2nd Arduino Project

I completed my second Arduino project with the help of the wonderful tutorial series by Jeremy Blum. It was so much fun! I ordered a few things from SparkFun and now I feel like I have a pretty good setup for future projects. In this tutorial, we set up a little circuit with a push button. I learned all about debouncing a switch (I liked the explanation given here), a concept that was totally new to me. I got to apply some programming knowledge to play around with inputs, outputs, LED brightness and such. A good time was had by all! Actually, I was the only one home and the dog didn’t seem particularly impressed. He gave me a quizzical look and then went back to sleep.

School is humming along quite nicely. Again, this semester is not going to be a cake-walk but I love what I’m learning. My professors are a hoot. Truly, they keep me on my toes. Every class expects preparation and participation. Speaking of preparation, I’ve probably played around with the Arduino enough for today. Time to get back to the books!

Sully (the chocolate lab) insists. 












This picture is him seven years ago. This obviously has nothing to do with engineering. It’s just cute.

The Weekend

The first week of school is finished. I’ve been to all of my classes except one monday-only class and my physics lab. So far I really love all my classes. I have a particularly passionate group of professors. Every single one of them has emphasized lifetime learning, good study habits, the importance of outside learning and such. One professor went on a tangent about Grace Hopper, one of my personal heroes. Another professor gave us a homework question that Richard Feynman answered in Six Easy Pieces, and I’ve read everything by Feynman about ten times. It’s great to see that my outside reading is so relevant to my classes this semester.

I took a little bit of my downtime this weekend to play around with my last little kit. My soldering skills are still pretty terrible but they can only go up from here. I do have a question for any of the female engineers who might read this blog. What do you do to keep your hair out of your workstation? I used bobby pins on my fly-a-ways on my ponytail and STILL managed to singe a stray hair. I have done this every single time I’ve tried to solder so far. I’m going to set myself on fire at this rate.

I decided to put the workstation on the back burner for now. I’m using a scrap piece of wood as my work surface and taking over the dining room table temporarily. I bought a plastic toolbox to store my growing set of tools and stuff and so I can just tuck away my electronics stuff when I’m not using it. Packing up the stuff semi-regularly isn’t ideal but an entire workbench doesn’t seem like a perfect solution for the moment either. The dining room table was always my study place so my husband doesn’t miss it that much anyway. The picture above is my temporary workstation.

Time to go learn two’s complement & flip-flops.

Binary and Logic

It’s amazing how some things just “click” and others take quite a bit of explanation before they really take hold. I had to read three different explanations of how to go from decimals to binary before I actually understood it. The first two explanations just didn’t vibe with my learning style or something. Who knows, they might have just been really bad explanations. I’m still trying to find that perfect explanation of logic and switches. I’ve consulted a number of books and online sources and I feel like I’m getting closer to understanding it but I’m not 100% there.

Today is my first day of school. Electrical engineering semester # 2 ! One of the most exciting things about today has been that I recognize all sorts of people in the engineering building. Last semester I came in not knowing anyone, and now I have friends and acquaintances that I recognize and can chat with. That fact alone makes this semester more fun.

So far it looks like my programming class will be fairly basic, but it’s going to be teaching C. I did Java last semester and it seemed pretty useful. We’ll see how I feel about C. I know that my digital systems class is going to be tough. All of my reading on computer history will be helpful for the first lecture or two. Then we dive into binary, hexadecimals, ASCII and boolean logic. I also found out today that we don’t have formal lab reports in my electromagnetism lab! My physics lab last semester took up quite a bit of time so I’m thrilled that the labs will really just take the devoted class time.

I ordered some parts for Jeremy Blum’s Arduino Tutorial # 2 as well as some more things to stock the lab at sparkfun.com. I JUST found out through a Google search of sparkfun that a bunch of their kits are available at Micro Center, which is just down the road from school!! I’m totally spoiled to have a Micro Center, Fry’s and a great local place called Tanner  Electronics within a short drive of my house. I know that many people don’t have these stores readily available. Mouser‘s warehouse is also local, I wish I could just go pick up an order but it doesn’t work that way.

So, my lovely readers, that’s all I have for now. Many more back-to-school updates coming.

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!!

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!

Solder on, Solder off

Well, after I finished my physics and programming homework, I got out the solder kit & started the exercises. My initial thoughts? Simultaneously I thought that this is super fun and this is super scary at the same time. Second, this kit is listed under “Toys and Games” on Amazon.com . What kind of parent lets their kid play with 800 degree molten metal? When I was attempting to tin the tip for the first time, the solder popped and freaked me out. So far my practice solder patches and such look alright but it doesn’t really matter. The whole point of this is just to get some practice before I try a “real” project.

I set up a sorta sketchy ventilation system that involved a box fan and an open window but I’m not really sure how to do it correctly. I felt like most of the fumes were going right out the window but it still made me a little nervous. I also began to realize the tools I need such as good needle nose pliers, a better wire cutter/stripper, better safety glasses and such. Can’t wait to try again though!

Self Taught

Before I decided to go into engineering, like any good lawyer-to-be, I researched the heck out of engineering, electronics and careers in the field. One thing I kept hearing from successful engineers is that they learned the most from tinkering around. So far, this approach has been incredibly successful in my quest to learn my first programming language (java). I’ve learned so much more from just sitting around and writing programs based on examples from the book.

Our programming book has lots of sample programs that I always go through and physically re-type, run and then mess around with. Is this tedious? Yes. Has it taught me invaluable lessons? Yes. Often you retype the program and see just what happens when you forget a semicolon there, or put a semicolon after something that isn’t supposed to have one. I’ve seen what happens when you accidentally put a char in double quotes or forget brackets after an if statement. Once you actually make the mistake, it really sticks in your mind how to fix it and how to avoid it in the future.

So, this weekend, I plan to make my first foray into PCBs and soldering. I bought a cheap beginner kit where you build an alarm so if I fry the tips of the basic soldering iron, or nuke the multimeter that’s included in the kit it’s not that big of a deal. So many engineers that I’ve talked to say that playing around with things like this helps so much with the learning process. It also seems like it might be pretty fun! I’ll post some pictures of my disastrous attempts later.