Christmas gifts for geeks (pt 4) Arduino Edition


arduino Bare Bones Board Macro

Introduction – just in case you haven’t renewed your geek card for the past year (decade?) Arduino is a term that refers to a microcontroller on a board that has certain hardware and software ‘shortcuts’ figured out. It was designed to be as plug and play as possible, and to lower the barrier to entry for people who want to let their computer interact with the physical world. The programming language is fairly simple and very well documented, and it is a matter of minutes between installing the software and uploading your first program! Like I usually do, there is an amazon store here in case you don’t want to read my witty banter.

arduino – the meat and potatoes of this whole shebang.
The cool thing about arduinos are that even if you already have one, you canalways find a use for another! You can set them up to ‘talk’ to each other. You can leave a project set up after finishing it, or be able to prototype multiple projects at the same time. Also, there are a wide array of shapes and sizes (and prices) of arduinos, and each one is suited for a different application.


You can start out with the ‘classic’ Duemilanove. It is the original form factor, and most of the shields are built to fit this one. This is a great one to use for prototyping, and if need be you can use a smaller board in your finished project. If this is your first arduino I would recommend getting the kit which includes jumper wires, a breadboard, some LEDs, resistors and a pushbutton. That way you can start making things blink as soon as you get it out of the box!

arduino mega
MEGA – The arduino mega is just like the Duemilanove except that it uses a bigger chip, is a bigger board, and has more inputs and outputs. Most of the code is portable across the two. If you have a project that needs more i/o’s than the smaller chips, then this is right up your alley!

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Dremel vise-Christmas gifts for geeks (pt 1)


I am going to do a series of posts on things that geeks might need for Christmas / the holiday season. It will be a learning process, as I am going to rely on the collective wisdom of the internet to pick between a few similar products. Some might be big and some might be small, but I can guarantee that more than a few people are lusting over these…

One important disclaimer is that you need to know the kind of geek you are shopping for
If you buy a unix geek some anime, they might not be too excited. These gifts are for the kind of geek who is interested in hardware, robotics, DIY electronics, and microcontrollers (particularly Arduino!) If that describes the person on your wish list – you are in luck!

The first gift idea is a desktop mini vice. This is useful for soldering and working on small(ish) tabletop projects. These can not be used for holding a 2×4 while you cut it, but they are perfect for holding a circuit board while you solder in the components.

I saw this the other day while wandering around home depot. It looks like something I need. I’ve been lusting over this panavise for a bit, and there is a strong pull for the dremel one at half the price!

The dremel one looks like it would be easier to set up on a benchtop (i think you have to bolt the panavice down, the dremel has a clamp) and it looks like you could use either one for light machining, soldering, and dis/assembly.

The only contender to those two might be this cheapie panavice, but it doesn’t look like it could stand up to some dremelling, and I like my tools to be multi-taskers!

So I’ll put the question out there; has anyone used any of the three? I’d love to hear thoughts, or suggestions if you have something better!

$17 Arduino-based nikon IR intervalometer + code


This is one of those projects I’ve been working on for quite a while now, but never well enough to actually put it in a box! Well.. it still has no box, but it’s much closer to a boxable form.

It is a RBBB arduino clone (but any arduinowillwork) with an ir led, a potentiometer, a resistor, and some perfboard. The perfboard is as much there to help provide a little bit of wire strain relief as it is to provide a place to mount the pot. The code simply reads the pot input and converts it into a delay() function. Then it fires the IR led with the nikon-specific magic to tell my d40 to shoot.

Here is an example of one of the timelapses I have shot.

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“Arduino Powered” CD Changing Robot


Check out my new(er) cd robot project here. I grabbed an old scsi changer machine from ebay and have been working on adding serial connectivity to it. If it works, it will be a much simpler route!

One of my “always in my head” projects is a CD changing machine. I have seen the myriad of other projects out there, and this always captivates me, in that it is just out of reach, but it seems to be a fairly simple concept. I have been thinking and sketching on this one for SUCH a long time that I have decided to post it before it is fully polished up.

arduino powered cd robot - left side

The basic premise is I have an arm that swings up and down mounted on a platform that rotates 180 degrees. Both of those are positioned by hobby servos. On the tip of the arm there is two vacuum aided suction cups and some hdpe tubing.

arduino powered cd robot - front view facing right

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Yeah Sparkfun! Pure WIN.

sparkfun kicks ass

So this post is a big shout out to Sparkfun Electronics. Not only are they an interesting shop that has tons of stuff I would love to tinker with, but they give really good customer service as well!

