Arduino On Board

Photo by Nicholas Zambetti

I recently ordered an Arduino board to try another approach for getting sensor data into my computer. More and more of my students are using them, too, and I wanted some first-hand experience. Most of my previous work has been with the Basic Stamp family of boards. The Arduino arrived this week and I promptly sat down and gave it a try.

The first thing I noticed (aside from the price: the entire Arduino setup costs significantly less than similar boards!) was how much easier it was to get the Arduino going than the Stamp. This isn’t exactly a fair comparison, since my initial experience with Stamps was way back in 1999 or 2000, and it was also my first time fooling with microcontrollers. I’ve learned plenty since then, and the products (along with their attendant software) have come a long way. I have to give the nod to the Arduino for its cross-platform, open-source software. (When I first started with the Stamp I kept a junker 386 PC around, just to run the Stamp compiler. No fun.)

I’m also impressed by the Arduino software. I’ve admittedly done little more than fire up the example “sketches” and tweak a few lines of code. However, the Processing/Java-style language seems a better fit for my (weak) coding style. The community around the Arduino seems very active. There are already a number of projects that simplify moving data from the board to common software such as MaxMSP and Processing.

Then there’s also the luxury of the USB cable that serves for both communication and power supply. This may seem trivial, but I look forward to the day when I don’t need to change the battery in my sensor box before every performance, or carry a spare 9-volt wherever I go. I may also jettison my USB MIDI interface along with a MIDI cable required by my Stamp setup. Suddenly, though, my USB ports are getting a little crowded…

The one niggling worry I have is the serial communication with Max. Using MIDI is certainly slower, but seems foolproof to me: no handshaking necessary, a dead simple initialization process, etc. I hope my fears are simply due to a lack of experience; that once everything is setup and tested I’ll feel just as confident with the serial connection as I do with my aging MIDI cables.

Gig Survival Kit

I ran across this very sleek Electronic Musician Emergency Adapter Kit and it inspired me to post my own Gig Survival Kit. I used to carry a similar collection of adapters, but now I only carry a few adapters augmented by a set of tools.

Gig Survival Kit

From left to right and top to bottom:

  • combination phillips and flat head screwdriver
  • soldering iron
  • sponge and solder
  • electrical tape
  • spare battery (for Basic Stamp)
  • stereo 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter (headphone adapter)
  • wire cutter and stripper
  • wire ties
  • (2) RCA to 1/4″ adapters
  • ground lifter (lifesaving hum remover)
  • multimeter
  • outlet tester
  • flashlight
  • tres chic cosmetic bag to carry it all!
  • (What you don’t see in this picture since they’re carried separately: (2) DI boxes, a reasonably long extension cable for power, and the various audio cables needed for my performance rig.)

I began carrying the soldering tools when I started performing with sensor-augmented instruments using the Basic Stamp and I soon realized that they made most of my adapters obsolete. If I needed some strange cable, it was usually possible to make it on the spot.

The most often used pieces of kit are definitely the flashlight, the spare battery, and the DI boxes. I’ve had plenty of sour/funny/skeptical/scared looks from the heavy-metal sound guy at the club when I begin unpacking my weirdo electronic gear. Then I pull out my DI boxes and I see expressions of relief and gratitude from the sudden recognition that our gear can now speak a common language.

Oh, and the girly-girl cosmetic bag? Simple. It’s free (if you’re male, ask a female friend who wears even a little bit of makeup), it’s unmistakeable which makes easy to find on a dark stage, and it never fails to impress that heavy-metal sound guy.