Category Archives: Classes

Arduino Final Project: Distance LEDs

Well, I hope this will take care of it for now. I have completed (what I hope is) my final project for my independent studies class in Arduino. The idea behind this project is simple. I wanted to use both a sensor and an actuator of some kind (i.e., both physical input and physical output) and I wanted to use something that could, in a very rudimentary way, lay the groundwork for using Arduino on stage during dance performances as a way of manipulating some aspect of the set. In order to keep things simple and transportable, I decided to use a distance sensor – an Ultrasonic Module HC-SR04 Distance Sensor For Arduino from Amazon, in this case – for input and plain old LED lights as my output.

The sensor reads the distance of objects in front of it and converts those measurements to inches. If the serial monitor in open, the distances are shown, although they jump around a lot. I understand that such fluctuation could be the results of a $5 sensor but could also have to do with fluctuating power supply from my laptop USB. It could also have to do with the actual code that I used, as I decided to forgo the use of a library in this one to keep things simple. Anyway, the measurements are generally accurate. If the object is less than 72″ (6 feet) from the sensor, the green LED lights up. If the object is less than 12″ away, the white LED also lights up. Finally, if the object is less than 4″ from the sensor, then the red LED joins in. Simple but it works.

As with all of the exercises that I completed for the book Getting Started with Arduino, the code for this sketch can be downloaded from (you’ll want the “Distance_LEDs” folder, in this case).

And with that, I think I have finally finished all of the work to get the Art Technology Certificate from the University of Utah Department of Art and Art History that was the purpose for my 2011-2012 sabbatical. Woo hoo!

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GSWA 6: Talking to the Cloud

Okay, chapter 6 of Getting Started with Arduino, “Talking to the Cloud,” has been the bane of my arts technology existence. I did most of this chapter about three weeks ago and couldn’t get it to work. The problem is that the book as a whole seems to progress like this:

  • Chapter 1: No real information
  • Chapter 2: A tiny bit of information but no practical work
  • Chapter 3: A tiny bit more information but still no practical work
  • Chapter 4: A tiny bit of practical work
  • Chapter 5: A little bit more practical work
  • Chapter 6 (this chapter): About 1000% more complicated than all the rest of the book put together
  • Chapter 7: A tiny bit of information to wrap things up

It really felt like getting thrown into the deep end. However, I finally got it to work. Here is the chronicle of my adventure:

  • Copy and paste code into Arduino and Processing IDEs (because this one uses both).
  • Get intractable errors in Processing because the code was written for v. 1 and we’re now in v. 2
  • Spend much time searching the web, determine that all of the Java libraries must be installed manually
  • Get the Processing code running (see first photo above) but get such miserably low numbers for output that no light would be detectable
  • Revise Processing code to search for more common terms with the hope to being able to see things (see second photo)
  • With Processing apparently working right, turn to physical components of Arduino
  • Reconstruct the physical circuit because I took it apart after three weeks (having even schlepped it around with me in a box on the bus and train from Salt Lake City to Orem)
  • Plug the Arduino board in to my computer
  • Have the Arduino shut off and get alarming error message from computer (see third photo)
  • Spend much time fiddling with USB connection, pull out brand new, back-up Arduino board, plug it in and see that it works, recreate circuit on new board, get same problems, notice lots of heat on bottom of first board, think that I have destroyed things, fret much
  • Search web for help and learn that there may be a short-circuit (without even really knowing what this would mean)
  • Eventually discover that I put the ground wire on the same positive rail of the breadboard as the power. Oops.
  • Put the ground wire on the negative rail (the way the illustration told me to do it in the first place), board powers up, problem solved.
  • Back to Arduino IDE, compile and upload sketch, have lights blink to indicate successful upload, but see nothing happening with LEDs
  • Mess around with light sensor and the button on the breadboard to no effect
  • Check the serial monitor in Arduino and see a steady stream of strange data that is absolutely not in the right format
  • Read book again, see “important message” about serial port selection
  • Go back to Processing, uncomment code that lists serial port connects and find that my Arduino is connected to port 5 and not the expected port 0
  • Change port in Processing, rerun sketch, and suddenly see much blinking on Arduino board
  • LEDs light up! Button turns them on and off! Success! (See last, triumphant photo above)

Okay, that was not fun but I was convinced that I would never make it work so I feel very, very happy now. And I already finished chapter 7 (although I haven’t yet posted it to this web page because I’m an extremely linear guy), so I’ll post this chapter, post that one, and then try to do a small, creative project (which I have been planning – more or less – for a few weeks), and call it quits. But here we go for now!


