From Nothing to Designing Circuits, Help Please?

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by digitalmind, Mar 7, 2009.

  1. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    Hi everyone,

    I'm sure glad I found this forum. Perhaps some of my questions have been asked and answered elsewhere, but I am looking for advice so I can head off in a specific direction.

    At the moment I have no knowledge of electronics, except for being able to recognise basic circuits and components that you might find in a high school physics books for example, being able to convert to and from number systems and the very basics of digital logic circuits.

    My short term goal is to have a workbench, tools and components to work with so I can do some practical work. I will probably start with kits.

    Mid-term, I'd like to be able to design my own circuits with a focus on digital circuits; specifically those found in the computing area. Being able to put together parts found in a microprocessor is what I'd like to do.

    Long term is to design and build my own computer system, like Bill's Magic-1 which can be found at his site, I am not sure whether I will use 7400 TTL ICs though. Ideally over time I'd also like to be knowledgeable enough to grab a Xilinx or other FPGA kit, implement a microprocessor and understand working with standard I/O like PS/2 for a keyboard, VGA to hook up a monitor and USB to connect a hard drive.

    At the moment, if I tried to build anything you could safely assume I'd solder a stray finger to my breadboard. :)

    I'm trying to plan my way ahead and get stuck into it. Here are some books I have and those I plan to get:


    • Understanding Digital Computers, 2nd Ed., Forrest Mims III.
    • Getting Started in Electronics, Forrest Mims III.
    • Basic Technical Mathematics with Calculus SI Version, 8th Ed. Allyn Washington.

    Plan to get:

    • Electricity Demystified, Stan Gibilisco
    • Teach Yourself Electricity and Electronics, Stan Gibilisco
    • The Essence of Logic Circuits, 2nd Ed., Stephen Unger
    • Digital Systems, Principles and Applications, 10th Ed, Tocci et. al.
    • Principles of Electric Circuits, Conventional Flow Version, 9th Ed., Thomas Floyd.
    • Digital Fundamentals, 10th Ed, Thomas Floyd. (Suppose having extras would be helpful)
    • Complete Digital Design, A Comprehensive Guide to Digital Electronics and Computer Architecture, Mark Balch.
    • Various on computer architecture, e.g. Hennessey and Patterson
    • Engineering Mathematics, 6th Ed., K. Booth.
    • Something good that includes instruction on VHDL and/or Verilog
    • MATLAB plus books
    • Circuit simulation software
    • Practical books for constructing circuits
    • Lots of back issues of good popular electronics type magazines
    So essentially I want to get started in the practical work, and end up being a computer architect, be able to do DSP and make simple computer systems for myself at home for fun.

    Does anyone recommend (or not) the books I plan to get? Am I on the right track for where I eventually want to end up, if anyone knows?

    Right now I just want to know some really good books to get started with. I'll follow the advice on kits and the tools I'll need at The Electronics Club site: If anyone could add anything to the practical side of things to get me up and running any advice there would be helpful too.

    Thanks if you can offer any tips!
  2. hgmjr

    Retired Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    Your short term goals - very practical.
    Your mid-term goals - still very practical.
    Your Long-term goals - Not too sure about that.

    I believe once you tackle the short-term and mid-term goals, your long-term goal will come into sharper focus and you will most likely realize that there are much more interesting and useful goals to which you can aspire.

    In the meantime, I think you have organized your goals well and I would not be surprised if you pulled it off.

    Good Luck on your journey into the wonderful world of electronics.

  3. bertus


    Apr 5, 2008
  4. the_thief

    New Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    Hey Digital,

    I've recently started learning about electronics too. I've been reading "Schaum's outline of theory and problems of basic mathematics for electricity and electronics". I find that compared to other texts I've read they really emphasize solved exercises not just one or two examples. They've got others too that I want to check out but I'm limiting myself to two books at a time to make sure I don't lose focus.

    "Electronics for dummies" is a good guide for hands on things like learning to solder, using a multimeter, breadboards and component selection.
    If you haven't already check out and her electronics kit site You can often buy only the PCBs for different projects and buy other components (resistors, LEDs and the sort) from a local supplier it's good way to learn how to solder and learn the basics of electronics at the same time.

    Those are some ambitious goals, hope it works out.
    Good luck
  5. KL7AJ

    AAC Fanatic!