Recently I ordered a bunch of stuff from them, including a few temperature sensors, thermistors, and an rf transmitter/receiver pair. I ordered, they shipped, and then fedex delivered it to my front porch where it was promptly stolen. I was super bummed to come home and find nothing. I had the whole afternoon off and I was planning on putting in some serious geek time in the basement. Needless to say, fedex dropped the ball by leaving it at my front door (on a busy street, less that 3 feet away from the sidewalk) and some jerk ended up with an envelope full of stuff they probably promptly threw away.

I left a message on Sparkfun’s site and filed a claim with fedex. Paul Robinson from sparkfun got back to me fairly quickly (he even tried to call(!), but I wasn’t around) and they shipped out a replacement order.

I was initially really down about not having anything to play with over the weekend, but this is honestly the best-case-scenario considering it wasn’t sparkfun’s fault that the package was stolen from my porch.

So thanks, sparkfun. I appreciate it, and keep up the good work!

Two more things for icing on the cake, my package arrived today(YES!), and I asked Paul a question about hackerspaces in boulder during our emails about the stolen package. He said he didn’t know of any but would pass it on to someone who would. Yesterday I received an email from Nathan Seidle, the CEO. I love the fact that their customer service provides service, I love the fact that they wanted to make it right, and I love the fact that their ceo took time to answer my question.

Arduino Intervalometer for my Nikon d40

After seeing this project from cibomahto a while ago, I finally got my act together and bought a $1 IR led from radio$hack so I could build an intervalometer for my SLR.

For those who don’t know an intervalometer is, it tells your computer to take a picture every given interval. This enables you to shoot video with a still camera over a long period of time. Sometimes you have two intervals on fancy ones. Those allow you to use the bulb setting on your camera. Right now it has two potentiometers to indicate seconds and minutes between shots. It is run from a nine volt battery, and I expect it to have fairly good battery life. Only time will tell. The IR LED can’t take too much juice! It has a status led to show when it is firing (for trouble shooting) and not a whole lot else.

This currently needs a housing and a interface. I am debating the merits of a small lcd vs just using a printed label to mark the pot positions. It’s pretty much spray and pray right now. At least it is adjustable!

arduino d40 ir intervalometer

arduino d40 ir intervalometer

I’m thinking about getting one of these and eliminating the pots completely.

lcd shield from

lcd shield from

Which would end up making my project very similar to this one but for a nikon.

One last thought is possibly adding the functionality to use the bulb setting and then add a bracketing ability. Isn’t technology wonderful!

Arduino LCD gmail subject

Continuing on in the (Long) line of arduino+rss hacks, here is some python code that parses a gmail rss feed. This is a throwback to the post that started it all, the arduino gmail notifier. The original code was tweaked a bit to display the subjects of new mail on an lcd screen.

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Rss Parser for twitter

Continuing on the line of arduino+rss hacks, here is some python code that parses Tweets. By changing the rss feed you can either follow one person’s tweets, or you can access your “follow” feed (i.e. everyone you follow on In order to do the second option you will have to supply your login credentials.

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Update for arduino / python / rss reader – Weather!

I just whipped up this script that checks and displays the weather through As always, it requires feedparser, an arduino, and a lcd screen. It is currently configured to read Burlington Vt’s weather, so if you don’t live there – change it in the python file. Check out the commenting for more info. Click here to download the zip file. Arduino rss reader – Weather module

For those of you just tuning in – you might want to check out the original arduino rss reader post for more details

Also check out the twitter feed reader.

Arduino based rss reader – W/Check Facebook Status Updates script.

My last project, the arduino gmail checker really opened my eyes to python/rss/arduino integration. I branched out from there to use feedparser for more conventional rss reading and I ended up with a python script that pulls in your friend updates from facebook. That was cool watching it scroll by in terminal, but I decided to geek it up a bit and make it display out through a serial lcd. Nothing is more distracting than a lcd flickering constantly at your desk!
Here’s a pic of it doing it’s thing.

Here’s how I did it.

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