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Basic Newbie question
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Please be positive and constructive with your questions and comments.

Basic Newbie question

by goroberts on Thu Dec 02, 2010 7:47 pm

I'd like to learn something about microcontrollers. I am a middle-age man, a ham radio operator who grew up with vacuum tubes and am no stranger to soldering or electronics (from my era anyway). I now work as a Unix/Linux Admin. but am confused about where to start learning about PICs. Someone recommended Arduino and others Microchip. At this point, I don't know enough to ask meaningful questions. I would like to get into something which I could code, push the code to the PIC, and if possible test the results, without spending a ton of money then discover I should have gone off in another direction. It may be that I'll find some useful things to do where the project will turn stuff on and off and others that are radio related, i.e. active audio filtering (A>D, then D>A). Not sure. Advice?

GR
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Re: Basic Newbie question

by ImaginaryAxis on Thu Dec 02, 2010 8:47 pm

I asked the same question:

viewtopic.php?f=24&t=18088

All I need at the moment is a simple environment to type a few lines of code and go without the pains of classic C/C++ or assembly language; specifically the need to deal with header files, classes, structs, etc. Jgunn recommended the Arduino as well for someone that has my level of "expertise" (lack thereof) if you will.

I come from an analog background, primarily on the signal chain side of things.

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Re: Basic Newbie question

by adafruit_support_bill on Thu Dec 02, 2010 10:29 pm

The Arduino is one of the most popular microcontroller development platforms there is. Partly because of the great tools and partly because of the trememdous amount of information that is available. For people starting out, I recommend one of the Arduino starter kits (Check the adafruit store). And when you get it, start with the Adafruit tutorials.

I give these kits to 9-year olds, and halfway through the tutorials they are taking off on their own projects. I wish we had these things when I was starting out!

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Re: Basic Newbie question

by westfw on Thu Dec 02, 2010 10:40 pm

It would be difficult to go wrong with an Arduino. There are other things that might work as well, and be less "insulting" to your electronics background, but there aren't any major reasons to seek them out...

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Re: Basic Newbie question

by goroberts on Thu Dec 02, 2010 10:48 pm

(At the risk of enhancing my already obvious ignorant impression to the masses, let me elaborate a tad bit.)

I took 6800 assembler and C back in the day when it was more like B+, but that was right after the invention of dirt and not much of it has stayed with me (except maybe the dirt). I write scripts now and not much logic to that, so getting back to some form of disciplined coding is in order. Even your level makes me look like bacteria but I think once I get into something I'll be able to get my head around it quickly. Was at Radio Shack tonight an saw they have a Basic Stamp kit but as with many of their items I felt it was over priced when compared to other offerings on the web, plus not so sure that product line is really very relevant to the current PIC direction. I'll look at what you mentioned too.

So tell me this if you know (or anyone else), I see at places like eBay and other sites where the programmers support long lists of microcontrollers, which I think is supposed to impress me. Are these boards just a way to burn the code onto the chip and nothing else? (See: http://cgi.ebay.com/USB-Microchip-PIC-P ... 53d98b8969)

Then there's ARM's, AVR's, and a whole host of others (what's a "propeller"?). Would it be fair to say that these could be thought of as BETA and VHS taken to the extreme? Also, I would think learning to work with 32 bit devices would give me a much more vast sea of applications to choose from than 8 and 16 bit; but is the learning curve exponentially steeper for those? And let me not forget 8,18,28,40 pin ZIFF sockets.

I know that's a lot to toss out there and I think a glossary page on this site would go along ways to help this [pathetic] newbie out.

GR
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Re: Basic Newbie question

by stinkbutt on Fri Dec 03, 2010 2:02 am

Don't worry about ARM's for now. They're not where you want to start. ARMs are more like cheap underpowered computer CPUs.

You'll probably want to start with an Arduino, even though it appears your experience is going to cover the electronics & it's the programming you appear to be a bit intimidated by. However, there are enough issues programming chips directly that you may as well eliminate them as points of failure. Plus, Arduino comes with a prepackaged development environment that makes your life a lot easier.

You can pick up an Arduino Uno here, or the Arduino Kit with a half-dozen experiments to get you started here. Either way you should check out Lady Ada's Tutorial on getting started with Arduino.


There are two manufacturers of microprocessors: Atmel and Microchip. If AVR & PIC are the VHS & Beta, then Atmel & Microchip are the Sony & JVC, the Macy's & Gimbels, the Sharks & the Jets of the microcontroller world.

AVR is the architecture of Atmel chips. When you see chips titled ATTinyXXX or ATMegaXXX, those are Atmel chips. Microchip makes a similar line of microprocessors, using the PIC architecture. While the Arduino is the easy-to-pick-up learning platform for the AVR, the Propeller is the easy-to-pick-up learning platform for the PIC.

This board's about a 90% AVR shop, I'd guess, which is why I reccomend you start with an Arduino/AVR. You can always go to PIC later on if you decide you like it better.
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Re: Basic Newbie question

by westfw on Fri Dec 03, 2010 2:11 am

You might look at my Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to- ... ontroller/
Note that this was written a bit before I caught the "Arduino Bug" and well before the Arduino is as popular as it is now.

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Re: Basic Newbie question

by sawmac on Fri Dec 03, 2010 3:08 pm

Definitely start with an Arduino. It's the fastest and easiest way to get started with microcontroller programming (IMHO). There are lots of great resources (http://arduino.cc/en/Tutorial/HomePage), excellent tutorials (http://www.ladyada.net/learn/arduino/), an easy-to-use IDE (http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Software), and once you've mastered that you could move on to AVR programming (http://www.ladyada.net/learn/avr/) using the same hardware.

--dave
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Re: Basic Newbie question

by chatham on Fri Dec 03, 2010 9:28 pm

Plus, in a pinch, you can use the Arduino as an ISP programmer, allowing you to use it to program most every AVR microcontroller out there, to my knowledge. This way, if you think you want to/need to branch out into other chips, it's pretty easy. Not that you'll probably hit that wall particularly soon; the ATmega328 on the Arduino Uno is super-versatile, and has inbuilt hardware support for a lot of common protocols.
OpenChord.org - Open Source kits to let you play Guitar Hero with a real guitar, or build your own Wii/PS3/USB controllers.

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