I’ve gotten my hands on a lot of tech projects in the past few months, but I have yet to do anything significant with any of them.
After a few months of bouncing around ideas, learning a couple new things, and venturing into subjects I have before found difficult to learn, I started asking myself “What is stopping me from learning this? Is there any real that I can’t?”
Well, I can’t come up with any prohibitive reason, only one of application. How can I apply these new things in some way to solve a problem or create something new? How can I tie all this stuff into a single project, that enables me to learn all the things I haven’t before learned? And I came up with the answer…
Earlier this year, I built a LEGO-mount for a USB Webcam that I attached to my telescope.
I was very excited to have built something from nothing, and for it to work as flawlessly as it did. The mount held the webcam perfectly centered over the eyepiece of the telescope, and brought images into my laptop with an image-to-video program, and I created a video of the moon moving across the sky. The only problem was my telescope wasn’t calibrated correctly, so while it tried to track the moon, the moon’s path diverged out of frame, and thwarted my plan to record the blood moon eclipse.
So, I bought a cable to control my telescope from my computer, but I soon lost interest before I got anywhere with that effort.
Prior to the telescope stuff, I had purchased a Raspberry Pi to mess around with, since I got a book about programming one for Christmas. So when March rolled around after messing with the telescope, I decided I’d order some parts to turn the Pi into the CPU of a laptop, using the Motorola Atrix 4G laptop dock.
It took nearly 2 months for all the various parts to arrive from different areas in China, and by then I pretty much lost interest in the Pi, and moved on to the next thing. I did learn to program Python (albeit not fluently) with the help of @snubs and @padresj on twit.tv‘s Coding 101. That should come in handy one day.
What was the next thing? Finding a replacement Quad-/Hexcopter to play with since the Flexbot project that I backed on Kickstarter turned out to NOT be “A copter that anyone can fly,” and instead cost more money to repair/replace it then it would have to buy a new, better quadcopter with common parts. I broke the Hexcopter’s frame within the first 24 hours, and burned out 1 motor the first night, and its backup the next day, and spent the next month searching for replacement parts. I finally ordered some motors from Australia and connectors from China, only to find out after I put them together, the motors didn’t work with the copter…none of them.
The research into what I could do with this Arduino board on the Flexbot Hexcopter and RC/RF devices in general brought me to study radio waves, light waves. After “Nerd Night” with my friend [wizard] about radio waves, light waves, the mathematics of antennas and HAM Radio, it turned out that I understand the physics of radio waves quite well, but not the terminology (2m waves = 140.000+ish MHz frequency, etc) of the stuff, nor electrical engineering and circuitry.
[Wizard] and I went to Ham-Com in Plano, TX this year on my birthday, and there I picked up the Technician’s License book, a Baofeng UV-5R hand radio, a Diamond SRJ77CA antenna, and a new understanding of what HAM radio is all about – especially the future of it: software defined radios and satellites.
The frontiers of space is what interests me the most about the HAM radio hobby, and that is what brings me full circle to the original project: my telescope.
I realized that the common theme causing me to lose interest in the tech projects I’ve played with for the past couple months was my lack of understanding when it comes to electricity. This was abundantly clear when I took some practice exams for the HAM License, and failed each one of them because I didn’t understand circuit diagrams, what circuit board components do, and how circuits interpret binary logic.
As a programmer, I understand binary code, low-level languages, and high level languages. I can interpret how a closed-system handles information to get the desired output from an input, and can turn that process into software without a problem. But if I had to turn that logic into a piece of hardware: forget it.
The Road map
However, if I sit down and learn how circuits work, I could use my GPIO pins in my Raspberry Pi to communicate with my telescope. If I can tell my telescope where to adjust and track, I can affix a small satellite dish to it, and have it follow radio satellites or the International Space Station, or even things like mythical Black Knight satellite. Then I can pick up any radio transmissions, or make transmissions myself, with my HAM Radio.
I have a Software Defined Radio (SDR) coming from Amazon next week, which will allow me to visually see what my radio is picking up. This will make what is going on a little clearer to me, as well as open up some future possibilities I don’t have with the limited radio equipment I own.
I’m not sure what all this will actually end up becoming, but that’s the fun part. The only thing I know is that I’m going to learn something doing it, and eventually I’ll be able to apply it to something else, just as I have applied creating an ETBU Students Yahoo eGroup to creating the-spot.net, and applied the needs of the-spot.net’s online community to learning to program as a full-time job and this project.
And as I have always done – if I find something technical and interesting, you can bet I’ll blog about how to do it yourself here.