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A question from a beginner about all the codes

Discussion in 'Electronic Basics' started by rollajarhead, Feb 25, 2005.

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  1. rollajarhead

    rollajarhead Guest

    I am just starting to learn electronics, reading and experimenting, at
    47, wife and kids, going to school for a hobby right now is not an
    I read in this group and in MANY other places I have read about,
    1N4001s, 5555s, 8051s, on and on. In the reading I have done so far it
    has mentioned a few IC's what I'm wondering is how do you know
    which IC to use? Is there someplace on the web or in a book that breaks
    these it groups. It seems SO overwhelming.

    Thanks in advance to anyone for here help in this.
  2. Things break down into various categories; like microcontrollers, memory, small
    logic blocks, CPLDs and FPGAs, ADCs and DACs, opamps, voltage regulators,
    voltage references, oscillators, etc.

    When you consider a specific application, you take the important specifications
    (which you may have a strong hand in deciding) and prioritize them and use your
    design knowledge to develop some reasonable method to achieve a solution and
    then break this down into the functional areas needed. Experience will guide
    you, regarding what is available to help as a matter of standard parts (a
    hobbyist does NOT often have the luxury of getting customized ICs made.)

    Without experience as a guide, you may know what you want to try but not really
    know what approach to take or what is available to help out. So one good way is
    to talk here about what you want to try and as much of the specification as you
    can reasonably describe. I'm sure you'll get some good guidance.

    Regarding books, my own experience is rather modest and unique (I used some old
    electronics books designed to teach WW II repair crews, various hobbyist books
    from the '50's and '60's, read magazines and their articles when I could follow
    them, and tried out a few things.) I'm not sure it would be the better path for
    someone starting out now. So I'll let others much better informed about this
    recommend some ideas.
    It's probably better to start out with some small things you are personally
    interested in, and then broadening out from there. For example, I was
    interested (as a kid) in Jacob's ladders and simple AM radio receivers. So
    that's what I built for myself. But to do so, I had to learn many other things.
    And that's how learning often starts...

    You might start by describing a little of what you've done or tried to do, what
    has worked for you, what hasn't; what interests you generally have; what
    immediate projects interest you, for now; what theory you believe you
    understand; etc.

    Also, you may want some tools to use. What kind of budget are you willing to

    Finally, have you read through other similar threads on this subject in
    sci.electronics.basics and, using google groups? This
    kind of question is an oft-asked one and there are many good responses. Is
    there something about those that misses the mark for you? If so, what?

    In other words, help folks to understand who you are, what you know, where your
    interests lie, and how much time and money you can consider investing.

  3. tlbs

    tlbs Guest

    Purchase one of those "100-in-One" kits from RadioShack (in-store or
    from They come in different sizes, and the bigger
    kits contain more components and allow for more experimentation and
    learning. These kits all contain a book that explains what each
    component does, how they work (at a basic level), and lead you through
    making different circuits step-by-step. I have even seen them for sale
    at hobby and craft stores.

    The down side to these kits -- they do not cover microcontrollers and
    microprocessors. But I would advise learning the basics before jumping
    into a more advanced subject such as a microcontroller.
  4. Kitchen Man

    Kitchen Man Guest

    Go get a copy of the old Texas Instruments standard, "The TTL Data
    Book." If you get into the field, you will use it the rest of your
    life. In the meantime, you can sometimes find datasheets via a google
    search, downloadable in .pdf format. The datasheets will make a good
    accompaniment to reading of basic digital circuits. The prefaces in the
    "Data Book" are good to read, as they give some description of the
    operation of the IC's listed inside. The first and most important gate
    to learn: the NAND gate. Packs a lot of concept in one neat package.
  5. Guest

    You could also try some solderless, re-usable breadboards. These have
    arrays of holes connected together so that you can plug in parts like
    ICs, small & medium transistors, resistors etc. Also buy some
    insulated, solid core, tinned hookup wire, sidecutters and a craft
    knife (for removing the insulation). You'll be able to build and
    modify circuits quickly. For anyone starting out, I'd also recommend a
    multimeter. A decent one to get you started costs £8 in UK
    (Wilkinson's); Maplin, & probably Radio Shack (if you're in USA) have
    better offers.

  6. I hope that the OP gets some benefit from your advice. And if he really
    wants a prototype board he should get one, but maybe he would like to
    consider this first:

    I wanted such a prototype board when I was younger, and finally got hold
    of one, a big 4 section model. I built a special box for it, with power
    supplies inside and a front panel with instruments, pots and switches.

