embedXcode: A Better Way to Develop for Arduino on the Mac using Xcode

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If you are writing code for your Arduino on a Mac and you’ve previously written code using Apple’s FREE Xcode IDE, you know that the standard Arduino development environment is lacking in functionality, especially those which professional software developers have had in their IDEs for years. My personal favorite is Apple’s Xcode IDE, which is the primary IDE used in developing applications for the OS X on the Mac and for iOS applications on Apple’s mobile platforms (which are technically ALSO running Apple’s OS X operating system).

Arduino C++ development in Xcode on OS X

Arduino C++ development in Xcode on OS X using embedXcode+

To be clear, this article is NOT a knock on the Arduino environment. The Arduino IDE you download from arduino.cc is quite a capable little IDE for FREE. It’s got just what most people need to get up and running with their shiny new Arduino board. Therein lies the rub: It’s great for getting started. If you find yourself writing larger sketches (the term used by Arduino peeps for programs that run on Arduino board) and you’re maintaining more and more libraries, it’s easy to see the need for more advanced IDE features like code completion, live syntax checking, indexing and whole project management (to name a few). The Arduino IDE was not designed for large embedded development projects.

A very smart guy named Rei Vilo has written a plugin for Xcode called, “embedXcode” (and “embedXcode+“) which VERY EASILY allows you to build Arduino projects (among other development boards in a continuously growing list) in a very advanced and solid IDE. You can download the standard embedXcode plugin system for FREE or a donation (although, I suggest you don’t be a cheapskate and pony up something for his efforts). I donated at the professional level for about US$129 and got the embedXcode+ plugin. It was worth every penny. Xcode rocks. Arduino boards rock. Writing Arduino projects in Xcode super-double-rocks, thanks to Rei Vilo.

Also, coincidentally, as I was writing this I found a link to a podcast at the OpenSourceHardwareGroup.com website where they interviewed Rei about embedXcode. It’s a good listen:

http://opensourcehardwaregroup.com/oshgroup-040-use-embedxcode-to-program-multiple-development-boards-with-arduino-code/

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The 2014 Southwest Maker Fest in Mesa, AZ

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Southwest Maker Fest 2014 in Downtown Mesa, AZ

Southwest Maker Fest 2014 in Downtown Mesa, AZ

This past Saturday (March 22, 2014) I attended the 1st Annual Southwest Maker Fest in Mesa, AZ. It was very cool for a 1st annual version of a fest, I must say. I’ve officially been calling myself a, “maker” for about 5 years now and I had never been to a maker-anything to speak of. This was a lot of fun.

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Introducing: The Office Chairiot Mark II – Labor In Motion Again

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What is electric, goes somewhere between 15 and 20 miles per hour and has an Ikea chair on it?

Office Chairiot Mark II - Test Drive Ready

Office Chairiot Mark II – Test Drive Ready

The Office Chairiot Mark II is the second generation of motorized office chair brought to you by yours truly. Why motorize an office chair? That’s a silly question and I will not dignify it with an answer. Office chairs are boring. Plus, on a hot summer day, I walk too slowly between our office buildings in ARIZONA. The Office Chairiot Mark II can do it in a fraction of the time and I sweat far less driving it. More

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Update on Backyard DIY LP Fire Pit

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It’s been a while since I posted the article on building my backyard fire pit. A good portion of the traffic to this site is because of the fire pit, so I thought I’d post an update with some new photos and tips on how the fire pit has been improved since it was built.

Here is the completed fire pit sanctuary in the back yard, complete with 400-lb. steel pergola and new fire rocks:

Complete fire pit, paver and pergola setup

Complete fire pit, paver and pergola setup

The pergola comes from Lowe’s. I can’t find it on their website anymore, sorry. As you can see, the outhouse is still in one piece, even after several good parties and the Arizona weather being what it is, good and bad.

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OS X Mavericks 10.9.2 Causes SSL Errors with Git and Bitbucket

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I use git to protect myself from myself. When I write code for AVR, Arduino, iOS, OS X or even the web, I stick it in a git repository on bitbucket.org (it’s free to have many private repos, so check it out) (thank you, Atlassian!). At the meltmedia office, we use the gitflow process of source code management to manage our projects and it works wonderfully. So, between home and the office, I use both github and bitbucket.

