Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy New Year!

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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).

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See you in 2013!

Free Day, Lotteries, and Tours

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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.

Python and GPS Tracking Tutorial

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If you have ever programmed a microcontroller, you are probably familiar with sending and receiving data over a serial port. A common way to do this is with a serial terminal program (hyperterminal, Arduino serial monitor, etc.). Lets say you want to create your own serial terminal program that displays data from a microcontroller in a meaningful way. For example, graphing temperature over time or displaying GPS position on a map.

There are many different programming methods to do this, one of which is Python. It is free, easy to setup, and has a massive user community with examples, forums, and tutorials.

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Showing a trip from SparkFun to Boulder, CO.

Recently, I wanted to create a graphical interface to display GPS position for a high-altitude balloon radio system. I had so much fun and immediate success with Python, I decided to write a follow-along tutorial that helps you install Python, then shows you how to create a simple serial terminal program to send and receive data over a serial port. The tutorial ends by showing you how to run my GPS tracking program. Check it out!

Welcoming Our New Robot Friends :: Part I

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Hey and welcome back, everyone! First thing’s first: CAPTION CONTEST. You’ve been waiting so patiently, and the results are in! Congratulations Hardware.Panda, you’re the winner of the “Hacker on the Go” wishlist! Let the wave of glory wash over you like a lead-free tide.

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Hipster Engineer – “It’s called hooting, you probably never heard of itâ€Â¦Ã¢€�

Now, at SparkFun, we have always prided ourselves on our ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, discover solutions that resolve issues we face while staying within our means, and as a consequence, learn and grow through the experience…even if we stumble and fall a few times along the way. Well, this collectively shared value of ours still holds true today. And here is a story about a recent and ongoing educational experience in our Production operations that has pushed us to learn more about how to scale up our manufacturing capabilities while staying true to ourselves…

At the first of this year (not too long after Free Day v3.0), we began to see that our current dual-machine, two-shift pick-and-place operations were reaching, or were already at, max capacity. If you̢۪ve only begun just recently following along with what we do here at SparkFun, we have been running two Manncorp MC38x pick-and-place machines for a little over 3 years now. These two assembly robots have been great investments for us and have no doubt done an excellent job meeting our PCB population needs. They have also been a great model to learn pick-and-place operations on at a pretty decent entry level price.

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Alex posing with his old buddy, Optimus Prime!

However, given the lower production capacity of these machines and our building̢۪s space limitations, we had to make a decision between finding new equipment to help us beef up our output or adding a third shift of operation on our two machines. And because of the cultural impacts that we believe would inevitably accompany the addition of a third shift, we decided that new equipment was the direction that should be taken. It also didn̢۪t hurt that we love exploring the use of new tools and equipment Рchallenges that excite us a good bit more than solving complex organizational and behavioral ones.

So our hunt for the next generation of SparkFun PCB assembly equipment began in earnest last March. Though we knew that component population speed was a critical factor we needed to get better at, we also recognized that the ability to more quickly change over from one production run setup to the next would likely give us the greatest boost in our pick-and-place operational output. After years of running lower-volume PCB assemblies of almost 400 different designs, we learned that rapid changeovers from one production run setup to the next were key to staying on top of a dynamic and ever-changing production schedule. After doing some of our own research and exploring the latest offerings at last spring’s IPC Expo in San Diego, it became quite clear which machine would deliver the results we were looking for…

Enter the MYDATA MY100LXe

We were first introduced to the MYDATA machines a couple of years ago and were blown away by the intelligence built into the design of their PCB assembling bots. For starters, their Agilis feeder system made so much sense to us the moment we saw it in action for the first time. It was a sort of “duhâ€� moment for us. As in, “how have we lived without this all these years?!” The Agilis feeders use a small blade to peel back the clear tape on a component reel from the side, instead of requiring a machine operator to manually peel back the tape and tie it off to the feeder, a process which not only takes more time but also results in the unfortunate discarding of quite a few components which must either be populated by hand or discarded.

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Agilis versus Manncorp feeders

But what about that improved component placement speed that we were looking for? Well, you may have seen or heard about machines out there with multiple mountheads that work simultaneously together to pick up parts and place them on a stenciled PCB, or panel of PCBs. If you have two pick-and-place heads, you’ll double your speed, right? Yes, most likely…or at least you’ll get close to populating boards twice as fast. Even MYDATA builds & sells machines with dual mountheads. But stepping up to that amount of throughput capacity comes at a cost, one that is likely very easy to justify for extremely high volume contract manufacturers. Lucky for us, MYDATA also designed a version of their high volume machines for lighter volume PCB assemblers. Our MY100LXe has only one mounthead, but is still able to populate a board eight times faster than either of our current Manncorp machines. This is partially a result of the eight-nozzled HYDRA system on the machine that is able to pick up eight components in a single trip to the component feeder section of the machine, and then populate those eight parts in the blink of an eye on its return trip to where the PCBs are. (Check out the video below to see this lightning fast speed in action!) Granted, this system is typically used for the placement of passive parts (though there are many non-passives that it can handle); however, the majority of the parts on most of SparkFun’s board designs are passives.

