How to learn the ropes?

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by danforth, Jun 2, 2011.

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  1. danforth

    Thread Starter Member

    May 8, 2011
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    I admit I don't know much about even basic components and designing circuits, but it's something I really want to learn how to do. I am wondering where will I find the most leverage to become at least competent? In other words, what should I spend my time doing?

    I don't want to just buy a bunch of books and read about stuff that wastes time. You know, the stuff that doesn't matter, the stuff that you never even use. The filler.

    If you were to come to me and ask me, "what is the best way to learn how to fly a helicopter", I would reply, "simulator". A simulator is the absolute best way to spend time learning how to become a pilot.

    So, to all you experts out there that have years of experience under your belt, if you could go back in time and visit yourself when you were just a beginner, what would you say?
     
  2. KJ6EAD

    Senior Member

    Apr 30, 2011
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    Mathematics. It's the root of understanding in all physical sciences.
     
  3. #12

    Expert

    Nov 30, 2010
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    Ohms Law, Watts Law, and components. It's amazing how many people check in here and don't know that resistors have a wattage limit or how to calculate it.

    Read datasheets, application notes, and manufacturers catalogs. There are millions of components and there are more every day. If you know every spec on a MOSFET and what it means, you can actually use one in a design! Until then, you are guessing.
     
  4. Jaguarjoe

    Active Member

    Apr 7, 2010
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    Learn and use something like LT Spice. You can immagineer to your heart's content and never lose a wisp of smoke from the wires.
    Find a mentor. My dad would always tell me, "See Joe, what took me years to learn you got in 10 minutes."
    Get a copy of "The Art of Electronics" by Horowitz and Hill. Keep it near your crapper. Everytime you sit down read another topic. You can get a paperback copy pretty cheap.
    Find the US Navy NEETS program on the web and learn it.
     
  5. nsaspook

    AAC Fanatic!

    Aug 27, 2009
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    There are no short-cuts, to get good at anything takes time and practice on lots of things that seem like fluff to a beginner. Some of the best training guides are military because they have get a newbie up to speed in the shortest possible time unlike a formal school.

    http://jricher.com/NEETS/
     
  6. atferrari

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 6, 2004
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    A mentor, as said somewhere above, is good to have. I had not...

    Ohm's Law first of all. Plus a small breadboard, some resistors and LEDs to put it in practice.

    Then LTSpice, when you know that there are three basic things: resistors, capacitors and inductors.

    If you are more or less good at maths, get Malvino's book.

    And read a lot accompanied with lot of practical exercises. Do not bother with PCBs in the beginning.

    Take notes in a file.

    Once you are started, keep in mind this: for general questions Google first and for doubts in details come to the forum. Do not expect the basics explained in a short post. Makes no sense.


    All ladders you climb them, step by step. Buena suerte.
     
  7. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
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    Using a circuit simulator teaches you how to run a simulator. It does not teach you the all important "why."

    For someone just starting out I would really recommend getting some sort of "electronics learning lab" kit. If you're in the US Radio Shack sells one for $70 that got good reviews. There are certainly others out there, that's just one I found.

    That gives you a start with a few parts and a simple place to wire circuits together without any solder; soldering is it's own topic and you should avoid it for a while.

    So try a lab, post what you think here, and we'll help you thru it till you begin to think in electronics.
     
  8. someonesdad

    Senior Member

    Jul 7, 2009
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    This is an understandable goal, but a bit naive. Lemme give you an analogy. Suppose you're interested in learning to drive a car. You spend a lot of time with a simulator and get quite good at racing around tracks, dodging things in the city, learning rules of the road, etc. Then you decide you have the skills to drive a car from state A to state B. Great -- you take off and plan to drive the whole way on the freeway. You get part of the way there and boom! you have a flat. You nearly panic, but get the car safely to the side of the road. Nothing in your training ever trained you for this and you have no idea about how to change a flat tire. You're stuck.

