Friday, April 18, 2014 - 08:00New Product Friday: Just in Case...
We’re back with another round of products for your Friday. This week was have an assortment of different products as well as some demos.
We also did a demo for our new FadeCandy.
That concludes the video portion of our program; let’s take a closer look at our new products.
We have a bunch of new enclosures for all your goodies this week. Chances are, if you have a board that needs a case, we’ve got what you need. All of these cases are made by the same company that makes the Pi Tin for the Raspberry Pi. They are simple economical cases that give you access to all the inputs and outputs, and don’t require tools to put them together. We have them for the Raspberry Pi Camera Module (in both clear and black), the PiFace (in just clear), the Beaglebone Black (clear and black), the Arduino Yun (clear and black), and the Arduino Uno (clear and black). They are very well thought-out cases with a lot of little features. The price is great too.
We have a few more new products from Adafruit this week as well. The FadeCandy is an easy way to control NeoPixel LEDs or any of the WS2811/12 variants. Eight outputs line the bottom of the FadeCandy to provide you with a way to support up to 512 LEDs total, assigned to each output in eight strips of 64 LEDs each.
This is the half-sized Raspberry Pi Perma-Proto Breadboard from Adafruit, a simple solder-able-type bare PCB kit that affords you with the luxury of soldering in your own custom prototype with GPIO connection capabilities to a Raspberry Pi. It comes with a shrouded GPIO header and has power rails and two separate prototyping areas.
Also for your Pi, this card adapter plugs into the SD socket on a Raspberry Pi and lets you use microSD cards without them sticking out. The adapter is only about 5.5mm thick and can easily fit into most cases that could surround a RPi without needing to remove the case.
We now have the BMP180 in retail packaging. This was the replacement to the popular BMP085 pressure sensor. The BMP180 offers a pressure measuring range of 300 to 1100 hPa with an accuracy down to 0.02 hPa in advanced resolution mode.
In addition to the products listed above, we also have some new products in our sale category. Be sure to check the category periodically for new additions. You can find some good deals in there from time to time.
As always, thanks for reading, watching, and giving us suggestions of new products to carry. We’ll be back again next week with more new products. See you then!
Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 08:00AVC 2014 Course Preview
Have you ever wanted to spend six months toiling over a workbench creating a robotic masterpiece only to see it explode in a ball of flames five seconds after you turn it on the day of the race? We’ve got the perfect competition for you: the SparkFun AVC! The Autonomous Vehicle Competition lets you put your autonomous vehicle through the paces with a separate ground and aerial course. The competition happens June 21st at the Boulder Reservoir. Check out the AVC site to learn more. We returned to the battlefield this week to shoot a short video detailing the course changes for this year.
As we’ve mentioned in previous AVC posts, the course will remain pretty much the same as it did last year, with a few minor tweaks. For ground, we’re adding a line (for line followers) to make it easier to enter the Micro/PBR class, which has size and cost restrictions. For the aerial entrants, we’re adding three red balloons of death that can be either obstacles or an opportunity for more points. For the full rundown of the rules, click here. Also, it might be a good idea to re-watch the course preview video from last year.
We’ve also added a bit more information regarding the obstacles you’ll encounter. We now have the paint colors for all the obstacles, as well as a link so you can purchase your very own balloons for practicing. Be sure to check out all the information provided, including GPS waypoints.
You have until May 21st to register, so head on over to the AVC site to register, read up on the rules, or check out videos or pictures from previous competitions. For anyone already registered, you have until May 21st to send us a “proof of concept.” At the end of this month, we will send out a reminder with more details. Also, the AVC is free to come and watch. So bring the friends - we’re covering the entrance fee for the reservoir for that day. See you then!
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 17:55New Tutorials To Get Your Learn On!
If you haven’t been over to our education site in a while - well, you’re missing out! Our Department of Education has been hard at work on new workshops, resources and more. We’ve also revamped our entire tutorial system to make it more user friendly and easier to find the topic you are interested in. Today, we want to draw your attention to a few new tutorials that are worth checking out!
The first is for all you weather nerds out there (and we have more than a few in the building here at SFE). In this tutorial written by our fearless leader/CEO Nate, you’ll learn how to create a weather station that connects wirelessly to Wunderground.
Next we have a teardown of the Misfit Shine. The Misfit Shine is one of those new-fangled activity trackers. In this tutorial from Creative Technologist Nick Poole, we get into the guts of the Shine to see what makes it tick!
There are only three examples of the dozens of new tutorials we’ve added in the recent months. Check out the tutorial page to find something that piques your interest!
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 18:09Engineering Roundtable - Interactive Hanging LED Array
In today’s episode of “Engineering Roundtable,” SparkFun Creative Technologist Nick Poole is here with his Interactive Hanging Lightbulb Array. This project started as the brainchild of Nick and our videographer Gregg and grew into an impressive art installation that is housed in our main conference room. Check out the video:
Nick also wrote a tutorial about his project so you can build one in your workshop, garage, dormroom or wherever an extra-heavy dose of geeky flair is just what the doctor ordered.
As always, feel free to leave any questions you might have in the comments section below. Thanks for watching!
Monday, April 14, 2014 - 16:35April Caption Contest Winner
Last week, we posted our monthly caption contest and you responded with great aplomb. Unfortunately, there can only be one winner, and today we have just that. So without further ado, here is this month’s winner:
You’ll notice, our new model is black, with a yellow border.
Congrats Member #543343! We love a good bit of topical humor. We’ll be in contact shortly with your prize ($100 in SparkFun credit).
We’ll be back soon with another contest!
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 17:22New Product Friday: Chomping at the BITalino
It’s Friday once again, so we have a few new products to talk about. Nick even joins us again to demo one of the new products. Be sure to check out the video.
If you want to know more about MPPT, check out the section of the tutorial here. You can learn more about what it is, what it does and why you want it for a solar charger.
The Sunny Buddy Solar Charger is the perfect charger for your next solar-powered project. This MPPT solar charger provide you with the ability to get the most possible power out of your solar panel or other photovoltaic device and into a rechargable LiPo battery. Set-up is easy as well, just plug your solar panel into one side of the Sunny Buddy and your battery into the other and you are good to start charging!
If you want to get into some bio-medical projects, you might be interested in the new BITalino Biomedical Development Kit. The main board has several sensors (including EMG, EDA, ECG) and comes with a battery, cables, and electrodes you need to get started. The board can be broken apart, rewired and the sensors used remotely. All communication is done over Bluetooth and example code is provided to get you going.
Does the pigment above look black to you? It’s more of a dark grey. We got a shipment of our thermochromatic pigment some of the bags weren’t quite the colors we were expecting. The black was more of a dark grey, and the red was more of a pale pinkish red. We have both the ‘pink’ and ‘grey’ pigments on sale. They still work as thermochromatic pigments, it’s just that the base colors are a bit less saturated than normal.
This concludes another Friday New Product Post. Thanks for watching and reading. We’ll be back next week with more new products. For anyone wanting a new enclosure for one of their development boards, you might want to check back. See you then!
Thursday, April 10, 2014 - 08:00Enginursday: The Hormes Robot Platform
For those of you who have been living under a rock and weren’t aware, we really love robots around here. Flying robots, cute robots, ingeniously engineered robots and generally chill robots are always guaranteed to catch our eye. With this year’s AVC quickly approaching (and with it being National Robotics Week), I wanted to do a shout-out to an awesome customer project with a wickedly tough-looking robot.
Meet the Hormes Robot
The Hormes robot was created by Charles and Richard Raitt, who have both participated numerous times in the FIRST robotics competition. Both brothers bring their area of expertise to the robot design process, with Richard working on the mechanical design and Charles working with the electrical systems. Beside the joy of just having a beastly, 56-pound robot, they decided that they wanted something where they “can hand the controls to someone at a Maker Faire and not worry about it getting broken. No promises about anyone’s shins though…”
The original idea was drafted up in SketchUp before they began building.
A mid-project picture of the working drawing
With the design mostly worked out, it was material gathering time. Most of the chassis was bought from brick and mortar hardware stores. A stock 1/8" steel plate was cut and drilled on a press to create custom corner brackets. However, the ½-inch trade conduit (which is actually 5/8-inch ID) used in the roll frame was actually gathered as scrap practice bends from a local vocational school. This brings up a great point - where do you collect scrap materials for your projects? Let us know in the comments!
T Joint showing the frame connections
Richard then counterbored the steel axle slug inside the joints to accept an Allen bolt. A 2-inch long slug of the steel axle holds the front and back sections of the rollcage together, and barbed “tube connector nuts” hold the crossbar on and the rollcage to the frame. Richard also coped the crossbar ends to create a friction fit. This design is solid enough to even support Richard standing on it!
One of my favorite features of this robot is the use of the dual-sprocket on the gearbox shaft to drive the wheels. Not only is it a slick-looking design, but this design also allows a higher clearance on the robot. The interwheel space is clear of chains, allowing Hormes to tackle larger obstacles.
