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An Excellent Starting Point for an Arduino and Microprocessor Controller Hobbyist
on July 22, 2012
If you have relatively little background in circuit design or electrical engineering, it's good to start with the basics and develop and understanding of how electrical circuits work in their various configurations. If you're going to incorporate a relatively sensitive (to spikes in voltage, miswired circuits) microcontroller package such as the Arduino Uno, go ahead and get this package from Radio Shack that includes the two workbooks from Forrest Mimms, III.
What you get out of this package is pretty amazing. You get a set of potentiometers / variable resistors, spring-contact LED's prewired with resistors, a speaker, a piezoelectric buzzer, and just about everything you'd want to get a start with both circuit design and simple integration with Arduino. Beyond that you get a fairly simple amp-meter (apologies for errors in terminology - I was an English & Fine Arts major in college), a massive breadboard with 1.5, 3, 4.5, 6, and 9 volt terminals (maybe another - can't recall) and ground, jumper wires that are pretty darn good, and a package of IC's, resistors, transistors, capacitors, LED's, and other diodes that will get you rolling so long as you follow Forrest Mimms' lucid and handwritten instructions in the book.
I mention the "book" or "books" included in this package, because if you purchase the product from Radio Shack you get two books that guide you through the introduction to circuits and IC circuit design basics. If you're ordering this product from a third-party seller, make sure that the books are included because they are invaluable to guiding you through the process. Also consider Forrest Mimms' book "Introduction to Electronics" for understanding the various components of a circuit that you will be integrating into most any design play with with your Arduino.
Although much of the instruction included in the package is of the "cookbook" variety, the elementary formulas are there in many places to explain the concepts of resistance, capacitance, inductance - the works. If you follow the instructions and work the set, you'll develop almost an intuitive grasp of circuits and be able to translate circuit schematics to the breadboard with relative ease. The issue is that until you actually put your hands to the grindstone, you're going to be living in concept-land forever. You can browse the web all day long, believe you understand a schematic, but until you actually apply something physically on a circuit board and see it work, you will be lacking in the actual skills that are developed by repetitive action / interpretation & application of designs. This is an probably one of the best "commercial off the shelf" concrete resources to get your proverbial "feet wet" in basic circuits.
What's fascinating about the this learning lab is the author and designer himself. From the time he was a child he was an experimenter and a tinkerer, and I believe he was a liberal arts major from Texas A&M. He's actually a world-renowned electrical engineer who knows his field and can communicate to the beginner in true layman's terms. Forrest Mimms, III, was one of the pioneers of Tandy computers, and developer of the modern LED as we know it in application.
In short if you're getting started in Arduino consider this as a great first step and instead of buying various electrical components from all over the place, you can purchase it all at one stop. Radio Shack, in fact, has a promotion right now locally and is selling the entire setup with books included for $59.99. I don't have any relationship to Radio Shack other than as an occasional customer - so I'm not biased in any way. In fact I prefer to buy most all my electronics through Amazon or online. In short this product great deal and a great way to get started - and not confused - by Arduino and other microcontroller systems that you'll be building circuits around. Just study the IDE / compiler language, play with this board, integrate with Arduino (you can use the board in concert), and you'll be on the path to developing a relatively strong and confident understanding of microcontrollers and circuits. I say on the path because it's a long road, but the resources are available to take you however far you want to go.