‘Make: Drones’ – A hobbyist’s how-to guide – #bookreview

Yes, drones are controversial. And drones of any size or type make many people nervous. As someone who built and flew seemingly thousands of model airplanes in my youth, I have decidedly mixed emotions about drones. They can be used for many good things, for many evil things, as well as for actions within virtually any gray area of human endeavour.

Drones now are with us for the present and the future, and many young people and adults fly them for fun, the same way I flew a few radio-controlled model airplanes. Good advances in technology someday may result from the enjoyment a kid currently is getting from flying a tiny plastic drone.

Therefore, as a book reviewer, I will now mostly put aside my personal reservations and offer a few comments on the contents of Make: Drones, a new how-to hobbyist book from MakerMedia.

The book offers several hands-on, do-it-yourself (DIY) projects for crafting your own drones, using some existing frames.

By the way, you don’t worry much about aerodynamics when flying multirotor ‘copter drones. Your concerns are the spinning rotors, the control system that receives your radio signals and adjusts the drone’s movements, and the drone’s battery. Multiple rotors provide the lift, propulsion and steering. If the rotors quit turning for some reason, your drone instantly becomes a stone. And, if the battery overheats, your drone may become a flaming stone.

Make: Drones presents projects covering three classes of multirotor drones.

In the small drone category, author David McGriffy notes: “First we take some measurements and try to improve the performance of an existing small drone, the Hubsan X4C. Then we build a new small drone using a Hubsan frame and an open source flight controller. It’s called the X4Wii since it uses an X4 frame and MultiWii flight control code.”

In the medium-sized drone category, he explains: “Once again we start with the frame from an existing drone, the Syma X5. We use an Arduino Teensy 3.2 as the core of our new flight control system, adding modules for power, sensors, and radios. A custom circuit board ties it all together. Finally, so people can see this new custom controller, we put a clear lid on it and call this project the Visible Drone.”

And the large-drone project “is based on the S500 frame kit,” McGriffy states. “For flight control, this one uses the powerful Pixhawk Lite control and ArduCopter flight control software. Combined with a high-performance GPS unit, this system can fly completely autonomous missions–and it has the power to carry a useful payload while doing it. This one will make a great aerial photography platform.”

McGriffy’s book offers good, clear writing, plus a sufficient number of photographs, drawings, diagrams and code examples. Many different issues are covered, from choosing propellers that give the most thrust, to dealing with vibration, and picking good failsafe settings so your drone automatically will return to the takeoff point if you somehow lose control of it.

You also get good advice for dealing with assembly quirks and wiring issues involving some of the frames.

As for safety, McGriffy predicts: “I believe we will learn to build a class of drone that can be safely flown in and around people. People fly their drones close to people all the time now, regardless, so this will be good for everyone, pilots and bystanders alike.”

Until the creepiness factor goes away, however, I predict I will instinctively swat at any drone that flies anywhere near me.

 

Si Dunn

Make: Drones

Teach an Arduino to Fly

David McGriffy

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

 

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‘Make It Glow: LED Projects for the Whole Family’ – #bookreview

Back when I first learned basic electrical and electronic circuits, I also learned how to burn my fingers on a hot soldering iron and how to accidentally cut and pinch my digits with wire cutters and needle-nosed pliers. Years later, I learned how to make printed circuit boards, using nasty, corrosive chemicals and an electric drill with tiny bits that frequently broke. It was not all that much fun.

Make It Glow: LED Projects for the Whole Family, written by Emily Coker and Kelli Townley, offers some kinder, gentler approaches to learning basic circuits and how to wire together batteries, switches, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), conductive thread, and electroluminescent wire.

The new book from MakerMedia presents some two dozen projects divided into skill levels 1, 2 and 3, with Skill Level 1 projects being the simplest. “No special skills or experience are required for these projects,” the authors note, ” though hot-glue guns, craft knives, and other common materials and tools may be needed.”

Some of the Skill Level 1 projects include soda-bottle ghosts and simple bug-like creatures with glowing eyes.

The intermediate Skill Level 2 projects “introduce new materials, tools, and techniques–from paper folding (origami) to simple sewing skills–and they may require participants to follow more precise instructions. Adult supervision suggested.”

