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Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
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I updated some info on http://linnix.com/udip

and have it on ebay:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item3D%190411667459

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
On Tue, 29 Jun 2010 17:14:20 -0700 (PDT), linnix

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Hmm.  $3 shipping.  For two-off, I am not going to quibble at
all.  But any chance of combining later on?  Or is the $3
shipping contributing profit-wise in a necessary way on your
end?

Thanks,
Jon

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
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Yes, I can combine shippings.  I was trying to set up Dutch action for
5 items, but can't figure out how to do it.  I haven't done ebay for
some time.  $3 should be able to ship 5 of them.

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
On Tue, 29 Jun 2010 17:37:37 -0700 (PDT), linnix

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Thanks.  I was mostly asking because I've been told that mail
order camera companies, those selling at very competitive
prices, make more profit from the shipping department profit
center than they do on the camera's margin itself.  I just
needed to know if the $3 was a necessary part of my own
computations later on.

Thanks, again!
Jon

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
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that is because ebay eliminated Dutch auctions a short while ago...


Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
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Maybe it's a culture difference, but I just don't understand the concept
of someone who is planning to spend significant time learning a new
hobby, but is unwilling to spend more than the price of a CD or a couple
of beers for the required equipment.

If you were starting a fishing club, would you expect people to use a
stick, some twine, and a bent paperclip, just because it costs less than
a real fishing rod?

I think you are starting out backwards.  Start out thinking about what
these students are going to do, and how they are going to use the chips.
  For microcontrollers, more than anything else that means thinking
about how they are going to program them.  So first find the most
suitable programming environment for the task - /then/ you can start
looking at development boards or chips that will work with the
development tools.

Remember, they are only going to need one or two devices - but they are
also going to need PC development tools, emulators, debuggers, etc., to
go with these.  It's the total package that's important.

I would forget about the idea of a DIP microcontroller, and rather aim
for some sort of small ready-made board with a microcontroller and
debugging interface (preferably USB) built-in.

It is far better with a $100 chip that the students can work with, than
a $1 chip they can't use.  And if the $100 chip is the cheapest workable
option, and you think it's too expensive, then cancel the class.  All
you are going to do by forcing people to use the $1 device is frustrate
them and teach them that microcontrollers are out of their league.

It is also important to find a device and tools that the students will
enjoy using.  If the device is too small or restricted, they'll get
frustrated.  If it is too advanced and complex, they'll get lost.  If
they like the course and the device, they'll want to continue at home -
the development tools must be available freely or very low cost (without
painfully small restrictions like 4K "kickstart" editions).

Only once you have established some solid ideas of what you want, and
what is available, is it time to see if it can be done at an acceptable
cost.


Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
On Tue, 29 Jun 2010 10:12:20 +0200, David Brown

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It may be a cultural difference.

But your mistake in the above is that you are assuming the
students are "planning to spend significant time learning a
new hobby."

Jon

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
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How many classes are they going to, and how long are these classes?

If you are only talking about a few hours total, then presumably the
kits are not "consumables" but will be used in class.  Avoid anything
involving solder or permanent changes to the kits, and they will be
re-usable from group to group.  That way you can afford more per kit
since it will be used by more people.

Also consider sharing kits amongst pairs or groups of students.  It
could make the class more fun, and again give you a higher budget per kit.


Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
On Tue, 29 Jun 2010 11:44:21 +0200, David Brown

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If I knew that now, I'd already have a curriculum set up and
I'd be in full mind of the target interest groups and their
needs and interests.  I'm still wrestling over what I can
manage to deliver and what interests there may be for it and
each depends upon the other in complex ways.

Some of what you say, and others say, may influence what my
first attempts look like, as well.

So I'm not yet sure.  Also, I need to "raise a flag and see
who salutes" it, too.  This is a work in progress, of course,
and will reflect my available time and interests as much as
those of others.

A possible target is high school students in an hour long
after school event that takes place one night each week
during the school year, excepting holidays.  I have a willing
school and a few teachers, but it's entirely up to me and the
students I meet next year what it will wind up looking like.
Or even if it lasts long.

