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Getting Started with the micro:bit: Coding and Making with the BBC's Open Development Board (Make) 1st Edition
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From the Publisher
This Book is the Manual for micro:bits
Who is your book written for?
This book is for everyone! It's for children (and parents) who want to learn how to program their own inexpensive games and gadgets. It's for serious hardware hobbyists who need an inexpensive microcontroller with a built-in LED display. It's for Internet of Things nerds who need an inexpensive, remote programmable Bluetooth node. Did I mention how inexpensive the micro:bit is?
What need does this book fulfill for your readers?
In the past 10 years, we've seen a lot of Single Board Computers come on the market, and I can't think of a single one that came with its own manual! This book is the manual for the micro:bit. It takes you step-by-step through connecting the micro:bit to your computer, setting up the programming environment, and actually programming the micro:bit to do what you want.
What's the most exciting thing happening with micro:bits?
Probably the most exciting thing is the entry of Microsoft into the micro:bit space, with their MakeCode initiative. Microsoft's support of this type of hands-on computing shows that, finally, they might just be understanding the new direction that computing is taking.
About the Author
Wolfram Donat is a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, with a B.S. degree in Computer Engineering. Along with an interest in robotics, computer vision, and embedded systems, his general technological interests and Internet expertise serve to make him an extremely eclectic programmer. He specializes in C and C++, with additional skills in Java, Python, and C#/.NET. He is the author of several books and has received funding from NASA for his work in autonomous submersibles.
Top customer reviews
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But it's not for beginners.
A beginner with no programming experience should start by using
of the book.
This book uses the MicroPython language to write code. MicroPython is
powerful and worthwhile learning, but not for the rank beginner.
If you're experienced at programming, but not on the MICRO:BIT, then
this book is for you.
One great feature, not found in all books on MICRO:BIT, is that the
screen-shot photos and drawings are in color. Black & White is very
difficult to read, especially if the IDE is color-coded.
Wolfram Donat does a fine job of introducing and explaining the micro:bit and showing how to hook it up and get it working. Using clear, well-organized steps, he presents several simple projects that demonstrate the micro:bit's capabilities and hardware connections. And he shows how to download, modify and use some scripts to control the micro: bit. He also explains and illustrates some of the different coding environments now available to program the micro:bit. Furthermore, he tells the story of how the micro:bit came to be in 2015. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) wanted to create an SBC that could be given away to a million children in their first year of secondary school, to help create new technical talent in the UK. By 2016, the micro:bit was a huge hit. Indeed, a TV show featured three young students using their devices to steer a 3,200-ton radio telescope to point at a specific pulsar. The micro:bit is now available via Amazon and other sources.
One complaint: Some of the editor opening-screen examples in the print edition require a magnifying glass to read. But the code examples, wisely, are shown in the text rather than as screen prints.
(My thanks to O'Reilly Media for sending an advance reading copy for review.)
Those who don't qualify for the BBC's generous giveaway can pick up a Micro:bit pretty cheaply just about anywhere. The "go" kit also includes a battery pack, AAA batteries and a micro-USB cable for only a few dollars extra. Those familiar with other microcontrollers will notice that the Micro:bit is larger than a Photon but smaller than an Arduino. It also has a "UI" made up of 25 LEDs that does everything from display static icons to scroll text marquee-style. Plugging in a Micro:bit for the first time reveals quite a show. No screen required. Those looking for more detail on how to get the most out of this little thing can consult the many online resources available or go for a more traditional approach and pick up a tangible book. One of these books, in the "Make:" series, fully covers the basics, aptly titled "Getting Started with the micro:bit." This book has one major problem, "Chapter 8," but more on that later.
Right away the book presents the full story of the Micro:bit and delineates its place in the ever burgeoning microcontroller market. It then gives a thorough tour of the board, which contains far more than seems possible given it teeny size, including an ARM processor, an accelerometer, push buttons, a BLE antenna and GPIO pins. Peripherals also appear quickly and the book in particular suggests purchasing an Edge Connector Breakout Board and an Edge Connector Motor Driver Board, both easily available online. The book also favors Python development and introduces the online MicroPython Web Editor, but soon argues for and switches to the desktop mu development application. Some simple sample code shows how to make shapes on the Micro:bit's LED "screen." More involved code demonstrates use of the accelerometer (if the device sits upright a happy face displays, if upside down, an angry face) and basic LED animation. If using mu, remember to space out functions properly, which the book tends not to show explicitly, or the "check" function will bark loudly.
Another chapter goes deeper and introduces the device's mbed operating system, which actually uses C++ code. Not to worry, the book only uses very rudimentary code and readers need no C++ skills to follow along. Though arguably too many pages get dedicated to the "optional" Yotta install, which makes desktop mbed coding possible. These sections may have worked better as an online "bonus" than as a 7 page textual rampage. The book clearly states that the rather complicated setup isn't even required. GPIO pins follow and here the Edge Connector Breakout Board and Motor Driver Board get demonstrated with an extremely basic LED and potentiometer setup. The Micro:bit's I2C capabilities also get outlined, though soldering is required to fully exploit this capability. The book also references a "Micro:bot" for use in a later chapter, but it never seems to appear again. Then, the first reference to "Chapter 8" occurs. Anyone looking at the book's contents will notice that the chapters only number up to 7, but in numerous places the book refers to a non-existent "Chapter 8," which must have vanished in a rush to print. Too bad, because it sounds like it would have covered a lot of interesting things. Oh well. The chapter on Bluetooth may frustrate iPhone users, since an essential program for connecting the Micro:bit with Bluetooth only exists for Android. Also, connecting an iPhone with the Micro:bit has some quirks, but "Chapter 8" will discuss serial communication which apparently works on both platforms. Sadly, Chapter 8 didn't make the cut. Hopefully a future edition will address this omission, or at least clean up the references to the chapter that doesn't exist. Lastly, two appendices discuss the origins of the Micro:bit and the other programming environments that exist.
Despite the book's flaws, including the missing Chapter 8, it does present a decent overview of the Micro:bit's capabilities. It only gives a taste of what's possible and anyone looking for additional details will have to seek out other resources. Still, "Getting Started with the micro:bit" provides a great introduction to the little device that will hopefully introduce large amounts of students to the world of microcontrollers. The Micro:bit should provide a good foundation for more complex and sophisticated embedded engineering for software development and the Internet of Things. Many people may even get their start with this little device that communicates with animated LEDs. Not only that, perhaps Chapter 8 will show up soon? We shall see.