  • Getting Started with Arduino, 2e, Ch. 6: Talking to the Cloud (1 exercise – but a really, really big one)
  • Sketches (i.e., code) can be downloaded from
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GSWA 5: Advanced Input and Output

Chapter 5 of Getting Started with Arduino is  “Advanced Input and Output.” The topics covered in this chapter are:

  • Analogue input and output to allow continuous (or at least many-valued) values as opposed to just digital on/off
  • The use of a photoelectric sensor to provide continuous input and an LED to provide continuous output
  • Serial communication to permit data exchange between different programs and different hardware

All of this is really used to lay the groundwork for the extended example in Chapter 6. And this is where I have my first movie examples to show things changing gradually. (Always glad to have the iPhone handy….)


  • Getting Started with Arduino, 2e, Ch. 5: Advanced Input and Output (5 exercises)
  • Sketches (i.e., code) can be downloaded from


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GSWA 7: Troubleshooting

First Computer Bug

The last chapter of Getting Started with Arduino is about troubleshooting. In its honor, I have posted a picture of the first known computer “bug” above. (Or, at least, the first literal computer bug. See the photo source here and a Wired commentary here.) The chapter is very short and starts by suggestions the following principles:

  • Understanding. That is, it is very helpful if you understand how all the parts in your project function and how they contribute to the intended final product.
  • Simplification and segmentation. Break the project down into smaller pieces and try to check/fix each part separately.
  • Exclusion and certainty. Test each part separately and be certain that it works.

The chapter then recommends starting by looking at the Arduino board, then the breadboard, then the Arduino IDE. Also, there are some useful resources available at the Arduino website, but good old Google works well, too.

And, by the way, was able to use essentially all of the principles in trying to sort out several problems with the sketch that I did for chapter 6, so I’m glad for the advice.


  • Getting Started with Arduino, 2e, Ch. 7: Troubleshooting (0 exercises)
  • Sketches (i.e., code) can be downloaded from


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GSWA 4: Really Getting Started with Arduino

Chapter 4 of Getting Started with Arduino is appropriately entitled “Really Getting Started with Arduino,” because this is the first chapter where we actually start hooking up wires and writing code. The goals of this chapter are relatively simple:

  • Hook up an LED to the Arduino
  • Put a pushbutton on the breadboard
  • Connect the wires and write the code so the pushbutton can turn on the LED, first as a momentary switch (i.e., the LED only lights up as long as you hold the button) and then as a toggle switch (i.e., click it once to have the LED turn on and stay on, then click it again to have it turn off and stay off)

Simple concept and an excellent introduction to the entire system. I’m much more accustomed to working with Processing and, while the two are very closely related, they’re not identical and the differences are acutely obvious to me. Still, I’m trying to adapt.  Some of the differences include:

  • Explicitly declaring constants
  • Setting pins as input or output (obviously, this doesn’t happen in the software-only world of Processing)
  • “digitalRead” and “digitalWrite” as functions (again, because this is hardware now)
  • The use of “HIGH” and “LOW” as “ON” and “OFF” (I know the latter work but there is a strong institutional preference for the former)

On the other hand, much of the building and troubleshooting procedure is the same: go one tiny step at a time, when something goes wrong, take a closer look at how the machine is making sense of your code, and working through possible solutions one at a time, perhaps through commenting lines in and out. And save versions of your sketch!

So, the fact that I am now able to turn a small light on and off may not seem like much to most people, but it’s a significant journey from the virtual to the physical world for me. Onward and upward!


  • Getting Started with Arduino, 2e, Ch. 4: Really Getting Started with Arduino (5 exercises)
  • Sketches (i.e., code) can be downloaded from
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GSWA 3: The Arduino Platform

Ch. 3: The Arduino Platform in Getting Started with Arduino is another introductory chapter. This chapter focuses on:

  • Explaining the Arduino hardware, such as the Arduino Uno, which is what I have
  • Telling where to download the Arduino IDE, which is very similar to the Processing IDE
  • Installing drivers on your desktop computer
  • Identifying the port that connects with your Arduino

Got it. Real stuff in the next chapter.


