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Damn you, Arduino...I have no free time for this. (ryanwaggoner.com)
169 points by ryanwaggoner on Oct 29, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments



Ryan, I really like a lot of your posts, but some of them feel a little light for HN. This one could be summarized as "I got an Arduino, Physical products are really cool". Kind of bummed its #1 right now. Nothing personal against you, just that personality rather than content seems to be rocketing things up the page.


That's fair, and this is the thing I worry about the most with my blog. Part of the problem is that a bunch of my readers aren't technical, so I sometimes wonder how deep I should go on technical posts. As far as HN goes, I submit a lot of the stuff I write, but only because a fairly large percentage seems to find some traction here, so I guess people enjoy it. That's not necessarily proof that it's quality content, but as I've written about in the past, it's really hard for me to gauge whether I'm ultimately creating value through my writing. Popularity isn't really as useful a metric as one might think :)

Anyway, thanks for the comment, and let me know what kinds of posts of mine you've enjoyed, and what I can do to make all my posts more valuable to you.

EDIT: I should add that my recent post on finding a good IDE found little traction, despite being more in-depth and technical. Perhaps it was just a fluke though...

EDIT 2: I've updated the blog post with a more in-depth review of the Arduino and the Sparkfun kit.


As someone who grew up on Dick Smith's Fun Way Into Electronics kits [1], I love the Arduino. I can see three Arduinos on my desk as I type. I'm not so smart with electronics, but it is a lot of fun, and it's a golden age for this kind of thing.

[1] Dick Smith is a successful Aussie entrepreneur who created a chain of hobby electronics stores and sold the chain when it had (I think) 200 employees and he couldn't remember all their names, so it wasn't so much fun anymore.

When Redhead matches was bought by overseas interests, he created Dickhead matches in protest and sold them in Aussie supermarkets.

He jumped a double-decker bus over 15 motorbikes when I was a kid, parodying Evel Knievel. He was my hero.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Smith_(entrepreneur)

He recently created the Wilberforce award - "$1 million to go to a young person under 30 who can impress me by becoming famous through his or her ability to show leadership in communicating an alternative to our population and consumption growth-obsessed economy."

http://dicksmithpopulation.com/wilberforce-award/

"It has become obvious to me that my generation has over exploited our wonderful world – and it’s younger people who will pay the price."

Edit: He's also a founder and patron of the Australian Skeptics.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Skeptics

Edit 2: Picture of the bus jumping the motorcycles

http://www.dropbears.com/m/models/specials/busjump.htm


You might enjoy this nostalgic look back at the Fun Way kits: http://tronixstuff.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/australian-elect... :)


I thought this was a good post:

http://ryanwaggoner.com/2010/08/why-free-online-education-wo...

Presents an interesting case against a lot of technical Utopian ideas about tech/ed, highlighted the resistance to change in a lot of entrenched interest groups e.g. parent pressure isn't stressed nearly enough by most. It is a well thought out articulation of an interesting POV.

I really wasn't trying to be content police, just concerned that a post that essentially says "I Bought Something" was the most interesting technical news of the day ;-)


Not your fault people vote it up. It's certainly far more on topic than a lot of things that get submitted, so you can't be faulted for submitting it.


Ryan is most gracious in his response, let me be a bit less gracious.

I think his post is on topic and the tech level is actually nicely positioned to get programmers a bit more interested in 'what goes on under the hood'. The vast majority of the people here have never seen, let alone used a soldering iron. Hardware is a big step for software people, the joke goes programmers can't change lightbulbs because it is a hardware problem.

So any post that tries to lower the barrier gets my upvote.

It certainly beats the 'how do you stop sea captains from killing their passengers' that's currently #1 or your own 'analysis of 250 winning designs from threadless.com'.

Keep them coming Ryan, both the technical ones and the 'not so technical' ones.

The best way to offer criticism is to show you can do better.

Just like you're bummed out that this post got a lot of upvotes I'm bummed out that an off-topic comment like this should get more upvotes than anything that directly references the content of the article, you could have sent him an email instead.


I didn't say it was off topic, I said it was "thin". Ryan (and 40+ others) agreed, hence the edits that make it much more robust.

I agree hardware is important, but yesterday on the front page there was a story about Arduino driven video game controllers. There are regular posts about cool stuff people make with the platform. The word is out. My point was that simply saying Arduino is addicting at this point is kind of like saying "Rails is empowering" its not really "news" anymore. To his credit, Ryan added some interesting content in his edits that make it a much more useful intro for anyone who hasn't yet heard about Arduino.

