Project Management Students Teach Lego Mindstorms

On December 7, 2011 students in CIS 300, Project Management, used the project management skills they learned in class to host a meeting about Lego Robotics. Students collaborated to teach Cub Scouts how to build a robot with Legos and introduce them to computer science. In the photos below, Cub Scouts and Project Management students  work together to build robots and have fun with computer science.

Computer Science Students Place 2nd Out of 48 Teams

On April 13 – 14 2012, Dr. Lydia Sinapova and Dr. Mark Brodie attended the Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium (MICS 2012) at UNI with 12 students, all majors and minors in Computer Science. The students presented two papers and participated in the programming contest.

Papers: Adam Smith and Joel Gawarecki presented “Optimization of Tile Sets for DNA Self-Assembly”, co-authored with Linsey Williams and Jaris Van Maanen. Zach Huebener presented “Three Approaches to Solving the Motif-Finding Problem”, co-authored with Kylie Van Houten.

Contest: Four teams of three students each participated in the programming contest. The team of Adam Smith, Blaise Mikels and Zach Huebener won SECOND PLACE (and a prize of $250) among 48 teams from colleges and universities across the Midwest. This is the best performance yet achieved by a Simpson team.

The full list of students who attended is: Cale Cunningham, Ben Dimit, Jacob Feld, Joel Gawarecki, Zach Huebener, Bronson Mayse, Blaise Mikels, Adam Smith, Connor Uhlman, Jaris van Maanen, Linsey Williams, and Jacob Williamson. Everyone enjoyed the conference greatly and are looking forward to next year’s event!

New Course for Spring 2013

Prof. Daryl Sasser will be offering a new course this spring: Religion in American History.  Here’s the course description:

HIST 364/Readings in American History: Religion in American History
This seminar provides an in-depth understanding of American history through an intensive study of the secondary literature of a particular topic or period. Emphasis is placed on developing the ability to deal critically with historical writing.
The spring 2013 version of History 364 focuses on religion. The political identity of the United States was founded upon a largely secular intellectual movement called the Enlightenment. However, America’s social and cultural foundations were largely religious. Occasionally, these forces worked at cross purposes, but often they moved in corresponding directions. As a result, the United States is both religious and pluralistic. This course will examine the religious development of the nation by reading and critiquing a series of secondary sources. Cornerstone 4B and HP. Four credits.
The course is also cross-listed as REL 221/American Religion.

Iowa History Center Scholars Program

Are you interested in Iowa history?  Check out the Iowa History Center Scholars Program, a great new scholarship opportunity for incoming Simpson students, sponsored by the Iowa History Center at Simpson College.

Student Animations, Week 5

These are animations students created during the 5th week of learning to program in Python.

Student Drawings, Week 3

Click below to see what students in CmSc 150 programmed after only three weeks of class! All images are created using Python code to draw them.

Getting started with Arduino robots

The Arduino microcontroller has finally made robotics work fun. I’ve worked with other microcontrollers such as RoBoard, Freescale, Parallax, and found them to be more frustrating than fun. The Arduino has changed all that in my case. This shows what I’ve been able to do with just a few evenings.

In the first evening, I was able to get an Arduino board to drive some LEDs within just a few minutes.

A little more work, and I have motors and servos working. By the third evening, I had my first autonomous robot using one ultrasonic sensor for obstacle avoidance:

I made version 2.0 of my robot, so that I could have more breadboard space, giving me an LCD display and two ultrasonic sensors:

The ultrasonic sensors had to be polled separately so they did not confuse each other. A bigger issue was that the robot no longer turned well. The front wheel does not turn, and the robot was now heavy enough that the front wheel no longer easily skidded sideways, like it did in version 1.0 of my robot.

Yesterday in the mail I got a different wheel I ordered that solves this problem, by having small rollers on the wheel allowing it to slide sideways. So here is version 2.1 of my robot:

I’ll be adding a magnetic compass soon, and eventually starting version 3.0 of my robot.

Unboxing the Nixie Tubes

The Nixie Tube [link] from was ordered Monday night. It was shipped Tuesday from Shanghai, China and arrived here in Iowa two days later on Thursday!!!


Opening the package revealed a DFRobot package.


Looks nicely packed with foam. Also included a pre-drilled plexiglass board for the four tubes I ordered. Cool, didn’t ask or expect that.


Foam removed.



I downloaded the sample code and looked at the Wiki. Managed to hook up one module to power and do hit the test button with no issues. I hit the test button with a stick since it cautions the on-board voltage can be up to 170 volts.


Hooked it up to the Arduino and ran the breathSample from the code examples and got:

My plan is to create a steam-punk style alarm clock with these as a personal art project.

Arduino Nixie Tube Prototype

I finally got an Arduino I could dedicate towards my steampunk clock project. I have an LCD display and Nixie Tubes to pair up. Here’s a video of what I have working as of tonight:


You can see that on the lower left are my four Nixie Tubes showing minutes and seconds. Eventually it will just be minutes and hours, but that doesn’t make for a good demo video. On the right is the Arduino and LCD shield hooked up to a Chronodot. The Chronodot also has a thermometer.


In the background is the power supply. The project is pulling 0.38 amps at 12.1 volts.


I like the LCD shield from Adafruit. I had to solder the LCD shield together, which I wasn’t big on, but I like the ability to change colors and the integrated buttons:



The circuit layout is pretty simple, courtesy of Fritzing:


The software uses this Nixie Tube library, and also this Chronodot library.