Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 7 Aug 12 19:56
For this latest Inkwell.vue discussion, we focus on DIY/maker solutions that support environmental awareness. Our guests are authors of For this latest Inkwell.vue discussion, we focus on DIY/maker solutions that support environmental awareness. Our guests are authors of _Environmental Monitoring with Arduino: Building Simple Devices to Collect Data About the World Around Us_. Amazon: "This inspiring guide shows you how to use Arduino to create gadgets for measuring noise, weather, electromagnetic interference (EMI), water purity, and more. Youll also learn how to collect and share your own data, and you can experiment by creating your own variations of the gadgets covered in the book. If youre new to DIY electronics, the first chapter offers a primer on electronic circuits and Arduino programming." Freelance journalist Emily Gertz has been covering DIY environmental monitoring since 2004, along with other environmental, science, and technology topics. She has been hands-on with internet technologies since 1994 as a web producer, community host, and digital content strategist. Her work has appeared in Talking Points Memo, OnEarth magazine, Worldchanging.com, Grist, Dwell, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, and more. Patrick Di Justo writes Wired's monthly What's Inside column, and is the author of The Science of Battlestar Galactica (Wiley, October 2010). His work has appeared in Dwell, Scientific American, Popular Science, The New York Times, and more. He has worked as a robot programmer for the Federal Reserve, and bought his first Arduino in 2007. Welcome, Emily and Patrick!
OK bai. (emilyg) Wed 8 Aug 12 09:26
Hello, World! Happy to be here to talk citizen science and DIY enviro monitoring. I want to mention that O'Reilly has graciously offered to make eBook copies of Environmental Monitoring With Arduino, hereafter EMWA, available gratis to a few participants in this discussion. WELL folks, please ping me if interested.
Patrick Di Justo (justpat) Wed 8 Aug 12 10:57
Hello! I'm Patrick Di Justo -- <justpat> here on The WELL since 1989. I'm really excited to have this opportunity to talk about what we're doing with Environmental Monitoring and the Arduino microprocessor. Just a few brief words of introduction: Arduino is a single chip computer which was developed in part by Tom Igoe, formerly <tigoe> here. Depending on who you ask, an Arduino is more powerful or just a little less powerful than the computers that landed Apollo 11 on the moon. It costs $35, and fits in the palm of your hand. What can you do with an Apollo landing computer that costs $35? We decided to use it to do some environmental monitoring: of our water, our electromagnetic environment, the noise pollution in our area, and even the background radiation in our city.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 9 Aug 12 07:27
Before you get into environmental monitoring, can you say a little more about how Arduino works, how it's part of a kind of maker or DIY (do-it-yourself) tech movement, and what other kinds of applications it's been used for?
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Patrick Di Justo (justpat) Thu 9 Aug 12 10:26
An Arduino is a open-source, self-contained microcontroller platform, based around the ATmel series of processors, with some added on-board power management and input/output support. Well, that really didn't explain anything, did it? First thing is that an Arduino is open source. The design is simple -- deliberately so -- and anyone can build one from scratch if they want to. Arduino is a microcontroller. Microcontrollers are generally used to control devices that operate on a defined series of actions, usually repeating in a loop. Like a security card scanner, for instance [read card, check database to see if card is valid, open or close door accordingly, wait for next card] or a microwave oven [read input, turn on microwave beam, count down to zero, beep, wait for next input]. Arduino allows you to easily control input and output. As in the examples above, a microcontroller take some kind of input signal, processes it in some way, and delivers an output. In one of our environmental gadgets, for example, Arduino measures the conductivity of a sample of water. With this data, Arduino then calculates the estimated dissolved solid count, in parts per billion. Arduino then displays the data on an LED or LCD screen, and/or uploads it to the internet. As you can imagine, a simple computer like that can be put to any number of uses!
Emily Gertz (emilyg) Thu 9 Aug 12 11:51
Putting the upshot of this in a different way, Arduino is simple and cheap enough to use and program that even beginners to the worlds of both DIY electronics and programming can get into it, and get results with it, pretty quickly and easily.
Julie Rehmeyer (jrehmeyer) Thu 9 Aug 12 11:55
Can you tell me about some of the awesome things you've done with it?
Emily Gertz (emilyg) Thu 9 Aug 12 12:19
Hi Julie! For Environmental Monitoring with Arduino, we devised five gadgets: - Electromagnetic interference aka "energy vampire" detector - Water conductivity monitor, which detects particulates in water - Noise monitor (noise being a widespread but underreported enviro nuisance) - A basic weather station that measures temperature, humidity, and dew point - A radiation detector Along with the end goals of the gadgets, though, the book's projects teach a progression of skills, from simpler to more complex. The builds involve sending output to a 4-character LED display, for instance, or recording data to an SD card, or publishing data to a public web page. Our goal and hope are that folks will mix and match the different inputs and outputs to meet their own needs and fancies.
a plaid pajama ninja (cynsa) Thu 9 Aug 12 15:59
hey guys: I just ordered my Arduino and I'm really looking forward to getting it and trying my first set-up/experiments. can you tell me how each of you got into programming Arduinos yourselves?
