I have always been into Electrical Engineering and in fact is what I originally started going to college for. I however already had tons of knowledge and experience in Network Administration so that is my real career. I recently decided to not give up on something I love and I picked up several books relating to the subject and have been reading through
them sucking up as much knowledge as I possible can. I purchased an Arduino Duemilanove to get started with making things in the real world react to code I made in the virtual world. Here is a quick run down of the hardware. The Arduino comes in several flavors and are based on the ATmel MegaAVR ATmega 128, 328 or 1280 chips although others have been used as well. The ATmega 328 is the current most popular chip to see used on an Arduino and the current most popular version is the Duemilanove, the current most powerful “standard” Arduino is the MEGA.
I’m not going to list the full specs here since they can be found by clicking the links I just posted but I will say the 328 is a great little chip with plenty of I/O’s (inputs & Outputs) to get you started in the hobby. The best part is the mix of digital and analog I/O’s and the addition of PWM (pulse width modulation).
I taught myself VB Script and AutoIT (another scripting language) many years ago so I figured it couldn’t be too difficult to learn a new scripting based language. The Arduino uses code written in the Wiring Language using the Arduino IDE which is basically a modified version of the Processing language and Processing IDE. This language is a script based language similar to C++. The code itself is very easy to learn and use as well as the hardware. I decided to purchase a pre-built unit in a kit form although you can actually build it yourself and even program the ATmel ATMega bootloader on the chip yourself if you really wanted to.
I am definitely not a fan of Processing and one of my gripes is that when the Arduino hobbyist is ready to move on to bigger and better projects most of the stuff they learned from Arduino programming will be null and void. This is somewhat of a disappointment but it is what it is and I will still stand behind this platform as a great learning tool.
Since I already put in the time shopping around to find parts and supplies I will share my findings here.
I found 2 places that are great to get parts from if your within the US. They are
I found the best starter kits to be the ones from Adafruit. They have 2 worth mentioning.
Adafruit Duemilanove Starter Kit
Adafruit Duemilanove Budget Starter Kit
It seems the budget kit is better and cheaper than most other starter kits and is the kit I picked although I kinda wish I would have got the starter kit for the extra $15 now that I look at them again.
Sparkfun is another great site and a good place to get accessories. I highly recommend checking out their large LCD selection and pay special attention to their LCD backpack and the Serial LCD which is an LCD with the backpack already soldered on for you. If you don’t use a serial interface and want to use an LCD you will waste a bunch of pins on your Arduino just to send data to the LCD. The serial interface allows you to only use 1 TX pin on the Arduino which is the bees knees considering it only adds about $10 to the price.
The last thing you might need is a way to organize all of your new parts and bits. I found a couple cheap plastic boxes to hold my bigger parts but for the smaller stuff I needed some parts bins preferable with removable dividers. I was lucky enough that while searching for them Harbor Freight had a sale going on and I was able to get 3 of different sizes for a couple bucks each. I highly recommend signing up for the flyers and checking out the coupons FIRST before buying anything.
24 BinContainer $3.99
18 Bin Container $2.99
18 Bin Container $1.99
Fancy 19 Bin Container $7.99
Fancy 15 Bin Container $5.99
I looked everywhere for these and couldn’t seem to find them for under $10 each until looking at Harbor Freight. I bought one of each size of the cheaper bins and so far I am very happy with my purchase.
Although this one is slightly unrelated I would also like to post about my great WalMart find. I got this for just $1.
Another thing most will recommend and I highly recommend is books. I know the internet is a plethora of information at your fingertips but their are a few books that are worth mentioning here. I and many others will first recommend you buy all your books from Amazon, the reason is that the shipping is usually quite fast and the price is usually half of retail anywhere else. I would NOT buy the books from Sparkfun or Adafruit even if it is a part of a package deal. Here are a couple books I recommend to get you started in order.
This is a very cheap book and covers the basics plus it has a quick language reference in the back and some very simple projects you can make that are very easy to follow along with. If you don’t want any books at all I would still buy this one because of the price and it will help jump start your new hobby. This is the only book that I kept out while writing code for the Arduino during the first few weeks of owning my first Duemilanove because of its quick language reference in the back on the book.
This valuable little book offers a thorough introduction to the open-source electronics prototyping platform that’s taking the design and hobbyist world by storm. Getting Started with Arduino gives you lots of ideas for Arduino projects and helps you get going on them right away. From getting organized to putting the final touches on your prototype, all the information you need is right in the book.
This is another book I own and it does have some great projects but I am not sure how useful I have found it yet. One thing that bothers me about the book is that even if you are not interested in a project you are forced to read about it otherwise you might miss out on important general information that is covered in that chapter. Worth getting especially if their is a project covered your interested in and it covers some very basic EE stuff.
Create your own Arduino-based designs, gain in-depth knowledge of the architecture of Arduino, and learn the user-friendly Arduino language all in the context of practical projects that you can build yourself at home. Get hands-on experience using a variety of projects and recipes for everything from home automation to test equipment.
This book gets rave reviews and I am about 3/4 the way through it currently. Their are some parts I found very contradicting and some sections are harder to follow along than others. Their are many things I don’t like, for example the books explains in some sections as if your a total beginner and other sections as if you have taken some EE courses. I have also learned quite a bit so far from this book and will likely read it several more times so that is why I recommend it overall.
This book gives new graduate engineers, as well as experienced engineers who need a refresher, a leg up with their on-the-job training.