Snazzy dual sprocket connection for the #35 roller chain
After getting the chassis together, the first integration of the electronics with the mechanical build came together beautifully, just in time for Christmas. This was the first functioning version of the robot, though it wasn’t weather-proof or safe from the mud (no one wants their robot’s insides looking like this after a test drive).
First iteration of the Hormes robot
Two TALON SR motor controllers drive the two CIM brushed DC motors. The system is powered off of a sealed lead acid battery at 12V, 10Ah, running through a power distribution board. Each motor connects to its own 30A auto resetting breaker.
The brains of the Hormes are actually surprisingly simple. Charles used an Arduino Uno R3, a USB Host Shield, a PC USB Xbox360 wireless controller, and a SEEED Studio Protoshield. The proto shield has two red indicator LEDs on it. An XBox360 wireless controller functions as the driving remote. You can check out the code on the Arduino here.
Interior of Control Box
A heavy duty tool box functions as the housing for the control system, protecting the electronics from the elements and creating a solid mounting system. Not pictured above is the USB Xbox receiver, as it had broken.
While the robot itself is fantastic, I also appreciate the origin of the name. According to the brothers, “Hormes” is the Greek spirit of “putting oneself into action.” Being no strangers to the project cycle, Richard says “I’ve started so many projects, and I swear I am going to finish this one.” Perhaps my naming convention for projects has been my problem with finishing them all…
The Raitt brothers showed off Hormes at the FRC NASA/VCU Regional event in Richmond recently. They also plan to attend the Hampton Roads Mini Maker Faire in October. You can also find out more information about their robot here. We wish them the best of luck with the Hormes robot, and hope this has inspired you AVC contenders with some additional robot ideas!
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 21:17Heartbleed
Heartbleed, or CVE-2014-0160, is a pretty serious vulnerability in OpenSSL, one of the more popular libraries for encrypting communications on the internet, and its exposure this week has the internet on high alert.
You can read about the details behind the bug at Heartbleed.com, but here’s how it works in a nutshell: a couple years ago OpenSSL got a “heartbeat” feature which allows computers and servers with secure connections to each other to “ping” each other regularly to keep the secure connection open. A bug in the heartbeat feature allowed for computers without secure connections to still get a response this way, and that response could be exploited to include chunks of data from the server’s RAM, which could include all sorts of recently-decrypted stuff like passwords.
What We Are Responsible For
As soon as the vulnerability was exposed to the greater internet on April 7th we sprang into action along with the administrators of sites great and small, worldwide. It’s our responsibility to first patch all SSL libraries on all servers (to “stop the bleeding” as it were). Next we revoke and reissue all SSL certificates as the private keys may have been compromised. With some pressure on our certificate authority we’ve got fresh certs inbound and as soon as those are in place, likely sometime this afternoon, we’ll dump all sessions on SparkFun.com as those are also at risk of having been compromised.
This means every SparkFun customer will be logged out and any customers who have built a cart without signing in will lose that cart. However from that point on when you sign in to SparkFun.com you’ll be doing so over SSL using a new certificate where there’s no risk of the private keys having been leaked. But there’s still more to be done…
What YOU Are Responsible For
First of all, don’t log into any websites until you know they’re patched against this bug. Most major websites have already responded, and the patch isn’t very complicated so there’s no excuse not to respond. There’s a utility here that can help you determine if a given website has taken some of the necessary steps for protection.
Secondly, it’s about time to reset all of your passwords. Seriously. This vulnerability existed for the better part of two years and was only just exposed on Monday. If your account credentials somewhere were slurped up using this exploit at some time in that past and yesterday that site patched against Heartbleed those attackers still have your credentials. Change your password, and also consider setting up two-factor authentication for any sites or services that offer it.
What Happens Now?
This story has a lot of interesting angles. It’s arguably one of the biggest security vulnerabilities in the entire history of the internet. It’s technical but not terribly so, so I’m curious to see how it is covered in the main-stream media.
In the netsec community Heartbleed is already the highlight of the year. Flurries of discussions on various fora are churning right now on how this happened, how to react, what the long-term impacts are, etc. A family member who works as a penetration tester (someone who’s paid to steal your data and tell you how it was done) summarized the reaction from the offensive side of the network security community thusly.
The Business Side
Another angle worth mentioning is the certificate authorities, or CAs. SSL certificates can be generated for free using open source tools, but when done so they are “self-signed.” The entire SSL model relies on certificates to verify a website is who they say they are, and a self-signed certificate (while functional) doesn’t provide any confidence in that. This is why browsers warn you when a cert is self-signed. Certificate authorities are companies like Verisign and Comodo that build a business on confirming people are who they say they are and then signing their certificates. This can be expensive depending on how iron-clad you want that certification to be. At SparkFun we pop for the Extended Verification, or EV certificates which can require months of investigation on the CA’s behalf to confirm who SparkFun really is.