Rob Myers (robmyers) Fri 10 Aug 12 04:30
Those sound like really good applications of Arduino. Does the radiation detector relate to the work people did tracking radiation in Japan after the nuclear accidents recently at all?
Emily Gertz (emilyg) Fri 10 Aug 12 10:47
Not directly, although I do talk about that effort in the book. That group, Safecast, has actually been developing an iPhone-based radiation detector for use around Japan.
Patrick Di Justo (justpat) Fri 10 Aug 12 11:04
Also, we were roughing out the book in May 2011, so sure, we were influenced by the work done on DIY internet-enabled radiation monitors in Japan. In fact, we had to save that for the last project, simply because the Japanese situation had temporarily dried up the world's supply of Geiger tubes. We ordered one in May and it didn't arrive until late July.
Patrick Di Justo (justpat) Fri 10 Aug 12 11:10
As for how I got involved with programming Arduino; I've been programming computers since I was 13. I worked as a programmer in one form or another (even programming robots for the Federal Reserve) until about 2001. I bought the Arduino as soon as it came out, but didn't do a lot with it. I made a Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp which slowly turned on a bank of blue 470nm LEDs to shine on the bedroom ceiling during winter, giving the illusion of a bright blue sky. But the real impetus came in early 2011. Emily had had knee surgery, and was laid up with her leg in a flexing machine. She said that she wanted me to teach her electronics, soldering and Arduino stuff so she would have something to do. Her questions -- can the Arduino do this, can the Arduino do that -- led to this book.
Patrick Di Justo (justpat) Sat 11 Aug 12 12:50
Many of the gadgets in the book are built around commercial sensors that can be found in things like smoke detectors and other devices that need to know the world around them ( there is a type of soft drink vending machine that senses the local temperature/humidity -- and electronically raises the prices of soda if the heat index gets sufficiently high!). But some of the sensors are real DIY. For example, the Electromagnetic Interference main sensor is .... a length of wire! The output is a simple audio speaker. The Arduino is programmed to read any electrical signals picked up by the wire and turn them into sound. In essense, we've turned the arduino into a broadband radio. Since many electrical devices give off some form of radio interferance -- read the FCC warning that came with your computer, for instance -- by turning the arduino into a radio and giving it a big antenna in the form of a wire, we can pick up the buzz and squeal of things like TVs and computer printers. The payoff for us came when we "dowsed" Emily's office with the gadget. Her component stereo, which she didn't even think was plugged in, was actually putting out as much electromagnetic interference as an operating television set! We quickly unplugged that vampire.
Craig Louis (craig1st) Sat 11 Aug 12 17:01
This is very interesting. I've been playing around with an Arduino Uno, attending meetings of the LA Robotics Club So far I've only gotten as far as getting through the LED blink exercises that come with the Sketch development tool, but it's been fun. We did a group thing assembling a little robot on wheels, but I missed the assembly meeting, and am now behind. I'm thinking of bagging the project and finding somethign with actual instructions that I can follow. Emily and Patrick, does your book provide A to Z project instructions? I'm OK with extrapolating things and hacking around, but it would be nice to do one introductory project with all instructions provided..
Patrick Di Justo (justpat) Sat 11 Aug 12 20:28
Indeed it does!!! Five projects, no waiting! The book starts with the world's shortest introduction to electronics, in a chapter called The World's Shortest Introduction to Electronics. Then it goes into the gadgets, starting with the simplest one first, the Electromagnetic Interference Detector. We give a brief explanation of what EMI is and how it is harmful, and then we get into the step-by-step build, with written instructions and photographs. The Arduino code is there in the book, and also available for download from GitHub. The projects are written for breadboarding. Breadboards are plastic boards with electrical interconnections -- by sticking wires into the boards you can join different components together without soldering. Of course, if you want to you can solder the gadgets as well. We then move on to the more challenging gadgets, ending with the most challenging, the ethernet geiger counter.
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 12 Aug 12 09:19
I don't have one of these gizmos, but I sure am curious what kind of robots the Federal Reserve has. I know: drift. Sorry.
