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Books On Electronics For the Lay Programmer? 335

Posted by kdawson
from the solder-anything dept.
leoboiko writes "I'm a computer scientist and programmer with no training whatsoever in hardware or electronics. Sure, we designed a simple CPU (at a purely logical level) and learned about binary math and whatnot, and I can build a PC and stuff, but lately I've been wanting to, you know, solder something. Make my own cables, understand multimeters, perhaps assemble a simple robot or two. Play with hobbyist-level electronics. How does one go about educating oneself in this topic? I've been browsing Lessons in Electric Circuits online and it's been helpful, together with Misconceptions About 'Electricity' which went a long way in helping me finally to grok what electric charge and power actually are. I've reached the point where I want an actual dead-tree book, though. Any recommendations?"
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Books On Electronics For the Lay Programmer?

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  • by Aglassis (10161) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:14AM (#23321236)
    Pick up the Art of Electronics [harvard.edu] by Horowitz and Hill. The lab manual might also be helpful. The Art of Electronics is basically the electronics Bible for physicists and a popular introductory text for electrical engineers.

    For technical electronics work (like soldering or cable assembly) you will probably want to find a specific book (the Navy electronics manuals would be very helpful).
    • by Stevecrox (962208)
      Mod parent up during my final year of my Electronic's degree this book was my bible
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by edwinolson (116413)
        As useful as Art of Electronics is, it's awfully dated. The particular components it spends so much time talking about are largely obsolete, and I don't think it does as good of a job at generalizing concepts as some other texts.

        Don't get me wrong-- I have a copy on my desk too, but I haven't cracked the spine in years, despite being an active hardware designer.
        • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @10:21AM (#23323576)
          As an active hardware engineer you don't need that book anymore. Give it to a newbie. I haven't glanced at my copy since the 90s for similar reason. I liked AoE because it is a window on how a ckt designer thinks... "How to think" not "what to think".

          It's pretty useless as a display of how to set the bias current for a class A amp for an obsolete transistor. You know, vocational school "training".

          But its great for explaining the thought process of, "I want an amp" "I need the following characteristics" "guess I want a class A" "how should I design one?" "here is an example". Yes the last step, the example, is somewhat useless now, but the best part of the book was the other steps anyway. It provides an "EE education" as opposed to "vocational training".

          It's like the difference between "history" and "journalism". Or "education" and "training".

          Don't go into AoE expecting the wrong thing, or you'll be disappointed.

          Go into it with the attitude that it's "EE in 24 hours" and you'll be unhappy. Go into it with the attitude that its a guided puzzle book or a philosophy of EE work, and you'll be happy. It's kind of like Knuth's TAoCP series, in that way.
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:29AM (#23321294)
      I have the Art of Electronics and a wide range of other books. AoE is great for introductory EE, but is overkill for the level you are talking about and does not cover practical stuff.

      I would suggest looking at the various hobby robotics books in a good bookshop. Most of these will cover stuff like how to solder, how a transistor/FET work and how to wire up configurations like H bridges etc.

      • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @08:07AM (#23322470) Homepage Journal
        I think you bring up a good point, I'd just like to counterweight it a bit.

        There are very few technical books that are as well written an clear as Art of Electronics. A robotics book might be more "essential" if you are interested in building a robot, but very few of them will extend your understanding and mastery of robots specifically as AoE will extend your understanding of electronics in general.

        "Practical" doesn't just means "arts-and-crafts." Theory is "practical" too, when you are faced with a problem that requires an original solution. AoE was not, if I recall correctly, written with the EE student in mind. It was written for people like experimental scientists from whom the ability to understand and design circuits would be a great practical advantage.

        If you want to build other people's designs, then by all means restrict yourself to building things that other people have designed or snapping together modules, you can get by without really knowing much about how electronics works. I expect that most robot hobbyists only have a rudimentary understanding of electronics theory, and that's fine for them. But it certainly won't hurt to be able to analyze circuits even design them, and if you avoid AoE because it is not "practical", you're cheating yourself out of one of the best tech books ever written.
      • I have to disagree with your view of The Art of Electronics. It is to electronics what The Joy of Cooking is to cooking: a comprehensive and extremely clear guide for beginners that is equally useful to masters. I've certainly found it to be practical and accessible for a variety of projects.
      • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @09:13AM (#23322926) Journal
        I agree, if you're looking to master electronics AoE is a fantastic choice. If you want to get your hands dirty quick I'd recommend something like Practical Electronics for Inventors [amazon.com].

        You can always return to AoE when you're ready.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by blind biker (1066130)

        does not cover practical stuff.

        What? I just jumped from my chair (imagine it as comically as you like) when I read that! The ARt of Electronics is one of the most practical-oriented book on electronics you'll ever find. The only thing is, it's oriented to practical problems AND is also 100% correct/accurate in its presentation - just like the most academic of electronics books. This accuracy puts it in a category of its own, while making it even more practically useful, because it leaves very little ambiguity. Take the "Sequential funct

    • by aero2600-5 (797736) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:31AM (#23321302)
      As a former Electronics Technician in the Navy, I have to agree with the parent. The Navy Electricity & Electronics Training Series (NEETS) is a great series of books that teach the basic of electronics. After studying these manuals, I successfully built a Superheterodyne receiver [wikipedia.org], also known as your basic radio receiver. You can find all of the NEETS modules online here [davidson.edu] in PDF format. I still have them on CD from when I went through the training in 1998.

