Friday, November 2, 2012

So, You Want to be an Engineer

     So, you want to be an engineer. You enjoy building with legos, or Arduinos, or just like taking stuff apart to see how it works. Maybe you like technology or large sums of cash. Maybe you just like the large number of [insert desired partner's gender here] that this field attracts. Then I submit to you this article, that covers what you should do to prepare for going into engineering, or at least a college of engineering.

     The first thing that you should do is get your core engineering classes down pat. Math, math, math, math, math. Everything, no matter what kind of engineering you go into, you're going to be doing math. I'm not saying you have to be an A student, but make sure you understand what you're learning. In college there is going to be a major change, especially in the first year of math, from the concrete to more abstract concepts. You should have taken at least a pre-calculus course, if not an actual calculus course. AP is always a plus. Having that level, puts you in a good place when going off to college. If you do take calculus, move on to a level 2 course,  and have the ability to move on to a level 3 class in college, I suggest you go back and retake the level 2. I took level 2 as a senior in high school, and felt more comfortable, taking it again before moving onto a much harder level 3 class. And there are always other math classes besides calculus that pertain to engineering. I also took a statistics class in high school, and found it to be an extremely useful math, certainly more so than calculus. If you have already taken a calculus course, definitely look to other math classes. Don't stop taking math classes. It's good to keep going until the end of high school, to keep those mental circuits fresh for the adjustment to college classes.

    Next of course is the science. This depends more on what sort of engineering you want to go into. The basics is definitely physics. Just like math, make sure you have an excellent grasp on what is being taught, rather than just learning for the test, and then forgetting everything for the next chapter. Anything beyond a level 1 physics class should be looked at by someone interested in mechanical or civil engineering. If those advanced physics classes go into such things as electricity and magnetism, then an electrical or computer engineer should probably be enrolled in such classes. Chemistry is more of a science that is suited towards chemical and biomedical engineers. Again, with science, it depends more on the field you're interested in. However, if you want to go into mechanical but still want to take a chemistry class, don't let that stop you. Take classes that you have an interest in, not only are you more likely to do better in those classes, but you might find yourself a future major.

     Testing applies on two fronts. One, you should strive to be a good student. Yes, you should go for all A's but, don't fall into the mindset of anything short of that is failure. An F, is failure; never forget that. People who fall into that mindset become stressed out beyond belief and are generally unhappy people. Enjoy taking these classes, and actually learn something. Just because you didn't do well on a test, doesn't necessarily mean that you don't understand what is being taught. There is a difference between a good student, and a bright student. I wasn't a good student, I was a bright student. Homework and studying takes time that could be spent working on a project that is infinitely more interesting, and you're applying things that you've learned. Don't let that be an excuse to just stop caring about your classes, and their work. The goal is to gain an understanding, and from that, do well on tests.
     The second front is standardized testing. This was something I absolutely loathed doing, and I had to do it multiples. It's not fun having to get up in the wee hours, on the weekend, to take a test. No matter how much is sucks to do it, it is required by colleges. The SAT is the standard, the test all colleges accept. Studying for the SAT does do a world of good; getting a tutor is even better. The trick to the SAT is learning its tricks and beating the test. I know that doesn't sound like a half-decent measure of what colleges put stock in, and it isn't. Trying to quantify what it is colleges look for is why the SAT was originally made, and while it isn't perfect, it's one of the only ways we have, besides GPA. However, there is another standardized test that is becoming more and more popular. The ACT, the one I recommend, is definitely more suited towards the engineer's mind set. There is an equal balance of math and writing, there's a science section that tests your ability to read data and make conclusions, but most importantly, it's about an hour and a half shorter than the SAT.

