I am sure you must have read at least one story somewhere which is about a person starting to do something and suddenly realizing that that particular thing is what he/she was meant to do. It becomes a passion. Something he/she becomes really amazing at. It leads to some great deeds and tons of money. And a story that can be told with a heroic music score in the background.

I am still trying to find that one thing for myself. Something with ‘passion potential’.

Many times, I have these false alarms. I start off with something, get really excited about it, and think, ‘Damn, I can do this all my life and get really good!’. This ‘state’ stays for a couple days, max. Then there comes a fine morning when the whole thing feels kinda stale. And its not cool anymore. Happens to you?

There is this general ‘group’ of things I have a waxing and waning interest in – Linux, video games, board games, RPGs, Tarot, tinkering, DYI, cars and bikes, programming. The more ‘permanent’ or ‘mostly constant’ interests are reading and writing. Then there is this whole set of things I pick up a fancy for, and give it days and days of time – I spend the time researching, reading, buying stuff, trying it out, fiddling, getting excited, reading all the material I can get – till it sort of wears off.

So I think, maybe this ‘trying out stuff’ thing is the thing with ‘passion potential’? Not a very happy thought to me honestly, but I am gonna stick with it till I hit something else. I am going to call these episodes of trying stuff ‘Dabbles’. And my current dabble happens to be the Arduino – an ‘open source prototyping platform’.

So how did i come across this? It happened in a way that is typical of me. I have a friend, who is also a published author and a really cool guy. I met up with him the other day over coffee, and he told me about this ‘Maker Fair‘ he had attended in China. A Maker Fair is basically a ‘fair’ where ‘makers’ come together. Who are makers? These are mostly DIY enthusiasts, people who have a passion for inventing, tinkering, modifying, modding – just making new stuff. And really cool stuff at that. How does the Arduino fit in into all this? Well, the people behind Arduino have pitched it and made it in a really cool way – it is a package consisting of a microcontroller board and a programming environment for the microcontroller. What does this mean? The Arduino board is basically a small computer – but still a very capable computer – which can be programmed on your laptop or home computer to do different things. But the coolest thing here is that the whole deal has been dumbed down enough so that even non-technical guys, i.e people who haven’t ever coded anything or have no idea about any electronics, can buy an Arduino and use it in their projects to make really cool stuff. And believe me, in the right hands, this thing can do wonders. Just google ‘Arduino projects’ and you will see what I mean.

So, yeah, my friend was telling me about this Maker fair, and all these guys who were there with their Arduino powered projects, and I felt I knew this. I had read and have been reading about the Raspberry Pi on and off. I knew that it was a capable computer on a board running Linux. I had looked it up a few months back, and it was selling in India for around 3k. I didn’t have that kind of spare cash then, so I had skipped it. When I came back home after the meeting with this friend, I googled Arduino and there was this ton of info all over. Everyone seemed to be talking about it. It was also featured in some project by Adam Savage (tested.com). There was quite a lot of stuff happening around it in India too.

So I got really intrigued, and spent the next couple days reading about it. I started getting these Steve Wozniak-y vibes out of it – I had read his autobiography, iWoz, in which he writes extensively about microcontroller chips and his friends at the Homebrew Computer Club who are all kicked about the new microcontroller chips coming out in the market, way back in the 60s and 70s (Er, Steve Wozniak is the guy who virtually made the computer, and is the co-founder of Apple, with Steve Jobs. If you can, just go and read iWoz. Its a brilliant book, and he is an awesome guy.). While reading that book, I had had this geeky longing to have that kind of a feeling, you know, where you are really interested in something new thats happening, maybe you don’t understand it fully, but its exciting, and you want a part of it. That feeling when something new comes out, and there is so much pleasure in buying and owning it, even though you don’t have much of an idea what are you going to do with it. So I had this feeling for the Arduino, and I wanted it. A few quick google searches later, I had ordered for myself an Arduino. And I also dug out iWoz again. Exciting times indeed 😀

In a couple days, I received my Arduino (In the two days it took to deliver, I had called up the store once and written them two emails while waiting for it to get delivered…teh impatience!). A really cool box the size of a credit card, a cool looking card inside it, a small sticker set and a manual. Trust me, this kind of stuff gives a geek a kick. I was happy.

I plugged my Arduino into my laptop, and within an hour had my first program running. One that caused an LED on the board to blink. I imagine myself building projects like an automatic water-er for mom’s plants. Or lights I can turn on and off using my smartphone. Or something else. I have ordered a kit full of stuff – LEDs, resistors, photoresistors, switches, breadboards and battery packs to use in my projects. I have fashioned a little tin box for the Arduino, have stickered it up. I have signed up for a Arduino Meetup in my city. I spent time sitting with colleagues in office with electronics training, and got a crash course on the basics. I have downloaded the datasheet of the processor, though I can’t understand one bit of it. But it looks like so much fun!

And the most awesome thing about it? It’s Open Source.

More coming up!

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