Where to Get Your Maker/Hacker Electronics in the UK

If you’re anything like me then programming probably isn’t your only hobby and you try a fair few electronics projects at the same time. Two of my favourite Linux Magazines (Linux User & Developer and Linux Magazine) either have a regular Raspberry Pi sections OR they have tutorials about hacking Ardiuino’s and related chips (ESP8266, ESP32 [Lua, MicroPython, C, etc]) in some way. There’S even a hugely popular UK magazine called MagPi which caters to people interested in hacking Raspberry Pi’s or Pi Zero’s.

This is my personally built up list of decent sites for electronic kits, components and hobbytronics:

Chinese Suppliers

BangGood Logo

Gadgets and Electronics

BangGood.com

I’d make sure you’re not buying a trademarked/patented device suchh as the Teensey’s which have official distributors but their ESP8266’s are 10% the price of buying UK versions for the same equipment. For example at time of blogging here’s BangGood’s NodeMCU ESP8266 selling for £3.38. At Pimoroni they’re selling for a whacking £12 before delivery. Did I mention Pimoroni charge delivery on top whereas BangGood are all free delivery? The only disadvantage being you have to wait a week instead of a few days. Check BangGood before anywhere else if you want DIY electronics kits, Arduinos, ESPX chips, etc. You really can make a MASSIVE saving. In fact BagGood are so much cheaper that for still less than what POimoroni charge you can get an ESP8266 chip with a tiny OLED screen embedded on the board for £7.66!!!

As a sweetener here’s a few coupons they have going at the mo:

GearBest

Tending less to the smaller components and more to gadgets its still worth checking this company out as they are one of the Chinese providers that offer massive discounts on expensive western imports.

Raspbbery Pi/Arduino:

The Pi Hut Logo

The Pi Hut

I have it from the horses mouth that if you want the latest and greatest of DFRobot’s cool newest gadgets in the UK then these guys will have it first. I’m a HUGE fan and can easily spend hours just browsing their Maker section. I also have the afformentioned Beetle and μHex Controller from them.

ModMyPi Logo

ModMyPi

Specialises mainly in Pi’s and doesn’t deviate much into the general hacker space like the Pi Hut which has its own maker area. ModMyPi can also be a bit expensive. Havoing said that they are oftenb the first to release things like Google’s AIY or Raspberry Pi robots.

Pimoroni

Has a really good selection of both official Pi and Arduino equipment as well as being one of the best Ada Fruit supplier in the UK. So if you’re looking for an AdaBox (personally I think they’re a rip off) then you can’t go far wrong with Pimoroni. But be prepared - they charge heavily for what you get.

In fact I’ve compared prices before between the 3 major sites so far mentioned and found prices variances of £5-20 for a small product. But I’ve noticed in recent months a convergence of prices which concerns me as they are the major suppliers for makers at the moment. Am I being paranoid thinkning they’re price fixing or just watching each other and price matching? Nowadays I find myself split between who charges the most for delivery as all the prices are exactly the same. Or I use one of the Chinese sellers or general electronics suppliers

Maker/Hacker/Hobbyist Electronics

These are great for finding custom kits or something a bit different. These always fill a niche and I always have a browse now and again to find something new and cool to work on.

BitsBox

They do lots of the most commonly used components but also have a great little selection of DIY kits for things like amplifiers, FM Bugs and much more. What I also like is their great collection of easy to navigate enclosures or project boxes. Some coming with battery doors making them really handy.

Rakits Logo

Rakits

I love these guys so much! One of my favourites for DIY sytnth kits! They were one of my first forays into noise making projects and I discovered them via their ebay shop. I already have one oif every one of their kits but plan on buying extra of all of them to create breakout versions to put in project boxes I’ve bought from BitsBox to create my own little synth playground with sequencers - the works.

Hobbytronics

Not a company I’ve used much for except the odd kit not available elsewhere. Always worth a check out though to make sure you’re getting the best deal when checking other sites.

Conrad Electronics

Only recently discovered these guys and I’m already super impressed by their sheer selection of DIY project kits for electronics enthusisasts that covers Arduino’s, Pi’s and every other type of maker and hacker type out there. Check out their kit section to get an idea of what I mean.

Electronic Components

I recommend these only if you know exactly what you want and have a code for an IC or transistor. As they have so many products its difficult to navigate the search to find individual products.

Farnell Element 14 Logo

Farnel/Element14

These are one of the main official distributors of Raspberry Pi’s as designated by teh RPi foundation. So you don’t just get resistors, capacitors and whatnot here. You can get practically anything & everything yoiu want from these guys but the prices are a biut hefty unless you’re buying in bulk. Its also a pain sifting through the sheer quantity of components for exactly what you need. Come prepared with exact component numbers and types.

CPC Electronics Logo

CPC

Actually part of the Farnell group so you’d expect the prices to be the same. Except they’re not. I think one is mainly for business while the other consumer but you can buy from either and its worth cross-checking both for pricing. Bare in mind they also charge differently for delivery.

Missed Off?

If you think there’s any companies I’ve missed off the list be sure to email me dougbromley @ gmail etc.

VueJS as Part of the Page

In this post I just wanted to show a simple example of how easy it is to include a small part of VueJS 2.0 into a small part of the page. Thats one of the great things about VueJS 2.0. It doesn’t have to take over the entire page. It can simply take control of a small section, a button even. Whatever you want.

So here goes. I’m going to create a VueJS 2.0 Hello World app then follow it up with Gist and a JSFiddle link to the code.



I, , made this

Check out the JSFiddle for this here.