Re: my Threadless post, it was an original data driven analysis of the customer behavior of a prominent user-generated content startup. You may not care, but it least it was new information presented in a visually compelling way. Heck, Cromulent's comment on this post was more data filled than Ryan's PRE-EDIT post.

Yesterday, you felt the need to publicly encourage people to keep "Offering" things, Today, I'm publicly encouraging the submission of more content rich posts.


Well, the innate coolness of physical hacking may be old news too you at the Replicator blog. :-) But vast numbers of software hackers have a secret love of hacking around with real hardware and micro-controllers, and we don't do it as much as we'd like.

Ryan's post captures this emotion perfectly. I didn't vote for it, but I'm not surprised to see it at the top of Hacker News. There's some value in capturing widely-shared emotions succinctly.


I think his point wasn't that physical products are cool, its that for us web types, they seem preternaturally cool. After a while, one just takes it for granted that bits can be shuffled around a screen. To see a bit flip and actually do something is something altogether different.

To wit: I created (and bombed) an entire startup around a very tiny telephone PBX device and the thing I'm still most jazzed about is this little robot I built for marketing it that you could call up on the phone and drive with the keypad.

Video of robot:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMZkd8YMgzw


If you still have an interest in telephony you might want to look at http://www.rowetel.com/blog/ and his work on the Mesh Potato http://www.villagetelco.org/about/mesh-potato/.

It's an open source hardware project to create an easily deployed developing world "village telephony" system.

Some really good content.


Well, this is the same guy who wrote "The Secret To Getting on the HN Front Page".


I remember reading that and wondering how many people follow it. Today, after watching yet another of my more technical submissions sink without trace, I start to wonder whether I should game the system in the ways he suggests. After all, it would demonstrate and make use of the knowledge I've gained from being here here a while, and perhaps it would give my submissions a fighting chance among yet another submission telling us China has a new supercomputer.


I think we desperately need something like subreddits so that people can self organize into groups where they create and consume information to their liking.


I'm working on something. PG hasn't yet responded to a question, so I'm reluctant to do too much work or say too much about it before then.


I've had a few random thoughts in and around this area, so if you ever want to talk about this, get in touch...

I even had a fully working prototype that I ended up losing somewhere...


Your email address has also been associatively filed. Thanks.


Awesome! If youre working in python by any chance I could write some code for it too.


I'll return to these comments and come back to you if anything comes of it.

ADDED IN EDIT: I've now associatively filed your email address as well.


There's a reason your contest (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1394751) did so well (I'd like to see some more analysis, too, nudge nudge...)

I'm not entirely certain what to think of this, either.


The "contest" is on my to-do list, from which things are slowly getting excised. The "Spikey Spheres" article was one, the 1800 dimensional optimisation is the next.


Not a fan, huh? :) I can appreciate that, but I'm curious to know what kinds of things you'd prefer to see. It doesn't look like you've submitted much to HN, so it's hard to get a sense of what kinds of content you'd like to see here.

I haven't been writing for that long, and I'm sure I suck in many ways, so rather than just complain, tell me what I can do to improve.


[deleted]


I felt like I explained that: that was a phenomenon that I noticed, and I'm not even 100% sure that was happening, as I have no way of verifying. I also don't invite my twitter followers to upvote anything; I simply tweet a link to all my blog posts when I post them. I don't tweet links to my posts on HN.


> I don't tweet links to my posts on HN.

I used to until your post :)

Now I wait a couple of hours just to make sure that that's not going to make the difference. I highly doubt people would submit those links anyway, but on the off chance that they would, I'd hate getting people banned or their votes discarded because they appeared like a voting ring.


It could also just be a slow news day - I certainly feel like there it's been pretty light on meaty articles today. Maybe I should try to track that and see if there's some tendency towards different kind of articles on a Friday due to it being the end of the week.


It's technical/mathematical rather than news, but there's this one:

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1846682


I actually read and voted up that submission, but you have to understand that the set of people who care about / understand a post like that is small. As a result, with a generalized community like HN, you're always going to fight to get attention for stuff like that, especially as HN grows. This is an excellent argument for something like subreddits, because otherwise the community just gets more and more shallow. Bugs me to think I've contributed to that :(


  > I actually read and voted up that submission,
Thank you

  > you have to understand that the set of people who
  > care about / understand a post like that is small.
I've always known this, but I find it surprising that so many HNers seem to fall into that category. I've always thought of people here as interested in pretty much anything technical, as I am, but it seems like they're not.

Which I guess is just a thing to know.

  > This is an excellent argument for something like
  > subreddits, because otherwise the community just
  > gets more and more shallow.
Or something. I see sub-reddits as being like folders, whereas I'd rather have something like tags. I'd like the chance to stumble across something out of my comfort zone but still engaging and interesting.