      As for your link to electricity misconceptions [eskimo.com], all I can say is that I find the information there disagrees with what I was taught by the US Navy. It reminds me of the old electron flow vs hole flow [uiuc.edu] arguments. The important part is that electric circuits work the same regardless of what you're philosophy is concerning the movement of electrons.

      Best of luck with your search. Just remember that soldering irons are HOT. I've heard good things about the Art of Electronics as well.

      Aero
      • by carnivorouscow (1255116) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:10AM (#23321466)
        The electricity misconceptions site seemed so intent on proving things wrong that it made several errors or needless complicated several topics.

        On topic I found "Teach Yourself Electricity and Electronics" by Stan Gibilisco to be a very useful book for hobbiest stuff.
        • by luder (923306) *
          I have that one. For hobbiest stuff it may be good, but I don't recommend it for someone who wants to go further than that. It has a bit of everything, but it doesn't get into much detail. For example, there's not even a mention about Norton or Thevenin theorems and circuit analysis is lightly touched.
      • I was in the third ever class of SONAR techs taught transistors by the Navy. It took me years to unlearn/relearn to the point I could do useful stuff with it. For self paced learning try the Smart Lab Electronics or Snap Electronics kits. The ARRL has some great basic electronics courses too.
      • by AllynM (600515) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @06:15AM (#23321950) Journal
        As another former Electronics Technician / Reactor Operator in the navy, I can suggest this wonderful reference:

        http://www.usna.edu/EE/ee301/internal/Applied_EngineeringPrinciples.pdf [usna.edu]

        Chapter 1 covers electrical, chapter 2 covers electronic. The remaining chapters dive into nuclear power field topics (chemistry, mechanics, reactor theory - also very handy for those interested in 'just the facts' for those topics). This reference is about as technical as it gets without venturing into "If I told you I'd have to kill you" territory.

        It's awesome that the Naval Academy has an unclassified version out there...

      • by DaveV1.0 (203135)
        The NEETS books are also available B&N and Borders. I think Dover publishes them.
    • by draxbear (735156) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:33AM (#23321308)
      I recommend this annoyingly named book, which is an excellent cover-all on this and related subjects. Really did join the dots for me many years ago and it looks like it's now in its 2nd edition.

      http://www.amazon.com/Bebop-Boolean-Boogie-Unconventional-Electronics/dp/0750675438/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210145164&sr=1-1 [amazon.com]

      (Any grammar nazi's able to show me how to tidy up that link? Or point me at the right place on here to find out please?)
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        "Any grammar nazi's able to show me how to tidy up that link?"

        No, but I'll gladly point out your misuse of the apostrophe.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by somersault (912633)
        Use the html anchor tag - ie <a href="link_goes_here">Your text here</a> . You don't really need the quotation marks around the URL, but it won't hurt to use them either.

        You'd end up with Bebop Boolean Boogie Unconventional Electronics [amazon.com]

        Tada! :p
        • by Bogtha (906264) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @07:17AM (#23322198)

          You don't really need the quotation marks around the URL

          While this is true in this specific case, it's only because Slashdot automatically corrects your broken markup. You cannot use slashes in an attribute value without quoting it, and slashes appear in most URLs.

          • That's funny, I use slashes all the time without quotes in my pages and they work fine (using perl generated pages on apache) *shrug* I would think that every URL would need at least one slash to be properly formatted, even if it's a relative path? Maybe I'm overlooking something though.
            • Because browsers are extremely tolerant of broken markup. Try running your pages through a validator and see what you get.
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:19AM (#23321500)
      is the SmileyMicro stuff: http://www.smileymicros.com/ [smileymicros.com] It is basically a simplified course in a book, covering microcontroller programming, interrupts, interfacing, control etc using 8-bit micros. No special equipment needed beyond a soldering iron + PC (if you buy the kit with the book).

      Once you get through that you'll have a reasonable understanding of the field.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I've worn out one copy of AoE, and still use it regularly - I'd also recommend it, but it's a reference book rather than a gently read. If you want to get your hands dirty and actually build something, try the Robot Builder's Bonanza [amazon.com]. It's much less technical, but full of good ideas. I've never built any of the projects from the book, but it has inspired lots of my own.
    • by inflex (123318) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:03AM (#23321714) Homepage Journal
      Totally agree - I keep this book as a permanent fixture in the bathroom... many hours have passed and many things learned with that book in hand.
    • by jabuzz (182671)
      Problem with AoE is that it is now 20 years and horribly out of date. When talking about microcontrollers it is 68000, no mention of a PIC, AVR or similar. When it talks about programmable logic, as far as it goes is very simple PLD's. So no CPLD's and no FPGA's. The PSU section is also out of date when it comes to SMPS as well.

      Don't get me wrong I have a copy, and you won't get me to reliquish it till a third edition comes out.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CharlieG (34950)
      AofE (sitting right in reach as I type) is probably the "standard" recomendation. One problem with it. It's perfect if you already KNOW the material, and a real DOG to learn from, but a perfect "second book" or "Gee, I can't remember how to...

