Author Topic: Advice for novice  (Read 9199 times)

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Offline Diox55

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Advice for novice
« on: June 26, 2014, 01:53:39 pm »
Firstly a little about myself, for anyone that cares. My name is Tucker I am 15 years old, please don't put me off as a immature kid. I am relatively smart. But my main field of knowledge for electronics is computers- I'm still in the early stages of learning to code, but I'm very interested in learning about the things Dave does. I have been watching his blog on and off for about a year, and recently Ben Heck. Both of these guys are a major inspiration to me- but as you can guess, I'm a noob at all of this. Could anyone give me advice on where to begin learning about some of this stuff? Any and all advice is appreciated, thank you for your time.
 

Offline XOIIO

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2014, 02:44:50 pm »
The question is, relative to what? lol

It depends what you are more interested in, the software side of things or the hardware side of things, arduino is a good way to get into programming, plus you can just program attiny chips using their software, and then use it to make the physical side of a project.

Offline bwat

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2014, 03:03:14 pm »
arduino is a good way to get into programming
I have to disagree with you here. For the electronics enthusiast it's great but it's not so great a platform for learning about programming. The general purpose desktop computer is much better suited and there are plenty of free interpreters and compilers for the student to download and use.  If you've got a modern PC and want a good computer science grounding on the cheap then download this http://fldit-www.cs.uni-dortmund.de/~peter/PS07/HR.pdf and work through it.

If a student had 100$ and wanted to become a better programmer then I would advise them to buy
http://www.amazon.com/From-Frege-Godel-Mathematical-1879-1931/dp/0674324498/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403758232&sr=8-1&keywords=from+frege+to+g%C3%B6del
before they bought this
http://www.amazon.com/Arduino-Starter-Official-170-page-Projects/dp/B009UKZV0A/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1403758245&sr=8-2&keywords=arduino

The first one will make you a better thinker and consequently a better programmer, the second one wont.

I apologise in advance to the arduino fans out there.
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Offline miguelvp

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2014, 03:12:29 pm »
The OP mentioned that he is already learning to code but he wants to get into what Dave does, so obviously he wants the hardware part of things.

BTW welcome to the forum. We have some young people here already so no worries, Although our younger (was 10) is now 11 as far as I know.
 

Offline bwat

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2014, 03:19:02 pm »
What did you use when you learned to program? A commodore? That's pretty much analogous to an Arduino.

My generation had to get the bad programming habits learned through years of 6502 assembly and BASIC programming beat out of them when they started university. Back then students had to share Sun workstations to run the tools needed for our assignments. Times have changed and kids have easy access to machines more powerful than yesteryear's expensive workstations. Today's kids don't have to learn to program at home on an Arduino, they have access to better tools.

I don't see top flight universities teaching students to program with microcontrollers. They're simply not good platforms for learning to program.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2014, 03:21:20 pm by bwat »
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Offline EEVblog

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2014, 03:43:52 pm »
Buy a breadboard, components, power supply, a cheap oscilloscope, and start playing around building circuits that interest you.
You learn best by doing things you enjoy, and or correctly failing at doing things you enjoy so you learn it failed, that's when the learning happens.
 

Offline FrankenPC

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2014, 04:00:01 pm »
Check out this book: 
http://www.amazon.com/Forrest-Mims-Engineers-Notebook/dp/1878707035/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1403761940&sr=8-2&keywords=Forrest+mimms

It's what got me interested in the electronics side of things.  I'm also a programmer who got interested in electronics after the fact.  There are two basic sides to electronics:  analog and digital.  And in digital, there's big differences depending on how fast you want to go.  Analog can get complicated really quick.  Digital, being basically on and off is much simpler.  Thankfully there's a lot to play with in the digital arena that's really entertaining without too much effort (like microcontrollers). 

It was much easier for me to start with digital and work backwards to analog.  That Forrest Mims book can get you going pretty fast if you work through it.   It's mostly digital with a little basic analog electronics mixed in. 
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Offline XOIIO

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2014, 04:10:42 pm »
arduino is a good way to get into programming
I have to disagree with you here. For the electronics enthusiast it's great but it's not so great a platform for learning about programming. The general purpose desktop computer is much better suited and there are plenty of free interpreters and compilers for the student to download and use.  If you've got a modern PC and want a good computer science grounding on the cheap then download this http://fldit-www.cs.uni-dortmund.de/~peter/PS07/HR.pdf and work through it.

