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June 18, 2018

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Things We Sell ! BBC Micro Bit

A new regular Blog series.
Featuring quick overviews of the various platforms Elmwood offers.

micro bit


Product :

BBC Micro Bit    Wikipedia


Current model: 

Micro Bit  v1

A tiny ARM chip with integrated motion sensor, bluetooth, two buttons & LED grid. 


Previous models:

n/a


Installed user base :


The BBC gave out 1 million units to grade 7 students in 2016, with 90%
reporting it made learning programming easier.

As production ramped up, commercial + educational sales have lead to shortages in the past , so a very popular platform.


Out of the Box :

Basic as long as you have a USB to microUSB cable
and access to a computer with a modern browser like Chrome, good to go!

You'll need a battery pack If you want to use it away from a computer ONCE you have already programmed it. 

MicroBit GO : Battery pack, batteries & usb cable included


Elmwood Bundle : Battery pack, batteries, usb cable & case included

You can also pair with Android or iOS instead of a laptop to program the MicroBit, but haven't tested that here.


Suggested Companions Out of the box:

MiPower is a bit more convenient than the JST battery pack

Inventors Kit a very popular starter kit.

KittenBOT is just adorable

Tank body. nuff said. 

Intended Use :

Home or Classroom fun and enjoyment learning basics of programming.

 

Programming :


Blocks editor in browser 

Python in browser

If you want to code without access to the internet, the Mu editor is a great way to program MicroPython devices including the MicroBit.


Performance :


More of a conveniently packaged chip with controls for learning computing than a barn burning processor.

Hackery :


Good generic platform for quickly prototyping any simple experiment.
Integrated bluetooth and buttons as well as 5 gator clips provide ample
connections.

Or hookup a breakout board to access almost everything.

Or get mobile with your own motor board solution.

Our Full Range of MicroBit Products

Next week :


Arduino !

Things We Sell ! Raspberry Pi

A new regular Blog series.
Featuring quick overviews of the various platforms Elmwood offers.

rpi3b_plus

Product : RaspberryPi

Wikipedia

Current model: 3b+

{ speed similar to Apple A8* chip with integrated wifi }

Previous models:

rPi1B, A, B+, A+, rPi2, zero, W, WH, 3

Out of the Box :

Plug into an hdmi monitor with a USB keyboard & mouse
& cheaply do linux computing / electronics control / STEM.
Pop the NOOBS SD-card in & power on with a monitor & keyboard & off to the races.

Super easy process to install Raspbian (OS).
NOOBS SD card allows you to choose a variety of operating systems,
such as the recommended Raspbian Educational Distro (*free* Mathematica, Minecraft, Python) or other specific use options, such as home media server (OSMC, libreelec/kodi).
 
Most people will want to go with Raspbian, the default OS provided by the raspberry pi foundation.

 

Suggested Companions Out of the box:


Power Supply
 

SD Card

Our many Bundle options here!

 

Intended Use :

Learning computers without destroying Mom or Dads MacbookPro.

There are many amazing pre-installed tools such as Scratch, Python and Mathematica, that can grow with you as you learn & skills increase. 

Not really a full desktop replacement, but think of it as a versatile family learning environment.

Or a hackable smartphone circuit board (with no built in screen or calling ability).

Also if you can fit it, someone has put a Raspberry Pi in it

Or, if you have an advanced project in mind:
Full list of operating system choices.



Performance :

For LEARNING computing, rPi it is an excellent platform.
Using a web browser on anything less than a 3b is a patience building exercise.

For the detail oriented, generic 'by component' comparison

 Raspberry Pi 3B
x86 PC Equivalent 
Year
4-core ARMv8 
Intel E5300 
2007
1GB RAM 
Pentium III 
2003
480 mbit USB
PCI33 
1993
VC4 GPU 
Radeon HD4350 
2008

* chart from this forum discussion
* Processors are never really directly comparable, but for the daring...


Hackery :

If you are anti-monitor can TTL into the PI via a simple USB/TTL cable

Overclocking is possible on some models.
Heat Sinks available here.

Good generic platform for about anything you can imagine. 

If you want to prototype for mass production later, start with Arduino.

Next week :

The British Invasion, Micro:BIT !

 

First Glance with Gemma M0

Gemma M0 .  A loonie-sized wearable computing solution.

HIGHLIGHTS :
Feels FAST, great value, onboard ; 

  • power switch
  • reset button
  • three conductive touch pads,
  • 1 full RGB LED
  • LED for blinking
  • JST connector
  • SUPER EASY to LOAD & test code with MU environment. 
gemma m0

 

OF NOTE :

  • Onboard memory more than enough for the purpose, but need to manage it carefully.  256KB Flash, 32 KB RAM


WHERE DOES IT FIT IN PRODUCT LINES ?

  • 1/3rd size of an Arduino + (some) Makey-Makey functionality + (some) RGB goodness. 
  • M0 is the third iteration of Gemma. ( Gemma v1, Gemma v2. Gemma M0) which was originally introduced as a miniaturized FLORA (wearable Adafruit platform). Gemma v2 product line still continuing in parallel. 


HOW IS IT DIFFERENT?

  • Uses CircuitPython (*new*) or can use the standard the ArduinoIDE (like Gemma v2).
  • CircuitPython + MU is a very integrated development flow once you download and install MU editor (...not ANOTHER CODE EDITOR/IDE. YES!) 
  • You may be familiar with Mu if you've tried to do Micro:BIT coding outside of a browser. 
  • Has serial debugging ( Gemma v1 & v2 don't). 
  • Supported under linux.


SO AWESOME :

  • You plug it in & can read the code.py file at any point in the future & use any text editor & see what 'sketch' is stored on the board. This is an end to the torturous process of old, needing the exact development chain environment to recover or dump micro-controller memory. 



FIRST STEPS:

We'll be following along with the Adafruit guide with some extra notes under OSX.

The Gemma m0 has two 'hard drives' on it, a firmware style boot-loader GEMMABOOT & a workspace where you can load and save code to named CIRCUITPY.

For normal use you only need to interact with CIRCUITPY.

The gemma m0 is good to go out of the tiny pink plastic bag.

1. Install MU
https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-gemma-m0/installing-mu-editor

1b. ( *sidequest* ) 


If you are the kind of person who wants/likes/needs to update the firmware a guide is here :
https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-gemma-m0/circuitpython

It's probably unnecessary for normal use.


You need to double click the onboard reset button which will mount the GEMMABOOT volume instead of CIRCUITPY
Then replace the firmware with a (possibly) newer version off the Adafruit site.

PRO TIP : OSX keyboard shortcut : COMMAND + SHIFT + PERIOD will show hidden files.

Ran into this fascinating error under 10.13.4

invisible
Didn't effect the firmware update, so Reset, & back to CIRCUITPY world.

**end Sidequest**

2. GOTCHA : When testing dragging & dropping code.py from OSX to the CIRCUITPY volume, I initially was running into OSX permission errors. It seemed like a unix read-write permission problem BUT, it was actually out of space on the flash memory. I discovered this from deleting the ReadMe.txt and was able to write the the volume. 


3.  PRO TIP : Only edit code.py from within the Mu editor. At this time running through the circuitPython m0 + MU tutorial is the best starter.

Why should you use ANOTHER new text editor ?

With MU+CircuitPython, you can simply fly through development, the iteration cycle is very fast. Type some code, save to the board, see the result. 
mu editor
If that's TOO SLOW, you can use the interactive python REPL interpreter and see results as you type (these aren't saved, more for testing output to console). 

mu repl
What's REPL anyway ? 
Read Evaluate Print Loop. A computer science term where code is essentially executed interactively ( historically LISP, SCHEME, PYTHON, etc ) VS. the more traditional ; write text file, parse, compile, execute of more static-typed languages. A fine explanation of that HERE

Stay tuned for PART TWO of this ongoing series where we take MU+CircuitPython for a spin and test out the basic board I/O features.

PURCHASE GEMMA m0 on Elmwood site. 

Further Reading:
https://blog.adafruit.com/2018/03/29/even-more-gemma-circuit-python-guides/

Over the course of the summer I'll be choosing a few of these ^ tutorials to build and document with extra notes on PROTIPS & GOTCHAS.

-Rob