Want to Use an Arduino But Don’t Have One?

If you’d like to experiment with an Arduino project, but don’t have access to an Arduino board or add-on electronics, consider working with a “Virtual” Arduino using the wonderful Circuits.io website that is hosted by Autodesk. I was recently looking for a tool to draw Arduino circuits for documenting projects in the course I’m putting together, and found that and much more at Circuits.io.  Autodesk has provided us with a wonderful website that is useful even if you already have an Arduino. For example, using Circuits.io a great way to make sure your project should work the way you have it wired up and programmed.  If it won’t work on Circuits.io, it for sure won’t work on your Arduino.  If it does work on Circuits.io, then you may have a problem with faulty hardware or wires on your Arduino that you can then track down. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to troubleshoot a problem for several hours, only to discover that you were working with a broken piece of electronics.

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You’ll need to setup and account on Curcuits.io, but once you have you’ll be able to create your own projects from scratch, or import other people’s projects that they have made available to the community. Some of the projects of mine that you might want to consider tinkering with on Circuits.io include:

  1. Lucky 8-Ball
  2. Love-O-Meter
  3. Light Theremin
  4. Four Colour Randomizer
  5. External LED Blink (Arduino’s Hello World)

Enjoy!

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A “Light Theremin” Schematic

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Posted in education, MakerSpace

So Many Cool Arduino Projects: Where to Start?

You can do so many different cool projects with an Arduino microcontroller, it’s hard to know where to start once you’ve mastered the basics.  To help with that, I’ve brought together some of my favorite projects. I’ve completed some of them, and other I have on my Arduino bucket list. Let’s start with a project that can make Halloween even more exciting for kids that walk up to your home trick or treating!

Arduino Halloween Props – Animated Halloween props are fun, but when you buy props at the dollar store, you come face to face with some serious limitations.  Because each prop is activated by its own sensor it’s difficult to get them to work together. “If the props are out of sync, the overall effect isn’t as scary.”  The second problem is that that the built-in “motion sensors” don’t work well. This project by Jason Smith lets you control all your animated Halloween props with an Arduino device, and lets you choreograph how and when each prop will turn on and off.  Link to the project: https://goo.gl/DqJQjg

Halloween Props

Twitter World Mood Light – This mood light project searches Twitter for emotional content, and then collates the tweets for each emotion, does some math, and then fades the color of the LED to reflect the current World Mood. Red for anger, yellow for happy, pink for love, white for fear, green for envy, orange for a surprise, and blue for sadness. “If an unexpectedly high number of tweets of a particular emotion are found, then the LED will flash to alert us to the possibility of a world event that has caused this unusually strong emotional reaction. Link to the project: https://goo.gl/UsfdeH

twitter mood light Read more ›

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Canadian University Makerspaces Open to All Students

I recently was asked to look into how many Canadian Universities operated makerspaces that were open to all students on their campuses. Almost all universities have at least one makerspace on campus, but they are often only available to engineering students, or to students participating in a research lab.

Canadian_University_Makerspaces_Open_to_All_Students_-_Google_Fusion_TablesLink to Google Fusion Table map of the data.

With this in mind I, along with two summer students, used Google and searched for, “[universtiy name] makerspace” and “[university name] library makerspace” to try to identify university affiliated makerspaces and then determine if those makerspaces were open to all students.  While we have tried to identify all open makerspaces at Universities in Canada, our list may not be conclusive. Special thanks to my student assistants for their help in gathering the data. If you are aware of any open makerspaces we have missed, please either comment on the Google Sheet listed below, or send me an email.  Enjoy!

Spreadsheet: https://goo.gl/Hq13zk
Fusion Table Map: https://goo.gl/ggAqjH

Here’s an example of the same data with a visualization created in ARC-GIS:

Canadian-Uni-Makerspaces_v5

Lastly here’s a random link to miniature goats in Seattle in 2015 in Fusion Tables: https://goo.gl/qpamEI 

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3D Printing Workshop

I taught the first “Introduction to 3D Printing” workshop held in the UVic Libraries Digital Scholarship Commons (DSC) on April 6th. All of the 14 library staff who participated learned how to prepare 3D models from the Thingiverse.com website, and by the end of the workshop submitted files ready for printing on our MakerBot 3D printer. Models prepared for printing ranged from a Star Trek badge, a bird model, to a headphone stand for Music & Media.