      I's actually say get
      Elelectricity - Principlas and Applications http://www.amazon.com/Electricity-Principles-Applications-Richard-Fowler/dp/0078262860/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210161568&sr=8-1 [amazon.com]

      and as a second book "Electronics - Principles and Appli
    • Forrest M Mims -Getting Started In Electronics ...is a fun and informative starting point for the basics. It is kinda high school level in its presentation but covers most topics. It was my main source of 'basics/teach yourself' as a mechie. I eventually found my way to wiring PLCs, creating sensors, etc. In my role as a Mechanical Technician, I now perform power usage studies on products and fully automate our prototypes.(PLC wiring and Programming)

      METER EXAMPLE: ESI480A
      http://www.toolsusa.com/asp/item_ [toolsusa.com]
  • Two great books (Score:3, Informative)

    by Linker3000 (626634) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:18AM (#23321250) Journal
    An excellent starter is "The Art of Electronics By Paul Horowitz, Horowitz, Winfield Hill"

    http://www.amazon.com/Art-Electronics-Paul-Horowitz/dp/0521370957 [amazon.com]

    You should also have a look at the classic:
    "Foundations of Wireless and Electronics
    by M.G. Scroggie "

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Foundations-Wireless-Electronics-M-G-Scroggie/dp/0750634308 [amazon.co.uk]

    • Musical Electronics (Score:4, Informative)

      by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:32AM (#23321592) Homepage Journal
      For the musically inclined electronics noob I recommend Craig Anderton's Electronic Projects for Musicians [amazon.com].

      The book goes through all the basics: making and repairing your own cables, soldering, working with metal and plexiglass chassis, various types of boards(breadboards, etching). Projects are of varying difficulty and include a headphone amp, miniamp, fuzz-tone, "ring" modulator and phase shifter(the most difficult). Most projects use battery power and are safe to build and operate(note: unfortunately, none of the projects are synths.)

      Maybe not your cup of tea but more fun to reuse than a run of the mill blinkenlighter.
  • by Corporate Troll (537873) * on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:22AM (#23321266) Homepage Journal

    3 Scary things: A programmer with soldering iron, a manager who codes and a user who gets Ideas

    • by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:30AM (#23321296)

      3 Scary things: A programmer with soldering iron, a manager who codes and a user who gets Ideas
      V=IR
      Programmer
      function int getVoltage(I:int, R:int)
      {
      var int smoke=I*R;
      return smoke;
      }

      Manager
      function float cashCow(Idea myIdea)
      {
      var step1:String=myIdea.text;
      var step2:String=null;
      var step3:String="Profit!"

      return 0.0;
      }

      User
      What if I got rid of the off button?!? That would be MUCH SIMPLER!
  • Community college (Score:5, Informative)

    by SkOink (212592) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:22AM (#23321272) Homepage
    I would like to make a plug for your local community college, if you live in a reasonably-sized city. Most community colleges offer a couple of basic-level electronics classes, which teach you basic circuit theory. Books (either eBooks or paper ones) like Misconceptions About 'Electricity' are sort of interesting from a physics perspective, but they don't really offer much insight into electronics. In fact, many of the logical assumptions taught to electrical engineers _aren't_ true, strictly speaking, but are 'true enough' and much easier to understand.

    If you're looking for someplace where you can learn about your basic circuit elements (resistors, capacitors, op-amps, etc) a real dyed-in-the-wool intro electronics course might be just what you're craving.
    • If he knew how to make a plug, he would already know some electronics ...

      Do they still make those kids' electronics kits that I had when I was a kid (frighteningly long ago)? You can get to know the basics with springy wires instead of soldering and then apply what you learn to larger projects.

      • by somersault (912633) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:23AM (#23321530) Homepage Journal

        apply what you learn to larger projects
        "Right, I see the problem here. We're going to need a really big springy wire.."
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Do they still make those kids' electronics kits

        Yeah, I just saw one at Barnes and Noble in the kids section when I was there with my son last weekend. Unfortunately, they're for nine and up, and my son is only four... the truth is, I want the damned thing for myself, but I have to wait until he's nine and pretend I got it for him and do all the projects after everybody else is in bed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:25AM (#23321282)
    Get yourself an Arduino.

    http://www.arduino.cc/ [arduino.cc]
    • by clampolo (1159617) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:41AM (#23321352)

      If you want to just tinker with the digital side and you are willing to learn vhdl or verilog, then get a dev board from Xilinx or Altera. Some of them come with lcd screens, so you can have fun sending output to the screen.

      It's corny but there's a lot more of a sense of accomplishment when you get your first LED light blinking on and off than when you write your first Hello World program.

    • by Mr2cents (323101) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:50AM (#23321678)
      I recently met up with a few people from my alma mater, and they have bought a bunch of Arduino's to teach embedded programming. From what they told me, they seem to be a great educational tool. I've never worked with them personally, but I do have experience with the processor used in the board, the ATMega. It's a nice architecture, clean design, and advisable. Another hint: stay away from PIC, they have severe limitations (like a hard-wired call stack, memory access limitations).