    That same kind of thing's going to happen if you focus on some imaginary "essentials" which have been boiled down by someone. I emphasize that this boiled down knowledge isn't useless -- it's very useful -- but it's incomplete and you'll have a flat tire sooner or later. Of course, now the analogy breaks down because you have AAC and reference materials available, so you can get help and teach yourself more to fill the gaps.

    That's pretty much what everyone's journey through learning any set of skills entails -- and everyone's journey is a bit different.

    Thus, read and distill everyone's advice and decide on your own path. If I was in your shoes, I'd recommend you use the AAC textbook material on DC and AC circuits, then -- most importantly -- work through the DC and AC experiments. These are critical, as you can have lots of book learning, yet later be completely stopped in your tracks trying to do some "simple" experimental thing (i.e., another flat tire).

    After you get through those learning tasks, you'll be in a much better position to evaluate where you want to go and what you want to learn. The advantage is that all that basic material, if well-learned, will serve you well later. More than likely, you'll need it sooner or later -- so it isn't really "fluff".

    I guess the best attitude to have is to view all that basic material, even the stuff that looks like "fluff", as important information. Someone, somewhere, uses that stuff constantly in their daily work; but it might not be you that does it. But having that knowledge that the problems can be attacked is useful in itself, as it will guide your decisions in the future, even if you don't use the knowledge directly. This is one difference between the educated and non-educated person: the decisions made are more holistic.
     
  9. davebee

    Well-Known Member

    Oct 22, 2008
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    I don't agree that using a simulator is the best way to learn a skill.

    With the expense and danger of piloting a helicopter, a simulator may be useful along with actual piloting, but I think that to really learn a skill, you have to practice that skill.

    With simple electronics, you might want to learn using a simulator if you expect to need to use a simulator later on, but I would say that you should get started by doing actual hands-on circuitry along with books that discuss theory.

    Get a breadboard and a few basic parts like a battery, some LEDs, some resistors and a simple multimeter. Practice connecting the parts to light the LED, then both calculate how the math predicts the circuit should work and measure the voltage and the current to see how the circuit actually works.

    Use both Ohm's law and all the variations of power law P=IV, P=I^2R, P=V^2/R.

    Get a feel of how a quarter watt warms a resistor.

    People who write lots of fluff may be poor writers, but don't assume that they don't know what they're doing in terms of theory. You can't just automatically dismiss everything they've written just because they may not be the smoothest writer. There is a huge amount of knowledge available if you dig in and spend time working on learning it.

    And have fun! That really helps, too. Make a fun project - a radio, a spark machine, a robot, a homemade computer; whatever gives you a kick.
     
  10. Adjuster

    Well-Known Member

    Dec 26, 2010
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    You have seen advice from a number of people who may have differing opinions on the relative importance of simulators, mathematics, practical experience, but in my opinion you cannot learn the subject properly by pursuing any one of these approaches to the exclusion of others. What is needed is as comprehensive a coverage of the subject as you can manage, starting with basic ideas and working upwards.

    Just how strong a fundamental understanding is required does however depend on what you hope to be able to do. You may be able to bulld and test circuits to existing designs with fairly superficial knowledge, but fault-finding defective equipment (including your own projects if they do not work first-time) would require you to know more. Actually designing things from scratch would need even deeper knowledge - what do you need?

    Some of the differing opinions may reflect the experience, aptitudes or even age group of the contributors concerned, but the fact is that a proper knowledge of the subject will require a mix of theoretical and practical knowledge. This will inevitably involve learning a certain amount of less palatable material, the amount possibly depending on how deely you really want to understand the subject.

    In my opinion, you would probably be unwise to deny yourself the aid of modern computer aids indefinitely, if you can afford them. They cannot however be regarded as a panacea. Simulation is not reality, and certainly not infallible. Used intelligently it can be very useful, but it is not a substitute for understanding.

    Actually, I think there are some useful lessons to be learned from the messes that we may get into with computer optimisation. In the wonderful world of Spice, is possible to make circuits which are impossible to realise, perhaps because they require components with impossible caracteristics. You will need to learn to recognise such pitfalls.

