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EEV Blog Suggestion - n00b's guide to getting started in IC's

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stormBytes:
Hello All,

I'm very new to the world of electronics and microcontrollers - a 'late bloomer' of sorts. I'm really frustrated by the lack of clear, sensible and down to earth learning resources out there. I am referring to the PIC platform specifically, as I chose to start off with PIC and ASM rather then jumping into a compiled language. I felt this would provide a solid foundation in the inner workings of microcontrollers, hoping eventually to progress to a higher level programming language.

The thing is, all the books out there may as well be written in chinese! I am of course grossly generalizing, but having invested my time in what has amounted (so far) to 'dabbling', I'm sure you can understand where I'm coming from.

I thought it might be terrific for us n00bs if Dave were to dedicate an EEV episode offering guidance on how to get started learning electronic circuits and microcontrollers. I know a lot of people are going to tell me to just pick up an Arduino board, but I chose to take a more conservative approach and feel that PIC/ASM, at least initially, presented a solid opportunity. Contrary to general impressions, ASM isn't all that complicated! It's all of 35 directives and the trickiest part is learning to 'think like a computer'.

I've tried the book route (and continue to do so) without much success. I think I can summarize my issues as follows, baring in mind that most books aren't limited to just one of these shortcomings:

1. Many books deal with the 16F84 - a micro that's both out of date, hard to come by and relatively expensive!

2. While offering a nice-and-slow initial introduction, many authors jump ahead of themselves without realizing they've left their reader in the dust!

3. A lot of books are just a damned HARD READ! You'd think some of these authors majored in English lit rather then Engineering!

Well that's it for my (initial) rant. It's nice to find and join this forum (I don't get why Dave doesn't promote the site more prominently on the EEV blog, I came across it incidentally!).

Thanks for hearing me out, and I look forward to brainstorming with you folks!

Cheers,
Daniel

This is of course merely a suggestion

Veramacor:
Stormbytes,

I wouldn't choose 16F84 as my first PIC.  A real good mid range PIC that I am learning on is the 16F886 DIP Pin version (not the surface mount one).   Its going to be around for a while and is pretty cheap (<$3US),  has more memory (7K) , and more pins to play with. 

It comes in a 28 pin or 40 pin package and includes serial UART communication if you want to get into that.  There are 16F pics that have USB capability, but speaking as an inexperienced individual myself I would shy away from that complexity.

I've blown a few pics already, but at $3 a pop its not a big deal.   I started out with parallax's basic chip, but they want FIFTY DOLLARS per chip.   

Dave mentioned Picaxe which is like Arduino as they have their own boot loader,  but like you I wanted more ground level control of the pic.

I've tried Great Cow Basic which allows you to compile .hex files for free, but I found that limiting.   What I really love is Oshonsofts PIC Simulator IDE (for pic16F)  http://www.oshonsoft.com/index.html

It lets you write in basic or ASM, simulate the program and compile .hex files.   You can try it for free I think for 30 days.

Here is my El-Cheapo setup:

$13 icP01-V1 Programmer from www.piccircuit.com
$40 PIC Simulator IDE
$3 PIC16F886
$10 breadboard.
$ x number of radiohack resistors, caps etc


Bruno has some kick ass pic project examples here,

http://www.micro-examples.com/public/microex-navig/doc/200-pic-microcontroller-examples.html

but he uses a micro electronica development board.


Developments boards are cool and have lots of bells and whistles, but I do like to just be able to have a breadboad,  pic, resistor and led to start learning on.


If you already have the 16F84, here is a site I've referenced ...

http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~jchap/tvpropi2.htm










stormBytes:
Veramacor,

Thanks so much for the helpful insight. Actually, I was sort of throwing darts in the dark. I picked up an EasyPIC6 development board (not much good at my level) and spent a good deal of time reading tutorials and ebooks only to drop most of them half-way in for one reason or another. Some are too advanced, others have obsolete code. Lately I've been hacking away at Gooligum's tutorials. These are pretty good. He kind of skims through a lot of the material and forces me to catch up on my own, but all things being equal, its the best resource I've yet to find.

I did pick up a breadboard as well as a standalone ICD2 clone. This should help me through ASM debugging, or at least so I'd hope. As for chips, well.. I'm at the mercy of whatever chips are used in the tutorials. There's no point to buying a chip with a complicated novice-unfriendly (pronounced "pro") datasheet. Gooligum's site focuses (at least thus far) on the PIC15F509. While I don't have the chip, I'm trying to follow along as much as I can using the MPASM Sim utility to cycle through the code.

Ughhhh this should definitely NOT be THIS frustrating! There should be a video tutorial series for beginners to follow along, just enough to get on their feet! In fact, if I make it through this, I might actually record one! I think it'd ROCK if Dave gave the matter some thought. He's got a terrific, down to earth way of explaining things. I think he'd be a rockstar!

Okay... done with my rant. Back to my frustrating learning materials!

Veramacor:
Best Newbie Electronics YouTube Tutorials ever,





That is lesson One of about 11 videos of how to use EAGLE pcb.   At some point you are going to want to make a board, and Cadsoft Eagle is pretty popular design package.   You can download for free if you don't already have it, but there is a steep learning curve. 

Jason from RPC electronics was kind enough to make very good Tutorials on Eagle. 

I make my boards now using a home built CNC router, but I was blown away to see that RadioHack STILL sells PCB board Etchant.  You will find breadboarding gets real messy once you have a cool idea working.  All those jumper wires start getting annoying pretty fast!



stormBytes:
I've come across Eagle but it looked to me like a professional engineering platform. Steep learning curves are pretty much the norm where that's concerned. If you don't mind my asking, how (or rather, what for) do you use Eagle? Are you a hobbyist or pro? Also, might you elaborate a bit on the use of a "CNC router" for etching PCBs? I googled it, even youtube'd it, all I was able to come across were some woodworking stations.

Would love to hear more!

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