Prototyping 101

Getting started with the Beagle Board for cool projects

I love prototyping gear. That initial start up to check if what I designed works like I planned it to. The answer most of the time is NO, but that is a good thing. Many of the things I have developed have came about by trying to design something else. I credit a Technical Writing Prof I had in college (OK OK, insert joke here...) that said he does not believe in writers block. You are either burnt out and tired of writing or you just have to start writing anything until an idea comes to you. Now, I have always believed that anything worth doing is worth over doing so... I have applied that nugget of wisdom in many things along the way. When I do not feel like getting back in the storage lab to cram out for that friggen CCIE Storage lab, I just log in and start poking around with no goal or objective. Before I know it, geek instincts kick in. Or going to see another dad gum romantic comedy with my Wife, I go thinking I'll take a nap and dream of chicken wings covered in mango habanero sauce but before I know it; I wonder if Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds are going to ever hook up in Alaska. Same goes with writing code sometimes. I really wish a had a ultra cool fab lab with a plasma cutter, rapid prototyper, pc milling machine, in the Code Cave but for now, my Wife and various zoning laws require me to look at other methods. Sometimes, I just want to goof around and try a few things while I watch FireFly and drink a cool Newcastle. No goal or objective, just putz around until something hits me. That is where the Beagle Board comes into play big time for me. Now a Beagle Board is simply a very basic processing board based on the Texas Instruments OMAP 3530 ARM chipset. It can be turned into a PC, gaming platform (great for running MAME games), media center, door controller, whatever and where ever your imagination will take you. Officially, the Beagle Board OMAP proc supports Windows CE, QNX, Linux, Symbian OS but it is flexible enough to support many others. The board is great because it uses low power (5 volts) which means a USB socket can power it up. You interact with it via a serial cable. I use a break out box that I carry around in my bag o' junk but you can use a standard male-male DB9 null-modem cable, just break off pin 10 on the board (it's not used anyway). Hey look at that! You just became someone we all loath. The person that designs keyed cables!!! Out of the box the Beagle runs MiniComm and X-Loader from TI, so a quick and easy: sudo minicom -s gets you into the port config page where we can start prep'ing out the board for a new project. As a general ease of use rule, I run all of my OS's off of a SD card formatted with the correct ARM geometry which I can let the board do. Oh that reminds me. Be careful here! This is an ARM based processor and NOT a x86 one! Our OS MUST support the ARM instruction set which are conditionally executed. This means each instruction can execute as a NOP (No Operation) if the specified condition flags don't match the current status register flag state. Which is kinda cool since I can avoid all those friggen jumps around one or two instructions in x86. Of course the trade off here is the ARM can't do much with memory directly except load from and store to it. x86 can perform more operations directly on memory. anyway... Getting too deep into the code piece of this makes it seem more complicated then it is. Which it is not. The Beagle Board is a great way to get into project building for all kinds of stuff. It is easy to mess around with, low cost (149 bucks USD), powerful, and has a fantastic support community with step by step guides from getting started to building big projects. The point here is to keep moving forward. Even if you are just following along in the numerous guides you will learn so much about complex topics so fast, you will never ever look at networking gear the same way again. I have used the Beagle Boards to teach folks how to write their own file systems, learn JTAGGing, learning embedded systems, heck just the other day I built my son a Darth Vader voice changer out of it for a party, when I was done I erased it and started over with something new. Well my Wife is hitting me up to take her to see Date Night or something like that...maybe I can squeeze a nap in and dream of chicken wings and building a controller for my lightsabers...oh wait, that movie has Tina Fey in it right... Jimmy Ray Purser Trivia File Transfer Protocol Watermelon is more efficient at rehydrating our bodies than drinking water. It contains 92 percent water and essential rehydration salts.

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