    Before getting too far into the detail however, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you make sure that you get a thorough grasp of some basic circuit concepts. Unless the ideas of voltage, current, resistance, energy and power and the relations between them are familiar to you, you won't be able to understand much of anything, in my opinion. Similarly, some basic bits of circuit theory like Kirchhoff's laws will be very useful. (Here I display my own bias for a given approach, but never mind...)

    None of this will be much use to you of course unless you can read and draw circuit schematics properly: my apologies if some of these things seem too basic, but we all have to start somewhere.
     
  11. #12

    Expert

    Nov 30, 2010
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    Gee...I learned to draw schematics so early that I forgot to include that. Schematics are like using a different language. They can be just a difficult as learning a different language, but they are absolutely necessary. Eventually, you will be able to read and write schematics faster than you could convey the same information in English!
     
  12. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
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    QFT. A well-drawn schematic is just so essential to grasping a circuit. I cannot define "well drawn" but I know it when I see it! There has been occasions here that to see what someone was talking about I first re-sketched (pencil and paper) their schematic, though usually I click to another thread.

    Math is important to understanding the fundamental physical relationships, but it is suprising how far simple algebra will take you. Hands on expierence is the best teacher, when you make a plan, build it, test it, and try to find why it does what it does and not what you thought it would do (is it built correctly or is there a logical fault in the design).

    You may want to use a simulator before you fly a 100 million dollar jet but I don't know of anyone who learned to drive a car on a simulator. Simulators are like that annoying kid in class who knew every answer to every question and also got beat up every day going home. They just ain't "life" smart and will lie to you all day long.

    I've used a few simulators that couldn't even get a 555 style astable to cycle, and that time I had a boss who designed all his stuff from a big book of circuits so I had to make it work in sim before he would consider it. (It was kinda fun to see his reaction when I'd take his oh so proud 5 op amp circuit and do it again in 1 amp. "Is it linear?" he'd scream, and I would quietly ask him to point out the non-linear parts.)
     
  13. Adjuster

    Well-Known Member

    Dec 26, 2010
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    Perhaps I should not rise to the bait, but it may be worth pointing out that some necessary analyses of circuit performance are simply not feasible without simulation, particularly if a lot of results are required quickly. It is true that not all such analysis is necessarily reliable, but in the organisation where I worked very successful computer circuit optimisation was being done several decades ago. The people doing this were well qualified mathematicians and engineers, but it would have been impossible for them to have obtained the results they required in any reasonable time without these aids.

    It is also true that some modes of operation are more amenable (and dependant on) successful simulation than are others. For instance, it would be hard to even contemplate the design of digital systems on the scale we use nowadays without recourse to simulation tools. Analogue filter optimisation is another area where the use of computers is routine, or at least it was was back in the day of analogue transmission systems.

    Large-signal analogue systems can be a bit more of a challenge. There are some things (like getting oscillators to start reliably in simulations) which are problematic, but they are generally not impossible. Amazingly enough, some people can get useful predictions of circuit performance in this way. The fact that some others get less satisfactory results may not necessarily imply that simulation is always a waste of time. Like any other tool, the computer is dependent on its operator.

    Having said all that, I have gone some way from what the OP asked about. Are simulators good for a learner? Yes for some things, like providing convenient illustrations of some types of circuit behaviour, including some of the very basics like RC decay curves and resonance. Simulation is however very definitely not good as a means of "designing" in the absence of a clear understanding of what is being done. Blindly twiddling every component value in sight in some ill-conceived circuit arrangement is not the route to a successful result. Genuine optimisation is another matter, although we must beware of requiring things like the unobtainum coil, that wonderful device whose self-resonant frequency exceeds 1GHz, despite having over 20 Henries inductance.
     
  14. KL7AJ

    AAC Fanatic!

    Nov 4, 2008
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    You need to get The Opus of Amateur Radio Knowledge and Lore! It will make you smart and make me rich! :)

    http://store.cq-amateur-radio.com/Detail.bok?no=228


    Eric
     
  15. Wendy

    Moderator

    Mar 24, 2008
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    The real truth is, there is no filler. We have had a lot of people enter with a similar attitude, and leave because they found out electronics is basically hard. Funny thing is, if you really enjoy it, it is not work, it is fun.

