Meet Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit.
I'm cross-posting this to both my woodworking blog www.CloseGrain.com and my software engineering blog FlinkAndBlink.blogspot.com (under the LearnToCode label), because even though there's no woodworking in it, this is all about building stuff, so it bridges the worlds. It's the maker ethos.
If you're interested in learning to code, and actually building the stuff that you're coding on, this is for you. This is all about working on embedded systems, from the hobby level to the professional.
In Which I Find Out About Limor Fried
Allow me a moment of self-indulgent gushing admiration here. Or you can skip down to the real information that starts at the Electronics Learning Resources heading.
I admit to instant and total nerd-crush. Limor Fried, who goes by the name Ladyada online (for Lady Ada Lovelace, The First Programmer) is the founder of Adafruit.
Adafruit is a small electronics manufacturing company in Manhattan, NY, that focuses on teaching electronics to makers of all ages. You can read about them here.
Electronics is another of those hobbies that I wanted to pursue as a teenager, but never could due to lack of funds. Fortunately I've advanced beyond that impecunious stage of life, and seeing this has fired instant obsession (hence the shopping list below!).
I'm familiar with that feeling of obsession settling on my shoulders. It propelled me into hand tool woodworking, turning into a book. It propelled me into violinmaking. It propelled me into boatbuilding.
Each time, the pattern is the same. I buy a bunch of books, watch a bunch of videos, dig through a bunch of blogs and forums, then buy a bunch of tools and start playing. Last year it propelled me into small engine repair and oxy-acetylene welding after I found Taryl Dactyl (yes, blog posts will be forthcoming).
Now, in my copious free time (that's a joke, son), I'll finally be realizing that dream to get my hands dirty with electronics.
I owe this to Matt Pandina, whom we recently hired at work. It quickly turned out that Matt is a maker and likes sharing information. He has some nice stuff on Google Groups under the moniker artcfox (in fact, one of his articles was coincidentally the answer to the embedded systems programming problem I use when interviewing candidates!).
He made a comment about how Adafruit is doing manufacturing in Manhattan, and I asked, "Who's Adafruit?". That was all it took. Thanks, Matt!
I was tickled to read Fried's favorite quote in the Entrepreneur Magazine article about her:
“We are what we celebrate.” —entrepreneur and inventor Dean Kamen.Kamen is one of my other heroes. She whose hero is my hero is my hero!
I managed to score his autograph at the 2015 MassMEDIC conference. I was at the 2015 Embedded Systems Conference (ESC Boston), which was being held concurrently at the Boston Convention Center.
When I saw Kamen listed as keynote speaker, I scooted down early and got a chance to talk to him and tell him I wanted to work for him (he probably gets a lot of stalker geeks like that!). Came close the following year, but logistics didn't work out.
Electronics Learning Resources
On the business side, Adafruit sells kits, parts, tools, and books. That's pretty cool (along with being able to pull off a manufacturing operation in Manhattan). But what's truly spectacular about them is their online learning resources.
Fried is a big proponent of open source, sharing the knowledge. So the Adafruit website is chock full of information. There's also an extensive YouTube channel.
You'll also finds lots of cross-pollination with others in the maker community. There are magazines, blogs, and videos by the score, by independent makers like Matt, and by larger organizations.
I've just barely begun to scratch the surface. This is great, because I know how to program embedded systems, but I don't know much about the components that go into them and connect to them. It's the combination of hardware and software that really makes something work.
Pretty much everything I know about digital electronics I owe to Forrest M. Mims and George Young 35 years ago. Now, after that brief hiatus, I can take the next step.
Basic Electronics Lab Skills
Step into Collin's lab!
Among the resources is a series of very accessible quick guides and videos by Collin Cunningham. Of particular interest to the electronics beginner such as myself is this set of basic electronics lab skills (you can scan through all these for quick grok of the big picture by setting the speed in the YouTube window settings (the gear icon) to 2x, then come back and watch at normal speed for a second pass):
- Soldering and Desoldering: how to solder components together properly, and how to pull them apart for salvage and rework.
