Sometimes I think it would be cool to work on making windmills for cheap sustainable energy generation. The part of this it seems to make sense to me to start tinkering with this is alternator design. I finally bought an oscilloscope (USB oscilloscope, software display, Linux/Mac friendly) so that I could measure my progress. It came today, and I measured what I get from waving the magnets I have past a coil of wire I wound, and I'm barely above the background noise 60Hz hum that my coil seems very adept at picking up. Boo. But, thanks to getting my high school physics refreshed at Khan Academy, I know that the energy generated is proportional to ((the length of wire exposed to magnetic field) * (the strength of the magnetic field) * (the speed of the wire moving through the field)). So, there are the things to scale up. Onward!
Once upon a time, 2001-2007, I worked in the 'embedded' world, working on software for computerized things that go into cars and printers and planes and whatnot. I got into this through hobby hacking a long time ago on a little 8 bit microcontroller, the Motorola 68HC11. I've been craving that hobby hacking again lately. A few years ago I bought a little ARM based board that seems to be a pretty hacker friendly device, with a built in boot loader so that I don't have to buy any expensive equipment to start using it (Atmel AT91SAM7S series). But, software support for it is kinda lacking. There needs to be an open source hacker community around these things these days to write all the drivers and complex piles of software to do things for USB and Ethernet and web serving and all the things we expect modern devices to do. My old ARM part didn't have that. It seems there is that kind of community around what is a superior device: Microchip's PIC32 line. If you've used the old classic PIC (8 bit) or PIC16, stop thinking about them. PIC32 is a MIPS 4k core at 80MHz with up to 128K of RAM and 512K of flash, and an awesome set of onboard peripherals (USB, Ethernet, 1MHz ADC, and bunches more). Yup, gotta get me one of those and start hacking. Also, and this is the real win that makes me want to use this part, Microchip is developing and has for download beta versions of a Mac (or Linux) toolchain!
Fun with LEDs. Five bright white LEDs and four AA batteries and I have myself a pretty decent flashlight. I just need to ruggedize the wiring and add a switch. There's definitely some spill that could be better used if I had reflectors around the LEDs, but it's pretty good anyway. They're rated to put most of their light within 15 degrees of the axis. Buying the parts from Digikey and building it myself is turning out to be cheaper and more satisfying that most of the bicycle or headlamp solutions I've seen, although mine isn't quite as tough and may be short a couple features.
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