Some of the Skill Level 2 projects include an origami firefly that flickers and a wearable, glowing cuff.

And the “more challenging” Skill Level 3 projects “may take longer or require more complex skills, including sewing and soldering. Some introduce new components, such as resistors. Adult supervision highly recommended.”

Typical Skill Level 3 projects include a glowing pinwheel and a glow-in-the dark dog collar.

The key items in the projects at all levels are light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and 3-volt coin-cell batteries.

The book is well-organized, written with clarity in step-by-step format, and well-illustrated with color photographs. The book also uses coil binding, so it lies flat on a table.

I have not seen this binding used in previous MakerMedia books I have reviewed. It is  a very practical choice, especially for family projects where several children and adults may be trying to work with the book at the same time. (A Kindle version of the book also is available.)

Si Dunn

** Get the book here **

Make It Glow

LED Projects for the Whole Family

Emily Coker and Kelli Townley

Maker Media, spiral-bound paperback, Kindle

 

 

New book ‘Tools’ shows how to cut, shape and assemble wood or plastic projects – #bookreview

Maker Media’s new book Tools is subtitled “How They Work and How to Use Them.” But the Tools title seems a little too broad for what is covered. Most of the tools described in the book’s pages are associated mainly with working with wood or ABS plastic, not with metal or other materials.

That is a minor criticism, however. The book is well written and nicely illustrated with photographs and other graphics that show how to use particular tools and how to avoid creating splits, ragged edges or bad cuts across wood grain.

Even readers who have some experience with do-it-yourself projects can learn some helpful techniques and information from this book. And younger readers who have grown up playing video games and tinkering with cell phone apps rather than making things may be able to learn many useful tool-handling skills from these pages.

Tools presents more than 20 “hands-on projects that don’t require a big investment in time and materials.” The projects range from puzzles and bookcases to picture frames and a Swanee whistle (a slide whistle from 19th century England), as well as an adjustable paper towel dispenser.

Meanwhile, the promise that you won’t need a workshop may be true, because “everything can be done on a kitchen table.” Yet, you might prefer to not risk a good kitchen table while learning tools and building things. One slip of a screwdriver, file or glue pot could permanently damage the table. As the book suggests, however, you can cover part of the kitchen table with a large piece of plywood or Masonite and use that as the work surface.

You start off slow, making a Soma cube puzzle with just a handsaw, a square dowel and some carpenter’s glue. In each chapter, new tools and new challenges are introduced, and the importance of having some mathematical skills quickly becomes apparent as measurements are taken, angles are marked, and various shapes are marked and cut from rectangular pieces of wood or plastic.

Beyond its nonspecific title, Tools nicely meets its goal of helping readers have fun while learning the fundamentals of using numerous workshop tools and materials.

Si Dunn

Tools

How They Work and How to Use Them

Charles Platt

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

 

 

 

 

‘Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments’: Good projects for the new or experienced amateur scientist

You don’t need science degrees and big grants to perform useful, meaningful research, says one of America’s foremost amateur scientists, Forrest W. Mims III.

In his well-written new book, Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments: DIY Projects from the Pages of Make:, Mims notes that amateur scientists are continuing to do “what they’ve done for centuries. They’ve discovered significant dinosaur fossils, found new species of plants, and identified many new comets and asteroids. Their discoveries have been published in scientific journals and books. Likewise, thousands of websites detail an enormous variety of amateur science tips, projects, activities, and discoveries.”

He adds: “Today’s amateur scientists have access to sophisticated components, instruments, computers, and software that could not even be imagined back in 1962 when I built my first computer, a primitive analog device….”

His new book shows how to use simple, homemade or purchased devices to study and gather data on a wide array of subjects: heat islands, sunlight, twilight, ultraviolet light, infrared light, airborne particles, vibrations from earth tremors, and more. He even shows how to convert tree ring patterns into musical notes.