Source code management (“SCM”) is s-m-r-t smart and easy as pie (assuming making pies is indeed easy) with git. If I mangle the source code in my project, I can roll it back to a working state. If I want to try something out that will require major fiddling with the code in a project, I branch and fiddle. If it works, I merge it back in. If the experiment fails, I dump the branch like it never happened.

This post is the quick story about a couple of hours I lost thanks to a recent update to OS X Mavericks 10.9.2. Perhaps it will save someone some headaches, especially if they overthink things like I tend to do. If you have an avocado handy, it won’t help much, but it won’t hurt, either.

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A Maker Review on Bluetooth Smart Beacons (or Apple iBeacons)

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UPDATED!!! (as of 08-Feb-2014)

Lately, but not for very long (as of the writing of this article), there has been a bit of buzzy-buzzy around Apple’s iBeacon technology. It’s a mixture of software and hardware that allows iOS devices to receive one-way broadcasts from little Bluetooth “beacon” devices. It’s said to be the big “NFC killer” (NFC = Near Field Communications). I would add an asterisk to that statement: It’s an NFC killer as far as retail and point-of-purchase, but probably not as far as supply chain (container tracking), security (door fobs, badges) and other non-retail uses.

I didn’t think much about the technology at first. “NFC killer” seemed like a pretty bold statement. How can you beat the simplicity of just touching your phone to a thingie at the point-of-purchase (“PoP”)? It’s basically “tap-to-buy.” However, after some thought and discussions with business development peeps at the office, the possibilities beyond PoP started to become obvious. I started to realize just how flippin’ cool this unassuming technology really was. Lemme ‘splain…

What is (are) iBeacons?

iBeacons (the word or name) is a trademark of Apple (go figure, given the “i” in front of “Beacons”). As a side note, there’s also a “LIVE” trademark registration for the same name owned by a company in Canada, but for a slightly different concept. I don’t know if that trademark has been taken over by Apple or not. I’m not a patent/trademark attorney. It’s status is “live,” so I assume it is coexisting, at this point.

We first learned of iBeacons at the 2013 Apple World Wide Developer Conference. It was a little label on a slide during the keynote presentation that wasn’t really hyped at the time:

WWDC 2013 API Slide with iBeacons

WWDC 2013 API Slide with iBeacons

Developers who are under the usual Apple Developer NDA and who attended WWDC’13 got to see more about iBeacons technology in the CoreLocation session. The iOS CoreLocation framework makes it pretty easy to work with beacon devices and beacon regions, as I’ve found out experimenting with them. More on that later…
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Touch Screens: Some Interesting History and Info

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I stumbled onto an article about touch screen technology through Twitter via Atmel. They gave a tiny little piece of history on touch screens and have a great infographic on it. I took one of the names and started searching and found cool little nuggets of useless but fun information on the subject and wanted to compile it here. Most of it is just regurgitating Wikipedia, but it’s still nice to have it all written up concisely and not so encyclopedically-sounding. If you’d rather read all this unfiltered, it’s at Wikipedia here (about touch screens in general) and here (about multi-touch). I’ve just reorganized and distilled it all. Accuracy is not guaranteed and was not at all verified. If I were to write a book about it, I’d go double-check all this stuff. This is a blog. It’s not worth the pixels it’s printed on.

As stated in the Atmel article, touch screens are EVERYWHERE now. So much so that children think screens that do not respond to touch are simply broken. A monitor without touch is, well, quaint. Remember that scene from the movie “Star Trek 4: The Voyage” where Scotty talks into the MacIntosh mouse? “The keyboard… How quaint.”

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Recycled Sparkfun Shipping Box Wire Dispenser

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If you’re like me, and I know I am, you have spools of wire or solder sitting around. I generally put mine in the cabinet above my desk. Lately, with more projects going on, I find myself pulling them down out of the cabinet constantly. I had a collection of the most used spools sitting on the workbench cluttering it up.

