Saturday, January 25, 2014

Beware the WeevilEye: Soldering for 7-year olds

For Christmas, the granddaughter received a "WeevilEye" soldering kit we got her from SparkFun. Last week she soldered together an LED circuit she and Grandma made into a bracelet with moldable plastic, but this was a much more involved, detailed affair, and the first time she'd soldered onto a printed circuit board (PCB). So we had her practice first on a scrap board, soldering several wires and a resistor:

Once she had that process down, she started in on the WeevilEye.

Three resistors, a transistor, a light sensor, two LEDs, and a battery holder later, the finished project worked just as advertised: The eyes light up when it's dark and go off in the light.

The only real problem came when some solder bled across both slots on one of the LEDs, but that was fixed just by reheating it and wiping off the excess with a small sponge. Also, the coin cell battery holder leads were a bit small and difficult to access once all the other components were in, but she accomplished it just fine once she found the right angle. Here's what the finished product looked like, from the SparkFun site:
If I had one suggestion it would have been for the manufacturers to include an on-off switch on the battery holder. Because it uses a transistor, the device drains the battery even when the LEDs are off. But the battery pops out pretty easily and that's not a big problem. Quite a nice little introductory soldering kit for a seven-year old.

AND MORE (Feb. 12): Not a soldering project but I wanted to store these links somewhere: Last weekend we took the young'un to an event at Laguna Gloria Art Museum in Austin where they had the kids create small theremins on a breadboard. Excellent event; lots of kids and families there. Here's the link to the project page, the schematics, and in case they eventually take those down, here are several other sites they recommended for other noise projects:

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Beefing up my Arduino chops

Looking forward to taking a couple of classes over the next two weeks on programming and experimenting with Arduinos - small microcontrollers/computers that use sensors for inputs - at the TechShop in far North Austin. I've been fiddling with the tech in autodidact mode for a couple of months but am hoping formal classes will give me an opportunity to get over the hump and really begin doing stuff with them. Classes are a little pricey at $90 per, but I don't really know where else one would go to learn this stuff.

Kathy has lately been fiddling around with wearable technology. Most recently she stitched el wire into a hoodie for the granddaughter that lights up, flashes, etc.. Once my Arduino programming chops are up to snuff, we're hoping to combine the efforts using the Lilypad or FLORA platforms to do more interesting, programmable clothing projects that incorporate sensors, sound, light, and potentially motion. The idea is for all this to peak around Halloween.

These projects have been a really nice diversion from some of the heavier topics I deal with at work.

ALSO: Looking for more detailed instruction on these topics, I signed up to audit an online class out of UT-Austin on embedded electronic systems - one of their new MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. You can pay a little extra to get your work graded and end up with an "achievement certificate," but I'm in it for the knowledge, not the credential. Here's the syllabus and the course site. The class is based on this book. I'm quite looking forward to it.