     Choosing a college should come down to 3 things. Number 1, can I afford to go here? If you can't afford it don't go. Having to take out numerous loans that are going to pile up is not something you should be contemplating during your next 4-5 years in college. Number 2, does this offer my major, and have decent facilities in which I may learn? When I applied to college, there were only two colleges on my list that offered my major, and both had the facilities I wanted. Determine your major, which we will discuss shortly, then research the needs that are required by such a major, i.e. equipment, space, and professors. I know it might seem like if the college offers the major, then it must therefore have the requirements. And that's true, however, you might be looking for something a little more. I wanted to do electrical and computer engineering. There are facilities that are required by each, but what I also wanted, was a microfabrication lab, a place where integrated circuits are constructed. Professors are another big thing. Yes, they're qualified to teach the field, but have they spent time working in it? How much experience do they have, and can offer to you? The final thing you should look for, number 3, is what exactly, besides an education, do you want from your college? Do you want a close community? What about a place to party? Or are you looking for some great food? College should be a place of education and higher learning, but it is also an experience. You're spending a lot of money to attend, make sure you get all of what your college has to offer.

     Finally, choose your major. I know that when you enter college you have time to figure out what kind of engineering you're interested in, but it's not always easy as a freshman engineer. You're stuck in a lot of very broad classes, that are there to get you ready for your future in engineering. The problem is that it doesn't expose you to what various majors offer. Now, your college may offer classes that do introduce you to the different forms of engineering that it has to offer, but even that can be a little shallow. Thus you have a couple choices. One thing you can do is actively seek out professors of engineering. See if you can sit in on a few classes, talk to the professor and see what work they're currently doing. Another option you have is, while you're still in high school, talk to some of your teachers. They've probably had other jobs outside of teaching, maybe in research or employed in their field of study. Maybe some of your friend's parents are engineers and can talk to you, show you some of what is they do. But, probably the best way to choose is look at what you're doing now. What interests do you have and would like to explore further? Remember that you're going to have to study in your field of choice for several years in college, so make it something you can enjoy;  because, that which you enjoy, is never work.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Need Help with a Project?

     Recently, I've been receiving more requests separate from ideas for future videos. You guys have been asking for input on some the projects that you're working on. I enjoy getting this feedback from you and being able to help; that's why I started doing this. Thus, in order to increase the amount I can help you do, I've set up an email where you can contact me if you want help with something you're working on. I hope that this can be more expedient than posting comments on videos, or sending me YouTube messages, as I, and probably you, check your email more than anything else.

Feel free to now contact me at humanharddrive@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Choosing Your Microcontroller (Part 2)

Last time, we talked about two sets of microcontrollers, the Arduino Family, and the .net framework family. Today, let's talk about some more.


     PIC microcontrollers are found quite commonly in end user products. They are also used quite frequently in college level electrical engineering courses. These little devices aren't frequently packaged with a board, so using these chips requires some knowledge of being able to build, program, and test circuits. There are, however, a large variety of chips to choose from, with various sizes and functions to suit any need.
     The community around PIC's is fairly great, not necessarily for the reason one would think. The programming environment for PIC's is your basic C language  However, PIC's have been known for what a pain their coding can actually be. Many very simple things that are done with other devices, are quite complicated to achieve in PIC code. These devices are not well suited to the novice programmer or engineer, so beware.

     MSP microcontrollers are extremely power efficient devices by Texas Instruments. These devices aren't as well known, I've found, as the other controllers I've mentioned. They're quite application specific, if you're looking to build your device using as little power as possible. Still, they're great little devices that offer a lot of potential, even if you're not looking to stretch that battery as far as possible. There are a few platform options you have for MSP's. One of which is the Launch Pad, the cheapest microcontroller test board I have ever found. Another such platform is an MSP based watch, the eZ430 Chronos, which includes a 3-axis accelerometer, barometer, and wireless transceivers, as well as being a watch. Most though, like PIC's, are just single chips with varying numbers of pins and functionality.
     Also like the PIC's, these are programmed in C, but can also be programmed in assembly. These can also be quite difficult to utilize some of the functionality at times, but I maintain they're still easier to use than PIC's. The community around MSP's tends to be a little more professional, as these are used more in measurement and extreme longevity projects. Again, not the sort of device the beginning programmer should necessarily be getting into.

