Rocky Mountain National Park

I recently drove to Colorado for the second time this year. The official purpose of the trip was to visit SparkFun for their Exciting Xbee classes over the weekend, but I could not resist spending a couple days in the mountains while there. Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely beautiful this time of year, and the weather could not have been better. I brought along my Canon Rebel T2i, and was fortunate beyond describing to see many incredible things to view and take photos of. Some came out quite well, and I narrowed down the 1000+ I took over the trip to a handful of the best. Some are embedded here in small forms, but you can view the full gallery at this link.

 

Maker Faire Kansas City

Last weekend I attended Kansas City's Maker Faire — a showcase of projects, groups and events brought together by area makers, crafts people and folk artists. Projects ranged from the inspiring to the inspired, the curious and weird to the immensely practical, and the futuristic to the classic made new. The maker community is very nerd-friendly and has a very geeky vibe at its core. Many of the projects seemed to have a “can it be done” approach to them, often lacking any practical purpose other than as a rough proof of concept. The range fo tools were often more interesting and elaborate than their output, and often gained much more attention and crowd appeal. The hall and booths were filled with 3d printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, soldering irons and custom fabricators, some homemade, some commercial, and many still under construction.

Though I only had a few hours to visit the faire, the sheer amount of creative energy and inspirational projects were almost overwhelming to see. Hopefully next year I will be able to participate in the event and show off my own varied creations.

SparkFun – Introduction to Arduino

Using Shift Registers to control multiple LEDs - SparkFun Introduction to Arduino class

Using Shift Registers to control multiple LEDs

I recently drove to Boulder, CO to attend SparkFun Electronics’ inaugural Introduction to Arduino Class. I have been interested in Arduino development for a while, and jumped at the opportunity to participate in this great learning experience run by one of the best known companies in the hobby electronics field. Besides proving a thorough introduction to te Arduino development platform, the class provided a great starter kit of components, and an in depth tour of SparkFun’s facilities. The experience was fantastic, and very worth the long drive through Kansas.

Spark Fun Arduino Class - Students assemble!

About 30-40 people attended the class

The class was run for most of the day Saturday, and covered all of the basics of working with the Arduino platform. SparkFun provided a good array of materials to go with the class, including a binder full of information, tutorials, documentation, and background information to keep us going after the class. We were all also provided with their Arduino inventors kit: one of their famous red boxes containing an Arduino Uno, a nice holder and breadboard station to work on, and a host of sensors, buttons, LEDs and other components to experiment with.

The first arduino project - a single blinking LED

The first arduino project - a single blinking LED

We started the class by installing the software needed to our laptops, and connecting a few components to complete our first working prototype: a singe red LED that would blink in any pattern we programmed it for. It was a simple beginning, but impressive nonetheless. It took only a few minutes, and was a great demonstration of how easy the Arduino platform is to work with. From there, we moved on to more complex circuits. We learned how to read both analog and digital input from sensors and buttons. We explored outputs though digital, analog (well PWM, or pulse width modulation), and serial communicatons. We worked with servos, speakers, and motors. We learned the basics of ICs by building a circuit using a shift register to control many outputs with only few inputs. It was a whirlwind class, and by the time it was over I felt I had solid grasp of the platform and those few topics I had not yet learned I now know where to look to figure them out on my own.

SparkFun's world headquarters in Boulder, CO

SparkFun's world headquarters in Boulder, Colorado

After the class, SparkFun invited those students who were interested in a tour of their offices and facilities. They recently expanded to fill the entire two story office building they occupied, and despite some construction, it was an impressive and inspiring workspace. Obviously populated by a diverse group of hackers and makers, projects in various states of completion were scattered throughout the offices and work areas. SparkFun encourages its employees to experiment and build personal projects, and the results are a host of varied, inventive and interesting creations filling any available workspace in the building. Those projects did more to demonstrate the culture of sparkfun and the personalities of the employees than any of the kitsch, posters, and expensively designed offices I have seen anywhere else.

A LED tetris game and the famous tweeting beer keg from SparkFun

A LED tetris game and the famous tweeting kegerator

A multiplayer Tron game console built with LED displays

A multiplayer Tron game console built with LED displays

A huge NES controller coffee table built by sparkfun

Sparkfun's famous massive NES controller

Where SparkFun films their video podcasts and take product photos

Where SparkFun films their video podcasts

Posters made by employees for SparkFun's CEO

Posters made by employees for SparkFun's CEO

The tour continued downstairs into the warehouse and assembly rooms. SparkFun assembles many of their own boards and components, and does most of the work by hand. They use solder stenciling stations to prepare pre-printed boards for the pick and place machines, after which they put the assembled though massive ovens which dry the components and flow the solder into place. Finished components are individually tested using custom test boards that run each completed component through a series of tests to ensure proper assembly and programming. SparkFun claims to be the only company to use such an extensive quality control process. For a small company, it is an impressive operation.

Touring the sparkfun warehouse in boulder, co

Touring the sparkfun warehouse

The sparkfun assembly and testing floor

The sparkfun assembly and testing floor

Sparkfun workstation for assembly of components

One of the workstations

A soldering station at Sparkfun's headquarters

A soldering station

a pick in place machine

One of SparkFun's Pick and Place machines

Naka-Kon

I am currently at Naka-Kon, Kansas City’s anime convention. It is interesting to see such vibrant sub-cultures thriving like this.