J. Eric Townsend (jet) Sun 12 Aug 12 10:22
Arduinos are quickly becoming the new TRS-80 of college classes. A few years ago I co-taught experimental classes on "making things interactive" open to all students with the only requirement being "buy an Arduino". In one semester, students with no experience made everything from nightlights for kids to purses that could answer your phone to a comical bathroom that wouldn't let you out until you washed your hands. These days the Design department has a serious, focused class for undergraduate design students who use the Arudino to create new interaction mechanisms. On and off campus you'll see the Arduino in everything from art to engineering and even driving robots in amateur races held on school sidewalks. (Previous well member <tigoe> is one of the people responsible for creating the Arduino.)
Gail Williams (gail) Sun 12 Aug 12 10:55
Wow, good for tigoe! That's very cool indeed.
Craig Louis (craig1st) Sun 12 Aug 12 18:01
Yes, it's very cool to read taht <tigoe> was an Arduino founder person. I think I'll be clicking over to get this book! Project instructions, yes. Just the thing for the curious, but too-busy dabbler, like me. Love that hand washing enforcing bathroom, <jet>. I helped out a tiny bit on construction of an Arduino controlled robotic kegerator some weeks back. I need to ask those folks how it's coming along. If it's born already, I'll post a link back to this topic.
Patrick Di Justo (justpat) Sun 12 Aug 12 19:12
<Sidetrack> The Federal Reserve bank has a giant warehouse in East Rutherford NJ where they store approximately $2 billion in cash. The cash is stored in transparent plastic cubes about 1 meter on each side, which are supposed to be able to slide and stack inside armored cars. It looks like a giant Costco, loaded with plastic boxes of money. When banks call the Federal Reserve to get a shipment of cash, they usually ask for the same patterns over and over: $100 million, broken down as $50m in 20 dollar bills, $30min 100s, $10m in 50s, $10m in 10s, or some such pattern. Those patterns are loaded into the boxes. When a bank asks for a specific distribution of money, the computer looks in the database for a box with that pattern. It then sends a robot - about the size of a golf cart - to the warehouse location to get that box of money. The box contents are verified by a human, and then the box is loaded onto the armored car for shipment to the bank. </SIDETRACK>
Emily Gertz (emilyg) Mon 13 Aug 12 09:04
Craig, I think you'd find our book a great way to keep going with Arduino. We wrote it very much with beginner satisfaction in mind. Using breadboards instead of solder makes it very easy to build each gadget, troubleshoot problems, and mix and match components (like saving to SD card or using the 4char display for output). For more intermediate makers, we do make suggestions to up the challenge for each gadget--like soldering it together, altering the programming to do this or that, or creating a cool enclosure from scratch. Jet, I'm really intrigued by your report on how Arduino is becoming ubiquitous on campus. Of course I know about NYC programs, like NYU's ICP where Tom teaches, and the similar program at Pratt. But haven't have a lot of insight into what's happening at other schools. However, I do track the growing DIY sector of the environmental movement. Groups like Public Labs and Ushahidi are conducting workshops all over the place--worldwide, I think--that teach people how to build and program monitoring devices, and share data. I'm planning to attend an afternoon workshop later this week, organized by Sensemakers NYC (formerly Internet of Things), on scraping political data. Not sure what this means in the DIY/maker context, yet. I'll report back.
Scott Underwood (esau) Mon 13 Aug 12 10:02
Following along in this discussion, I'll throw something out as an idea that would seem to be a good Arduino application: I worked for a short time with David Rose, who founded Ambient Devices (<http://www.ambientdevices.com/>). One of his ideas is "glanceable technology," with is something that can give you information without needing you to compute: an analog clock on the wall, for example. One of his devices, the Ambient Orb, will glow with a single color based on some data source: stock market trended up (green) or down (red), pollen count, energy use, whatever you can track. He called it a single-pixel browser. For another example, sometimes it's better to see trends rather than data. If you're tracking some activity -- energy or water use in the home, weight loss, walking distance -- it may be more useful to see your trend over the last seven days than to record a number. In fact, you wouldn't even need to see a trend unless it was in the direction you don't want. No news is good news, a glowing red LED if bad news.
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Mon 13 Aug 12 10:45
that's really interesting.
Patrick Di Justo (justpat) Mon 13 Aug 12 20:22
Annnnnnnndddd... continuing the well tradition of "plate o' shrimp", it was the Ambient Orb that helped me to solve a problem with out current book "Atmospheric Monitoring with Arduino". We needed a way to find the best wavelength match for a group of LEDs. I thought about it for hours which turned into days, and still got nowhere. Then I thought about the RGB LEDs in an Ambient Orb, and, to make a long story short, that solved the problem. That's the great thing about Arduino -- by itself, or interacting with a computer running something like Processing -- if what you want to do can be described as a simple electronic input followed by an electronic output, there's a good chance Arduino get you there. The Ambient Orb works that way: data from the internet in, color out. All our gadgets work that way as well: environmental sensing in, data out.
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