     Basic Stamps, by Parallax, have been in the microcontroller game longer than any other I have mentioned. They're one of the first microcontrollers I was exposed to in high school. They have what is probably the largest community of people working and willing to help others on their projects. The company behind these boards, parallax, also develops large amount of externals like servos, sensors and even some Arduino-like shields. The downside to these boards are that they can be quite expensive for not all that much board. The basic "stamp" is a tiny microcontroller, that doesn't include a breadboard or a programmer, is $30.
     The upside to these boards are that they're extremely easy to get into. The getting started kits that they sell include all sorts of tiny bits, IC's, servos, and LED's with a very well written guide explaining all the steps and why everything works. The boards themselves are programmed in a variant of BASIC, which makes following code fairly...basic. If you're looking to get started with microcontrollers, and you have some extra money around, and you don't want an Arduino, then I recommend the BASIC stamp. But splurge and get the "Getting Started" kit.

     The last microcontroller I'm going to talk about is another one from Parallax, the Propeller chip. These are probably some of the most powerful microcontrollers you can buy, offering 8 cores of processing power each at 20 million instructions per second (MIPS). These are definitely for the more advanced hobbyist requiring more knowledge of wiring and programming than the novice. There are a huge number of peripherals to cater to the processor's capabilities including the ability to: generate video signals, interpret device signals such as mouses and keyboards, and easy interface with other devices.
     When it comes to programming these chips, you've got some choices. There is the "Spin Language" aimed more at beginners to the chip, but there is also the capability to program the devices in assembly. Like the BASIC Stamp, there are also such kits that display the various abilities of the chip, so if you're interested in this area, I'd recommend getting on of those. There are such kits that allow you to build basic computers and game consoles. It's the processor behind the YBox, that wonderful little device. So, the Propeller chip is something a little more experienced programmers and hobbyists would enjoy, with its extra power and capabilities.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

True Cloud Storage

I've had a bit of a problem with the concept of cloud storage. My problem is that, the data has to exist in a physical form somewhere. It's only through the internet that one is able to access that stored information. My thought was there must be some way to store information actually in the air.

The concept is based around the old form of memory, called delay line memory. The main theory behind it is that there is a tube filled with some fluid, often mercury. One one end of the tube is an acoustic transducer that takes data and converts it into sound pulses that travel through the mercury in waves. On the other end of the tube is another acoustic transducer that takes those waves of mercury, and converts them back into electrical impulses, which are then processed then passed back to the first transducer to start the process over again. Would it be possible to apply the same principle to cloud storage.

The operative stage is the delay within the system. The problem is that electronics are built to remove as much delay as possible. There is one system where delay is almost impossible to get rid of. The idea of latency is something that exists in wireless networks, especially less well optimized networks spread over greater distances. I've recently purchased some cheap wireless transmitters and receivers that I plan to use to test my theory.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cheaper Bits

I'm a basement hacker. I don't have a lot of money lying around to be able to spend on numerous components and measurement devices that I cannot see an immediate need for. Thus I'm always on the lookout to find really cheap stuff, when I'm not building it myself. Ebay has proved to be an excellent source of cheap bits. One such example is a pair of wireless components. If you've seen my senior capstone project, I'm plugging myself a lot tonight, you'd know that I used such a pair of devices to communicate between components. The pair of transmitter and receiver cost about $9. On Ebay, I found both for under $2, with free shipping. There are all sorts of other great components out there as well, from IC's to sensors.

My point is this. If you're looking to get some parts, yes, DigiKey, Mouser, and SparkFun, are all great places to shop. However, if you're willing to spend a little more time shopping around, there may be some better deals.