If a student had 100$ and wanted to become a better programmer then I would advise them to buy
http://www.amazon.com/From-Frege-Godel-Mathematical-1879-1931/dp/0674324498/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403758232&sr=8-1&keywords=from+frege+to+g%C3%B6del
before they bought this
http://www.amazon.com/Arduino-Starter-Official-170-page-Projects/dp/B009UKZV0A/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1403758245&sr=8-2&keywords=arduino

The first one will make you a better thinker and consequently a better programmer, the second one wont.

I apologise in advance to the arduino fans out there.

What did you use when you learned to program? A commodore? That's pretty much analogous to an Arduino. Also, only chumps buy $100 starter kits for $5 microcontrollers.

What's with all the arduino hate? and seriously, anyone with common sense wouldn't buy a damn kit, I bought a clone for a few bucks, some attiny's and an USB ICSP adapter to get into it.

Besides we don't know what sort of programming he wants to do yet. Is it making electronics devices and stuff, or programs for PC with GUI's and stuff like that. Hell, I started getting into programming with batch scripts.

Arduino is going to be a hell of a lot easier than trying to learn assembly at the start.

Offline miguelvp

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2014, 04:16:30 pm »
Maybe too much (University entry level) but a free online course,  but at least you'll pick concepts on circuits from it:
https://www.edx.org/course/mitx/mitx-6-002x-circuits-electronics-2606

Class starts 25 Aug 2014 and requires 12 hours a week of your time.

Don't get discouraged by it if you get stuck since you might not have all the requirements but it does cover the basics in an engineering way (not a lot of heavy math, some but minimal as in you don't have to really know about derivatives and integration but just a concept of what they are to understand some of the first classes). At least you will get the concepts of circuits and will help you when you have to study it for real.

Edit: if you want embedded systems instead, there is an archived course as well, I haven't taken a look at this one so not sure if it's good or not.
https://www.edx.org/course/utaustinx/utaustinx-ut-6-01x-embedded-systems-1172
« Last Edit: June 26, 2014, 04:25:31 pm by miguelvp »
 

Offline Sparc

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2014, 06:50:24 pm »
I'm trying to think of where I was when 15.  I had a lot of interest and great motive to learn but information was lacking.  I did have a PC computer and some very basic Radio-Shack-level electronics components.  The internet and WWW barely existed, though there was BBS.  The only sources of information I had was the library and bookstores.  Library had some obsolete books, like "Program BASIC on the TSR-80".   Bookstores had some weird titles like "Gadgeteers Goldmine Circuits for the Mad Evil Genius".  Just getting good information on the basics was difficult. 

2 things would have been extremely helpful to me at that time.  One, would be to have a mentor or somebody I could ask questions about computers and electronics.  Second, would have been real textbooks that explain the basics, like Ohm's law, Kirchoff's laws, truth tables, circuit analysis, etc.   I think there is no real substitute to having this basic information.  Even if you don't read textbooks cover to cover, having them as reference is very helpful.

My advice for the original poster, would be to find some mentor at school, maybe a science teacher, or join the school computer or electronics clubs if they exist.  I guess internet forums and Youtube can fulfill some of this role now.

Second, would be to stock up on textbooks, first year college textbooks give the basic information, math, physics, electronics, programming, etc.  New textbooks are absurdly expensive, $100-150.  But, planned obsolescence is built into college textbooks, so you can find used editions on Amazon, 1-2 editions old, for $1-10.   The internet is great, but I think having a nice collection of textbooks that cover the basics in a formal way is important.   If you continue on and go to college you'll get that information.

I'd also second Dave's reply, get some breadboard, power supply, components and start experimenting on what interests you.
 

Offline miceuz

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2014, 07:17:47 pm »
Could anyone give me advice on where to begin learning about some of this stuff? Any and all advice is appreciated, thank you for your time.

I'd say pick a project. Something you really need - maybe something practical, maybe something to show off to your parents, (girl)friends, classmates, etc. Then start asking questions. Try to find balance for the scope of the project between unachievable and trivial, the best is when the project is just outside of your comfort zone so you have to learn something but not overwhelmed. 

