Author Archives: SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

National Tour Update

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Last month, we announced the SparkFun National Tour – an event where we will travel across the country teaching students, teachers, librarians, and other educators about DIY electronics and how they can be part of the modern classroom.

Today, we wanted to update you on the progress we’ve made and encourage you to sign up! Thus far, we have had an amazing response and, as I write this, we have booked 35 stops! Many states are represented, all the way from Vermont to Hawaii, and we have stops booked at schools, hackerspaces, museums, and more.

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The first 50 stops that are booked receive a discounted price ($1500 vs. $2500) for a full day of instruction and kits for 20-40 students. There are only 15 of these discounted stops still remaining, so sign up soon!

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We hope that you’ll join us in helping change the face of education! Join the SparkFun National Tour today!

Highlights from Lindsay’s Trip to the Lonestar State

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Since the formation of the Department of Education in 2011 we have been traveling throughout the country hosting workshops and events designed to inspire students of all ages. It was a nice change of pace to sit back as part of the audience and enjoy the inspiration and excitement of listening to all of the wonderful panelists and presenters at SXSWedu. There were too many notes to go through and I was chastised a bit for my last lengthy conference post, so I’ve added headings in this brain dump to allow for easier scanning/skipping. Let’s begin with a few lessons learned that I thought I would share:

  1. Do NOT lose your badge. Seriously. SXSW badge bureaucracy is intense!
  2. Attend panels that sound interesting and inspirational – don’t just follow big names.
  3. Next year, pack a bunch of soldering irons, kits, e-textiles materials and storm the Makerspace so people have things to build!
  4. Go check out the vintage shopping on Congress Ave.
  5. Do NOT mess with Texan BBQ (Who serves BBQ without sweet tea?)
  6. Do NOT leave the morning of the day that the rest of SXSW launches (bittersweet flight home).
  7. Compared to Boulder, Austin isn’t that weird, but it’s a darn cool city that I hope to visit again next year!

The Department of Education spends a lot of time evangelizing the merits of hands-on, kinesthetic, differentiated learning, so it is hard for me to sit back in a seat for most of a day listening. That being said, the organizers of SXSWedu should be applauded for a fantastic lineup. I’ve tried to recap a few choice panels below. However, in a delightful change of pace from sitting quietly in the audience, I also participated in the Squishy Circuits, Toy Engineering and More! workshop hosted by Tricia Berry and Didey Muniz. We were tasked with building the best parachute to ensure a safe landing for a toy animal. The materials included different weights of paper, aluminum foil, yarn and a few paper clips. We found partners, collaborated on design, and tested our models before a culminating group drop. It’s hard to say how safe our horse was in the final drop; I probably should have paid better attention in physics. Following the first activity, Berry and Muniz presented a slideshow from the PBS series, SciGirls, which focuses on improving confidence, emphasizing a deeper understanding of inquiry, and a broadened awareness of careers for 8-13 year-old females. The discussion surrounded seven strategies for engaging girls.

Girls prefer STEM projects and experiences that embrace collaboration, are personally relevant, offer hands-on, open-ended participation, accommodate preferred learning styles, provide specific, positive feedback, allow for critical thinking, and involve role models & mentors.

We ended the workshop building Squishy Circuits. I had one of those deeply proud open source moments when an enthusiastic educator in the audience asked about gaining access to the slideshow so she could bring the materials back to her class. The women running the workshop were unable to oblige due to the copyright materials on the slides from SciGirls. These are the moments that solidify exactly why we continue to embrace the open source culture here at SparkFun. The last thing we ever want is to deny materials to an enthusiastic and inspired educator. Thankfully I was able to catch up with the educator at the end of the workshop and give her the link to our Squishy Circuits materials. If you’re interested, you can find out more about Texas Girls Collaborative Project and SciGirls.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDER PLY: Why Makers Rule in EDU

Dale Dougherty, Karl Wendt, Katie Rast

The maker panel was a nice discussion of experiences and quips about implementing “making” into the education system. Dougherty delivered a sage warning regarding filling a room with machines and expecting something to happen, emphasizing the importance of having support for a maker program. The panel also discussed the importance of creating an interdisciplinary space and how it connects people to technology. Wendt emphasized the importance of ownership and how that gives students a sense of purpose and meaning. Though it seems like a strange correlation, I thought about my high school experience and that I thoroughly enjoyed the responsibility and “ownership” of the specimen I was given to dissect in my biology and anatomy courses. The experience of deconstructing and learning through hands-on exploration is certainly what inspired my path to undergraduate and graduate studies in science. Despite being a far cry from your typical maker project, I think the overall message is the same. I really enjoyed the friendly disagreement between Wendt and Dougherty about the importance of formally integrating “making” into the curriculum. I happen to side with Wendt who was arguing in favor of ensuring integration. Overall I think the idea that the maker movement, with roots in skillsets that were traditionally tied to vocational or technical programs, is no longer an alternative path (it’s for everyone), is a fantastic message.

