Posted by & filed under Boston, Personal, Scuba-diving. 4,450 views

I am always up for the deep, cold, long challenging dives.

So when an opportunity came along to dive the wreck of the Pinthis, I jumped on it. The wreck is nearly 100 feet of deep freezing waters (barely hitting high 40s), a rough (flat seas) and long (40 minutes) trip from the (rich and prosperous) town of Scituate MA.

In any case, my buddy Sam and I drove down that morning of the fifteen of August, 2008, from Boston to Scituate. Sam was diving his Meg rebreather and I dove my O2ptima. We boarded Fran Marcoux’s excellent boat, the DayBreaker, in the Scituate marina.

Except for the fact that my VR3 shut down at 30 feet, the dive was pretty great, the weather gorgeous. The Pinthis is a great turtled oil tanker, which you can penetrate through and through. Plenty of cods inside, a few lobsters and large crabs as well as sunflower seastars. I also saw a very large flounder, not that Sam would care for he only loves rusting metal.

The followin is my first attempt at taking a video of a boat dive and using my video lights so please be nice:


Wreck of the Pinthis from Erik Dasque on Vimeo.

Note that the first song is an original sountrack that was written for my father’s underwater documentaries serie called “Le Monde sous le Masque”

(I am iteratively working on editing this video so should the link stop working, you’ll find a new version on my Vimeo page ).

If you’re a rebreather diver in new england, make sure to let us know and we’ll dive together !

Dive data:
Wreck of the Pinthis, 08/15/08, AM, Fran Marcoux Daybreaker, departing from Scituate

  • dive 1: 99 ft – 43 mins – 46.5 degrees
  • dive 2: 100 ft ! – 39 mins – 46.5 degrees

Posted by & filed under Arduino, Electronics, Open-source. 14,635 views

I have been playing with Arduinos for a few months but I am far from being an expert. However, I thought it’d be interesting to provide a quick review and guide on the different boards out there and what they’re good for. If you don’t know what an Arduino is, make sure you read my introduction post.

I’ll cover a lot of different boards such as the Stickduino, BoardDuino (DC & USB) and the new Sanguino but for now let’s start with…

the Arduino Diecimila

The Diecimila was my first Arduino and the only one I have that’s made by the Arduino people. It comes fully assembled and is very clean and easy to use. Since I use a Mac for most of my projects, I mostly chose USB based Arduinos. The Diecimila can be powered by USB or through a standard barrel plug (from a 9V battery, a wall wart or really anything from 7V to 12V). The power source is selected by a jumper (similar to the old IDE drives jumpers).

A cool feature of the Diecimila is the availability of compatible shields. A shield is a daughterboard that stacks on top of the Arduino Diecimila or NG.

Theoretically you should be able to stack many such shields on top of each other but most shields I tried were not designed to stack all that well.

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Sometimes, even when they do stack up, they turn out to be incompatible as they use the same pin. Some, cleverly designed let you wire in whichever pins you’d like to use (the GPS Logger shield from Adafruit as well as of course the proto shield come to mind).

In practice I found most shields to be useful to learn and experiment with a particular subject but inadequate to build a project using several of them. While the Diecimila is not the only board in the Arduino family I found it to be the nicest one so far.

I have tried a few shields, assembled/soldered from a kit or bought already assembled, including:

  • Proto Shied
  • XBee Shield ??? Wireless (not Wi-fi)
  • Motor Shield
  • GPS Data Logger (SD Card) Shield
  • LCD Shield

Other shields I have seen but not used include:

  • Xport Shied ??? Ethernet
  • Wave Shield ??? Sound
  • Battery Shield

Adafruit Proto Shield (from Adafruit)

This was my first shield as it came with the Adafruit Arduino Starter Pack (which includes a Diecimila). The Protoshield is probably the most useful shield so far.

Beyond providing access to the Arduino pins (which the Diecimila already does), it includes a switch and 2 LEDs (and their resistors) connected to ground. You can use those for anything you want, most likely connected to one of the digital pins (or possibly analog pins for the LEDs). The Protoshield can be used with a mini-breadboard for solderless prototyping. Or you can use Proto Shields to build semi-permanent prototypes by soldering directly onto the perfboard which constitutes the core of the shield.

I have been using the Proto Shield with mini-breadboard quite a bit and have recently purchased a few of additional shields (sans breadboard) to build more permanent projects.