      Still, this won't help you with understanding elektronics as such, but will it will make a bridge from your programming world to the electronics world.

      Other things you need are: a multimeter (a good one costs some money, and a cheap one is probably good enough for a while, but from what I have heared, the problem of the cheap ones is that the calibration drifts after a couple of years). And a breadboard. That's a board with holes where you can plug in electronic components easily without need for a soldering iron. Very handy for experiments. For an example, see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HteDBfSJ9zo [youtube.com]. (No idea if it's interesting, my flash audio doesn't work for some unknown reason :-( ). Later on, you might feel the need for an osciloscope, these things can be quite expensive but you don't need the latest model, just a second-hand model from 10+ years old will be a very handy tool for measuring clocks, signals etc.

      A last advice I can give you: read Elektor (a magazine available in many languages), find a simple circuit you find interesting and try to understand it. Read the explanation, calculate the voltages at certain points, build the circuit, measure, etc. This will teach you a lot.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by br00tus (528477)
        This person is on the right track.

        Go to the library and get a bunch of books on electronics. Then go to Radio Shack and buy a bread board. A bread board is a board where you test circuit designs out. You don't need to do any soldering on it. A strip board is for a more permanent circuit that you don't plan on changing. One thing I recommend if you're going to be soldering on a strip board is FLUX. It makes soldering a hell of a lot easier. Components to buy from Radio Shack: A soldering iron, solde

  • by SkOink (212592) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:35AM (#23321326) Homepage
    It might be that I'm not a particularly good student, but I've never really been able to learn from textbooks unless I already had at least some background knowledge about the subject I was studying. I'm a practicing electronics engineer, and I find that textbooks are a great reference. I also enjoy reading textbooks written on areas where I have some knowledge, but not enough.

    That being said, learning something like electronics or signal processing completely from a textbook would be really tough for me. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I think the original poster would be much better off taking a class or two than he would be trying to slug his way through something like the Art of Electronics.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wass (72082)
      For analog electronics, get the Lab Manual that accompanies AoE, then invest in a breadboard, a variety pack of resistors, capacitors, some transistors and diodes, and some op-amps. The expensive part, though, would be a multimeter and oscilloscope, but you can find cheapy ones on ebay. Digital electronics you can do the same, but probably need to buy a bunch more glue logic components.

      The Lab Manual is basically what they use in Physics 123 at Harvard, the course originally taught by Horowitz and Hill,
  • by zobier (585066) <zobier@@@zobier...net> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:36AM (#23321332)
    While I grew up with a soldering iron, inventing stuff and hacking hardware projects; I'm primarily a software guy. I find Practical Electronics for Inventors [google.com.au] to be an excellent resource for the kind of projects you're looking into. Also you might consider getting yourself either an ATSTK500 [atmel.com], the starter-kit for AVR micro-controllers (great tool IMO), OR a LEGO NXT.

    Happy hacking!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by zobier (585066)
      Oh, and there's a F/OSS toolchain for AVR. More info over at AVR Freaks [avrfreaks.net].

      Cheers

    • by DrLang21 (900992)
      Practical Electronics for Inventors is an excellent book for the lay person. I have seen this successfully used as a text in non EE instrumentation courses.
    • I second the recommendations for both PEFI and avrfreaks.net (caution: it's .NET, not .COM).

      The AVR is a great, well-behaved MCU that's relatively cheap, amazingly tolerant of abuse, and supported by a website that's probably the single best site of its kind. The folks at avrfreaks.net are incredibly helpful, even if your problems lie more with electronics than with the AVR itself. For lots of us, avrfreaks.net is our "home", regardless of whether the specific project we're working on actually involves an A
  • Well... (Score:5, Informative)

    by evanbd (210358) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:41AM (#23321354)

    Much as you can't learn to program well without looking at programs more complicated than you'll find in any textbook, you need to study real world circuits.

    Whether you want to do digital stuff or analog, it's worth your time learning the analog stuff -- digital systems tend to break as a result of the underlying analog problem of circuit design.

    For example, Wikipedia has the internal schematic for a 741 op amp [wikipedia.org] along with a decent explanation. Once you understand the function of every one of those transistors, you'll be able to really understand why it has both a gain-bandwidth limit and a slew rate limit, and what the difference is.

    The best source of real-world circuits I've found is the application notes and example circuits in data sheets published by manufacturers. Since they need the resultant circuits to work when engineers build them, they don't leave out the random extras that textbooks often do. Does that MOSFET need a gate resistor? A circuit in an app note will probably say, whereas an example diagram might well not.

    If your goal is to learn more in general, as opposed to solving a specific problem, I'd pay more attention to the author than exactly what they're writing about. For example, I can't recommend Jim Williams' design notes highly enough -- he's both an excellent engineer and an excellent author. Making Shakespeare [linear.com] a citation is the sort of thing that keeps his writing lively and interesting. Or rating circuit complexity in baby bottles [linear.com] as a measure of how long it took him to design and debug it. And, of course, he often goes into great detail about the *practical* considerations involved in precise, high-speed analog work -- especially as it relates to working at the lab bench, rather than with professionally printed PCBs and the like.

