Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review | LameStation

Hey folkey-folks! Carter here. Again. Back from the labs with another review! This time, one of the few DIY consoles you can actually buy on the market. Our verdict: It's pretty sweet. Keep reading for more deets.

As always, a big thanks to the Lamestation folks, who shipped me a review model. They'll be starting a Kickstarter soon for an revised and updated edition of this gadget, so make sure to be on the lookout for that. You can check 'em out here:


Review - The LameStation Console

So what is the humorously-named Lamestation? It's a handheld game console, for starters. But it's also so much more. It's powered by an arduino microprocessor, meaning you can program it to run a variety of premade applications (not just games) and even write your own programs!

Now a quick note on this model: This version of the Lamestation is actually scheduled for revision soon. The new model planned will be preassembled (the first one you had to build yourself) smaller and more ergonomic, like other handheld consoles, and will feature a rechargeable battery instead of the older version's AA battery holder. I'll be posting a link to the Kickstarter for the Lamestation upgrade version when it goes live. (Which is hopefuly soon!)

My model came very quickly and was preassembled, which, like I said, isn't how they come for most. But they had a couple premade ones lying around, so that helped make the review easier.

My review package included:

-1x Lamestation Console

-1x Serial-to-USB Cable

-1x DC Power Wall Plug

There isn't a lot, but you don't need a lot to have fun with this thing. The good stuff's all inside the console.

The Hardware:

Lamestation is, at its core, a game console. Running a Parallax Propeller microcontroller, it allows you to program it with an IDE not too different from Arduino. And like an Arduino board, the Lamestation features female headers for the different inputs and outputs of the microcontroller, allowing you to hook up the console to external electronic projects as well.

The Lamestation itself is a rather chunky console. Square, with rounded edges, it fits into the contours of your hands fairly well, but what really makes it bulky is the thickness. The Lamestation is actually a circuit board connected to a clear piece of acryllic on the back by four legs. Protruding from the front of the main board is the LCD screen, and on the back you'll find the battery holder.

It's not so thick that it's uncomfortable to hold, but it does give it a bit more of a hefty weight to it. But if you use the DC power plug, it should help cut down on the weight. And I hate to be negative at all, because it's an amazing system. It's just a little bulky. But I know that's because it's a DIY kit, and most people will need the space to insert and solder the parts together.

I won't speak much on the DIY aspect, since mine came preassembled, but you will need a soldering iron and steady hand to put the console together.

The console has a variety of inputs that include the joystick, A, B, and Reset buttons, volume and screen contrast slider... oh, and the power switch. As for the ports, you have your serial port, DC power, and headphone jack.

The serial port, used for programming the Lamestation, was amusing to see. I hadn't looked at one of those in quite some time, and it seems like an interesting choice for the console. But maybe it's what the chip uses for programming. Anyway, the cable provided with the console for programming is Serial-to-USB, meaning you can plug it right into any ol' computer and it'll work. (Once certain items have been installed. But more on that later.)

The contrast slider is also a nice touch, and definitely helpful. Not every game looks the same under the same contrast level, so it was definitely nice to be able to change that for the best viewing experience.

The last parts you'll see on the board are the LEDs, the speaker, and GPIO headers. The LEDs are fairly simple; one shows code-writing progress and status, and the the other is controllable by the user. The speaker, while slightly tinny, does its job well; although there aren't that many programs yet that have sound included.

The GPIO pins are similar to what you'd find on any single-board microcontroller. You've got spots for 5V and 3.3V power, GND, IO, and more. This makes it possible to write programs that actively monitor, control, and interface with your electronic projects.

The Software:

The Lamestation is programmed via the PropellerIDE, a programming enviroment created just for writing SPIN code, the code that controls the Parallax Propeller chips. This enviroment is very friendly and fairly easy to learn. Even if you don't want to write you own code, the process for uploading prewritten programs to your Lamestation is very simple: Just open the correct .spin file, click compile, and either run- or write- that program to the Lamestation.

The Lamestation SDK that you download from the website contains all the different demos, apps, games, and resources to program your Lamestation. Some of the demos are more complete than others, and some are rather broken. But they're all (for the most part) still in development, so give the Lamestation community time, and they'll keep working on them.

