BASIC Stamp Good Investment in Time?

Hi
I am interested in learning microcontrollers. I am taking a course in electronics in Feruary that will teach some microcontroller subjects
programming in C and some C++, but will be covered more in 2006. I also plan to do some hobby stuff including robotics.
It looks like Parallax has heaps of educational materials and support for their BASIC Stamp products. The excellent resources appeal very much to me. The only potential problem I see with this, though, is that it uses BASIC language, which it seems is not really used much in industry?
Would it be a waste of time and effort learning uCs using BASIC Stamp?
I welcome people's viewpoints.
Cheers
Dale
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It would certainly NOT be a waste of time learning on a BASIC STAMP.
RadioShack has a kit with nice instructions for $80
http://www.radioshack.com/product.asp?catalog%5Fname=CTLG&product%5Fid '6-625
You'll need to learn C someday, but you can learn about all the electronics and other Robot-related concepts just fine on a STAMP.
--
- Alan Kilian <kilian pobox com> (You know the drill don't you?)

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DS wrote:

You don't need to buy a Stamp in order to familiarize yourself with uCs. In fact, since you will be studying more traditional controllers and programming them in C/C++, a better idea might be to simply buy some Atmel AVR or Microchip PIC microcontrollers and wire them up on a breadboard.
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wrote:

If you're later going to use C, then yes I'd say the BASIC Stamp is a waste of time. For one thing, compiled C code will run much faster than the onboard (onchip?) interpreted BASIC. Long story short, BASIC skills won't get you much further than programming a BASIC Stamp, but C skills will get you lots of places. I see BASIC as a dead-end street.

There are many C compilers for both of these. I've got the free GCC compiler for the AVR (check out http://avrfreaks.net , back up after being down over the holidays), and there may be one for the PIC too.
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: wrote: [snip] : >> Would it be a waste of time and effort learning uCs using BASIC Stamp?
: If you're later going to use C, then yes I'd say the BASIC Stamp is : a waste of time. For one thing, compiled C code will run much faster : than the onboard (onchip?) interpreted BASIC. : Long story short, BASIC skills won't get you much further than : programming a BASIC Stamp, but C skills will get you lots of places. I : see BASIC as a dead-end street.
Bah! There are very good Basic compilers for pretty much all of the micros out there. It is just another language. I prefer C, but others like Basic. Your language religious beliefs tend to make the choice.
IMO, DLC
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Dennis Clark wrote:

He LIVES!
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Teleoperate a roving mobile robot from the web:
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Just busy as heck trying to survive, I don't get the time to play on line much these days - I'm hoping to change that in the next few months though! I'm still out here and making robots! Actually, I'm teaching robotics at a local community college in my spare time from my 3 year old, my hobby and my day job (recent aquisition).
Bored? Impossible!
DLC
: Dennis Clark wrote:
: > : wrote: : > [snip] : > : >> Would it be a waste of time and effort learning uCs using BASIC Stamp? : > : > : If you're later going to use C, then yes I'd say the BASIC Stamp is : > : a waste of time. For one thing, compiled C code will run much faster : > : than the onboard (onchip?) interpreted BASIC. : > : Long story short, BASIC skills won't get you much further than : > : programming a BASIC Stamp, but C skills will get you lots of places. I : > : see BASIC as a dead-end street. : > : > Bah! There are very good Basic compilers for pretty much all of the : > micros out there. It is just another language. I prefer C, but others : > like Basic. Your language religious beliefs tend to make the choice.
: He LIVES!
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: Teleoperate a roving mobile robot from the web: : http://www.swampgas.com/robotics/rover.html
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Chris S. wrote:

Have a look at: http://www.dontronics.com/auto.html this should give you some ideas.
Don...
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Don McKenzie
E-Mail Contact Page: http://www.e-dotcom.com/ecp.php?un=Dontronics
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Learning microcontrollers, and using BASIC Stamps are really two different things.
Basic stamps really insulate you from some of the mysteries of microcontrollers. They are a great way to get things to move about on your desktop, but teach some bad habits and do not cover other concepts for working with microcontrollers at a deeper level. The way I like to say it, is that a basic stamp is like having 16 Swiss Army knives, but only 1 hand to use them all. Each pin on a stamp is amazingly conformable, but you can only access 1 pin at a time.
Microcontrollers are in a way independent of language. Some languages are better suited to some microcontrollers. For C, I have heard great things about the AVR, and am working towards that direction a bit myself. If memory serves, Brian Dean, www.bdmicro.com , makes some nice stuff.
Microcontrollers have a lot of task specific functionality that is controlled/accessed through registers which you often "set and forget", coming back later to change or update. In this way, you are able to achieve a lot with little processor overhead. A more advanced concept is interrups, where you set the microcontroller to do something on the occurance of a particular event, then return to what you were doing.
All of these concepts are not within the context of using a BASIC Stamp. While the insulation is good for a rank beginner, it is not necessary to isolate ones self from what one eventually wishes to achieve.
My personal preference is IsoMax/FORTH, particularly on the 5680x DSP chips, as implemented by www.newmicros.com in their "pod" line, but this is a shameless plug for a product I really love, and the subject for a different thread.
Mike

