Ages ago, during the second release (I was never going to get up at 6am to order one), I bought a Raspberry Pi. I booted it up a few times, but it never sparked any imagination. In fact, given it is a crippled last-gen (or few gens before that) mobile phone, I couldn’t see the point in it. Teaching children computing? Grief, I hope not, the equivalent of teaching children literature by giving them Harry Potter. The best you can hope is that they realise the limitations and move on to better very, very quickly.

Eventually, I sold it on to the Polish HipHop Mafia. And thought no more about it, other than what a wasted chance it was. It also made me…wary of the whole ‘Internet of Things’ caper, even though that is something I should have loved.

Time passes. As that is what it does.

I’ve always been aware, on a meta-level, of the whole arduino scene, mostly as I’ve seen the articles in the ever ace Makezine. But even at that, I much preferred the non-electronic lo-tech make-ing. But a few things changed.

There was an democracy-hacking meeting on in town, being held at MakeSpace. Now, I got a little tour beforehand, and was chatting to chaps therein. And it all sounded…rather like something I’d love to do. (And I’d still love to join them, but not only does time pass, but it presses, and I’d need to free other things up to enjoy the benefits.)

Thereupon I decided to try this arduino stuff. But, like everything, there is little point in just buying it to have, I needed some projects to put together, to make it worthwhile. In time and effort. Of course, I could make some sensors for my planned observatory (which will take me years to save for, build and commission). Using an infrared thermometer, I could even gauge cloud cover. No, it isn’t that I am too lazy to look outside, I can join this to the camera, and mount, so it closes the shutter when clouds come over, and opens again when it clears.

With other ideas, I got a little kit. And started to tinker. And man, it is great. Forget the crippled RaspPi, get an arduino. (So my observatory also has a twitter account. And the temperature readings are sent, via radio, to a receiver linked to the laptop which then tweets me. Successful first project.)

And now my mind races, there are lots of things to do, so I do. Lasers pulsing morse code as a check on the transmitted environmental readings, sidereal clocks and so on. It helps that buying these sort of bits and pieces are pennies. A RTC for GBP1.29? Why, thank you, Hong Kong. Sure, it takes a week or two to get here, but what odds? For that price? Super stuff.

Then at some point, in $latest_work, there was some gentle derision going on, and during one particular keyboard-mashing incident, some wag point out they would be better dancing on their keyboard. To which some other wag mentioned DDR, and my mind turned. And forgot about it, until yet another wag pointed out you can encode the entire keyboard on eight points of a dance mat. (With a selector to switch to numerics and symbols.)

Guess what, gentle reader? I had an old PSone dance mat in the shed, a pair of pliers and an arduino. So I build a keyboard dance mat.

Video of the first hack, merely a proof of concept.

Some better code, and we have a fully working keyboard. With a shift key, and everything possible, using just your two feet. Of course, that there mat is a bit…crufty, and the foot-points stick, but regardless, you can dance everything on the keyboard. Everything. (Bonus on that video is you can hear my voice. If by bonus I mean ‘never let me hear that again’.)

Total time spent, maybe a few hours. Most of which was faffing with the controller. Imagine you cut off the end, to reveal wires. There is a red one…but no black. Meh, whatever. They don’t match any other online schematic, but the pinouts do. Sort of. At which point you find out that the red is a control wire, and the positive is white, and the ground yellow. HELLO? WUT?

I even wrote some code that would take any text, and translate it into dance moves. Worst rhythm game ever, but so? SO? (That is what is in the second video, which I am sure you know, having watched it by now, right?)

Still, a little bit of hokey C code and job done. And I have the next project lined up too. The arduino is such an awesome tool. I now have two of them (well, the radio signal does need received somewhere, that was an exercise left to the reader), and plenty of ideas. The soldering iron is beside me, ammeters, voltmeters, breadboards. An oscilloscope would be neat…and more lasers, and motors, and, and, and….

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