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Microcontroller Projects with Basic Stamps, by Al Williams, R&D Books, Gilroy, Calif., 2000, ISBN 0-87930-587-8, 407 pp., US$44.95.
Information appliances and ubiquitous computing are the wave of the future, yet many of us are designing and implementing software for desktop or server machines with hundreds of Mbytes of RAM running at hundreds of MHz, thereby drawing hundreds of watts. To exploit the power of our machines, we run on them operating systems, programming languages, development tools, and communication protocols of great complexity. Microcontroller Projects with Basic Stamps introduces a different world, where program listings fit on a single page, memory resources are measured in bytes, and self-contained designs communicate directly with the outside world using switches, lights, and motors.
Appliances communicate with the outside world using sensors and simple output devices such as speakers, actuators, and LCD panels. Fortunately, designers with mostly software experience will be able to experiment with their own projects after learning from the book's clear descriptions of the practical aspects that underlie hardware implementations. Readers will learn how to use Ohm's law to calculate the value of pull-up resistors to drive LEDs, how to amplify sound using operational amplifiers, and how to reverse-engineer a stepper motor taken from an old floppy drive and give it new life as a robot part. For those elements not covered in this book I recommend the classic The Art of Electronics (Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill, University Press, 2nd edi., 1989) as a companion book.
Apart from a large reference chapter describing the Stamp's Basic dialect, most of the book is presented in the form of concrete, self-contained projects-a capacitance meter, a PC-based frequency counter, a phone dialer, a reaction game, a pocket watch, a Morse-code keyer. A circuit diagram and a listing of the firmwire accompanies each project. The chapters are devoted to digital and analog I/O, serial communications, liquid crystal displays and keypads, and motors. More adventurous readers might wish to experiment with PIC, the microprocessor that forms the core of the Basic Stamp; a separate chapter provides the introductory information.
Overall, the book left me with an urge to order hardware and try out some Stamp projects. I recommend it as a starter for those wanting to spice up their software designs with some hardware.
Diomidis Spinellis is an assistant professor in the Department of Management Science and Technology at the Athens University of Economics and Business. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.