Los Angeles Art and Technology Hacker's Club

Welcome to the incremental and erratic home page for the club electronics class, taught by Tom Jennings.

This page is new as of 7 March 2003 and will get reorganized as it grows.


The Club meets at c-level in Chinatown (Los Angeles) on the 3rd Sunday of the month, and on the 2nd-following Sunday after that. That's utterly impossible to follow so just look at the calendar, OK... Basically every other week alternates a presentation (Andrew's nifty and popular switch-input device that spits out text, digested by Director, for example) and a class. If there's no presentation we'll have another class. This is all TBD for now.

The Club has a mailing list, checkout the c-level site for how to sign up.


The first class was last week (2 March 2003). Basically, we worked out direction and approach, which is a theory-free straightforward hands-on, how-to, to solve a problem (see below) using BASIC Stamp technology.

Our first problem to solve supposes that you have some sort of installation where you want to have outside stimulus (person pressing a switch; motion sensor; door-mat stepped on, etc) affect the operation of software on a computer, say Director, a Perl script, or other program you are writing or modifying.

The solution is going to be a "box" that (1) reads the stimulus (switch, etc) and (2) notifies the computer that the switch has changed, by sending simple text strings to the computer via the serial port.

    +----+            |              |
  --O    |----------|              |----------------------> to computer
    +----+            |              |
  a switch
                        BASIC Stamp 2 "BOE" (see below)

We'll wire up a switch to a BASIC Stamp, work up the tiny bit of software that get stored inside the Stamp, show you how to program the Stamp from your computer, and test and deploy it. You'll learn simple tricks to test things like this, and ways to come up with solutions that are general and "robust" (meaning they work even when you screw up a little).

All without (much, if any) electronic theory or soldering skills or tools. In later classes we can and will cover those things, including practical ROBUST construction, so that your creation can be kicked around in a toolbox and survive.

(A later class will show a functionally-opposite device; it accepts simple text from the computer's serial port and makes external things (LEDs, lights, toasters) turn on, off, or otherwise fiddled.)


I'll add to this list of resources as I find them, and will post to the mailing list as I do.


BASIC Stamp manufacturer, Parallax Inc

Check out their website; they make many products involving the PIC microcomputer (most accurately called a "microcontroller", which means a micro-computer oriented towards controlling things (as opposed to general purpose computing).

If we get enough people interested (close to ten would do it) we can do a group purchase of the HomeWork Board-Breadboard version, which come in 10-packs for $400. There is a "through-hole" (for soldering components in place) version for permanent or semi-permanent projects, for instance if you cobble up a box that you want to keep. We can discuss this at the next class/event (16 March) Stuff like resistors and LEDs I can supply for nearly zero cost. No additional tools are needed at this stage.

If you have the cash and want something NOW, check out the "Board of Education", aka BOE. You want the BOE Full Kit #28102, $119.

For all of these Parallax choices, there is software for Windows, Macintosh or DOS. If you run Linux talk to me.

Strictly-speaking, a BASIC Stamp (or it's many variants) is only a little plug-in module that looks like an integrated circuit (IC). It isn't much use without plugging it into a circuit board that supplies power, provides access to the pins, etc. The BOE includes a Stamp, the "BOE" which has plug-in space for more parts, a power cube, wires, software, etc.

The BOE is for "prototyping", eg. trying out a circuit for non-permanent use. It's a little pricey to build into something permanently, besides, you'll re-use it many times for trying out further circuits. There are less expensive relacements for permanent or semi-permanent installations, like the HomeWork Board, which comes in soldered-in and breadboard styles. They come in 10-packs and we would buy a pack and split it up).


Nuts'n'Volts magazine is dedicated towards electroncis hobbiests, and is mainly focused on the BASIC Stamp. It's a little dorky (computer controlled christmas lights, that sort of thing) but the articles range from dead-simple to reasonably complex with emphasis on simple projects. The ads are really good and are reason alone to get it. Fry's Electronics carries it I think, I used to get it mail order.