BeagleBone For Dummies (2015)
The Part of Tens
Ten Resources and Tips for BeagleBone Users
In This Chapter
Discovering where to buy components and parts for your projects
Finding places to get more information about the BeagleBone
Finding out where to get project ideas
Getting acquainted with the BeagleBoard community
Exploring the advantages of sharing your BeagleBone projects
This chapter introduces you to ten useful resources that can help you get the most out of your BeagleBone.
The first part of the chapter focuses on tips on getting started with digital electronics — where to buy the required tools and components, for example. Later in the chapter, we provide some guidance on how you can continue learning and improving your skills as a BeagleBone programmer. This chapter is the last chapter of BeagleBone For Dummies, but it shouldn’t be your last experience with the BeagleBone. Your experience is just starting!
Finding Components and Parts
You can get electronic components for your projects in quite a few places. We encourage you to purchase your components from local stores. Components such as resistors, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), potentiometers, and motors are quite standard, and any electronics store should have them.
As your projects grow and you require more specific components, however, you may find it easier to locate them online. A simple online search can help you find electronics stores that sell the exact component that you require. Don’t forget that shipping costs and taxes affect the final price of your components when you purchase them online. To save on shipping costs, it’s a good idea to get them from somewhere close by when you can.
When you do have to order from a store in a remote location, it isn’t a big deal. Electrical components usually are very small; thus, shipping costs typically aren’t very high. Whatever component you need, there’s a good chance that these sites have it:
· Sparkfun: www.sparkfun.com
· Farnell: http://farnell.com
· Radio Shack: www.radioshack.com
· Adafruit: www.adafruit.com
· Tigal: https://www.tigal.com
· Logic Supply: www.logicsupply.com
Acquiring Electronics Starter Kits
In many electronics stores, such as those mentioned in the preceding section, you can find plenty of starter kits for electronics newcomers. Starter kits are really great ideas because they save you the time and effort of sorting out everything you need to get started with digital electronics. These kits come in different varieties and prices, and the one that’s right for you depends on how broad you want it to be. A good starter kit includes the following items:
· Needle-nose pliers
· Servo motors
Naturally, you can go for starter kits that feature many other useful tools and components, such as wire-cutting and wire-stripping pliers; equipment wires; and a soldering iron, stand, and glasses. The type of starter kit you get depends on how far you want to go on your electronics trip.
You can also find BeagleBone Black starter kits. These kits feature a BeagleBone Black and some useful components and capes to go with it. You can get BeagleBone Black starter kits from Adafruit (www.adafruit.com/product/703) and Logic Supply (www.logicsupply.com/components/beaglebone/boards-cases-kits/bblk-kit).
Protecting Your BeagleBone with a Case
A good way to keep your BeagleBone safe is to enclose it in a plastic case specifically designed for the board (see Figure 17-1). Aside from protecting the board from harmful things that can happen, such as a fall, a case also helps prevent unconnected wires from creating a short circuit. (Short circuits are quite hazardous to the board.)
Photo courtesy of Tigal
Figure 17-1: BeagleBone Black case from Tigal.
A case features slots that let you access both headers as well as the USB ports, power jack, Ethernet jack, power buttons, Micro HDMI jack, and microSD card. All the USR (user) LEDs are visible with your BeagleBone inside it.
Covers feature feet for mounting the board in slide-in wall slots and vents for keeping the board cool. Also, a nice cover looks pretty neat, and most covers are relatively inexpensive.
Attending Events and Workshops
Be on the lookout for nearby events and workshops, which cover all kinds of topics: robotics, sensor networks, mobile communications, home automation, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Getting together with other electronics enthusiasts gives you a chance to have fun and get some knowledge from others. You can see some really cool projects or even go ahead and present your own (and there’s also the possibility of free food and coffee).
Universities and schools often hold such events, and there are many independent events, such as the popular Maker Faire and the events held by Hackaday. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Maker Faire or Hackaday event, we highly recommend the experience! Find a location near you at http://makerfaire.com or https://hackaday.io/events.
Joining the BeagleBoard Community
The BeagleBoard community is a welcoming, active, and open group of people with a common interest. The site includes a blog, a live chat, forums, and videos featuring all kinds of tinkering, hacking, and developing. You can jump right into this environment by visiting http://beagleboard.org/Community.