The curious thing about this vulnerability is that it requires an estimated 60-70% of all certificate holding websites across the internet to revoke+reissue or renew their SSL certificates. Revoke+reissue is free with our CA but renewal isn’t. If any sites unaware of their ability to revoke+reissue, or if a CA charges for that service, this could be a huge pay day for the CAs. That raises ethical questions about where their incentives lie… does it make good business sense for Comodo or Verisign to quietly encourage similar vulnerabilities in the future? Is a system like that ultimately sustainable? In fairness it’s also potentially a burden on the CAs as their volume for issuing certs has skyrocketed overnight. Time will tell how they react in the wake of Heartbleed.
The Open Source Side
We harp a lot about the virtues of open source here. This vulnerability, having appeared in an open source SSL library (OpenSSL) allowed for the netsec community to provide line-by-line diagnoses of the flaw within hours of its general exposure. Furthermore, open source is not about things being open now but things being open over time, so it’s been possible to peer deep into OpenSSL’s history to see how the flaw was introduced and evolved over time.
I’ve seen some chatter already about how this was the net effect of poor programming from an amateur open source development team. The quality of the programming (and arguably the review process) and the open source nature of the library are two completely different aspects that should not be conflated, however. A proprietary SSL library developed behind closed doors could have easily introduced the same flaws. The open source nature of the library may have made it easier for attackers to craft exploits against the heartbeat feature, but it’s likely that a similar feature+flaw in a proprietary library would have been compromised the same way. The internet’s most skilled and nefarious are never slowed down much by working with compiled binaries as opposed to source, and security through obscurity is widely stigmatized for good reason.
Ultimately the open source nature of the library that introduced the flaw has vastly aided the community in assessing the damages inflicted and mount a swift response. Regardless, the pessimist in me still expects to see “open source” taking some undue blame for this fiasco.
So that’s Heartbleed in a nutshell from SparkFun’s perspective. I’ll close with a reminder to protect yourself. Use strong passwords that don’t repeat, pay attention when your browser is warning you about an insecure website, and use 2-factor authentication wherever you can. Stay safe and have fun. =)
UPDATE: 2014-04-09 15:00 MST
We’ve received and installed our reissued certificates, so we’ve dropped all browser sessions as an extra precautionary measure.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 16:52Join Us at USASEF in D.C.
In just a few weeks, we’ll be heading east to attend the United States Science & Engineering Festival (a.k.a. USASEF). USASEF is the largest STEM education event in the country and we are very excited.
This is a reminder that we are hosting a few events that are free to anyone attending the pre-USASEF educator workshop. We would love for you to join us!
The first event is Drag and Drop Programming for Robotics, taking place on Thursday, April 24th from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.. During this workshop we’ll be using ArduBlocks, which is very similar to Scratch, to explore the six most important concepts for beginning roboticists. What are the six most important concepts? Join us to find out!
The second event will be Arduino Basics on April 24th from 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.. We’ll discuss introductory Arduino concepts and show you how you can use Arduino in your classroom.
Lastly, we are hosting a Robotics Hangout in partnership with Ten80 Education on Friday, April 25th, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.. This will be a more laid-back event where we can discuss robotics, do some hands-on electronics projects and talk shop.
Finally on Saturday and Sunday (the 26th and 27th), we’ll be in the RobotFest section soldering away and doing occasional workshops. We’ll be set up next to our buddies from Parallax. Come by try your hand at some beginner soldering. We’ll also be putting on workshops about Pico and Scratch at 9:30 AM to 11:00 AM both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday in the afternoon you can learn how to sew e-textiles with some of our e-textile specialists at 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM. Sunday from 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM we’ll be helping people learn how to reprogram their Simons.
We hope you can join us at one (or all) of these events!
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 21:04Reminder: SparkFun Live - Temperature Sensing Lunchbox
Don’t forget - today starting at 3 p.m. MT, we are airing the latest episode of “SparkFun Live!” In today’s episode, Evan will build his temperature sensing lunchbox. Here is the preview video for more info on his build:
If you didn’t get your parts, don’t worry - we’ll be archiving the episode so you can watch and build along at a later date. If you want to tune in today, here is the stream:
We’ll be getting started in just a couple hours - hope you can join us!
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 18:02April Caption Contest
It’s time again for your monthly caption contest! The rules are simple:
- Leave your funniest clean caption in the comments section below. We reserve the right to delete captions that we deem inappropriate. We’re not too stingy, but try to keep it moderately PG-13.
