Archive for August 2014

Grad School is in full effect!

I started grad school on Monday. Everyone in the department and the school is tremendously welcoming, it’s been a great experience!

Workshop Weekend Arduino Coming Up

I’ve been teaching this class with 7 other teachers. If you want to go from zero to Arduino hero in a weekend, this is the place to do it! Here’s the latest email with a discount at the bottom:


Registration for Workshop Weekend: Arduino is now open! Join us on October 11 and 12, 2014 as we introduce you to the Arduino and electronics world in a hands-on two day workshop!

If you haven’t heard: Arduino is an open electronics platform designed for artists, designers, and hobbyists. Here’s just a taste of what kind of stuff you can make using one:

Laser Harp: A futuristic musical harp that forgoes strings in favor of lasers!
The Inebriator: An automated cocktail mixer — it won’t ask you for a tip!
Secret Knock Door Lock: A door lock that opens only when the right knocking pattern is applied!
RC Lawn Mower: Why break your back in the heat? This lawn mower is completely autonomous!
Tweet-A-Watt: A power consumption meter that tweets your daily electricity consumption.
Check out a full range of Arduino starter projects you can build at Workshop Weekend: Arduino on our Arduino Projects page — these projects are great starting points for future exploration.

Workshop Weekend: Arduino is designed to bring you significant experience with Arduino and electronics, comprehensively leading you through all the key steps, and giving you a platform from which to explore further. You don’t need to have any experience working with Arduino, electronics, or programming to attend!

Check out the full schedule and register here:

Saturday we’ll guide you through the Arduino hardware and software. Sunday, you’ll work on your own project with our team of expert mentors at hand. Don’t worry if you don’t have a project yet — we’ll get you started with any from our project page. In the process, you’ll learn about topics like advanced programming, working with audio, motors and movement, and LCD character displays.

Check out the full schedule and register here:

Use the coupon code ARDUINOEARLY3434 for $50 off admission! This code is valid through Monday, September 1st.

And please reach out to us if you have any questions at all!

I hope we’ll see you there.

J.D., Rolf, Anca, Malcolm, Lee, Tenaya, Andrew, Gil, and the Arduino Weekend team


My aunt Bean asked if we are alright after the 6.1 earthquake this morning near Napa. My response:

Totally fine. Megan says we both woke up when the earthquake hit but I don’t remember it. Thanks for writing. We just saw a report on Fox News that mentioned “total devastation”… of course it only referred to all the broken mayonnaise jars in a convenience store at ground zero. But hey, that’s Fox…

Butchart Gardens Fireworks

The summer fireworks show at Butchart Gardens is the most amazing light show I have ever seen in my life. This is a fact.

Megan and I saw the fireworks on our honeymoon on Vancouver Island this summer. In the same way that it is difficult to express how precisely a piece of music can lift your heart, I find it difficult to say how the Butchart Gardens fireworks show so easily surpassed all others. First, I’ll tell you that it’s not big fat American fireworks. Americans like big, abstract shows of force, big crescendos and no finesse or plot. This show, on the other hand was choreographed beautifully with elements of interpretive and representative art. The presentation had both technical and artistic brilliance. There was a sublime nature to it. It had dancing elephants (literally! well sparkling outlines of elephants so technically it would be “figuratively!”), Busby Berkeley mandala formations, great music, the glow of the early universe, firelit forests and so much more! I recall one moment where I saw two fireworks and their trails corkscrewing up, intertwined before they started to fall back to earth and explode; I’ve only seen intertwined trails in cartoons, I never thought there’d be any way such precision and beauty could happen in the real world!

The “big universe” scene was the most breathtaking. That’s the only name I could imagine for it. The sky above us kept slowly filling with clouds and sparks and rockets. It felt like we were all inside a star nebula! The colors and shapes forming were just like some I had seen by the Hubble Telescope, but real, live, now! Stars glowed, illuminating clouds. Shooting stars flew through our weightless universe and we were there.

Oh my, only poetry can convey how my heart felt at that moment!

Wiki Wiki Wiki Wiki

The first time I ever heard about wikis was in 1984. Newcleus, “Jam on it”. Music seriously before it’s time. Listen now.

Selling Books on Amazon

A fellow student asked about buying textbooks then selling them on Amazon. Here’s what I had to say in response

I buy all the required reading at the very beginning of the semester from Amazon. I figure that I can sell it back on Amazon if I want to keep it and only lose a little bit. That strategy has worked out well… low stress and generally inexpensive. Only a few times have I been stuck with a book that has a new edition, thus devaluing my book greatly. I figure that if I am trying to save $100 by not getting a book, and that is getting in the way of a $70,000/year job, my priorities are in the wrong place!

To sell on Amazon: I generally match the lowest price and it usually sells within 2 weeks. I ship USPS “Media Mail” which is usually about $3-4 instead of $8-15 for Priority Mail. Pay for shipping online, wrap the package, then walk into the post office, CUT IN LINE (you’re allowed!), set the package on the counter, make eye contact with the counter rep and say “my package is all set. Thanks.”

After I’ve bought the book, I find a PDF version as a personal backup. I leave this on my computer, this has been very useful for me as I study during my long commute. There is some question as to the legality of having the paper book and a PDF backup but this isn’t a settled matter.

I’ve had very good luck selling books at the end of the semester. I don’t always sell them for a good price but usually I do. I think I’ve bought and sold 15 textbooks in the last 3 years. I might buy a used, “almost new” condition book for $80 when the new price is $110 and then sell the book for $60-90. If there is a new version of the textbook, I might sell my edition for $50. Note that I occasionally sell them for more than I bought them :-)

I’ve also bought older textbooks that were great. For example, I bought a computer programming textbook and a college math textbook for $5 and they were perfectly up-to-date, helpful and accurate. They wouldn’t have helped me for a class because it would be hard to follow along when the teacher says “turn to page 20” and my page 20 is different from other books. (yes, the book publishers do that on purpose)

How to sell your book on Amazon:
* type in the ISBN number of the book as if you want to buy it
* click the “Sell on Amazon” button on the page
* Follow the prompts and list your book. I almost always list my book 1 penny lower than the competition in the same class… for example: if “very good condition” books are selling for $20, I sell for $19.99.
* after it sells:
* wrap the book in several layers from a roll of kraft paper (the least expensive) or put it in a padded envelope
* print out a label and tape it to the package
* (the most annoying step is here) Bring it to a US Post office and tell them you want to mail it Media Mail; it’s the least expensive shipping option, though you are required to hand the package over the counter
* Done!