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Books On Electronics For the Lay Programmer? 335

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 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.
  • 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 promethean_spark ( 696560 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:48AM (#23321376)
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @06:11AM (#23321924)

    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.
  • 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.
  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @10:18AM (#23323546) Journal

    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 functions available as ICs" chapter, and tell me with a straight face that it doesn't have practical value. I feel it helps enormeously to get involved with PAL programming by actually understanding what the eff you're doing.
  • 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.

As in certain cults it is possible to kill a process if you know its true name. -- Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie