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Codebits 2012

Codebits VI

In less than 10 hours, at 9am tomor­row, Portugal’s top hac­king event, Code­bits VI, will open its doors at Sala Tejo, Par­que das Nações, Lisbon.

This year some of the focus will be on Open Hard­ware and AltLab will have its own space, demons­tra­tion and workshops. So if you are going meet us there! We will be on the “hard­ware dens” on the first level. If won’t be able to be there, just fol­low our Twit­ter account, our Face­book page or this web­site, and we will try to keep you upda­ted on what’s hap­pe­ning there!

The Arduino Starter Kit

Box for Arduino Starter kit

Arduino cre­a­tors have recen­tly laun­ched the new Arduino Star­ter Kit, a kit com­pri­sing all the com­po­nents nee­ded for a com­plete intro­duc­tion to the world of elec­tro­nics and the Arduino con­trol­ler board, even if you don’t have any spe­ci­fic kno­wledge of it. Spe­ci­ally if you don’t have any kno­wledge of it.

Since I have been playing around with an Arduino tuto­rial, trying to remem­ber all that I had for­got­ten of my Engi­ne­e­ring edu­ca­tion and star­ting my own “recon­nec­tion” to elec­tro­nic tin­ke­ring, I was con­si­de­red the per­fect AltLab mem­ber to be given the oppor­tu­nity to try it out and review it.

What’s in the kit?

A vision of the Arduino Starter kit

  • A book explai­ning elec­tro­nics and the Arduino board, with seve­ral expe­ri­ments to do;
  • 1 Arduino Uno (R3) board;
  • A small breadboard;
  • A balsa woo­den plat­form desig­ned to serve as a plat­form for your Arduino and bre­ad­bo­ard; (great idea! thin­king of buil­ding one for myself)
  • A ran­dom set of the usual elec­tro­nics parts (resis­tors, motors, LEDs, seve­ral sen­sors and one LCD screen);

You can get the com­plete and exhaus­tive list of com­po­nents on the kit web­page if you want.

My Expe­ri­ence

The inside of Arduino Starter kit and its boxes

The first thing that caught my atten­tion was the impres­sive looks of the kit. Coming in a good qua­lity prin­ted card­bo­ard com­pact box, it seems more of design pro­duct than a elec­tro­nics intro­duc­tion kit. This would also be my fee­ling throughout the rest of expe­ri­ence: com­pa­red to the my own star­ter kit, which I bought in a hack-fest, this seems like com­pa­ring a Land Rover to a Lada Niva. They both per­form the requi­red work , but one is con­si­de­ra­bly nicer than the other.

Left pic­ture shows how all of the kit dif­fe­rent com­po­nents come in indi­vi­dual old-gold colo­red boxes, nicely pac­ked and organised.

The book itself is more of a “artis­tic” book than what i would expect for a elec­tro­nics intro­duc­tory tuto­rial. Being used to the engi­ne­e­ring “cut & dry” manu­als, this actu­ally sur­pri­sed me the most.

The book for the Arduino Starter kit

I’ve glan­ced though the intro­duc­tory chap­ters in the book and played a bit with the more advan­ced expe­ri­ments on the book since I alre­ady had mas­te­red the basics Arduino. I even asked a “lay” fri­end who was curi­ous about the Arduino world to try it one after­noon. The sim­plest sta­te­ment is that it duti­fully ful­fills its goal of intro­du­cing you to the Arduino. The book tries its best to cle­arly explain the basics of elec­tri­city and elec­tro­nics in a way that actu­ally makes sense for “mere mor­tals”. My “lay” fri­end quic­kly unders­tood it and although she had some misun­ders­tan­ding with the bre­ad­bo­ard inner con­nec­ti­ons at first, after the brief hours that i let her alone with it, i found her hap­pily doing cir­cuits invol­ving mul­ti­ple LEDs and resis­tors and some weird pat­tern of blinking.

Her and I though, had some trou­bles with the low-cut /fixed length jum­per wires that were inclu­ded in the kit. Although its goal is to make the bre­ad­bo­ard con­nec­ti­ons easier and cle­a­rer, we found out that it actu­ally makes it har­der to a “new­bie” to work with. By for­cing some fixed lengths it either makes con­nec­ti­ons errors more pro­ba­ble or for­ces us to care­fully fol­low the dia­grams and colors right to the mil­li­me­tre, not lea­ving space for impro­vi­sa­tion and sim­ple foo­ling around.

The balsa platform with the Arduino and the breadboard

Also, I must say that the code pages are not suf­fi­ci­en­tly sig­na­li­zed, since they are inser­ted after the cir­cuit assem­bling and pro­ject pic­tu­res as if it was alre­ady done. Since the first book pro­jects didn’t use any code at all, the first pro­ject that did pro­vi­ded me with a phone call from my fri­end asking me why she didn’t manage to get expe­ri­ment wor­king at all, even after care­fully redoing everything twice and men­tally fol­lowing the “flow of elec­tri­city” throughout the wires as i showed her. There was no indi­ca­tion of code, and since she didn’t actu­ally unders­tood how it rela­ted with it, she didn’t turn the page to look for it. I did notice the same thing when i star­ted using the book, but i alre­ady knew that the code had to be somewhere.

On the whole, the pro­jects itself are inte­res­ting and amu­sing, even without the colour­ful and sligh­tly chil­dish deco­ra­ti­ons inclu­ded in the kit, and pro­vide you with fun­da­men­tals to start buil­ding more advan­ced stuff. The light the­re­min sounds hide­ously though!

Final thoughts

If you are alre­ady fami­liar with elec­tro­nics or you’re not afraid to start explo­ring it without a safety net, you can pro­ba­bly save a cou­ple of euros buying the Arduino board and other ran­dom sets of parts or kits from your local/online elec­tro­nics store and just fol­lowing the ran­dom infor­ma­tion fre­ely avai­la­ble from the web.

Howe­ver, if you are a com­plete new­bie to this brave new world, or just want a safe gui­ded expe­ri­ence to intro­duce you, simi­lar to the gui­ded workshop you would get with a tea­cher, this is pro­ba­bly one of the best star­ter kits avai­la­ble. The pro­jects are inte­res­ting, cover most of the buil­ding blocks that Arduino pro­vi­des and it will leave you per­fec­tly equip­ped to “higher flights” in this fas­ci­na­ting world of DIY electronics.

What are you still doing here? Don’t waste your time, go get it.

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