Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Geekiest Wedding Invites Ever

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Planning a wedding is no small task. There is the venue, the catering company, the annoying wedding planner to deal with, the cake – and, of course, figuring out how to etch your own copper to create your interactive, one-of-a-kind wedding invitations. Right?

This project comes from electronics hobbyist extraordinaire Bill Porter, who created these amazing wedding invitations to follow his wedding theme of “Circuits and Swirls.” Using a handful of white LEDs, an AVR MCU, a battery, a light sensor, and some other bits and pieces, Bill created a completely unique wedding invitation that illuminates with a beautiful light show when the invitation is opened in the dark (or the light sensor is otherwise covered).

Bill built the circuit in Eagle and by using Photoshop, was able to circumvent around the size limits of Eagle, and panelized the design onto 8.5âx11â sheets. Because of this workaround, Bill was able to fit 9 designs onto one sheet. He also incorporated a programming “port” into the design and built a nifty little programming jig.

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Well that looks familiar.

Bill then used a Xerox solid ink printer to print mask directly onto copper sheets and built his own etch tank out of a specimen tank from a local pet store. Bill gave the boards a nice ferric chloride bath, a quick dip in a water tub, and then cleaned the boards with a Brillo pad to remove the solder mask.

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The Xerox loaded up with copper “paper.”

Finally he cleaned the pads with some flux, tinned them up, and then soldered the parts. The completed boards were then ready to be incorporated into the paper cards. The result, as you can see in the above video, is pretty awesome. Bill even put an Easter egg into the card, which he explains more on his website.

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The final touch – installing the battery.

Even making one of these invitations was a ton of work, so the fact Bill made dozens is pretty impressive. Props to him for an awesome, creative way to geek up his wedding invites! For more information, pictures, and a complete build report, check out his website. Great work, Bill, and congratulations!

No Starch Press discounts for Pi users (now 40% off – see below for update)

via Raspberry Pi

A few notices: if you’re at BETT this week, come to Stand B240 to meet one of the Robs, Clive and a bunch of impaled Jelly Babies.

Pete Lomas is at Campus Party in Sao Paolo, Brazil. He’ll be giving a talk on Friday at 5.30pm; if you’re in town, go and hear what he has to say!

Finally, Eben and I are flying out for some meetings in the US today; we’ll be incommunicado until the weekend. 

Update, Feb 1: I just had mail from the folks at No Starch Press, who say:

We heard from a couple customers that they were a little stretched by the price of the books and the international shipping costs, so we decided to bump the coupon value to 40% off to make it easier on everyone. We’re applying the 40% discount to anyone who already used the code, so they’ll have the best price, too.

We were sent copies of two books from No Starch Press last week. Super Scratch Programming Adventure and Python for Kids are terrific; they’re colourful, engaging and just the sort of thing we think kids are going to respond to.

We enjoyed both books, but in particular, we really think the authors of Super Scratch Programming Adventure are on to something: what kid doesn’t enjoy pyramids full of treasure; and what kid doesn’t want to write a game about them? As well as introducing them to Scratch itself, and to programmatic thinking, the book’s a great introduction to game design. Kids will start building games from the first page. And we loved the presentation; this thing is part comic, part storybook.

 No Starch have an offer for Raspberry Pi users: if you enter RPi at the checkout on their website, you’ll get 30% off both of the books (either purchased separately or together). Print book purchases come with free ebook editions, and the code will work for ebooks alone, too, so you don’t need to fork out for shipping if you don’t want to. Click on the books to order.

Getting Started with a Radio Design

via Maxim - Application Notes

The process of designing a radio system can be complex and often involves many project tradeoffs. With a little insight, balancing these various characteristics can make the job of designing a radio system easier. This tutorial explores these tradeoffs and provides details to consider for various radio applications. With a focus on the industrial, scientific, medical (ISM) bands, the subjects of frequency selection, one-way versus two-way systems, modulation techniques, cost, antenna options, power-supply influences, effects on range, and protocol selection are explored.

Computer Science added to EBacc

via Raspberry Pi

If you’re at BETT this week, come over to Stand B240 to meet one of the Robs, Clive and a bunch of impaled Jelly Babies.

The Department for Education (DfE) has just announced that Computer Science is to be added to the new English Baccalaureate or EBacc. The EBacc is a series of new qualifications to replace the GCSEs that English kids take at 16, designed to be more rigorous than the existing standards.

This is an enormous curricular change for England, which has traditionally recognised only Physics, Biology and Chemistry as core science subjects. Computer Science is now on a level footing with those subjects, carrying the same weight and prestige, and having an equal impact on choices pupils can make later about A Levels and University courses. This is wonderful news.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said today:

It is great news that Google is helping the brilliant Raspberry Pi project. We are replacing the old-fashioned ICT curriculum with a Computer Science curriculum. This will combine with the Raspberry Pi project to spread teaching of computer coding which is so educationally and economically vital.

