My adventures with the Arduino Starter Kit

I picked up the Arduino Starter Kit yesterday (thank Bezos for Prime evening delivery).

It arrived a little too late for me to play with it that much, beyond running the “blink” example (the electronics equivalent of “Hello, World”), so right now this thread is more of a placeholder than anything - but over the next new weeks I plan on building all the projects contained within the kit, and reporting my progress here.

So, watch this space :slight_smile:


So, I guess the first thing I should do is talk about the confusion I experienced when trying to download the Arduino IDE.

This should have been simple enough - the physical device had a sticker on it saying “New IDE at” - and this would be fine, except for the fact that up until now, all my research for Arduino had lead me to the site Even the fact I was able to purchase something official named “Arduino” confused me a little, as the .cc site keep mentions that outside of the US, its official branding is “Genuino”.

As I often do at times like this, I turned to Google with the search term “ vs”, and after some research, discovered the following (taken from Wikipedia):

In early 2008, the five cofounders of the Arduino project created a company, Arduino LLC, to hold the trademarks associated with Arduino. The manufacture and sale of the boards was to be done by external companies, and Arduino LLC would get a royalty from them. The founding bylaws of Arduino LLC specified that each of the five founders transfer ownership of the Arduino brand to the newly formed company.

At the end of 2008, Gianluca Martino’s company, Smart Projects, registered the Arduino trademark in Italy and kept this a secret from the other cofounders for about two years. This was revealed when the Arduino company tried to register the trademark in other areas of the world (they originally registered only in the US), and discovered that it was already registered in Italy. Negotiations with Gianluca and his firm to bring the trademark under control of the original Arduino company failed. In 2014, Smart Projects began refusing to pay royalties. They then appointed a new CEO, Mr. Musto, who renamed the company to Arduino SRL and created a website named, copying the graphics and layout of the original This resulted in a rift in the Arduino development team. All Arduino boards are still available to consumers, and the designs are open source, so the implications of this are uncertain.

In May 2015, “Genuino” was created around the world as another trademark, held by Arduino LLC, and is currently being used as Arduino LLC’s brand name outside of the US.

So, this all sounds pretty shitty, and leaves me a little confused as to how I should proceed. For now I’ve downloaded the IDE from (which is listed as version number 1.7.10), but I’m wondering if I should be using the .cc one (version number 1.6.8) instead? Or if any of this even matters?

@LimeBlast May I ask why you got an Arduino when you’ve been hacking on a Pi recently? Are there things you found the Pi can’t do?

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The Pi and Arduino are different things, with different capabilities.

My basic understanding is that a Raspberry Pi is a mini computer, which means it comes with all the benefits of a computer (along with all the overheads). The Arduino however is a microcontroller - something which does very few things, but does those things with extreme precision.

I’m trying to cast as wide a net as I can, so I can better understand all the different approaches available for my projects. It’s just a case of choosing the right tool for the job - but until I understand how all the tools work, I won’t be able to make an informed decision.

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You call THAT a mini computer? :grinning:

I don’t THINK there’s a huge difference. General purpose computers tend to have better support for operating systems, microcontrollers are simpler with more sophisticated IO hardware and no, or minimal OS. PDPs could do both, depending on which OS you loaded. I wouldn’t have thought you were stretching a Pi’s IO yet.

I worked on a few jobs with central VAXes and several PDPs as real-time control systems. It would be similar in power to a few Arduinos connected to a Pi 2 with an external disk but cost half a million quid less.

I completed a couple chapters of the book last night.

The first - Get to know your tools - covered the basics of circuits. This didn’t actually use the arduino in any meaningful way, instead it simply provided a convenient power source. The chapter itself had you build a simple circuit which powered an LED when you pressed a button:

Which was then further expanded the example to use buttons in serial and parallel, to let you understand the difference.

The second - Spaceship interface - was the first to actually use the arduino, and covered the basics of sending and receiving signals via the IO ports, variables, and conditionals (if statements).

The project involved three LEDs and a button - the default state of the LEDs was for the green one to be lit until you pressed the button, at which point the red LEDs to switch back and forth until you released the button, at which point it went back to the default state:

So far, so good.

Another day, another couple of projects.

