Best way to learn?

Thread Starter

jimbarstow

Joined Nov 8, 2011
24
I'm trying to learn enough electronics to build some useful circuits. (Mostly sensor based.) I've read various intro to electronics books with the latest being Make's "Electronics". I've discovered there is a huge gap between being able to understand a simple circuit and understanding a circuit that actually does something useful.

Any suggestions?

I've thought that a circuit simulator might be an efficient way to experiment and learn. Is there one available for the Mac? I've seen references to a Mac version of SPICE but I have no idea of that's usable for a beginner.
 

colinb

Joined Jun 15, 2011
351
Sorry for all the short posts but I keep thinking of something else to say... :)

You say you've read some introductory electronics books, but have you actually built circuits from the books and experimented with them? There is no substitute for doing when you are trying to learn something. Get some solderless breadboards (for really simple quick experiments), some perfboard (this is general purpose circuit board material with holes and various copper patterns or just individual pads), a soldering iron, and a stock of basic through-hole components like resistors, ceramic and aluminum electrolytic capacitors, diodes, and bipolar junction transistors PNP/NPN, some 9V battery clips, 5 volt linear regulators (like 7805), some LEDs, some pushbuttons, an inexpensive multimeter. That's the really basic analog stuff, then you might want to get some basic digital components like some hex inverters, NAND gate ICs, counter ICs, etc.

Anyway, if you have a book with some projects, you can find out what type of components you need to stock up on by checking the materials lists. I find a lot of interesting projects people post online... if it is interesting enough, I will build it and play with it. Or make a variant of it with my own spin.
 

crutschow

Joined Mar 14, 2008
23,500
I strongly recommend using a Spice type simulator to learn how circuits work. It saves a lot of problems and troubleshooting when you actually build a circuit. If you get the simulation to work properly then there is a very good chance the actual circuit will also work.

LTspice is a good free circuit simulator from Linear Technology but it only runs on Windows. Can you configure your Mac to run Windows programs?
 

colinb

Joined Jun 15, 2011
351
I strongly recommend using a Spice type simulator to learn how circuits work. It saves a lot of problems and troubleshooting when you actually build a circuit. If you get the simulation to work properly then there is a very good chance the actual circuit will also work.

LTspice is a good free circuit simulator from Linear Technology but it only runs on Windows. Can you configure your Mac to run Windows programs?
One should be able to use Parallels or VirtualBox to run Windows programs like LTspice on Mac OS.

Actually I run LTspice in Windows under VirtualBox on Linux on a MacBook Pro. How is that for a mashup? :) And it works fantastically. I much prefer Windows in VirtualBox to a real Windows installation since it's safer and I can suspend and resume my virtual Windows machine in just about 10 seconds.
 

thatoneguy

Joined Feb 19, 2009
6,359
Oh, also, read the All About Circuits E-Book! Start with Volume I - DC.
I'd strongly suggest this. You will then be able to design better circuits than many that end up on instructables. Yes, they work, but they work a lot better with a tad bit more effort and common sense when it comes to current and voltage. There are, however, TONS of circuits to make that are fun and simple on instructables, you just need to read the comments about it first.

I don't know if they've improved recently, but several years ago, most any circuit was posted that would light up an LED, and it would, but only for 1/2 as long as it could be run due to massive over-current. Little problems like that.
 

Wendy

Joined Mar 24, 2008
21,906
I found grabbing the wrong end of a soldering iron a wonderful teaching experience. It was decades before I needed a refresher lesson. Hopefully your experience will differ.
 

thatoneguy

Joined Feb 19, 2009
6,359
I found grabbing the wrong end of a soldering iron a wonderful teaching experience. It was decades before I needed a refresher lesson. Hopefully your experience will differ.
Wait until you get a hot air pencil, they are coming down in price. Very easy to think the heat stops at the tip ala conventional iron. The smell of burnt hair kinda.... lingers.
 

davebee

Joined Oct 22, 2008
540
Probably everyone is different, but I'm another one who thinks that while reading about circuits and simulating them with software have their place, building with actual parts on a breadboard really rounds out your education with real-world experience, where circuits come with noise, unwanted oscillation, power brownouts, overheated parts, stuff that's valuable to know for building real working circuits.
 

bloguetronica

Joined Apr 27, 2007
1,371
The key to learn electronics is to practice, practice, practice. Practice with actual low voltage circuits mounted on a breadboard. Do some measurements, do some readings. It is a fantastic way to learn! ;)

Knowing the theory is essential, of course. But theory is valuable only if backed up with some practice. So my advice: experiment, do some tweaking, even if you do some mistakes. Mistakes are essential for the learning process and everybody does them! As long as you always follow basic safety rules, you should be safe. :)
 
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