The new Computer Science curriculum replaces the old ICT curriculum, discontinued last year. The old ICT courses did not prepare students for studying Computer Science at university (or for much else); we’re delighted to see their replacement being treated as a proper, exacting academic subject. There’s a statement from the DfE that you can read in full over at their website; it’s worth a look.

What specifics would you like to see included in a new CompSci curriculum?

Voyage: an interactive art installation

via Raspberry Pi

If you’re at BETT this week, come over to Stand B240 to meet one of the Robs, Clive and a bunch of impaled Jelly Babies.

So here’s a little change of pace after yesterday’s excitement. We’ve noticed a lot of artists working Raspberry Pis into their installations; we’re still very proud that the new Tanks space at Tate Modern had a couple of Pis driving one of their very first exhibits. It makes good sense; the Raspberry Pi’s a lot cheaper and smaller, and a lot less power hungry than the laptops or PC towers that people used to use for this sort of task.

Still in London, we discovered last week that this flotilla of paper boats, which doubles as an array of LEDs and can be controlled by the mobile phones of passers-by, was being exhibited at Canary Wharf. There’s a Raspberry Pi acting as a DHCP and web server as part of the control mechanism, and we find ourselves surprisingly touched at finding a Pi in something so beautiful.

Voyage is an installation from Aether Hemera; you can read more about the setup at their website. I’m not sure how long it’s there for (or even if it’s still in place; we were a little late finding out about this); have any of you London readers had a chance to see it?

There are more pictures of Voyage at Design Boom; they’re well worth a look.

Finding the cheapest board house

via Hack a Day» hardware


The prices for custom made circuit boards has never been cheaper, but surprisingly we’ve never seen a comparison of prices between the major board houses. [Brad] took the time to dig in to the price of 10 boards manufactured by Seeed Studios, OHS Park, and BatchPCB. He made some pretty graphs and also answered the question of where you can get your circuits made cheaply.

[Brad] got the prices for boards up to 20 cm x 20 cm from Seeed Studio’s Fusion PCB service, OSH Park, and BatchPCB. These results were graphed with Octave and showed some rather surprising results.

For boards over 20 cm2, the cheapest option is Seeed Studios. In fact, the price difference between Seeed and the other board houses for the maximum sized board is impressive; a 400 cm2 board from Seeed costs $150, while the same board from OSH Park is close to $1000.

Of course most boards are much smaller, so the bottom line is  for boards less than 20 cm2, your best bet is to go with OHS Park. If you don’t care when your boards arrive, or you need more than 10 or so, Seeed is the way to go. As far as the quality of the boards go, OSH Park is up there at the top as well.

Filed under: hardware

Engineering Roundtable – Digitizing Your Electronic Blanket

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

In today’s episode of “Engineering Roundtable,” SparkFun product guru Joel Bartlett attempts to burn down his house connect his electric blanket to the internet. You see, the reason is simple – after Joel spends an evening at Boulder’s hackerspace Solid State Depot, he likes to come home to nice warm bed. So he decided to create a way to turn on his electric blanket remotely.

Joel did this by hacking the controller of his electric blanket and connecting it to the internet using a WiFly module and an Arduino. Through a slick web interface, Joel can now turn on his blanket to any setting while on the go and come home to a warm bed. He also retained the original functionality of the blanket, and can still manually adjust the settings as well. Check it out!

As always, please feel free to leave any questions or suggestions in the comments section below. We hope you enjoyed this edition of “Engineering Roundtable” and we’ll see you again in a few weeks!

Introducing a new(ish) face

via Raspberry Pi

Today’s grant from Google (if you have’t read the post about it yet, go and have a look before you continue with this one) has also enabled us to pick up our newest hire, Clive Beale.

If you’ve been visiting this website regularly over the last 18 months or so, you may recognise Clive as one of our volunteers. He’s been involved with Raspberry Pi since a few days after this site went live; he runs Pi workshops, writes Pi teaching materials, does a lot of work with Computing at Schools and other CS teaching groups on things Pi, and is now leaving his successful teaching career to head up the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s educational strategy.

Clive’s our new Director of Educational Development, and he’ll be organising getting the Google-funded Raspberry Pis into the hands of kids who will use them; he’s also working with some of our partner organisations on the curriculum, and dealing with materials and outreach. He’ll be dealing with resources for kids, and for teachers and parents too. (If you’re visiting the BETT show at the end of this week, you can meet Clive, who will be demonstrating, talking about the Pi in schools, and torturing Jelly Babies with GPIO pins.) He says:

Sometime during 2011 I came across the Raspberry Pi on the web. As a teacher of ICT and Computing I thought, “Hmm… that’s interesting”. It hinted of physical computing, programming and cross-curricular projects.

Later that year I had a chance to play around with a demo board, and this time I was sold. Until I had the thing in my hand I hadn’t really appreciated its potential: the size, the price, the OS on an SD card. Most of all I loved the fact that it was both physically and conceptually so far removed from the sealed-box PCs that my students used every day.