Monday, October 1, 2012

DIY Oscilloscope Done

As promised here are all of the files necessary to make your own oscilloscope. This device limits the output of the signal so that you can pass it to an app on your phone or tablet. I'm still doing a little bit of testing with the device itself, testing at what voltages it stops being safe. Basically, don't run this thing above 50 volts peak to peak. Remember that I take no responsibility for what this does to your phone or tablet if you misuse the device.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Maker Faire 2012

Maker Faire 2012 New York was just as much fun this year, as it was the last two. You can check out a few of the pictures I snapped while there here.
Well to start, there is, as always, a great number of 3D printers this year. MakerBot has produced a new model with a much higher level of detail. There are new companies with their own printers, trying to reduce the cost of producing the device. There was even a printer large enough to print a person inside of.
Arduino continues to have a large presence. There are more and more companies either trying to create shields, add-ons that capitalize on the device's popularity, or create an Arduino clone based off another processor. Parallax is one such company, trying to add shields to their current lineup of products. A PIC based Arduino system is being worked on by another company, which looks promising; anything that can make PIC more bearable, is a good thing. The Arduino Due, the ARM-based Arduino, is going to be released in a few weeks.
There seems to be more items to aimed towards the younger maker audience this year. Activities, trying to get kids involved, painting, alternative energies, even Disney's Phineas and Ferb were there to greet the kids.
All in all, a great way to spend the weekend. I will be posting the details for the DIY oscilloscope tomorrow, so stay tuned for that.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

September Update

It's been almost 2 months since my last post, and a lot has happened since then. I'm currently enjoying my 3rd week of classes at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. I've also gotten back into the rythym of producing videos again, after a wait of almost as long as this post. Also, with Maker Faire New York, this weekend, so I am quite excited
To business. In regards to the project I started with my last entry, I went through a lot of the leg work, got the functions working, even made a tiny game. I ran into a bit of an issue thought. The program space on the Atmega328, has a limited number of write cycles that it will tolerate. Every time my little device had to switch from game to menu, it burned another cycle. Thus, I return to my original point in this argument: it's probably better to use a microprocessor and RAM, rather than a microcontroller.
Remember that oscilloscope board I said I was going to distribute but never did? Well, you probably do now. I will be releasing the files to etch your own, along with the parts sheet by next Monday, I promise.
I'm going to be doing some coverage of Maker Faire this weekend. I've set up an Imgur, for some photos, and will probably have a YouTube video or two as well.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Update and a New Project

For those of you waiting for the oscilloscope tool, I'll be publishing an etchable pdf later this week along with the parts list. And for those of you who also watch my YouTube videos, I'll be doing a video on how to etch your own PCB. OK, onto the new project.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me if it were possible to create an emulator from an Arduino. So I explained to him, how an emulator actually worked, and the hurdles that would be necessary. All in all, not a very realistic project to attempt. Recently however I was thinking about the project again, and that it might be feasible. Thus, this is my new project, to try and build a DIY game console, from the Arduino.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Easy Oscilloscope Moving Along

So it turns out the design is a little more complicated than I had originally planned. I had to add a resistor to control the current on the low end of the potentiometer. I'm going to work with a max voltage of about 1 volt for the line in. I still have some testing to do but I should have a finished design, parts list, and etchable pdf by the end of next week.

In other news if you haven't check out this Kickstarter, or don't know what Kickstarter is, I'd check this out.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ouya/ouya-a-new-kind-of-video-game-console
It's a game console for $100, based on Android, that is built around hacking.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Easy Oscilloscope

If you haven't already shopped around, you should know, oscilloscopes are pretty expensive. As an engineer , in school, I don't have a lot of money. However, I know a thing or two about electronics. I have portable computing devices that can run apps that also allow it to function as an oscilloscope; that's a $4 app to a $500 oscilloscope. The only problem is, it's more than a little difficult to mate whatever I'm testing with my tablet. That's where this little device comes in.
It's a regulator for the line in jack. It works off of 3 components, two diodes and a potentiometer, to set the voltage in. I'm almost done with the device, and I plan on publishing the ectchable pdf and parts list. If anyone knows what the max voltage for a line in device is please let me know, so that I can get the appropriate parts.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