- Surface Mount Soldering: how to solder surface-mount components.
- Multimeters: how to use a meter for basic measurements.
- Oscilloscopes: how to use an oscilloscope for advanced measurements and waveforms.
- Hand Tools: the basic hand tools used for assembling and disassembling electronics.
- Schematics: how to read schematics (no, they're not Greek!).
- Breadboards and Perfboards: how to combine the parts on a schematic into a functioning circuit.
- Ohm's Law: understanding the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance.
These form the basis of the shopping list below. And of course they lead to lots of other interesting videos, like Collin's videos on the basics of various components:
- Batteries: the basics of using batteries to supply DC power to projects.
- Solar Cells: using solar cells to keep the batteries charged.
- Power Supplies: using an AC power supply to supply DC power to projects.
- Pulse Width Modulation: using a PWM converter to change DC input voltage to lower effective DC voltage, or as a simple digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
- Switches: understanding the different types of switches for manually controlling projects.
- The Transistor
- The Capacitor
- The Diode
- The Inductor
- The Resistor
- The LED
- The Integrated Circuit (IC)
- The Arduino
- Adafruit Guide To Excellent Soldering
- Wires and Connections
- All About Batteries
- Power Supplies
- All About LEDs
These are the tools, equipment, supplies, and books to do the work. With the exception of the oscilloscope and logic analyzer, these are all links to the Adafruit shopping pages. Prices as of April 8, 2018.
Tools and equipment:
- Hakko FX-888D Digital Soldering Iron, $109.95
- Hakko Soldering Tip: T18-D24 Screwdriver, $7.95
- Hakko Soldering Tip: T18-C2 Hoof, $7.95
- Hakko Soldering Tip: T18-S4 Fine SMD, $9.95
- Panavise Multi-Purpose Work Center, $99.95
- Third Hand Pana Hand Workstation Add-On, $54.95
- Helping Third Hand Magnifier W/Magnifying Glass, $6.00
- Flush diagonal cutters, $7.25
- Simple pliers, $3.00
- Hakko Professsional Quality 20-30 AWG Wire Strippers, $14.95
- Adafruit Pocket Screwdriver, $1.50
- Precision screwdriver set (6 pieces), $7.95
- Precision Torx Screwdriver Set (6 pieces), $6.95
- 65 Piece Ratchet Screwdriver and Tool Bit Set, $29.95
- iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit, $19.95
- Super Scissors, $14.95
- Solar Digital Calipers, $14.95
- Fine tip straight tweezers - ESD safe, $3.95
- Fine tip curved tweezers - ESD safe, $3.95
- ESD-Safe PCB Cleaning Brush, $2.95
- Solder sucker, $5.00
- Professional IC Extraction Tool, $14.95
- Full sized breadboard, $5.95
- Breadboarding wire bundle, $4.95
- Small Alligator Clip Test Lead (set of 12), $3.95
- 2.1mm DC Barrel Jack to Alligator Clips, $1.95
- In-line power switch for 2.1mm barrel jack, $2.50
- 5V 2A (2000mA) switching power supply, $7.95
- 9 VDC 1000mA regulated switching power adapter, $6.95
- Extech EX330 12-function autoranging multimeter, $59.95
- Rigol DS1054Z Digital Oscilloscope - Bandwidth: 50 Mhz, Channels: 4, $349.00 (this is an Amazon link, since the 4 channel scope is less than the Adafruit 2 channel Rigol. Sorry, Limor!)
- Saleae Logic 8 Logic Analyzer, 8 D/A Inputs, 100 MS/s, $199 with discount code that you can request and apply to your cart when checking out (this is a direct Saleae link, since they offer an awesome "enthusiast/student" discount of $200 off through their site; thanks, guys!)