Another might be a community college class, not for credit
but for those wishing to explore their own interests.  They
may not have any idea at all if they will like to continue,
but would be willing to give it a go.  In that case, I'd
probably start this out as a short summer course and see if
there is interest in something a little longer lasting.

Summer classes for a local community college here vary quite
a bit in length... from two 1-hr classes total for a class on
solar power for homes to something like four 2-hr classes for
"urban gardening."  I still don't know what fit I want, yet.
So I'm not sure what my first shot at this will be like.

If there is more interest in a community class, perhaps the
usual 'term length' might then be in order.  If so, then it
could be 10 weeks, 1 day a week, 1 or 2 hours depending on
what I hear and how far some feel willing and able to go.  If
it gets much beyond that, I'd ask the college to help me turn
it into something more substantial.  But I don't expect that
to happen.

Another might be residence homes for elder care.  There are
quite a few interesting classes held at such places, already,
and some aspects may present interesting fare.

There is already a serious robotics club in the area, which I
do NOT expect nor want to replace.  They are good folks, know
a lot, and are helpful.  But one really does need to have
some tenacity and skill to make the most of it.  And it can
be a bit scary to some folks because the path isn't smooth
and the goals are engaging and may be too much to reach for,
too quickly, for a lot of people who haven't ever tried their
hand at this.

Keep in mind my thoughts about pottery class.  Some folks in
the class (like me) had no clue at all even if they would
like it or want to try a class ever again.  Some leave,
halfway through.  Most stick it out, make a few things, then
never come back again.  Some get to be pretty professional
and come back again and again, eventually drifting away
towards more professional or serious hobby groups when they
feel right.

And very important: the class length will depend on the
target.  15 year olds have significantly shorter attention
spans than older adults, for example.  I'll adjust, as
needed.

Actually, I'm writing far more than I know about, above. Most
is just guess, right now.  I need to get serious in
developing a programming tool (BASIC like and perhaps with
semantics that XMOS' XC suggests, not sure yet) and see how
that pans out in some trials.  I have a few target students
in mind to test things out on.  If that goes okay, then I
will make presentations to local high schools, colleges, and
senior residence centers and anyone else who shows an
interest and see what happens.

But the real value is my own excitement and fun which I hope
will be infectious.  This is about community and people and
relationships as much as anything else.

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Like a pottery class, I want the students to take what
they've made home with them.  I am not going to insist on
that, of course.  They are free to just tinker, too.  But
even though I took only one pottery course, I am very proud
of what I made while I was there and I use some of them and
keep others behind a glass door.  I like to show them to
others and laugh a little with them about my exploits, too. I
hope to do a similar thing here.  I would feel just a little
bit bad, if I told them they couldn't keep what they worked
on in class.

I don't know if you can understand that, since perhaps our
cultures are different in that way, as well.  But I can see
this quite clearly.

I'm very glad you offered me your thinking about this and
some ideas about an approach that you feel might improve
situations.  I may keep this in mind as everything develops.
Mostly, the students will guide me.  I will simply try to
help them set their sights where it is achievable for each
with their own skills and interests and then try and help
them succeed in the end.  I'll learn a lot from them in the
process and modify what I'm thinking and doing based on that.

Jon

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers

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At this point, a $20 Arduino with the chip soldered into the socket covers
all the requirements.

    Mel.



Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers

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As a tangential issue, I'm doing some volunteer robot courses for my
wife's school, and of course have to fund the equipment myself because
NYC schools are even poorer than I am... would you mind sharing your
supplier?

I managed to get together a couple of robots with a BOM cost just
under $10 (programmed using mark-sense cards, which the students print
or photocopy), based on surplus motors and such I found on eBay by the
pound, and using foamcore as the basic mechanical building material.
But I think I could do some fun stuff with those kits you linked.

Note: Do you have an issue with RoHS? CPSC guidelines prohibit lead in
toys for children <13, which has been a potential issue for me in
trying to reuse surplus. I know these are not exactly toys, but it's
hard to explain to people.


Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
On Mon, 28 Jun 2010 12:26:55 -0700 (PDT), larwe

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Hehe.  Sure.  Winco (grocery store.)  I bought up everything
I could lay hands on.  I've also written to the company that
was re-selling them in the US to see if I can lay hands on
more of them.  (You can see the name on a sticker in the
upper left hand corner of each box in that picture.)  I have
NOT yet received a response.  Ultimately, I intend on
contacting the Taiwan company involved.  But I have a few
other steps to get out of the way before I initiate that
conversation.

In the end, I may also be back looking for supplies.  I have
enough, for now, to do a few classes.  Maybe to get me by for
a year or so.  So that will put some experience behind me and
perhaps I will be off looking for something slightly (or
greatly) different in the end.  I'm going to just "do it" and
see where it takes me and follow the interests I'm shown.

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Yes.  I went crazy seeing them sitting on the bottom shelf in
an aisle right next to baby care products, of all things.
Marked down to $1.  I got the manager over and snarfed up
everything they had.

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No.  And I don't plan on thinking about it, either.  ;)

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Since these toys say "8 years old and above" on them, maybe
they meet that requirement?  I don't know.  The TI $4.30 kit
probably does meet it, but I'd have to go back and look and
I'm too lazy right this minute.

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The hurdle I find myself mostly facing, right now, is how to
make this fun for the widest variety of people.  There is no
way I can start out saying, "To make this motor work, use PWM
and a varying duty cycle."  Not for many of them, anyway!
They can be asked to say "Type in 'MOVE FORWARD'" or
something like that, though.

I don't want this to be canned -- in other words, forced to
accept an object that does something I've completely
pre-determined for them.  I want this to be like clay, where
it is a basic medium they can shape into anything they have a
mind to try.  Yet it must also be as simple as clay to
manipulate, too.  One person might shape up a deer, or try
to.  Another might make a cup out of it.  I want each to use
their own creativity and interest and play.

Eventually (or maybe right away for one or two students),
some may wish to try their hand at PWM or using timers and
interrupts and so on.  But I need to smooth the ramp, so that
most anyone can at least have a little fun and try their own
ideas out and laugh a little.

So the hurdle is that assembly, c, and c++ will be "not on
the table" for many of them and I need to make sure they have
something very easy to use, like a BASIC of some kind.  And
that means I need to write it or cobble it up from something
like tinybasic or get some other bright idea from someone who
may yet suggest it.  Once I feel comfortable with that, I
think I will be ready to take a crack at an actual class. But
I have some work ahead of me there, I think, and that is the
real barrier facing me in getting this going sooner than
later.

Jon

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
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that does look very impressive teaching/price ratio.

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perhaps this ?
http://www.rowley.co.uk/msp430/basic.htm
 ( tho it is a bit primitive )

- and I would add some functional targets too:

** Able to Source Step-Simulate on a PC
   So students do not need a target, to develop
** Able to Source Step-debug on the target
   The better this is, the less item 1 matters.
** Able to operate on a Flash Drive
   So they can work on any PC

-jg


Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
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Just thinking some more about this, and that line#  basic might be too
much low-level work to bring into usable form. esp Debug wise.

An alternative path, could be to spin a variant of
something like this ?

http://sourceforge.net/projects/bcx-basic/

 This is a Basic to C - so you'd massage that, to allow a PC-Choice-
Basic to
debug at original source code, and also massage the C output, to
have the original Basic lines as prefix comments so then the file will
correctly Step debug on any C-Flow system, but look like Basic to a
novice.
 It also lest them see C, on a read-only basis. (initially)
This is also quite Core-Agnostic, and PC testable too.

ASM could probably also be supported, on a relatively simple pass-thru
to any C compiler supporting in-line asm.

-jg




Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
On Mon, 28 Jun 2010 14:53:48 -0700 (PDT), -jg

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This is all up in the air for me, right now.  I'm also
considering something along the lines of Lego's dev semantics
or ZZT (it's a game thing) like approach.  Also, Paul has
mentioned XMOS' XC language, which has some tempting syntax
and semantics, as well.  I think there are lots of examples
to draw from.  I need to read and let it simmer for a bit.

