According to the Arduino website, it is “an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software”. What on earth does that mean, you may well ask. Basically, there are various Arduino “boards” (ie electronic circuits), each of which contain a chip (microcontroller) that can be programmed with Arduino software which the user can easily write for himself or herself. The programming is done via a USB connection from a computer. The board also has circuits that handle input and output signals and other necessary functions. The programs you load are called “sketches” (goodness knows why) and enable the board to perform tasks by controlling electrical devices, based on the inputs it is receiving from its sensors.
For example, Arduino could be used to:
- make a robot move around without bumping into things
- wind in the washing line when it starts raining
- build a speaking clock
- unlock the catflap when your cat miaows at it
- draw the curtains when it gets dark
or a zillion other projects.
The open-source nature of Arduino means that nobody exerts proprietary rights over the hardware and software, in the way that Apple controls iPhones, for example. Anyone is free to build Arduino boards and to develop and share sketches. Consequently, there is an active online community of people willing to share their knowledge and skills to the benefit of others, and Arduino-compatible products are pretty cheap because there is plenty of competition. £20 or so will get you going, less if you build a board from a kit.
Arduino is probably aimed at children/teenagers, but it’s suitable for adults who want to learn about electronics and programming too. It’s completely flexible, just about anything you can conceive of could be built with it. Arduino boards are infinitely reusable so they are well suited to prototyping (that is, trying out an idea quickly and cheaply to see if it works), but if you want to keep a project you can instead build a dedicated circuit that uses the same chip as the one at the heart of an Arduino board, leaving your board free for future experiments.
To find out what Arduino is all about, you really need to get your hands on a board and some basic electronic components (resistors, LEDs, etc), download the free Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE) to your PC/laptop and follow the instructions for one of the multitude of beginner projects that are available online. I have done that recently, after my dear niece gave me an Arduino Uno and a starter kit of electronic components for Christmas – I had dropped a few heavy hints. Sometimes I think she would prefer having the sort of aunt who is happy to receive a bottle of scent or the latest hardback novel, but she takes it all in her stride. Regrettably, she is not a crafty person herself and shows little interest in building or making things. Perhaps she will find herself the owner of an old house one of these days and realise she’d better learn some DIY skills fast if she doesn’t want to be hiring workmen all the time. But I digress …
Getting going with my Arduino starter kit wasn’t as straightforward as I’d expected. The booklet that came with it didn’t explain any of the basics, like where to download the IDE from, or even that the IDE is necessary. Fortunately, I’d done my homework first. I ran into problems though: for some reason I just couldn’t get the first sketch on the CD that came with the kit to upload to the Uno. After checking and rechecking all the settings and connections, I turned to Google – as you do – and found a suggestion to try a different USB socket on the laptop. That worked, but I have no idea why. Possibly the original one is at a slight under-voltage and the Uno is sensitive to that. All I achieved was a flashing LED, but it felt surprisingly satisfying.
It’s years since I last did any practical electronics, although I did complete a MOOC last year to brush up on the theory. I’ve forgotten all the useful stuff, like how to tell the polarity of a diode or read the rating of a resistor from its coloured bands. But it’ll come back.
My second glove is almost done, just a thumb and half a finger to go. I’ve made a glove blocker in anticipation, using the instructions provided by the designer of these gloves, Åsa Tricosa, on her website.
The fingers and thumb are all separate, making the blocker nice and easy to get on and off. I’ve cut the various pieces from translucent polypropylene dividers removed from an A4 notepad. I punched a hole in each part so they can be kept together with a treasury tag (or rubber band, in my case) when not in use, and the hole at the top of the hand doubles as a hanging point.
The worst thing about knitting gloves is darning in all the ends, an extra pair for each finger or thumb bar the first. In addition I joined in the contrast colour twice on each glove, making 14 ends in all if my maths is correct. That’s a lot of ends, but they do provide an opportunity for making good any little holes around the base of the fingers.
I also used the darning-in to obscure the glimpses of main colour yarn at the start of each round in the contrast-coloured reverse stocking stitch bands. You can see some of these annoying flashes of the wrong colour in the photo. They were caused by carrying the main colour up on the inside, but since that had to be done by twisting the two yarns together, and when purling those yarns are to the front of the work, I didn’t manage to do it invisibly. If anyone knows the proper way to carry the non-working yarn up the back of a reverse stocking stitch section, I wish they’d tell me.