    I'm sure others will have excellent textbook recommendations. They're an important part, but only a part. Add some analysis of real-world circuits that you'll find in application notes, and a bunch of fussing around with actual silicon and a scope, and you'll be well on your way.

  • Forrest M. Mims III (Score:5, Informative)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:45AM (#23321366)
    (I'm a physics professor teaching electronics to undergraduates this term.)

    I'll second Horowitz and Hill.

    But if you want a gentler sunday school introduction before you pick up the Bible, get "Getting Started in Electronics" by Forrest M. Mims III. This is the book I taught myself with, bought it from Radio Shack when I was twelve. Text-and-drawings done "lab notebook" style, very basic approach.

    You'll need Horowitz and Hill to get the math, but for basic concepts Mims can't be beat.
    • by fireboy1919 (257783) <rustyp AT freeshell DOT org> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @06:51AM (#23322094) Homepage Journal
      Let me second this one by saying that I started with it when I was seven. It was the "intro" book they were selling at Radio Shack back before radio shack changed their logo from "You've got questions, we've got answers" to "You've got questions, we've got blank stares" - i.e., when they were still employing electricians.

      It looks a bit different [amazon.com] than it did when I read it.

      Note that what you'll be able to do when you understand the stuff in this book is very little. You'll be able to make tone generators, and blinking lights.

      What good is that? Well, given a basic microcontroller, you'll probably learn enough basic electronics sense to not burn out any of your components, and you'll probably learn enough to be able to read other people's circuit schematics.

      That may be all you need of the electronics part to start you down into the exciting world of digital signal processing without a computer, which I have always thought of as the exciting part.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Electrical-Engineering-and-Computer-Science/6-002Spring-2007/CourseHome/index.htm

    Not a book, but course materials and video lectures.
  • Analog stuff gets pretty deep, pretty quickly. For what you want to do it sounds like you'd be best off learning the bare basics about LRCs and view transistors as digital devices, then cobble stuff together out of TTL components. As a software guy, you'd probably get a blast out of using a PIC or FPGA board since you write firmware, but get to do some hardware stuff too.
  • Electronic Circuits --- Handbook for Design and Applications
    Tietze, U., Schenk, Ch.

    For an overview, see the official homepage at http://tietze-schenk.com/tsbook.htm [tietze-schenk.com].

    I don't recommend this as your first book about electronics, but once you feel at home in the field it will become a very valuable guide to designing your circuitry.
    Overall, I recommend "Electronic Circuits" for ambitious hobbyists and most engineering practice. It is a bit too advanced for complete newbies, and for cutting edge development you
  • by iluvcapra (782887) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:59AM (#23321424)
    There are No Electrons: Electronics for Idiots [amazon.com] is extremely basic, but its entertainment value is inestimable and it's really quite profound on the basics. You'll never feel like you understand the fundamentals better.
    • by Culture20 (968837)
      I also suggest this book. It's analogous to a math book that discusses _why_ 2+2=4. It's always nice to relearn things we learned by rote.
      Though, isn't the title "There are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings" by Kenn Amdahl?
      Dave Barry says it best on the back cover:
      "There are no Electrons changed my life. I lost 17 pounds in five minutes without dieting, and I feel great!"
      There are more intelligent comments from other authors, but no comments from physicists, EE's, or electricians.
  • I recommend Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers [amazon.com] by Tom Igoe and Dan O'Sullivan. The title of the book itself doesn't sound all that appealing, but this is the book you want. It will teach you all the little tricks that seasoned practitioners know, but that most books won't even tell you about. Other guides I have found useful are the old Radio Shack notebooks. I'm not sure how they're called, or where you'd get them legally. I haven't seen them at Radio Shack and I

  • by jonastullus (530101) * on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:11AM (#23321470) Homepage
    "Practical Electronics for Inventors" is a fabulous book despite its rather dumb title. It gives a very hands-on approach while not shying away from the advanced topics

    "The Art of Electronics" by Horowitz is definitely the standard for electronics, but for me it delved too much into the theory. It is extremely thorough, but maybe not geared towards people just wanting to build their own first small circuits.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by JollyRogerX (749524)

      The good thing about "The Art of Electronics" is that the authors assume a background knowledge of only basic algebra. You can actually choose how much theory you want because the really important bits are distilled into a few rules of thumb.

      For the first time tinkerer, it may be a little much. Eventually, however, the tinkerer will want to actually design something from scratch and find "The Art of Electronics" indispensable.

  • by sankyuu (847178) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:27AM (#23321550) Journal
    You have to bridge the gap between bits and voltages. I don't remember the titles of my books, so I will include keywords (You're probably past steps 1&2? Working backwards from #4 would also work).

    1. Break down assembly language even further and look into OP codes as well as the FDOES (Fetch-Decode-Operands-Execute-Store) cycle. Think clocks and busses. [microprocessor architecture, bus architecture, instruction set, instruction architecture]

    2. Move further into details of how ALU and memory are implemented: how flip-flops are used to store state, and how ALU's adder circuits, etc. can be implemented using NAND gates. Know what a 7401 is. [digital circuit design, half adder, full adder, flip-flop, register]

    3. Then at a lower level, study how NAND gates themselves are implemented using transistors. Know about BJTs and FETs. [transistor electronics, electronic circuit analysis and design, BJT, FET]

    4. You can be happy at the transistor level, but to solder things that actually work (and at the same time, know what you're doing), you have to study electric circuits and power electronics [electrical engineering, power electronics, ohm's law, thevenin, kirchoff's circuit laws]. Know how to read the color bands on resistors and appreciate the cheeky mnemonics for BBROYGBVGW :)

    5. If you want to grind your own sand to make your chips and transistors, you may want to look up material science

    *Be careful not to inhale the lead fumes, lest you suffer brain damage :)

    Now if someone could recommend books for each stage...