Generally, the do-it-yourself hardware and projects he describes are inexpensive and do not require fancy tools. Some are as simple as making a basic pinhole camera and using a small piece of blueprint paper to capture an image, and others require a few inexpensive electronic components or devices. For example, in one chapter, he writes: “For  as little as $20, you can begin tracking the atmosphere’s most important greenhouse gas, water vapor. And you can do so at any time, day or night, so long as the sky directly above you is cloud-free.”

Sometimes, you need a personal computer, too, plus some software and a digital camera. Depending on which experiments you choose to pursue, you may need other items, as well, such as a hobby knife, glue gun, clamps, sandpaper and more.

Mims’ book also contains interesting stories from his own career in electronics, inventing and doing amateur science. And he includes a brief but entertaining look at Thomas Jefferson’s life and accomplishments as an “amateur scientist…who made improvements in the design of clocks, instruments, and the polygraph copying machines that duplicated his letters as he wrote them.”

Si Dunn

Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments

DIY Projects from the Pages of Make:

Forrest M. Mims III

Maker Media, Inc., paperback  (Kindle ebook also available)

 

 

 

 

Some Book Choices for ‘National Week of Making,’ June 17-23, 2016 – #books #WeekofMaking

The White House and the University of the District of Columbia are two of the sites helping spotlight the National Week of Making, June 17-23, 2016.

“America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs,” a White House news release recently stated.

“Empowering students and adults to create, innovate, tinker, and make their ideas and solutions into reality is at the heart of the Maker Movement.”

Step Away from that SmartPhone and Make Something! 

Do you worry that your children or grandchildren now spend too much time messing with cellphones and game players and no time learning basic life skills such as how to work with tools to create or repair things?

Do you worry that you have become a slave to time-wasting digital distractions and have lost touch with how to make stuff, repair things or create something new from available materials?

It may be time to be come a maker, too, and an advocate for others who need to expand their horizons beyond the devices clutched tightly in their hands.

Some How-to-Make-Something Book Selections

In recognition of National Week of Making and the third annual White House Maker Faire, here are some books from Maker Media that can help you and others get into (or back into) the art, science and fun of making things and learning useful skills.

Start Making!

A Guide to Engaging Young People in Maker Activities

Danielle Martin and Alisha Panjwani

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

Making is “the process of creating projects based on your ideas and interest,” the authors emphasize. “This Start Making! guide offers a series of creative do-it-yourself (DIY) projects that introduce young people to the basics of circuitry, coding, crafting, and engineering.”

Start Making! describes “a series of activity sessions that you can adapt to your situation” as an organizer and/or leader of activities for children and teens. “You can offer your own version of Start Making! activities in your home, at the library, at an after-school club, at the local community center, or anywhere else young people can gather to work on projects together.”

Tinkering

Kids Learn by Making Stuff, 2nd Edition

Curt Gabrielson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

Giving kids the time, opportunity and motivation to tinker with things (and make things from other things) can have big educational payoffs, the author, a science teacher, contends.

To the question “Are kids learning anything while they are having fun?”, he gives an enthusiastic and lengthy reply: “[H]eck yes they’re learning something, and it may be the most valuable thing they’ve learned all week, and it may raise all sorts of questions in their minds that inspire them to learn more about what they’re tinkering with, and it may start them on a path to a satisfying career, not to mention good fun on their own time, and it may put them in the driver’s seat of their own education by realizing their competence and ability to learn through tinkering, and they may begin to demand more of just this sort of learning opportunity.” Whew!

By the way, don’t just hand this book to a kid and say “Go have fun!” It is mainly written for adults who are willing to help children learn the joys of using their hands and minds to make stuff and try simple experiments.

 

Getting Started with 3D Printing

A Hands-on Guide to the Hardware, Software, and Services Behind the New
Manufacturing Revolution

Liza Wallach Kloski, Nick Kloski, and HoneyPoint3D™

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

In a consumer-grade 3D printer, “thin strand of melted plastic is laid down, layer by layer, on a flat surface where it cools and hardens into an object,” the authors explain.

This book will not turn you into a manufacturing expert, but it does introduce major aspects of 3D printing and shows how to get started with computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing. It also introduces new makers to the two main types of consumer 3D printers: FDM, which use filament for fused deposition modeling, and SLA, which use resin for stereolithography.