The community page of BeagleBoard.org offers many ways for you to get involved in the BeagleBoard community, including
· Finding solutions for problems you’re having with your board and helping others come up with solutions to their problems
· Checking out interesting ideas from other people
· Showing off your own project
Interacting with the Community
The BeagleBoard community loves helping new users, but before asking something, there are a few good practices that you should follow.
Asking the same questions over and over again, especially if you can find answers with just a couple of clicks or an online search, is considered rude. You should always try to get answers on your own before posting online. Rooting out a problem without relying on others helps you gain more insight into digital electronics and the BeagleBone. Plus, if you have a simple problem that could have been solved by a few minutes of troubleshooting or an online search, the community may consider it rude that you posted the question to the group.
You can visit http://beagleboard.org/support/faq for a collection of some of the most frequently asked questions.
Here are some tips for getting help on two of the most common types of questions:
· Hardware: Try posting a figure with your circuit diagram so others can see exactly how you’re wiring your project. Posting links to datasheets when you mention particular components is also a good practice so that the community members don’t have to search it by themselves.
· Software bugs: When you have a bug, don’t copy and paste your whole code to a forum thread. Instead, use websites created specifically for code sharing — such as the free http://pastebin.com/ — where you can copy your code, select the code syntax according to the programming language, and get a unique URL. Posting that link to the forum thread makes it much easier for others to read your code and help you with your problem.
Sharing Your BeagleBone Projects with Others
If you believe that your project is pretty neat, there are bound to be other people who think the same thing about it. You can find those people by posting your project online.
The Internet is a great asset for us electronics and computing enthusiasts. There are plenty of websites that can help you to share your project. When you post your project, you can provide step-by-step instructions and images so that others can try it. You’ll receive comments — both good and bad — and some people will ask questions or offer suggestions. Sharing a project isn’t just about letting others see it. It’s also about getting advice from other people and improving it with the help of everyone.
The following three websites are great places to post the details of your project:
· Beagleboard.org: http://beagleboard.org/Project
· Instructables: www.instructables.com
· Hackaday: http://hackaday.io
Improving by Failing
Electricity works at an atomic level. Many things are happening inside your circuits that you just can’t see and can hardly visualize. Sure, you have knowledge to back you up, but an LED can burn out just because you forget to put a resistor in series with it. Your BeagleBone might even be severely damaged by a short circuit caused by two random wires that you didn’t even notice were 5V and GND.
Failing is often annoying, especially when you can’t figure out why something didn’t work. But the good thing about failing is that if you can root out the issue, you have gained more knowledge than you would have if you’d succeeded on your first try. Failing enables you to gain insight into how the electrical world works.
Failing means that you tried. Nowadays, access to most components is easy, straightforward, and relatively cheap. Whenever you fail, don’t just throw the project away and start over: try to understand the problem, find a solution, and come up with an explanation based on what you observed. Search online if need be. Sooner than you’d guess, you’ll be spouting loads of electrical knowledge to your friends and family.
Looking for Project Ideas
Chapter 16 suggests some projects that we think are quite interesting, but they’re far from being the only ones out there that should spark your interest. After all, we chose them based on our tastes, which may be different from yours.
You can check some more projects featuring a BeagleBone at these websites:
· Beagleboard.org: http://beagleboard.org/Project
· Instructables: www.instructables.com/howto/beaglebone
· Hackaday: http://hackaday.com
You should try out the projects that interest you most. These can also spark your imagination to create something of your own. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to follow through with it.
Finding Out More about BeagleBone
This book only scratches the surface of electronics stuff that you can play around with. Many functions are available other than those that we cover in the example projects. You may even want to figure out how to program the BeagleBone by using programming languages other than BoneScript and Python.
The following four websites are great resources to help you continue your journey:
· Embedded Linux: http://elinux.org/BeagleBoard
· BeagleBoard: http://beagleboard.org/Support/bone101
· Adafruit: https://learn.adafruit.com/category/beaglebone
· Derek Molloy: http://derekmolloy.ie/tag/beaglebone-2/