Well, no more, I say! Here’s how I organized them and made it easier to pull pieces from them quickly:

Sparkfun Shipping Box Wire Dispenser

Sparkfun Shipping Box Wire Dispenser

I have so many of those red Sparkfun shipping boxes sitting around. For some reason, I can’t seem to find a reason to break them down and recycle them. Turns out, two of them are the perfect size to hold FOUR spools of my 22 AWG colored solid core wire:

Sparkfun Shipping Box Plus Two Pieces of Pine Trim

Sparkfun Shipping Box Plus Two Pieces of Pine Trim

Trim the flaps a bit, add two pieces of pine trim or dowel and poke some holes. Boom! Recycled wire dispenser. Works great at keeping my spools organized (and spooled). They stack nicely, too. More

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How To Compete in Your Company’s FitBit Walk Competition While Injured

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FitBit One - Tracks steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed and sleep.

FitBit One – Tracks steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed and sleep.

I built a machine to walk my FitBit for me. I call it the FitBit Cheat-O-Matic! Why? Our office is having a FitBit competition this month (November 2013). In preparing for the competition I overworked my Achilles tendon and could not participate. So, I adopted the mantra:

If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em.

The FitBit Cheat-O-Matic is a machine that shakes my FitBit for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and does it faster than my normal walking pace. I suppose it’s actually faster than most people can run, for that matter. Sure it’s cheating! Not only is it cheating, but it’s cheating at a level that’s so blatant it can’t be mistaken for anything else! It’s fully disqualified from the competition, of course. But the point is no longer to win the competition, but to be totally ridiculous and to rack up outrageous FitBit stats and make people laugh or maybe shake their heads.

How It Works

Turns out you can simply shake (but not too hard) a FitBit in just about any orientation (which is pretty cool, actually) and it will register steps. Not rocket surgery, really, but took a little experimentation. After the minute or two it took to find the optimum rate, I was all set. Shaking something with a servo and an Arduino is child’s play.

At the heart of the machine there is one of my usual Arduino-compatible microcontrollers-on-a-breadboard (AVR ATmega328-PU, 16 MHz crystal, AVR ISP Mk II programmer, 3.3V switching regulator and supporting components) that controls the servo holding my FitBit out on its little arm. There is a potentiometer that allows me to adjust the speed at which the servo shakes the FitBit. Easy as that.

FitBit Cheat-O-Matic Control Circuit

FitBit Cheat-O-Matic Control Circuit

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iPotti #2: After a Number One, We Had to Make a Number Two

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Subtitle: Electric Imp, Keep an Eye on the Bathroom, Would Ya?

Official iPotti #2 Logo

Official iPotti #2 Logo designed by Dave Woodruff

iPotti #2 is the latest incarnation of iPotti, the custom bathroom availability monitoring system I built for my employer, meltmedia. I started designing and building the original iPotti in 2010 and it went into operation in early 2011. At the time, there wasn’t anything like it that we were aware of. Lately, some other similar systems have popped up and their inventors have done some pretty cool stuff with them. I’ve found inspiration to reinvent iPotti. Plus, at meltmedia we’d like to use the device for marketing purposes in the near future.

Since 2011, meltmedia has outgrown its original office where iPotti (“number one”) is installed. At that time there were about 20-some-odd meltmedians. Today, there are over 60 of us and we now occupy TWO different office spaces on the same campus. On the plus side, with the growth in the number of meltmedians came a growth in the number of pottis at meltmedia to service those meltmedians. On the not-plus side, there is only ONE iPotti #1 and it only watches TWO of the 9 or 10 pottis across two buildings. This situation needed to be rectumfied. [snicker]

iPotti #2 Prototype in Action

iPotti #2 Prototype in Action

iPotti #2 is in the fully functional prototype stage. Stick it near a light or a door and BOOM! Pictured above you see the light sensing iPotti #2 prototype. It’s not beautiful, but it works like a champ. I’m designing the new circuit board for the real thing right now, but I wanted to get this article out because what is working is pretty darn cool. I just couldn’t wait. It’s built entirely by parts purchased from one of my favorite sources, Sparkfun Electronics. Plus, it’s a different approach to how status is broadcast to clients as compared to the previous version. More

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