Jon

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers


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High expectations are always a problem in introductory
programming courses. For short courses functional
languages like LEGO work quite well. The primary reason
is the language core has a very simple metaphor but
you can use it to teach most programming concepts without
overwhelming detail.

The nice thing about functional languages is for
a reasonably simple implementation the core interpreter
is very short maybe 300 lines.

Regards

 --
Walter Banks
Byte Craft Limited
http://www.bytecraft.com


Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
On Wed, 30 Jun 2010 08:09:17 -0400, Walter Banks

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I think I broadly agree with this and I need to give this
some more thought and actual testing effort to verify.

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Hmm.  Any particular pointers here that I may examine to
elaborate the details here?  (In no way am I disputing your
point, it's just that I'm lazy enough to want any help I can
get.)

Thanks,
Jon

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers


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The 300 line comment comes from personal experience implementing
a parallel functional language that Byte Craft uses to control
the processor simulators we use for compiler development.
The syntax we use is similar to lisp

(name arg list)

There are about a dozen core primitives. Functions and
primitives use the same syntax. The interpreter is a simple
recursive character string consumer evaluating innermost
brackets first. Execution is surprisingly quick. We still
use it.  

There are several logo's written in java script including
the following link
http://www.calormen.com/Logo /

To use your pottery example. Everyone who goes to a
pottery workshop has some idea what is involved in making a
bowl. My point is for teaching a computer course the only
thing most new students know is the relationship between user
interface and behavior. Build on that reference with a
simple metaphor.


Regards

 --
Walter Banks
Byte Craft Limited
http://www.bytecraft.com


Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
On Fri, 02 Jul 2010 06:42:06 -0400, Walter Banks

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Okay.


Reuse is good.

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The following addition isn't meant to be a dispute.  More to
help provide some boundaries that come to mind when reading
what you just wrote here.

I had no idea about "throwing" (or even so much as the word,
itself, either.)  I had started the class with a plastic
baggy of odd tools I'd been ordered to buy when I entered the
classroom and I probably only recognized the "sponge" in
there, and even then I had no idea what I would soon learn as
its purpose.  Had I tried to guess beforehand, I would have
been almost entirely wrong.

Of course I now have a more refined understanding and a
better sense of my own lacks and skills.

So I suppose it depends on what you mean by "some."  I would
probably say I had a vanishingly small but not quite absolute
zero value.  It still amounted to zero, for all practical
purposes.

You might quibble here.  But my point is that I'd like to
create something that assumes about the same level from any
one placing themselves in my hands as the pottery class
teacher expected from me.  No ability to even _recognize_ the
tools, let alone know how they are properly applied.

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Sincere thanks for your thoughts.

Jon

Re: a hobby class on microcontrollers
On Mon, 28 Jun 2010 14:28:43 -0700 (PDT), -jg

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Hehe.  It's incredible.  And I just went out and bought up
all the pieces from another store (a haul of 72 boxes.)  So
that brings up my supplies.  It also provided some new kits I
hadn't even seen before as well as flushing me out with the
better kits (some are better than others to snarf up.)

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Paul has talked to me about his BASIC before and has always
been very generous with his time _and_ money.  If I decide to
press on with something BASIC-like and if I feel I get stuck
or might need a little help, I would probably let him know
and see if he might have a thought or two to add.  I wouldn't
expect anything, but I know he has a LOT of interests and he
might have something useful at his fingertips to offer.

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Hmm.  I have to think about this.  Part of what I'd like to
do is allow the students to choose their own directions. Some
might want to blink lights, others might have a very specific
project in mind that I'd need to help them realize (or lower
their sights a bit so they could realize it.) Making a PC
simulation for an "unknown" would be tricky.  I'd like to let
them use their imagination and then see if I can pick up that
idea and help them through it.  So I will have to think hard
about this possibility to see if I can manage something
useful.  My first blush on this is that I can't. But maybe.

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Oh, yes.  This is essential.  BASIC statements without line
numbers would need to execute right away, I suppose.
Something like that.

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The TI $4.30 system ties into the PC, as well.  I don't know
any of its details -- haven't got one yet -- but I'm hopeful.
But yes, USB access to a PC is important.

Jon

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