- Captions submitted any other way besides in the comment section will not be accepted. That means do not use the feedback form!
- Captions will be accepted from the moment this post goes live until Friday, April 11th at 10 a.m. Mountain Time.
- Please only one caption per person. Please!
- A crack team of humor experts will pick the winner and we will announce it next week.
Here is today’s photo:
The winner will receive $100 in SparkFun credit! Submit your captions below! Good luck!
Monday, April 7, 2014 - 17:44Join Us at Mini Maker Faire Denver
Denver’s first-ever Maker Faire will take place on May 3rd & 4th, 2014 at the National Western Complex - and SparkFun will be there! We’ll be teaching beginning soldering at our world famous-ish soldering booth - we hope you can join us!
Our soldering booth in action.
As a friend of Sparkfun, you can get $1.00 off all tickets by using the promo code “Sparkfun” when you check out! You’ll be amazed by a wide range of interactive makers such as sculpture games, a sound puddle, robotics, rockets, blacksmithing, a fire breathing dragon and more! Check out the Denver Maker Faire page to learn more and purchase tickets!
We hope we’ll see you there!
Friday, April 4, 2014 - 08:00New Product Friday: High Five For Wi-Fi
Products, products, and more products. That’s what Fridays are all about here at SparkFun. We have a few new things this week. Check out the video and hear our engineer Shawn explain the new CC3000 shield and breakout board.
I’m not kidding here: $50k for the first person to figure out how to harvest Shawn’s energy. I think the secret might be in his bow-tie. More research is necessary.
The CC300 is a handy little WiFi module from TI. This week, we are selling the bare module and a breakout board, as well as a shield. Pick your flavor. The module allows you to connect your project to a wireless network. It even has a clever little setup routine that enables you to configure the module for your network using your phone. So when you move the project from network to network, you don’t have to go in and reprogram the sketch. Nifty.
Looking for a bunch of sensors, but don’t want to throw down for the full sensor kit? Check out the new essential sensor kit. This kit includes a lot of our most popular sensors including a flex sensor, tilt sensor, hall effect sensor, force sensitive resistor, photocell, and more! It’s a great deal for beginners or anyone that just wants to start playing around with how microcontrollers interact with hardware.
We’ve been using double-sided foam tape for years to stick PCBs to enclosures. It works well, but sometimes you need something more, uh, industrial. Check out the foam PCB tape. This stuff is industrial grade foam tape for sticking things to other things. The ‘VHB’ stands for ‘very high bond’ (no, there’s not going to be a new 007 movie filmed in Denver). The tape is 1" wide and you get about a yard in length. Check the video above and you can see how strong it is.
People have been asking for us to carry the exact transistor that comes with the SIK. Sure. Here you go.
Lastly, there’s a new Beaglebone Black out this week. This isn’t shipping yet, we only have it for pre-order. This one is the ‘Rev C’ which is identical in every way, but has 4GB of onboard flash memory (instead of 2GB) and is $10 more. Keep in mind that Beaglebone plans to fill backorders on the ‘Rev B’ before the new ‘C’ starts shipping.
That’s it for this week everyone. Thanks for watching, reading, and buying stuff. We’ll be back again next week with more new products, tutorials, and other things you might enjoy. See you then!
Thursday, April 3, 2014 - 17:16Enginursday: Introducing the MicroView!
I’d like to use my Enginursday post to chat about a new project our SparkFun team is working really hard on these days – something I’m super-excited about – the MicroView!
The MicroView, like many a brilliant product, began as a prank. When teaching Arduino classes, Marcus was frustrated by the disconnect between what’s going on inside the Arduino and the limited outputs a student can actually visualize. Aside from staring at hypnotizing, scrolling lines of the serial monitor text, there’s really no easy solution to show the data in your Arduino. To first combat this, they came up with the Magpie – an Arduino-compatible board with LEDs on every output – but Marcus asked JP if he knew of an even better solution. To which JP responded with:
*OLEDuino not actually a thing.
A completely fabricated, photoshopped image of a chip with a built-in OLED display. JP got Marcus hook, line and sinker, and Marcus instantly wanted it! When finding out that he couldn’t purchase this awesome new product, Marcus, not to be let down by JP’s prank, convinced his team to make the MicroView a reality.
The Geek Ammo team has put the MicroView up on Kickstarter, and we’ve been working with them along the way, helping where we can with PCB design, part sourcing, manufacturing, and eventually reward fulfillment (this ain’t our first Kickstater rodeo). Check out their Kickstarter video!
