Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Electronics Parts for Free: Harvesting and Free Samples

   The main reason I chose the TI Launchpad as my entry point into electronics and microcontrollers is that it's darn cheap. At $4.30 for the board and two chips it beats out everything else I know of in the hobbyist market, and I was able to use the code HALFMSPTOOL to get mine for $2.15 with free shipping from the TI eStore. That low cost of entry makes it a great toy to mess around with and learn something, without needing to make a real commitment by buying some expensive kit.

   Of course, a microcontroller needs other parts to do anything interesting, and you'll want more than the two MSP430 chips the Launchpad comes with as you start to build your projects. All the stuff you'll want to buy can take a real chunk out of your wallet. Electronics certainly isn't as cheap a hobby as programming is. Being a cheap (and proud of it!) person without a lot of money for my hobbies I looked into how to get as much hardware as I could for free. The first thing that came to mind was taking apart the old electronic junk I had laying around to get parts and components.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Selling Books on Amazon to Clear Clutter

   I spent the last several days trying to help clean up the house, which included getting the carpets steam-cleaned by a professional, rearranging the furniture in the living room, and clearing out a lot of old books that were in storage. Getting rid of the books is a more difficult endeavor than I thought it would be as the local library doesn't take most books as donations. Apparently the only books they really need a steady supply of are ones for young children, as these are the books most likely to get damaged or destroyed.

   So instead I've been spending my time trying to figure out how to sell the books online, reading a bunch of articles on how to sell books on Amazon. I now know a bunch of useless things about this topic. I know that book sellers should use media mail from the USPS to ship, as it's usually the cheapest option and might let you make a little profit off Amazon's shipping credit. I also learned how to pack books for a safe trip through the rough handling the USPS subjects them to. Why is this knowledge useless?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

TI Launchpad LED Chaser aka an MSP430 Cylon!

   I soldered a row of red LEDs to a small piece of perfboard and hooked them up to an msp430 microcontroller that had been flashed using mspdebug with code I compiled with mspgcc4. TI doesn't yet have a stable release of their CodeComposer software out for Linux yet, but the tools the open source community has put together to program the msp430 line of chips work very well.
   This post on Hack-a-Day was really useful in getting started with programming this line of chips in Linux, as are the forums on 43oh. The TI Launchpad has been a really good, low cost way of getting myself into microcontrollers and electronics. I've learned a lot so far. I have the book MSP430 Microcontroller Basics, but since I keep meaning to finish Colin Moock's Essential Actionscript 3.0, it'll have to wait. Til then all the bite-sized tutorials on the net will do.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Microstock Photography

   I've been reading about microstock photography, trying to see if I could make a little money off my photography hobby. Looks like it's something that will take me a lot of time and effort for little return, but trying it out should help me improve my skill at taking pictures, so there's that at least.
   I read the book Microstock Photography: How to Make Money from Your Digital Images by Douglas Freer and took a few notes from it and the various online posts I also read:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Photography, Scanning and Photo Printing

   Having spent the last few nights doing the incredibly boring work of scanning 958 old photos so my mother can view them in her new digital photo frame it seems strange that I'd want to print out some of my digital photos.
    I'd like to get some sort of real-space copy of my amateur photography. I've had too many hard drives die to not have a physical copy of my best work, even though I have multiple backups. I keep some of my favorite shots on Dropbox, but having a physical copy of something is the ultimate way to backup digital data. Everyone prints out important legal documents, so it makes sense to print out my best, favorite pictures. Right?

Moving my MSP430 project off the TI Launchpad onto a Breadboard

   I made a simple error when moving my msp430 microcontroller onto a breadboard: I didn't tie the reset pin to Vcc!  I couldn't figure out why my project (for now a simple blinking LED) wasn't working, but a quick search showed the answer on the 43oh forums.
  I've learned a lot recently about ActionScript, C, and electronics.  This whole past year I've made good use of my time to teach myself programming.  Hopefully next year I'll see some practical use out of what I've learned.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Using an Original Xbox Controller with a Computer

    Most people know that the wired controllers for the Xbox 360 can simply be plugged into a computer and used to play games, but the original Xbox controller can do the same with a little work. I've known for years (since I first researched Xbox modding and installed XBMC) that my old non-360 Xbox controllers were using USB, but Microsoft had changed the plugs on the ends.
    I knew that by cutting off the plug at the end of the breakout cable and replacing it with the end of a USB cable the controller could be used on a computer, with an appropriate driver, but this would make the controller unusable on the Xbox. It wasn't until recently that I decided to do this myself and found out that you don't have to give up an Xbox controller to get a PC gamepad. By soldering the USB plug to the controller cable you can make a controller that works with a computer and still works on the Xbox.

Essential ActionScript

    Admiral Gobi was made without using the expensive Flash CS, but instead written directly in ActionScript 3. Most hobbie/independent developers who create Flash games outside of the designer-oriented Flash IDE seem to do so in the free and open source FlashDevelop, which is Windows-only. Since I run Linux, I instead used the lightweight Geany editor to do my coding.

Admiral Gobi: 1st Flash Game

My first Flash game to get completed is called Admiral Gobi. It's something of a tribute to my cousin, who is currently fascinated by the Napoleonic era. The Golden Age of Piracy was a bit earlier, but pirates are more entertaining than short Corsicans.

Play Admiral Gobi