Hello Arduino Community (I will remember how to spell it soon)!
Welcome! Be glad that the the Uno is the latest Arduino; before it was the Duemilinove (which I probably spelled wrong - checking - hmm, now I see that both that spelling and Duemila
nove is used - ugh - probably easier for an Italian)...
I am no newbie to computers, or programming for that matter. But, I have always wanted to mess around with these boards and circuits. I have found Arduino to be my best bet, especially after I saw it in the "Popular Science" magazine. But, I have a few really newbie questions. I have tried Googling, and found one old thread on "Newbies to Arduino", but the link had changed and I could not find it. Anyway, here are the questions:
I'll try to give you a good answer to each, ok? But look for other's responses, as well...
I see these "breadboards". Do I need one if I use the Arduino Fio (with XBee)?
Breadboards are things used to prototype designs - think of them as an easy way to "try things out" first. They are limited in what you can do by their nature, but as a beginner, you shouldn't run into any of the issues right now (for instance, breadboards stink for high-frequency designs, especially certain RF (radio frequency) designs).
You'll probably want to pick one up - try to get one with as many "holes" as possible; I actually prefer the Elenco 9440; you may think that has too many holes, but believe me, at times, I wish I had a few more of them.
More important than a breadboard, though - as the first thing you should get - is a multimeter. It doesn't have to be anything expensive, either; I am a fan of el-cheapo Chinese Cen-Tech meters that I buy for $1.99 on sale at Harbor Freight (throwaways!). My most expensive meter I own is a small Exatech (that might not be spelled right); I think I spent 30 dollars on it at Fry's Electronics (I needed a capacitance tester at the time). Don't worry about getting an oscilloscope or anything fancy like that right now; you'll know when you need such a device, and buying one without the knowledge of how to test or use it can cause you to make an expensive mistake.
Indeed - for most hobbyist experimentation, a multimeter is about the only piece of test equipment you really need. Sometimes, a logic probe can also be useful (and I would encourage you to build your own - they are fairly simple to make).
Do I need to know how to solder (I am guessing "Yes")? Is there a kind you recommended?
No - not right away; you still have a lot of learning to do before you start to solder things together. If you do want to learn to solder, go find some old circuit boards to practice on (something with thru-hole components to start with). You only need a 15-25 watt iron, plus some rosin-core (NEVER acid core) solder; if you can get it, lead based solder (60/40) is easier to work with than lead-free. You might also want to pick up some desoldering braid, and a "solder sucker" and learn how to use these to remove parts (which can be a good way to build up a stock of some components!). You'll also want a basic toolkit with screwdrivers (both phillips and straight/standard - plus jeweler's screwdrivers), small needle-nose pliers, small wire cutters, and perhaps one or two "dental picks". You'll also want a magnifying glass (and later, I also recommend a magnifier lamp, plus jeweler's loupes, as well as a handheld inspection microscope - these are all useful for verifying solder joints and traces).
Notice how this "hobby" is beginning to sound "expensive"? It is (I seem to collect expensive hobbies - for me, its computers, electronics, robotics and virtual reality - and at some point, machining, if I ever get around to buying tooling for my mini-mill).
Overall, if I want to have sensors reporting to the Fio, which reports to the house via another XBee hooked up via USB, and then a program handles it. Do I need anything more than the Fio, sensors, XBee, XBee USB dongle, and the program? Such as the breadboard and all that?
You should probably pick up at least a small breadboard (something with around 800 contact points would be OK), plus some jumpers (although I always recommend using wire from the inside of solid-core CAT5 cable - or better - 25 pair telco wire - much cheaper per foot than jumper cables). You'll also want to get a basic selection of parts like resistors, capacitors, etc; do some more research at places like AdaFruit, SparkFun, and Earthshine Electronics (among others) to look into "beginner's kits" - in fact, you might want to pick one up (and while your at it, download the wonderful Arduino beginners guide from Earthshine, as well!).
Are there any how-tos that explain this to people like me?
Well - there's the Earthshine book I mentioned:http://www.earthshineelectronics.com/files/ASKManualRev5.pdf
There are a few other similar books out there as well.
For basic electronics, I always recommend that people pick up a set of Forrest M. Mims III's "Engineer's Mini-Notebooks" series (you'll have to buy these):http://www.forrestmims.org/
I also always recommend - if you are serious about electronics - to pick up a copy of Grob's "Basic Electronics" - note that this is a college-level EE101-type textbook; it is very dense, but fairly easy to understand if you have a grasp of basic algebra:http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072988215/information_center_view0/
Since it is a textbook, a brand-new current edition is going to be fairly pricey (possibly over $100.00 USD) - so an older edition (or a used edition) is preferable unless you have the money to spend. My copy is fairly old; I got it back in 1991 - but it is still very relevant and useful today (I think it is a 4th edition, not sure). You could probably pick up such an old edition for $10.00 USD or so...
Oh - and I also like this site as well (it's labeling and such are UK/euro-centric - but beyond that, its a great site for learning basic electronics, IMHO):http://www.kpsec.freeuk.com/
I feel really bad asking these easy questions, but I feel like I have looked my hardest, and there is nowhere else to go.
Thanks in advanced. I see this is a nice, responsive forum, and look forward to staying awhile.
Oh, and I might not respond for another 12 hours, since I am going to sleep. Just do not feel like I have abandon you all.
No need to "feel bad" about asking questions; it's how we all learn. Just continue to do your research, and asking questions here. If you have questions about your circuit or design, remember to post your code and your schematic (or wiring diagram - I would encourage you to learn how to read a schematic as well as draw them - they are very useful), and possibly pictures (if relevant or helpful); anything that will help us help you (as we are not mind readers). Also - if you post code, remember to use the code tag button to post it (so it is formatted nicely).
I hope this helps you out... Good luck, welcome again, and enjoy!