STEM to STEAM: Full Circle – Education to Economy

Jon Perera, Ainissa Ramirez, Rosemarie Truglio, Matt Goldman, and John Maeda

When the department formed in 2011 the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) was gaining momentum due to government attention to how these important fields affect the economy. I cannot pinpoint the first time our team was introduced to STEAM – adding art(s) to the popular acronym – but there wasn’t a moment of hesitation before we all quickly adopted this preferred acronym. It could be argued that there are many other important letters missing from this concept, but we firmly believe in the importance of that A. The discussion of this shift from STEM to STEAM was definitely a recurring theme at this year’s conference, culminating in this discussion with a rockstar panel. Each panelist provided a brief discussion about why the arts are a vital part of a comprehensive curriculum. They encouraged us to go “off road” and step outside our disciplines, to think about the idea that we design to differentiate, and that innovation is the product of art and design. I had a particular affinity for Ainissa Ramirez’s discussion about the importance of curiosity, creativity, problem-solving, and making friends with failure. She recently launched Save Our Science. If I left SXSWedu adding a new mantra to my life it would be Ramirez’s “discoveries are made one failure at a time.”

DRONES.edu: Hands on the Future in the Classroom

Todd Humphreys, Elad Inbar, Matt Waite, Amie Stepanovich

Despite a smaller audience than I would have imagined given the societal weight of the topic, the Drones.edu panel was one of my favorites. The panelists discussed the roles for drones in capturing data after natural disasters, how to approach and set some level of regulations on drones, drone hijacking, and accessibility to this technology with companies like our friends, DIY Drones. The hour flew by with really poignant dialogue about the future of this technology. I was particularly impressed by Matt Waite, a professor of practice in journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, who runs the Drone Journalism Lab. I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Matt following the panel and was really excited to hear about his journalism students learning to solder and hack hardware. If you’re intrigued by drones you might want to check out DroneCon this summer at our headquarters!

Don’t Make Me Go Back to Traditional Education

Isabetta Bleu Herrera Grant, Ludvik Herrera, Adam Gehlar

If you’re questioning various characteristics of Generation Millennial, perhaps it is time to reserve total judgment. Have you seen the recent news highlighting some pretty amazing scientific work of young men and women that are too young to vote? We are withholding judgment about this generation because we have had the amazing opportunity to interact with folks like Joey Hudy, Quin, and Super Awesome Sylvia. At SXSWedu I had the opportunity to chat with Isabetta Bleu and her father, Ludvik Herrera. Isabetta is an eighth grade student at West Fargo STEM middle school in North Dakota. Her experiences in the STEM school have been exceptional and allow her to get the most out of her education. The panel discussion between Isabetta, her father, and a former teacher, who now serves as the Assistant Principle at West Fargo High School, covered how things would change when Isabetta moved from a STEM-oriented middle school to a “traditional” high school. I thought I was a passionate student at that age but was definitely more concerned about acquiring thrift clothing to match the Beastie Boys' style than whether or not my preferred learning style would be addressed in the coming academic years. I applaud Isabetta for taking charge of her own education at a young age and demanding more from our education system.

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Photo courtesy of Ludvik Herrera

Despite finding myself in close proximity to Mr. William Gates on the final day of the conference, I was unable to attend his final keynote due to that aforementioned pesky badge bureaucracy. I decided to wash away my sorrows with a little vintage retail therapy and local cuisine on Congress Avenue. Our friendly server at the Snack Bar was quite enthused by the oversized Big Time watch adorning my wrist, so I followed unofficial SparkFun protocol and passed it along to its new owner. Another happy customer and a great excuse to build up another sweet watch! If you’re strolling along Congress, I highly recommend Uncommon Objects – it’s a tour de force of vintage awesomeness. It would have been easy to spend a small fortune, but I was a responsible adult and only left with a cool old photograph of scientists pipetting and logging data in a lab.

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See you next time, Austin!