Of note are two products from LiquidWare which are essentially double-sized proto shields, the Double-wide and Double-tall ExtenderShields. I have not tried them but they look pretty interesting for one-off semi permanent projects which require the larger workspace (which most probably will do).

That’s all I say for now about the Diecimila and the Proto Shield. In later posts, we’ll look at some other shields and Arduino compatible boards. Until then…

Posted by & filed under Personal. 1,339 views

Yesterday, I started reading Night Watch, a Russian science fiction novell from which the eponymous movie Night Watch, was adapted. So far it’s pretty good and as foreign as can be (as the movie is). But of course Russian & English literature are technically foreign to me 🙂

I started watching the movie a few weeks ago but had to stop because of lip syncing issue. I am waiting now for the next Netflix envelope with subtitled goodness inside.

Posted by & filed under BzzAgent, Mac OS X. 1,899 views

My friend Matt Kojalo sent me the following URL recently as the battle for enterprise capable mobile devices rages on.

My knee-jerk reaction was “that guy…lost me at ‘However, with the release of the $199 iPhone, which syncs with
Microsoft Outlook on a PC’, … The guy doesn???t know what he???s talking about…”

Then someone in the thread provoked me with “Blackberries 4 EVA !” 🙂 In my job at BzzAgent, I took over IT in addition to my normal duties and had to deal with blackberries for all sales people and executives so I wrote a little note back (it’s a little pretentious, please forgive me) :

“Heya,

Blackberries are fine, I use one at work. They’re like emacs, a command line text editor, it does the job extremely well and is streamlined. The job in this case is answering emails, reading emails, accepting meetings and checking your calendar. Beyond that, the blackberry falls short. It is the tool today for enterprise mobile use but it’s not going to last much longer. It started its existence as a glorified 2 way pager and its decline will follow soon.

The iPhone obviously redefines what a mobile platform can do. Sure, it has many issues which will need to be solved. While the battery life is far from ideal, already the keyboard is pretty good and Apple moved it to 3G which is more compatible with its lofty ambitions.

Surfing the internet with the iPhone mobile browser is beyond actually possible, it works and works well. Safari is an order of magnitude better than any mobile browser out there. Before that, browsing on a mobile device was an exercise in masochism or a lackluster experience at best. Now it’s something you can use every day with every site, not just the MLB standings page formatted for mobile phones.

Beyond that and though the SDK was late coming, we’ve seen more applications available for the iPhone in a month that ever were available for Blackberries. Sure some of them are a joke but we’re starting to see generic mission critical apps on the platform (Oracle Business Object, professional references, Medical Apps, Sales Force, various CRM). This coupled with VPN support, Exchange support and a capable browser to browse your company’s extranet and intranet sites.

So yes, today the RIM devices are still better for your basic email and calendaring but even there, the iPhone has become a strong contender. Beyond those basic features, the iPhone has re-defined was an enterprise mobile device can be. And the Blackberry is not it.

RIM’s strategy at this point is befuddling, they’re focusing on making new handhelds that look cool, with UI that look cool. Microsoft tried to copy Apple’s Mac OS X since 1984 with very little success, it’s an exercise in futility. Instead they should figure out what they need to leap forward in terms of enterprise mobile platform. This might involve a better SDK, UI toolkit, application distribution model, VPN support, partners, mobile browsing, …

But all of that would just help them get close to the iPhone, not better.

I discovered Blackberries in 1998 at Javaworld, have used once every day a few years after that and have had an iPhone since it launched last year. I stopped using my blackberry for work a few weeks ago.

Erik”

Now, reading it again, I realize that I failed at taking into account the administrative UI and rollout options for those. Of course, right now Blackberry has the upper hand there with many server based options to alter policies globally, restrict rights, reset handhelds, … But for that flexibility, you pay a hefty price of up to $100 per user. Also, of course Blackberries are available on all carriers while iPhones are restricted to AT&T in the US, something an enterprise might not want to standardize on.

There are many other criteria to compare them but in reality it’s Apple and Oranges (pun intended) since the iPhone as a device is so new and much more capable that it has redefined the space. All revolutions are not ideal and some enterprise needs might not be filled yet but it’s just a matter of time before the iPhone is 100% enterprise ready. I think.

Posted by & filed under Arduino, Electronics, Open-source, Personal. 1,591 views

The Arduino Starter Pack from Adafruit is really pretty cool. It provides a really nice starting point for open source hardware hacking. In addition to the main Arduino Diecimila board, the starter pack includes a few components to play with (resistors, push buttons, LEDs, …) as well as a protoshield to start prototyping with the Arduino. Get your soldering iron out for you’ll need to solder the protoshield and its components before you can do any solder-less prototyping. If you’re lazy, you can buy the assembled one but that’s no fun !