    But I soon realized that I had to build everything twice, first on the
    protoboard, and then I had to move the working circuit over to pcb

    My third or fourth project on that protoboard still occupies it, and it
    hasn't been used in at least 25 years.

    It was much easier to build and experiment directly on pcb, so I could
    just put the pcb in a box and use it afterwards.

    Get some pieces of pcb material, or copper laminate as we call it here.
    When you start a new project you take a suitable piece of it, and clean
    it. Rub it with an abrasive kitchen sponge, the green layer. That is the
    quickest and easiest method I know of to get down to clean copper.
    It is a lot easier to solder if the copper surface is clean.

    Cut a number of straight grooves through the copper, with a sharp tool,
    so you get a 4 times 5 pads board, or the number of pads you think
    you will need. Solder the components between the copper pads.

    Don't try to cram everything into a very small area. It will become a
    mess when/if you have to change the circuit. Leave space for changes from
    the beginning, so you can experiment and change the circuit as much as
    you like.

    If you want to know more about building circuits in a fast and lazy way,
    look up these keywords on google:

    manhattan dead bug style solder

    and you will find 500 links to articles about fast construction methods
    without etching and without first building prototypes. You build the
    final circuit on a pcb directly. You can mix surface mount components
    with through-hole ones with a little ingenuity. Bend the wires of old
    components and mount them without making holes. (Making holes is a lot of
    work and you need good machinery. By avoiding making holes we avoid a lot
    of extra work.)

    It doesn't matter if circuit boards are pretty or ugly. They will be
    contained inside a box and the user will only see the controls and
    connectors on the outside. That's where you should spend more time and
    care to get a nice-looking device. Spray paint and rub-on letters and
    symbols makes the outside more professional looking.

    I often put small circuits in a tobacco tin, or any kind of metal box,
    with V-formed slits in the sides for cables into and out from the
    circuit, so the lid fixes the cables when shut.

    By building circuits on small separate circuit boards you can use
    circuits later which you have built maybe just as an experiment. Just
    save all projects, whether they are completed or not. You can continue
    later, or put together a few experiments to something useful. Or change
    an old experiment a little to get a circuit you need. You cannot do that
    with circuits you have built on a protoboard, because all circuits you
    build there must be disassembled, destroyed, to make space for new
  7. Art

    Art Guest

    I second that. Proponents of those breadboards trumpet how handy it is
    not to have to solder and desolder constantly everytime you want to
    make a change or correct an error, but that's a fallacious argument:
    after all (as mentioned), you wind up doing the same job twice anyway.
    Besides, those little wires have an annoying tendancy to pop out at the
    most inconvenient times, plus there's a greater potential for noise
    problems with those friction connections. Besides, really, how much
    trouble is it to desolder a few connections (I recommend solderwick vs.
    suction devices...admittedly, it's been a few years since I used a
    solder sucker, but when I did, I found the constant clogging annoying).
    Use a good iron and you won't find it troublesome. There are a dizzying
    number available, but I recommend a Weller WTCPT as a reliable
    workhorse. A huge selection of tips are available (tip it comes with is
    reasonable for many uses) and it's about $100; you can get by on less,
    but once you get into construction, you'll find cheaper irons
    aggravating to use (poor temp control, tip selection limited, etc.),
    although careful selection of one of Weller's economy irons can get you
    going for, say, $50.

    Finally, a book you gotta have (it's not just a good idea, it's the
    law!): "The Art of Electronics" by Horowitz and Hill. Older editions
    are cheaper and still usable, newer editions have stuff you may not be
    getting into for a while, if ever; also consider an ARRL handbook
    (older editons also usable, newer ones available in CD, hardcover, and
    paperback), and, for that matter, ARRLs other publications (they lean
    away from hardcore theory and toward the practical).

  8. Guest

    There is a book called "The Art of Electronics" (one of the authors
    posts regularly on that you should buy.

    Robin Pain
  9. Well, there are other reasons not to use solderless breadboards. The
    National Semiconductor electronics guru Bob Pease doesn't like them
    because of the capacitance between different rows, which causes all
    sorts of problems, slowing down signals, interfering with measured
    capacitance values, causing oscillation, etc. They also tend to corrode
    with time, and thus the contact of parts to the little rows of metal get
    more resistive over time. Finally, the little springs inside that clamp
    on the wires wear out with use.

