Lessons for Richard Bleil
Lately, I’ve been seeing adverts for an educational kit for circuitry and programming, inventr.io (usually I don’t like mentioning brand names, but here I will). I should mention that my background includes both, at least separately. Thanks to my father, I know electronics. I can build circuits, solder, and even read (or write) schematics. I’ve been doing this since a kid and my first job took advantage of this ability. And I’ve been programming since the mid ‘80’s with several different languages. I’ve written some very impressive and lengthy programs and probably have tens of thousands of lines of coding under my belt. But what I have never done is put the two together. I’ve never built a circuit and then written a program to control it.
This advertisement is for a device (and online training program) that does just that. Couched in a story wherein the individual has crashed on an alien planet and must get an ancient rescue ship up and running, it includes circuit boards and programming, although I don’t recognize the language. It looks like it’s designed for younger kids (maybe high school), but several of the video reviews were from older professionals (like me), so I decided to try it out.
The kit comes with an Arduino “Hero” controller board (the model is apparently the Arduino Uno), along with a box of wires, resistors, LED’s, and other electronics components. It definitely brought me back to my childhood, and yes, I did purchase the additional module kits as well. The challenge is presumably a thirty-day mission, but there seem to be a total of thirty-seven tasks, so maybe there are a couple of days where there are more than one. In the interest of full disclosure, I waited until my guest had left before starting this so I could focus my attention on her, and as such, I’m only two days into the project.
You might be wondering why I’m already talking about this if I’m only two days deep. The first day was, honestly, getting the controller board plugged in and downloading the software so my computer could speak with it. It’s reasonable to start small so as not to scare away the users.
There are a few issues of consistency. Some minor differences have occurred since the videos for the course were recorded, but it’s easy to follow along and figure out these differences in the software. The teacher is, unfortunately, a bit dry, but it’s kind of a moot point since the learning is interesting enough to make up for it. He does a pretty good job of describing and explaining things, although there are some details that he leaves out (for example, he never said what this programming language is).
Today, on day two, we already built a simple little circuit. The kit comes with a “bread board”, so it’s a matter of plugging wires in with no soldering or advanced knowledge needed. It was the obvious first circuit for every person learning analog circuitry, specifically turning a light on and off. The ship is dark, and we need a light. He had some things already plugged in with the video, which I wish he had done live, but he did a good job of explaining what was plugged in where and what was or was not significant. So, as I did for the science fair in elementary school, I once again built a circuit to light my ship, but this time I didn’t use a built-in toggle switch. Rather, I plugged the tiny circuit into the controller board, and wrote a program to turn it on.
I am, frankly, an extra kind of guy. We learned how to turn on the light, and then how to make it blink, varying the length of the blink. After the lesson was over, I coded it to continuously flash and “SOS” signal, something that he mentioned as a possibility on the video but didn’t really explain, although, frankly, if you understood the lesson it was a very easy thing to do. Sadly, there were two commands that he used that he never explained. With my programming experience, I could make sense out of them, but I don’t know how obvious it would be to somebody just learning. And while they showed pictorially the circuit with the components, I do kind of wish they included an electrical schematic of the day’s circuits. Maybe schematics will come later.
I will say, though, that if you want to learn this kind of thing (I guess I’m a lifelong learner) or if you have a child or grandchild that might enjoy puzzles and learning, it’s definitely worth the cost. It’s a very well put together package.