    (It's hard to recommend self-learning hardware, because I was taught hardware and am self-learning Computer Science.)
  • by mrcdeckard (810717) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:32AM (#23321590) Homepage

    The better the quality, the simpler and easier the circuit.

    Get a receiver or amp that has a problem and mess with it. A receiver in "protect mode" is a good one since that pretty much means that you have a DC offset on the output. A bi-polar amp will drive you nuts, since *any* bad component will throw DC onto the output, but you'll learn a ton going through it. A mosfet amp is much simpler since they are more like tube amps in topology. Hell, for that matter, try to get ahold of an old tube amp. They are very simple and are a good way to get yer feet wet.

    Or an old cassette deck, like an old Nakamichi. Nobody wants them anymore (and they shouldn't, either), but they have a lot of cool control/motor circuitry in them. Especially if you get a hold of one that's discrete -- ie, all the logic and control is done with transistors.

    and get the service manual -- it'll have schematics and sometimes theory of operation.

    Oh yeah, the advice for the Navy Manuals is right on. Those are the clearest and most comprehensive books on the subject.

    mr c
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      DON'T START WITH A TUBE AMP.

      They might be simple but the run on a very high voltage and you don't wanna start messing with them until you have experience with other safer circuits.

      I you want very, very simple circuits, try guitar pedals or an old AM radio.

      You can find lots of schematics online and many of them will have pictures of how to build them.
  • Arduino? (Score:4, Informative)

    by HFShadow (530449) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:02AM (#23321712)
    I'm in similar situation... I just picked up an Arduino. http://www.arduino.cc/ [arduino.cc] It's an open source micro controller that you code in C and it gives you access to ~10 digital IO pins and 6 analog ones. They sell add-on packs to do things like ethernet (built in web server) or wireless. Find something around your house and automate it :p
    • by ledow (319597)
      If you're in Europe, Velleman sell something similar: the k8055. It's a USB board with Linux drivers available that has a handful of digital outputs/inputs as well as a analog/PWM output/input. You can have four boards on the same USB bus and address them individually and they also have onboard indicators/test switches so you can see how it works and run some demo programs before you plug anything into it.

      In the UK, you can pick them up pre-assembled for £25 each from Maplin Electronics, or you can
  • Another option... (Score:3, Informative)

    by rusty0101 (565565) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:05AM (#23321726) Homepage Journal
    I'm not sure how available some of the books listed above are. Hopefully you'll find them, and find them useful.

    Some other books to look at are over on the ARRL.org website. Their primary focus of course is radio electronics, but they also have books on basic circuit boarding, robotics, and a few other electronic projects, as well as a few kits if you are interested in them.

    Hope that's of some help. Have fun.
  • Make Magazine (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ghost-in-the-shell (103736) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:09AM (#23321738) Homepage
    Google Make Magazine! It is great for the DIY in you.
  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:15AM (#23321768) Journal
    *Nothing* beats practical experience. Others have mentioned the Art of Electronics (which I have, and recommend as well). But practical experience is what really is the fun bits and what cemented it for me. I started from your position, and what I did was this:

    1. Solderless breadboard, and an assortment of transistors, resistors, capacitors, inductors, 555 timers, op-amps etc. Do some simple circuits with them - make logic gates with BJTs and resistors, then do the same with mosfets (construct some CMOS gates out of discrete transistors for instance). Experiment with power supplies - buck converters to step DC voltages down, boost converters to step voltages up. Make sure you have several of each, because you'll probably let the magic smoke out of some of them.

    2. Decide on a simple practical project. I chose to make a solar power system for my garden - an 80 watt pv panel sourced from ebay. The first project was to turn on lights at night from the battery that had been charged by the panel in the day. This consisted of a voltage comparator to detect when the solar panel voltage had fallen below a certain level. The output is connected to a power transistor that turns on the lights.

    3. More complex stuff. Get a heap of 74 series or 4000 series logic ICs and make something with it. This will teach you how the real world has a nasty habit of creeping into your digital designs: glitches, why we need decoupling capacitors, synchronizing clocks, that kind of thing. I built an RS232 nixie tube display. It had no microcontroller - the UART was entirely implemented in 4000 series logic. I built it on tri-pad proto board. This required me to learn how to build several things: a simple switch mode power supply to boost 12v to 170vdc for the tubes, as well as the UART.

    4. It is your fate to home brew a computer. My next project was a Z80 based single board computer on 160x100mm (Eurocard). It has a CTC, PIO, real time clock, paged memory, 512k of flash memory and 32k of RAM, and an expansion connector. The flash was initially programmed by a similar circuit to the nixie tube UART, but with a simple address generator circuit added. Once the initial program was written, the Z80 system could write its own flash.

