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Like many people aspiring to write more, I am trying to combat procrastination by forming new habits.  I see a path toward comfortable, easy writing through creating material on a regular schedule or associated with regular activities.  Today I’m employing this plan to tie blogging to my Saturday morning routine.  Hopefully I can manage to avoid messing up both my writing and my weekend!

Most Saturdays I spend the morning more or less alone.  I take time to think about all the wild ideas I’ve suppressed during the week and plan all the projects I’ve put off while just trying to make ends meet.  Sometimes I’ll do this while cleaning, but I usually end up going out for breakfast.  That was the agenda this particular morning, when I fought off headache and allergies to make my way to George’s for steak and eggs.  Unlike many mornings where little occurs other than unwinding and rethinking, today I spent my time setting up parts orders for my new project to construct a relaxation device.

That’s as interesting as anything to write about.  I’ve chosen to get parts from several sources, sometimes more by preference for the company than anything else.  Some of the component providers for this project include:

Ladyada is arguably the coolest businessperson in the world and her company sells enough cool things to choke a kraken.  Their site is extremely well designed and contains an outright treasure trove of tutorials and inspiration. Oddly enough, I’d yet to actually order directly from them.  Though I’m still waiting for a few items to come back in stock, I’m really looking forward to using their products.

Adafruit is supplying the lighting elements for my project.  While I’d started off with the idea that I would scratch-build a special lighting array, I’ve decided to use some pre-assembled units.  While I had a lot of fun learning about pulse width modulation and RGB color matching, helped by a push in the right direction from an electronics savvy friend, I decided that I’d spend too much time on the low level elements when I needed to focus on integrating them into a larger system.  As a result, I’m going to be using Adafruit’s 8×8 NeoPixel NeoMatrix, their FadeCandy control board, and several miscellaneous bits to power and wire them up.  The FadeCandy board will let me apply a greater level of control to a greater number of LEDs in conjunction with a Linux minicomputer, versus the limits I was going to hit with my Arduino Uno.  They’ll also be a lot of fun to use elsewhere if my idea turns out to be a flop.

I’ve also chosen Adafruit to supply a motion sensing unit for one of my breathing detection experiments.  I’m picking up a 10-DOF IMU board to use in a sensor package based on something I saw clipped to an infant’s diaper.  It’s major overkill for the case at hand, but this bit of the project is extremely exploratory and I want something versatile to use with other projects.

I subscribe to Make: magazine and follow them on Google+, so I pretty much always check the MakerShed when I’m shopping for tools or components.  They aren’t my favorite e-commerce site, to be honest, but their prices are fair and they provide good service.  Historically, I’ve ordered more from the MakerShed than all these other sites combined.  Usually I’m more likely to buy kits than the Shed than individual components, and this time wasn’t a complete exception.

The main thing I got from the MakerShed was a Mindwave Mobile Starter Set.  Made by Neurosky, the Mindwave is a single channel EEG headset used to control games or hardware based on aggregate brain activity.  It more or less measures conscious concentration, which I think will be affected in a predictable, repeatable manner by the device I’m whipping up.  The Mindwave is a cheap way to test this.  I also picked up a Pulse Sensor for taking a graphing a general physiological pattern and a Brain Machine Kit mostly for giggles.

I’ve only recently learned about Modern Device.  While searching for ideas to sense the users breathing, an important part of my project, I ran into an Instructables project using one of their anemometers.  Modern Device has a nice, WordPress based, e-commerce site selling Arduino variants and related components.  Their products look pretty good and some of the open discussion they include about how they develop new ideas just about inspired me to add a new set of experiments to my plans.  I’ll be keeping an eye on them in the future.

For now, I purchased one of their Wind Sensors as a breathing detection unit.  It’s an interesting unit based on the wind speed measurement technique used in a lot of high end weather stations.  Basically, it has a heating element that reaches a stable temperature in still air but fluctuates when exposed to moving air.  While I suspect that I’ll have to compromise on the units position within my final device, I have high hopes of using this as the final breath sensor.

I have a weird relationship with SparkFun.  Their email advertisements keep me constantly excited to work on my projects, but they have a nasty tendency to get me excited about products I end up buying elsewhere.  Take the Mindwave Mobile I just purchased from MakerShed, for instance.  I originally decided to try it out after seeing it in a SparkFun email.  The way they described it and the resources they led me to convinced me I’d be able to use the device to direct experiments and it was $20 cheaper than everywhere else.  It was also sold out the minute I clicked on their email.

There’s just something about their website that reduces my trust and makes me check elsewhere.  I’ve ordered things from them several times and always been happy, so I’m not certain what the problem is.  Regardless, they made the cut this time for a couple products.

They are supplying a resistive flex sensor I’ll be using in another test of breathing detection.  I have the least confidence in this method, so I’m glad these components are so inexpensive.  I’m also back-ordering a Rev C BeagleBone Black – one of the products I recently read about in SparkFun’s emails.  After a bit of math told me that my Arduino Uno was going to run out of memory before handling all the LEDs I needed it to run, let alone the rest of the sensor suite my project requires, I decided I was going to use a linux minicomputer.  It may have helped that I was a bit jealous of a friend’s Raspberry Pi and decided I had to have something similar.