Danny presents the Eee PC. There are many many models - from 700 series to 1000 series.
Best Buy has on sale a Eee PC 900A (actually 901A.) $220 after tax. Online $230 with tax. (Unfortunately the deal is over.)
- does not have a webcam like the real 901A
- does have a built in mic
- 3 USB ports (bluetooth adapters, USB CDROMs, etc.)
- monitor out port (1200x768 - which is not a real video resolution, so will look odd.)
- SD card slot
- 64Gb SDHC card (similar to a usb flash drive)
- The screen is clear.
- They come with Xandros Linux installed, with the sucky netbook interface. The Eee Ubuntu project has a desktop for it.
Danny uses the internal storage (4Gb) for his OS files, but puts the apt cache from his Ubuntu onto the SDHC card.
This is not a desktop replacement, but an excellent web or ebook reader and email checker.
The track pad has multi-touch, but not right click. Still lets your do a lot of unusual things with the desktop.
The WiFi card is ridiculously good. It detects and connects to Access Points at an amazing distance. He does use the non-free drivers.
Danny uses the Ubuntu with the Eee PC kernel for the special drivers included with it. The open source WiFi drives are substandard. The graphics drivers are very good. Danny has run Wow at decent fps on the Eee PC under Linux. The OpenArena (open source Quake III) runs very well.
Danny recommends using the Ubuntu to create a bootable usb disk from a new USB drive for the system. Not only as a backup but also as an alternative for use. The Ubuntu Linux distribution provides a handy utility to make boot disks.
By default the BIOS doesn't let you boot from a USB port, but changing that setting is simple. Only the first USB port worked for booting when he tried it.
There is a PCIe card accessible through the bottom. Danny has seen a 256Gb card that would fit. A sprint wireless PCIe card would also fit.
Battery life is between 1.5 to 2.5 hours of heavy use. The powerbrick is also very tiny.
There is a lot of modifications available. The device is quite hackable. There is even a laptop battery from a guy that he claims lasts 24 hours. (search for it yourself online. he's nuts.)
Q: Are the webcams supported by Linux?
A: Yes, the default system is Xandros on the higher models, which is Linux.
Q: What about tethering to a phone?
A: A friend of Robert tried it. Took all of 5 minutes to sit down, click on network manager, and click connect.
Q: What is that UI on your Eee PC?
A: It's compiz with Avant-window-navigator dock.
Robert discusses microcontrollers.
You really don't plug things into a microcontroller. It's really a substitution for a big logic design that you don't want to do in solid state. (Robert knows someone that built a watch that way, even used surface mount.) Cellphones today approach microcontroller levels.
Some types of microcontrollers are PIC, Atmel AVR, Motorola HCS11, TI MSP430, You can find about 30 pages or so of these products in the Mouser Catalouge.
High end-example: Atmel SAM7. ARM 7 from a custom fab company in Bulgaria. The company runs the hobbiest support sight sparkfun.com. Plenty of easy to use headers on the Atmel card, including serial ports, SD card readers, etc. Linux has supported kernels and gcc for the ATMEL.
http://sparkfun.com includes parts and kits for Roomba's, iPhones, iPods, and the Atmel SAM7-64 like Robert is showing off tonight.
Mid-range: MSP430. There are free-hardware lunch-n-learns from TI for the MSP430. The programmer and the target card is very small footprint. USB key-sized programmer with a fingernail sized target. There is also a GCC to target code on the MSP430. Note: TI makes a contact RIFID-like device using their '1 wire' technology that can be read by this kit. The kits are about $17-20.
Lower-range: Atmel ATMEGA168. Lots of peripherals pre-attached for your. An "Arduina' model that includes a bootloader. All you have to do is load your code through the serial port (no need for JTAG) and the card will run it. The 'Free Duino' comes in pieces but it at least is a through-hole board. These can run around $20 and are not a bad place to start for something to control some hardware. http://www.nkceletcronics.com Freeduino Serial v2.0 board KIT (Diecimila Compatible.)
Since the Arduino is so simple to start with, it is the demo system. you can get the software from http://www.arduino.cc site. The development environment is Java based. For linux, some extra software is required to actually program the hardware. Most recent distributions ship with packages for the required programs and can install them using the distro management tools. (There is even Eee PC packages in case you want to develop on that.)
The language, arduino, is very C-like. The IDE includes edit, compile and verify steps. You can work on errors before programming the board. You do have to pre-configure which board you are targeting and which serial port you are using. In the example, a USB to serial adapter is being used on Robert's second laptop.
There is a terminal in the IDE that can be used to interact with your program on your board through the serial port.
There are quite a few libraries on the website that you can get. Someone has probably written some code that can be re-used for your application.
Q: Will the board retain it's program once unhooked from the PC?
A: It's supposed to. However, it reset to the default LED blinking program when disconnected and reconnected tonight.
Q: What has Robert made with this?
A: Nothing, yet. Probably another Halloween prop not before long.
Example 2 is last year's TI freebie: a wireless networked pair of temp sensors on the MSP430 3.3v system. In sleep mode, these draw as little as 2 micro-amps which is less than the natural drain of NiCad batteries. It is apparently 87.6F by Robert's laptop. Robert himself warms the remote up to 84F and the tabletops are 74F or so.
This hardware uses the simplicity software stack so supports protocols like Zigbee.
picocom 1.4 http://efault.net/npat/hacks/picocom/ was used in the second example to talk to the tethered part of the radio network.
TI claims that on a C0303 style button cell, these boards could last 10 years. These are really marketed at companies building devices that replace the whole system in the lifetime of the controller. For example: LEDs for skateboard trucks.
Still, these are perfect boards for getting into microcontrollers. You only need to know a little about programming and electrical circuits to uses these.