What’s awesome about the MicroView is its utility for electronics beginners and experts alike. For beginners, the MicroView is one of the easiest-to-use Arduino platforms available – it’s perfect for anyone looking for an education in electronics, programming, or Arduino. The integrated display really helps to visualize what the microcontroller is doing (you might say it gives you a view into the microcontroller). The MicroView will even ship with built-in tutorials to help folks get started; and the Geek Ammo team has built a set of cross-platform, interactive tutorials that teach you how to create 11 different circuits.
The MicroView is also great for experienced electronics users. It uses an ATmega328P chip – just like the Arduino Uno – and runs at 5V/16MHz. It breaks out a dozen I/O pins, including six analog inputs (A0-A5) and 3 PWM outputs.
The projected pinout of the MicroView.
I’m personally excited about it because, by using it as a testing and rapid prototyping platform, it’s going to make my job easier. It’ll be especially awesome for testing out motion sensors, GPS modules, wearables, or anything that requires mobility. I’ve already built up a jig to use it to test our new LSM9DS0 9DoF Breakouts:
And, of course, the MicroView should have a bright future as the center-piece of finished projects. Smart watches, geo-cache sniffers, mobile breathalyzers…you name a project, I’m sure we’ll see the MicroView integrated into it soon.
Right now we’re in a prototyping stage with the MicroView. We’ve got some functional boards and enclosures, and (not to brag or anything) I’ve been lucky enough to get to start
playing with themtesting them out. They’re awesome! If you want to get in early on the action, go back it now on Kickstarter!
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 18:42Engineering Roundtable - ELastoLite Captain America Shield
For this edition of Engineering Roundtable, Creative Technologist Nick Poole shows us how to make your own Captain America shield in time for the “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” movie release this Friday.
Nick decided to take his shield to the next level and incorporate some of our ELastoLite panels so the star will light up. Check it out!
If you want to make your own shield, Nick has created a wishlist of parts here, and if you have questions, suggestions or your own ELastoLite project to share, let us know in the comments!
Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 17:43April Fool's Prank Contest Winners!
It’s April Fool’s Day! Today we’re not going to try to convince you Pete built a time machine or sell you a magic blue smoke refilling kit. Rather, today is the day we announce the winners of the SparkFun April Fool’s Day Prank Contest! If you missed the announcement - here are the general rules:
We received a lot of great entries for this contest - honestly, more than we expected. Sadly, we had to narrow the entries down to three winners. So without further ado, here are your winners (in order from third place to first place).
The third-place entry comes to you from SparkFun customer Eric Townsend. He built an “Arduino Scream Generator” and used it to scare the beejeezus out of some hapless victim. Congratulations Eric - you’ve won $100 in SparkFun bucks. We’ll be emailing you shortly with your prize!
The second-place entry and winner of $200 in SparkFun credit comes via SFE customer Rhett Pimentel. It’s appropriately named “Too Much Toilet Paper.” While we can’t see this project actually in action (cameras and bathrooms are generally a no-no), we love the idea behind it! Congrats Rhett!
And finally we have your winner! 11-year-old Riley used a linear actuator from an old printer, rubber bands, popsicle sticks, a clothespin, and the electronics from an annoying greeting card to build this candy vending machine with a surprise ending. Congratulations Riley - you’re the winner of $300 in SparkFun bucks!
Thank you to everyone who submitted - check your email for a special April Fool’s treat from us! If you recall, we will also select one project from the original announcement’s comments and build it. We’ll start sorting through those comments and build the project and let you know the winner in the coming weeks! Cheers and happy pranking!
Monday, March 31, 2014 - 21:33In Which We Are Not Having Fun
As you might know, we had a pretty good sale on a bunch Arduino products on Saturday.
Well, it turns out it may have been too good. We smashed our previous record for orders in a day, set on last year’s Cyber Monday. Back then the high water mark was around 4,000 orders, and on Saturday we saw almost 8,000 orders flood into the system.
It’s also worth noting that we’ve made some pretty big changes to our database in the past few months - most notably moving from MySQL to PostgreSQL.
The issue we’re seeing today has to do with how we know how much of a given product is available. Availability of a product is a loose term and has to take into account how many physical units of that product we have but also how much of those units are spoken for on active orders. Active is also a pretty loose term for an order that hasn’t shipped. All of these terms are necessarily loose to accommodate all of the edge cases common to volumes we regularly see.
We were pumped about the move to PostgreSQL for many features afforded, but primarily materialized views. Building such things to keep track of available stock values really sped things up!
Until this weekend. Apparently having an order of magnitude more active orders in the system makes refreshes on our materialized view for stock take a long time, and this has led to timeouts with heavily diversified orders. So far today it’s been a long haul of optimization attempts to make things hum along normally again. We’re still hammering away. It’s a technical problem in a big system, so there’s no such thing as a quick fix.
