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Post details: More Microcontrollers and Another Trip to Sci Plus

More Microcontrollers and Another Trip to Sci Plus

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

This weekend the American Science & Surplus store, a store that is like a mad scientist's and hardware hacker's paradise, had its annual outdoor tent sale. With prices on the store items in the tent reduced by 50% or more, this sale attracts bargain hunters, scientists, and do-it-yourselfers from miles around to feast on the store's assorted electronic and mechanical oddities as well as lab equipment, tools, and toys. My chemistry student friend and I are no exception, and we try to make it to the American Science & Surplus Store's annual tent sale every year.

I found many things at the tent sale that will be useful for my Foxee animatronics project at bargain prices. The first item of interest was a pair of Coby CS-P31 2-watt dynamic sound system portable speakers. They don't exactly sound the greatest when compared to my deluxe set of stereo speakers that I have hooked up to my computer, but their small size (3.5-inches wide, 4.5-inches tall, 2.5-inches deep) and the fact that they are self-powered through their headphone mini-jack connector may make them very desirable to mount inside Foxee and become her "voice box." Originally I had bought a set of SOYO Dragon PC speakers for this task, but these Coby speakers consume a lot less space and may be better suited for the task. I will have to compare the two for both space consumption, power consumption, and performance after I have Foxee's frame constructed.

The next interesting piece of equipment that I picked up for my robotics project was a pair of elbow-length heavy rubber electrical lineman's gloves-- the same kind that the electrical utility workers use to repair power lines! As one of my earlier blog entries states, the skit that I am planning to perform at Midwest Furfest this year could possibly involve the use of high voltage electrical devices such as a Jacob's Ladder to produce special effects. Having a pair of rubber linemans gloves on hand while building, testing, and operating such devices might prove to be a very good idea! In any case, the gloves will make an excellent addition to my mad scientist costume for the skit, and make me look even more creepy and authentic!

Some other items that I picked up at the American Science & Surplus store that deal directly with my Foxee animatronics project include yet another set of electronic guts from the inside of a Worlds of Wonder Teddy Ruxpin stuffed doll, and another bag of stuffed animal eyes that I can use to make stuffed animals with when I am practicing my sewing and fox sewing pattern making.

Along with going to the American Science & Surplus store this weekend, I also purchased the DIY Electronics K149E Serial/USB PICMicro Programmer and the DIY Electronics K151 EEPROM Programmer. The K149E is the same PIC microcontroller programmer recommended to me by Dwayne Forsyth of 2DKits, who used it to program the PIC16F688 microcontroller found on their advanced blinkie kits that they had at the Duckon 14 Science Fiction convention "Build-A-Blinkie" workshop. I plan to use the K149E programmer for future animatronics projects and certainly other electronics projects if I don't end up using microcontrollers with Foxee herself.

I bought the K151 EEPROM programmer because the kit itself was fairly inexpensive and because the 24xx and 93xx series of EEPROMS that it can program are very inexpensive as well. While I don't have any particular projects demanding the use of EEPROMS at the moment, it seemed like a useful device to have, and with how cheap EEPROMS are I am sure that I will find a use for them in the future. Since these two programmers that I ordered are kits, I will have to assemble them before I can use them.

One of the other recent developments that are related to my Foxee animatronics project are that I have located a source of a Apple II keyboard and ASCII encoder board that will be compatible with my Replica I Apple I microcomputer clone. This is extremely important because I my practice project that is going to teach me how to use a jigsaw and a circular saw was building a authentic Apple I wood case for my Replica I, and I can't build the case without first having that keyboard and encoder board. The reason why this practice project is so important is because I will need to use a lot of fancy jigsaw cutting to build Foxee's main wood support frame, and I needed an easy beginner's project to hone my skills on.

While finding this Apple II keyboard and encoder board may solve my ASCII keyboard dilemma which was holding up my all-important Replica I wood case practice project, it is not without its downsides. First of all, I was really looking forward to building my own ASCII keyboard encoder board, but unfortunately, the scarcity and expense of some of the components that I needed made this approach not very feasible. The other huge downside is that this Apple II keyboard and encoder board are also extremely expensive, and are really killing my extremely small and ever-shrinking budget. The only reason why I am going ahead with this solution is because building my own ASCII keyboard encoder board will likely cost just as much if not a little more than just buying the Apple II components, that I have already wasted way too much time finding these components anyway and I can't let this drag down my progress any longer, and that this Apple II keyboard and encoder is guaranteed to work with my Replica I while my homebrew Frankenstein keyboard and encoder design that I was planning to build, which would have used a replacement keyboard originally meant for a Tandy-Radioshack TI-99/4 microcomputer, may not have actually worked with my Replica I at all. I guess this is the first case of me "throwing money at a problem" to solve it, and hopefully it is the last time since I can't really afford to solve my problems this way if I am going to have any money at all to even start building the frame of Foxee little alone complete her construction!

To end this blog entry on a positive note, I may have solved another of the obstacles to my Foxee Animatronics Project that I originally listed in my Foxee™ Animatronic Character 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show Act Proposal blog entry. In that entry, I reported that I required a IBM-compatible laptop computer to remotely control the Foxee robot on-site as well as perform other tasks for my company at conventions. It looks like my father may be getting a brand new state-of-the-art laptop computer for his work, and he said that I could have his old laptop if he does. This laptop happens to fall slightly below the requirements that I was looking for in a laptop machine, but its close enough to what I wanted and I definitely can't argue with the price tag! So hopefully I will be able to get my hands on it, because that would be an indescribably enormous boost to my operations!

As much as I would love to continue writing, it is about time for the first landing attempt of the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery, and I plan to watch that take place live on NASA TV! As always, I would very much appreciate to hear your comments about this blog entry, so don't be shy about posting them!


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