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I don't think Stamps are waste of time at all, particularly if you're just learning about electronics and micros in general. The fundamentals you learn about micros will rollover to more a more advanced uC when you decide to "grow up" so to speak. I started on stamps, and now program Atmel AVRs using ASM and BASCOM but I still often use stamps during the initial testing and design phases of new ideas simply because they are very quick and easy to implement. Best regards,
Darmok

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Dale,
In your case, a Basic Stamp will be a waste of $50. The BS is good for designing fairly simple controls very quickly and easily. It is great for beginners that don't plan to make a huge number of devices and for professionals who have a high burden rate and often make simple, one-off controls.
Instead, I would recommend that you get the book "Programming Robot Controllers" by Myke Predko. It starts from scratch using PIC chips and breadboards. The version of C he uses (Hitech's PICC Lite) is free and so are the chips if you just ask Microchip for samples (they will give you 2 or 3 per quarter). Myke even shows how to build your own programmer for around $20. The programs in the book are written in C. At first, you can blindly use his code while you learn to wire up the circuits. Later, after you have learned C in your classes, you will be able to easily modify what He has wrote.
If you want to get a jump on your C class, go to http://www.fored.co.uk/html/learn_c_with_fed.htm and download their learning C book. It is the best beginner's intro to C for microcontrollers I've seen.
Paul
DS wrote:

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Thanks Paul
Guess what, I already have that book! The circuits are excellent, because they are easy to follow from the breadboard diagrams. I have built and used his El Cheapo programmer. Myke includes an excellent guide to constructing it, and the download software is great. I have done hobby programming in VB, Java, and a little C ( and Pascal many years ago at uni ). I also have the Lego Mindstorms kit and a few books I got from Amazon ( Extreme Mindstorms, Core Lego Mindstorms Programming, The Unofficial Guide to Lego Mindstorms Robots ). I have found it difficult to follow Myke Predko's code...he does not really explain it as much as a beginner needs -and he should also use flowcharts to describe the logic ( like any programmer "should" ). I have found it really frustrating to try and work out what is happening in his code examples.
I have also bought a multimedia CD ROM from Matrix Multimedia ( http://www.matrixmultimedia.com ). It cost me about AUD$ 100. This CD includes the C2C compiler and SourceBoost IDE ( http://www.picant.com/c2c/c.html ) . The IDE integrates seamlessly with MPLAB assembler. It programs a much wider range of PICs than the PICC Lite compiler, and has much less restrictions. This compiler also compiles code for Ubicom SX series chips.
I like the CD and think it is a great tutorial. BUT I find that for a beginner the "optional" development board is needed to use the CD, however ( cost ~ AUD$ 400! Matrix also produces a CD for PIC asembler that looks good ( to use with the same development board ) ) Because circuits like in Myke's book are not given - more frustration! So maybe I will have to fork out the money for the board ? - more frustration.
I am waiting for a book to arrive at Amazon.com that uses the Atmel AVR Butterfly as a development board, and has easy-to-follow breadboard circuits. ( http://www.smileymicros.com ). You can also buy and download an e-book at this site. This seems like a really cool book, because it teaches some C, uCs, basic circuits, and has projects, etc. The Butterfly is only ~USD$ 20! ( NOT A TYPO! ) and has a temperature sensor, light sensor, RTC, RS-232 chip, LCD, piezo, joystick, bootloader, etc - awesome platform ! The WinAVR free compiler and IDE are ( http://sourceforge.net/projects/winavr ) used - free! So this looks like the best platform to learn C and AVR.
So I am still considering Stamp just to learn some electronics and stuff over January with much less frustration. There really is not much hand-holding stuff for newbies on the electronics and C programming side. Looking on the Iternet, there seems to be a number of universities using the Stamp in their classes, so there seems to be some merit in using them I guess. At least any hardware I buy to learn the Stamp can be used in other projects I guess.
As far as the technical aspects of the Stamp, I know little. I think there is a polling ability in the new Stamps, that is like interrupts??? Althought the Stamp uses an interpreter, it seems like the newer Stamps can run fast enough to control projects for most users, including hexapod robots. Others have commented that it's not necessarily the speed that's important, but also the amount of education materials and support available. Parallax has lots of books ( including free downloads ) including signals, free DAQ software, electronics, datalogging, oscilloscope, robotics, etc, etc. so maybe it's worth having a look. For the beginner, there really is no other easily-accessible resources that compare to Parallax, I believe. Others have suggested alternative packages that use the Stamp, like from ( http://www.phanderson.com , a Professor in EE ) and to not waste money on some of the Parallax packages.
I will check out the link you included.
Thanks again, and to others have given their experiences in their posts.
Dale

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maybe have a look at simmsticks from www.dontronics.com down in Melbourne
http://www.futurlec.com.au/Boards.jsp have some cheap dev boards.
modtronix http://www.modtronix.com also have some nice boards. in Brisbane.

