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Simple Level with Crazy Circuits

Here’s a super-easy micro:bit project that just uses a few Crazy Circuits LEDs, some Maker Tape, and a LEGO baseplate. It’s a Simple Level. Since the micro:bit has a built-in accelerometer we can easily check which way it is tilting just like an old fashioned level with liquid and an air bubble.

This project just uses five LEDs, but we outline how you could easily expand it to many more (and yes, we’ll probably build a larger one soon, as well as a multi-dimensional level.)

As always, there’s a diagram and more info as well as a look at the code. For each of these projects, if I can do a somewhat simple explanation of the code I think it’s helpful. You can certainly use the code and never dig into it, but I hope that people do. Kids (and adults) should learn to code if only for the fact that it can help understand how the world works, at least that’s how I view it.

Oh, I should mention that the Bit Board is now available via Kickstarter! And if crowdfunding isn’t your thing you can also get it direct from the Brown Dog Gadgets Shop.

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Meeting Controls

The latest fun project over at Brown Dog Gadgets is a USB device to toggle your microphone and camera on and off during video calls on your computer. Check out Meeting Controls!

We’ve got the “Business Edition” above for the adults with their serious work calls, as well as the “Fun Edition” for kids stuck in those all-day distance learning sessions.

This is a pretty simple build if you’ve got the right LEGO pieces laying around. (If you don’t a quick trip to BrickOwl.com will get you sorted straightaway.)

As always, you don’t have to perfectly replicate the LEGO build we’ve done, and it should be considered a starting point, or recommendation of one way to do it. That’s the beauty of LEGO building… it’s open ended. (Of course we do have a few tricks along the way.)

The Invention Board can be programming to work as a USB HID device, and we provide all the code you’ll need to work with Zoom, Google Meet, and even Microsoft Teams. (Webex didn’t work… blame their developers.)

Some nice touches, like the mic and camera icon, were added by using a vinyl cutter to make small stickers that are applied to flat LEGO bricks. Totally optional, but adds a bit of class and distinction to this very handy device.

As always, a wiring taping diagram and notes on the build are included in an eye-pleasing arrangement of words and images. Check out this project and more from Brown Dog Gadgets, especially if you’re an educator looking for a great invention & creativity platform that combines circuits with LEGO building.

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Crank Counter with micro:bit

I’ve got a new guide up in Brown Dog Gadgets Project Database. This time we’re using the micro:bit along with a 7 Segment Display and a LEGO-based crank circuit. I call it the Crank Counter.

We create these (free) resources in the hopes that viewers like you support our efforts by purchasing components from Brown Dog Gadgets because hey, that keeps the free resources flowing. Thank you for your support!

Typically the build guides are not a step-by-step LEGO building guide, but they don’t need to be. LEGO should be open-ended building, and we want to encourage that. Even the circuit layout with Maker Tape doesn’t need to be precise. The components must be connected properly, but where you place them, length of tape used, etc. is less important. Building a functioning circuit is the goal. (Things that need to be more “exact” like the crank connections, are called out.)

I typically try to explain the code a bit and cover a few other basic concepts that relate to the project. Some are more advanced than others, but we try to simplify and not overwhelm.

Oh, you might be wondering if we can made a version of this that counts down as well as up depending on the direction you turn the crank, and yes, that’s possible, and it’s in the works. :)

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Blink Without Pause on the micro:bit

If you’ve ever used an Arduino there’s a good chance you started with the Blink sketch, which is a great introduction to programming a physical computing device where you can see the outcome in the form a blinking LED. As you learn more and things get complex, you discover that using the delay statement in your code is not ideal as it prevents the code from continually running, so you can’t properly capture input to your microcontroller. There’s more over at the Blink Without Delay tutorial on this topic.

I’ve been doing a lot with the micro:bit lately, and my quick searches gave no equivalent for Blink Without Delay so I created Blink Without Pause.

The tutorial starts with micro:bit code for Blink With Pause (which is really just Blink) and then Blink Without Pause so you can compare the two.

For a real-world example there are two more, Blink With Pause With Button and then Blink Without Pause With Button which should clearly illustrate the value of not using pause if your code needs to do other things.

Oh, if you’re wondering where the micro:bit is in the illustrations above… it’s not there! The diagrams show the Bit Board that Brown Dog Gadgets will be releasing this fall as part of a Kickstarter campaign. Follow on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to see some of the other projects we’ve been doing and find out when the campaign launches.

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Reprogramming an ATtiny85 Blink/Fade Board

A few years ago I helped Josh with the code for the Blink/Fade Board that Brown Dog Gadgets has in their Crazy Circuits kit.

This is a simple board that comes preprogrammed to do a few specific things, with the idea that you can start using it even if you don’t know how to program or upload code to a controller. Besides power in, ground, and reset, there are five GPIO pins that we can use:

  • Pin 0: fades in and out
  • Pin 1: heartbeat
  • Pin 2: twinkles randomly
  • Pin 3: blinks on and off
  • Pin 4: blinks off and on (alternates with Pin 3)

We’ve always said that expert users could reprogram it to do anything an ATtiny85 can do, but we never had a guide… until now. Courtesy of Brown Dog Gadgets here’s the Guide to Reprogramming a Blink/Fade Board!

We’re using the Arduino IDE along with a SparkFun Tiny AVR Programmer to do the heavy lifting… You’ll also need to build a little LEGO jig with some Maker Tape and Crazy Circuits components and some Dupont jumper wires to string it all together.

After I reprogrammed the board I popped it out of the programming jig and popped it into a simple circuit to control the brightness of an LED with a potentiometer. You can’t do too much with an ATtiny85 but it does have a few inputs & outputs and you can even control a NeoPixel strip with it! (A guide for that will be coming soon.)

Like most of the guides we do there are some nice diagrams and downloadable PDF files with more/helpful info. Here’s one covering the reprogramming aspect of the guide…

And here’s one that shows using the reprogrammed board in the LED/potentiometer circuit. (The code for BFDimmer is available.)

I’ve been doing my best to keep cranking out fun and educational guides for projects. While a lot of them have been focused on simple circuits or Arduino-based things, we’ll be expanding into Micro:bit projects in the coming weeks, which has definitely been interesting.