Cornell Updates Their MCU Course For The RP2040

The School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University has made [Bruce Land]’s lectures and materials for the Designing with Microcontrollers (ECE 4760) course available for many years. But recently [Bruce], who semi-retired in 2020, and the new lecturer [Hunter Adams] have reworked the course and labs to use the Raspberry Pi Pico. You can see the introductory lecture of the reworked class below.

Not only are the videos available online, but the class’s GitHub repository hosts extensive and well-documented examples, lecture notes, and helpful links. If you want to get started with RP2040 programming, or just want to dig deeper into a particular technique, this is a great place to start.

From what we can tell, this is the third overhaul of the class this century. Back in 2012 the course was using the ATmega1284 AVR microcontroller, and in 2015 it switched to the Microstick II using a Microchip PIC32MX. Not only were these lecture series also available free online, but each has been maintained as reference after being replaced. One common thread with all of these platforms is their low cost of entry. Assuming you already have a computer, setting up the hardware and software development environment for these modules costs less than the price of a pizza dinner, a fact no doubt appreciated by the ECE department’s budget director.

We’ve covered this course before back in 2015 when it first changed. Another free online course on embedded system design is from [Prof James Conrad] at UNC Charlotte, based on the Renasas RX63N microcontroller — the UNC Charlotte team drove development of the autonomous vehicle project we covered back in 2009. If you know of other online embedded systems classes, let us know in the comments below.

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Anti-Gravity, Time Travel, And Teleportation: Dr. Hamming Gives Advice

You may not know the name [Richard Hamming], but you definitely use some of his work. While working for Bell Labs, he developed Hamming codes — the parent of a class of codes that detect, and sometimes correct, errors in everything from error-correcting memory to hard drives. He also worked on the Manhattan Project and was a lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate school.

Turns out [Hamming] has an entire class from the 1990s on YouTube and if you are interested in coding theory or several other topics, you could do worse than watch some of them. However, those videos aren’t what attracted me to the lectures. As the last lecture of his course, [Hamming] used to give a talk called “You and Your Research” and you can see one of the times he delivered it in the video below. You might think that it won’t apply to you because you aren’t a professional academic or researcher, but don’t be too quick to judge.

Turns out, [Hamming’s] advice — even by his own admission — is pretty general purpose for your career or even your life. His premise: As far as we know, you have one life to live, so why shouldn’t it be a worthwhile one by your definition of worthwhile.

Along the way, he has an odd combination of personal philosophy, advice for approaching technical problems, and survival skills for working with others. If you are in the field, you’ll probably recognize at least some of the names he drops and you’ll find some of this technical advice useful. But even if you aren’t, you’ll come away with something. Some of it seems like common sense, but it is different, somehow, to hear it spoken out loud. For example:

If you don’t work on important problems, it’s not likely that you’ll do important work.

One piece of technical advice? Don’t waste time working on problems you have no way to attack. He points out that anti-gravity, time travel, and teleportation would be very lucrative. But why work on them when there appears to be no way to even remotely accomplish them today. Well, at least when he said that. There has been a little progress on a form of teleportation, but that wasn’t what he was talking about anyway.

While not a hack in the traditional sense, examining your life, career, and technical research to improve your own effectiveness is something to take seriously. We were hoping he would throw in a joke about error-correcting your career, but unless we blinked, no such luck.

Hamming’s work on block codes was followed about ten years later by the Reed-Solomon code which is found nearly everywhere now. Hamming is also associated with the term “hamming distance,” something we talked about when discussing Gray code.

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A Lecture By A Fun Guy

Many people hear “fungus” and think of mushrooms. This is akin to hearing “trees” and thinking of apples. Fungus makes up 2% of earth’s total biomass or 10% of the non-plant biomass, and ranges from the deadly to the delicious. This lecture by [Justin Atkin] of [The Thought Emporium] is slightly shorter than a college class period but is like a whole semester’s worth of tidbits, and the lab section is about growing something (potentially) edible rather than a mere demonstration. The video can also be found below the break.

Let’s start with the lab where we learn to grow fungus in a mason jar on purpose for a change. The ingredient list is simple.

  • 2 parts vermiculite
  • 1 part brown rice flour
  • 1 part water
  • Spore syringe

Combine, sterilize, cool, inoculate, and wait. We get distracted when cool things are happening so shopping around for these items was definitely hampered by listening to the lecture portion of the video.

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Microcontroller Lectures By Bruce Land

[Bruce Land] is no stranger to Hackaday as you can see from his profile, if you aren’t familiar with his work [Bruce Land] is a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University. One of the courses he teaches: Digital Systems Design Using Microcontrollers (ECE4760) was recorded in 2012 and again in 2015 and the videos are available on YouTube.

AVR to PIC32

[Bruce Land]s previous set of ECE4760 lectures (2012) used an Atmel ATmega1284 AVR Microcontroller for the laboratory portion of the course. This means the lectures are also based on the AVR and if you haven’t watched them through a few times you should do. The recently updated set of lectures is based on the Microchip PIC32, more specifically the Microstick II.

Open Curriculum

You can follow the ECE4760 rabbit hole as far as you want with all the available content provided by [Bruce Land] on his ECE4760 course webpage. You can watch the ECE4760 lectures on YouTube, try your hand at the homework assignments, and work through the labs at your own pace.

New Lectures = New Shirts

One area that [Bruce Land] is unmatched and arguably uncontested is his shirt collection, we are continuously impressed with these original works and wish they were available for purchase (wink/hint c’mon [Bruce] throw us a bone!). If you don’t know why the rest of us aren’t able to obtain the wonderful shirts [Bruce Land] wears you clearly aren’t subscribed to [Bruce Land]s YouTube channel, you should rectify that wrong and log some ECE4760 lecture hours starting with the video after the break.

Demonstrating Science At Harvard University

What if there was a job where you built, serviced, and prepared science demonstrations? This means showing off everything from principles of physics, to electronic theory, to chemistry and biology. Would you grab onto that job with both hands and never let go? That was my reaction when I met [Dan Rosenberg] who is a Science Lecture Demonstrator at Harvard University. He gave me a tour of the Science Center, as well as a behind the scenes look at some of the apparatus he works with and has built.

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Cornell ECE 4760 Lecture Videos Now Online

Whenever we hear about ECE 4760 we take notice. That’s because a ton of fantastic hacked together projects have resulted from the class. It’s offered at Cornell University and focuses on designing projects based on microcontrollers. We look at it as a ‘how to connect everything to your microcontroller’ guide. The good news for you is that 34 lecture videos from the Spring 2012 ECE 4760 class are now available to watch for free online. When coupled with the course webpage itself (which outlines the reading, labs, and homework) this turns into an opportunity to work through the entire course on your own schedule.

If you need a brief preview, here’s a couple random things we’ve seen as final projects from the course: a digital saxophone, a handwriting decoder, and a haptic feedback unit for building your biceps.

We’re still working our way through the Nand2Tetris project, but we’re putting these lectures on our watch list for later.

[via Reddit]