Your March Caption Contest

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No use in beating around the bush – it’s time for a caption contest. As always, a few ground rules:

  • Leave your funniest clean caption in the comments section below. We reserve the right to delete captions that we deem inappropriate – so be clever, but keep it PG-13. Captions submitted any other way (smoke signal, carrier pigeon, feedback form, email, or otherwise) will not be accepted!
  • Captions will be accepted from the moment this post goes live until Thursday, March 21st at 9 a.m. Mountain Time.
  • A crack team of humor experts will pick the winner and we will announce it next week.

Here is the photo:

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The prize this time around is a (drum roll please) – pcDuino (and a pcDuino wireless dongle). If you’re not familiar with the pcDuino, it is a high performance, cost effective mini-PC that runs full-featured operating systems such as Ubuntu and Android ICS. You can read more about it on the product page.

Alright – ready, set, caption! May the best caption win!

Product Assembly at SparkFun

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In the early days of SparkFun, our manufacturing “process” consisted of one zealous engineering student (that’s Nate Seidle) soldering away in his college apartment. Our infamous (the in-famous!?) tried-and-true hot-plate reflow method was one of the crowning jewels in SparkFun’s early history.

Now, things are a bit different. We have a full team of trained soldering ninjas putting together hundreds of boards every day. We have not one, not two, but three pick-and-place machines working round the clock. And we have two reflow ovens – one for reflow work and one to heat up pizza rolls for backup. All because the DIY electronics community is thriving and we have lots of work to do to keep the products you need in-stock and on the shelves. It’s a big challenge, but it’s also a lot of fun. Check out this video called “Birth of SparkFun Widget.” It’ll give you a nice visual idea of the steps involved before that red box lands on your doorstep:

We also have a new tutorial called “Electronics Assembly.” This tutorial details just how SparkFun does its manufacturing – from stenciling all the way to packaging up the parts. Part of the process has warranted the creation of whole separate wing of production known as “kitting.” Their process (and…uh…unique “skills”) can be seen in this video:

We hope these videos (and tutorial) help “demystify” the SparkFun production process and give you a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on here on a daily basis! As always, please feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Cheers!

New Product Friday: A Display of Digital Goodness

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It’s me again! But today it’s time for new products. If you missed the AVC Course Preview, check out yesterday’s post. We have some cool stuff this week (as always!) so let’s see what we’ve got.

Vimeo version can be found here

We just ran out of time this week with AVC and everything else. But I promise we’ll have a video demonstrating how to use the new 4D Systems screens next week.

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4D Systems has 4 new screens this week that work with your Raspberry Pi or Arduino. They come in two different sizes each, a 3.2" and 4.3". The Arduino versions come with an adapter shield and the Raspberry Pi versions come with a small adapter board. They communicate over serial and have a new drag and drop programming interface. You don’t have to sit there for hours programming tediously to get a slick graphical interface for your next project. Check the video on the product page (and the one above) for some examples of what they do. And be sure to check back next week for a special demonstration video as well.

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We’ve got a new digital version of the Hakko FX-888 this week. The new FX-888D does away with the analog knob and has a nice digital readout for temperature. If you’re looking to upgrade your iron, you can’t go wrong with a Hakko.

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Want to use one of our illuminated rotary encoders, but need a board for it? This simple breakout works with both the Red/Green as well as the RGB version. Just flip it over and use the side with the correct markings (either RG or RGB).

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We also have a couple of new books this week. The first is a great book for teaching Python. Python for Kids isn’t just for kids, it’s for anyone that wants to learn Python, but doesn’t want to read a boring textbook. It’s got pictures, color, and is actually fun and interesting to read. Check it out.

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Lastly, we’ve got a similar book, but for Scratch. Super Scratch Programming Adventure is a fun and colorful book which teaches you the basics of Scratch programming software. Both of these books are fantastic at approaching technical subjects from a completely different perspective.

Well, that’s it for this week. Check back next week for more new products and the demo for the new LCDs. Thanks for reading and see you then!

Full AVC Details and Course Preview!

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Wow, what a difference a few years make. When we first started the SparkFun Autonomous Vehicle Competition (or AVC) back in 2009, it took place in our parking lot and a few dozen people showed up. It was an awesome day, but was definitely a low-key affair. Fast forward to today, and we are in the midst of planning what will undoubtedly be the biggest, best AVC yet. So big, in fact, we had to move it from SparkFun headquarters to a new location – the Boulder Reservoir on the outskirts of sunny Boulder, Colo.

