Author Topic: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?  (Read 19342 times)

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Offline ChrisGammell

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Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« on: June 05, 2013, 05:46:34 pm »
So I announced Contextual Electronics on The Amp Hour this week. Any thoughts here?

http://contextualelectronics.com
 

Offline AlfBaz

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2013, 12:04:18 am »
Hi Chris

Great idea!
Unfortunately I know squat about marketing but having been subjected to it extensively I can't help but feel that the current version of your site is lacking

Since I know precious little about marketing I can't give advice, only opinion based on what gets me excited about electronics

The opening page should be an eye grabber, pictures of scopes, soldering stations, test setups, bench and/or multimeters, components and other salivating things. Bullet points of the unique nature of the class... In other words make the page exciting to the point where you want to watch the video.

With the intro video try and make it a little more slick by doing more production, panning shots of PCB's, test equipment, screen grabs from kicad etc with voice over, possibly research marketing techniques. Tease and entice us to want more info that you can then provide in the second video

Just be careful not to go over the top and make it look cheesy

My 2 cents
 

Offline chicken

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2013, 12:36:00 am »
Don't worry about polish, content is king!

IMO the sign-up page and the posted videos are perfectly fine production quality wise. Maybe adding more specifics about the curriculum as you flesh out the details.
 

Offline ChrisGammell

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2013, 03:41:27 am »
Much like I do when I go to Chipotle for a burrito...I'm going to go with chicken on this one ;-)

AlfBaz, good suggestions, but for right now I'm going mainly for listeners of The Amp Hour and followers on Twitter/YouTube. As I try to pull in others that might not be familiar with the other things (or god forbid, don't know what EEVblog is!), I'll consider your ideas, they're great.
 

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2013, 08:51:56 am »
Hi Chris,  I come from a completely non-electronics background (6 yrs at art school) so I can very much relate to the message in your videos.  The most important thing you left out was, how much will it cost?  is it free?    Also if I can't see examples of what is being taught, and the token clip of some geeky nerds smiling and saying how it helped them I don't think i'd be inclined to even sign-up!     

Practically all of my very limited and basic electronics knowledge comes from the web, and as a learning channel I've found it's becoming every increasingly "noisy" - so what you're proposing is a nice concept!    but I think you really need to look closer at the marketing side,  also regarding visual impact, I'd have to agree completely with AlfBaz.
 

Offline AlfBaz

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2013, 09:28:51 am »
...but for right now I'm going mainly for listeners of The Amp Hour and followers on Twitter/YouTube.
:)
I was almost going to say in my original post that what you have so far is great if interested parties already knew you from your internet presence
 

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2013, 10:15:46 am »
The most important thing you left out was, how much will it cost?  is it free?

I can answer for Chris, as we mentioned this on the Amp Hour, no it's not free. There will be a few bits of good free teaser content, but mostly it's a paid content/service system.

I think it's a good concept in principle, but in practice will of course have a few obvious issues to contend with.
The biggest one I see is everyone potentially wanting individual attention, in which case Chris's wife will likely leave him  ;D
And about the google hangouts etc. I'm not sure how practical that is if say 1000 people sign up and all want and expect to be part of the action. But I guess only a certain percentage will want to do that anyway, so probably self regulating in that respect.

Sounds like Chris is basically going for the full service concept.
My plans for paid content on the other hand are the opposite (if I ever get off my arse and do it):
I will produce whatever content I like whenever I like, and people can buy it one-off (or maybe a series set of videos). No support offered at all, just like when you buy a book for example.
A few will be free, and if you like it and want more, you can buy them. If not, be happy with your freebie and my regular free blog content.
 

Offline lgbeno

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Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2013, 12:18:42 pm »
Hi guys, I do like the concept quite a bit.  Seems like a second full time job on Chris' side though! 

WRT paid content vs free, it is probably a matter of reach, you will probably service 10x of the audience if its free and even of it cost 10 cents, a smaller subset of the population would avoid it simply because you would need to give credit card info, login, all of that stuff...

I don't think that there is a really great answer to how to make a endeavor like this worth your time and effort but I think that one possibility would be high margin on the actual hardware being delivered or swag like the amp hour t shirts. 

Like Dave says, people expect a lot more service when it's paid for so controlling expectations will be important.

Regardless Chris, I think that it's a great concept and I commend you for getting it started! 

Maybe it's easier to have a sponsor and give things away like the amp hour?  Or donation model for those more generous and supportive fans.
 

Offline lgbeno

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Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2013, 12:53:05 pm »
Just making a post to revive this thread :)

Dave wrt to your paid content, is there a price range that you were thinking about?  I could see where some of the design series like content could be valuable enough to pay for.  Still some of my favorites...  But I know that those also take the most time/work as well.

Now that I've said that, sounds like Chris' project except for the added community aspects.  Regardless, looking forward to more details!
 