    Nov 4, 2008
    Another publication you need is The ARRL Handbook

    And, when it eventually comes out, my very own Opus of Amateur Radio Knowledge and Lore.

    I present to you a short excerpt so as you know what to expect. :) Note especially my soldering safety tips. :D

    CHAPTER ONE How about them hot soldering irons (Hazard #3)? Most Amateur Radios are held together with solder. Well, perhaps that needs some elaboration. The parts inside most Amateur radios are connected with solder. Solder is an alloy of lead and tin (though there is a trend these days toward lead-free solder). Solder, as mentioned above, is a good electrical conductor, which makes it particularly useful for sticking electronic components together. Solder melts at a temperature of around 700-800 degrees, depending on the particular alloy. Molten solder can be a hazard, as one might surmise. Not only is it hot, but it tends to roll around a bit. I sport——well, perhaps sport is an inaccurate verb——a small scar on my “procreative utensil” as a reminder never to perform soldering operations at two in the morning whilst clad in pajamas. Many seasoned hams can relate other painful realities——yet it never causes most of us to abandon the hobby altogether. We simply apply more caution——or clothing. For the most part, these injuries are more insulting than life-threatening, but as with all hot objects and substances, due caution is advised. It goes without saying that any instrument capable of creating molten solder in the 800 degree range might itself also be quite warm. And yet, it must be said anyway, because grabbing a hot soldering iron by the business end can be extremely painful and stinky——and done more frequently than one might imagine. Burning human flesh is one of those fragrances best left out of the ham shack.
    The best safeguard against this unfortunate event is to use a proper soldering iron “holster,” as inconvenient as that may seem, which makes it all but impossible for all but the most creatively self-destructive individual to burn himself. Haphazardly laying the iron on the bench (we’re all guilty as charged, by the way) is just begging to be burned. When you’re deep in concentration on the circuit at hand, the temptation is to keep your eyes on the work and go into autopilot, working entirely by feel. The iron may be exactly where you placed it thee hundred solder joints before, but the three hundred and first time, you’ll grab it by the muzzle——trust me!
    Now, back in the olden days, soldering irons were frightful beasts. They resembled medieval maces as much as anything. They had a huge five-pound blob of copper you heated over your gas stove, which held the heat long enough for you to march across the floor, down the stairs, and across the basement to your work bench. You could probably do about thirty solder connections before they cooled off enough to need reheating, whereupon you’d have to march back across the basement, up the stairs, into the kitchen, and repeat the process all over again. In the olden days, hams got their exercise by marching all over creation with red hot, five-pound soldering irons. You weren’t as likely to die of hardening of the arteries, but you had a better chance of burning your foot off.
    So, as you can see, in some ways, ham radio has improved. Well, it’s gotten safer, anyway. Maybe.
    Now, this leads us to burning your house down, (Hazard #4). In the early years of the hobby, most hams were considered insane, so they were relegated to the barn, the dog house, or a tool shed in the far corner of the “back forty” with all their demon-infested equipment. Burning the house down was not a real hazard, because they weren’t allowed in the house to start with. It was only after hams achieved a certain level of respectability that they became a real fire hazard. This hazard arose from two sources: red hot, five-pound soldering irons, and overloaded electrical wiring. At one time, house wiring consisted of bare copper wires draped across the wooden rafters, supported by porcelain “insulators.” We use the term insulator lightly, because after an insulator was covered with spider webs, dead bug guts, and soot from the cook stove upon which the five pound soldering iron was heated, they were no longer insulators. They were toaster elements.
    Now the one saving grace in all of this was that a typical American house was pretty likely to burn to the ground anyway, with or without a ham being resident therein. What this meant was that hams couldn’t be blamed entirely for everything evil that beset the modern world, and therefore were gradually, eventually, re-admitted, along with all their implements of doom, into their own homes.
    The fact of the matter is that normal Americans by the thousands were discovering things called “appliances” which ran off electricity, and that these appliances ran longer if those persnickety things called “fuses” just didn’t keep burning out all the time and ruining their fun. Many of these appliances used just as much electricity as any ham did with all his demon-possessed widgets. Bypassing a fuse with a penny might have started in some unknown ham’s radio shack, but it was popularized by——well——people!
  6. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    I'm not too sure about my long term goals either. But I've been in touch with the head of discipline, electronic and computer engineering at a university with a big engineering school near me, and he has kindly offered me some direction. It seems I might be able to do it if I keep up my software development skills. Obviously for a computer system I'll need to retarget a compiler and write an O/S kernel and more. That's a lot of work. So I could keep it as a very long term goal and instead simulate possible CPU designs. Nothing too complicated, but nothing too simple either. Little microprocessors like the ones Motorola put out come to mind, then on to things like studying MIPS for example.