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Today we are excited to announce that registration is now open and there are a BUNCH of new rules, regulations, and classes. We think these new rules will make for the most competitive and exciting AVC to date. The scoring system is even different! We’ve created an AVC page for all things related to the competition, so head over there to check out what the deal is and to register as a competitor or spectator!

Here are the new classes:

  • Student Class – Any robot that is 80% designed and built by students (high school or younger)
  • Micro/PBR – Less than $350 total spent, or small enough to fit into box that’s 10"x6"x4"
  • Doping Class – Bring the biggest, baddest and most expensive vehicle you can make ($1k+ or 25lbs+)
  • Non-Traditional Locomotion – Have a walker? A modified autonomous self-balancing pogostick, motorized hamster ball? This designation is for you.
  • Peloton – All remaining vehicles that don’t fit into any other class

We’ve learned a lot from previous years and have decided to make the course easier to navigate. For ground, we’ve repainted all the barriers, obstacles, and checkpoints to be different primary colors. And if you head over to the AVC site we’ve got the full dimensions and even paint colors we used. Additionally, we have a full dimensional drawing of the course in addition to GPS waypoints and tracks.

The scoring is also completely different this year and isn’t based on the single best time. The new scoring is based on a point system which you can check out here. Be sure to read the full rules before signing up – we don’t want you to encounter any surprises at the last minute.

Today, we also have a course preview video. We took a trip out to the reservoir to scope out the location and map out the courses – you can see some details of the course here:

Vimeo version can be found here

We’ve also drawn up some course maps to give you a better idea of what you’re up against. Also be sure to check out the GPS information available on the AVC site.

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Aerial Course

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Ground Course

The event is going to take place from 8:30 a.m. (8 a.m. for competitors) to 5 p.m. (or whenever we finish!) on June 8th, 2013 at the Boulder Reservoir.

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If you’ve read everything on the site and still have a question, you can email us at avc@sparkfun.com. Sign up your team today – we hope to see you there!

Hygrometers: A Cautionary Tale

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Hygrometers, or humidity sensors as they are more commonly called, don’t tend to be particularlyÂrivetingÂtopics forÂdiscussionÂat most parties, but that doesn’t make them any less useful or any less interesting to geeks like us. They are practically everywhere too – medical, HVAC andÂmeteorologicalÂequipment are just a few places you’ll find them.

For DIYers and SparkFun customers the most common application is the later, though if there’s one thing I’ve learned from working here these last few years it’s to never underestimate theÂingenuityÂof the weekend hacker – who knows what use you’ll come up with. For that reason, among many others, we want to make sure you’re getting what you pay for when you buy something from us. We may not always be able to predict exactly how you’re going to use our products but we do understand that, to makers and hackers at least, few things are worse than purchasing something, embedding in a project, and then discovering it doesn’t preform the way that it should. On that note I’m sorry to say then that up until late 2011 we were woefully unaware that we had been overlooking a necessary post-assembly procedure with ourÂhumidityÂsensors – re-hydration.

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Dead useful, these things.

You see, the two most common types of humidity sensors, at least in our line of work, areÂcapacitiveÂhumidity sensors and resistiveÂhumidityÂsensors, both of which tend to use conductive polymers in the way they measure relative humidity. The capacitive type detects the relativeÂhumidityÂof its environment by way of measuring the dielectric constant of that polymer, which is a fancy way of saying it uses the ratio between the capacitance of a capacitor with that polymer between its two planes and theÂcapacitanceÂof a capacitor with a vacuum between its two planes. With the resistive type ofÂhumidityÂsensors, a change in the electrical resistance of that polymer with respect to temperature is used as the primaryÂmeasurementÂtool. Either way you slice it, that polymer is essential to the design and functionality, and if it dries out the accuracy of the readings will be negatively affected. How do we know this? Enter the almighty datasheet:

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Bow to the datasheet.

It’s true that some times these things aren’t the most well written pieces of technical jibber-jabber, but it’s safe to assume that if the datasheet for the part tells you to care for it a specific way, you should do it. In this case, the datasheet for each of the humidity sensors we carry recommends “re-conditioning” the parts post-population for about 12 hours in an enclosed space at 75% RH. Rehydration becomes especially important when you consider that we put these boards through a reflow oven where the temperature exceeds 260 degrees Celsius. And we live in Colorado, which is on average a very dry state. So then, rehydration is something we should have been doing all along. Why weren’t we? Hard to tell, really. I’m not going to make excuses though. What matters is that we weren’t doing it. That’s our bad and we are terribly sorry for the oversight.

