for it and Phoebe wanted to help, so she copied the entire page, asking about what each part was (this is before I’ve even shown her the LEDs switched on).  She also drew me a diagram of the circuit they did the other week at school, a “battery”, “tough long wires” and “light bulb” (I think I might have to offer an afternoon there at some point, but is only 1st year).


Meltwater attached some photos to the email, and I thought they deserved sharing. Our suspicion is that Phoebe really, really wants some LEDs, and this is a subtle way of getting the message across.

Meltwater’s original notebook scribblings (click to embiggen)…

…and Phoebe’s remarkably faithful copy. A father/daughter trip to the electronics shop for LEDs is coming up this week. Phoebe has said she wants pink ones. (Click to enlarge)

Careers day at Phoebe’s school is going to be a hoot.

I will leave you with Phoebe’s robot; she’s been doing some paper prototyping with Dad. What have you been doing with your kids over the holiday? Mail me if you’ve got something you’d like to share; we love looking at your kids’ projects!

Phoebe’s robot. She says that next she wants to go to the metal shop (B&Q) for parts.


Twelve Pis of Christmas: Liz

via Raspberry Pi

As you’ll be aware, unless you got lost down the back of the sofa in a horrible wrapping paper and sticky tape accident before Christmas, we’re auctioning off a very limited edition of twelve pre-production Model A boards (with accompanying goodies like T-shirts, signed books and an Adafruit Pi Plate) to raise money for twelve charities. Today, it’s my turn, and the charity I’ve selected is Refuge.

Typical pose. (Click to bid on Liz’s Model A.)

Refuge has led the campaign against domestic violence in the UK for the last 40 years, and they have grown to become the country’s largest single provider of specialist domestic violence services. On any given day they support over 2,000 women and children. Refuge also advocate for improvements to domestic violence policy and practice, and the implementation of legislation to meet the needs of abused women and children. Most of the charities I considered to benefit from the money we’re raising had mission statements which made me terribly sad; but the work Refuge has to undertake makes me sad and impotently angry. I have friends who have had to use their services; violence in the home happens to people just like you and me, but we’re skilled at turning a blind eye to something that’s so taboo we find it distasteful even discussing it. Our tendency to ignore domestic violence is tantamount to tolerating it.

I hope you’ll help Refuge keep doing the life-saving work it does by bidding on today’s auction.

A cheap WiFi interface for Arduino

via Arduino Blog

In this tutorial, Luca shows how to add WiFi connectivity to your Arduino boards without using a WiFi shield. Instead, he has combined a standard Ethernet shield with a commercial (and quite cheap) WiFi router:

I found the TL-WR702N nano router by TP-LINK that, with a cost of about 20€ on eBay, can work also as a wireless client: in this mode the router acts like a “bridge” between the device connected to its ethernet port and a Wi-fi network.

After a simple setup, where Luca configured the router as a WiFi client, the Arduino board has become accessible from the wireless network. Enjoy! :)

[Via: Luca's blog]