    That sounds very reasonable to me. Thanks. It does make a lot of sense that once I get into it and it takes over my life :D I'll have a sharper focus. It was even rather difficult to try and describe my long term goal!

    Thanks! Looks like I am on track for at least starting to do some practical work with kits and moving on from there.

  7. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    Hi Bertus,

    Another ham in this thread! I'm not surprised by that at all. I was about to accuse KL7AJ of reading my mind about the ARRL Handbook. It's in my shopping cart saved at Amazon. :)

    Plus there are special provisions for people like me who don't live near radio clubs to get our ham licences. I've got the basic things but I need to do regulations and prac before I can get my foundation licence. I have the manual so it's a matter of getting practical and going from there to the standard then advanced licence.

    It was a friend who has been into ham radio for thirty years that pushed along my interest in electronics.

    Thanks for the link - bookmarked. Yes, I am well aware of the broad discipline that electrical/electronic engineering is. It branches out into far more areas than a single person could master. So eventually I will have to figure out one or two areas I like and stick with those. Can't be proficient in all the sub disciplines.

    Your job sounds interesting. So you'd know the internals of those mass spectroscopy devices obviously. Did you pick up any knowledge of spectroscopy itself? I kind of like chemistry, biology too; but not as much as physics and maths. Pity there's so much interesting stuff out there and not enough life span to explore them all.

    Considering my background, what I liked as a kid which is closely tied to what I still enjoy doing, and where there are good jobs, I think I've finally found my way in life. Now just a matter of doing it and eventually going to uni.

  8. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    Thanks for that! I'll definitely check those out.

    One of the difficult things at the moment is what to design? I think after doing some kits and reading up on electronics and circuits more I'll probably get some ideas.

    Yes, losing focus is something I struggle with a little.

    Aye, they are ambitious. I considered not mentioning what they were in case people thought I was suffering from serious delusions. :) But I am talking about long term as in ten years or longer, so perhaps I might arrive at my long term goals, unless they change in the mean time. I doubt they will, but I do know that I don't have to understand the underlying physics principles to become a computer architect for example. So who knows. It's a matter of how dedicated and perhaps fanatical I am at achieving what I want and putting in the years of effort.

  9. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    It's in my saved Amazon shopping cart. It'll be among the ones I get sooner rather than later. I have lots of good stuff in there. Some I have necessarily saved to buy later - perhaps much later.

    That will be something I definitely want to read!

    Thanks for that! It's precisely those types of things a true beginner on the practical side needs to know. Great stuff, looking forward to it.

    Great work with your book; hope to see you realise your dedicated work pay off soon.

  10. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    Sorry, I seemed to skim over that without letting it sink in very much. That's interesting - I'd most likely realise there are more interesting and useful goals that I can aspire to.

    Thanks for the heads-up. If you have some time could you expand on that a bit more? (By way of useful, I mean). Useful will be very important considering I want to make a living in electronics some day.

    Thanks again.

  11. Wendy


    Mar 24, 2008
    The AAC book here is very good, if incomplete. I've been working on the experiments section, I'll be dropping a whole chapter there eventually (beefing up the 555 section). My AAC blog has a lot of detail too.

    Glad you found us!
  12. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    Hi Bill!

    Thanks for your reply. I've just started going through the AAC book - I'm stunned at my slowness and stupidity sometimes! It was the head of the electronics/computer engineering discipline at a university near me that pointed me to this site. All students at the university studying electronics and computer engineering get handouts and things like that which point to the AAC book and sections in it. I only just noticed the links above to experiments, worksheets and videos.

    I'll check out your blog for sure! By the 555 section do you mean something to do with timer circuits?

    You're glad I found you?! I'm the one to give thanks and be glad! :) I'm stuck out in country Queensland, Australia here! One day I hope to actually be able to help others coming to the forum, especially newcomers to electronics who don't know where to begin. I plan to build a website around that with a podcast, blog, reading list and a journal or log I am keeping of all the steps I'm taking from zero to designing circuits.

    All the best!

  13. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    Thanks heaps for contributing to experiments, that's a section I'll frequent when I get up to speed.