8Bit Product

Do you know what this is?
Yes, it is an etch-able image, but of what? This comes straight from the minds of my Microcontroller Club's members. It's the first in a line of 8Bit products, the GhostRemote. What it is a tiny device into which you program a television remote command, which the board replicates at random intervals, annoying whomever is watching the TV. So far, I have the schematic and BOM made up, and I'm going to until I finish writing the code before I publish all of the materials. I also plan to make a kit available to those who want it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hilarity Ensues

Today, I was filming for a new "Tools of the Trade" video, when I decided I should include a colleague of mine, Aaron Ferber. This is what happened. Just and FYI, Aaron isn't Australian.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Intro Video


To go along with the new log, I thought I'd make an intro slide for my videos as well. Enjoy the nostalgia.
video

Friday, April 13, 2012

Arduino Tutorial #3 (Digital Input)

Today we have our third Arduino tutorial where we go over digital inputs and internal pull-up resistors on the Arduino. Because of some problems I had with the video enhancement software, this tutorial, I'm afraid, isn't quite up to my standards, so sorry about that.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

DubStep. Food for thought.

2 days ago, I was sitting in my Calc class and one of my colleagues handed me his iPod and asked me to plug it into the new room's speaker system to test it out with some dubstep. But rather quickly the teacher came down on us. That night in the shower, a thought crossed my mind. The speakers weren't wireless, but they did have wires. I wondered if it would be possible to modulate the audio signal from the iPod with a low frequency, high amplitude, carrier wave, send that signal through the air to the wire where it would then induce a signal that would be amplified and played by the speakers. It makes sense, I've been able to achieve a similar effect with radios and short range transmitters, so why shouldn't it work over a larger scale.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Electronics 201: Pull-Up and Pull-Down Resistors

In today's lecture, we go over the useful tool that is the pull-up and pull-down resistor.

Computer in a Suitcase

I've always been fascinated with technology of the past. Perhaps not the distant past, but definitely within the last half century. One such piece of nostalgia is the Altair 8800, what is probably the first personal computer. What I want to do is recreate that sort of device within a suitcase, it makes sense. I'm going to use the Z80 microprocessor, the same processor in the TI-83 and 84 calculators, and the Altair's switch based programming and 5 expansion ports to create this device. I'm already working on a schematic for the entire thing, but I doubt the board will be something I can etch in my backyard.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Learning AVR-C Episode 2: Setup and BlinkLED

In this video we go over the setup of the programming board we're going to use throughout the rest of the series, the basics of registers and the BlinkLED program.

Electronics 201: Digital vs. Analog

In this video, we start the Electronics 201 lecture series where we look at the more digital side of electronics as opposed to Electronics 101's analog electronics.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Arduino Tutorial #2 (Blink LED)

Here is my second Arduino tutorial where I go over the setup of the Arduino IDE, drivers, and some basic programming.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

TI-84 Programs

So recently, I've gotten back into writing TI-BASIC programs for my various classes and I've stumbled upon a problem with my TI-84. While the sheer number of programs they already have written is incredible there is some room for more. One such program is ANOVA. While there already is a program to computer the statistic for lists, there isn't one for matrices of data, so I've written one. I've also written a program to computer derivative graphs given a function, increasing the general capacities of the calculator. Thus I've come to believe there exists some niche were people are looking to replace more and more of their pen and paper calculations with a calculator, and in doing so, also increasing the life of the device. Check out the sourceforge below for some of the programs I've written. And, I'm always willing to write programs on the behalf of others, because there are only some many needs I can write programs for.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Electronics 101: Resistance is Futile!