Bob is now well versed in both Manncorp and MYDATA operations

Fun fact: the mounthead on our MYDATA machine has already traveled 291km (180.8mi) since we began using the machine back in August — about the same distance as a roundtrip drive from Denver to Vail and back!

We’ve made it this far and I haven’t even mentioned the downtime reduction savings that can be realized on this machine, if it is managed well. During a production run, if a component feeder runs out of parts, the machine will automatically either begin to pull from that component’s secondary location on the machine or move on to other parts that it can place if there is no secondary location. While it has moved on to picking and placing other parts, a fresh and fully loaded feeder of that expired part can be placed onto the machine at any time and the software will recognize instantly that the part it had previously skipped is now “restocked� and available to be pulled from again. This on-the-fly feeder loading feature is what allows for such quick turnaround times between the completion of one assembly run and the start of the next.

A few more fun specs on our new MY100LXe:

  • Rated up to 16,000CPH (component placements per hour) up from 4,000CPH on a single Manncorp MC38x
  • Intelligent on-the-fly mount order optimization built into the software that assists in achieving high CPH rates
  • 8-nozzled HYDRA head can handle chips down to 0201 plus SO8, SO14, SOT23, and MELF
  • Capable of simultaneously programming the next job while the current one is still running by opening multiple instances of the software interface terminal
  • Can be converted into a in-line conveyor system when we are ready to reconfigure our PCB building setup -- currently using the T3 manual load adapter which allows us to load pre-stenciled boards at the front of the machine

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It probably goes without saying that we are extremely pumped to be working with such a beautiful piece of highly-tuned machinery these days, and are enjoying the challenges that come with integrating any new piece of equipment into our assembly process. All in all, this is a significant upgrade for us. Although this post may sound a bit more like a review of MYDATA machinery and, perhaps even a promo for them, the ultimate takeaway that I hope to have conveyed is that there is a time and a place for bootstrapped solutions, but that once a particular scale has been reached, the logistical challenges associated with that scale often have very good solutions already developed, and a great deal of support behind those solutions. Allowing ourselves to invest in a costlier but very efficient pick-and-place machine was a difficult decision for us because of our still scrappy mentality. But we’re still learning about how to meet the still growing demand for open-source electronic hardware, and this new machine allows us to grow and develop into a better version of ourselves. We may be a little older and a little wiser, but not to worry, we still keep the old “reflow oven� around so that we never forget our roots!

[tune in next week to hear about our current, ongoing transition from stenciling PCBs by hand to the introduction of our first ever stencil printer…]

New Product Friday: The End is Nigh

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First off, we’ll announce the winner of the caption contest next week. There are a lot of strong entries this time around – judging is going to be tough! Also, SparkFun will be closed on Monday and Tuesday (Dec. 24 and 25) for Christmas. We’ll resume normal operations on Wednesday the 26th.

Today is supposed to be the end of the world, according to a Mesoamerican civilization’s calendar. End of the world or not, we’re here with a special Friday New Product Post, as well as some new products. I know I said there wouldn’t be a post or a video this week, but Lefty4000 took the news a bit too hard, so we had to do something. So, here’s your special 100th Product Post Video.

The Vimeo version can be found here.

Unfortunately the text on the LCD wasn’t readable in the video. I swear to you that you can read it, it was difficult to get it in focus at the angle we had. But, even at that small, you can easily read the output from the Pi. Also, keep in mind that with the fabric, that was a relatively dim LED and you can easily put a LOT more light into it. We were just using this with a coin-cell battery.

For your long holiday weekend, we hope you enjoy the video montage of the past 2 years. I still can’t believe we’ve done 100 videos!

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We had a few customers suggest that we should carry the PCB that comes in the ProtoShield Kit separately, so you can just use the PCB without the full kit. The bare PCB is of course the same as in the kit, just without the extra parts. We’ve also added a wishlist so you can see what parts are included and add them to your cart separately. So, if you already have some LEDs, you can just add the parts you need.