    I've heard of terms like Schmitt Trigger, monostable and so on (can't list them all off the top of my head, but I was reading about switching circuits somewhere...) I wonder if the words clock, timer and oscillator are interchangeable in the electronics sense? This is something that's on my top priority list, since from my understanding so far it's the clock/oscillator that "drives" the digital logic inside a microprocessor. I don't know if I'm really understanding this; I'm reading ahead of myself there.

    If that is the case then it's way up there on my to-do list. One of my areas of fascination is computer arithmetic circuits and how they use addition as a basis for the other fundamental operations, i.e. subtraction, multiplication and division.
  14. Wendy


    Mar 24, 2008
    The more people interacting on a site, the stronger the site becomes, so it is mutual.

    You may have noticed we get a lot of beginners, our mods do a good job of keeping the unhelpful sniping (aka flaming) down, and most of us are always willing to help a beginner try to understand new concept.

    Yep, I was talking about the LM555, one of the most useful and common ICs out there. For such a simple chip it has an amazing number of uses, right after op amps (which another college course).

    If you haven't gotten one I recommend a protoboard, it allows you to reuse components, those that survive the OPPS experiences. Cheaper in the long run.

    Do you have a local parts store? Radio Shack will do in a pinch, though overprices and understocked, but it is better to find an actual electronics outlet, even if it is mail order.
  15. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    I would have to agree with that, but I did feel a bit stupid and guilty for not searching around and reading other beginner threads before posting. So I'm going to become silent for a while until I've actually got all the fundamental books I want and I've done some practical electronics work.

    I've noticed how helpful the community of enthusiasts and professionals of all types are here. One of the mistakes I made was to start posting without doing my homework first. I feel embarrassed about that.

    That's where I'm going first. Everywhere I go, typically the answer is for a project or experiment is to check out the 555. I never understood why until now. Thanks for pointing me to your blog.

    Ta for the info, appreciated very much.

    No, unfortunately there is no local parts store, but I can mail order from the big Dick Smith Electronics and Jaycar Electronics stores in Sydney and Brisbane, Australia. I'll call for their catalogues. I don't think we have Radio Shack stores in Australia (or I've never heard of them around here) so I'll have to check that out. Probably Jaycar is my best bet. I know their staff typically are into electronics themselves, so when I call for help and ask about protoboards and 555 things they'll be able to help me out.
  16. Wendy


    Mar 24, 2008
    Since you are online, you can probably find thier catalogs (and other OZ companies) online also. Good luck.

    I've always wanted to visit OZ, I think our cultural differences are interesting.
  17. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    Good point. I just checked and the catalogues are online, and it even gives details and whether some particular store or not has something in stock.

    Funny you should mention visiting down-under and cultural differences (and similarities; there are a few especially here in Queensland. I am speaking specifically of the state of Texas. Close to where I live is a town called Texas. Originally there was some kind of problem when Texas was a republic, and eventually the people of Texas, USA came over and it was agreed the town near me would be called Texas). You will find here in Queensland generally and especially around where I live a fondness for our American friends!
  18. flat5

    Active Member

    Nov 13, 2008
    I've been using the ARRL Handbook since the 1960s (and have had much older versions to enjoy).

    I want to plug a great book for self learning that can be had for next to nothing online if you get very old versions.

    Introductory Electronic Devices and Circuits:Electron Flow Version

    some used versions here:

    A truly great book for self study.
  19. digitalmind

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 7, 2009
    Thanks flat5 - appreciated. I've got that book saved in my Amazon cart too. I'll definitely grab myself a copy of the ARRL Handbook.

    Does anyone here have an opinion on electron flow vs. conventional current flow books? It seems like it's a matter of personal preference if it's correct that you'll get the right calculations as long as you stick to conventional or electron flow throughout, but I have seen reviews at Amazon saying things like (paraphrasing) "get the conventional current flow version, otherwise it looks like your power? something? is coming from ground."

    With thanks.
  20. beenthere

    Retired Moderator

    Apr 20, 2004
    As a matter of fact, we do. It is firmly established that electrons have the charge and are the carriers. See this recent thread -

    That dodges the issue of specific books, but I'm personally not aware of any that hold forth for "conventional" current. As far as it goes, Millikan's experiments back in 1909 - 1914 absolutely established that electrons are the charge carriers, and that they carry a negative charge.