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New(ish) to Electronics and unsure where to start
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New(ish) to Electronics and unsure where to start

by game_of_drones on Sun Jul 28, 2019 9:53 pm

Hello all,

Like the subject says I'm sort of new to electronics, but now that I have the time and money I really want to get knee deep into it to work on a few projects that I've wanted to do for a long time.

The problem is that I am not 100% sure where to begin as I'm not an absolute beginner, but I'm also not a University level engineer, the two main area's that electronics books and kits seem to be marketed for. I took electronics class at high school for 2 years so I know the basics and know how to solder but there are huge gaps in my knowledge, for example, I know what a resistor is and does but I have no clue how it is used as a "Pull Up" resistor.

Some of the longer term projects that I would like to accomplish are: (and yes I am setting the bar high, and realise these will be years off completion)
    Smart Home Gadgets (like a Secure NFC Door Lock, and Smart Lighting, Home Sound, etc)
    Home Made CNC Machine (so that I can make parts for other projects)

If there is anyone out there that can suggest some good reading or projects to start me off in the right direction to achieving some of my longer term I would be super great full.

Thanks in advance to whoever responds,

Game Of Drones

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Re: New(ish) to Electronics and unsure where to start

by adafruit_support_mike on Mon Jul 29, 2019 4:56 pm

Start with Forrest Mims:

https://www.adafruit.com/product/517

He has a very approachable style, with an emphasis on, “here’s something you can build, and enough theory to get the general idea of how it works.”

Once you’re ready to dive deeper into the theory, “Practical Electronic for Inventors” is a good next step. It has more detail about basic components and how they interact.

Once you’re generally comfortable with the theory, “The Art of Electronics” is an excellent reference:

https://www.adafruit.com/product/2356

It dives deep into various kinds of circuits, and has phenomenal comparisons between existing components. When you know/care enough to be interested in the difference between the 2N3904 and MMBT5089 NPN transistors, TAoE has tables with all the details.

In parallel with the reading, look at every project you can find and try to figure out what it’s doing. There are very few really new ideas in electronics, we use a vocabulary of circuit pieces that have been around for decades. The more pieces you know how to steal, the better your own designs will be.

Also spend as much time building and measuring physical circuits as you spend reading. Both parts are necessary, and they complement each other. Reading gives you ideas about things to build and test. Working with the physical hardware puts what you’ve read into context, exposes the parts you don’t understand as well as you thought, and gives you new questions that will send you back to the books.

Bottom line, electronics is an applied science. The essence of science is to have an idea, build something to test that idea, run the test to see what happens, then try to figure out the results. Experience gives you more ideas about what to try next, but you’ll always return to the point where you have to say, “I have no idea, so let’s take a wild guess and see how/why it’s wrong.”

Cultivate a taste for things not doing what you expected.. ‘failure’ in conventional language, but ‘a chance to learn something’ in more constructive terms. Learn to think, “hmm.. I don’t know what would happen there.. let’s go build it and find out.” The ability to let go of previous expectations and replace them with better ones based on observed information is a critical skill. The ability to keep observing and tinkering with things that don’t respond as expected is what separates the people who get good at electronics from the people who lose interest and move on to other things. Every build is a test, but you get as many do-overs as you’re willing to take.

Negative results are every but as useful as positive ones.. don’t just think something won’t work, build it and see if it fails for the reason you expected, and if anything else interesting happened along the way. Understanding why things don’t work usually requires a deeper understanding than recognizing things that do work. Learning the boundaries between ‘working’ and ‘not working’ is subtle and immensely valuable knowledge.

Start any new subject by copying what other people have done. ‘Getting the damn thing to work at all’ (or more poetically, ‘first light’) is a major challenge, and designs that are already known to work provide a comfortably closed intellectual system. Instead of wondering if the idea will work at all, you can focus on the puzzle-solving of ‘which pieces do what they should, and which ones don’t?’ It takes time to learn the terrain of any subject, and to build the mental muscles necessary to work in that environment.

In “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”, Richard Feynman tells about playing with some equations and discovering an interesting pattern. He mentioned it to a colleague in the math department, who said, “that’s the binomial theorem.. it dates back to the 4th century BC, and was really nailed down in the 1500s”.

Instead of taking that as “you didn’t do anything interesting,” Feynman thought, “cool.. I discovered something that puts me on par with a great mind from the 1500s”. His next discovery was a few centuries nearer, eventually he made it into the 20th century, then into the same decade, and finally he discovered something that no one else had gotten yet. He got a Nobel prize for that one. Thing is, that final success was built on everything he’d learned getting from 400BC to the present.

All applied sciences behave that way. So have fun with it.

Aspirational goals like a CNC system are good to have, if you use them appropriately. Trying to find shortcuts around the parts you don’t know is not an appropriate use. The proper use is to use them as guidance when you face the immense list of things you can possibly learn. CNC systems use motors and control systems, so you can approach the beginner-level projects in those subjects thinking, “this will take me toward a goal I like.”

The basics are hugely important though. 2/3 of the knowledge you use to design a CNC system will trace back to the first and simplest things you learned. 2/3 of what’s left will be refinements of those ideas that wouldn’t make any sense without the basics, but took twice as long to learn. And it keeps going that way.. you learn more and more specialized ways to apply the basic ideas, and to get more and more specific results that do exactly what you need in a project.

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Please be positive and constructive with your questions and comments.