Vue Experiments - How I'm Learning Vue My Arduino Way

VueJS 2.0 Logo

In a previous post I mentioned how I’d setup a repo called “arduino-experiments” to learn Arduino better and eventually to move onto ESP32 and ESP8266 chips. The repo was set up with a directory structure with a general set of rules and I’d have all my experiments in different directories. With each experiment getting more and more difficult. As this has gone on I’ve learnt far better, easier and faster with practical examples and its given me much more focus and motivation in my learning. Even producing actual production items such as my LCD displaying temp/hum sensor unit.

So I decided why not do the same for VueJS

I’ve tried learning VueJS a few times and failed miserably due to having little structure and using multiple courses with no solid line guiding me., But as I’d found success in thre Arduino way I decided to buckle up and use the same method.

Gitlab Logo

So say hello to VueJS2.0 Experiments

This repo is hosted on Gitlab (my preffered choice for work and ‘proper’ projects due to its free nature and CI/CD features).

You can check out the repo and whats going on at any time at the link above.

My first port of call with this has been to use a Udemy course by Maximilian Schwarzmüller which has a 4.7 rating and if not at time of blog I’ve picked up for $10. Its a fantastically detailed look into Vue and I’ve started it form the beginning and I’m just getting into doing the basic getting it working in JSFiddle and moving onto doing full Single Page apps late rin the course.

Arduino Experiments

Introduction

I’ve recently begun creating a repo under my account with a range of related sensor-based experiments. These all have a final goal in mind.

However as I planned to build a multitude of static LCD displaying sensors around the home I came across chips called the ESP8266 and ESP32. They seemed to be cut-down Arduino’s with WiFi. The absolute panacea people had been waiting for to develop the perfect IoT devices.

But before I could run with these devices dealing with Wi-Fi conectivity and this acronym I kept hearing (MQTT) which seemed to make ESPXX solution sound more complicted I ewanted to conquer Arduino sensing and displaying first.

So that’s what I did and that’s what the repo is for. To first master the arduino then moive onto the ESP.

At first each room will have an Arduino showing one or more of the following:

  • Temperature (C)
  • Relative Humidity
  • Light (LDR)
  • Microphone (either actual sound or just the sound level in decibels which can be worked out using formulae).
  • Barometric pressure (maybe redundant in multiple rooms of a home).
  • Carbon Monoxide levels
  • Cardon Dioxide levels
  • Other gases (check out the sheer number of MQ sensors!)
  • Dust levels (courtesy of a rather expensive Sharp Electronics dust sensor).

All of the above will then be put up on a dashboard. So far I’m unsure whether to keep it local and build my own Flask API or use one of the many IoT services out there.

Hang on I thought you said “Arduino”, what’s this ESP-whatsit?

Great question no one asked but I’m pretending you did! The ESP8266 & upgraded ESP32 are a group of chips developed by a company called Espressif Systems as a low cost Wi-Fi chip with full TCP/IP capability. I describe them to people as “chopped down Wi-Fi Arduinos the size of a chunky nano version”.

So it has digital inputs, runs at 3.3v (which can be a bugger as most sensors can be 5v). It has WiFi obviously and a number of inputs and outputs including CLK digital 1 analog GPIO pins and others depending on the specific brand. Some of the more popular ones are:

All of them offering something a bit different but still a spin on the basic chip design of the ESP8266/ESP32.

ESP8266 Example Pinout

ESP8266 Pinout

ESP32 Example Pinout

ESP32 Pinout

The Future

So what happens when I feel happy I’ve conquered the various sensors, displays and experiments with the Arduino? Build them in ESP32 and ESP8266 versions of course and use one of the serviucres mentioned in another post or my own local Flask dashboard and API. Here’s to an exciting IoT future.

15 IoT Dashboards To Display Your Data

Why?

Eveyone loves a list and this list covers IoT dashboard and services for hackers and makers that can use it for their IoT devices such as their ESP8266 or sensor connected Raspberry Pi.

  1. Thingsbord.io - no prices displayed which is always a red flag for me but this is a self install system anyway. A bit like Gitlab as opposed to GitHub. One thing they offer is a Community Edition (free) and a Professional Edition with value added features (paid). As an installable service this would most likely end up on one of my home mini computers such as the Banana or Orange Pi.
  2. Thinger.io - a not-so-generous free edition allows you to hook up 2 devices for free so you can at least get a very basic feel of what a dashboard of sensors in your home would look like. To be fair they do have a more reasonable Maker price range for just $3.95 at time of writing which enables connecting up to 20 devices. But if you check out my next article on the sorts of data you can collate then you will soon fill that quota and be needing the moire expensive range.
  3. Samsung ARTIK - I didn’t havre greatr success with this the first time I tried using it with my Amazon Alexa Echo Plus which seeemed capable of detecting a few YeeLights then doing nothing with them. But since then I’ve decided to take another look and they seem to offer a generous package. 100k messages (sensor updates) per month and 30 day retention. The retention period is shortish but it seems pretty good from the outside and I look forward to making this one of the services I check out first.
  4. Freeboard.io - NOT actually FREE!. They have prices ranbging from $12 up and I have no idea why they keep their existing name because I don’t even see a way of downloading a community edition for local install. This is definitely a service I wouldn’t recommend or use.
  5. TheThings.io - A service that likes the idea of hiding pricing and offering free trials and free this and free that then right at the bottom “Pricing”….$29 p/m for the lowest offering.

    I really wish services wouldn’t hde their pricing. I don’t care how good a service is - if it isn’t straight and upfront with its pricing I don’t care how good it is - I’m not interested.
  6. Maniflux - A free downloadable and also hostable solution that seems to have some great features. It’s a shame its not as popular as some of the other snazzier platforms out there and if you wanted to get involved in the development of it checkout their GitHub

The Others to Follow Shortly

Due to unforseen circumstances the rest will follow in a day or two.