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March 7, 2010
about 6 months ago
Your points are not unwelcome and if the beginner you are thinking of is a freshman in an EE program, you are exactly right. But before I throw in the towel and completely agree with you, I’d like to say that there are plenty of other projects in the EE curriculum that separate the dedicated from the dillitantes.
I have a less sophisticated beginner in mind. I teach eleven year olds. But I have to admit that their power supply needs can be met with a wall wart adapter, equally ubiquitous at thrift stores, if not more so than ATX power supplies. If they need something more stable, or adjustable, they can certainly figure out how to wire up an LM 338, and that’s probably a safer option anyway.
I assume that the 1K resistor protecting the power indicator lamp is an insufficient load to keep an ATX supply “awake”.
While it may be true that new ATX supplies do not require a resistor, the logical thing to do is to save an old one from the land fill. Used supplies are ubiquitous and it would be silly to buy a new one just to run this board.
Presumably most people will use an old, cheap, or free ATX supply, so the likelihood is they will need to add a load resistor to this board.
This simple soldering project seems aimed at beginners. Setting them up for failure by leaving out the option of, or an explanation about how to install or whether it needs a load resistor is not the most kosher thing I’ve seen Sparkfun do. This is a rare failure from Sparkfun, but it is all the more glaring because they didn’t correct it in this second version of the product.
about 7 months ago
I don’t think yo can call that an “issue”. It’s just the way little permanent magnet motors are, they nearly all turn faster in one direction than the other. With a fresh battery, you can run some trials and work out a table of PWM values that make your robot travel straight. But that falls apart as soon as the battery begins to drain. The real solution is to set up encoders for each wheel and write code to keep the wheels turning at the same rate for a straight line, or in specific ratios for various rates of turn. This kit does come with the toothed encoder wheels that you need to do this, but you will have to buy the sensors.
Don’t think of it as buying a electronic piano, because you can certainly buy a much better, commercially made one for less than $35. Think instead of what you are really buying when you buy an electronics kit, the opportunity to learn and to obtain something fairly unique and hand made.
This price is pretty reasonable if you understand and take full advantage of what you are buying. Study the code and schematics, learn the theory of operation, and understand the design decisions and compromises that went into creating the product. If you already know all that, roll your own from scratch. If you don’t want all that, buy the comparable, and cheaper, toy from K-Wal-Get.
Kits like these are a gateway into the world of electronics, engineering, programming, and design. They are a cheap way of gaining the benefit of the knowledge and experience of the designers, and picking up some skills. But electronics kits are generally not a cheap way to get an electronic tool or toy.
Build kits to get something unique and to gain the skills to build your own, even more unique creation. But don’t think of them as an economical way of getting a new electronic toy.
OK, and I see that links to “Arduino and Vernier Sensors” were added since I made my original comment above.
It is great that SparkFun is making these available, but the Vernier stuff is really expensive and relies on proprietary software and an expensive interface device. What is really needed is for hackers to take these things apart and develop ways to use Arduino and a serial reads so that teachers in normal classrooms can expose their students to this technology.
The Vernier stuff is great if you work in a district that has a huge budget for technology. But in any normal school district, a lucky science teacher has about 6 bucks per kid and that doesn’t go very far.
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about a year ago
I also have a Velleman DVM850BL in yellow and gray trade dress and agree that it appears to be more “Flukey” than the SparkFun meter at issue here. I notice however that Velleman has changed to a green boot and I wonder when they did that, and why.
But really, I write to agree with your larger point, I too wish that Fluke would sell a meter more directed to the electronics hobbyist, something in the $40-60 range that would handle the general low voltage chores, transistor testing and so on that the hobbyist needs.
about a year ago
I got started with Arduino before there was much in the way of “kits” available. I pretty rapidly (within a couple of weeks) reached the point of doing projects comparable to the more advanced projects in the SIK book, but in absence of kits like this one, bought a very basic “Arduino Starter Kit” and ended up spending at least $200 on parts, and quite a bit more on S&H from Jameco, Mouser, and Digikey, and on books to get there.
I bought a classroom pack of SIKs last year and I think SparkFun has really hit the sweet spot at the intersection of cost, value, learning potential, and flexibility.
I’d say that this really IS the budget inventor’s kit, in that it gives you a sufficient variety of components to allow you not only complete the learning projects in the guidebook, but also remix the components to extend your learning on your own.
I agree with Kamiquasi. The 101 experiment kits just won’t take you where you need to go, and the Arduino+DangerShield route will leave you just doing basic experiments rather than creating and building real projects. While I realize that $100 bucks still seems like a lot of money, the SIK package can keep you busily learning for a LONG time with parts you will use over and over again.
Had the SIK been available in 2010 when I was starting out as a complete and total novice, I think I would have gotten much further, much faster, and I KNOW I would have spent a lot less money.
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about a year ago
But isn’t there an ISO standard for creativity, and a rubric, and a fill-in-the-blank official form?
about a year ago
Exactly right, and boy does it save a lot of trouble when you have a classroom full of 12 year-olds soldering these up!
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