Is it Monday? My Pi has the answer

Keeping track of the days has been harder lately, it seems.

So I was excited to see a nifty blog post by Dave Gershgorn, where he described how he built a slick dashboard by attaching a screen to a Raspberry Pi computer. In fact, the Pi actually attaches to the back of the screen, out of sight.

I happen to be the kind of nerd who has a couple of Raspberry Pis around (in my case, some older Pi 3 model B's), so I ordered the recommended screen and followed Dave's great directions along with this ETA Prime video. If you're similarly inspired, just follow those guides.

If you're new to setting up a Pi, you might not realize that it doesn't come with an operating system. You need to install one on a micro SD card, and slide it into the Pi. I like to download the latest, recommended system from the Pi site, unzip it, and use the balena Etcher to flash the SD card.

One of the build steps that was unclear from the video was exactly how to attach the power lines to the Pi. For my Pi, the pins were these three:

Another tricky step was folding the ribbon cable so it fit nicely. Here's how I did it:

Then it was just a treat to see the tiny Pi desktop appear before my eyes:

I launched the Terminal application with the little cursor icon in the upper left corner, and in order to run the installation commands I increased the Terminal text size using Ctrl-Shift-+.

Once I got everything running, I installed MagicMirror, added a monthly calendar module, and played with the configuration settings to suit my needs. (I also toyed with the Javascript and the CSS because I couldn't help myself, but you certainly don't have to.)

Works like a charm.

Now Available: Family Projects for Smart Objects!

It exists! I can't believe it!

My first book, Family Projects for Smart Objects: Tabletop Projects That Respond to Your World is in my hands. The Kindle edition is available now, and Amazon is taking preorders for the paperback edition that comes out September 24, 2016. 

It's a collection of 11 projects designed to introduce beginners to Arduinos, sensors and "internet of things" things. I tried to make it as accessible as possible, with clear instructions intended for girls, boys, women and men who have never done anything like this before.

The book grew out of my attempt to make something every week for a year (and blog about it).

Other fun facts:

  • I wrote much of it on my phone riding the NYC subway to work.
  • I promised myself I'd never write a book (thanks to Quinn Heraty for talking me into it).
  • It's published by the folks who make Make Magazine.

If you're into making and live in the NYC area, come out to the World Maker Faire October 1-2. I'll be there both days, demonstrating some projects and talking about the book!

"Family Projects for Smart Objects" at the World Maker Faire, NY Hall of Science:

Saturday, October 1, 2016 at 2:45 p.m. — Zone 3 Make: Show & Tell Stage

Sunday, October 2, 2016 at 11 a.m. — Zone 3 Make: Show & Tell Stage

C'mon out!

Make Every Week: Temp -> Text -> Table

Texting temperature data to Twitter is fun, but more useful is sending that information to a table.

That’s what I did this week, as my wanderings into wireless data collection continue: Post the temperature and humidity from my little experiment to a table at

Here are the steps as things stand now:

  1. The sensor reads the data (as in my original post).
  2. The Ardunio formats a message and texts it with a Fona (wiring details here, updated code here).
  3. Instead of texting to Twitter, it now texts to a phone number I bought at Twilio for $1/month.
  4. Twilio then relays that data to my project server in the Amazon cloud as an http “POST” (deets on setting up a cloud server here).
  5. My project server parses the text message, composes a URL with the data, and hits the Sparkfun open data system with that URL (code for that is here).

This all happens in just a few seconds, every 20 minutes.

Make Every Week: Circuit Boards, For Reals

I always considered circuit boards like this something you bought, not something you made.

Not any more.

I actually helped to make the board in the picture above. And it was awesome fun.

The board is designed to monitor the conductivity (and, possibly, contamination) of water in lakes and streams, with the wonderful feature that it fits through the mouth of a regular water bottle. It’s called Riffle and it is the brainchild of Don Blair, who’s working with Public Lab and the MIT Center for Civic Media. This week I had the honor of working with Don at MIT.