My first Arduino program!

Well. I did it. ANOTHER blinking light!! I’m a genius. Okay, all kidding aside, it was pretty fun to write my first Arduino program. I could change the program’s timing of the light being on (high) or off (low) and the onboard LED would blink appropriately. That thing is bright too, I can barely see after staring at it!

To get started, I watched Jeremy Blum’s first Arduino tutorial and followed along. I hope to get though a couple more before school kicks into high gear.

I know this is pretty boring stuff for all you professionals out there, but it’s all pretty amazing to a newbie! I can’t wait to see what else I can do!!

Clean ALL the things!

I have been taking my winter break to do those annoying cleaning tasks that I never seem to get around to during the semester. I went through bathroom cabinets and threw out expired things and old makeup. I washed my makeup brushes. I went through the file cabinet and shredded things that were no longer necessary. My husband and I went through old “childhood” boxes and threw out things that we weren’t sentimental about anymore. I scrubbed the microwave. We bathed the dog. I donated old books to the library and made a big pile of things for Goodwill. I can’t even begin to tell you how good this feels.

On the digital side, I deleted old databases off of my server. I deleted stupid emails, and I got off pointless mailing lists. I backed up all sorts of things and I’m trying to organize my music (monumental task!!). I’m still trying to figure out a workbench so I have somewhere to put my new electronics toys. I must admit that my toys are pretty limited right now but I bought a few essentials like a breadboard, jumper wires, good flush wire cutters, a tip cleaner that actually works and of course an Arduino to add to what I had before.

After cleaning out all sorts of things, I’m still working on where to put the workbench. We have a super crummy Target desk that I’ve had forever that our iMac is hanging out on. It’s totally inefficient, complete with sliding out keyboard drawer and I’d love to get rid of it. I’m still waiting for the perfect bench to come along on craigslist for for nothing, but that probably isn’t going to happen. I could probably build something but it wouldn’t be pretty. My best option might be something from Ikea. Ugh, we’ll see.

Well, this post rambled quite a bit; however, it’s what I’ve been up to. School starts next week and things should get really interesting as I’m actually learning about electrical engineering this semester. I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous. I anticipate long, long hours in the engineering reading room. Yay?

My first project!

I got a light to blink! It might be a kit that a small child could have assembled, but it works and I even understand why. I soldered one of the potentiometers (and maybe a few other parts) in crooked but that’s okay. I think I need to start taping things like that to the board before turning over and soldering. Is there a better way to keep things in place than taping?

I’m going to do one more cheap kit that I ordered as practice and then I’m going to start free styling! Next skill to conquer? Breadboards, whoowhee!

I’ve also been busy starting my electronics overview since I’ll be taking an intro EE class as well as digital systems and EMag and waves. Yikes! I’m really jumping into this whole electricity thing feet first. I’ve been trying to locate a cheap copy of The Art of Electronics at local used book stores because I’m NOT paying 100 bucks on Amazon. Hmm, just found an international version on eBay for under $40, maybe I’ll get that.

Well, happy new year and see you all in 2012!


Getting to the Nitty-Gritty

Christmas is over and I’m still trying to conquer some projects. My husband was at work on Christmas day and so I spent a few hours that day soldering with Christmas movies in the background. I had a few observations.

First, every single time I solder at this point I get a little better at it. I thought it would be so easy and clear-cut but there’s so much artistry involved in a good solder. I know that this steep learning curve will flatten out eventually and I’ll reach a comfortable place, but for now I’m enjoying seeing myself get better at this.

Second, I learned the valuable “check twice, solder once” rule. I put the wrong resistor in a spot and I tried to wick away the solder and it was a disaster. Thankfully this was a totally pointless project where half the board was dedicated to pure solder practice. I think I’ll just keep soldering things on for the practice even though I pretty much mucked up the whole thing.

Finally, I really need some better tools and supplies and I have no idea where to get them. I poked around on Mouser and Digi-Key but as a beginner I’m totally overwhelmed. I had a few people recommend a local place called Tanner Electronics but I feel like I might get in there and look like an idiot.

Speaking of acquiring tools and supplies, I’m starting to think about a workbench. When browsing online, it seems that all you guys (because I can’t find a picture of a woman’s workbench!) have basements that you work in. Well I live in Texas, we don’t have basements, the ground is too weird and they’d just flood all the time. So where do I work?? Our summers (7 months of the year at least) are too miserable to be confined to our garage. Graciously, my husband has given me the green light to do whatever I want with our 3rd bedroom/office. So I need something that will look at least a little bit nice indoors. I’m actually contemplating using Elfa shelving and then some sort of butcher block like this with some desk legs like these. Then I might use some antique apothecary jars that were passed down to my grandmother and then to me to hold some cute things like tweezers/pliers, heat shrink tubing, or whatever. I’m determined to have a very functional workbench that has a little bit of style too.