The Love-o-meter was an excuse to play with a temperature sensor, the idea being that the hotter you were, the more LEDs that would light up:

Although this worked, and I was able to set ranges between which I was able to manipulate the sensor to have the different LEDs light up, I’ve got a feeling that the sensor might need calibrating or something, as according to the output, my room was flicking between 90 and 100 degree celsius (each line was around quarter of a second):

I was able to make it go higher than this by breathing on it (no jokes about bad breath), but all attempts to cool it down failed.

The next project, the Colour Mixing Lamp, used three light sensors, each filtered to a specific wavelength via three different coloured “gels”…

… to control an RGB LED. I had a bit of trouble with this one at first, as I couldn’t get the LED to light up at all at first, but I soon realised that I’d not closed one of the circuits, and it burst into life.

Covering the different sensors with my finger subtly changed the colour of the LED, but not quite how I expected, i.e. covering the red sensor should have removed the red from the LED, but instead it increased it - although looking at the sensor data, I think, by pressing the gel closer to the sensor’s surface, I was actually giving it more… I dunno.

Anyway, next is Mood Cue, which involves using a servo, so I’m quite excited about that one.

And in a shocking turn of events, which can only mean the singularity is just around the corner, I’ve given my robotics motion:

This is the Mood Cue - aka. getting a servo to move via a potentiometer. It’s a simple enough circuit which takes the analog reading from the pot, converts it into a number the servo can understand, and sends it right back out again.

There are a couple of capacitors thrown into the mix which are meant to smooth out the signals, but I tried it without them as well, and (near as I can tell) I got the same result. I did read, however, that putting the capacitors in backward can cause them to explode, but was very quickly schooled on the matter:

Anyway, it was called the Mood Cue because they’re suggesting you could put an arrow on the servo, which points at a particular mood or instruction (or, if you’re Mark Watney, an ascii character).

Up next: Light Theremin!

@LimeBlast I’m fascinated by your response because it’s so different to what mine would have been. If I’d been following a set of instructions and something unexpected had happened, THAT’s when I’d have got really interested. It reminds me of the comment that most great scientific discoveries are not preceded by a “Eureka!” but by a “That’s weird”. I think ‘enlightenment’ comes from investigating the odd things that happen until you understand them.

I wonder if your reaction was due to the different way computing is taught now. I was expected to understand everything before moving on, whereas people are now taught to build out of components they don’t entirely understand and not worry about it. I can see that my way has disadvantages too, as I sometimes shave more yaks than I really needed.

I think the problem is that I had limited resources at hand, and another 11 projects that I still need to complete.

I could have spent a bit more time experimenting, but to my mind that would have been yak shaving, especially when you take into account my brilliant ability to leave projects incomplete - and seeing as the concept they were trying to get cross - got across - I felt little interest is sticking on that small part, and instead was far more interested in pushing forward to completing the book.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to cast a wide net and learn a little about a lot of things. I want to know what options are available, so when I have a problem to solve, I’ll be armed with more than just a hammer. Sure, I don’t be an expert at any of the tools, but I’ll know they exist along with a vague idea if what they do, and that’s better than nothing.

Nuff said :smiley:

Many years ago, I found this book, Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science, enlightening and entertaining.

Even quantum theory, effectively, happened accidentally. It took Einstein to realise Planck’s “hack” (which Planck himself studiously ignored) was in fact the path to the solution to a bunch of things. I bet Einstein muttered to himself the German equivalent of, “That’s weird!”

This is perhaps the biggest issue I encounter when employing (or working with) younger devs. Awareness of much – and an enthusiasm to “give it a go” and “make it work” – but little ability to join the dots. It leads to the creation of the most ridiculously complex things. In the past twenty years, I’ve ripped out far, far more stuff than I’ve built.

@LimeBlast I have to say that I nearly pulled the trigger on buying a starter kit last night. This looks a lot of fun.

I am having a lot of fun playing with it. It’s a little more expensive than some of the other kits you can get:

etc… But I really liked the effort that has gone into the presentation of the kit, along with the contents projects book. Its very good at explaining what you’re doing, and why it works. This contrasts vastly with the experience I got from the book included in the Sunfounder Project Super Starter Kit for Raspberry Pi, which clearly had far less effort put into it.