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Need something flashy for your next e-textiles project? Why not try some fiber optic fabric? They come in 40x75 cm (roughly 30" x 15") sheets that have a convenient place to put your photos. Just shine a light into the fiber bundle inlet, and the whole fabric will light up. It’s pretty cool stuff, check the video above.

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We’ve been carrying the FEZ Hydra for awhile, so it’s about time we got some other Gadgeteer modules. This week we’ve added 7 new Gadgeteer modules to use with the Hydra, or other Gadgeteer boards. We now have the motor driver module, RFID module, relay module, SD card module, HD44780 module (for driving LCDs), accelerometer module, and a 10-pack of cables.

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We have a new version of the littleBits Starter Kit this week. The new version includes better connectors and a better button connector. If you’re not familiar with littleBits, it’s a simple kit where the ‘bits’ snap together to form basic electronic circuits. If you’re just getting started with electronics, you might want to check out this kit.

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Remember the TRRS audio cable we had a few weeks back? Well, now we have a breakout for it. This simple breakout has a TRRS jack, and 4 pins. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

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In addition to our red arcade button in retail packaging, we now have a yellow one. We’ve got more colors coming so check back next week.

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Speaking of colors, this week we have 3 new colors of our circular bargraphs. In addition to the red, we now have green, blue, and yellow.

So, this concludes yet another Friday Product Post. I’m not even going to guess how many of THESE I’ve done over the years! We hope you enjoyed it, and I hope there’s a product that you absolutely have to have. If the world still exists past today, I’ll see you again in 2013 with more new products, new shenanigans, and buckets of tomfoolery. See you then, and for now, happy holidays.

December Caption Contest

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

I have been painfully inconsistent with my “monthly” caption contest posts and for that I apologize. However, I have made the ultimate commitment to remembering this important monthly occurrence – I have placed a sticky note on the border of my computer monitor. No, seriously – look:

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This is not the picture for the caption contest.

So now you can rest assured I will remember to do a caption contest each and every month. Probably. I possibly, probably will remember. I’ll try really hard. Anyways, on to today’s contest. In the comments section, post your best caption to the picture below. This contest will run from when this post goes up until 9 a.m. Mountain Time tomorrow (12/21/2012). If the world ends, you will get nothing. Here’s the picture:

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The prize this go-around is a little wishlist I’ve created for the “Hacker on the Go.” This wishlist is a collection of my favorite tools for when you’re out and about and might need to, ya know, do electronics stuff. It consists of the following products: a SolderPro butane soldering iron, a 10-gram tube of solder, 6" digital calipers, some diagonal cutters, a digital multimeter, the Heaterizer XL-3000 (and its irreverent manual), a liquid flux pen, some crimping pliers (now with JST action!), a modular storage box, and – the pièce de résistance – a DSO Nano V2 pocket-size digital oscilloscope.

So get captioning!

Final Day to Fund the National Tour

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Update: Well, we all gave it a valiant effort. But sadly, our National Tour Kickstarter did not get funded. Ultimately we raised $61,018. While we were a long way from our goal, the fact that the SparkFun community pledged this sum of money is nothing short of amazing. We still have some great educational endeavors planned for 2013 which we’ll announce at a later date. Look for a summary post about the Kickstarter next week. Once again, thank you to all those who contributed or spread the word!

Today is the final day for the SparkFun National Tour Kickstarter. As it stands, we have raised nearly $60,000 and only have ~5 hours to go. While it looks like we will fall short of our goal, we’re not ready to throw in the towel just yet!

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First off, yet another heartfelt thank you to all that have donated or spread the word. Although we still have a long way to go for our goal, $60,000 raised thus far is nothing to scoff at. Thank you all for your generosity!

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Check out the National Tour t-shirt!

If you want to donate, there is still time! Head over to the SparkFun National Tour Kickstarter page and check it out! There are a number of great backing levels, like a Special Edition SparkFun Inventor’s Kit and an awesome National Tour t-shirt. Thank you again – and let’s make one final push!