    Someone suggested the 250 in one kit. I second that, it is where I got my start when I was a young teen. It teaches schematics and some real hands on with electronics.

    Building circuits by rote is cool, but if you want to design your own you are going to need all that filler.
     
  16. KJ6EAD

    Senior Member

    Apr 30, 2011
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    I recommend that learners not get the large XXX-in-1 kits but get the smaller ones, XX-in-1, etc. By the time you've graduated to the more complex circuits, you'll want a grown up breadboard and real components.
     
  17. Wendy

    Moderator

    Mar 24, 2008
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    I'll disagree, the 250 kit was perfect. A XX in one tends towards radio, which is OK if that is where your interest lies, but the 250 covers all that and a lot more. I would say you don't need above that, they tend to get pricey. Plus they start using protoboards and the like. The old 250 kit I had used the contact springs. In 6 or so months I build every circuit they had in the book.

    I especially like the various noise makers, birds, sirens, crickets. Never had a real use for them, but they were fun.

    ***********

    Just looked up the 75 in one kit.
    http://www.hobbylinc.com/htm/ele/elemx-905.htm
    No meters, no relays. 3 transistors.

    130 in one
    http://www.amazon.com/Vintage-Sports-Cards-MX-906-Electronic/dp/B00005K2SY

    Looking at this site I'm not so sure I'm not thinking of the 100 in 1, it looks familiar. Hey, it's been over 30 years!
    http://www.samstoybox.com/toys/ElectronicProjectKits.html
    You will note it has a meter and a relay. These components aren't the kind of things you leave out IMO.

    The nearest equivalent I can find is the 200 in 1, which may be where I'm coming from.
    http://www.amazon.com/Elenco-200-in...=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1307172981&sr=1-9

    Amazon has a pretty good selection overall...
    http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&x=0&ref_=nb_sb_noss&y=0&field-keywords=electronic%20project%20kit&url=search-alias%3Dtoys-and-games
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2011
  18. KJ6EAD

    Senior Member

    Apr 30, 2011
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    Elenco is the best-known brand. As you can see from the links above, they're sold by just about everyone in the business. http://www.elenco.com/lab_kits.htm

    My recommendation for the smaller kits is based on the context that it's usually elicited in; that being people who are new to electronics and uncertain how deep or permanent their interest will be and especially those who are considering the purchase for a child. Once you cross the $50 - $70 threshold on these lab kits, additional money is usually better spent on a breadboard, grab bag parts and project books. If more specialized components are needed at that point, they can be purchased as needed from the many surplus houses or eBay.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2011
  19. Wendy

    Moderator

    Mar 24, 2008
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    If you going to do that you might as well go with the projects in Volume 6, they meet the criteria you set. I went to great pains to draw my 555 projects up, both in layout and schematic.

    The nice thing about the XXX in 1 kits is they are complete, easy, and very straightforward. With a resource like this site understanding a circuit is just a question and a post away. I also really liked the selection of circuits, they were very diverse, more so than other sources might offer. I can't help but notice your source is around 20% (as a minimum) more expensive, I use Amazon myself.

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_s...ctronics+kit&sprefix=200+in+1+electronics+kit

    I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2011
  20. magnet18

    Senior Member

    Dec 22, 2010
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    I've been at it for about a year and I'm finally starting to get to the point where I can get an idea, modify something and insert a chip or reroute a signal, and it actually works instead of sending me back here every time I need to add a wire to a circuit :D

    I'm where these guys started out at, a teen, and I got into it by finding a project I really wanted to do, in my case a nixie clock, and just going for it head first.
    I spent about a week looking at schematics and scratching my head until it finally all snapped together and I comprehended the circuit completely (for the most part...)
    After that I learned things as I went along.
    Signals run from left to right, what voltage is, what current is, how to use ohms law, how transformers work, current limiting, logic gates, how much bjt's suck, etc.

    And now, a year later, I'm actually building the circuit on the final board.
    (in my defense, I did a couple projects between then and now, see plasma speaker on my youtube)
     
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