Getting started with 3D printing? Consider these two new Maker Media books – #bookreview

Many people who want to jump into 3D printing have almost no idea what they actually want to make. Or, they may have projects in mind that far exceed their abilities to fabricate as beginners.

If 3D printing is on your mind (or arriving soon in some shipping boxes and downloads), here are two new books to consider: 3D Printing Projects and 3D CAD with Autodesk 123D.

3D Printing Projects

Toys, Tools, and Contraptions to Print and Build Yourself

Brook Drumm & James Floyd Kelly, with John Baichtal, Rick Winscot, Brian Roe, John Edgar Park, Steven Bolin,
Nick Ernst, and Caleb Cotter

(Maker Media, paperback)

Maker Media’s 3D Printing Projects is written by a team of professionals who have 3D printing newcomers in mind, at first. But their book also includes several more challenging projects that require Arduino or Raspberry Pi boards, motors, servos, or video cameras and other devices. Importantly, all of the projects are designed to be fabricated with small, desktop 3D printers.

The book starts by showing how to fabricate a simple gooseneck lamp that uses an LED light powered by a 9-volt “wall wart.” From there, the projects increase in complexity, to fabricated devices such as a two-axis camera gimbal and a flower-care robot that monitors soil moisture and adds water when the soil gets dry. Numerous photographs, illustrations and how-to steps are provided.

This well-written book shows that much can be done, even at the hobby level, with just a few custom 3D printed parts and some electronics.

 

3D CAD with Autodesk 123D

Design for 3D Printing, Laser Cutting, and Personal Fabrication

Jesse Harrington Au & Emily Gertz

(Maker Media, paperback)

The first steps to 3D printing include “learning how to design for three dimensions using a computer” and having an idea “where to start,” the authors of this useful book point out.

“Many makers who are accustomed to creating by hand view CAD [computer-aided design] software suspiciously. They may worry that digital design will lack soul, or be perceived as cheating. Neither is true,” Jesse Harrington Au and Emily Gertz insist. “A good CAD program can be just that: an aid in realizing your vision for your project.”

Autodesk 123D is one of several popular “parametric design” software packages on the market. The authors note: “The term parametric refers to the use of design parameters, such as measurements, to construct and control the 3D model. This means you will first create a sketch that has measurements attached to it. Those measurements will be used to construct your solid model using different features such as extrude, revolve, or loft.

“This being said, 123D is also capable of ‘tinkering’: using loosely based measurements while fleshing out the look and feel of your design. The power of this is that it allows you to tweak your model during the design process based on actual measurements.”

The book shows how to navigate CAD programs, and it covers how to work with the cloud-based Autodesk 123D “family of programs that allow you to share models between the different apps.”

3D CAD with Autodesk 123D is richly illustrated and well written, with much of the how-to text contained in short paragraphs that offer clear steps.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

Step away from the ‘smartphone’ and try using your hands and mind to make something – #bookreview

The Make: Series of How-to Books

A British scientist made headlines a few years ago when she warned that young people no longer make or repair things. It has become all too easy for them now, she cautioned, to simply throw away old or broken devices and buy new ones.

A key point was that many things currently being discarded could be fixed or refurbished and put to new uses. It would just take a little effort, a little learning, and some imagination.

I ran into some of that “no longer make or repair things” attitude a few years ago while working temporarily as a substitute teacher. If you have ever been a substitute in a public high school or middle school, you likely know that students often view “subs” as an excuse to pay absolutely no attention to anything he or she says.

When I could get no interest or response to the day’s assigned work in a science class, I tried introducing a challenge: Imagine you have become stranded on a desert island in the Pacific Ocean, and you have just a few items with which to try to survive and attract the attention of a passing ship. The items ranged from coconuts and palm fronds to a pocket mirror, a small magnifying glass, a couple of cups, some string and a safety-pin.

I figured the kids might come up with some clever ways to (1) crack open the coconuts for food and liquid, (2) start a fire using a magnifying glass and dried palm fronds, (3) use the string and safety-pin to catch a fish to cook over the fire, (4) use the cups to boil seawater and capture the steam to make a little drinking water, and (5) prepare a separate pile of palm fronds to burn as a rescue signal to a passing ship.

Ha. At first, the students seemed intrigued and engaged by the challenge. They immediately started calling out survival “strategies.” Unfortunately, most of their ideas started with two concepts: “First, I’d go to the mall and buy…” or “First, I’d go online and buy….”

The reality of being stranded in isolation without immediate communication did not even register with them at first. When they did begin to try to imagine surviving without their smartphones, they quickly ran out of ideas and became sullen or antagonistic toward me.

