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Newbie looking for guidance - How start learning electronics?

  1. May 17, 2014 #1
    Newbie looking for guidance -- How start learning electronics?

    I know this is going to sound strange... but I am the biggest newbie you guys will ever see :) I don't know the first thing about math, science, physics, etc. Actually going through school I actually got kicked out because I just slept all day through class.. then eventually just went and wrote my GED. It's not that I'm dumb or anything like that.. it just doesn't interest me.. when I get interested I hyper-focus on it.. for example, during my school days when I was at home or not sleeping, I would study and play Chess furiously... and I conquered it by winning multiple championships at the time.

    In my adulthood, I became very interested in web programming and web hosting... not so much design though because I find I'm either not artistic enough, or I obsess about the look of what I'm making and keep making changes making it worse and worse.

    Anyways... sorry for the sob story. Why I'm here is because... Over the last year or two I started becoming very interested in learning electronics (or electrical engineering I guess), but I am having a difficult time trying to figure out how to learn more about it.

    Usually I can teach myself anything online.. but the information I seem to be finding for electrical engineering is too advanced for me. It's bad... I never took any type of shop class, nor learned anything in science.. or about electricity.. like for example... until recently I never even knew what a watt/volt was.

    I'm starting to get caught up on some of the basic watt/volt stuff now.. But I guess what I'm looking for here is to try and get a grasp on how electronics work.. I've just been so eager over the past couple years.. What really put me over the edge in regards to trying to learn this stuff was because of a show called "The Colony" where someone (with solar panels and random items) had setup the solar panels to (track) automatically move around and follow the sun.

    So... it just amazes me.. firstly for the fact that it can move, but then also track the sun as well..

    From all the research I can find, I understand that maybe there's some type of motor/gear attached to all the bars and pipes holding up the solar panels, and then there's a circuit board with a chip that has some type of programming on it to control it all.

    So I guess what I'm looking for guidance here on is... figuring out how I can get started. I discovered something called breadboards which appear to be good for novices to use.. but the only thing i could really imagine getting working at the moment is a couple lightbulbs...

    For now my main goal is trying to figure out the programming aspect of the electronics.. So I'm thinking about a test project wher I get a breadboard with an LED screen or lightbulb or something and trying to figure out a way to program it to do something fancy... like the lightbulb blinkings randomly or something... I just don't understand any of this at all... like what type of programming is used on electronics? Where would I look to buy a chip and how would I get the programming on to it? How is it possible for a chip to track where the sun is coming from..

    Sorry for the long post! :( I appreciate any guidance/suggestions I can get here. Even if you just know of some good online resources I could read. I plan on reading around the forums her too :)
  2. jcsd
  3. May 17, 2014 #2
    Figure out your budget to begin with. How much you are willing to spend on the tools determines quite a bit. At a minimum, you'll need a decent multimeter($50), breadboard, and some assorted parts/components. If you ever want to build something permanent, then you'll need a soldering station and hand tools. And if you want to do serious work, you'll need an oscilloscope which is $400 or more.

    Check out the Evil Genius series of books. Not so much for basic theory, although Electric Circuits for the Evil Genius is pretty basic, but for project ideas and things to do. You may find an inspiring project, and that will lead you to type of things you need to study in order to fully understand what you are building. Basically, you can have some fun while learning a bit.

    Pick up a copy of the Art of Electronics to study for your general understanding. This will basically be your bible.

    Learn how to simulate circuits with a SPICE simulation software. This can accelerate your learning as you play around with different circuits and compare them to things you put together yourself.

    If you learn a PCB Cad program like Eagle in addition, then you can convert schematics into board designs, then send the board design to a company and have them ship you an etched board you can solder your components in.

    Programming in electronics is usually done on microcontrollers and systems with microcontrollers are called embedded systems. There are several different brands for hobbyists and each brand has products ranging from fairly simple to pretty complex. Arduino is the most basic brand and targeted at hobbyists. Programming itself can take different forms. You might buy a platform kit, like a toy car with sensors controlled by a microcontroller and then program the car directly to drive autonomously for example. If you are heavily interested in the programming aspect, I'd recommend that route. Or you could program the chip in a reference board, then remove the chip and put it into your circuit. That however, is too advanced for a raw beginner. In fact, I'd suggest you stay away from microcontrollers for the present and just work on the basics. I only suggest the other one because you could focus on programming while all the electronics are more or less fixed. Trying to debug both hardware and software at the same time when you know little about either will be horribly frustrating.
  4. May 17, 2014 #3
    Hi MrSparkle,

    Thanks a lot for the great information here :) It's nice to learn some new terminology. Like I've never heard of a "microcontroller" before. Or even the brand Arduino that you mentioned.

    Having a budget isn't really an issue for me. Well... maybe if it gets into the thousands or tens of thousands just to build some useless electronic that I only made for learning purposes. I don't plan on doing anything too serious, and I'm assuming I don't even need to do any soldering as I'd just be connecting stuff to see if it works.

    I do feel like I would learn better though jumping into it and dealing with microcontrollers and stuff. Like I was saying in my first post, I really wouldn't mind just getting a breadboard and whatever is needed to try and make something with an LED or lightbulb.

    Like for example.. since last night.. but mind has really mind focused on the idea of making a timed lightbulb. So the microcontroller could have some type of sleep function type programming I guess, and turn off and on the lightbulb automatically. I think that would be very beneficial for learning :P Just gotta figure out how to do it. The toy car part kind of scares me.

    Thank you again for the great information :) I'll definitely be checking out some of those books when I get a chance, as well as those softwares (although I think designing any boards other than a basic lightbulb might be a bit too much right now). And you're probably right about me staying away from multicontrollers for now. I'm just too eager and weird sometimes :P And sometimes I expect that it might be easy since I can build computer (with buying motherboard/CPU/GPU/PSU/etc and throwing them together) and do server-side programming for websites. I'm sure that's a very poor comparison though :(

    Anyways :) Thanks again! I'm sure I'll be lurking around and asking more questions soon.
  5. May 18, 2014 #4


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    MrSparkle's advice is good.

    I'm biased to Arduino, since the microcontroller aspect of modern electronics is so important. There is a sticky at the top of this forum regarding beginners kits for learning microcontrollers.

    Best approach is to keep reading and asking questions, and eventually a project will grab you interest and you will decide to tackle it. Could be a microprocessor based project, a power supply, an audio amplifier, or whatever. Something will grab you.
  6. May 18, 2014 #5

    jim hardy

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    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Here's a guy with an unconventional approach to explaining electricity. Bill Beatty.

    I think his experimeneter pages might be just what you're after.

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