Offline N TYPE

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2013, 02:45:44 pm »
One thing which came to mind was where do you start? If its for absolute beginners then you have to mention what is volts, amps, what is an opamp, what is inductance, how to use an oscilloscope etc, and your more experienced students may get bored quickly.. on the other hand, if you jump in and make assumptions about what your students should know already, then the beginners (albeit having the best intentions) may feel overwhelmed and ripped off.
I guess my suggestion would be to offer different levels of course, or at least be specific about who the course is for.

I like to think that your target audience would in the similar situation as myself - I know the basics, I can flash an LED, take measurements,  build simple circuits on a breadboard, but have no idea when it comes to designing a useful electronic device...
I'd love to see this thing go ahead, and looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.  :-+
 

Offline lgbeno

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Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2013, 12:58:27 pm »
One thing which came to mind was where do you start? If its for absolute beginners then you have to mention what is volts, amps, what is an opamp, what is inductance, how to use an oscilloscope etc, and your more experienced students may get bored quickly..

I think that's a great question

My 2 cents (right or wrong), even for beginners, they don't need to be spoon fed that info.  I always found that if I had a forcing reason to figure something out to get up to speed with more advanced engineers, I would do so on my own time, that means that would be a lot more work for beginners but more fulfilling in the end.  Of course the community aspect of the course would allow those individuals to ask as many questions as needed to get the answers that they need which is a pretty powerful thing.

I remember in college, most of the stuff that I retained was learned in the lab talking with my peers and practicing, the lecture was just the forcing function to make those questions occur.
 

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2013, 01:14:50 pm »
Dave wrt to your paid content, is there a price range that you were thinking about? 

I was thinking the impulse buy "phone app" type pricing model would be better. So it would likely be dollars, not tens of dollars.
But that's for one-off videos, not series or sets etc.

Quote
Now that I've said that, sounds like Chris' project except for the added community aspects.  Regardless, looking forward to more details!

AFAIK Chris is ultimately working toward the regular subscriber model.
I most definitely don't want regular subscribers, because that puts you under pressure to continually produce material. I have enough pressure already, I don't need any more!
My material, if it ever happens, will be one-off, with absolutely no expectation on me to produce any more.
 

Offline AlfBaz

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #12 on: June 16, 2013, 02:02:57 am »
My material, if it ever happens, will be one-off, with absolutely no expectation on me to produce any more.
You are so Ozzie Dave   :) :-+
 

Offline lgbeno

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Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #13 on: June 16, 2013, 06:54:29 am »
Good way of putting it Dave, I think that the pressure would be great as well, that's just the unfortunate thing about collecting money for something.  Charge $10 a month and people will want 10hrs of content or something like that.

I could certainly see where the ala carte model where videos sit on the shelf and customers know what they are buying before they pay up would be better.  Especially if it is a small price like $1 or $2.  I guess what I don't know is how to get the distribution system setup to enable that sort of thing.  Is that a new web service that someone need to create?  Sort of like iTunes meets YouTube...
 

Offline ChrisGammell

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #14 on: June 23, 2013, 12:27:21 am »
Dave wrt to your paid content, is there a price range that you were thinking about? 

I was thinking the impulse buy "phone app" type pricing model would be better. So it would likely be dollars, not tens of dollars.
But that's for one-off videos, not series or sets etc.

Quote
Now that I've said that, sounds like Chris' project except for the added community aspects.  Regardless, looking forward to more details!

AFAIK Chris is ultimately working toward the regular subscriber model.
I most definitely don't want regular subscribers, because that puts you under pressure to continually produce material. I have enough pressure already, I don't need any more!
My material, if it ever happens, will be one-off, with absolutely no expectation on me to produce any more.

That was initially the idea, but I wanted to clarify that's not the case anymore. This will be buying the entire 10 week course and following along. No recurring subscriptions.
 

Offline tanstaafl

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #15 on: June 23, 2013, 07:31:30 pm »
Can you give a rough idea of how much it will cost?

Faq says: "aim to make it cheaper than a (US) community college class", have no idea what a US community college class cost... :D
 

Offline cthree

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #16 on: June 23, 2013, 09:05:24 pm »
Under a hundred bucks
 

Offline cthree

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #17 on: June 24, 2013, 07:52:36 pm »
Allow me to share a couple of thoughts since I'm probably the kind of person this is aimed at and will probably sign up for it.

Focus on a few specific outcomes. Decide what hobbyists going to want to be able to build and focus your attention on teaching us how to build those types of circuits. While you are doing that it would be a good idea to have vectors which go into more detail like good books, websites or videos which do more into the fundamentals.

Some of the things that I think are good basic skills and topics:

1. Basic electrical and electronic terms and formulas (ohms law, etc.) Make this one free? Add how to use basic kit you will use when building circuits: a multimeter, breadboard, leads, wire.