However, I can assure you that we have been re-hydrating each and every humidity sensor we populate for some time now. We now use no-clean solder paste on all of those products as well so that the boards won’t be subjected to excessive amounts of moisture either, since that too can damage the component. Once built then, each board spends the aforementioned 12 hours (at least) in a humidity controlled environment. What do we use you ask? Well that’s the most interesting part of this story, really. We needed an enclosed space that could both monitor and maintain the relative humidity inside at a stable percentage indefinitely. It also had to be able to store a respectable number of PCBs. I’m sure we could have bought something that does that, but that’s not near as fun as building itÂourselvesÂthough, is it?

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We could have bought a standard cigar humidor, but just buying something is boring.

We initially used plastic bins and humidification packs as an immediate, albeit temporary solution. Recognizing we could improve upon the process, we asked our Mechanical Engineer, Paul Smith, to create a moreÂpermanentÂsolution. Paul took our detailed specifications for such a device (we told him roughly how many shelves we wanted) and, after a little time in the mechshop, he created El Cubano! It is essentially a humidor for populated PCBs! He was even nice enough to write up a tutorial documenting the build process! You can check that out here.

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ÂViva el Cubano!

The moral of the story here (sorry to get all “Full House” on you) is that weÂweren'tÂaware of this issue until customers spoke up in the comments. We love sharing as much as we can with our customers, and we are always looking for ways to improve the quality of our products. That’s why we encourage dialogue and don’t just look at Sparkfun as a business but also as a community. You make us better. That’s the truth of the matter. So thanks for keeping us on our toes!

Drawing the Electric Synth with Sam Jacoby

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Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of DIY instruments – but only recently did we stumble across the idea of drawing your own electric instruments. This is a concept we’ll be exploring in a new class, aptly named “Drawing the Electric Synth with Sam Jacoby from MIT.”

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In this class, which is taught by Sam Jacoby from MIT Media Labs (you can check out his website here), you will explore using conductive inks and other materials to create unique, interactive musical instruments. You’ll learn the basics of embedded microcontroller programming and circuit design, while crafting miniature synthesizers.

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There is no experience necessaryâbut it’d certainly be helpful if you’re interested in crafts, drawing, sound, and learning new ways of making electronics. The class will take place on April 6, 2013 at SparkFun Electronics headquarters in Boulder, Colo. and will start at 9:00 am and last until 5:00 pm (with a one hour break for lunch).

To learn more and to sign up, check out the class listing! Hope you’ll join us!

Check out the Lumapad!

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Today, we have a guest post from SparkFun videographer Gregg (of Engineering Roundtable, new product post, and According to Pete “fame”). Check it out:

As the videographer here at SparkFun, I get a lot of questions about the type of equipment I use. As a general rule, I try to pick out equipment that will give me the most bang for my buck. Nowadays it’s pretty easy to find affordable deals on cameras and sound recorders, but the same cannot always be said for lighting equipment. I shoot different types of videos all over the SparkFun building, and at other locations, such as Pete’s dark scary basement. Therefore the lighting equipment I use needs to be lightweight, portable, and able to run on battery power. LED’s fit the bill nicely, but a single 1' x 1' LED light panel can run over $1200.

I was recently approached by Richard Haberkern, creater of the Lumapad. The Lumapad is an open source LED light pad that incorporates many of the platforms we offer here at SparkFun, such as the Electric Imp and Arduino. By incorporating the Electric Imp, the Lumipad’s intensity and color temperature can all be adjusted from a smart phone. You can also network a series of lights together, and program them to do a variety of lighting effects, such as simulated lightning or strobe flashes. The Lumapad only draws 88 watts (not 1.21 gigawatts), so it can easily be run on battery power, but it puts out the equivalent of 1000 watts of tungsten power. In addition to drawing less current than other light sources, it’s also much smaller. The Lumapad measures in at just 6.75", making it extremely portable, even more so than other LED options on the market.

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Richard was kind enough to send me a prototype version of the Lumapad. I have been using it for two weeks now in all my videos and I absolutely love it. Check it out!

New Product Friday: Packin’ some Hack

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Welcome back everyone! It’s Friday, and that’s National New Product Day, at least it is around here. We’ve got a few new things as well as the last part of our Shieldstravaganza video. Check em out!

Vimeo version can be found here

If you don’t know what tools to get and need to outfit a Hackerspace, definitely check out the Hack Pack!

