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Author Topic: Is there a good software program to learn electronics?  (Read 8999 times)
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I've been programming for about 10 years.  I never learned electronics.  After getting my Arduino, I'm hooked.  But I feel limited.  I'd like to be able to make my own simple circuits, PCB's and attachments for the Arduino.

After getting the Make electronics book, I realized I needed around $400 in tools, parts and shipping costs to even get started.

Is there a software program that can teach electronics for less money?  I now electronics is a hobby that requires cash.  I understand that.  I'd rather learn through software and apply what is learned to the Arduino and my bread board instead of buying tons of extra parts to experiment with that could be adequately simulated in software.

This way I can spend the $400 on parts I actually want for my projects.

 smiley
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I'm not sure where you're getting $400.00 from - a basic kit to get started can be assembled, provided you know what you need (check out some of the Arduino starter kits from places like Adafruit, Earthshine, and Sparkfun for parts they use) - and you make judicious use of surplus and other low-cost outlets - for well under $100.00.

Of course, this won't stop you from burning out parts, but neither does all the education in the world. Realize now that you -will- burn parts out, sometimes expensive parts (hopefully not often, though).

Software does exist to help you learn, but you still need a knowledge base to work from. Look into tools call "circuit simulators", "SPICE modeling", and similar. Note that some of these tools aren't cheap (some are available free, though). Nor are they very easy to use (especially SPICE modeling tools - some are very heavy mathematically). Some are more geared toward beginners, though.

The biggest problem with any circuit simulator though is the fact that they work with "ideal components"; these "perfect" components don't exist in the real world. Thus, a circuit may work well in simulation only to utterly fail in real life. They are useful, though, in getting an idea of how a circuit will (or should) work, as well as for tweaking a non-working circuit to get it to work.

If you really want to pick up the hobby, I reccommend a couple other piece of literature:

1) Grob's "Basic Electronics" - this is a college level textbook, so buy an older edition so as not to break the bank
2) Forrest M. Mims III's "Engineer's Mini-Notebook" series

The first will teach you electronics from A-Z and then some; it starts off with "what is an electron and how does it work" and moves from there. The second is a series geared at more practical aspects of circuit design. It used to be you could pick the series up from Radio Shack, but not any more (though I have seen one or two of the current edition volumes at Fry's Electronics).

Make sure one of things you purchase is a multimeter. It doesn't have to be a fancy Fluke - a simple $3.00 throwaway chinese meter (like a Cen-Tech) is fine to start out with. As you purchase parts for a project, always buy a few extra of the components for possible future projects or experiments (as well in case you blow the first one, too!). The cost per part on most components (especially that of resistors, capacitors, diodes, and small transistors) is pennies extra. Just be sure you have a good storage solution for all your components (a good thing to start with is a cheap fishing tackle box or two).

Finally - I can't stress enough to use surplus dealers for the majority of component needs. For most parts, you can find the same as you would from "name brand" suppliers for a fraction of the cost (my favorite three here in the USA are All Electronics, Electronic Goldmine, and Alltronics). Next in line would be chinese suppliers via Ebay, then finally the "big guys" like Mouser and Digi-Key. Some things are only available from them, unfortunately.
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Thanks for the advice.

I truly enjoy my Arduino.  Even though I've only done the blinky tutorials, I've found my programming experience has allowed me to really play around with it regarding how it reacts and making modular code.

So far, I've spent about $300 on parts from Adafruit.  The Make book I referred to has the experiment kits for sale for about $100 each (total of two), and then they have the tool kit itself for even more money.  Adafruit has a decent kit with solder for about $100.  By the time I add shipping (and maybe a few extra small parts) it gets up around $400.

I was hoping there would be a good simulation software that teaches the concepts.

smiley

Guess I'll have to bite the bullet and buy more parts.  I will consider the books, but if they're pricey they'll have to wait.  If it comes down to books or parts to experiment on, maybe I'll suffer and get the parts first.  At least there's info online to look up.
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Thanks for the advice.

I truly enjoy my Arduino.  Even though I've only done the blinky tutorials, I've found my programming experience has allowed me to really play around with it regarding how it reacts and making modular code.

So far, I've spent about $300 on parts from Adafruit.  The Make book I referred to has the experiment kits for sale for about $100 each (total of two), and then they have the tool kit itself for even more money.  Adafruit has a decent kit with solder for about $100.  By the time I add shipping (and maybe a few extra small parts) it gets up around $400.

Believe me, most parts are mega-cheaper if you can order them from surplus vendors like I've mentioned; now, you don't say where you're from - from what I understand some surplus dealers won't (or can't?) ship to international addresses. However, if you are located here in the States, you are doing yourself a diservice by not shopping thru them.

I was hoping there would be a good simulation software that teaches the concepts.

Take a look at these packages (I can't vouch one way or another on them; these are just things I found with some googling):

http://www.ni.com/multisim/
http://www.logicworks4.com/
http://www.tina.com/English/tina/

As you can see, such software exists, both in mixed mode and digital-only (and analog-only as well, but I didn't see one off-hand). I would be willing to bet that somewhere out there, you can even find vaccuum tube simulation software, if you look hard enough! At any rate, the above are three packages I found googling on "circuit simulation software teaching"; I'm sure with a bit of effort, you can find more. As I noted before, prices are all over the map (most of the free simulation software you will find will be *nix based; look into the gEDA project for example stuff - note that the stuff is fairly powerful, but very complex to learn).