Using the Raspberry Pi in the classroom, you have no choice but to learn new stuff. It really was a remarkable machine.  So I took to hanging around the forums, writing bits and pieces, helping out with the blog and generally making a nuisance of myself. The plan worked and here I am.

It’s fantastic that that the Raspberry Pi hardware has become such a star–an icon even–but the hardware has always been a means to an end. The Foundation’s goal is to educate and encourage a new generation of computer scientists and to invigorate computing in the UK and beyond. We’ve always been passionate about this and we’re delighted that we now have the resources and support to help make it happen. It’s been an amazing journey so far and I’m proud to be part of it. And the best thing of all is—we’ve only just started.

One thing that we think is of paramount importance in Clive’s work here at the Foundation is continued teaching, and continuing conversation with kids from all over the country; it’s no good having someone whose job is to engage with schools and teachers if he doesn’t have up-to-the-minute classroom experience. So the plan is for Clive to visit schools around the UK very regularly, holding classes and workshops for kids in the classroom as well as talking to teachers.

If you’re a teacher from the UK and you’d like Clive to visit, please leave a comment below, and we’ll add you to the list we’ll eventually be picking from. (We’re seeing a lot of interest in this workshops program already, so we won’t be able to visit everybody, but we’ll do our best to make sure that we cover as much of the country as we can.)

Clive rides a motorbike, owns a sous vide cooker he built from bits of junk he’d rescued from a skip, and enjoys pork scratchings. He gave me a photo for this post that’s so awful we can’t use it because it’ll scare children (we’ll have a new one in place as soon as we can).

We think he’s going to fit right in here.

Upcoming XBee Class

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

When you are looking to make your latest project wireless, you have a few options, including the tried-and-true bluetooth protocol. However, another great option is XBee, which has become one of the go-to methods for wireless communication in DIY embedded systems.

To help you along, our education team has created a class that explores the power of XBee. It’s appropriately called “Exciting XBees.” This class takes place on February 23rd at 9 a.m. at SparkFun HQ.

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In this class, you’ll start with an introduction to all the required components, serial terminals, AT commands and the basics of mesh networking. The first project will be a Basic Chat session that demonstrates how to configure and connect coordinator and router ZigBee Series 1 radios together. We will also cover pin to pin data transfer using XBee Series 1 radios. After lunch you’ll do the same with XBee series 2 followed by a discussion on the different uses of the two XBee types. Finally weâll develop a full Processing-based wireless simple sensor network using ZigBee radio connections to collect three data values from numerous remotely-placed sensors.

This is the class if you’re just getting started with wireless protocols and want to check out XBee. Sign up today! We hope to see you there!

15,000 Raspberry Pis for UK schools – thanks Google!

via Raspberry Pi

Today’s been a bit unlike most Tuesdays at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Today we’re the recipients of a very generous grant from Google Giving, which will provide 15,000 Raspberry Pi Model Bs for schoolkids around the UK. Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, has just been to visit Cambridge, and he and Eben have been teaching a classroom of local kids to code all morning. Lucky kids.

(Usually on Tuesday mornings we eat biscuits and do engineering. This is a bit of a change of pace.)

We’re going to be working with Google and six UK educational partners to find the kids who we think will benefit from having their very own Raspberry Pi. CoderDojo, Code Club, Computing at Schools, Generating Genius, Teach First and OCR will each be helping us identify those kids, and will also be helping us work with them. You’ll already have seen the Raspberry Pi teaching materials from Computing at Schools; OCR will also be creating 15,000 free teaching and learning packs to go with the Raspberry Pis.

We’re absolutely made up over the news; this is a brilliant way for us to find kids all over the country whose aptitude for computing can now be explored properly. We believe that access to tools is a fundamental necessity in finding out who you are and what you’re good at. We want those tools to be within everybody’s grasp, right from the start.

The really good sign is that industry has a visible commitment now to trying to solve the problem of CS education in the UK. Grants like this show us that companies like Google aren’t prepared to wait for government or someone else to fix the problems we’re all discussing, but want to help tackle them themselves. We’re incredibly grateful for their help in something that we, like them, think is of vital importance. We think they deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping some of our future engineers and scientists find a way to a career they’re going to love.

It’s here! Elektor Volume 2012 on DVD

via News

The newly released Elektor DVD 2012 packs all editorial content of a whole year of Elektor magazine onto a single disk - in six languages - including a powerful search engine. For those who want to read Elektor cover to cover, we’ve included PDF files of the complete magazine editions exactly as they were printed. In case you did not know, Elektor publishes more circuits and articles every year than any of its competitors on the market, whether in Europe, the US or Australasia so this DVD...

Selecting the Right CMOS Analog Switch

via Maxim - Application Notes

With the large number of analog switches on the market today, there are many performance criteria for a product designer to consider. This application note reviews the basic construction of the standard CMOS analog switch and describes some common analog-switch parameters. It also discusses the improved performance offered by the latest analog switches.