Likewise, you learn the benefits of outsourcing your printing to firms with bigger, more expensive machines than a typical home user can afford. Meanwhile, consumer-focused 3D printing service bureaus offer another, less expensive choice. And you can have printing done by a local “hub” source, which may be one person offering to run your project on his or her 3D printer. In any case, you focus on creating a good design and uploading your files, and then your creation gets printed and shipped to you—or you go pick it up.

The book also covers topics such as what supplies you will need, how to get and use free 3D modeling software, how to correct mistakes in your models and prints, and how to lay out a 3D printing workspace.

 

Getting Started with Processing.py

Making Interactive Graphics with Python’s Processing Mode

Allison Parrish, Ben Fry, Casey Reas

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

“Processing.py,” the authors explain, “is an interactive programming and graphics framework for the Python programming language.” This book shows how to create drawings, animations, and interactive images, even if you have never used Python or had any other programming experience.

Processing.py helps make coding more accessible to artists, educators, designers, and beginners. And the book can be used by children, teens, and adults.

Indeed, Getting Started with Processing.py is a good way to introduce a young person to computer programming, because the simple programs that are entered cause images to be created and objects to be moved. And the parameters of the images and objects often can be changed to create new effects.

 

Encyclopedia of Electronic Components

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sidunnVolume 3, Sensors

Charles Platt and Fredrik Jansson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

This final volume in the Encyclopedia of Electronics Components series focuses on a wide range of sensor devices that detect or respond to such factors as light, sound, heat, location, presence, proximity, orientation, oscillation, force, load, human input, gas and liquid properties, and electricity. The text describes what the sensors do, how they work, and how they can be used.

The authors note that many sensor devices previously were very expensive but “are now as cheap as basic semiconductor components such as a voltage regulator or a logic chip, and they are easy to use in conjunction with microcomputers.”

Si Dunn

‘Spring Boot in Action’ can help you push aside the old drudgeries of configuring Spring applications – #programming #bookreview

Spring in Action

Craig Walls

Manningpaperback

If you have worked with the decade-old Spring framework, you know well that it has a long history of providing configuration headaches for developers. The new Spring Boot framework, on the other hand, literally brings much-needed simplification and automation to the process of using Spring. And it can put some refreshing fun back into application development.

“Spring Boot,” Craig Walls states in his new book, “is an exciting new way to develop Spring applications with minimal friction from the framework itself. Auto-configuration eliminates much of the boilerplate configuration that infests traditional Spring applications. Spring Boot starters enable you to specify build dependencies by what they offer rather than use explicit library names and version. The Spring Boot CLI takes Spring Boot’s frictionless development model to a whole new level by enabling quick and easy development with Groovy from the command line. And the [Spring Boot] Actuator lets you look inside your running application to see what and how Spring Boot has done.”

You do not need a lot of Spring experience to benefit from this book. You do need some Java background, and it is helpful to have used Groovy, Gradle and Maven a few times. But the book’s text is written smoothly, and it is well illustrated, with numerous code examples and a few screen shoots. So Java developers who are fairly new likely can use it and pick up new skills.

While going through the book, you develop a reading-list application using Spring Initializr, Spring Boot, Spring Tool Suite, and other tools. In the project, you “use Spring MVC to handle web requests, Thymeleaf to define web views, and Spring Data JPA to persist the reading selections to a database,” Craig Walls explains. Initially, at least, “an embedded H2 database” is employed during development.

Walls’s book is divided into eight chapters:

1. Bootstarting Spring
2. Developing your first Spring Boot Application
3. Customizing configuration
4. Testing with Spring Boot
5. Getting Groovy with the Spring Boot CLI
6. Applying Grails in Spring Boot
7. Taking a peek inside the Actuator
8. Deploying Spring Boot applications

Four appendices also are presented: Spring Boot developer tools, Spring Boot starters, Configuration properties, and Spring Boot dependencies.

Bottom line: with Spring Boot providing much of the heavy lifting, you likely will gain better feelings about the venerable Spring framework. You may even wind up with a healthy new respect for it. And Spring Boot certainly should add more years to Spring’s usefulness and viability in the marketplace.

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