# What is a good way to learn the Parallax Propeller chip?

I am experimenting with the Parallax Propeller chip but don't have any ideas for projects to learn with.

What are some good strategies on how to learn this chip? Are there any techniques or projects I should try?

• Find a project you want to make, design a circuit for it using a propeller IC, build it. – Connor Wolf Oct 13 '10 at 8:44
• For the uninitiated: What is Parallax Propeller? – Peter Mortensen Oct 13 '10 at 17:54
• Great question. I've got several microcontrollers laying around my home office. Haven't done a thing with them as I struggle to come up with "worthy" projects. Did all the blinky light things years ago, want to do stuff that's more interesting. – Brian Knoblauch Sep 26 '11 at 18:06

Whenever I start with a new microcontroller I always go back to a few of my standard projects. The things I enjoy playing with most are RGB LED's, 7 Segment Displays and i2c real time clocks like the DS1307+

My first projects almost always revolve around something I am familiar with like these components. I might start off with just lighting up the RGB leds. Then I'll get more adventurous and work out PWM on the chip and start making lots of different colours.

This gives me some time with the development tools and I can start to learn my way around the chip. This is just as important as what to make or how to learn about the micrcontroller you are using.

Most controllers these days have a reasonable library so it should be relatively easy to get i2c going. So that instantly opens up a world of add on components to play with. The RTC chips are pretty easy to get going and they teach you a few programming techniques like BCD conversion.

Seven segment displays are also easy and fun. You can play around with single displays or even use the microcontroller to multiplex additional displays. Not hard to get going and the projects are semi useful and fun right off the bat.

So by learning i2c, seven segment and driving leds. You can now build a very simple clock.

Now I realise these aren't propeller specific, but for anyone starting off it might just give you an idea about what to try!

• Agreed, learning a new environment can always be difficult, keeping the project to something you have already done before eliminates trying to decide if something isn't working because of a design flaw or if it is just how you are using the environment. – Kellenjb Oct 9 '10 at 2:58

You will find lots of projects on the Parallax Propeller forum.

the education kit book is a must read to learn the propeller. It contains a gentle introduction to the SPIN langage and a bunch of exercices for every concept introduced.

Also, you don't have to actually purchase the kit if you already have a propeller chip. You'll only need very common components to follow the book (a bunch of LEDs, resistors, push buttons, etc...). It's also good to know that you don't need to purchase a PropPlug to program the microcontroller, most FTDI adapters will do the job (I use the much cheaper USB BUB from modern device myself).

• FYI Parallax is currently selling slightly blemished versions of their Propeller Professional Development Board, normally $169.99, for 41% off at$99.99, which could be used to do a lot of these experiments. I just bought one myself. parallax.com/Store/Microcontrollers/BASICStampModules/tabid/134/… – tcrosley Oct 9 '10 at 19:17
• $100 and it doesn't even include the microcontroller? Parallax always seemed overpriced to me. – davr Oct 9 '10 at 22:06 • @davr - yeah, that seemed a little odd to me also, since there is only one Propeller chip that goes into that socket. BTW they've sold almost 50 of these boards since I bought mine four days ago (currently 29 left). – tcrosley Oct 13 '10 at 15:32 • @davr: The uController is another$7-8 so it's really not that big a deal. Yes, it's more money than an Arduino… But it's also a lot more capable. – Kaelin Colclasure Oct 22 '10 at 18:03
• Of course, I also think arduino is overpriced for what's in it. :) – davr Oct 23 '10 at 0:27

The best way to learn any new chip/language/devtool/whatever is to have a definite project that you want/need to get working. This means you are forced to work through problems, which is usually where you learn the most, as problem solving requires more knowledge of more aspects of the system to track down the problem. If you are just tinkering, you tend to wander aimlessly around problems instead of working through them.

Think of it like learning your way round a city. "Go find this particular resturant" will make you learn more of the area than "go find any resturant".

There is a weekly podcast where this registered nurse asks a couple of propeller guys question after question about this chip. She doesn't know anything about it going in - so it's pretty much perfect for any one who's interested in learning about Propeller and Spin. Funny to boot, which is always nice. You can find it over at http://FirstSpin.tv/

I tried a few basic LED blinkenlightz experiments with the Propeller and found I liked it a lot. So I plunged ahead and bought a Stingray… I have to admit it has mostly languished on my workbench since then — but that has more to do with my day job than with the kit.

The cool part about the Stingray is that it's a very bare-bones chassis. It's sort of a blank page as far as fun robotics experiments go. And the Parallax forums are simply awesome!

If you're a Mac user, there's even a tool called bst (Brad's [?] Spin Tool) that lets you develop code on your Mac natively rather than forcing you to run a toolchain under Windows.