~e; experimenting with electronics

From human being <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Sat, 7 Feb 2004 13:34:05 -0600

  Have been working on conceptualizing an approach
  to learning more about electronics, partly by trial-and-
  error, in attempting to gain basic knowledge myself,
  and partly in realizing where the gaps exist for some-
  one intent on learning more yet which resources or
  more accessible knowledge has yet to exist, outside
  of certain institutions or ways of approaching the ideas.

  One area that has been of great surprise has been
  learning more about the role of microcontrollers, a
  programmable by computer, chip, which can bypass
  a lot of custom circuitry design it would seem, to allow
  one to sketch their ideas while learning a wide-range
  of things electronic. Parallax.com has a 'homework'
  board which has the newer 'smd' (surface mounted
  devices) electronics, in miniature, on a board which
  can then be worked with in a tutorial manner with an
  excellent resource which teaches more about basic
  concepts and also grounds some of the knowledge.
  Radioshack in the .US has a deal going which makes
  this an affordable and unique approach to learning,
  80.00 for both the board and a kit of parts to experiment
  with, so that is what has been of interest for awhile here.

URL for those interested in checking out the same kit:

  I contacted the company to indicate my amazement
  with what they are doing with this, educationally, and
  have been given support with a kit on digital/analog
  to try out in relation to the non-computer breadboard
  kits which rely on copying circuits to learn concepts.
  The one disclaimer has been that if one has a PC a
  lot more will be open to work with and it seems that
  across the educational experiences this holds true,
  at least for those not facile with tweaking systems.
  Yet there is a Mac-based interface which also works
  and is supported. Other products are PIC micro-
  controllers yet this is over-my-head and programming
  of these seems to require more knowledge. While
  the Parallax BasicSTAMP setup is a step-by-step
  introduction to both hardware and sofware, how they
  relate- which for those with overly abstract senses of
  things, helps to begin to realize how these are able
  to come together in hardware and software designs,
  in circuits, in management of electrical energy which
  also functions as information which ends up critical
  to understanding larger systems, such as 'screens'
  and how they work, by looking at the smaller pieces.

photo of the microcontroller board hooked up
to computer with a serial port (and adapter)
which is then programmed by software...

one article on the site that took my interest, among
many, was the following:

Paul H. Dietz' Ph.D. A Pragmatic Introduction to
the Art of Electrical Engineering teaches the
Theory and electrical concepts used with the
BASIC Stamp through a full-semester college text. (677 KB)

  In any case, took a photograph of the board with a
  7-segment display. Wrote a very small program in
  PBASIC which turns on power to various wires in
  very small intervals, thus sending pulses to light
  up the display by way of a programmable chip in
  the center of the board (above the green light). The
  chip is mapped onto the 16 outputs (P0-P15) which
  can then be sent onto the traditional solderless
  breadboard (the white thing, which has a metal
  conductor underneath it in such a pattern that a
  wire will go in one hole in the same channel as
  another wire and power from the one will reach
  the other). The size of such boards are very very
  small for this display and a larger experimenters
  board is sold with a larger board and built-in parts,
  even an LCD display and 7-segments, possibly-
  which takes the old '500 electronics experiments'
  kits into another realm, with a prototyping board.

larger board with components // components built-in

  In any case, after being unable to figure out how
  to get a dual 16 segment alphanumeric LED display
  to work (no datasheets, never used one before, so
  need to work more on figuring it out, maybe it has
  two or four negative hookups) -- decided to start
  with a more simple 7-segment and use the alpha-
  bet letters available there. So after using various
  LED displays from a grab-bag (used electronics
  can be bought in bulk from surplus stores, and one
  can obtain 50 usable pieces, rather than 5, for the
  same price this way). in any case, worked on the
  most basic animations of the similar in structure
  letters: p q b d. and would have the program cycle
  through these by turning on and off the segments
  accordingly, and at varying speeds. Also, the basic
  logic flip-flop in the letter E and number 3 can be
  done this way, upon which a switch could be added
  to 'stop' the movement and ask a question of logic.
  Yet it now seems that only an alphanumeric or a
  dot-matrix display would be able to get to a gray-
  area in the animation of these symbols. to make
  the fuzzyness more pronounced. So, instead, it
  was decided to play with the lights in a way that
  maybe they are not, just to see what a 7-segment
  display could do, or one of the things it might do,
  if playing around, exploring basic programming,
  understanding of electronics hardware and the
  components (7-segment LED display, resistor,
  microcontroller, serial port, battery) -- and this is
  one option, to let each segment 'light up' around
  the 7-segment symbol, as if in a 'figure-8' shape,
  maybe something it is not purposeful in doing....