The Lamestation site provides a bunch of documentation on how to program in the Propeller language, SPIN. I dabbled with it slightly, and from what I've seen, it's a very clear and concise syntax to follow. They'll teach you the basics, from lighting up the LEDs to drawing out images on the screen. It's very fun.

There are a whole slew of games that come with the Lamestation SDK. Ranging from Frappy Bird, (what could that possibly be a clone of?) to a maze-crawling game, to Pikemanz (a very broken Pokemon varient) to much more. There's a lot to explore and play around with.

There's also an experimental sound synth app you can run. It's interesting. There's also a few graphics-demoing programs as well.

And that about wraps up my review. Did I convince you guys to pick up the console? Or wait for the revised model and nab that instead? If you simply can't wait, head to the >store< to pick up a Gen 1 Lamestation. Or bookmark this article for when the Gen 2 model is released!

Write for you later,


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review | Circuit Scribe

It's me again. Carter here. Back with another SL testing of a crazy way for you to draw electronic circuits... with a ballpoint pen. I know, you're shocked.

...You are shocked, right? Anyway keep reading and I'll give you the low-down on this fabulous product that raised nearly $700,000 on Kickstarter.

Also, a big thank-you to the folks at Electroninks Inc.! (I know, it's like a tougue-twister.) You can find them and their products at their website:


Review - The Circuit Scribe System

What is Circuit Scribe? To put it shortly, it's a rollerball pen that writes with conductive silver ink. Limited editon 24K gold ink (not) coming soon. But it makes drawing circuits as easy a laying down a line on a piece of paper.

The Electroninks team was very generous and on the ball with sending me my review unit, it arrived just a couple days after I contacted them. So kudos to them for their speed. My review package consited of the Circuit Scribe Ultimate Kit, which includes, among other goodies,


-Steel Sheet


...A bunch of modules, including:

-Dual-colored LEDs

-9V battery adapter (with included 9V battery)



-Jumper wires

...And more. The jumper cables let your circuit sketches become Arduino compatible, which is really cool. It makes the learning curve for basic Arduino skills far less of a challenge, without any messy breadboards to build. If you can draw it, you can power it.

But there are so many amazing elements to the kit! You can really do a lot with Circuit Scribe, depending on which kit you buy. And even if you don't use the snap-and-play modules, the conductive pen by itself has a lot of uses with standard electronic elements.

The Hardware:

When it comes to conductive inks, Circuit Scribe really sweeps away the competition. As shown in their Kickstarter video, they've really perfected the formula for a non-toxic, water-based, conductive silver ink that dries nearly instantly. This allow for the creation of circuits that connect every time and can be set up in moments.

The workbook contains a plethora of mini-lessons on how to use your pen and how the components work. Outlines on the paper let you know where to place the correct connections, but again, don't feel restricted to those lines. The beauty to Circuit Scribe is that you can put the ink anywhere and, as long as you put down a solid line and don't cross connections, it will still light up. Or beep. Or do whatever you can think of! (Except, perhaps, make you a sandwich. I'll suggest that to them for a future module.)

The steel sheet included in the kit is what allows you to hold the modules to the paper. Simply place it behind a workbook page (Or any piece of paper) and your modules will snap onto the paper with a nice, solid click. Also, the back of the sheet has a nice diagram on how each component functions.

When you've finished setting up your circuit, you can power it all using the 9V battery and snap adapter included the kit. This is an especially nice touch by the Circuit Scribe folks; not too many companies package batteries with their kits. So it was nice to find a power source included.

I've mentioned so much, and yet I feel like I've only scratched the surface of the Circuit Scribe system. Follow that link at the beginning to discover their site and all the various products they offer in this kit and beyond!

The Software:

Not much to say here. Obviously, there's no real software for this hardware-centric product, but if you intend to use this with Arduino, (Which if you have it, I recommend) you'll need the Arduino IDE. 

Oh, and the Autodesk 123D Circuits software, which lets you create virtual circuitry, works with Circuit Scribe, meaning you can set up a full circuit on your screen and make sure it works before you lay down a sing drop of ink.