- Bakelite Universal Perfboard Plates - Pack of 10, $4.95
- Hook-up Wire Spool Set - 22AWG Solid Core - 10 x 25ft, $27.50
- Hook-up Wire Spool Set - 22AWG Stranded-Core - 10 x 25ft, $27.50
- Mini Solder spool - 60/40 lead rosin-core solder 0.031" diameter - 100g, $7.95
- Solder Wire - 60/40 Rosin Core - 0.5mm/0.02" diameter - 50 grams, $5.95
- Solder Wire - RoHS Lead Free - 0.5mm/.02" diameter - 50g, $11.95
- Solder Wire - SAC305 RoHS Lead Free - 0.5mm/.02" diameter - 50g, $14.95
- Chip Quik SMD Removal Kit, $16.00
- Chip Quik SMD Removal Kit with Lead-Free Alloy, $17.00
- Solder wick - 3S 5ft., $3.00
- Heat Shrink Pack (24 pieces), $4.95
- Multi-Colored Heat Shrink Pack (30 pieces), $4.95
- Breadboard-friendly 2.1mm DC barrel jack, $0.95
- Adafruit Parts Pal, $19.95
- Make: Electronics (Charles Platt) - 2nd Edition, $34.95 (spoiler alert: this is a fantastic book for beginners and those with a little knowledge!)
- Make: More Electronics by Charles Platt, $39.95
- Getting Started in Electronics by Forrest M. Mims III, $19.95 (remember him?)
- Practical Electronics for Inventors, Fourth Edition, by Paul Scherz and Simon Monk, $40.00
- Hacking Electronics by Simon Monk, $29.95
- Learn Electronics with Arduino - by Jody Culkin and Eric Hagan, $24.95
- Python for Microcontrollers: Getting Started with MicroPython by Donald Norris, $19.95
- Programming the Raspberry Pi: Getting Started with Python - 2nd Edition by Simon Monk, $15.00
- StarTech.com 24x27.5-Inch Desktop Anti-Static Mat, $17.44. Anti-static mats are important for ESD safety, to avoid damaging sensitive components. Use this larger one as you primary work surface.
- Velleman AS4 Anti-Static Mat with Ground Cable - Desktop static dissipative mat - 11.8" x 22", $11.18. Smaller secondary mat for second work area.
- Rosewill ESD Anti-Static Wrist Strap Components, $5.99, one per mat.
- Elenco Electronics LP-560 Logic Probe, $18.00. For checking logic levels on IC pins, including catching quick pulses that you would miss using a meter.
- Silvertronic 501784CS Solid Copper Alligator Clip w/Barrel (10 pieces), $19.99. Because copper absorbs heat well, these are used as heat sinks on component leads when soldering to avoid heat damage.
- Elenco Electronics TL-21 Minigrabber to Minigrabber 5 pc Test Lead Set, $8.95. Minigrabbers are good for grabbing onto closely-spaced IC and header pins without shorting to adjacent pins.
- 3M Scotch #35 Electrical Tape Value Pack (5 colors), $10.10, because how can you build electrical stuff without electrical tape, color coded?
- Scotch Super 33+ Vinyl Electrical Tape (black), $3.98
- Sharpie Fine Point Asst Colors (8 colors), $6.30, for color coded marking.
- Permatex 80050 Clear RTV Silicone Adhesive Sealant, 3 oz, $11.18. RTV is a universal technician's friend. Gobs of it serve as adhesive, sealers, hole plugs, gaskets, wire holders, vibration dampers, etc. There are a number of different formulations.
Back in my teenage days, $10 was a major expenditure, and $100 was simply inconcievable. This is starting to add up to some real money, but it will leave you armed with the tools, knowledge, and skills sufficient to launch a career.
The really nice thing is that Adafruit provides a curated list of things to choose from, so you're getting the benefit of their experience and recommendations, all guided by that maker ethos. That was a big plus for me.
Bridging three centuries of maker technology in my workshop.
You can read about my first use of these tools, since I needed them almost immediately.
For a review of the outstanding Charles Platt books listed above, see Review: Make: Electronics and Make:More Electronics.
For a useful set of resources to help you learn electronics, see Learning About Electronics And Microcontrollers.