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Arduino clones got cheap!
Arduinos were always kind of expensive for their hardware; having an on-board programmer adds cost, and $30 for a board was a tough sell when an equivalent chip could be had for $2.
Of course, an Arduino is not a chip. It's not even really a development board. It's a learning tool. Arduinos are just about the best thing to happen to hobby electronics hacking since Intel invented the microcontroller; they allow a know-nothing like me five or six years ago to be able to control hardware with just a few lines of code. They're incredibly simple to use, and to get started with; the Arduino community is massive, and has so many educational materials that I often google for "Arduino [another piece of hardware]" when I want to learn about that piece of hardware, even when I'm not using an Arduino. Why? Because someone may have described its interfaces in simple terms, and I can use that knowledge for any other chip or development board.
But, thirty bucks is thirty bucks. I make little boards for $2.50 that are just as capable. Well, it turns out, so do other people - and theirs are fully Arduino-compatible, and pin-compatible with the Arduino Nano. Check it out - $2.50 for an Arduino. Well, I guess it's a little more considering shipping, but not by much.
At such a low cost, it might become convenient even for me to grab a couple and use them to bit-bang or excite some interface or rapidly prototype something. I absolutely love removing barriers to learning.
Relevant Joel On Software, in which Joel writes about barriers to entry and barriers to switching. He makes the following point: For every barrier of switching you eliminate, you will roughly double your sales. Similarly, for every barrier of entry we eliminate to hobby hacking, we can double the number of people who participate. One obvious barrier is that people don't know they can participate (thus limiting the number of potential entrants); another obvious barrier is that people don't know how to get started (thus limiting the number of potential entrants who transition to actual entrants.) This little device is in the latter category: a couple bucks, some free software, and you're blinking LEDs. I hope my writing is in the former.
Ches Koblents
July 5, 2014
 
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