The STEMpunk Project: Goals, and How to Achieve Them

My primary focus in 2016 is the STEMpunk project, so I wanted to take a moment to make it clear exactly what I mean when I said I wanted to “shore up my techie credentials“.

Before I do, though, I want to point out how important it is to engage in the sort of plan building I’ve done below when trying to accomplish something of any magnitude. Vague slogans and unarticulated ambitions might be enough to get started on a large project, but they aren’t enough to see it through to the end. Actually finishing, or even making enough progress to not feel bad about the time invested, requires careful and consistent forethought.

With that having been said, here is the broad outline:

COMPUTING (~10 WEEKS)

Funds permitting I will build my next desktop computer, use my current machine as a linux box or a media center, build an understanding of networks and computer security (including possibly getting some certifications), and hopefully make an entire virtual computer from NAND gates up.

Stage ISpend two hours a day or so reading books about building computers and putting a parts list together. Run the list by techier friends and then, if money isn’t tight, order the parts.

Even if I’m not able to actually build the computer until later in the year going through the process of researching components and how they interrelate will be an invaluable learning experience.

Stage IIComplete as much of the “build a computer from first principles” course as I can, collecting parts while I do so. When all the parts come in, build the computer, or defer the building until later in the year when I have more money to spend on components.

Stage IIIBegin with a CompTIA A+ book and work through it, spending about two hours a day. Get a certification if time permits and I think it’s worth having. Repeat the process with CompTIA’s Network+ and Security+ books. 

ELECTRONICS (~8 WEEKS)

Stage I: Swallow my pride enough to play with some kid’s toys. The tentative list includes the SparkFun Inventor’s kit, around 5 or so soldering projects similar to this one, a 200-in-1 electronics project kit (though I’m not committing to doing all 200; I will keep it up as long as I feel I’m learning new things), the SparkFUN Photon kit, the SparkFUN Car Diagnostics Kit, the SparkFUN LabVIEW kit, and the SparkFUN Raspberry PI starter kit. The kits will probably be done in this order, though I’ll make executive decisions on moving things around. There are also some good projects at startingelectronics.com that I might pilfer if this list doesn’t hold me over.

Stage IIBegin the theory stage by reading books, completing tutorials (like this, this, or this), and taking classes like “Circuits and Electronics”, “Introduction to Electronics Signals and Measurement”, “Practical Electronics”, “Advanced Circuit Techniques”, “Power Electronics”, and “Electrical Machines”. This is a paltry sampling, of course, and I will seek out more resources as time goes on.

Stage IIIMake an inventory of all the electrical devices and systems in my house. Go through them and see how much my new-found knowledge allows me to understand, cataloging the remaining gaps. Either make a plan to fill those gaps or arrange to have a contractor/electrician come to my house and spend half a day explaining it all to me.

Stage IVReach out to an electrician buddy of mine and offer to do some free work for him in exchange for a kind of fast-paced Apprenticeship Blitz lasting a couple of weeks.

MECHANICS (~6 WEEKS)

Stage I: Begin with kid’s toys like the 16-project Erector set I purchased late in 2015, a model v8 Engine Kit, a model jet engine, models of Da Vinci Clocks and Da Vinci catapults, a stirling external combustion engine, interactive “how cars work” book, perhaps others.

Stage IIMove on to theory, by reading books like “Basics of Mechanical Engineering”, “Basic Machines and How They Work”, “1800 Mechanical Movements, Devices, and Appliances”, and “507 Mechanical Movements”, “How Cars Work”, and “How Machines Work”. Take some classes like “Engineering Mechanics I”, “Engineering Mechanics II”, “How and Why Machines Work”, “Internal Combustion Engines”, and maybe even “Elements of Mechanical Design”.

Stage IIIMake an inventory of all the electrical devices and systems in my house. Go through them and see how much my new-found knowledge allows me to understand, cataloging the remaining gaps. Either make a plan to fill those gaps or arrange to have a contractor/electrician come to my house and spend half a day explaining it all to me.

Stage IVProceed through a series of real-life disassemble/repair/reassamble projects of escalating complexity. I haven’t mapped this part out completely, but I was thinking of doing something along the lines of coffee maker, water pump, weed eater motor, and cheap old motorcycle.

ROBOTICS (~10 WEEKS)

I’m actually most excited about this, after computing. The plan here is to use what I’ve learned in electronics, computing, mechanics, and programming to do some basic home automation. I have this vision of myself walking through my living room and casually throwing out commands in a few different foreign languages to my refrigerator, the blender, little robot arms holding up the six computer monitors my custom-built desktop is outfitted with, etc.

At a minimum, maybe I can get the refrigerator door to open on command or something.

Stage II need to keep this part lean because stage three will involve a heavy software component with a steep learning curve. I’m thinking just a few projects to get oriented and then going from there: Electronictechcrafts 14-in-1 solar robot kit, Monoprice Robot Kit, the SparkFUN RedBot kit.  

Stage IITake some classes like “Introduction to Robotics”, “Lego Robotics”, “Mechatronics”, and “Design of Electromechanical Robotic Systems”. Read “Robot Building for Beginners”. Sparkfun has got some tutorials as well.

Stage IIII’m not sure yet. I have ideas for basic home automation but no way of calibrating the difficulty of doing these things. At the end of stages I and II I may be good enough to do several of these projects, or I may be barely good enough to even get started on one. I will have to get this far and then plan more deeply.

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There you have it, guys. This is what I’ll be spending most of 2016 working on!

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