    I'm now up to the stage where I'm doing more challenging designs, such as an ethernet card for an 8 bit system, implemented almost entirely surface mount components, the glue logic being in a programmable logic chip called a CPLD (the little brother of the FPGA). There are even more real world considerations that mess with digital design here: how to avoid ground bounce, PCB layout considerations to make the board work at all, and also a good bit of real fun programming: writing a driver for it in assembly language :-)

    There's a great deal you can do as an electronics hobbyist: for example, you can make your own PCBs for fine pitch surface mount components if you have access to a laser printer: I've made my own PCBs for chips with 0.4mm pin pitch (that's 0.2mm traces and 0.2mm spacing) using nothing but gEDA PCB (which is GPL'd PCB layout software), a laser printer, a clothes iron, copper clad board and etchant. Sparkfun Electronics have some great tutorials on hand soldering surface mount components, by the way. As you progress, you'll want to be able to do this because there are a lot of interesting ICs that are only available in some sort of surface mount package.
    • by evanbd (210358)

      I agree with almost everything you said. First, let me toss out a few part numbers. I know it can be annoying to try to figure out which silicon component to buy when they all look the same but are obviously slightly different.

      Digikey [digikey.com] is your friend. If they don't stock it, find a replacement they do stock. Buy a hundred each 2N3904 and 2N3906 for your bipolar transistors. At a couple cents each, you don't need to worry about letting the magic smoke out occasionally. 2N2222 makes a great slightly h

      • by Alioth (221270)
        Actually, I'd agree that making your own PCBs is time consuming and can be a pain, but on the other hand, I can lay out small PCB such as a breakout board or a reasonably straightforwad circuit in the morning in gEDA PCB - and by the afternoon, I have the thing assembled and in use. You're going to be waiting a lot longer for a PCB fab to turn around a design.

        But there are a lot of PCB fabricators who do one offs these days - lots of competition on price and features! My most recent design is a 4 layer boar
        • by evanbd (210358)

          ExpressPCB has a truly excellent MiniBoard service: 3 boards for $51 (aka $60 with shipping), 3.8"x2.5" (a convenient small-board size, really). They ship air mail the next business day. Other sizes get a little more expensive (<$100 in qty 2 until it gets large) as do features like 4-layer boards (though they only do internal power / ground planes, not traces) and solder mask / silk screen (either can be done for <$200). CNC-drilled mounting holes to match your box and line up the switches and LED

  • Electric Circuits 7th Edition, by Nilsson and Riedel, ISBN 0-13-146592-9 was the introductory text used at my university (UC Santa Barbara).

    I didn't really go to class much, so most of my learning was straight out of this book. It is very easy to understand, and everything is covered from a basic level. It covers what all of the basic circuit elements are, how to analyze circuits, opamps, and circuits with reactive components, i.e. inductors and capacitors. It does not cover too many other topics, but it
  • "All About Circuits" (Score:3, Informative)

    by Enleth (947766) <enleth@enleth.com> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:58AM (#23321880) Homepage
    http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/ [allaboutcircuits.com]

    It's still a work in progress, but it's mostly done by now and really well-written as an introductory guide.
  • Lessons in Electric Circuts [ibiblio.org]

    Seriously. In conjunction with Socratic Electronics [ibiblio.org], it should give you a great start.
  • One word: VELLEMAN
  • When I was much younger, I built a lot of Heathkit electronics. Then, I started building my own circuit boards with these blanks you could buy from Radio Shack. You draw your connections on the board's copper with a dark marker. Then, you put it in the acid bath and it burned away all the coppper you did not cover. It was a blast wiring up an op amp and other stuff. Just start reading, dude.
  • Radio shack. Forrest M. Mimms, III wrote a series of books (pamphlets really) describing lots of electronic circuits. They're very clear, and the intro book (an actual book) "Getting Started in Electronics" tells how to solder, how to use breadboards and wire-wraps, etc, and has a bunch of example circuits to build. It also describes the operation and use of most basic electronic components. Get this book and start building things. Once you have the hang of basic circuits, then get into the more advanced th
  • If it's good enough for Grommit, it's good enough for me.
  • If you want something more on the practical side, emphasizing (but not limited to) radio techniques, you could look at The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications [amazon.com]. It's a great reference book.
  • The way I started as a kid back in the late '70s was by playing with TTL parts from Radio Shack.

    First, get a solderless breadboard and some 22ga solid wire. Then get a 555 chip, some resistors and capacitors, and hook it up. To drive an 8 ohm speaker, use a 100uf capacitor, and to drive an LED use a 270-470 ohm resistor. And find a 5 volt brick to power it. (That was the tricky part back in the day... getting my parents to be okay with me building a 7805-based power supply that actually plugged into the wa

  • I had and lost a first edition of AoE and it is by far the best book for understanding electronics. I have a later edition now as I have replaced the old one.

    Don't forget, of course, your local library!!! Lots of great books on these sorts of subjects. Libraries are pretty lacking for the "latest and greatest" trends, but for the core science and technologies they are a fantastic resource.