  movie (~530k .mov from digital camera. temporarily online)

  It is realized that this may seem very basic and
  it is yet for someone who has never programmed
  it is quite amazing to learn this is possible to do.
  Whereas, with non-computer-(micro)controlled
  chips (integrated circuits/IC) one has to plan to
  make each one of these happen within what is
  in my view a more static or fixed circuit design,
  which takes a lot more knowledge than hobbyists
  may ever attain, or so it would seem, as there is
  a gap in knowledge or a path in how to do such
  things, as they have no real pragmatic purpose
  other than learning and playing and experimenting
  with electronics and not a finished outcome to it.
  Maybe this is indeed possible with IC chips, yet
  just to get 0-9 to display takes three separate chips,
  or one can get a custom chip which displays just
  for 0-9, yet still would not be able to do this simple
  unconventional figure-8 it is imagined, and how to
  without a microcontroller might take some work, it
  is guessed, if making an actual circuit where all of
  the wiring paths would need to be hooked up to
  do this event that, with a microcontroller, is simple.

  Wanted to share an example of this approach to
  learning, as it is accessible and unique for today,
  to have such a powerful tool for learning. It does
  not teach everything and it would be nice if the
  system enabled a breadboard to function without
  computer interaction, as a prototyping board, which
  then computation could be added (which it may allow
  yet have not gotten this far along yet, and the bread-
  board is smallish for some things). Yet as a platform
  for experimenting it cannot be beat, in combination
  with possibly a more beginners approach which does
  utilized solderless breadboards that stand-alone, to
  this, the ability to learn seems limitless. And reminds
  me of what is said to be the revolutionary aspect of
  the Macintosh when it was released in the 1980s,
  how it changed computing. These quality products
  and the educational focus and massive resources
  for learning demonstrate how to get people closer
  to the electronics in everyday life, and interested in
  a way that spans robotics to sensors to chips and
  custom applications, from gradeschoolers to NASA
  and other professional scientists. Highly recommend
  checking out the homepage, ordering a catalog and
  perusing the devices to see what is possible today.
  What is fascinating, especially, to me is the ability to
  interface with LCD displays, yet with the Mac it is not
  know if the custom software used for PCs will work
  on graphics displays. And they once had a product
  with alphanumerics that is now discontinued yet it is
  these types of projects which may be of interest to
  those interested in learning electronics in unusual
  approaches. It is great fun, too. that's the best part.

  here is the code for this, just for an example:

'{$STAMP BS2} ' example used in the figure-8 movie


' bottom

HIGH 0	'bottom
LOW 1	'lowerleft
LOW 2	'upperleft
LOW 3	'top
LOW 14	'topright
LOW 13	'middle
LOW 15	'bottom-right
pause 50

' lowerleft

LOW 0	'bottom
HIGH 1	'lowerleft
LOW 2	'upperleft
LOW 3	'top
LOW 14	'topright
LOW 13	'middle
LOW 15	'bottom-right
pause 50

' lowerleft

LOW 0	'bottom
HIGH 1	'lowerleft
LOW 2	'upperleft
LOW 3	'top
LOW 14	'topright
LOW 13	'middle
LOW 15	'bottom-right
pause 50


LOW 0	'bottom
LOW 1	'lowerleft
LOW 2	'upperleft
LOW 3	'top
HIGH 14	'middle
LOW 13	'topright
LOW 15	'bottom-right
pause 50


LOW 0	'bottom
LOW 1	'lowerleft
LOW 2	'upperleft
LOW 3	'top
LOW 14	'middle
LOW 13	'bottom-right
HIGH 15	'top-right
pause 50


LOW 0	'bottom
LOW 1	'lowerleft
LOW 2	'upperleft
HIGH 3	'top
LOW 14	'middle
LOW 13	'bottom-right
LOW 15	'top-right
pause 130


LOW 0	'bottom
LOW 1	'lowerleft
HIGH 2	'upperleft
LOW 3	'top
LOW 14	'middle
LOW 13	'bottom-right
LOW 15	'top-right
pause 50


LOW 0	'bottom
LOW 1	'lowerleft
LOW 2	'upperleft
LOW 3	'top
HIGH 14	'middle
LOW 13	'bottom-right
LOW 15	'top-right
pause 50


LOW 0	'bottom
LOW 1	'lowerleft
LOW 2	'upperleft
LOW 3	'top
LOW 14	'topright
HIGH 13	'middle
LOW 15	'bottom-right
pause 50


LOW 0	'bottom
LOW 1	'lowerleft
LOW 2	'upperleft
LOW 3	'top
LOW 14	'middle
HIGH 13	'bottom-right
LOW 15	'top-right
pause 50

goto do


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