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© November 2007 Anthony Lawrence

Making Things Talk


Oh, wow. Double wow. I missed a whole revolution.

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.

Tony Lawrence 2007-11-10 Rating: 4.5

  • Tom Igoe
  • O'Reilly
  • 9780596510510

Amazon Order (or just read more about) Making Things Talk  from Amazon.com


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Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

Sierra: A Take Control Crash Course

Photos: A Take Control Crash Course

Take Control of Upgrading to El Capitan

El Capitan: A Take Control Crash Course

Take Control of IOS 11

More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Sat Nov 10 19:57:53 2007: 3245   TonyLawrence

I found this link from a former Heath Kit employee:

Mon Nov 12 16:27:23 2007: 3252   BigDumbDinosaur

In the late 1950s I used to built Knight kits, which were sold by Allied Radio (now Allied Electronics). My first kit was a VTVM (vacuum tube voltmeter), which I used for about 10 years. Following that project, I built a Knight kit 'scope, which I still have (in storage, not on my bench). I also out together some Knight kit tube powered hi-fi amplfiers. By the mid-1960's, my electronic engineering skills were sufficient to allow me to scratch-design and build this sort of stuff and I stopped building kits. My last tube project from that period was a pair of 100 watt RMS amps, one for each channel of my "ultimate" stereo system. Those amps, which went into service in 1970 and weigh some forty pounds each, are still in use, although I have no more spare 8417 beam tetrode output tubes for them. When the 8417's die, the amps will be permanently silenced.

The control system in my large scale Diesel locomotive will include a Splatco microcontroller. It will handle decision logic for such things as engine throttle control and loading. The Splatco controller will also manage the air compressor and automatic reservoir drain. I could have done it entirely with relays -- lots of them -- but the lure of the Splatco unit was too much to resist (relays will be used to switch heavy electrical loads, however).


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