Guess I'll have to bite the bullet and buy more parts.  I will consider the books, but if they're pricey they'll have to wait.  If it comes down to books or parts to experiment on, maybe I'll suffer and get the parts first.  At least there's info online to look up.

I would stress that if you are serious about this hobby, get the books you can -first-; even if you use simulation software, you will still want and need them to understand what is going on. A copy of Grob's "Basic Electronics", of an older edition, shouldn't be too expensive (a brand-new current edition will run you $100.00+ USD, simply because it is a college level, EE101-course textbook - but a used older edition shouldn't cost more than $25.00, depending on the condition and edition - anything post-1992 or so will have everything you need to know in it). Now, the Mimms book series can be expensive (I think new, each one of the current editions go for about $25.00 USD or so - and there are several volumes), but you can find the small pamphlet-style versions that Radio Shack used to sell in the used and second-hand category (check Ebay, Amazon, Alibris and Abe Books for starters). Depending on who, what, when and condition, you can pick them up for a couple bucks each.

The problem with online information is finding information you can trust to be accurate. Fortunately, you have these forums; you can also be sure of places like Electro-Tech Online forums - but after that, you really need to know at least something about what you are doing in order to know that the information you are reading has merit and value (and won't just cause you to scratch your head while blowing up parts). That isn't to say this forum, any others, or even Grob is perfect, but considering how long Grob's "Basic Electronics" has been published and trusted over the last couple of decades and more, it has that "authority" of accuracy to reccommend it.

Just something to keep in mind.

smiley
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I will pursue the college book you mentioned.  I've looked online but couldn't find an ebook version.  Shame.  I prefer to be mobile and books are heavy.  I enjoy having all of my books on one device.

You're also correct that I live outside the US and shipping costs can be painful.

I'll have to buy the book and throw it in a card board box  book scanner.

smiley

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I will pursue the college book you mentioned.  I've looked online but couldn't find an ebook version.  Shame.  I prefer to be mobile and books are heavy.  I enjoy having all of my books on one device.

You're also correct that I live outside the US and shipping costs can be painful.

I'll have to buy the book and throw it in a card board box  book scanner.

smiley



You may want to save up your money (or try to find a used copy) of the tenth edition:

http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072988215/information_center_view0/

Looking at the writeup there, apparently it comes with a "free" version of Multisim for the problems in the book - since you were wanting simulation software, I would say that getting the 10th edition with the CD is probably the best thing you can do (if you can afford it).

As far as scanning the book is concerned - good luck with that; if I were going to do that, I would have the book professionally debound into pages, then run them thru a high-speed multi-page scanner with OCR. The book is pretty large - it would be virtually impossible to do it one sheet at a time.
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I just remembered this piece of software; from what I understand (I have never used it myself - its for Windows), it is free and "unlimited" - it's Linear Technology's "LTSpice":

http://www.linear.com/designtools/software/

It's a fairly nice SPICE simulation software, with a lot of other functionality. As it is SPICE, though, you may or may not find it easy to learn, but it has a nice user guide, and with a book or two in-hand, it will probably help with learning...
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Check youtube for vids on iCircuit.

I don't have an iPad but would like to have something like this for Windows.

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Wow!

Look at this free circuit simulation java app:

http://www.falstad.com/circuit/


Also:

http://www.falstad.com/mathphysics.html


http://icircuitapp.com/




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If I may suggest to you (and anyone else interested in learning):

http://www.amazon.com/Multisim-Student-Plus-Electronics-Textbooks/dp/B001DTRWPI/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1310326829&sr=8-2

Multisim Student in and of itself is $40, and it's a very nice circuit simulation program. The textbooks? They're very nice as well. They'll walk you through most of everything you'll need to know, and then some. If I weren't so lazy I'd take a picture and show you what you get for $80. Needless to say, you get about 9 inches thick of workbooks that tell you what you need to know and then some, with the software to help you figure it out.

I'm in my first year of electrical engineering, and I still believe those to be the best investment. Yeah, I bought a $120 book on electronics (Essentials of Electronics Second Ed. by Petruzella), it included no software, and wouldn't even give you the mathematics behind the components, which I understand to be intentional on part of the author, but they're sort of.. dude, it wouldn't be engineering WITHOUT mathematics, and it most certainly wouldn't be electrical without it.
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A science teacher friend, years ago, was a fan of "Crocodile Clips".

I think that is now....

http://www.yenka.com/en/Yenka_Technology/

... where, if you dig, you will find some information about "free for home use" versions. I don't know how knobbled they are. If anyone has experience of this, comments would be of interest.
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Reading the ATmega328 manual will also teach you some stuff. Remember that Arduino "hides" stuff from you to make it easier to code. However, if you are really serious about creating circuits and learning electronics, knowing the insides of the chip you are using is a necessity.

Also, if you've only done the blink examples, isn't it a bit early to start making printed circuit boards?
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