I've got ideas and working on something in what's laughingly called my copious free time.


Yes, lets have more of that kind of thing!


Similarly, I don’t mean to knock you or the article, but the submission title is overly vague and reminds me of Reddit-style “what is he talking about?” click-baiting. (Especially for HNers, such as I, are not sure what the Arduino is.)


Also, most people put these together with a 8085 or a PIC in high school.


Small world. I actually worked on some of the content for the Inventor's Kit guide. When you read "You want orange, you want teal, you want aubergine!" that's me. :)

Happy to receive feedback on the guide as you work through it.

I was introduced to the Arduino nearly four years ago and actually earn income now from Physical Computing related teaching, writing and project development.

Creating tangible things and escaping the world of the purely virtual is really fun. (I write as I'm surrounded by a soldering iron and a bunch of XBee related components. :) )

(I was actually planning to submit the original of the following video but DEFCON's taken them down for some reason. But...if you're interested in a security-slanted introduction to the Arduino you might be interested in this session I co-presented at DEFCON18 this year about the Arduino: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XotF9FyiAZc )

If you get the chance to play with some of this stuff, do it!

[Oh, and, that whole flashing LED buzz is an interesting phenomenon and it continues as you gain experience--except instead of signifying you've got everything installed okay it might mean your signal has reached the satellite and returned back again. :D ]


I already bought an Arduino, but now I want all this stuff from the inventor kit! Should I just buy parts as I need, or are there any other kits like this?


I'm most familiar with the SparkFun kits and I don't think all the same components are available in a separate kit without the Arduino.

Although, I would say, I don't think you can have too many Arduinos. :D

You can buy the individual components separately but sometimes the bundled price is less.

This kit still has the Arduino but might be another option with a smaller selection: http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_i...

Or if you want to go all out there's this megabundle of sensors with no Arduino: http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_i... :)

Hope that helps.


It's been brought to my attention that this post is disappointingly light on content and substance, and after some careful reflection, I agree. So I've updated the post with a more in-depth review of the Arduino and Sparkfun Inventor's Kit. This is intended largely for technical people who haven't played with electronics much, but are interested in getting started. Let me know if there's other things I can cover in the review, and I'll try to be more in-depth and judicious with my submissions in the future.


I've had other people tell me the same thing.

I've been an embedded software guy forever so it can be hard to remember how much fun it was to blink an LED, but the excitement on the faces of experienced (non-embedded) SW people when they blink that first LED, or move a servo motor or whatever is palpable. There's a reason I never moved onto the desktop or server world: this stuff is addictive :-)


You can replicate this delightful experience with:

  *A normal breadboard and circuit components

  *Matlab with DAQ Toolbox included (not all versions have this toolbox)

  *An analog to digital converter, such as a National Instruments USB-6008


I work for SparkFun and feel the same way: there is simply never enough time for projects :) I was just talking to marketing to see if I could get a HN discount code if anyone wants to play with an Arduino for the first time. If you're interested shoot me an email and I'll see if I can convince them; dave@sparkfun.com


What Arduino kit would you recommend for a "competent" beginner? Is the linked kit a good option? Better options? Thanks in advance.


The inventor's kit is really great if you are getting started or re-started. If you've got a specific project in mind you want to work on, I'd highly recommend any of the Arduino "shields" that match your project. We (and others) have them with GPS, LCDs, an Ethernet stack, GSM modules, wifi -- you name it. It keeps the simplicity of the Arduino platform, but lets you play with more advanced stuff.


For anyone in the Bay Area that wants to play around with an Arduino, Mitch Altman runs fairly regular workshops (every few months) at Noisebridge up in San Francisco. (https://www.noisebridge.net/wiki/Noisebridge)


There is an opportunity for a side-business here. I cannot download really big files, so I buy my linux distros on DVDs. I wasn't able to find anyone selling Arduino, when I asked on a Arduino forum a nice person mailed me a copy, but I think someone with a fast connection and a web site could make a few dollars extra downloading and packaging open source software for people who can't download their own. I doubt that there is enough demand for this to be a main source of income, but the marginal costs if you already have a way of taking credit cards and the fast connection should be minimal.


I can reccommend http://hackaday.com for DIY-hardware based fun. Ryan is right, the purchase of an arduino will spell the end of what little free time HN users have left :)


hi everyone - use the code HACKERNEWS on adafruit.com and you'll get 10% all our arduino products and our kits. this expires on sunday so buy quickly, we usually do not discount arduinos :)


Do you ever plan on carrying the Netduino?


