New guy here

Up until now my knowledge of electronics is summed up in the following phrase 'let someone else do it.' Recently I have decided that I would like to try my own hand and I already have a project in mind. I would like my washing machine to email me when it finishes a cycle. I found a similar project online but I got the feeling it was done by someone who had done this before. They skipped a couple of steps that might be obvious to the hobbyist but not so obvious to a newbie. My question is this: what equipment do I need to get started and how do I start out? Thanks in advance for your help.

You will need a network connection. That would be Ethernet if your washing machine is near a router or a WiFi shield if you have a home wireless network,

Second step is to figure out how to send email from an Arduino. Someone has probably done that before so you should try some web searches.

Third step is figuring out how the Arduino is going to detect the end of a cycle. Since the washing machine time is probably switching house current you will probably want some kind of isolation. Perhaps an opto-coupler or opto-isolator.

I see that I probably should have provided more detail in my original message. So I was on the internet and I found this.

http://hackaday.com/2011/08/05/lan-connected-washing-machine-lets-you-know-when-your-clothes-are-done/

I wanted to base my own project off of this. I do have a wireless router and I would prefer to use that instead of a wired connection so I have two follow up questions on that subject: 1) where do I get a wireless shield? 2) do I need to get a base Arduino module AND a wireless shield or is it incorporated into the wireless shield?

Secondly, I'm not actually sold on having Arduino send an email upon completion, it just seemed like a pretty straightforward task for a computer. Really I just want to be notified somehow once the washer is done and, not really knowing Arduino's capabilities and/or limitations, I just picked something. It sounds like I need to do a little more research on this topic. Even a fire alarm or strobe light would be fine (the neighbors might not like it but I would know when the laundry was ready :)).

Third, I will look up opto couplers and opto isolators. The person in the link above did it by soldering it directly to the LED line directly on the washer so I figure I could probably manage that, at least.

Thanks for your help! You've given me the starting point that I need to get this going.

-Jon

Wireless shields are pretty pricy (ex: http://www.sparkfun.com/products/9954). Wired ethernet shields are typically half the price or less. And yes, usually if it's described as a "shield" you will need to also buy an Arduino to go with it.

If you've never used an Arduino before you should know you're attempting a pretty tricky project. Not only is it a pretty advanced programming project for the Arduino but it also requires a good bit of knowledge with respect to networking and network protocols.