Idle Tech

Getting started with Arduino

I’ve been reading about Arduino in Make magazine for years now and decided to jump in. I picked up a starter kit from Adafruit along with Make’s excellent “Getting Started with Arduino” book. The tutorials were a perfect introduction to electronics and provided easy code to get started modifying. Anyone with even the most basic understanding of computer programming can be up and creating in no time flat.


One thing I’ve been wanting to do for a long time is build a weather station for logging temperature, humidity, etc. The parts for Arduino are easy to come by and there are a ton of examples out there to get you started. That was, however, until I came across Make’s really cool Dryer Messenger project. Built with an Arduino, a network adapter and current sensor, this nifty gadget makes your dryer send out tweets when it finishes a load. Yep, no more forgetting your load of laundry only to find it the next day as a mass of un-ironable wrinkles.

WP_20130427_007 WP_20130427_005

Armed with Make’s excellent instructions, a metal project box from Radio Shack and a non-invasive current sensor I set to work recreating the Dryer Messenger. I am using an Ethernet shield instead of the wireless option used in the article, so I had to change the code a little bit… but that was simple given the sample code.


It took a couple of weekends to get it all together and running, but that was more a function of life getting in the way of fun. Now we can say that we are part of the IOT (Internet of Things) revolution. Our friendly dryer, Sam, is now up and running with his very own Twitter account: @3rdPlaceDryer.


Easy visualizations for your Arduino data

Over the years I’ve had several different time & temperature weather stations which gave the current outdoor temperature and humidity but were a bit thin on capturing historic data. I’ve considered buying a fancier weather station which connects to a PC for logging… but those are pricy and require a PC be connected and on. An Arduino, on the other hand, is wicked cheap and tons of people use them as the brains behind their weather stations (IOW: lots of example code is out there to be had).

It’s fairly common to log data from an Arduino to an SD card, but that would require periodically pulling the card and downloading the data for review. I knew I didn’t want that level of effort so went looking for a way to push the data up to some place on the interwebs. I had all but given up on finding an easy solution when I came across COSM.

Graph of temperature data from xlively
Screenshot of graph from the dashboard

COSM is a nifty web service which allows developers to push data to the cloud and visualize the result. The service is free to use for basic logging and visualizations but their true raison d’être is a cloud service for the mythical coming of the IoT (internet of things). Hardware developers can use COSM to onboard and manage devices in their product line. I’m unlikely to ever need their cool pay services, but I do appreciate the ability to put meteorological data in the side bar of my website.

COSM has a chunk of sample code that makes it really easy to get started pushing data to them from an Arduino. Because you can push the data directly from your Arduino (provided you have a network interface of some sort) you don’t need to be running a power-hungry PC 24/7 to indulge your inner data nerd. Keeping an eye on your data is easy too with nice data presentation via their dashboard (picture above) or you can embed live, auto updating graphs using nifty image tags. Here are a couple of graphs, first for temperature and second for air pressure:


Now, if I can just figure out a way to use the anemometer from the cheap weather station I bought off Woot…

[Edit: as of May 14, 2013, COSM has changed its name to Xively]