Did I convince you to grab this fantastic kit for yourself? If I did let me know in the comments below and then head on over to their Store and, as always, tell 'em Carter sent you. 

Catch you later, skaters!...


Review | The Makey Makey GO

What's up, everybody? Carter here with another review form the labs... this time, a neato little system that converts your touch into a digital controller, regardless of the object. (Mostly.) It was highly successful on Kickstarter, raising almost $200,000. Intrigued? The review starts below.

Many thanks to the wonderful folks out of Joylabz who shipped me the device! A big thanks to them. You can find them at their website:


Review - The Makey Makey GO

What is Makey Makey? And more specifically, the Makey Makey GO? To quote the Kickstarter, it's an invention kit on your keychain. And they don't lie; this stuff is pretty fantastic. Using alligator clips that hook the device up to any object that conducts electricity, it digitizes your touch and sends the signal back to your computer as either a mouse or spacebar click. Perfect for one-button games, menial tasks that you want to make more fun, or, you know, bongo-drum jello.

The folks at Joylabz were very nice to ship me a review unit, and incredibly fast to do so as well. My kit came in just a couple days and included:
-1x Makey Makey GO Device
-1x Instruction Manual
-1x Booster Kit

The device itself comes with the plug-and-play dongle, as well as an alligator clip for hooking it up. The booster kit, which they graciously included as well, includes a bunch of conductive tape, cloth, wires, and jumper cables to help you set up an epic project with your device.

The Hardware:

The Makey Makey GO may be small, but it's a cool device. Roughly the same size as your standard USB flash drive, it fits into your pocket easily. But why would you put it in your pocket when you can flaunt it to the world!?! You can easily put it on a keychain or a cord and wear it around your neck.

The device is simple enough to operate: There are three capacitative buttons running along one side of the device. Well, two are buttons; one has a divot in it for you to clamp the alligator clip on.

The other two buttons control the reset, type of button press, and sensitivity mode. Reset allows you to, well, reset the device should you attach a new object. Button type lets you cycle between being detected as a mouse press or spacebar press. And sensitivity lets you increase the touch level dramatically. On very conductive surfaces, you can even have it detect your presence when your hand isn't even touching the object! (It still has to be close.)

The alligator clips have firm grips and are easy to use. They have a soft plastic casing on the outside to help grip the clamp and lessen a freak-out from the system's touch detection.
The setup for a computer is super easy. Just plug it in and you're good to go! The computer recognizes it similar to how it would a mouse or keyboard. Plus, the rainbow LEDs on the device light up in a cool light show when you plug it in.

The Booster Kit is an expansion pack for your Go. Think DLC for the real world. You get a BUNCH of nice, conductive materials that you can hook up to your Makey Makey GO and have it do tricks. Like laying down conductive tape on a slackline, hooking it up to a tablet, and seeing how long you last. It's a ton of fun.

The Software:

This area's a bit trickier to cover, since the Makey Makey Go works to varying degrees with a TON of software. If the program accepts mouse or spacebar input (Which, if it doesn't accept either, is odd.) the GO will work. The Makey Makey site has a ton of demo Scratch applications that you can use right in your browser to test out how the GO works. (I was even able to download some of the Scratch apps straight to my computer and run them offline with the Scratch Offline Editor.

I've found that the GO device generally has more application as a spacebar input than a mouse clicker. Because while it will input left-clicks, you can't use it to move the mouse around the screen. But if you want to use a big red button of doom to make those Amazon One-Click Purchases, be my guest.

Also, nearly every website out there with Flash games has some endless runners that'll work quite well. The Flappy Bird Scratch demo I tried, however, was incredibly hard. I barely made it past one pipe! But maybe I'm just not hipster enough to play that game.

But there a definitely a lot of applications for this device. And with its portability, you can take it nearly anywhere that you, a laptop, tablet, or smartphone (with adapter) can go.


And that's that, in a nutshell! If you want to learn more, or find out when and where you can buy one of these bad boys for yourself, head on over to the Store Page and tell 'em Carter sent you. 

Until I write again...