Well, there you have it, all the shields we carry at SparkFun. I hope you enjoyed at least seeing all of the side by side (so to speak). We might be doing more of these videos in the future, so if you have a good idea for one, let us know.

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The Hack Pack is an easy way to get everything you need to outfit a shop, educational workspace, or hackerspace. It includes such classics as the Heaterizer XL-3000, jumpers, soldering irons, solder, brass sponges, multimeters, and much, much more! It even has safety glasses, because we don’t want you losing an eye.

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Remember the Uncertain 7 Cube from a few weeks back? The voice was made by the Parallax Emic 2 text-to-speech module. It’s a simple board. You just send it serial, and it speaks it. You can even change the voice, pitch, and speed if you feel so inclined.

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We have a new version of the DSO Nano. The new DSO Nano V3 has a new metal case which makes it more durable. Everything else remains the same. We also have a few of the old V2 sitting around and are on sale, so get them while they last.

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If you’re looking to use mbed for your next project, you should check out the mbed Application Board. It has a 128x32 LCD, accelerometer, temp sensor, navigation switch, and more. You just need to add your own LPC1768.

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And lastly, we’ve got some ding and dent Sugru packs. These are technically expired, but they’re still usable. We found that they last a lot longer than the expiration date, so get some for cheap if you’re going to be using it soon. We don’t recommend buying it if you don’t already have a project in mind.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Be sure to check back next week, as new stuff is already piling up on my desk. One day we might not have any new products, but that day hasn’t come yet.

SparkFun Heads to SXSW

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As you may know, South By Southwest (SXSW) – a set of film, interactive, and music festivals – is taking place in Austin, TX the next couple weeks. Today, a team of SparkFun employees, led by fearless hacker and SparkFun e-textiles guru extraordinaire Dia Campbell, will board a plane to the Lone Star state to take part!

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While we are there, we will be holding a workshop as part of SXSW Create, an event that brings together local and international members of the SXSW community to share disruptive creations, showcase innovative tools and unique fabrication methods.

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The workshop is centered around e-textiles. We will be providing booth visitors with a rainbow of fabric swatches on which they can sew their own basic light-up parallel circuit. The workshop is free and hands-on and we’ll have a really talented crew of SparkFunions leading the class! We’re also providing a huge (really huge) assortment of sharpie colors, so when you’re done creating your functional circuit, you can integrate it into a customized design that is totally unique and entirely yours.

If you are going to be in Austin for SXSW, please stop by our booth and say hi, talk shop, and learn a bit about wearable technology! Our part of the event will run on March 8 from 2-6 p.m., and on March 9-11 from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.. We hope to see you there!

Q & A with Geek Express

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Geek Express is a concept store that recently opened its doors in Beirut, Lebanon. In addition to carrying DIY electronics parts (and many of them from SparkFun), Geek Express also serves as a makerspace, holding workshops, classes, lectures, and more. It also houses a full-service coffee shop. By combining the convenience of a retail outlet, the creativity and community of a makerspace, and the social aspect of a coffee shop, Geek Express has created an oasis for geeks in the heart of Beirut

We recently sat down with Tarek Dajani, one of the founders of Geek Express to talk about his new venture, what inspired him to open it, and how he got where he is today. Check it out!

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1. Can you tell us a little bit about Geek Express and what you guys do there?

Geek Express aims to inspire people to interact and socialize in a DIY environment. It is a makerspace for children and grown-ups alike to play and experiment with the latest products, tech gadgets and advanced technologies.

People usually connect, cooperate and exchange ideas primarily through online platforms. On the other hand, when it comes to exploration through physical fabrication, only select students at research-based institutes such as MIT get access to high-end equipment such as 3D printers, laser cutters, electronics milling machines and electronics assembly. This leaves a large portion of a very active community underserved and highlights, for us, a space for value creation.

The space is home for enthusiasts, practitioners and professionals to come experiment and create with all the uprising electronics. MakerBot 3D printers, SparkFun Electronics, littleBits, Arduinos and many others are available to encourage people to make and build their own designs, objects and circuits through easy to use kits.

The space hosts workshops, talks and demos for all ages, given by experts. The themes range from arts and crafts, to assembling electronic games, to hack-a-thons and robotics.

The space is divided into four sections: the gallery, the fabrications space, the workshop rooms and the coffee shop. The gallery showcases advanced technologies, books and gadgets. The workshop rooms host the many workshops and can also function as meeting rooms when needed.