I was also keen on the idea that I was directly supporting the Arduino devs, but with the vs thing, it’s apparantly not that simple :frowning:

The first book by James Gleick that I read was ‘Chaos’. He goes into quite a lot of detail about the massive amount of data that was pointing, like a big, flashing arrow towards chaos theory but no-one took any notice. Most of it was dismissed as experimental background noise because they weren’t looking for it. The human mind seems to have an incredible filter for things that don’t fit in with what we think we already know. I guess anti-evolutionists are the best example.

Anecdote: Many moons ago, I had a girlfriend who was a biochemist for one of big hospitals in Nottingham. I was living in London, but would hurtle up the M1 most Fridays to see her. One Saturday, she was called out, and I went along and played “technician”, spinning down the blood samples while she did the serious biochemical stuff. (This behaviour is probably punishable by death by elf and safety these days, but we ran wild and free back then.)

One guy – whom she swiftly diagnosed as, “Won’t be needing tea.” – required some extra blood tests. When the blood had been tested and a string of numbers obtained, she led me through a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, to a large bare room with a single door. Through the door we found a smaller room containing a single item: a PDP11.

As a geek – although we weren’t called geeks back then – I recognised what was before me and couldn’t quite believe it. These things (fully provisioned) cost tens of thousands – the price of a few house back then. The thing was powered down, clearly doing nothing, and she simply switched it on via the wall socket.

It booted, after which she followed the handwritten instruction that were taped to the machine, entered the string of numbers from “soon to be dead” guy’s blood results, noted the number it returned, then switched it off again at the wall. I must have groaned at the shutdown procedure.

That was it. Knowing the relative cost of the machine, I asked what else the machine was used for. “Nothing,” she said. “Just that one test. We only do it one a month or so, but we’d be lost without it.”

Eye opening days.


I looked after the VAXen at Jaguar’s Whitley engineering plant in Coventry as a contractor. I can’t remember the exact details but it was probably something to do with licencing or OS upgrades. We found a PDP that had been built into the production track and had happily been doing it’s thing for 10 years with zero maintenance. I presume this included the occasional power-down without warning. I decomissioned some VAXes for Powergen. We shut them down then discovered we needed reboot one for 10 minutes. It wouldn’t start but we had a DEC engineer on site. He told me to try again and he gently hit the disk drive with a hammer at the right moment to make it spin up. He’d seen the problem of the ball bearings having worn flat before :slight_smile: Some of those boxes had run for a couple of years without a reboot too.

Then some idiot invented Redundent Arrays of Inadequate Devices and I learned to become a disk-swapper and upgrader, as it became cheaper to buy new devices than to pay the annual maintenance as device prices plummeted.

Okay, that convinced me. I’m in. Purchased \o/

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Amazing! I look forward to seeing how you get on with it.

For my own part, once I’ve finished with the projects in the book, I’m going to look for something of my own to build with it, but I don’t know what yet.

My aim (over however long it takes) is to play with the nerves project (elixir’s firmware project), which probably means hooking up via a raspberry pi, atm. All of this is new to me, other than my basic knowledge of elixir, so it should be a fun ride. Although, I suspect the destination will change a few times during the journey :wink:

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This is a description of Kuhn’s theory, which is where we get the term “paradigm shift” from. The “paradigm” is the prevailing orthodoxy, and observations of phenomena that don’t meet the paradigm are likely to be ignored (because they challenge orthodoxy), but gradually they build up until someone comes up with a theory which explains all the existing observations and all these ignored ones, and then we have a paradigm shift where the actual orthodoxy is changed. Hardcore Kuhnians would say that the observations are actually changed by the paradigm, but I’m sceptical. Anyway, the paradigmatic (!) paradigm shift was Newtonian to Einsteinian physics, but I think it’s actually more interesting in design trends; we can look back on obvious 3d buttons in Windows or 80s haircuts and think, god, they’re terrible, but were we just wrong when we liked them or did they actually look good then but now the paradigm’s shifted? In ten years when we look back on flat design or skeuomorphic design and say, why did we think that was a good idea?, will we remember that we did think it was? It’s interesting stuff, this.

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