If you *really* want to build that thing, it will drag you down the path to The Knowledge.  :-+

Offline Kremmen

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2014, 07:24:36 pm »
Buy a breadboard, components, power supply, a cheap oscilloscope, and start playing around building circuits that interest you.
You learn best by doing things you enjoy, and or correctly failing at doing things you enjoy so you learn it failed, that's when the learning happens.
+1 to this, only maybe instead of a 'scope i would start with a multimeter and soldering iron. Sure you can do without the iron on a breadboard but soldering is an essential skill so why not start with it right away.
Did someone already mention kits? You get the satisfaction of actually getting the thing to work, you can practice your assembly skills and of course a proper kit will have the schematics and functional description. These will teach you a lot if you put your mind to it.

As in all skills building, rapid feedback is essential. So don't waste time for too much initial theory because that will only sour the subject before you get anywhere. Instead build something that works and figure out why. Then tinker with it, changing things until it works differently or explodes. Again. learn what happened and why. Then get a dose of more theory. Rinse and repeat until done (which is hopefully never).
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Offline hamster_nz

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2014, 08:07:01 pm »
I've played with electronics for ages (building kits, reading magazines), but never really learned much theory until picking up a textbook on sale at a university book store. Building things is fun, understanding how they work is far more interesting - and helps no end when troubleshooting!

Maybe ask around and see if anybody an old text lying around.
 

Offline saturation

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #13 on: June 26, 2014, 11:15:32 pm »
Its best to know how components are put together and leave soldering for last. 

You can buy an entire education system to build 50-500 'kits' without soldering for $50-200.  Add a basic DMM such as a cheapo Harbor Freight DMM $5 and a cheapo DSO nano level oscilloscope, $100 solely for use in analyzing the circuits in the kits.  You are set. 

If you find this is not your ken, you are not out too much money either, < $180 for the Radio Shack version with DMM and scope.

What most folks fail to do when getting these kits is to do a full circuit analysis of what they build, they run through each project for the novelty of what it does.   If you never design your own,  you really don't know electronics beyond being a factory floor assembler, so understand those little kits in as much detail is far more involved that just assembling them.  Circuit analysis means stuff like Ohms Law, Thevenin, Kirchhoff, transistor biasing and others.

The Radio Shack one is easily available OTS in the USA, with manuals written by Forrest Mims.  Its mostly analog to digital logic.  You can supplement the manuals with many free references online on the web.  There are others out there too for different countries, such as the Elenco kits, at bottom, which covers analog up to microcontrollers with programming.

$70 in USA.

http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=28733516&utm_source=GooglePLA&utm_medium=pla&utm_term=2800055&cid=iP:PLA:RSO:Google&gclid=CPis9f_Hl78CFULK4AodqhEAdA&gclsrc=ds#



$200 at Amazon.



You can learn to solder well in a few days with specific kits made to teach soldering with different technologies.   But what good is soldering if you don't know how to design unless your goal is to just assemble kits, then soldering becomes the first skill to learn.

http://www.goldmine-elec-products.com/prodinfo.asp?number=C7045

Finally, designers need to know how to make their own PCBs.  Start by making crude hand made ones so you know the principle of it. 

http://video.mit.edu/watch/how-to-make-your-own-circuit-board-24537/

Most PCBs you see are professionally drafted on computer software but follow similar principles.  Making such PCBs requires one to know the drafting software and is only required if what you design has the potential to move into mass production.

http://www.cadsoftusa.com/eagle-pcb-design-software/product-overview/?language=en

Otherwise putting effort into drafting a PCB for making a few PCBs is not worth the effort as you can deadbug construct designs with very high performance capabilities:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point-to-point_construction#.22Dead_bug.22_construction

« Last Edit: June 26, 2014, 11:52:18 pm by saturation »
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Offline jlmoon

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #14 on: June 26, 2014, 11:52:11 pm »
Buy a breadboard, components, power supply, a cheap oscilloscope, and start playing around building circuits that interest you.
You learn best by doing things you enjoy, and or correctly failing at doing things you enjoy so you learn it failed, that's when the learning happens.

I agree, for every part or device you want to learn about .. buy 10 because you will probably wind up blowing up 8 of them before you master the device.  No better way to learn hardware than to actually build / breadboard , make changes and observe and question the principles.  Computers, embedded systems no better way to learn than to actually code or hack until you understand what is going on with each pin or module within a part.  A few textbooks hanging around are of great help as well.  I believe the late Dave Pease wrote one of the best books on Analog techniques along with "The Art and Science of Analog Circuit Design" by Jim Williams.  These should be standard references on your bookshelf of knowledge.   