In 2 months, we’ll also be launching a full e-commerce platform targeting Lebanon and the Middle East with overnight delivery and a full inventory of DIY components and tech gadgets.

The space also has a growing collection of vintage tech items and collectables. To date, we have not decided if we are going to sell them or just display them.

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2. What is your background in electronics and where did you get your start?

I studied Architecture at the American University of Beirut, worked for one year as an architect, then went to start a software and digital agency called Cleartag. I then went to Boston and got my M.Eng from MIT. I took many courses at the Media Lab and from that moment on, I fell in love with the world at the intersection of design, creativity, tinkering and technology. I consider myself to be an intermediate, self-taught electronics tinkerer. However, I have managed to surround myself with a great team of engineers and experts.

I decided to launch Geek Express after I realized, several years down the line, that I had already put all the âstoreâ pieces together without actually opening a store. The right space, time and inspiration converged several months ago to get things rolling.

3. What are your goals for the future of Geek Express?

We started operations in Beirut and anticipate logical growth into most cities with a high density of academic institutions and/or artistic activity, both in the Middle East and worldwide. The objective is to create a for-profit franchise concept, combining makerspace/think tank/coffee shop activities.

We also plan on using our retail outlet(s) and online outlet interchangeably to establish a solid service proposition in the Middle East.

Of course our ambition could extend to locations such as New York, San Francisco, London, Amsterdam and Paris, as these are excellent franchise rollout candidates.

4. How did you find out about SparkFun?

I first found out about SparkFun while taking course at MITâs media lab. The initial codename of my store was openkits. I then opted for Geek Express as I felt it was more expressive :)

On a personal front, I also came across SparkFun through my connection with Ayah Bdeir, littleBitsâ founder.

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5. For lack of better phrasing, why did you open Geek Express? Why do you think it’s important and what inspired you to do it when you did?

I opened Geek Express because I was primarily driven by a desire to have a space that fuses all the things that I am passionate about. My intuition told me that my passions are shared by many, and it would be great if, in a city like Beirut – where creativity overcomes obstruction, and innovation and perseverance are common traits – we had a space for serendipitous encounters and concretization of ideas.

When I decided to launch the concept, many friends and advisors asked me to take my time and plan it more thoroughly. My response was: This is the right moment, not because the market is ripe, not because the economy is flourishing, and most importantly, not because the demand was established, but simply because the moment felt right, the momentum was there, and the excitement was at its peak.

6. Feel free to tell me anything else you think might be interesting about you, your interest in electronics, or Geek Express.

As I was looking into past emails and documents, I came across an idea that I had submitted to the MIT business plan competition with a friend of mine at the media lab 3 years ago. It was for a geek lounge to be setup in Cambridge. The idea never came to fruition, however, 3 years down the line I am venturing on a very similar path, just thousands of miles away. I never planned to re-initiate the idea, and truth be told, had totally forgotten about that one-page executive summary hashed up in rush at the media lab lounge just a few minutes before the deadline.

7.Why do you think teaching electronics is important, and what type of response have you seen from this?

In Lebanon, we were always confronted with the obstacle of being far away from the action. Studying electrical engineering or attempting to innovate in the hardware field had implied prerequisites of either immigrating to the US or other parts of the world. We are simply too far away from where physical innovation happens.

However, with a world that is more and more connected and intertwined, we have within our reach an infinite list of possibilities. Therefore, teaching electronics leads to creative empowerment, and opens up numerous opportunities.

At this stage, people are interested but somewhat intimidated. Of course this is normal, as they feel that they are venturing into a “very technical” realm. Our real challenge is to demystify the subject as we go, and try as much as possible to combine fun, knowledge and social interaction.


Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Tarek, and best of luck with your new venture! Cheers!

SparkFun at POSSCON 2013

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

In a couple weeks, a few of us SparkFunions are packing up and heading to the Palmetto Open Source Software Conference in Columbia, SC (POSSCON). We love attending events like these with like-minded open source enthusiasts, and this one promises to be no different. POSSCON is the open source conference in the south, and we’re looking forward to meeting and talking to as many open source geeks, visionaries, beginners and experts as possible!

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But wait, THERE’S MORE: Not only are we going to hang out, but we’re also going to be (drumroll) teaching some workshops and speaking about a couple things we know a couple things about! And you can come! Check it:

On the first day of POSSCON, Education Lieutenant Linz Craig will discuss open-source education, the emerging definition of open source education in connection with SparkFunâs upcoming National Tour, and helping educators bootstrap their tech and STEM education efforts. His discussion will highlight how to effectively use open source in education, as well as its pitfalls and advantages. On the same day, IT Czar Chris Clark will be speaking on using GitHub for open hardware. He’ll cover the risks and rewards that come with open sourcing hardware projects using a highly collaborative platform like GitHub, as well as how we use it as an internal and external filesharing system to interact with our customer base, engineers and developers within SparkFun.

