Friday, July 25, 2008

What are you making with the TouchShield?

I've been really busy over the last few weeks helping out everyone with specific questions on how to make this, how to code that, etc. I'm curious, though, what's everyone making with them?

Has anyone written any cool games?

Let me know!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Grocery shopping as it applies to DIY electronics

Has this ever happened to you? It’s a typical Sunday afternoon. You just got out of bed, and you’re absolutely starving. You go to open up the fridge…and all that’s left to greet you are half-empty jars of condiments. Though the prospect of eating peanut butter straight from the bottle entices you for a split second, you soon resign to the fact that it’s time to go grocery shopping again. So what do you do now?

Option A: You go straight to the store and buy everything that you’d ever consider eating…immediately. This usually works out to be some variety of junk food, snacks, maybe some TV dinners for good measure. But soon enough, you’ll find out that eating an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting just isn’t quite the same as eating dinner. This has been me on occasion, but I try to avoid getting that desperate.

Option B: You pull out a small sheet of paper and start writing down stuff you need to fill up on. Milk, eggs, bread, you get the idea. Then you get all this stuff, and the rest of the week you find yourself relegated to making “whatever’s in the fridge”.

Option C (and this is my big revelation): You make a list of all the meals you think you’d want to eat this week. It doesn’t have to be detailed, and you’ll probably have some guesswork mixed in. But all the important stuff is there. Let’s say you want some tacos this week. So you write down “Tacos”, and underneath, shredded lettuce, cheese, taco shells, ground beef, seasoning, and whatever other ingredients you want to add to your homemade tacos. And you do the same for all the other meals you want to have this week—you make a list of the ingredients and make sure you’re organized about getting it. You’ll probably grab a few random things along the way, but at least you know what you’ll be eating this week.

I’ve walked through all these options at one point or another. But ultimately, I’ve settled on the last one—it’s changed the way I buy, how much time I spend shopping and also has the added benefit of making sure I’ve got what I need to make a real meal when I’m hungry. So rather than just buying random ingredients (milk, eggs) or a finished product (TV dinners, or go to a restaurant), I’ll buy the ingredients that I need for a particular meal. I enjoy cooking, I like making things my own way, and I don’t feel like shelling out triple the price plus tax and tip to get my food. It’s just not cost effective, and I don’t get the gratification that I get from making what I want, how I want it, right when I want it.

Believe it or not, there is a point. As someone who’s pretty handy with things, you’ve probably said something like, “I know just the thing that would make this [gadget name here] totally awesome!”. And then you proceed to take it apart, solder random crap to it, reprogram it, and voila! A modded gadget. Well, what if I told you that you wouldn’t have to spend a ton of money to get the finished product…that you were just gonna crack open and mod anyway? What if there was a place where you could go to figure out the parts (ingredients) for your project(meal), and then you could purchase exactly those parts you need, with the project in mind? And then you could build what you want, how you want it, right when you want it?

So that’s what we are. On the one end, you’ve got the restaurants that give you the finished product and make it how they want it, and charge you a ton plus tax and tip…for something you could do yourself a lot cheaper. In our techie world, the restaurants are all the companies that build the finished product, like Apple or Sony. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the people who sell the raw ingredients, the Intel, AMD, Asus. The Makes, Liquidwares, and Sparkfuns of the world are like the grocery store where you can find your ingredients. And some can even help you out finding exactly those recipes and ingredients- I mean, parts and components- for the projects on your shopping list. Figure out what you want to make, design it, and you can buy exactly what you need to make it yourself, just how you’ve always envisioned it. And doesn’t it feel good to build it yourself?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

QuickLinks: TouchShield Core Code

Wow! A lot more people are writing in with cool little projects using the TouchShield. If you're working on something fun too and want to share, just shoot me an email over at!

I'm doing my best right now to organize all the source code samples, and then I'll upload them all to a central spot here on the site so everyone can have easy access to them. I'm almost there...

