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Nifty stuff

If you've ever thought about playing with microcontrollers or wanted a way to build a simple interface to your computer then you should have a look at the oddly named Arduino board. The whole system is open source and includes the hardware and a clean and simple development environment for Mac, Linux and Windows. The language is like a stripped down C, with libraries that make accessing the hardware easy. I played around with it last night and got a temperature sensor working with a thermistor, and hooked up a tri-color LED and now have a rather ghetto ambient orb like device on my desk. So far my favorite feature is the usb-serial interface. In most microcontroller programming your output capabilities are generally limited to what you wire in yourself. With the Arduino you can very easily send some data down the serial line and watch it right in the IDE. In fact this feature helped me determine that the language reference is a little behind the times and that version 6 of Arduino includes bitwise operators (at least &, << and >>)

So how much does it all cost? About $35 for the basic board. I spent another $20 for a prototyping 'shield' board which has made tinkering much easier.