For a nice board tht the butterfly plugs into see http://www.ecrostech.com/Products/Butterfly/Intro.htm cheap and easy to build
Also I'm yet to find a good book on the avr's.
www.avrfreaks.com join its free, go to academy and read through the docs.
For the atmel butterfly apps ported to winavr/avrgcc http://www.siwawi.arubi.uni-kl.de/avr_projects /
If buying in Australia you'll find basic stamps very very expensive (same if trying to buy from parallax)
Learn more but bit harder to start, using a pic or avr or others on a breadboard.
Either make or buy a low cost programmer.
Save a few dollars for when you are doing the corse as you'll probably have to buy the hardware on top of the course fee.

Your going to do a TAFE or other course ?
If a uni course, I don't know of any Australian uni's using the stamp for electrical/computer systems / telecom/ software Eng.
Were in Australia are you ?
Alex Gibson
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Hi Alex
Thanks for the tips.

Yeah it's cheaper to buy them in from the US, some of the distributors are cheaper than Parallax ( especially shipping charges ): http://www.hobbyengineering.com/ . You have to spend a lot to make the shipping charges worthwhile.

Yeah I have been breadboarding with PIC 16F84A today...using C2C compiler I got...got bank of LEDs flashing back and forth...woohoo! Got a buzzer buzzing... I think I fried ( another ) PIC today :(
When that book on AVR Butterfly comes out I will get it and parts from USA - Australia is HOPELESS for buying electronics stuff.

Yeah I have El Cheapo programmer I built from a design I got from a book. I found a place that sells ICSP programmer for ~USD$9 ( hook up to breadboard ), it even programs 18Fxxxx series and has free *.hex downloader!!! How cool is that?: http://www.sparkfun.com/ click on Programmers on menu on LHS of page.
Maybe I will buy one for 18Fxxxx series. I found out that I can upgrade my compiler for ~AUD$120 and I get cool plugins for my IDE to simulate devices like LCD, wave generator, logic analyser, seven segment LED, voltmeter, etc but first I will check out the links you posted. I would have got a free upgrade, but not with the version I got with the MatrixMultimedia CD...bummer!

Yeah I will go to TAFE to do Advanced Diploma in Electrotechnology at Wollongong, you can choose between 3 strands; Computing; Power/Control; Electronics. I should get credits because I have a science degree ( I used to be a science teacher ).

I found US unis using them.

I live about 25km South from Wollongong NSW.

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Paul,
Thanks, I checked out that link you posted. I agree that it is a great intro to C for PICmicro MCU. It looks like an excellent development environment, like the wave generator and software emulator, etc. I downloaded the manual. It explains things very well. The only problem is cost - ~AUD $400 for IDE and dev board, shipping. It is stated that the code can be run on practically any C compiler? How would that work? Wouldn't it be necessary to have at least the header files? Would GCC compiler work to make *.asm or *.hex files?
Cheers
Dale
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DS,
I've only used the free book, not the FED product. I'm just old enough that I was taught Fortran and BASIC instead of C in school so I needed some help learning to read that awful language. I used PICC Lite from Myke's book. The languages are close enough that I was able to understand the basics from the book so that I could follow Myke's code.
[off subject rant] I really don't like C. That was my one complaint with Myke's book and the main reason I switched from PIC's to AVR's. I can get the basic compiler BASCOM for free to use with AVR's. Unfortunately, the one book out on BASCOM is next to useless for a beginner (Mr. Kuhnel is a skilled programmer, but he needed a technical editor to clean up his writing - a common problem with U-publish books). I would love to see a a book like Myke's written using BASCOM.
Paul
DS wrote:

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Paul,
If you like BASIC programming, check out Amazon.com. There are at least 3 robotics books that use PICBasic. One called "Amphibionics", "Insectronics", and one by Iovine. They are all PIC-based, but BASIC is used to program them. Although the PICBasic/Pro compiler is not free, you could probably port using another BASIC dialect/compiler to either PIC or AVR, etc.
They look like cool books, but the BASIC put me off, especially the ~$AUD 400 for the PICBasic Pro compiler and the separate IDE you have to purchase to get a decent development environment.
Cheers
Dale

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I saw your post on usenet - ordered the book from amazon just now, does the book tell me how to get the 'free' sample chips from microchip that you mentioned? If not - how can i go about doing that. your post was really informative. hope to hear from you!
Catman wrote:

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Stamp?
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on the microchip site, there should be a somewhat obvious samples link.
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check out http://sample.microchip.com/Default.aspx - which PIC would you recommend getting as a sample to start out with?
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