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Offline SL4P

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #15 on: June 27, 2014, 12:03:37 am »
All those toolkits and processors will only help you get into more trouble without learning ''why''.
They're great use, and fun to work with, but there are a few basics that will help you avoid blowing up your micro's, tools, LEDs, power supplies and PC ports..

EDIT: Yes - a solderless breadboard is worth it's weight in plastic.

Learn all the intro stuff.  Voltage, Current, polarity, AC/DC etc.
Then with as simple as a LED, bunch of resistors and a battery pack - get into what the very circuitry around a LED does - and why it's different to a small 3V bulb.  Add a small silicon diode - what happens ? (try reversing it).  Is the lamp voltage still the same with the diode in and conducting?

See what happens regarding current draw - using a multimeter on those LED/bulb scenarios.  Think about the voltage & current presented to a TTL or Micro pin with the bulb or LED connected... you can learn a little about reading a data sheet too.

Once you have these figured out - you can understand about schematic symbols - try drawing the LED circuit as a 'proper' schematic on paper so you know why each element is there, and what they do.

Perhaps then -  use a small NPN transistor to sink the bulb from the TTL/micro pin.  Another component learned in small steps.  Consider why a PNP transistor behaves differently in a similar (but clearly different - source) circuit layout.

The tools to do this at a beginner level can be had for under $10, and you can step up and onward as your knowledge progresses.

Add an arduino (easiest staring point) for $20 when you know how not to cook the I/O pins.  It';s easy to step out of the Arduino IDE when you have the basic hardware anbd software skills.  They just hold your hand for the early steps.

Good luck
« Last Edit: June 27, 2014, 12:06:47 am by SL4P »
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Offline jlmoon

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #16 on: June 27, 2014, 01:50:44 am »
Quote
I have to disagree with you here. For the electronics enthusiast it's great but it's not so great a platform for learning about programming. The general purpose desktop computer is much better suited and there are plenty of free interpreters and compilers for the student to download and use.  If you've got a modern PC and want a good computer science grounding on the cheap then download this http://fldit-www.cs.uni-dortmund.de/~peter/PS07/HR.pdf and work through it.


Not to be slight.. but if I was a 15 y/o and wanted to delve into electronics and was presented with the text in link above (Haskell Interpretation to programming / Lisp ) I would have a very discouraged  feeling come over me.  Have to admit that is some great reading though, but only if you're at say a Jr level at a 4 year university, or maybe in a gifted & talented program. 
I think the typical 15 y/o wants to explore the physics behind the parts before him on a bread board and then explore the reasoning of failure or success.  I don't think the attention span of the avg 15 year old will allow for him to finish a text of this magnitude.   :phew:
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Offline jlmoon

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #17 on: June 27, 2014, 02:33:46 am »
I think there's a tendency for old and very experienced gurus to want to create the "ultimate kit" so that kids can learn better than they did. Those kits end up being far too complicated, expensive, and boring.

Trying to shoehorn yourself into someone else's curriculum typically isn't fun. Besides, these kits rarely look anything like the way the "gurus" learned.

I couldn't agree anymore.  If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't have spent so much money..  :palm:
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Offline cellularmitosis

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #18 on: June 27, 2014, 08:28:49 am »
Nothing beats the satisfaction of the first time you make an arduino blink an LED.  It sounds trivial, but it really gets you excited about tackling the next project!

A good second arduino project would probably having an arduino read the position of a potentiometer, and adjusting the position of a servo to match.

When I was younger, the appeal of actually making things interact with the real world (e.g. spinning a motor, moving a servo, etc) was definitely what seemed most exciting to me.  Later, the appeal to ethereal pursuits got me excited (e.g., "is this power supply stable?").
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Online VK5RC

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #19 on: June 27, 2014, 04:23:22 pm »
I would support the path recommended by Dave,  get some bits and start building,  letting the odd bit of 'magic smoke'  out (ie stuffing up) but do it in areas/projects you are interested in. I started with a power supply and an audio amplifier 40yrs ago.
  I am not so sure learning programming early is really useful,  (as a kid I learnt part of Fortran) by the time you need it to earn money the field will be totally different. Analogue stuff changes probably at a slower pace.
Remember that it should be fun.
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Offline bwat

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #20 on: June 27, 2014, 05:36:47 pm »
I am not so sure learning programming early is really useful,  (as a kid I learnt part of Fortran) by the time you need it to earn money the field will be totally different. Analogue stuff changes probably at a slower pace.
They'll repeal Ohm's law before programmers stop designing in terms of abstractions.  All of the major theoretical models for computation were in place by 1940, and all of the programming language families (imperative, functional, logical) were pretty much solidified by the middle of the 1980s. Programming is not a particularly fast moving field.  The design of the paper money in my wallet changes at a faster rate than the programming languages that I use.

