[amsat-bb] Re: Programming language recommendation?

Bruce Robertson ve9qrp at gmail.com
Mon Oct 6 11:49:16 PDT 2008

On Sun, Oct 5, 2008 at 11:43 PM, Greg D. <ko6th_greg at hotmail.com> wrote:
> Hi Bruce,
> How does the Picaxe compare to the BASIC Stamp line from Parallax?  I've built several Stamp projects, and they were very easy to deal with.
> Greg  KO6TH

I believe they are quite similar in concept, but when I looked into
these devices, the picaxe chips were much cheaper than the basic stamp
ones. For instance, SparkFun has the 14-pin version for $4.
It could be that since then Parallax have improved their low-end offerings.

As one path for becoming familiar with this field, these chips have
the advantage (over atmel and PIC) that much of the communication code
being supported by built-in commands. SPI, I2C, serial, etc. can be
explored with relative certainty that you're not going to mess things
up. Of course, now that I know how things ought to work, I'm more
confident to work with the atmel line. I suppose the disadvantage is
that you learn a one-off programming language.

I have found that the picaxe line are excellent for working with
children, as well. They were, after all, designed for the educational
market in the first place.

A full comparison of these devices should probably also include the
Arduino boards, which provide a standard platform, and might be best
for those who do not want to get into soldering and breadboarding.

 Lest anyone think this has nothing to do with satellite work, let me
add two points: first, I have prototyped some code for the picaxe 28X1
that changes the values of digital pots in response to GS232 codes, in
the manner of AA2TX's iRotor project.

Second, I would love to see a really simple programmable device put
into orbit aboard a cubesat so that Middle School kids could write
programs here on earth, then submit them to the command station to be
uploaded to the bird. It would be a simple matter of specifying the
input signals for the device, say a couple of temperature sensors and
a light sensor, duplicating those materials in kits on earth, then
letting the kids write code that would produce telemetry or what have
you. Since the picaxe project is simply PIC code, using it would be a
matter of finding a space-hardened PIC of the proper kind and loading
it with the company's interpreter. One could dedicate one part of the
telemetry stream to the output of these students' programs.

73, Bruce

> ----------------------------------------
>> Date: Sun, 5 Oct 2008 23:07:38 -0300
>> From: ve9qrp at gmail.com
>> To: gordonjcp at gjcp.net
>> CC: amsat-bb at amsat.org
>> Subject: [amsat-bb] Re: Programming language recommendation?
>> I appreciate Gordon's expert opinion below. If you'd like something
>> that is very, very simple to work with in order to  explore the world
>> of PIC programming, you should also consider the picaxe line of
>> products. These  comprise PIC chips with a basic interpreter on
>> board. The wiring for the programmer is very simple, and the toolchain
>> is easy because it removes the compiling stage.
>> While I'm trying to  move on to the atmel line, using this inexpensive
>> programmer:
>> http://www.ladyada.net/make/usbtinyisp/index.html
>> I still find the picaxe chips  dead  handy for all sorts  of little
>> jobs because so much is built into them.
>> As  for computer programming, I would encourage someone returning to
>> this  practice to consider adding one of the cross-platform scripting
>> languages to his or her arsenal. Ruby and Python are both good
>> choices.
>> 73, Bruce
>> On Sun, Oct 5, 2008 at 7:18 AM, Gordon JC Pearce MM3YEQ
>>  wrote:
>>> JW wrote:
>>>> Along the same line: anyone on here doing PIC programming or know of a
>>>> list for beginners? From CW keyers to Antenna control units and
>>>> everything in between it looks like it would be fun to program some
>>>> gadgets for around the shack...
>>> Without lighting up a PIC/AVR flamewar, I've pretty much entirely moved
>>> from PIC to AVR.  The hardware is generally two to four times faster for
>>> the same clock rate (gets more done per cycle) and is easier to program
>>> - you can make up an AVR programmer for the parallel port that's
>>> basically three resistors!
>>> Furthermore, the toolchain is much better for AVR - Microchip are only
>>> interested in pushing their frankly dreadful Windows-only MPLAB
>>> software, while Atmel actively contribute to avr-gcc, a cross-platform
>>> toolchain based on the industry standard gcc.  The whole AVR community
>>> seems a lot better than the PIC one, and I say that as a long-standing
>>> user of PIC microcontrollers.
>>> In short, PIC is great, but the community isn't as strong and the tools
>>> are rubbish.  On the other hand, Microchip are always more than happy to
>>>  sample parts and their customer support is *excellent*.
>>> AVR is technically superior in pretty much every way, with an excellent
>>> community.  Unfortunately Atmel's tech support are a dour bunch who are
>>> often hard to get good information out of, and not great at sending samples.
>>> I haven't tried the ARM-based AVRs or the MIPS-based PICs yet, though.
>>> Those might be something to tempt me back to Microchip, if MIPS is as
>>> good as I remember it ;-)
>>> Gordon
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