Today we have the second in our Electronics 101 series, "Resistance is Futile!". As usual, I'm still looking for questions for view submissions, as the next Electronics 101 video is a question show. If there are none, then I will move on to the next subject.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Videos

I know I haven't exactly been staying on schedule with the videos as I should have, but due to school work and a recent illness, I'm going to start again next week with Electronics 101. The same schedule will still apply. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kinect and Processing

I'd received an Xbox Kinect for Christmas just for the purpose of trying to hack it. Only until very recently I had the time to be able to work on it.  I know that Microsoft had released the SDK for the Kinect, but I find trying to write C# code without having a decent understanding of the hardware can be a real problem. So I looked for alternatives  just until I got a better understanding of some of the Kinect's features. So, I did some poking around, trying to find some alternatives to Microsoft studio. I went back to OpenCV to see if they had come up with a Kinect add on to their incredible library. Much to my dismay, they had yet to create and add one to their libraries.I did however find that their is an open source library that was made for processing. There were two libraries I found, and only one that would actually work for Windows. The library is called OpenNUI for you Windows users, and if you own a Mac, the library you should look for is called simpleKinect. The processing library makes available all the cool features for the kinect, skeleton and hand tracking, infrared depth images and all sorts of other things. I hope to be able to dome really cool things with this. I'm already working on a price of facial recognition software and more intricate hand tracking, including giving the hand its own skeleton model.

Electronics 101: What is electricity?


Hello, this is the first in the series of electronics 101. Check it out if you've ever had any curiosity about the inner workings of electronics or just interested in the pursuit of knowledge. If you guys have any questions, please put them in the comment box or email them to johnnywasascientist@gmail.com with the phrase "Electronics 101 Questions" in the subject line.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Learning AVR-C Episode 1: Introduction

This is the first in the series of videos where we go over the programming of AVR-C. Today we look at the hardware necessary to get started. WARNING, this is an advanced tutorial.

Arduino Tutorial #1 (Hardware)

I'm back, and I thought I'd kick off my return with my new and shiny Arduino. I'm still working with the second revision, but everything I'm going to go through is exactly the same. Enjoy.

Future Schedule

I know that it has been a LONG time since I've last posted a video, about 1 year, but I'm back and ready to o again. I just wanted to publish a schedule that you can expect I follow with a fair amount of strictness. Please be aware that it takes time to write out what I'm going to do, film, record audio, edit, then put together in a cogent manner, so if I miss one day, don't be alarmed. Depending on how long and involved each video is, or how much is going on at school might have an impact on the schedule as well. With that in mind, lets get the the schedule.

Monday: Electronics 101
Wednesday: Arduino Tutorials
Friday: AVR-C

---Next Week---

Monday: On a Breadboard
Wednesday: Netduino Tutorials

Friday, February 24, 2012

diyServer

I've always had a fascination with how the internet works. I just find it so amazing how everyday, people log in, go to, visit, browse and download information through this complex set of tubes we call the internet. diyServer, is my attempt to go into that process. What it is, is a simple piece of software that allows a standard computer to behave as a server. It's still in its basic stages but it can currently handle at least 5 simultaneous requests from different browsers. It is able to serve html files with pictures and downloads. I'm still trying to make it HTML 5 compatible, sending javascript files is proving to be a pain, along with some form of authentication for log ins, and more advanced browser requests.

Check it out.
https://sourceforge.net/projects/diyserver/files/

Thursday, February 23, 2012

humanHardDrive Lives!

It's been almost one year since my last set of video posts, due to school, robotics and college, but know I'm back. I've already got a lot of new videos set for the future, and the frequency of posts is going to be about one every other day. Enjoy.

HAUS

HAUS stands for Home Automation and Unification System. This was my Senior Capstone project for high school. The concept of the project was to take to idea of home automation and integrate it with the idea of a smart home. It came to my attention as I was finishing the project that it wouldn't be a bad idea to try and make the project open source. So that's what I did.


The HAUS Initiative looks at all of the work I've done thus far, all of the previous designs, road bumps and success and lets someone else build their own and modify it to their own needs. All of the parts fairly easily available. All of the software is available and open for modification. I'm hoping that someone takes interest in this and makes something even greater than I had ever hoped.