  • Getting Started with Arduino, 2e, Ch. 3: The Arduino Platform (0 exercises)
  • Sketches (i.e., code) can be downloaded from
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GSWA 2: The Arduino Way

The second chapter of Getting Started with Arduino is entitled “The Arduino Way.” It briefly explains that the “Arduino Philosophy” is based on the following:

  • Prototyping. Making actual, physical objects that do things in the fastest and most efficient way possible.
  • Tinkering. Playing without a goal, especially with old or broken electronics, is time well spent.
  • Patching. Making connections between different modules to direct data and control behavior. Robert Moog‘s early analogue synthesizers are mentioned as a prime example. (I like the cover of Switched on Bach in this respect.) Max, Pure Data, and VVVV are all mentioned as programming languages that make patching their primary visual metaphor.
  • Circuit Bending. The creative short-circuiting of electronics – especially toys that talk or make sounds – to create music.
  • Keyboard Hacks. Sort of the same idea but playing with the insides of a keyboard to make it do different things.
  • We Love Junk! Because you can take it apart and do things with it. That’s why I haven’t thrown away my old hard drives or mystery power adapters yet.
  • Hacking Toys. Lots of electronics in kids’ toys to manipulate. The author (Massimo Banzi) recommends the PDF booklet “Low Tech Sensors and Actuators.”
  • Collaboration. There is, in fact, an Arduino community and they tend to post questions and answers and generally help each other. One interesting place for this is the “Arduino Playground” at

And that’s it. Of course, any time somebody talks about their “philosophy,” I always think of the choreographer Mark Morris. As the story goes, when he was being interviewed to be the artistic director of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium, he was asked about his philosophy of dance. He replied: “My philosophy of dance? I make it up. You watch it. End of philosophy.” (And you’ll be glad to know that he got the job, too!)


  • Getting Started with Arduino, 2e, Ch. 2: The Arduino Way (0 exercises)
  • Sketches (i.e., code) can be downloaded from
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GSWA 1: Introduction


Chapter 1 of Getting Started with Arduino (GSWA) is a very, very brief introduction. Basically, it contains the following:

  • The URLs for Processing ( and Arduino (
  • A slightly tautological definition of interaction design: “Interaction Design is the design of any interactive experience.”
  • An explanation of the term “physical computing”: “[Physical computing] involves the design of interactive objects that can communicate with humans using sensors and actuators controlled by a behavior implemented as software running inside a microcontroller (a small computer on a single chip).”

And so, on to chapter 2!


  • Getting Started with Arduino, 2e, Ch. 1: Introduction (0 exercises)
  • Sketches (i.e., code) can be downloaded from
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Projections R Us


Tonight was “dig+it+art,” otherwise known as the Capstone Showing for the Arts Technology Certificate Program at the University of Utah. As I have been participating in this program all year for my sabbatical, I got to show a piece as well. My piece was entitled “Dots and Lines and Dance and All of Us.”

To create it, I recruited a group of dancers (mostly freshman modern dance students at the University of Utah but also my wife, Jacque, who is a professional modern dance choreographer) and had each of them improvise a 10-second sequence that I filmed with a Kinect hooked up to my MacBook and running through Processing. From there, I took the RGB video at 1 FPS and ran it through a nice, blurry B&W filter, placed the 100 resulting images on a grid in random order, and made it possible to connect the images from a dance with a Catmull-Rom spline. (Of course….) I also created videos of the point clouds and skeletons, also at 1 FPS. Each of the three parts – clouds, grid, and skeletons – was projected on a large wall. Lots of fun!


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Atari on the Too Big Screen

[Above image from]

So my Intro to Video Games teacher, Corrinne, told us that she and her husband have this enormous 90-inch (!) plasma screen TV and that she hooked up her circa-1979 Atari 2600 game console to it. I think that would make each pixel about six inches square or something like that. I just hope she was able to sit more than three feet away from the screen.

I think I’d be throwing up in about two minutes.

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