How much? I could buy a computer for that!

January 18, 2016 at 9:17 pm (computers, internet) (, , )

First there was the C.H.I.P. – the $9 computer with built-in Wifi.  Then soon after that appeared on Kickstarter, the Raspberry Pi Zero came out – a $5 Raspberry Pi.  Ok, so strictly speaking you need a few accessories to really get them going as fully fledged computers as most people would recognise the term, but in these days of cheap computers, it made me think, just how does this compare with other ‘everyday’ items?

So, taking the “list price” for the Pi Zero, as £4 … that is:

Of course, these days, $5 will get you  a whole range of goods and services, including, according to Dave Gormon, 5000 Twitter followers!

And of course, as per the tweet that started the thinking behind this ramble … just slightly more than a 10 minute bus trip in Cambridge!



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ArduBlockly and the Arduino Nano

January 2, 2016 at 4:33 pm (maker) (, , )

I’ve been wanting to find a scratch style interface for Arduino to see if I could do something simple Arduino and Lego wise for the kids.  We have a CodeBug (which is pretty good for learning basics of programming for LEDs and I/O – maybe the topic of another block post, but see if you are interested) which is programmed using a web-based environment based on Google Blockly.  We’ve also used Scratch, so these were my two starting points.

After some googling, I found ArduBlockly, ArduBlock BlocklyDuinoS4A (Scratch for Arduino) and Snap.  As far as I can see, ArduBlock doesn’t seem to be maintained at the moment, Snap looks like an enhancement on S4A and ArduBlockly looks inspired by BlocklyDuino.

Snap looks particularly interesting and I’ll take a look at that at some point, but I went with ArduBlockly as it has a ‘download and just run all-in-one’ installation.  As far as it goes, this largely worked quite well – the only problem is that at present, it doesn’t support the Arduino Nano, which is what I was hoping to use.

However, seeing as this is basically using a Python web server to serve the Blockly interface to a browser, and then using the Arduino IDE (at least v1.6) directly to interface with the hardware, I had a poke around to see if the Nano could be slotted in.  The answer is yes and no.

The ‘all in one’ nature of the beast means that the Python is compiled into something that just runs, so isn’t editable anymore.  However, if I was happy to install Python and use a browser directly, I could hack it about.

Note: the following will hopefully become redundant at some point as support for the Nano I’m sure will be forthcoming, but it is documented here for my own reference right now.

In order to add the Nano enough for me to start playing, from some googling and searching around on github, there are three files that appear to require editing:


In the ‘Arduino Board’ selection form, a new <option> is required whose value is ‘nano’.


There is a __Arduino_type array which needs to include

'Nano': 'arduino:avr:nano'

as an option.


This defines the properties for the different support boards, so an entry for the Nano is required.  This is largely the same as the ‘uno’ entry, but the Nano has two additional analogue pins.  This is unverified, as I’m not an Arduino expert (to use at your own risk), but I believe all that is required is to create an entry as follows:

Blockly.Arduino.Boards.nano = {
  name: 'Arduino Nano',
  description: 'Arduino Nano with ATmega328p board',
  analogPins: Blockly.Arduino.Boards.generateAnalogIo(0, 7),
  digitalPins: Blockly.Arduino.Boards.generateDigitalIo(0, 13).concat(
                   Blockly.Arduino.Boards.generateAnalogIo(0, 7)),

Then running the ArduBlockly application using the ‘’ script rather than the stand-alone ‘ardublockly_run’ batch file seems to allow me to use it with my Nano.

I was getting ‘Arduino Exit Code: 259’ as an error though, and something somewhere online suggested that the arduino_debug.exe should be used for the diagnostics from the command line, rather than your arduino.exe, so I updated the ArduBlockly preferences to use arduino_debug.exe and now I get a successful build and download.

Aside – I couldn’t get ArduBlockly to work in MS new browser (Edge), so I use it with Chrome, connecting to the local URL generated by the running Python script of http://localhost:8000/ardublockly/

(If I ever get around to getting GitHub going properly and assuming this is verified as the right way to add the board, I’ll submit it back).

I look forward to see how ArduBlockly develops, and do wish to try Snap at some point too (especially as at present, with the above hack for the Nano, it is no longer the simple ‘all in one’ application for installing on a PC that the kids could use).  However, it is early days for ArduBlockly development, and so far the signs are looking pretty good to me!



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