Holiday Shipping and Kickstarter Update

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Alright all you procrastinators – Christmas is next week, which means you might be doing some last minute holiday shopping. If you’re like me and wait until the very last minute, you’ll need to know the info on when you can place your order and still get it in time to give to your Cousin Eddie (that rascal!). Here’s the gist:

  • UPS Next Day Air packages picked up on Dec. 20th will arrive Friday, Dec. 21
  • UPS 2nd Day Air packages picked up on Dec. 20th will arrive on Monday, Dec. 24
  • UPS Next Day Air packages picked up on Dec. 21st will arrive Monday, Dec. 24

For FedEx, orders will arrive in time for Christmas if they are picked-up by the following dates:

  • FedEx 2-Day – picked-up by Dec. 20
  • FedEx Priority Overnight – picked-up by Dec. 21
  • FedEx Standard Overnight – picked-up by Dec. 21
  • FedEx Express Saver – picked-up by Dec. 19

Please note that all these estimates are “picked-up” by the date listed. So if you select UPS Next Day Air, but don’t place your order until 10 p.m. on the 21st, it most likely won’t get there in time. Plan accordingly! Now on to the Kickstarter update…

We are currently sitting just below $55,000 – yesterday was a great day! We continue to see amazing generosity from so many members of the SparkFun community. Thank you so much to all those who have donated thus far – it is truly appreciated. Check out this week’s update video:

Again, thank you to all those who have donated and continue to spread the word. Please join us in bringing electronics education to kids across the country – donate to the SparkFun National Tour Kickstarter today!

Just Three Days Left for the SparkFun Kickstarter

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The SparkFun National Tour Kickstarter is now in its final days. If you’re not familiar with it, we’ve been running a campaign for the last month or so in the hopes of funding a SparkFun National Tour. On this tour, we will travel across the United States, teaching educators how to make electronics part of their classrooms, libraries, and after-school programs.

For us folks here at SparkFun, this tour is to be a means of sharing our passion for electronics with youth across the country. We believe education in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) is more important than ever, and we want to show kids across America that electronics are not only educational, but can also be genuinely fun.

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In the last few weeks, we have seen an incredible outpouring of contributions from all over the country. In fact, all 50 states are now represented. We have even had several contributions of over $2,500. One of those generous contributions came from Coppell High School in Dallas, TX. I recently spoke with Mike Yakubovky, Coordinator of Coppell High’s School of Engineering (yes, some high schools have engineering specific programs now. Awesome!). Here is what he had to say about his program, their goals, and how the SparkFun Kickstarter fits their mission:


Can you tell us a little bit about Coppell High School and its engineering program?

Coppell High School is a suburban public high school just north of Dallas. We have developed a pre-college engineering program for learners that is a part of our STEM Academy. The Academy has 130 learners currently enrolled and is growing. The learners participate in projects that teach them about engineering, and have the opportunity to participate in a number of after-school projects, including FIRST Robotics and the Solar Car Challenge.

What is the importance of educating today’s students in fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics?

It is important that learners not only learn about STEM fields, but just how important it is to their daily lives. We live in a world of constant change and accelerating complexity. While not all people will work directly in STEM fields, their lives will be impacted directly by STEM.

How do you think companies like SparkFun and schools like CHS can work together to help make education programs stronger?

Schools by themselves cannot keep up with the increasing pace of technological innovation. By partnering with companies like SparkFun, schools will be able to offer fun and engaging ways of learning about STEM, while also keeping up with current technology. Decreasing budgets and increasing workloads make it almost impossible for educators to keep up with new technologies. It is not uncommon to find 10 or 20-year-old technology being taught to students, if it is being taught at all. SparkFun has the ability to stay current with their technological area and help teachers keep up. With partnerships like this, learners win.

What is your background in engineering and how did you first get started with engineering/electronics?

I started in engineering and science in high school and college. Along the way, I ended up in restaurant management. Later, I went back to school and started teaching science. Coppell HS wanted to put in an engineering program and asked me to take on the challenge. Over the years, we built our program and worked to include a number of opportunities for learners to discover engineering and technology and how it plays in their lives. Electronics are an integral part of our world. Learners have to have a working knowledge of it to be successful. As a program, our first foray into electronics was to build a model rocket launch control system.  Then we started our solar car team. The team designs and builds full-size electric vehicles that are recharged by solar power. 

Why do you feel people should support the SparkFun National Tour Kickstarter?

The SparkFun National Tour Kickstarter offers schools a great opportunity to share electronics and engineering with more people. Most educators do not do much with electronics and engineering because it is not something they are comfortable with. This program offers them a way to learn about it in a safe, fun environment and then be able to bring it to the classroom. Learning on SparkFun kits and the knowing that they can use these same kits in the classroom makes it a more enjoyable experience, and opens up new avenues to engage learners like never before.


Programs like the one at Coppell High School are incredible inspirations. We want to help others establish similar programs by increasing interest in the STEAM fields and we believe the SparkFun National Tour is a nice step in the right direction. Support our National Tour today!

