Back in the 70's I built a few Heathkits.. I can't even remember
what I built other than a voltmeter, but I remember enjoying it.
Playing with electronics was fun. The only problem was that if you wanted to
do anything complicated, well, it quickly got very complicated.
It could get pretty expensive, too.
So when PC's came along in the late 70's I dropped electronics
entirely: programming was a lot more fun than soldering resistors.
I do recall reading Steve Ciarca's Circuit Cellar in the early
byte magazines, and I did toy with the idea of playing with X10
modules tied to a central computer, but the computer was really
too important (and too expensive) to mess around with for that.
So that was that. One of my clients for quite a few years
now has been You-do-it
Electronics, so I've walked by racks of electronic parts and gizmos
many times, but honestly I've been blind to it all.
Then this book arrived from O'Reilly. Pay no attention to
the toy monkey on the cover; this is a pretty serious book. What
it is about is the revolution I missed: inexpensive microcontrollers
that you can program to do all of the horribly complicated stuff
that would have driven most of us nuts in the 70's.
These things come in all flavors now: general purpose serial
and USB devices, Bluetooth, wireless, ethernet and this book
gives examples of talking to and controlling all of them. The
wonderful thing is all of these things are inexpensive - even
the higher end Wiring.org microcontroller is under $100.00 and an only
slightly less powerful Arduino board is under $40.00.
There are twenty-six basic projects covered here, from just
making an LED blink (you have to start somewhere) to interfacing
with an RFID tag to turn lights on and off. Tom Igoe explains
concepts with humor and style - he's an instructor at New York
University, and that shows. This isn't just "connect a 320 OHM
resistor here..", Tom explains the underlying technology before
jumping into a circuit and program.
I really enjoyed this; so much so that I immediately bought
a Wiring.org microcontroller and got my first "blinking lights" working last
night. If this lights a fire in you as it did in me, you'll
want this book, and you'll also want visit the MAKE Website and perhaps subscribe to "MAKE Magazine" also.