Sunday, January 31, 2010

Contest Winners - and a New Contest

Back on January 13th, I created a small contest asking readers to help me understand better the circuit seen in Figure 2-60 on page 59. I was having difficulty understanding how the circuit was working... mainly because my limited training in electronics was always about closing a circuit. I could NOT, for the life of me, see how the circuit was closed in Figure 2-60. With the pushbutton open, I saw no closed loop.

But the circuit in Figure 2-60 isn't drawn like a typical circuit. The positive and negative voltage terminals are not drawn together. That's what took me a bit to see... and once I did, I saw the loop. See, in most circuits I'd seen or drawn, the battery (or power) was always drawn with the same symbol... current came out one end and went back in the other... there's your loop.

But with 2-60, the closed loop is there... it's just not drawn that way. You can, for all practical purposes, consider the small black dot just to the right of the big red + sign and the other black dot to the left of the big - sign as touching... if you do that, the circuit is closed.

Okay, enough of that... to the winners. Well, I only had two submissions... so this is an easy one. Both Brian and Nick will each get a Maker's Notebook.

Brian and Nick: I need you to email me at jktechwriter *at* gmail dot com with your mailing addresses... in order to confirm you are who you say you are, I'll email you instructions for confirming you were the person who posted the item. I wouldn't want to send a book to another Brian or Nick!

And now another contest - for this one, I'll be picking two winners - each will receive a Maker's Notebook. This contest is about helping out Charles Platt, author of the Make: Electronics book, and MakerSHED. Here's all that you need to do:

1. Add a comment to THIS post - January 31, 2010 "Contest Winners - and a New Contest."
2. Your comment should be between 50 and 100 words.
3. Let Charles and/or MakerSHED know your thoughts on the book - tell them what you like, what you dislike, or what other books/projects you'd like to see from MakerSHED.

That's it - I'll pick two winners randomly on Feb 13, 2010 so I can award two Maker's Notebooks on Valentine's Day. I'll number all the comments, write down each number on a paper chit, and have my wife pull two numbers randomly from a hat. Two minutes of your time for a chance to win a $20 Maker's Notebook. USA residents only, please.


  1. Jim, First thanks for blogging about your experiences with this book.

    MakerSHED / Charles, I would like to see more books aimed at beginners. I like how the book breaks down the concepts in an easy to read, and follow manner so you don't get overwhelmed with things too early on, and are well encouraged to continue along.

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  3. I posted a previous comment and re-read the rules and realized I missed the length one, so here's a cliff's notes version.

    I love the book, but I struggle reading the schematics, beginning with the 555 timer circuitry. I wish reading/understanding schematics could be done a bit more in-depth; all the same, I do love the book very much.

  4. This is the type of book a 'in my own time' type of learner such as myself really loves. It's not just a step-by-step of the basics but a good reference book. Sometimes you're not that interested in the scientific principles behind a process. You just want to know how to make it work.

    I picked it up a few weeks ago and my daughters are now going through the lessons with me.

    The more step by step books like this, the better!

  5. I think Make:