New Product Friday: Hot New Products

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

First order of business, we don’t have a video this week. During the holiday season, we’ve had a lot of people out and we want to do something special for the next video. We also have a surprise post next week, so this will be your last New Product Post for the next couple of weeks. But be sure to check back next Friday, we’ve got a little something special for you.

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Alright, show of hands – who fell for it? Yeah, to reiterate, no video this week, sorry!

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For all you Raspberry Pi owners out there, we’ve got a great little LCD for you. This is a 7" LCD with HDMI input. It’s great for the Pi, or anything else that has an HDMI output. It can also accept other video inputs via the included cables. It comes with a versatile mount and even a remote control! And for the videographers out there, it has a threaded mount on the bottom which works well for cold-shoe mounting as well. We now use these in the Product Post Videos so I can see what I’m doing while we record.

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We’ve got a new revision of the Geiger Counter this week. This one incorporates a lot of the feedback we’ve received from the comments. We’ve completely overhauled the power supply (it’s much more stable) and we’ve changed the way we read the tube. We’re now reading the rising edge which makes it more accurate and easier to use. Thanks for the feedback and we hope you like the new revision.

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At first glance the XMEGA Xprotolab might look like a small development board. But, it’s actually a mixed signal oscilloscope, logic analyzer, and waveform generator. And it fits into a breadboard! You can always reload your own firmware and use it for a development board, since it has a few handy buttons as well as an OLED display on the front. If you need an embedded scope or analyzer, check this one out. Or, just use it as a a tiny embedded control module.

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Need an embeddable Linux computer with a ton of IO pins? Why not check out the BeagleBone? With an ARM Cortex-A8 running at 720MHz, 66 GPIOs, and more, what’s not to like?

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Speaking of customer feedback, we’ve revised the XBee Explorer Regulated to replace the old diode level shifter with a proper and more robust MOSFET level shifter. Now you should have a lot less communication issues with your XBees.

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Need a cable for USB OTG? We now carry a 4" USB OTG cable which has a female A on one side and a Micro A on the other. Use this cable if you have a USB-OTG device, so you can use it as a host!

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Need a simple surface-mount resettable fuse? Check out our strip of 10 PTC resettable fuses. they act like a fuse, but reset. Give them too much juice, and they heat up and increase their resistance. Once they cool back down, they operate like normal. They’re pretty cool and a nice feature to add to your boards.

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We’ve got a new version of the crystal kit which doesn’t have the 13MHz SMD crystal. It was an odd addition and quite frankly, we were just using up some old ones we had. Other than that, it’s the same kit which has most of the common values you’d come across and need.

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And lastly, we’ve got some Xilinx Spartan-3E chips leftover from our Spartan breakout. We’re no longer building the board, so get some of the leftovers for cheap.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week. We won’t be back for another couple of weeks, but we’ll still have new products, so check the new product feed for new stuff. See you again in a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading.

Upcoming Class Reminders

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Today we have a reminder for a couple of upcoming classes hosted by the SparkFun Education Department.

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The first class is Microcontrollers for Educators and is taking place on December 29th, 2012. This is an all-day (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.) class designed to help educators make electronics part of their classrooms.

In this class, you’ll learn the basics of Arduino using the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit. We’ll also discuss LilyPad and E-textiles. Lastly, we’ll build the Simon Says Kit and talk about approaches to hacking it. This class is good for 1.0 semester credit hour through the Colorado School of Mines with an additional payment of $50.00 to be paid at the time of the class. Paperwork for the credit will be made available at that time.

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The other upcoming class is the Simon SMD Soldering Class. In this class, you’ll learn the ever-important skill of surface-mount soldering by building your own Simon Says SMD Kit. This class takes place on January 16, 2013 and will last from 6 p.m. to around 10 p.m. (depending on your soldering skills).

You can keep an eye out for other upcoming classes in the Classes and Events section on the Learn.SparkFun.Com site. Hope to see you at one (or both) of these workshops!

Holiday Gift Giving Guide Video

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

It’s that time of year again – the weather has turned cold, there’s a dusting of snow on the ground, and you spend each morning scraping a thick layer of ice off of your windshield until you can’t feel your hands. Ah yes, winter has fallen and with it comes the inevitable frenzy of the holidays and the requisite gift-giving that accompanies it.

Fortunately, SparkFun has your back. We’ve created a Holiday Gift guide video to help you pick out a gift for that electronics enthusiast on your list. Check it out:

In this video we feature the Learn to Solder Simon Says, the serial enabled LCD kit, the ProtoSnap ProMini, the BigTime, and the Makey Makey. Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of the year (or if you don’t celebrate at all!), we hope a dose of electronics goodness can help get you through the winter months! Enjoy!