2. Simple LED blink lesson using a 9V battery, an LED, a 555 timer and fixed resistors. Use the multimeter to probe the circuit, discuss LEDs and the 555 timer IC.

3. Change the circuit by adding a pot and a low side N channel MOSFET and a couple more LEDs making it an LED dimmer. Talk about N-channel MOSFETs as simple switches. Introduce basic schematic drawings and how to read datasheets.

4. Drive a small DC motor with a half H bridge constructed using N and P channel MOSFETs. Talk about inductive loads, talk about diodes, expand on LED discussion before.

5. Expand on #4, make the motor control circuit a full H bridge. Use an Arduino Uno to do PWM motor speed control, a tactile switch to do motor direction control, braking and freewheeling, etc. Add a voltage regulator to power the Arduino and motors from different rails.

6. Build a simple single output low voltage project power supply using all the components introduced so far. Introduce amplification, BJT transistors, dissipating heat with heat sinks. Dump the Arduino for an ATmega328. Connect an I2C LCD display and discuss serial bus.

7. Expand on #6, Build a variable bench power supply, Introduce op amps, negative voltage, explain constant voltage, constant current, "noise" effects, introduce the oscilloscope and how to connect it to the circuit and use its basic functions to probe the bench supply.

8. Wrap up. Design the PCB for the bench supply, get it made (OSHPark?), solder all the components, through hole and SMT, and put it in a project box ordered from Digikey (sponsorship opportunity?) to make a complete hobby bench power supply with LEDs, load switch, LCD readout and binding posts.

That would be the general lesson plan if I were to choose it. I'm sure there are lots of other opinions out there about what is important and I'm sure I've left stuff out but this gets a student to:

controlling and powering LEDs, using Arduino and standalone micro controllers, driving and controlling DC motors and basic DC power supply construction as well as enough theory, tools and foundation to design these types of circuits on their own.

I could see a couple of intermediate tracks from here, lighting, audio, toys and robotics, etc.

8 weeks, $99. Include a box of parts students will need to make everything except lesson #8 and the Arduino. You could skip the Arduino but a lot of people will encounter them so having a small introduction would be good so people know what they are about and can decide if they are appropriate for their projects.

Hope this is useful.
 

Offline cthree

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #18 on: June 24, 2013, 08:02:32 pm »
For #6 and 7, on reflection #6 should discuss capacitors, decoupling and the LCD and I2C/SPI stuff should move to #7. I omitted AC and filters. To average people that stuff is black magic. How you work that in is important but obviously there needs to a be a little of it, even if it's just some really basic RC filtering.

Why contextual? I'm not exactly sure what you mean by that.
 

Offline ChrisGammell

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #19 on: June 24, 2013, 08:29:31 pm »
All your suggestions are really great! However, the course will be targeting people who have already tackled some of those basics (though it's not a requirement).

The "Contextual" refers to the fact that the course will be a single project (designing an arduino shield) with multiple opportunities to learn different concepts. So each time the project introduces a new concept (such as op amps or decoupling), there will be an explanation of the concept as its implemented. The idea behind it is that beginners and even intermediate people feel such pressure to learn everything at the beginning that it becomes paralyzing. Instead, this will be lessons as they're needed and with the context of the larger project around them. It's tough when you want to start MAKING something, but you're told to start at the very beginning with small pieces. Instead this is a larger project, with the smaller pieces being explained as we go. There will be multiple resources (as you suggested) to go learn more, but really this course is for building electronics, not learning about the basics. It's funny because I took your number 8 suggestion and  built the entire course around that...because that's the hard part in my opinion! :-D

This is hardly comprehensive, but here is an early outline of the course and the videos I've started making in preparation: http://contextualelectronics.com/july-ce-course-outline/

There will be many more, and the KiCAD course will be a supplemental section to actually get to know the software as you're putting together a board.

Pricing is a little different than what I'm planning, but I'll release that info soon. I can confirm there will be a sub-$100 option though. This seems to match or beat every hackerspace class out there. Example: http://nycresistor.eventbrite.com/
 

Offline cthree

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #20 on: June 26, 2013, 04:27:28 am »
Great, it sounds like I sort of understand your concept.

But... If it is beginners who feel the pressure to know so much up front before doing anything useful and you mean to reduce that burden then are you not in fact directing this at beginners or is it towards those who have already crossed that bridge?

I consider myself a beginner having built my first actual circuit only about a month ago but I've been reading app notes, data sheets, art of electronics both the book and student manual nonstop and watched almost all of Dave's videos, even a couple warmed over live episodes over the last 6 months. My head is swimming with electronics, it's what I think ablaut when I go to sleep and what I think about when I wake up. I'm kind of obsessed with hardware after spending 25 years writing all manner of code.