Shields are ready made modules that sit (and sometimes stack) on top of the Arduino board to provide various functionality. Many are available at Adafruit and other places: GPS, Wireless Radio (Xbee), Protoshield, Ethernet, LCD, … and come with sample source code.

LadyAda’s companion web site and forums are a great resource to start reading about all that stuff, detailing the spec and tutorials on all of the Adafruit products.

Also, I bought a few electronics book as well as Making Things Talk: Practical Methods for Connecting Physical Objects from Tom Igoe to get me started. The book is in the a new format for O’Reilly that sits between their Make magazine and a class book. It feels simple, didactic and approachable.

Tom’s book features a dozen simple projects and their variants mostly based on the Arduino board; some of them are pretty cheap to make but others involve slightly more expensive components (the price of communication, I guess) with Bluetooth, Radio or Ethernet modules priced at $50+. Still a lot of fun to put together.

While the book spends a lot of time detailing (what is trivial for me) network concepts it sometimes takes shortcuts when it comes to electronics basics and the IDE. However it does illustrate well how ‘simple serial networking’ can be very easy to use though, for basic communications. It’s eerie to see how what we’re used to think as complex networking protocols (Ethernet, Bluetooth, Radio signals, USB) can be used as an easy and modern way to conduct a serial dialog. I wish it did spend a bit more time on some basic electronic concepts (voltage divider, pull up and pull down resistances, …) but I had to refer to other books for that.

I am nearing a point where I can now start designing my own circuits and will be hitting the electronic component store tonight (not RadioShak).

I also ordered a few shields to play with (GPS and Motor control) as well as a very small version of the Arduino (Boarduino).

PS: the Making Things Talk book is paired with a web site that contains erratum and code listings so you don’t have to type in any of the examples.

Posted by & filed under Arduino, Electronics, Mac OS X, Open-source, Personal. 10,459 views

I am not much for DIY, home projects. I am still struggling with putting curtains up in my TV room.

However, while casually browsing different sites (including Make) I discovered the Arduino board, an easy to use electronic kit based on a powerful Microcontroller that spawned a family of companion products.

This ecosystem makes it easy to experiment with various sensors, motors, displays, actuators. Furthermore, the controller is programmable through your Windows or Mac OS X PC via USB, using the Wiring environment and programing language resembling a simplified C. Environment such as Flash or Processing interface easily to the Arduino making it trivial to plot data, log things to databases.

I thought I’d chronicle my experiments with different Arduino based projects as I painful try to remember the basic of electronics that were taught to me through high-school.

To start I bought the Arduino starter pack from Adafruit. There are quite a few different versions of the board out there, the hardware and software designs being available under copyleft. Some are USB based, RS232 or even Bluetooth; some are tiny (Arduino Nano), others a tad larger but not by much (such as the Arduino Diecimila I bought) and some have odd shapes (the Arduino Lillypad is one). Regardless of the one you get, they easily interface with your Mac/PC, programmable through a pretty neat IDE, get power through AC, USB and/or a battery and offer you access to a good number of Analog input and Digital input/output pins to control or read from a whole range of things.

Next ? Receiving my Adafruit Arduino starter pack and my first few projects.

Posted by & filed under Boston, Personal, Photography, Scuba-diving. 1,480 views

In our quest to put more hours on our rebreathers, Sam and I dove the stern of the Chester Poling yesterday, a classic new england dive. It was my first good pair of dives on the wreck. The first one was spent trying to figure out my respiratory rate on doubles trying to ‘move the boat’ and the second was aborted because of electronics failure on my rebreather.

Yesterday everything was great, viz was over 35 feet, the water was at 45F, current was moderate and the weather was gorgeous. Dave & Heather’s boat, the Gauntlet is a great vessel to dive from and a great crew.

Here is a yet unedited movie of the dive:

It was by no means a challenging wreck dive but a good solid dive for us to get better on our rebreathers. The dive parameters were:

  1. 96ft, 49mins, 44.6deg F
  2. 96ft, 46mins, 46.0def F

I was thinking of my dad throughout, he’s the reason I started diving since he had shot so many underwater documentaries in the 60s. He turned 90 yesterday and he’s coming to visit me this week !