This experience also became the straw that finally broke the back of my desire to continue as a substitute teacher. I had grown up at a time when making, tinkering, building, and repairing all were noble pursuits for a teenager interested in science, electronics, space and engineering. If I wanted a shortwave radio or a new type of model airplane or a small rocket I could launch in my back yard, I built them from scratch or combined pieces of previous projects. None of this experience registered with my students. And my next attempts to stir up enthusiasm for making and repairing things similarly fell flat.

Make It So?

Do you worry that your kids are growing up not knowing how to make things or fix things? Do you fret that you no longer remember how to make things or fix things?

Working with your hands, eyes and brain – and not just mindlessly swiping an index finger across a tiny screen – can be both physically and mentally rewarding.

Of course, the web is alive with “how to” information for making or repairing almost anything. And I make occasional pilgrimages to public libraries and bookstores to find reference materials and instruction books related to specific projects.

I am an unabashed fan of the “Make:” series of books from Maker Media. I don’t build all of their projects, but I do try out some of them. And I enjoy reading about zany, yet sometimes practical, stuff such as (1) how to use a magnet to tell if money is counterfeit, (2) how to create artwork that actually does something, using just a handful of electronic components, (3) how to generate electric power with several lemons connected in series, or (4) how to make some really good paper airplanes and paper helicopters. The “Make:” books consistently feature clear, well-organized instructional text, illustrations and photographs of how things go together.

Books such as Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff (2nd edition), Easy 1+2+3 Projects, and Planes, Gliders, and Paper Rockets can appeal to parents and children who are in elementary school or older. For older kids and their parents, or for would-be engineers, Make: books such as Bluetooth, Getting Started with Intel Edison, and 3D Printing Projects can be helpful and enlightening how-to guides. Books on numerous other topics also are offered.

Do your kids (and/or you) seem unhealthily addicted now to clutching and staring at smartphones all day? You may want to try putting the devices aside and seeing what you can create with your hands, your mind, some household materials and a few readily available gadgets that don’t require pricey data plans and contracts.

You can do it! Power off now! (Okay, for just a few minutes at first if you insist and if you have a really bad case of smartphone withdrawal.)

— Si Dunn

Rapid Android Development – Using Processing to build apps fast – #programming #bookreview

Rapid Android Development

Build Rich, Sensor-Based Applications with Processing
Daniel Sauter
(Pragmatic Bookshelfpaperback)

The main goal of Daniel Sauter’s nicely written new book is to help you learn “how to develop interactive, sensor-based Android apps” quickly.

At first glance, you may question how “quickly” you can go through 13 chapters with a total of 363 pages, including the index.

But there’s good news here, particularly if you are not a patient programmer. The book is divided into five parts, all structured to serve as “self-contained mini-courses.” And the author has geared his text toward six semi-specific categories of readers.

Sauter, by the way, is an artist and educator with some eight years’ experience teaching Processing. Processing is a free “award-winning, graphics-savvy” programming language and development environment that can be used to work with Android devices and software.

Let’s go to the six reader categories first. Rapid Android Development is aimed at:

  1. Readers with at least “a basic understanding of programming concepts….”
  2. Intermediate Processing users “looking to create Android apps from within the Processing IDE….”
  3. “Educators who teach courses on mobile technologies” and need “a free tool that does not require developer licenses or subscriptions.”
  4. Java and Android developers who want to use Processing to leverage “a host of libraries for productivity gains.” (Java developers will quickly see that Processing builds on Java.)
  5. JavaScript and Web developers who want to use Processing.js syntax to help them create “JavaScript-powered web applications that can run inside browsers without plugins or other modifications. Processing.js also takes advantage of WebGL hardware acceleration.”
  6. Arduino users and hobbyists, particularly those “interested in adapting Android phones or tablets for use as sensing devices, controllers, or graphics processors.”

Now let’s look at the five parts of Rapid Android Development.

  • Part I focuses on installing Processing and the Android SDK but also looks at touch screens and Android sensors and cameras.
  • Part II is devoted to “working with the camera and location devices found on most Androids.”
  • Part III’s emphasis is on peer-to-peer networking, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct, plus Near Field Communication (NFC), which is “expected to revolutionize the point-of-sale industry,” Sauter notes.
  • Part IV “deals with data and storage,” he adds, “as all advanced apps require some sort of data storage and retrieval to keep user data up-to-date.”
  • Part V examines 3D graphics and cross-platform apps.

