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The mystery bags from SainSmart that I mentioned in my previous post arrived and we tried doing an unboxing video. I never do this kind of thing and having the kids involved really made it unpredictable and awkward. I wouldn’t blame anyone for skipping it and getting to the rest of the post.
The items for all three “bags” were all together in two packages, so there is no way to distinguish what was in each one. Most things were in anti-static bags which made it difficult to show them on camera, so here is the details of what we found.
Pure Morning Air Quality Monitor ($115.99)
This device measures numerous aspects of air quality and I can’t claim to understand even half of it. The page lists three different models and I haven’t yet figured out which one this is or what all the readings are. I can say tell that low numbers are good and I am not surprised by the results where we live.
One thing that is curious is how it reacted running of a USB battery pack. I used a battery so I could get a good picture away from outlets. My battery pack has a button that doesn’t really turn it on and off, but it usually just seems to turn the level indicator lights on and off. In this case when I hit the button, this device kept the screen on, but the values went a bit wild:
One of these days I will look into why this happens, but I don’t see it as an issue with the device.
Another thing that is curious about this item is that I am not sure why it was even in there since it was included in the hints on the premium bag and mine were all the advanced bag. There aren’t any other items specific enough to say what happened. Also, I have no idea what I would use it for so let me know if you have any ideas or would like it. If I were to get something from the premium bag instead, I would have rather an oscilloscope.
ToolPAC PRO32 Smart Soldering Kit ($75 x2, $59)
This is one of the items I did hope to get since my portable soldering iron is pretty old and basic. In this case, I got three of them (one older version with a single tip and two of the 2017 updated versions with two tips). One of them will become my new portable setup, though I might need a different stand to fit this one. I believe I know someone who will want one of them, so that just leaves one extra to figure out.
The temperature reading seems a bit squirrelly until it gets up to temp, but it is programmable, so maybe that can be fixed at some point. It does get hot pretty quick though not as fast as my solder station.
3D LED Cube Kit in blue ($30)
I have wanted to build an LED cube for a while. I probably would have build a smaller one from basic components at some point, but now I don’t have to. This one plays music, but I am not likely to use that feature. They also sell an acrylic case and a building template to help with construction. I will probably 3D print a grid to help with building, but the case might be nice unless I come up with a way to build one myself.
A really cool one to build would be the AuraCube, but that is just a bit more expensive.
RGB LED Strip Kits ($27)
Each of these two kits comes with a 5 meter spool of waterproof LEDs, a power supply, a controller and a remote to change the colors. These were not hinted so they were a complete surprise, but I know I can put these to use somewhere.
I have done a number of LED strip projects before, but I haven’t made the jump to RGB yet. The one thing that has held me back has been picking out a controller that I like. This will give me something to start with and I can figure out what I like and don’t like.
Android Mega 2560 R3 ($24)
This is one item that was hinted at that I didn’t really care was included. Arduino boards are always useful for some project or another but it is hard to find a project that is worthy of this hardware. I really like the idea of building a pinball machine, but I don’t know if I am ready for a project of that scope right now.
Of all the items hinted at, the screens seemed like the most useful. I would have liked the larger 8 inch screen, but I am sure I can come up with a use for a small touch capable version as well. Now I just need to get some newer model Pis finally.
This one was also hinted at, but I hoped to get something more useful instead. The only purpose I see here is to change the shell from black to blue. Not only do I prefer the black, but I don’t think I care enough about the color that I would buy a different shell.
This tool will indicate if AC voltage is present without contact so there is no risk of causing a short or getting shocked. I have very nearly bought one of these since I seem to come up with a use for it every couple months or so.
3D LED Christmas Tree Kits ($7 x2)
I just built two nicer versions of these (read about that here) so I am not sure what I will do with these yet. I may use them as gifts for friends to use for soldering practice.
Pretty standard screen for arduino project. I have several around, but not all of them have I2C backpacks attached.
Also in the box was a Raspberry Pi camera. I mentioned it in the video, but I forgot at the time that I specifically ordered that and it was not part of the mystery bags.
One really strange thing was the oscilloscope probe that was included. The only oscilloscope option was in the premium bag and I don’t see a way to get just the probe. I think these ended up in there by accident.
Overall, the items I got total $505 in retail value. Most of them will be useful or fun.
As a follow up to Part 1 on consumer-level electronics, I decided to summarize games and game related campaigns I have been interested in. I am including puzzles as well since they don’t really fit in any other category.
Robot Turtles (Sept 27, 2013 KS)
Goal: $25k Raised: $631k Pledged: $29 Delivery: Dec 2013
This has been my favorite game related campaign I have seen yet. The initial concept was a way to entertain his kids and learn analytical skills. Most games targeted at kids are based purely on chance and teach very little. Candy Land is simple card turning and getting stuck in Molasses Swamp is just frustrating for kids. Chutes (or Snakes) and Ladders is just randomizing every player’s location until someone gets lucky enough to hit the end. Games like Connect Four have been solved, meaning like Tic Tac Toe, you can always win if you make the first move.
In this game, designed for 3 to 8 year olds, each player uses cards to issue commands to their turtle and an adult executes those commands (goofy sounds are encouraged in the rules). Some of the stretch goals added more features such as ice walls that can be melted with lasers and boxes that can be pushed out of the way. These features are designed to be added in as players become more familiar with the game. Another way to add challenge is to have players set down the complete set of instructions first and then move the turtle. I really like the way that the game can grow and it is flexible enough to modify the rules even further.
We received our copy of the game last week and the quality is just as good as any other game out there. The parts include the board, 4 decks of cards and numerous double-sided, heavy stock tiles (similar to Carcassonne tiles). My 3 year old son doesn’t seem quite ready to focus on the rules, but it is still pretty new and exciting. He does love moving the turtle through a maze of walls to get the gem, so he intuitively picked up the basic goal with little prompting. As one of the stretch goals, they will be releasing some “adult” rules (called Galapagos) to add increase the challenge for older players, but I have not yet seen the details on the differences.
There are currently no future plans to continue printing the game. The goal was just to get enough quantity to make a quality game at a decent price. Maker Shed did pick up a number of copies to sell and if there are any left they can be found here. It is likely they will disappear since they only ordered 1500 copies and there was a mailing list of over 4700 people that were going to be notified. Other than that, this game is now out of print unless he decides to publish again. I personally hope that it gets picked up again because it I think it is an excellent learning tool. My company just participated in the Hour of Code campaign where we go into schools and help introduce kids to programming concepts and this game immediately came to mind.
Maze of Games (March 14, 2013, KS)
Goal: $16k Reached: $171k Pledged: $60 Delivery: June 2014
This project is a one of a kind puzzle novel with numerous contributors and amazing looking art (what they have revealed at least). Even the campaign itself included a number of puzzles to solve by scouring any text, images, video and even music and finding hidden clues in related blog posts. I found the challenges very entertaining and I expect the book to be even better.
I pledged enough to get a hardcover copy, digital copy and an additional foldout maze puzzle. They are not currently taking new orders, but it is possible they will sell more copies once they finish printing. There were numerous stretch goals setup that added additional puzzle artists to the book. I believe it was this increased scope that has slowed down publishing with the extra editing and artwork. The latest update was that they would not arrive by Christmas as hoped, but I don’t mind too much because I know it will be a high quality book. For those that were intending it as a present, they are providing a card that even includes another puzzle that I still have to solve.
Goal: $900k Reached: $974k Pledged: $20 Est. Delivery: July 2014
Armikrog is a point and click claymation adventure game from the makers of The Neverhood. This time they have decided to self publish their new game. They recruited Mike Nelson (of RiffTrax and MST3K) to voice the main character which is what first got my attention. They are hoping to get onto Steam–you can help by voting for it on Steam Greenlight. They will also be making a Wii U version with some special features that take advantage of the second screen. For anyone who would like to get a copy of the game, you can preorder at armikrog.com for $25 or even get many of the extras.
The X-Cube (July 7, 2013, KS)
Goal: $30k Reached: $53.8k Pledged: $5 Delivery: July 2014
The X-Cube is an expansion of a regular rubik’s cube, but still different from the 5x5x5 cubes. The prototype was created on a 3D printer and since I will soon have a 3D printer, I put in enough to get the model files. These files were provided shortly after the campaign ended and they real ones were estimated to be out in October, but are being shipped out right now.
Goal: $1k Reached: $14.5k Pledged: $15 Delivery: Oct 2012
This project was kind of a no-brainer for me. We like to try games and the goal of this effort was to get some additional copies out to an audience that would provide some feedback. The game was already printed, so there was no delay in delivery and the price pretty much just covered shipping. We have tried the game out and it was pretty fun. I don’t know if it will replace our current favorites, but it is one we will hold on to.
Hexels (January 21, 2013, KS)
Goal: $50k Reached: $130k Pledged: $75 Delivery: Jan 2014
Settlers of Catan is still one of our favorite games, but the board setup isn’t perfect. The frame can take some fiddling to get it to stay together and it gets harder with larger layouts like Seafarers. Some friends of ours have border sections that seem slightly warped such that the inside edge raised up from the table and wouldn’t hold the tiles at all.
Hexels provides one solution to this problem by creating mini frames that fit around each tile and hold together with magnets. The tiles can be stored with the hexels, so everything can still fit in the original box (with the plastic insert removed). I have enough coming to cover 3-4 player Seafarers (to get the 10 additional ones for 5-6 player was too big a jump for me since I missed the early bird price for that level).
There was a significant delay in getting these out due to getting the plastics right and the injection molding process down to make them durable and looking nice. I opted for assembling the magnet covers myself to get them sooner. We have now played several games using these and they are great. The only thing missing is something to hold the ports but I could probably design something to 3D print. The project owner was very forthcoming with information with video updates almost every week.
Catan Board (November 19, 2012, KS)
Goal: $25k Reached: $361k Pledged: $100 Delivery: Aug 2013
Before the Hexels showed up I came across the Catan board. This is the only Catan accessory that has been officially licensed by the publisher of Catan. Pictured above is the plastic version (with one possible color theme they considered), but they are also selling a bamboo version. For the Kickstarter campaign, they made a limited number of walnut and aluminum boards. I have already received the basic 5-6 player board and it is very nicely made. They will soon be sending out the Seafarer extension pieces and card holders that were added as one of the stretch goals.
The main problem that caused delays is getting the injection molding right. First there were problems with the molds, then the injection process had to be tweaked. Along the way they provided information about what was going on and I learned some things about plastic injection molding from that. They had some issues toward the end about the finish of the plastic–whether the pieces could be painted nicely or just bare plastic. The two tone color scheme did not work out for the manufacturing process, but they did provide some information on a good way to paint them.
The Keep (October 31, 2012, KS)
Goal: $250k Reached: $58.6k
This campaign was an interesting solution to store and transport games. The picture above was just part of the system called the Great Chamber. There were also plastic containers that were good for cards and smaller one for the various chits and small pieces. I liked the concept, but I wasn’t totally happy with the price point for a complete system ($120 for the options I wanted). While this second Kickstarter campaign reduced the original scope and reached a lot more people they did not end up reaching their goal. Despite this, they have continued to refine the design and even make the Great Chamber modular. I am not sure where the product stands right now because nothing has been posted on their Facebook page since July.