You might be experiencing slow response to my website this morning. I think it is merely the perils of using inexpensive shared hosting, but I've filed a support ticket and hope that it will get resolved shortly. I appreciate your attention, and hope you will persevere in reading, even if the site seems a bit slow.
I can't complain too much: my website costs me about two lattes a month to run, which means that I don't need to annoy anyone with advertising and the like to provide it for you. But that being said, I would like my website to run smoothly and quickly for my users. Anybody have any good, cheap and reliable hosting that would be appropriate for running a website that sees 500 or so visitors a day? What's this I hear about cumulous computing?
Lee mentioned that the there was a way to change the analog reference used on the analog inputs to the Atmel AVR to an internally generated 1.1V, which would give me a lot greater resolution (about little over 1mV per step). Indeed, a little quick searching yielded that it was not only true, but dead simple: the Arduino provides an "analogReference" call. If you simply call it in your setup() routine with the argument INTERNAL, you'll get a 1.1V reference.
To test it out, I did another run, pretty much the same as before, but illustrating the values read after changing to the internal 1.1V reference. Again, I began with the diode in air, then pinched it, released it, pinched it, then released it, then placed it next to a cold can of Diet Coke I had sitting next to me.
Seemed to work pretty well!
Kragen mentioned that the Atmel also had in internal temperature sensor as well. Indeed, it appears that you can simply do an analogRead(8) to access an internal "virtual pin" that links to an internal temperature sensing node. (On the Arduino Mega boards, the pin will be a different one) Read about it more here. I'm currently just using an old ATMega168 which doesn't seem to have that capability, so I haven't tested it. It appears that the sensor is noisy and uncalibrated, but it might be useful in some applications. When I dust off one of my more recent boards, I'll give it a try.
Okay, time for breakfast.
I had an application where I wanted to detect temperature. No big deal, lots of good temperature sensors exist. But of course, I don't have any of those. Rather than order something from sparkfun, I thought I'd just try to see what I could do with the stuff I had on hand. What I had on hand was about 100 1N4148 diodes that I got for about a penny a piece.
The idea is that the forward voltage of diodes is temperature dependent. For every degree Celcius the diode increases, the forward voltage should drop by 2mV. So, I decided to test this idea. I configured the analog input pin 0 on my Arduino to be an input, and then activated its internal pullup resistor. I then wrote a program which averaged a bunch (1000) of readings in an attempt to get a stable, relatively noise free signal.
I logged the values beginning at room temperature, then held the diode between my fingers, and then released it a couple of times. Here's a graph of the resulting data values:
You can see that when I grab the diode, the forward voltage drops rather quickly, but when I release, the signal returns to the original value, somewhat more slowly. Room temperature in my house is around 70 degrees (21 degrees C) and body temperature is 98.6 is about 37 degrees C. The difference would then be about 16 degrees C, and we might expect a difference of 32 mV, but I experienced a difference of only about 16mV. At least part of this can be attributed to the fact that your finger temperature isn't actually that close to 98.6.
This simple experiment demonstrates a couple of problems: the values returned by analogRead() are noisy, and quantization error is significant. The analogRead call returns a 10 bit number, which means that each bit is about 4 mV, or about 2 degrees C. We could use an operational amplifier to multiply the voltage to make it easier to read, which might help. Consider that an experiment for the future.