There's something great about making something that affects the physical world, isn't there? I've written programs that manage billions of dollars and websites that support millions of users, yet I still get a thrill out of simple stuff like wiring an outlet or building a shelf.


Arduinos are a ton of fun, myself and a couple other startup/web dev/hackers I know have gotten into them recently.

Warning: Shameless plug ahead

http://blog.tomgraft.com/tag/arduino/


I took a contest at my school to make a gps-waypoint-driven (rc)car.

Was really interesting interfacing the arduino with an h-bridge for motor control, GPS module, and servo.

These are powerful little devices.

The small bit of documentation I attempted is here: http://arduino-car.blogspot.com/


Thrilled that this is #1 for now. HN "Hackers" need to realize that the physical world exists beyond the console.


Sure, we do, but it's so pleasant to live in a space where you can do so much without having to go out and buy things or otherwise wait on the physical world. It's nice to work and learn on your own time at your own pace.


This is pretty cool, it seems just like the Lego Mindstorms[1] set I had as a kid, but without the rounded edges and nice connectors.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lego_Mindstorms


Arduino's are neat, I have one too. One caveat to be aware of is that Processing isn't very portable yet; so it's a bit of a lock-in there.

TI has some neat micro-controller kits in the same vein as the Arduino you should google for. Cheap too.


> One caveat to be aware of is that Processing isn't very portable yet; so it's a bit of a lock-in there.

Processing (http://processing.org/) is different to the Arduino although the IDEs are based on the same code base. While the Arduino "language" is related to Wiring (http://wiring.org.co/) it's different too.

By lock-in do you mean lock-in in relation to the language/libraries (which is really a documented subset of C++) or the microcontroller (Atmel based)?


It's pretty much language/libraries. You can (and later, when you start writing sufficiently advanced projects w/ 'real-time' needs) write code on the low-level io. This isn't really supported or well documented and kind of defeats the purpose of being "portable."

The thing is that the language/libraries are a very stripped sub-set of C++ and their IDE does a lot of parsing/mangling to turn "sketches" into C++ programs. It can mangle perfectly legal C++ code.

The arduino APIs like digitalWrite do table-lookups to match the pin, port, and bit. Pretty inefficient and slow.

It's still a great little system though. People have come up with alternative implementations that (for example) implement the SBI/CBI instructions as constants you can use when calling the Arduino APIs to make things much faster. And it's not like you'll care about "lock in" unless you start building large projects and get tired of the Arduino way of doing things and want to move to an alternate board. Arduino makes a nice cheap kit and starter package for people who want to get their feet wet in embedded systems.


> their IDE does a lot of parsing/mangling to turn "sketches" into C++ programs. It can mangle perfectly legal C++ code.

AFAIK the parsing is limited to extracting function prototypes for creating the function declarations which I wouldn't call "a lot". This has been known to miss certain legal C++ function prototypes formats though. Normally the solution is to manually write the declaration yourself and format the prototype so it doesn't get parsed.

It's not a hugely common occurrence though.

It is true that optimisation/efficiency hasn't been a huge focus and the lack of focus on it is "development policy": http://code.google.com/p/arduino/wiki/DevelopmentPolicy

While it's definitely not perfect the fact that it's based on avr-gcc makes the risk of lock-in less of an issue than some other platforms.

Plus, it's fun. :)


Quite true. I can be a little knit-picky.

However, those are the trade off's and that's not even all of them. It is possible because of avr-gcc to bypass the whole "sketch" thing they have going and compile/load your code without even running the iDE.

Like I said, I do like Arduino for what it is. :)


TI's new uC platform is the MSP430 LaunchPad. They're only $4.30 shipped!

Not as user friendly, though, so if you're new to this kind of thing, the Arduino might be a better place to start.

http://processors.wiki.ti.com/index.php/MSP430_LaunchPad_(MS...


@ryanwaggoner: Bug report -- the link to Sparkfun is broken


Fixed, thanks!


well, glad to hear that :D . and let me twist the knife in your "wound" : Join our community! http://harkopen.com - and get more open source hardware projects , news and hackerspaces near you


lol... I had the exact same thoughts when I got my Arduino a couple months ago. Now time to find a project...


Oh comment bait! With an Arduino, you could...

* Generate NTSC signals - http://www.arduino.cc/playground/Main/TVout * Make a mini http server - https://code.google.com/p/webduino/ * Drive nixie tubes - http://www.ogilumen.com/nixie-nixie-driver-kits-p-92.html (don't kill yourself on the voltages)

Sigh. So many little projects, so little time...




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