    As for soldering, there is but one way to learn it, by doing! Buy a soldering iron and some solder and start soldering s
  • by moeinvt (851793) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @08:17AM (#23322534)
    The Horowitz book is an excellent reference, and it's especially good if you want to understand the details of what's actually going on.

    If you really want to dive in and swim however, I might also recommend "Electronic Circuits for the Evil Genius" by Dave Cutcher. I think that will get you into building things more quickly that Horowitz, but without a lot of the fundamentals.

    Another idea is to get yourself one of those Radio Shack 200 in 1 electronic project kits. No soldering required for that, but you could always order the parts for any of the projects and stick them on a breadboard yourself.

    Have fun!
    • I love the series, don't get me wrong, I own five titles. But they contain numerous errors in the schematics, sometimes critical ones.

      Some are obvious, like misoriented diodes in a rectifying bridge. Some are not, like a PNP BJT where a NPN should be.

      However, before you build any of the projects, especially any of the high powered ones, make sure you search online for errata, or better yet, have a real EE check the circuit (if you're not one). And if you wanna build something really nasty, like an EM

  • Make the Woz your friend.
  • not to push amazon, but was looking the publishers site and found this first

    http://www.amazon.com/Active-Filter-Cookbook-Second-LANCASTER/dp/075062986X [amazon.com]

    see other books mentioned
  • by shapr (723522) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @08:49AM (#23322712) Homepage Journal
    I'd suggest that you buy an Arduino [arduino.cc] starter kit [adafruit.com] from Lady Ada's site [adafruit.com], and try her Arduino tutorial [ladyada.net].

    And join a nearby Arduino user group!
    David Mellis just started one in Boston [arduino.cc], which led me to purchase an Arduino last night!
    The forums on the arduino site mention quite a few regional user's groups, maybe you can find one near you?
  • by AdamHaun (43173) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @09:06AM (#23322860) Journal
    The Art of Electronics, which many people have recommended, is a well-written book, but it comes with a couple caveats. First, it is twenty years old, which means it spends a lot of time on topics that aren't as important today (JFETs, for example). Second, and more importantly, it's an electronics book, which means it's intended to be read after a corresponding class in basic circuit theory. Electronics is the study of how semiconductor devices are used in electrical circuits, not the study of electrical circuits in general. While the first chapter of AoE does offer a review of circuit theory concepts, it's pretty terse. If you're good at calculus and want a good textbook, try Engineering Circuit Analysis by Hayt, Kemmerly, and Durbin. This may be a bit more work than you're looking for, but one of the things you quickly learn about electricity is that it's pretty abstract (being invisible and all), and visualization aids like LEDs and even expensive test equipment don't help as much as you might think unless you already have an idea of what's going on. If you're just doing digital circuits you can get by with less, but for anything remotely analog, knowing the theory helps a lot.

  • Here is a suggested order:

    "Getting Started in Electronics"

    Any of the mini-notebook series written by Forrest Mims

    "arrl handbook" any recent year is good enough no need to buy the latest 2008 version

    "TTL handbook"

    "art of electronics"

    "troubleshooting analog circuits" by Robert Pease

    Sure, AoE is two decades out of style, and TTL Cookbook is even older.

    But the logical thinking required and the basic principles will not change.

    Furthermore, today's stuff didn't just spring into existence from nothing, it was deve
  • It depends on what you want to accomplish. I know it's heresy to say it, but if your focus will be digital circuits, then learning the intricacies of FETs, bipolar transistors, and the like is probably less important than learning about logic gates, microcontroller operation, etc.

    If you're interested in analog circuits (audio, RF, etc), then diving into the world of active analog components would be the way to go.

    Learning digital first to get comfortable with soldering and the basics and tackle interfacing

  • Subscribe to Circuit Cellar Ink [circellar.com] Steve Ciarcia has been doing electronic/software projects every month for over 30 years. Well OK, now he's just in charge of the magazine. That means you get to read about several projects every month instead of just one :-) This is exactly what you want to be reading. You can suplement it with some of the other suggestions on slashdot, but only to fill in the gaps when you don't understand something in Circuit Cellar. I'm shocked that I didn't see this listed in the comments
  • Physical Computing (Score:2, Informative)

    by element609 (303265)
    Are you looking to dive in with practical information or learn pure theory first? I personally like to learn by building first, and then start learning theory after I fried a couple of components. I just spent the last three years at an art school in an Interactive Media program. (Art school and electronics? Yes - there's a growing amount of interactive works - not to mention the increasing demand for User Interface Design) We learned some very practical information in Physical Computing: interacting betwee
  • MAKE Magazine (Score:4, Informative)

    by ptorrone (638660) * <ptNO@SPAMadafruit.com> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @09:35AM (#23323152)
    arduino is a good suggestion, i'd also say the online (or print) versions of MAKE. in addition to skill building sections like soldering, making PCBs we also have 4 volumes that come out per year with tons of electronics articles. http://www.makezine.com/ [makezine.com] (i'm the senior editor)...
  • by panthro (552708) <mavrinac@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @02:37PM (#23327684) Homepage
    I highly recommend Teach Yourself Electronics [librarything.com] by Malcolm Plant. I have a Master's degree in electrical engineering and I started with hobby electronics before I learned to ride a bike, and this book is sitting on my desk as I type. ;)

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