I’d love any new workbench suggestions. Feel free to comment below!


Well grades are in and I couldn’t be more thrilled. 2 A+’s and four A’s which means I got a 4.0! I was a little worried about getting an A- in one class so I was really excited to learn that there was a curve and I got an A. I have been pondering one thing, why is it that you get docked to a 3.8 for an A- but there’s no bonus for an A+? Oh well, no big deal. Now I’m not under any illusions that this will be easy to keep up for the rest of my time here. I had one intro class and I had to take physics 1 (calculus based) which just isn’t that hard. My first undergraduate degree and this one were both from state schools here in Texas so all of my humanities/writing/literature/etc. transferred. Therefore, I will never have any “fluff” classes. Each semester will get increasingly demanding with little room for error.

I’m also impatiently waiting for my classes next semester to post their textbooks so I can try and find them cheaper on the Internet and start reading! I work so much better when I “front-load” my work rather than “back-load” it. What I mean by that is that I prefer to work extra hard early in the semester so I never get behind. I find that it makes the end of the semester and finals so much less stressful. I’d rather spend long hours in the library at the beginning of the semester than be cramming material at the end. In law school, a common study practice is outlining your books starting from day one. For better or for worse, I’ve brought this procedure into engineering and I think it really pays off. Before school starts or in the first few weeks, I go through all the material and do a rough outline so I know what’s coming up. Then as I actually learn the material in class, I update the outline. To be honest, by the time the end of the semester rolls around, I don’t even really look at the outlines. The learning happens when you make the outline, not in some sort of last-ditch effort to cram it all in your head. I’m ready to get going!!

Aside from grades, I’ve managed to accomplish practically nothing on my list since I’ve been done with finals. I feel a little like Chris Gammell during his week off between jobs as described in the Amp Hour, the break is just flying by and I feel like it’s getting away from me. My parents were in town for a few days, I was sick for a while, and otherwise I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and shopping. I attempted a very ambitious recipe for homemade soy milk and created a monumental disaster on my stove top when it boiled over. Whoops! A picture of the mess is above.

The only book I’ve managed to finish was Tracy Kidder’s “The Soul of a New Machine.” I was so excited to read a Pulitzer Prize winner about the human side of creating computers but I was pretty let down. It gets such glowing reviews, but I never managed to connect with the subject of the story. I’m still loving “Code” and “Computer” so I think I’ll keep going with those.

Hopefully, the next time I update I’ll have some cool projects to show off. By cool projects, I mean putting together kits that are incredibly simple. Again, I’ve got to start somewhere.

One final left!

All my projects, homework, lab reports, etc. are done for the year and all I have left is one final exam tomorrow. Whee! I’m excited about the holiday break, but I really think I’ll miss school a little bit.

I know my hordes of readers are waiting with bated breath [note: I had to look up the proper spelling of both hordes and bated – doh!] to hear how my egg project turned out. Well, we were incredibly surprised to learn that we had the highest score in our whole class! It wasn’t that our project was bad, it was just smaller, cheaper, and a little less complex than some of the others. Plus, one group brought in a live chicken. Granted, the live chicken didn’t do anything, it was just a prop, but it was a LIVE CHICKEN.

I think one of the things I learned from this project was that over-engineering is not necessarily a good thing. We didn’t spend countless hours doing unnecessary things like adding lights with no purpose and doing endless brainstorming. One group I talked to spent six of the eight weeks we were allotted just throwing ideas around. I was very mindful of our specifications and goals and kept reminding the group of them at every critical decision. I also was charged with keeping the group “on track.” I would let them go off on little tangents and socialize some, but when nothing had been accomplished in a while, I gently nudged them back to work. Also, the “lost boys” started to refer to me as the “den mother.” This might have been because I provided snacks at our major meetings but hey, eighteen-year-old boys work much better when bribed with really good cookies. We used our time fairly well and were able to win even though I’m pretty sure we spent fewer man-hours than the other top-ranking groups.

Now, I know that working as students on a project is different than a project in the workplace, but I was really surprised how easily I fell into the project manager role. I contributed heavily to 2 of our 6 steps, so I didn’t feel like I wasn’t a part of the actual engineering but I have to admit I was critical in the management role. I feel like some of this was due to my age/experience and some of it was due to my gender. I will be interested to see how projects go in the future.

A little semester recap.