As we continue to work on this sparkfun.com will continue to have spotty down-time. We’re trying our best to minimize this while fixing the problem at hand, so thanks for being patient.
A missing index and some other optimizations have sped things up some. We’re back to everything functioning again, but we’re watching things very closely.
Also, to be more precise about the issue that plagued us: Like most of our back-end systems our warehouse system (called The Flow) was where the problem started. With so many new orders in the system the most important thing was to be able to ship them, and it’s a complex thing to have thousands of orders with intersecting items that can be meted out to pickers and packers roughly in the order they were placed but only if they are paid (unless they’re paying on credit terms) and only if their items are in stock enough that other orders aren’t claiming that same stock. It’s a fun problem that begets a lot of run-on sentences. There’s a massive query in that system to get orders based on even more special picking criteria and that query was locking up, causing refreshes on the materialized view to stall, causing further timeouts down the chain.
Were we just the users and not the builders of this system the problem might have never happened. Or it might have happened and been impossible to fix without a paid support contract. Impossible to say. Either way, spending the day fighting this has not earned ire from the rest of the SparkFun crew that was left waiting for the breakage to subside. Patience was what we received, along with coffee, liquor, and Easter Candy (in that order). For that we are grateful. =)
And now Tim brought us a keg of Easy Street for our efforts. Maybe we should unintentionally break things more often…
Monday, March 31, 2014 - 08:00Hacker-in-Residence: Interactive Garments
Happy Monday friends – it’s time to welcome a new hacker to our ranks! Say hello to Matt Pinner.
Hello, Matt Pinner!
Matt is here for three weeks and has already been hard at work in our Engineering department. Let’s learn more about Matt.
Can you share your background, interests, and some favorite past projects? What and where is your current position?
I create environments where people get to play, interact, and ultimately learn.
I’ve been all over the world and got into computers with the dream of working from the top of a mountain. It turns out I enjoy interaction and collaboration too much for that. I’ve been engrossed in several startups because I enjoy working hard as part of a small, passionate teams. My skill in application scalability, performance optimization, and security grew into a love of hardware and distributed systems.
Specializing in wearable computing and mobile devices has allowed me to have really nerdy conversations in traditionally boring places: street corners, nightclubs, and in line at the market. I love Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM), and find it especially rewarding to open people’s minds to the possibilities they can create with even a minimal grasp of technology. I’ve experimented with adding sensors, batteries, and lighting to every part of the body in a effort to understand how calling attention to our parts can affect how we move.
Most recently I’ve been 3D-printing LED buttons for use in my garments. They can be sequenced to express the theme of an event, coordinate with others, or be reactive to their surroundings. Through sensing ambient conditions, other people’s presence, and the emotional state of the wearer, a garment can more gracefully integrate the wearer into their surroundings. Subtlety is the name of the game and I’m continually striving to integrate people with technology, not distract or withdraw them with it.
CrashSpace, a Hackerspace in Los Angeles, has been my home and studio for over 4 years. I made everyone’s favorite soldering unicorn and our mascot, Sparkles. It has been a joy to share her with the world and a valuable tool around the shop. You can build your own Sparkles here!
Sparkles herself, courtesy of CrashSpace
I made an internet-connected Little Free Library as an experiment in generative art and public interactivity. It is still the most sophisticated we’ve seen. Not only does it look like miniature version of our space, but tracks deposits and withdrawals while lighting momentarily to aid in book selection. On our busy street it has shared tens of thousands of books:
The CrashLibrary in action
The Sparkle Stick
How and why did you get involved in SparkFun’s Hacker-in-Residence program? Why do you think programs like this are valuable?
I’m at SparkFun to build along side the geniuses behind the materials that have been the center of, and inspiration for, many delightful creations. I have a few beginner projects of my own I’d love to see become a kit or breakout board for others to use.
Investing time with SparkFun’s vast offer of sensors on the body will better enable me to design wearables for everyday use that bond people without distracting them. I hope my process and project can provide valuable insight for the Sparklers (can I call them that?) to better support all of us.
Almost every two weeks I’d been hosting a different class/workshop. SparkFun has been an amazing alley for pulling together the materials for my workshops. I continually improve the curriculum and diversify the topics I’m able to explain. Having firsthand knowledge from SparkFun and sharing what I’ve learned from teaching workshops can be instrumental in easing the learning process for others.
What is the project you’ll be working on at SparkFun, and how long will you be here? Why did you choose this project?
I’ll build a jacket over my three-week stay. Into this garment I’ll build a interactive system that will sense the wearer and surrounding environment.