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Photo courtesy of Todd Lewis

The next day we’ll be hosting two workshops and a demo for 30 attendees. The first workshop will teach through-hole soldering with the Simon Says kit. The second workshop will add an FTDI to the Simon to cover five basic concepts in an Intro to Arduino programming class. For the final demo, class participants will add an XBee Series 1 to their Simons, and upload new code to play Wireless Battle Mode against each other.

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Photo taken by TJ Maynes and courtesy of POSSCON

POSSCON is hosted by IT-ology – a really cool non-profit center dedicated to open-source IT skill development (on a side note, we’ve done workshops with IT-ology before and their computer lab – which runs on Ubuntu – is one of the smoothest and most well-supported we’ve ever seen, and we’d LOVE to see more of that level of IT support in other labs!). Conferences like POSSCON are essential to the future of open source – they bring together people with a well of knowledge and resources, and you’ll run into a ton of people with a lot of tech knowledge, as well as infrastructure knowledge. In the burgeoning open source movement, organization is one of the hardest aspects because you donât have the same level of control over your resources, so POSSCON is a huge boon for anyone whoâs just getting into open source, or wants to learn how to make their open-source efforts more efficient.

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To attend POSSCON or register for one of our workshops, visit their ticket site here. We hope to see you there!

According to Pete – The Adventures of Little Dude

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

On today’s episode of “According to Pete,” SparkFun Director of Engineering Pete Dokter takes a break from discussing basic electronics principles to visit a recent project. Pete shows us his loving side with a Valentine’s Day project for his wife! I’d describe it further but honestly, it’s hard to explain. I’ll just say it involves motors, pulleys, Bluetooth connectivity, and a small plastic figurine affectionately known as “Little Dude.” Check out the video:

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

New Product Friday: The pcDuino is here!

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Oh, is it Friday already? Believe it or not, it is. As always, we have some exciting new products for you this week. We’ve also got the next installment of SHIELDSTRAVAGANZA! If you’re not sure what that word is, check out part one of the video last week.

Vimeo link here

The pcDuino warrants its own video this week, so we had Mike shoot a special video to get you started. Check it out!

Vimeo link here

We aren’t done with the videos JUST yet. We’ve got one more. We have part 2 of the Shieldstravaganza ready for you. There will be a quiz after the last part…

Vimeo link here

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The pcDuino is a pretty exciting board. It can do just about anything you might want. For those of you looking at a Raspberry Pi, but wanting a bit more, you should check out the pcDuino. Not only can it run Ubuntu and/or Android (yes, and/or) you can connect Arduino shields to it, connect it to your network, and more. Check out the video above for more information on what it can do and how to get started.

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If you don’t already have all the cables and such that you need for the pcDuino, check out the AV Kit. It includes an HDMI cable, power adapter, ethernet cable, USB cable, and even a USB hub. It’s a simple way to get everything you need to start playing with the pcDuino.

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Everyone loves a good dongle. Check out the new WiFi dongle for the pcDuino. Just plug it into an open USB port and you can start using the dev board on your WiFi network. It’s made just for the pcDuino so you don’t need to mess around with compatibility or drivers.

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We have a new CMOS camera module this week as well. It’s very similar to our 640x480 camera but with a bit higher resolution (728x488). Check out the video above for a demonstration of its video quality.

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If you’re not quite ready to get the full littleBits Starter Kit, you might want to check out the Teaser Kit, which has only 3 bits (as opposed to the 10 you get in the full kit) to get you started.

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We have a new ultrasonic range finder from Maxbotix this week. This one is an update to the XL-WR1. The MB7360 is made for outdoor applications and has a 1mm resolution.

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We have a set of screws. These were leftover from out last version of the BigTime Watch. The pack includes 4 screws and a hex key for the turnin'. Get them while they last, we won’t be restocking them!

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And finally, we have a revision of the Si4735 AM/FM radio IC. This is the D60-GU, whereas the old one we were carrying was the C40-GU. The new version is essentially the same, but can be used as an ADC with an analog input. It’s an interesting feature to see on an AM/FM radio IC.

That’s all for this week, have a great weekend!