Road of Trials, pt 2: The Little Things

Well, I accidentally missed a bit of blogging, but here is the post I wrote in my head last week, but never got down in words.

While my project is moving forward, I feel like I keep hitting a thousand tiny, small blocks. This is very much a road of trials. Some specific challenges I’ve been working with:

Being a Beginner

As someone new to electronics and coding and soldering, it’s really hard to know what I need to learn immediately and don’t need to learn immediately. It’s also harder to troubleshoot and be flexible. If an online instructable tells me to use [enter random electronics piece here] and I don’t have that piece, it’s hard to know what I can and cannot substitute. I spend a lot of time on Google, trying to figure things out. Sometimes the challenge is that I don’t have the right vocabulary to describe an issue, so I waste a lot of time trying out different keywords until I finally find something that gives me the terms to describe my problem.

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The “Hello, World” of electronics: making an LED blink. This is from a few weeks ago, but I had to work through some beginning Arduino lessons to be able to make any sense of my project. The “Hello, World” of electronics: making an LED blink. This is from a few weeks ago, but I had to work through some beginning Arduino lessons to be able to make any sense of my project.

Finding the Right Supplies

Another challenge is that I have yet to find a good place in the Cities that sells the small pieces I need. I’ve spent a lot of time going to Ax-Man, Radio Shack, hardware stores, and home improvement stores trying to figure out who has what I need. Often, I couldn’t find the piece (see my above description of not knowing what I can substitute) and would order it online. And because I have no idea what I’m doing, sometimes I would get to a step and realize I needed something, starting the “how to find this $.40 thing” process all over again.

I didn’t actually get all the pieces I needed to build my basic circuit until Saturday. I did the best I could without it. I actually created non-working prototypes of the LED and the light sensor I was waiting for out of pieces of wire and painters tape. My circuits didn’t work, but I could build them to think through how things would hopefully work and start working with my code based on them.

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The non-functioning prototype of a light sensor I made so that I could start building my circuit

Not Having an Equipped Workshop

Working on this project has made it apparent why a makerspace is useful. When you’re starting a project as a beginner, you don’t have the basic tools you need to accomplish anything. I needed wires, a breadboard, a soldering iron, various implement to strip and cut wire, a multimeter, etc. The list kept growing. And, as I talked about earlier, it was hard to tell what was needed and what was nice to have.

My dad is a huge maker (although he wouldn’t use that term) and has a full woodworking workshop above our garage, as well as a lot of other tools. I was able to borrow things like an old soldering iron, multimeter, and various handtools from him. Without access to him, this project would have become much more expensive. As it is, I now own my own soldering gun. Because he solders larger things (for home repairs and improvements), so the tip of his soldering gun was much too big to solder the tiny things I was trying to connect. After bringing his iron to several stores asking if they had replacement tips (and receiving rather horrible customer at pretty much all of them), I finally had to just buy a new one with a smaller tip.

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My makeshift “So You Live in An Apartment” soldering station. An upside down plastic bin on the balcony using painters tape to hold things in place.

Coming soon, I’ll talk about my finished project!

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