Got some cash for Christmas, and I'm considering getting the Arduino Duemilanove
for starters. I believe it's their "entry-level" board. Has anyone messed around with these before, or something similar like a BASIC stamp?
My ultimate goal is to bridge the gap between hardware and software. I've always been interested in both, and I'm curious to get into the badge hacking competition at DefCon. This seems like a good way to get started.
I have an Arduino. I was originally using it as a performance meter for my car (using an accelerometer to graph HP, speed, acceleration, distance traveled, etc), and am working on two different projects.
One is a sensor system that resides inside of my computer, using a chassis intrusion switch, accelerometer, PIR, and a few other sensors to detect if someone is trying to break into my computer. If they are, it unmounts all of my TrueCrypt volumes and possibly shuts the computer down, depending on the severity of the intrusion (someone shaking my mouse vs someone opening the case)
The other is a LED light display that interfaces with my Nagios monitoring system at work and shows if there are any website outages. (just sort of a fun project..)
I also have a BASIC stamp (Boebot kit specifically) (and had a Lego Mindstorms RCX), and I will say that Arduino is the nicest system I have used. If you have used the BS before, you know that it is a pain to work with... and if you don't think that, then you'll love the Arduino even more. (and the parts are not insanely expensive like the parallax branded ones! (because you buy/salvage whatever you want from wherever d: sparkfun is a nice site)) It's not a watered down version of anything; it's a pure microcontroller with an FTDI chip for your USB connection. The digital and analog in/out ports are essentially just straight wires right from the controller. The Duemilanove is just a break out board for it that makes it easier to use. You write your programs in C, using the libraries and API provided to you.
If you know C, and know a about electronics (I'd say intermediate level.. knowledge of ohms law, polarity, voltage, current, resistance, etc), you'll love this little piece of hardware.. In terms of software/hardware communication, the Arduino just sits on your USB port as a virtual COM port (hence the FTDI chip), and you communicate with it via serial data transfer. You can get upgraded chips that are faster/have more RAM/program space, but you'll likely not need them unless you are doing some pretty intense stuff. The "Pro" and "Pro Mini" are just smaller versions of the same thing, that require a bit more work to get running. The Duemilanove will do what you want unless you are constrained on space :]
Let me know if you have any questions, I'd like to help if you need any... and if not, I'm just curious as to what you might be working on! I've been thinking about posting my two above projects, but wasn't sure if there'd be any interest..
Good luck ^^