Spaces have a life of their own. We can expose this through realtime data collection and visualization throughout the course of an event by unleashing coordinated mobile nodes (wearables and accessories) within an environment.
I want to use sound as a way to localize people within a space and create a platform for collaborative gaming. I’m analyzing the variety of embeddable microphones and preamps offered for use in the widest range of accessories and environments. I’ll proceed to build a system into this jacket that will react to the environment and wearer while providing data for further development of smaller pieces to coordinate the player.
What is your superpower and snack of choice?
Super? Thank you. Aren’t we all.
My superpower is the ability to sleep; not in the narcoleptic sense, but I have always been a deep sleeper. I oft use a quick nap to prepare for a long night or a long night of sleep to prepare for a busy day.
My other superpower would have to be the ability to break anything. This makes me particularity well suited to deliver a robust system because if it’ll work for me, you cannot break it.
I hope you find your superpower(s) and use it for good.
Snacks!?! Yes please! Do I have to pick just one? I love avocados, spinach, guacamole, Teensies, fruits, and DARK CHOCOLATE!
Thanks Matt, we can’t wait to see how your jacket turns out!
Saturday, March 29, 2014 - 07:00Happy Arduino Day!
EDIT: 3/30/2014 Midnight - Arduino Day is over! If you placed a backorder on March 29th then don’t worry about settling your balance right away. We’ll get in touch with you when payment is due! Also, if you contacted Customer Service before the Arduino Day sale ended please be patient and we’ll respond as soon as possible.
It’s worldwide “Arduino Day” - celebrating Arduino’s 10th birthday! Arduino has been a key player in the DIY movement and has been instrumental in 100s of our projects. To be it succinctly - we’re fans.
So March 29th we are offering the following boards at a discount price. These discounts run March 29th, 2014, from 12:00:01 a.m. - 11:59:59 p.m. Mountain Time. There is a limit of two units for each product (per order) and back-orders are allowed.
EDIT: 3/29/2014 3:45am (Mountain Time) - We’ve identified the backorder malfunction and enacted a work-around. Products are back-order-able again! Thank you for bearing with us.
Distributors - these prices don’t apply to you, but we have a special discount for you (we emailed you a list of your items).
So on March 29th, here are the deals!
We hope this helps you build something amazing! Happy Birthday, Arduino!
3/29/2014 5:15am (Mountain Time) - edited to add:
A Note About Payment For Back-Orders - you don’t have to pay until the goods arrive and are ready to ship! See our Payments Information page for details.
If you are paying with PayPal, and your order has back-ordered items, you may not be redirected to the PayPal site. This is because we do not take payment until your order is ready to ship. Once everything is in stock, we’ll send you a money request.
3:45am (Mountain Time) - edited to add:
We’ve identified the malfunction and enacted a work-around. Products are back-order-able again. Thank you for bearing with us.
1:15am (Mountain Time) - edited to add:
We realize the malfunction with the backorder system. We apologize for the added frustration and the unhappy surprise. Thank you for your patience.
Friday, March 28, 2014 - 17:00New Product Friday: There is no Spoon
We’re back, as always, with more new products for you. This week we just have a few, but one of them is mind control, so we’ve got that going for us. Be sure to check the video.
This really is the future, isn’t it? Put something on your head, load an app on your phone, and see your brain waves. It’s a great time to be alive.
The Neurosky Mindwave Mobile an EEG headset that safely measures and transfers the power spectrum (alpha waves, beta waves, etc.) data via Bluetooth to wirelessly communicate with your computer, iOS or Android device. We even have a cool hacking tutorial from one of our hackers-in-residence. It’s a pretty cool way to play with brainwaves and such.
These long headers work well when you want to connect something in a breadboard. Because they’re centered (the pins on both sides of the plastic strip are of equal length), they fit into a breadboard snugly, and leave you enough pin length to connect female headers. These also work well for connecting two female headers together, like servo cables and such. They come in 40-pin strips that are easily cut or snapped to length.
We have a new version of the RFM12. The new version, the RFM12BSP is slightly different, but ultimately has the same functionality as the previous module. These are great little transceivers for sending data back and forth. They’re SMD, but can easily be used with 2mm pitch headers. They work similarly to the RFM22, which we have on a shield.
Lastly, we have another header. This is a 10-pin female SMD header with 0.1" spacing. We carry numerous other pin configurations of this, but didn’t carry a 10-pin, so why not?
That’s all I have for this week. I’ll be back again next week with more new products, and the final Robotics 101 video (Tools - Part 2). Be sure to check back then and thanks for reading and watching!