Microsoft’s attempt at an Arduino killer — feels like a gimmick

Microsoft has thrown its hat into the open source hardware hobby market. Their offering is called the Gadgeteer. We’d love to tell you all about it, but the big M didn’t make it very easy to find out about the device and it’s addons. When we set out to find what processor is running on the board we were happy to see that they do call it an Open Source Hardware project, but no schematic is posted. When we did finally navigate to the hardware documentation it’s a file that must be downloaded and you’ve got to agree to their licensing before grabbing it. So that’s as far as we went, and now we’ll go back to using more open tools.

For those of you who aren’t scared off by the lack of openness, the first thing you’ll notice about this board is that it’s full of connector headers. Instead of the small rows that Arduino uses, the Gadgeteer is meant to use ribbon cables to connect to various breakout boards. You can program for the platform in C# using the .NET framework. This means using Microsoft Visual Studio for those that are already acquainted with the platform. But regular readers will note that we’re always looking for Linux support in our IDEs and you won’t find that here.

[Thanks Hrasdt (and several others) via Slashdot]

Over-engineered clock finds purpose as RSS reader

[Bob Alexander] admits that he over-engineered his clock, giving it eight control buttons, eight twelve-segment alpha-numeric display digits, a GPS module as a time source, and a beefy microcontroller to boot. But he’s found a way to get more for his money out of the device by adding RSS and weather features to it.

Since he’s using the PIC 18F4550 it’s a snap to add USB connectivity. From there he wrote a fantastic PC-side application for communicating with the display. Now he has the option of displaying time, RSS feeds, or weather by scrolling through the options with one of the buttons. Perhaps the best feature is the option to launch a browser on the PC and view the current story just by pressing a button on the display. Check out the two demos after the break; one shows the clock features and the other demonstrates the C# software.

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Kindle terminal with secret key-press activation

[Luigi Rizzo] has been working on some hacks for his 3rd generation Kindle. There is already a Python based terminal emulator called AjaxTerm but he wanted a lightweight standalone so he reimplemented the program in C. The 100k binary monitors the keyboard, launching the terminal emulator when it detects a Shift-T sequence. It also uses alternative key mapping to fill in for some of the keys the Kindle’s keyboard is missing.

We haven’t seen a whole lot of Kindle hacking since it was hacked to run Ubuntu. Seems like this terminal emulator is a useful and unobtrusive hack to try out on the beloved reader.

Rendering a 3D environment from Kinect video

[Oliver Kreylos] is using an Xbox Kinect to render 3D environments from real-time video. In other words, he takes the video feed from the Kinect and runs it through some C++ software he wrote to index the pixels in a 3D space that can be manipulated as it plays back. The image above is the result of the Kinect recording video by looking at [Oliver] from his right side. He’s moved the viewer’s playback perspective to be above and in front of him. Part of his body is missing and there is a black shadow because the camera cannot see these areas from its perspective. This is very similar to the real-time 3D scanning we’ve seen in the past, but the hardware and software combination make this a snap to reproduce. Get the source code from his page linked at the top and don’t miss his demo video after the break.

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C# Portable Settings Provider

We live in a world where everything must be portable, ranging from mobile applications to making an application able to run on Linux, Windows and OS X.  Making a C# application to be completely portable across all windows computers is a problem that Microsoft knows about and willingly admits they will not fix. [Mike] from Geek Republic has taken it upon himself to show us how to hack up some code to make your programs portable.  This code is a good push forward for people loving the portability of modern applications. He will admit that bugs may exist so be on the lookout and he would probably appreciate the feedback.  Looking forward to a fully working provider so that .NET applications can be carried wherever people go!

Under-desk RGB keyboard lighting

[Jay Collett] was having trouble seeing his keyboard when the room was dim. But throwing a light under the desk just didn’t seem cool enough. Instead he built an RGB light board that is controlled by his desktop. The board is based around an ATmega328 with the Arduino booloader. He etched a single-sided PCB to connect it to a group of five RGB LEDs, with a programming header for an FTDI cable. The board communicates with a PC via serial connection, with a C# control application that [Jay] coded to control the color. We’ve embedded a couple of videos after the break but check his page for a package of code and hi-res pictures.

If you want something cool that’s a little bit less work to build check out the EL-wire keyboard from this links post.

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AVR Programming 03: Reading and compiling code

In the last installment of our tutorial series we built a simple circuit on a breadboard and programmed an ATmega168 to make it run. That proves that you know how to follow directions, but the eureka moments of doing everything yourself are on the way. This time around you will get down and dirty with the datasheet, learning where each line of the sample code came from, and give your recently installed compiler a test drive. We will:

  • Talk about bitwise operators and how they work when coding for microcontrollers
  • Discuss C code shorthand
  • Review the sample code from Part 2 and talk about what each line of code does
  • Learn to compile code

If this is the first you’ve heard about our AVR Programming series, head back to Part 1 and start from the beginning. Otherwise, take a deep breath and we’ll being after the break.

Series roadmap:

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