I’m not exactly done with the semester but all that’s left is one final exam in physics. I currently have a 99 in physics so I’m not so worried about it. Also it’s in a week. So I have an entire week to study for an exam that I’m already quite prepared for. So looking back I’ve realized a few things and solidified some of my early thoughts on the engineering curriculum.

1) This isn’t law school. There is not a forced curve of 2.5 or whatever cruel torture they inflicted on us. What does this mean for me? If I work hard in my courses, it pays off. I spent many hours in the engineering reading room and in Starbucks before 6:00 AM and I’m going to have the grades to reflect that. [Note: I am a morning person. For some strange reason, I learn extremely well before most people like to get up. I’ve learned to accept this and use my “golden hours” as productively as I can.]

2) I really need to stop freaking out about grades. Other that one letdown, I’ve performed at a level that I think is indicative of my intelligence, grasp of the material, and hard work. I need to keep working hard, even when I’m doing well, but I really can relax a little bit.

3) I take a really unique approach to learning engineering. I’m putting in outside hours reading the history of computing and code theory so I know why I’m learning the things I’m learning in class. I love having context for my knowledge and I think it really enhances the learning process. I think too many students just fly through courses without taking a step back to consider why they’re learning the things they’re learning.

Get ready for the book reviews over the holiday break. I’ve LOVED my choices so far and hopefully Santa will bring a few more for me to enjoy over my time off.


Yes, I shouted in the title. Finals are upon me, I have a lab final this Friday, another final next Monday and then one the week after that. Again, this is not the fun part of going back to school. I’m pretty stressed about grades and exams and such, but I’m trying to keep on going.

Some people say that the Thanksgiving holiday is reinvigorating and helps them “charge up” for the coming exams. For me, the Thanksgiving holiday just made me realize how much I’m ready to be done. I’ve done all the learning and now I’m just at that horrible testing phase.

There has been something else weighing on my mind for a little while now. I’m never going to learn everything in electrical engineering/electronics. Now this is probably very obvious to anyone who has knowledge about the field, but for me it was a little hard to swallow. There is just so much to know. I’ve talked with some older engineers and they are so full of experience that will take me years and years and years to learn.

I’m also thinking about trying to dip my toe into research and I’m stymied at the process. Where do I begin? Should I just go through the professors at my school who are doing research in areas that seem interesting to me and then ask them if they need any help? There doesn’t seem to be any sort of centralized listing of openings so it looks like I just need to approach professors individually. I’m thinking I’ll do some research over the Christmas break and then from there I’ll send out some cover letters/resumes. Hope I can find something!

Oh! Head over to The Amp Hour for a great show this week. LEDs!!


I’ve officially entered the part of the semester that is no longer fun. I’m stressed out, disappointed in some grades and in dire need of a break. Thanksgiving is coming up, but I just don’t know how much relaxing time I’m going to have when I really need to be studying.

I know this is a part of the process but I hate this particular part. I have a big math test tomorrow and if I can keep my A average then I don’t have to take the final. Therefore, I’m really giving one last big push to learn this stuff backward and foreword so I can be done with it.

The group project has straightened itself out a little bit. I was the only member of the group of 6 with a car and any sort of tools. Therefore, I pretty much had to build our supporting structure by default. This was a source of much frustration but my husband borrowed a really nice miter saw and nail gun from a coworker at the fire station and so we were able to put together a pretty impressive frame for our “egg transporter” machine in only a few hours. So yesterday I finally delivered the frame and a ton of tools and supplies to one of the members who lives in an on-campus apartment so the other members of the team could start contributing.

Hopefully things will start looking up.


I’m totally obsessed with Code by Charles Petzold. The book starts out with very simple concepts, two kids trying to send a signal after bedtime to each other across the street. The author examines the various methods they could try and then goes into the methodology and history of Morse code. From there he branches out to an explanation of our base ten system of numbers and what would have happened if we didn’t have 1o fingers but instead had two flippers like a dolphin. It’s truly the most basic and yet the most clear explanation of binary or base two systems that I’ve ever come across. He then goes into basic electric circuits using a flashlight as an example.

I love how he takes seemingly abstract concepts and turns them into everyday examples that your mind can “latch onto” and remember. The next section deals with logic gates and, get this, kittens. Who doesn’t love a kitten? I think that 3/4 of the Internet is made up of kittens so it only makes sense. I haven’t finished the book, but flipping through the back, it seems to get much more technical as it progresses but I’m sure it will be amazing.

The book was published in 2000, so it shows its age a little when discussing chip speed and the sort of memory that is commercially available. However, he makes some predictions about the future that seem pretty darn accurate. Anyway, for anyone looking to truly understand exactly how a chip adds numbers, I totally recommend this book. I’ll be back with a longer review once I finish.