In the meantime, since lots of people are asking, the easiest way to grab the latest version of the TouchShield's core is over on the site, under the TouchShield project, "Code" section, and the file called (in the spirit of the upcoming Bond movie, of course).

Ok, ok, so that's not necessarily intuitive, so for mere mortals, here's a quick link.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tri-State Buffer 101

Tri-State Buffers are a common form of logic for many bus applications. The tri-state obviously stands for three states, which represent the 3 possible out put states: high, low and floating.
  • High is logic 1
  • Low is logic 0
  • Floating is not controlled by the buffer (Z)

During the floating state the Output is not being controlled in anyway by the input signal.

There are two inputs and one output.
  • Input Signal - is the logic level that is forwarded to the Output signal
  • Input Control Signal - determines if the Output Signal is equal to the Input Signal or if the Output Signal is floating

  • If the Input Control Signal is logic level High (1) the Output Signal is equal to the Input Signal
  • If the Input Control Signal is logic level Low (0) the Output Signal is in a floating state

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why is open source hardware important to the US economy

Open source hardware is about empowering individuals to create their own products. It encourages a new behavior, called builder-consumer that fulfills the theoretical / philosophical “long tail” of consumer devices. Meanwhile, it has two (un)intended consequences: first, it is encouraging engineering education by making electrical engineering product design technology accessible to a far larger audience, and second, it is creating a newly empowered consumer who is no longer bound to traditional product hype-launch-consume expectations. The net is a fulfillment of a traditional market void in consumer products that in theory could up to double the current consumption of consumer products. In practice, because the source of the product can come from remixed products, and because open source consumer devices do not always reflect new sales (some of them compete against existing products), doubling product consumption is clearly an exaggeration, but the potential may still be strong enough to create a new market.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Re-Emergence of Do-It-Yourself

Clive Thompson says in a recent article called How DIYers Just Might Revive American Innovation (in Wired), "when we stop working with our hands, we cease to understand how the world really works. You see this on a personal level. If you can’t get under the hood of the gadgets you buy, you’re far more liable to believe the marketing hype of the corporations that sell them. When things break, you toss them and buy new ones; you accept your role as a mere consumer."

It's a great point. Most people these days are indeed just consumers. In line with this phenomenon, though, Matt identified a new group of consumers he calls the "builder-consumer" You see them around you. Builder-consumers are those folks who buy parts or mainstream products, then hack them to do what they really want to do. Look at the multitude of home-grown projects, ranging from “modding” your car to display engine stats as you drive, to writing software that’s leaner, more user-friendly and functional for running your iPod than the hulking straitjacket that Apple likes to call “iTunes”.

So why are builder-consumers/DIY making a comeback?
  • Sometimes it’s just cheaper: In an economic slump, it can be cheaper to do things yourself than to go with a pre-packaged solution
  • Customization: In many cases, there’s no product to do exactly what you want to do- DIY enables full customization, meeting the so-called “long-tail” of consumer demand
  • Being handy with stuff: Back in the day, people used to know how to fix things, make tweaks, figure things out, MacGuyver-style

The kicker: Now these folks can find each other- and solutions to their questions- in online communities.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Physical computing with BitDJ

I just got back from a really fun road trip out west, and saw a lot of really cool things, like wild animals, trees (which don't really exist in New York City). It really got me thinking about *real* physical computing, I also had time to upload some other videos I'd taken that I hadn't uploaded yet.

Speaking of physical computing, a lot of folks have been asking about the BitDJ program that comes pre-installed on every TouchShield. "What can I do with it?" Well, the general idea was to make a portable physical computing application to demo the ideal combination of the Arduino with the TouchShield... like this:

You might also have discovered that if you boot up BitDJ, you can go to the system menu, and turn on inter-screen fading (which looks really cool with the hardware in-out soft fading, kind of like an Apple laptop's pulse button).