Monday, December 21, 2009

Next Meeting: January 22, 2010

Our next meeting will be held at 7:00pm on January 22, 2010, at HobbyTown.

Topics to discuss will include: upcoming robotics competitions in the New York area (I plan to go see a few myself), and our possible participation in the Youth Fest event at RCC this spring (RPCUG may want to share a booth). And, of course, whatever everyone else has been up to lately (Frank? Rahul?)....

Happy Holidays everyone, see you next year!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Meeting Minutes: December 4, 2009

We had our second meeting last Friday (12/4/09). Many people couldn't attend (the holidays keep everyone busy), but we did get one new member: Rahul, current president of RCC's recently-formed Robotics Club.

Everyone present that night knew how to program, so things got quite geeky.

Meeting highlights:
  • We discussed the Arduino, and what makes it different from previous less-approachable microcontroller kits; I also showed off a little demo program I'd cobbled together, which controls an RGB LED via a Wii Nunchuck controller.
  • I demonstrated the Arduino programming environment, and we dug into its internal details, exploring the source code for the included libraries.
  • I loaded up AVR Studio, and we discussed its advantages over the Arduino tools for more complex programming tasks. I also showed some maze-solving demo code for my little Pololu 3pi robot, which was written in C, although Arduino-compatible tools are also available for that platform.
  • I brought along a Bus Pirate board (as featured on, and connected it to the Wii Nunchuck to demonstrate its I2C support, then switched to its new Logic Analyzer mode and showed off the features of the Java-based SUMP client interface. I mentioned that a sequel to the PIC24-based Bus Pirate was being designed with better logic analyzer capabilities, which led to discussion of how such a device might be designed with Arduino-compatible hardware, and a current project to do just that.
  • Meanwhile, my son Matt got a Lego Mindstorms NXT robot programmed, and had it walking around the room, until its batteries ran out!
  • Frank talked about some personal projects he'd been moving over from the PIC to the ATmega-based Arduino platform, and how the chips were similar and different.
  • Xin and Frank discussed how electronics is taught now at RCC, and how it was taught there 20 years ago; it looks like this club will have a lot to offer students who want some good old fashioned hands-on hacking experience!
  • Alex and his crew demonstrated a radio-controlled helicopter, which led to some discussion of servos and the specialized mechanism which "steers" the main rotor.
  • Infrastructure update: I'll pick up some tools soon, and we should have our big lockable cabinets some time next week, so we should be able to do some "creative destruction" next time. (Don't throw out that old VCR yet, it's got good parts in it!)
Overall, I'd say it was an excellent meeting, and a good geeky time was had by all!

Happy Holidays, everyone! Our next meeting will be in mid-January, see you then!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Next Meeting: December 4, 2009

Our next meeting will be held at 7:00pm on December 4, 2009, at HobbyTown.

This meeting, we'll start building something: the Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 set which Alex (our gracious host) donated at the last meeting. I'll demonstrate the Lego programming tools, and see if we can get something driving around bumping into things before the evening's done! I'll also bring along my Arduino stuff for those who'd like to try that out.

The Rockland PC Users Group (of which we are a small part) has provided us with a little start-up money. My plan is to buy some tools (a good soldering iron, etc.) and materials (Arduinos, small parts, solder, etc.) to stock our supply cabinet (which RPCUG is also providing). Of course, anything we can get donated leaves us more money for cool stuff! So, if you have anything suitable you'd be willing to contribute (or you're wondering what's "suitable"), please email me.

We will be getting a PC (or two) for our workbench, but in the meanwhile, I recommend bringing your own laptop to meetings if you have one. (Wireless Internet access will also be available, once I locate a spare wireless router - donations welcome!)

Please feel free to bring your questions, half-finished projects, and wannabe-geek friends to come join in the fun! Come get your geek on! :)