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Getting started in electronics?

  1. Aug 16, 2007 #1
    I was wondering if anyone could provide a bit of a learning roadmap to help me eventually build and understand circuits. Someone suggested The Art of Electronics, but it's a bit over my head. I've been reading this, but because the book doesn't explain how the topics are connected to practical applications, I'm having a tough time being motivated to learn the theory. People tell me AoE is great in this "practical" aspect, so are there any suggestions as to how I could improve my knowledge in order to understand the book?

    My goal is to be able to design and understand cool circuits, learn how to use microprocessors, and eventually build a capable remote controlled car, but I'm not sure where to start. Any help would be appreciated!

    PS - I'm currently going into my second year as an EE, but I haven't had any relevant courses yet. I'm hoping that I will at some point (or college will seem like a huge waste of money to me), but I'd like to get a head start cause reading Makezine frustrates me since I can't come up with cool ideas like them.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2007
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  3. Aug 16, 2007 #2
    Hey psycovic23,

    I was just like you after my first year. I also wanted to know the practical use. I'm going into my third year of EE in the Fall, and what I've learned so far, is that in order to do the practical stuff, you first have to learn all the basics. Doing just that, however, I think is not efficient. I don't know what school you go to, but I go to Rutgers University in NJ, and one thing that really bothers me, is that we don't get to build anything, at least not yet. I was told senior year you have design projects.

    The key is not to give up hope :smile:
    What I used to do was buy little electronics kits, and build them. That gives you a little bit of a taste of the "practical use". Later on, when we started learning about filters, I built them. You could try doing the same.
  4. Aug 16, 2007 #3


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    Before I took my courses in differential equations, I studied Boylestad. Its a very good introduction to circuit analysis (AC & DC). At the end of every chapter the author takes of couple of practical circuits and discusses them and how they relate to the material of the current chapter. The material is presented in a coherent manner and becuase it doesn't shadow everything with complex math analysis, you will less likely to be confused when you self study.

    AoE shouldn't be used by someone with no prior electronics background nor as a main text book. Its best used as a reference. One fun part of AoE is at the end of most chapters the authors give practical circuit applications and some "bad circuits". We have a thread dedicated to just this - see the sticky in this forum. Stop by and participate if you like; even ask questions if you don't know whats going on.

    So I would suggest that you first understand the fundamentals - ohms law, current and voltage divider, and Kirchoff's laws. Always start with DC circuit analysis then move to AC. Learn how components such as a capacitor, inductor, and diode work for both AC and DC. Then you can move on the wonderful world of transistors. None of these would require any advanced math (differential and integral calculus should be sufficient) for you to appreciate them. Leave the tedious mathematical analysis for your courses in circuits.
  5. Aug 16, 2007 #4
    So basically, I can't really do too much until I can understand every aspect about the basics? I'm still a semester away from differential equations, so I guess I have a long time to wait...

    I guess sort of another random question: exactly what will a general EE degree allow me to do? I just recently switched over from ChemE figuring that organic chem and the likes might just not be down my alley, but still don't quite have a clear picture. Thanks!
  6. Aug 16, 2007 #5


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    Thats right, its makes no sense to do more advanced topics when the fundamentals are a little bit shaky or lacking. The basics arent that hard at all. Its just some simple rules and laws and can be built upon as you get higher up. There is also no need to wait, borrow the book I suggested from your school or technical library and have a go at it. Like I said before - once you know calc I and II (linear algebra would also help) you should be good. Once you have the fundamentals down, AoE will make a lot more sense and you'll benefit from it a great deal.

    Lessons In Electric Circuits is pretty okay I guess (I've only read volumes I and II). Even if you're exclusively using that to study from you should be able to grasp the material, becuase, honestly thats the easiest it will get.
  7. Aug 16, 2007 #6


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    I'd also recommend that you just go ahead and buy and build a couple fun basic electronics kits. You can find them at your local Radio Shack store, or Fry's Electronics if you are near Silicon Valley, or online at sites like this:


    Even though you might not understand the schematic yet and how it all works, building some simple kits will do several good things for you. It will help you start to get some experience and knowledge in how to assemble and solder and wire things up, and it will help you to start to get familiar with real components and what they look like in all their variations. Kits often have some tutorial information about them included, so you can read up on that type of circuit, and get some ideas about what terms to search online for to get more information.

    Building kits will also give you an early, practical exposure to different kinds of circuits, which will help you when you get to those circuits in your EE classes. For example, if you build a simple AM or FM radio receiver, you will get exposed to tuned LC circuits, transistor amplifier circuits, audio output circuits, etc. Then in your first EE classes where you see tuned circuits or transistor circuits, it won't just be abstract information in a textbook -- you will be thinking of the practical stuff you've seen already, and inter-relating the two things.

    Also (I've said this before here in the PF forums...sorry for sounding like a broken record), I've found that building practical projects during your school years, helps you to "ask the right questions" of yourself and your instructors. After you've built a few real circuits, and had them not work at first, and then figured out the problems and gotten it working right, you start to see how things *really* work, and what to watch out for that might cause problems. You start to get a feel for what is important, and what is not really important. Like, there are places in a circuit where the value of a resistor doesn't matter much (like a pullup resistor), and there are places where you don't have to worry much about thermal drift effects. And there are places in circuits where the values matter very much, and where you need to think about what kinds of extra circuitry or circuit tricks you need to add to help null out tempco issues. You will get to the point where you will be able to see the common errors that people make in circuits (see the "Bad Circuits" thread that ranger mentioned).

    Anyway, try building a couple simple kits, and I think you will start to see the bvenefits right away. Which kits in the link that I posted look interesting to you?
  8. Aug 16, 2007 #7


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    The kits may seem silly, but they can be very educational. I advise that after building and using the circuit given to you in the kit's booklet, you try to make small changes to the circuits and observe the effects. This will greatly improve your intuition.

    Also, don't discount the value of PSpice and other simulation software -- you can learn a ton from them, if you can get past their learning curves.

    - Warren
  9. Aug 17, 2007 #8
    Thanks for all the advice! I had a few projects in mind already:

    1) Tangentsoft's headphone amp in an altoids box. It's watered all the way down, so I think it'll be pretty cool to try.
    2) Digital thermometer. I think this one might be a bit harder, but I've been keen on giving the Arduino platform a shot at some point.

    From berkeman's suggested website, the Super Snooper seems cool. The touch switch also seems interesting, but can I actually use it for normal appliances?

    Any other advice would be gladly appreciated, thanks again.
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