Exploring Arduino at ST4I Amsterdam

I got my hands on a ticket for Seb Lee-Delisle’s Stuff That Talks To The Interwebs (ST4I) workshop in Amsterdam. Great fun, loads of lessons learned!

I really like the stuff that’s going on with technology these days. Especially the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is something I think will be great. One example that kickstarted my interest for it was a Kickstarter project called ‘Rainforest Connection’. Using technology to prevent illegal logging in rain forests. I absolutely love the fact that new technology can solve existing problems. Check it out, they’re doing a great job!

The words ‘Happy technology’ from Deadmau5’ The Veldt struck me the first time I heard them. I think the Internet of Things will help us with happy technology in so many ways, just like 3D-printing.

Happy technology was what I expected to find in the workshop, and I did. In the two-day workshop Seb taught us the basics of electronics, including some fancy drawings of electrical symbols and PWM. Most importantly: he kickstarted everyone in the workshop on the field of Arduino. Seb carefully assembled his own ‘Stuff that talks to the Interwebs’ workshop kit, which was yours to keep after the workshop:

st4i workshop kit

The phrase “Time flies when you’re having fun” certainly applies to this workshop. It was over before I even noticed.

We started with the basics of electronics, and looked at some Arduino ‘competitors’, like the Raspberry Pi. You could basically do the same projects with both, but you should pick the platform per project since both platforms have different strengths and weaknesses. Arduino is very customizable and low-level, where the Raspberry is less customizable but leans more toward a full Linux-based computer.

st4i - Seb explaining Arduino

Seb explaining Arduino

After opening the kit we began to explore the possibilities of Arduino. An Arduino Mega 2560 was part of the kit. The Mega is the bigger brother of the Arduino Uno, has more ports and 4 times the memory of the Uno (which is, by the way, a tiny 8KB. My computer has 16GB lololol!). Nevertheless perfect to experiment with! The kit also included LEDs, buttons, lcd displays, a wifi breakout board, more LEDs, wires, and an ultrasonic distance meter which looks a bit like Wall-E:

st4i - Wall-E, is that you?

Wall-E, is that you?

After unpacking the kit we all started experimenting with it’s contents, following Seb’s instructions. During the workshop I made my Arduino…

  • … light a led. Woop woop!
  • … play the Star Wars Imperial March and Nyan Cat tune,
  • … display random messages on a lcd screen,
  • … show the current time, taken from the internet,
  • … connect to a node.js server, which rendered a web page on which you could control the Arduino and vice versa
  • … do a lot more!

Experimenting === learning. At some point during the two day workshop we connected the Arduinos to the interwebs (we had ‘Stuff’, the connections were the ‘that talks to the interwebs’ part of the workshop title). We’ve learned that twelve people doing this at the same time could cause a firewall to crash (Leaving the office where we resided without internet). Also someone’s AC adapter decided to go into meltdown-mode while he added a component on an Arduino which was powered on, which left the office without electricity as well. Sorry! But it’s all part of being an early adopter and experimenting! (although I think the AC meltdown could have been avoided).

If you like fiddling with electronics and code, and you get the chance to follow this workshop: do it! I was already excited about Arduino but didn’t know where and how to start. This workshop has been a wonderful way of kickstarting my knowledge (and confidence) for starting with Arduino!

st4i cable management

I really need to work on my cable management skills :D