The jump start mostly worked. I started by trying to fix my light-up origami garden. I checked my connections, ran to radio shack for some batteries, but still nothing. I lack a multimeter at home, so I can’t tell if current is actually circulating, which would mean that I just need more power, or if there’s no current getting to the LEDs at all. So it’s on my agenda today to get one. I ordered one for school while I was at it since I’d been borrowing one. Hooray!
So I moved on to an Arduino project. I’m often inspired by my pets. You might recall last year, I made a GPS tracker for the cat (which, you know, didn’t make it onto the cat, but it still worked). I thought I might find a way to track the comings and goings of the animals through the dog door that connects the kitchen to the basement. The door is primarily for the cat, who can then take the door from the basement to the outdoors. The dog can’t reach the outside door. I originally thought I’d use a light sensor, but decided the values I got out of it didn’t vary enough to tell when an animal crossed its path. Plus, there’s the issue of the values changing at night. I decided on a tilt sensor, which is simply on or off. When the door goes up when an animal pushes on it, it should record that it’s on. Simple.
I needed a way to store the data, and not having an SD Card shield around, I googled a bit and found that there’s a bit of memory on the Arduino itself to write to. It’s only 512 bytes, though, not enough to record comings and goings throughout the day. But I did prove it could work. So that’s something!
Today, I’m headed to MicroCenter to get the SD Shield and some other bits and pieces to finish out the project.
— James Tiffin Jr. (@JimTiffinJr) July 23, 2014
Jim Tiffin pointed out to me that Little Bits partnered with IFTT (one of my favorite services) to automate this whole process by writing to a Google Spreadsheet. That’s great, but it’s a little less DIY than I want. I think of some of those automated Internet of Things produces (WeMo comes to mind) as great ways to start and to conceptualize how these things work, but they’re limited. They’ll only do what they were built to do. And for most, you can’t get to the coding underneath at all. It’s all been done for you.
Using something like an Arduino instead reveals all the layers underneath that. Just understanding the limits of onboard memory is hugely important. Most of us take memory for granted now since it’s so cheap and plentiful. It wasn’t always that way, and there are still applications where saving memory is important. Yeah, I’m starting to sound like one of those “back in my day . . . we walked both ways to school uphill and in the snow” people. But every time I do something like this, I’m reminded of how cool the technology is that I use every day, and how amazing it is that we got here at all. Surely that’s a lesson worth teaching.