I’ll be teaching workshop again later in April for other interested staffe, and another workshop on 3D Design will be offered shortly after that. Students will be invited to participate in the workshops once the DSC furniture arrives. For a list of upcoming DSC workshops, checkout this list of events: http://oac.uvic.ca/dsc/workshops/

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Interactive Stories with TWINE

twine-logoIf you’re looking for a quick and easy way to publish an interactive story, where the reader is able to make decisions that affect the direction or outcome of the story, then Twine might be the tool for you.  Twine’s web-based drag and drop interface make it easy to see the flow of your story as you can see in the image below. I was able to convert a fairly complicated short story my daughter created using html and webpages into Twine in less than 20 minutes. Here is the Twine version of her immigration story, and the original html version.  It would have taken much less time to create a digital version of her story if I’d known about Twine when she started her project (her story deals with Chinese immigration to the USA and Canada in the mid 1800’s).

twine-drag-drop

When you start a new story in Twine, you are presented with an initial “passage.”  To make a link to another story line or “passage” in Twin parlance, simply bracket the text in the passage you are working on with: [[Link text here]]. Once you’ve done this a new passage” will appear automatically using the link text as it’s name, with an arrow pointing to it after you close the passage you’re working on.  If you have links to multiple texts in a passage, then multiple new passages will be created for you.  To add an image to  a passage, you need to use html code to insert it. E.g.: <img src=”url to image here”> (instructions here).  YouTube videos can also be added, by using embed share option from the YouTube video page (instructions here).

One thing to keep in mind that all of the editing you are doing in Twine is being saved through your web browser to your local hard drive, not to the Twine website like you might think.  In order to publish your story for the world to see you need to download your story (or “Publish to File”) and then upload the HTML file to a website that you have access to. Here is the Twine instructions on how to publish your work.

I’m new to Twine, but was amazed at what I could create with it in a very short period of time. Because Twine is an Open Source project, there are no licensing costs associated with using it. Check Twine Out!

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Smartphones & Tablets: Educational Distractions or Bicycles for Our Minds?

The short answer is YES!  Yes, smartphones and tablets can be wonderful learning tools, or bicycles for our minds if used properly, and Yes, they can be a huge distraction if unskilfully used. A recent study describes how disruptive smartphone notifications are when students are concentrating on a task, even if they don’t click on the notification and launch the app that interrupted them (Stothart, Mitchum, & Yehnert, 2015). That said, let’s start by looking at how we can configure our devices so that they are less likely to distract us when we want to concentrate on learning.

Reducing Distractions

One of the keys to reducing the number of distractions in decidedly non-technical. A good place to start is by talking to our children, and eventually negotiating how they are to use their electronic devices are to be used during focused learning time. You could start by discussing and then coming to an agreement around the following three interlocking strategies:

  1. When working on homework or assignments, the phone and/or tablet should be used for research and homework related tasks, not for socializing or gaming.
  2. To help reduce distractions, the phone and/or tablet should be put into the “Do Not Disturb” mode (see “How To” section below for details). This will significantly reduce, but not eliminate, the number of distracting popups and chimes from installed apps.
  3. Lastly, turn off popup notifications and alerts for social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, etc. At the very least turn off notifications while in do not disturb mode (see “How To” section below for details). There’s no need to turn of text message notification as the do not disturb mode with silence those potential interruptions.

While using do not disturb mode and turning off notifications will help reduce distractions, it will not stop someone from opening up a social media app on their own to manually check it, but at least they won’t have distractions popping up in front of them every couple of minutes. Read more ›

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Posted in education, Google, iPhone, Open Source

Weather Station / Goat Camera up and running!

Over the holiday I setup a Bloomsky Sky2 weather station that I found under our Christmas tree. I decided that it would not only provide us with remotely accessible weather information about our home, but could also be the “Saanich Goat Cam.” My daughter lobbied Saanich Council for three years to allow miniature goats in suburban Saanich, and this past summer she was successful in persuading them… now we have two miniature goats living in our back yard, happily munching on the invasive ivy in our yard, along with the bottom of our huge laurel hedge.

weather-station2

Above is a picture of the BloomSky weather station in the foreground, and the goats in the background sitting on the porch of their “barn.”  Below is a picture from the weather station camera, with Gabby and Baby sitting in the bottom right corner of the photograph.

bloomsky-goats

Lastly here is a picture of the two goats, Gabby & Baby, watching me install the weather station 😉  If you’d like to see a current image from the weather station, along with the weather the goats are experiencing, click here: https://map.bloomsky.com/weather-stations/jpxnrKmnqZKkqae2

goats-looking-up

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