You will need several software tools and at least one Android device to work with the code examples in this book. (The book lists several Android phones and tablets that have been tested with the code examples, which are available online.)

If you want to do some work in Part III, you will need at least two Android devices (so your peer can have a peer). And if you have absolutely no programming experience, you should get some first. Sauter, an associate professor of New Media art at the University of Illinois–Chicago School of Art and Design, offers some suggestions for good sources.

His new book seems a bit light on illustrations. But its well-displayed, well-explained code examples and clear how-to paragraphs keep the reader moving and making progress.

If you are a creative coder looking for some new skills, projects and challenges, check out Rapid Android Development, ASAP.

Si Dunn 

Arduino Workshop – An excellent hands-on guide with 65 DIY projects – #arduino #bookreview

Arduino Workshop
A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects
John Boxall
(No Starch Press – paperback, Kindle)

If you’ve been wanting to tinker with a tiny Arduino computer, this excellent book can show you how to do much more than simply get started.

Indeed, John Boxall’s Arduino Workshop can keep you busy, challenged and intrigued for a long time as you work your way through basic electronics, basic Arduino programming, and a big selection of interesting and useful projects. The book’s instructions are written clearly, and they feature numerous close-up photographs, diagrams, screenshots, code listings, and other illustrations that can help you perform the how-to steps for each project.

The devices you can build with the open source Arduino microcomputer platform range from a battery tester for single-cell batteries to a GPS logger that records your travels and displays them on Google Maps. Some other examples include a digital thermometer that displays temperature changes on an LCD screen, a device that reads radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and a remote-controlled toy tank that you steer with an infrared TV remote. You can even create and program your own breadboard Arduino microcontroller using a handful of parts and Boxall’s instructions, diagrams, and photographs.

If that isn’t enough projects, the book also shows how to create a couple of games, plus an Arduino texter that sends your cell phone a text message when a particular event occurs. And you can rig up a simple Arduino device that will allow you to control its digital output pins by sending it a text message from your phone.

With Arduino projects, you not only do some computer programming (to create the “sketches” that control the microcomputer), you likewise learn to work with electronic components such as resistors, capacitors, LEDs and LCDs, oscillator crystals, voltage regulators, and other small parts and devices.

You also can meet and learn from other Arduino enthusiasts, Boxall notes in Arduino Workshop. “The Arduino project has grown exponentially since its introduction in 2005,” he writes. “It’s now a thriving industry, supported by a community of people united with the common bond of creating something new. You’ll find both individuals and groups, ranging from interest groups and clubs to local hackerspaces and educational institutions, all interested in toying with the Arduino.”

Si Dunn

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot – #diy #bookreview

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot
Michael Margolis
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

Technology now makes it relatively easy to build simple robots that can be controlled remotely or can control themselves autonomously using built-in sensors and software.

This engaging how-to guide focuses on how to build and program a small robot that can roam around, sense its environment, and perform a variety of tasks, using either type of control.

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot is an excellent book for teachers, hobbyists and experimenters who like working with software and hardware. The book’s simple robot moves about on a chassis that has two-wheel or four-wheel drive. And its heart is an Arduino Uno or Arduino Leonardo microcontroller running programs (“sketches”) provided in the book and available at a link for download.

Some basic assembly is required, including gathering parts and circuit boards and doing some soldering and mechanical assembly, following the book’s instructions. The robot can be built on small platforms from DFRobot or platforms of your own creation. And devices can be added, including distance sensors, infrared reflectance sensors, and remote control receivers.

The book is “not an introduction to programming,” however. If you have no experience with programming or programming Arduino microcontrollers, the author recommends two books: Getting Started with Arduino, 2nd Edition, and Arduino Cookbook, 2nd Edition.

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot has 11 chapters and six appendices. The chapters are:

  1. Introduction to Robot Building
  2. Building the Electronics
  3. Building the Two-Wheeled Mobile Platform
  4. Building the Four-Wheeled Mobile Platform
  5. Tutorial: Getting Started with Arduino
  6. Testing the Robot’s Basic Functions
  7. Controlling Speed and Direction
  8. Tutorial: Introduction to Sensors
  9. Modifying the Robot to React to Edges and Lines
  10. Autonomous Movement
  11. Remote Control

The appendices are:

  • Appendix A: Enhancing Your Robot
  • Appendix B: Using Other Hardware with Your Robot
  • Appendix C: Debugging Your Robot
  • Appendix D: Power Sources
  • Appendix E: Programming Constructs
  • Appendix F: Arduino Pin and Timer Usage

Whether you love serious experimentation and invention or just tinkering for fun and mental challenge, Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot opens up many possibilities for individual, family, and classroom activities and learning.