    That being said, it's also about 100 times as fast to build and rip
    apart a project on one of these. You don't have to do too much planning,
    because the boards are set up so you just jumper wires around to make
    connections. Using these is made easier with 3M preformed wire jumpers,
    which come in various lengths.

    The better ones I've seen have conductive backing plates, which, when
    connected to ground, allow a groundplane of sorts. I'm not sure if this
    is good or not. I have seen no problem building microcontroller circuits
    that switch signals at 20MHz on these. Any DC circuit, or audio
    circuits, are probably going to be OK as well, unless you end up with
    oscillations from your amplifiers.

    Regarding the problem of moving the project to it's final soldered form,
    there are premade PCBs that can be obtained that have the same layout as
    these breadboards.

    You can also get them at radioshack. By using these, you can just
    directly move the circuit over after prototyping, and have some
    assurance that at least the connections are in the right place.
    You are talking about stripboard, also called veroboard. You can get
    this premade from the guys above (same link), with holes drilled in it.
    There is also a program floating around called "stripboard magic" that
    will plan the layout for you, given a schematic. It's fairly primitive,
    but works ok.

    However, I haven't had good results with stripboard. I prefer just using
    the fiberglass board with predrilled holes but no solder pads. I find
    that the solder pads just get in the way, cause bridges when you don't
    want them, and fail to do so when you do. Perhaps it's pilot error.
    The problem with this is trying to decipher what the HELL you did 6
    months later, when a component gives it up, or you want to make a small
    change. It's generally used for things like RF, where you are afraid of
    stray capacitance. However, the inductance of the leads seems like it
    would be worse. Whatever, I don't know enough to judge.

    Robert Monsen

    "Your Highness, I have no need of this hypothesis."
    - Pierre Laplace (1749-1827), to Napoleon,
    on why his works on celestial mechanics make no mention of God.
  10. I like that book, but I don't think it's a beginner's book. It's stated
    goal is to enable the design of scientific instruments by non-electrical
    engineers. It was written to be used as a course textbook at MIT.

    I actually prefer "Practical Electronics for Inventors" by Sherz. It's
    more up to date, has much of the same information, and it's a bit
    cheaper. On the other hand, AoE goes into far more depth on subjects
    like precision design and high speed circuits. I have both, and I
    recommend the former for an introduction, the second for when you have a
    bit more experience.

    There is also the Forrest Mims Circuit Scrapbook series, which is
    designed as a hands on approach to learning circuits.

    Your library branch probably has all of these, and a few others.

    Robert Monsen

    "Your Highness, I have no need of this hypothesis."
    - Pierre Laplace (1749-1827), to Napoleon,
    on why his works on celestial mechanics make no mention of God.
  11. No, they are so expensive and are not suitable for smd components.

    I'm talking about copper laminated fiberglass, which is what is
    available nowadays, single or doublesided. But the older type of laminate
    is actually easier to work with, easier to cut into pieces. The
    fiberglass is a nasty material, but very strong and straight. The older
    pcb materials, usually brown or yellow, were often slightly bent, but a
    lot easier to cut. Buy a life supply of the older type at a surplus store
    for a few dollars if you get the chance.
    If I want a ground plane I use doublesided laminate and use the other
    side as ground plane. Or build up the circuit with manhattan and dead bug
    methods, and use the single copper layer, undivided, as ground plane. I
    use the ground plane for all ground connections. All circuits are above
    the laminate then, on small platforms of small pieces of pcb material,
    glued to the laminate under it (manhattan style). Or use meg-ohm
    resistors to connect components to the ground plane mechanically, but not
    electrically. Turn the IC chips upside down, so they look like dead
    bugs lying on their backs with the legs in the air. (the dead bug style)

    10 years ago I bought a collection of smd components from another guy,
    for 110 dollars. It was an amazing experience to hold thousands of
    transistors in my hand, it looked like black and silver volcanic sand.

    Since then I am using mainly smd components but I often need to use a few
    old type components too. They can usually be fitted somehow without
    drilling holes.
  12. Kitchen Man

    Kitchen Man Guest

    Breadboards are very useful in a training environment, where small
    projects are built and discarded on a regular basis. I haven't used a
    breadboard since college. For Senior Projects, I used copper solder
    prototype boards, similar to what you describe below:

    Regarding the problem of moving the project to it's final soldered form,
    there are premade PCBs that can be obtained that have the same layout as
    these breadboards.

    You can also get them at radioshack. By using these, you can just
    directly move the circuit over after prototyping, and have some
    assurance that at least the connections are in the right place.
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