To quote Robin Milner (Turing Award recipient and general "big name" in computer science):
Quote
The notion of calculational process, or algorithm, is a lot older than computing technology; so, oddly enough, a lot of computer science existed before modern computers.

"Who said that you should improve programming skills only at the workplace? Is the workplace even suitable for cultural improvement of any kind?" - Christophe Thibaut

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Offline abaxas

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #21 on: June 27, 2014, 07:32:34 pm »
Buy yourself an arduino starter kit (either official or cheapie from ebay) and the 'getting started with arduino' book.

Total cost ~$60 and start playing.


 

Offline steverino

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #22 on: June 28, 2014, 05:45:18 am »
I just stumbled upon some free instructional materials produced by Analog Devices and Digilent Inc.  I haven't looked at the material in any depth, but the content and presentation appear excellent.  Digilent sells a kit to go along with the instructional materials (video lectures hosted on youtube, power point presentations, pdfs, etc.).  The Digilent link is http://www.digilentinc.com/Classroom/RealAnalog/.  Note I have no association with either companies mentioned.
 

Offline Dave Turner

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #23 on: June 28, 2014, 07:41:40 am »
Truth is there is no one answer.

Monitor forums such as this, trying to ignore the inevitable sniping that occurs, the massed knowledge available is tremendous. Learn the basics (I'm still trying). Passive components are the key. Then work out which area interests you and follow that but don't let anyone tell you what that should be.

Remember what is right for one may not be for another, and for all of us our history colours our thoughts.

I started out with crystal radios, before risking my neck, at 8/9 years old, trying to repair a valve radio. This with an ammeter and handful of resistors for shunts/in-lines and no understanding from my parents who considered that 'there lay dragons'. I got my first multimeter a year later together with a electronic experimenters' kit similar to the mark minus 2 of those depicted earlier in the thread.
 
Army surplus stores then (1960s) had oodles of kit and components for next to nothing, plus maybe a bit of sweeping. IC's followed (RTL, DTL then wonder on wonder micro's; then later, in 76, 2k x 1 static memory chip cost £12 at hobbyist prices and the 40pin Z80 cost £100.

At that time there was a plethora of electronics magazines, shortly to be smothered by magazines based around the 'new' microprocessors, which as a hobbyist, was our major source of information, but with the ever increasing miniaturization both analogue and digital products were proliferating and it was difficult to keep up.

I had email from the mid 80's and had used it (command line) in the 70's but the real difference came in the 90's when Windows took the word by storm and an internet connection, albeit my modem, became prevalent. This gave access to the internet by the 'masses' and the rest is history. Please don't shoot me down on exact dates I'm trying to severely condense this.
Electronics and computer magazines, excluding gaming, latest gadgets et al, whilst not extinct became much less prevalent.

The outcome was that generally people turn to the internet for information because it's easier than looking information up in probably outdated printed matter almost regardless of whether said internet data is true.

The point behind all this is that electronics and programming are vast subjects compared to what they were even only 20 years ago and it will only get bigger. Just possibly 50 years ago a genius with exceptional memory might just have been able to 'know' all about practical electronics but I doubt it. These days it is important to recognize that you can't know it all.


So again, learn the basics, find what interests you, and only then decide.
 

Online David Hess

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Re: Advice for novice
« Reply #24 on: June 28, 2014, 10:00:21 am »
When someone asks this question about telescopes and astronomy, the universal recommendation is to get subscriptions to astronomy magazines and start reading.  I have to make the same recommendation.  In the US we used to have Radio-Electronics but I think we are down to just QST and QEX now which are oriented toward amateur radio.  The EU still has Elektor magazine.  I think Australia has a locally grown electronics magazine as well.

I also learned a lot from various trade magazines like Electronics Design and EDN.

Application and design notes from companies like Linear Technology, National Semiconductor, and Analog Devices are invaluable.

Do not discount old electronics books.  The circuits, devices, and math has not changed and many things get rediscovered every couple decades.
 


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