Si Dunn

Make: Volume 32 – Zany and practical projects and articles for DIY builders – #bookreview

Make: Volume 32
(O’Reilly, paperback)

Make: is a science, technology, and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects magazine published quarterly in paperback book format. Volume 32 not only has intriguing articles about private rocketeers, flying motorcycles, and human-size replicas of videogame costumes and weapons. It also has about two dozen “complete plans” for a wide array of useful and zany projects.

One of the projects in Volume 32 is “The Awesome Button,” a big red desktop button that you can hit when you can’t think of a synonym for the totally overused word “awesome” while you’re composing email or a letter or a manuscript. The project uses a $16 Teensy USB Development Board made by PJRC, plus some downloaded code. When your fist hammers down on the big red button, the board generates random synonyms for “awesome” and sends them to your computer so you can quickly accept or reject them in your document.

Another project is a catapult launcher that will send a tiny balsa wood glider zooming 150 feet into the air. Beats the heck out of a rubber band looped around a Popsicle stick.

And another DIY article focuses on the joys of salvaging perfectly good electronic and mechanical parts from discarded laser printers, so you can use the parts in other projects.

Make: Volume 33 is due to appear in January. In the meantime, Volume 32 is full of fun reading and intriguing projects, such as how to transform data files into synthesized music.

Si Dunn

Oh, say can you C? Learning to program with Head First C – #bookreview #in #programming

Head First C
By David Griffiths and Dawn Griffiths
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $49.99)

 Long ago, in a universe now very far away, I was an ABC programmer: assembler, BASIC, and C. I learned C from a book popularly known as “K&R,” after its authors, Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie. (Their classic work is now available in an updated second edition.)

But I had no mentors, so I struggled to figure out and apply many of the basic concepts that were not quite spelled out clearly enough or illustrated well enough for me in K&R.

I really wish I had had a book like Head First C, instead. My geeky logical side often is ruled and frequently overruled by my unstructured, illogical artistic side.

For learners like me, O’Reilly’s “Head First” series makes effective and entertaining use of graphics. It also addresses readers with a conversational style that avoids lecturing. And it focuses on trying to make sure you understand and can apply each new element.

Thus, Head First C does not try to be a complete C language reference guide. It shows you how to work with C’s major concepts, and you begin using them right away, so you can start understanding the process of becoming an effective C programmer. After that, if you are motivated to continue, you can push on into other books that do attempt to be complete C reference texts.

This “brain friendly guide” shows how to download free C compilers for Linux, Macintosh, and Windows machines. And, the authors assure: “All the code in this book is intended to run across all these operating systems, and we’ve tried hard not to write anything that will only work on one type of computer.”

Another positive for this book: You don’t have to key in or wade through dozens of lines of code to get to the few lines you are really supposed to be studying. “Most examples in this book are shown within the smallest possible context, so that the part you’re trying to learn is clear and simple.”

And, the book has been given a thorough technical review. So the code examples that are intended to work generally will work.

The book’s 12 chapters focus on the following topics:

  1. Getting Started with C
  2. Memory and Pointers
  3. Strings
  4. Creating Small Tools
  5. Using Multiple Source Files
  6. Structs, Unions, and Bitfields
  7. Data Structures and Dynamic Memory
  8. Advanced Functions
  9. Static and Dynamic Libraries
  10. Processes and System Calls
  11. Interprocess Communication
  12. Sockets and Networking
  13. Threads

About midway through the book, you are presented with your first lab exercise. You write some C code and hook up a few hardware components to create an Arduino-powered plant monitor that lights up an LED and repeatedly sends the string “Feed me!” to your screen if a plant needs to be watered.

In the book’s second lab exercise, you write C code that lets your computer and its web cam act as an intruder detector. You do this with help from OpenCV, “an open source computer vision library. It allows you to take input from your computer camera, process it, and analyze real-time image data and make decisions based on what your computer sees.”

In the third and final lab exercise, you use your new C skills to write a video game called “Blasteroids,” with help from the Allegro open source game development library.

Head First C is a first and foremost a very good book for beginners, especially those who have at least a little bit of programming experience. But it delves into some advanced-level topics, too, such as multithreading and network programming.

If learning C is your goal, Head First C can help you stay focused, stay entertained and happily soak up the things you need to know.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir. He is the author of an e-book detective novel, Erwin’s Law, now also available in paperback, plus a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.