That said, I built an Arduino Shield this morning over coffee to program sketches to an ATtiny85 using an UNO as ISP and then in the afternoon I transferred a programmed ATtiny85 to a breadboard and built up a working circuit using LEDs, MOSFETs and an ultrasonic range sensor I bought on eBay to help me pull my car in the garage the proper distance and get rid of the tennis ball hanging from a string. I put the car in the correct position, push a button which sets the range in EEPROM and the red LED lights up. When you pull out the green LED turns on and when you pull back in the red LED comes on when you reach the set point stored in EEPROM.

I guess from my point of view I'd like to start with something useful and then dig in and learn what I need to make it work. I'd like to learn about op amps but only if I'm going to find them to be a generally useful tool in my toolbox. I know what op amps are and what they generally do but I can't think of a application for using one off the top of my head. If you can enlighten me as to why they are useful, like a No.2 Phillips screwdriver, I would be grateful. I'd like to come away from it thinking "hmmm, this is a perfect application for an op amp". I know about negative feedback and positive feedback and inverting and non inverting inputs but I'm still clueless as to why any of it matters. I'm sure it does because everyone keeps talking about them but I'm not there yet. I know a lot but understand little.

KiCAD is cool but I already own Eagle standard with the hobby license and I've already designed a couple of schematics and laid out some PCBs, I'm waiting for my first prototype PCB to come back from China right now. I'd still be interested in the general skills and techniques you use to layout PCBs so I might take it anyway.
 

Offline ChrisGammell

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #21 on: June 26, 2013, 01:31:19 pm »
I know about negative feedback and positive feedback and inverting and non inverting inputs but I'm still clueless as to why any of it matters. I'm sure it does because everyone keeps talking about them but I'm not there yet. I know a lot but understand little.

Amen! This is exactly what I want to convey. I want to help people that are getting started and screaming, "WHY DOES THIS MATTER???" (that was my experience in class and labs). That's why I want to teach stuff in the context of building a project.

That all said, the people I'm targeting are actually just like you. What I've been saying is "Advanced Arduino Users". Looking to get building other hardware after having tackled some kits and breadboarding. The reality is, breadboarding is still only possible by prototyping these days. Through hole parts just aren't available in a large enough quantities or variety to make it worth it.
 

Offline cthree

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #22 on: June 27, 2013, 03:58:13 am »
Excellent, I guess I'm in then if I'm not the only one :)

I bought some of those SMT/0.1" breakout PCBs from Adafruit which have proven handy. I populated some with some of my common parts and keep them in my proto part box. I'd like to see more DIP packages, even if they charge a premium (as they do anyway). Their SMT parts might get spec'd into more projects if they had an easy to use version for breadboard use.
 

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #23 on: June 27, 2013, 11:08:48 am »
I'd like to come away from it thinking "hmmm, this is a perfect application for an op amp". I know about negative feedback and positive feedback and inverting and non inverting inputs but I'm still clueless as to why any of it matters. 

Feedback matters as it pretty much tells what you want the op amp to do.

This is what makes them so versatile.

Eg to to vary how much the stage will amplify then you change the feedback circuitry.

If you want the stage to pass only a limited audio bandwidth they you put capacitors in to restrict amplification above and below a centre frequency.

If you apply positive feedback to an amplifier then it becomes an oscillator.  If intended as an amplifier that's a bad thing, but there's lots of cases where you deliberately want to generate a  signal, whether for a sound effects generator, test equipment or radio transmitter.

You only need a small number of unique parts to create building blocks like amplifiers, oscillators and filters.  They just need to be connected the right way. Controlling feedback is an important part of achieving this.
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Offline NerdCore

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Re: Any thoughts about the idea of Contextual Electronics?
« Reply #24 on: July 11, 2013, 01:59:53 pm »
I'm sorry to burst the bubble. But in the age of open, accessible, and free online information, a paid subscription model is VERY difficult to get returns from. You can take courses (old ones) from MIT/Case/Carnegie Mellon/Harvard/Stanford/ect for free now. They do this to get you interested in the school so you will attend or advertise the school to someone else so they will attend. Also, with a bit of spirited googling you can find a forum post to answer almost any question, or join that forum to get your question answered. That, or go to YouTube and find a video for just about anything you want.

Fundamentals in any subject are all over the internet. The internet and YouTube is literally saturated with fundamentals. People who want advanced information on a person to person bases, (Those who want tutoring for high level bachelors classes/ masters classes and advanced hobbyists) are the ones you should be targeting. Unfortunately, the resources the college students need are available locally to them on campus. You're left with advanced hobbyists.

I don't think the paid business model is going to net you any substantial income, but will ultimately waste your time for minimal returns. The best thing to do is get your content out there free and get sponsors for products you recommend or require for the tutorial. Unfortunately in the age of free information, getting paid is difficult. The business model for online content is simple: Your content is the hook to get people attached to your sponsors. period.
 


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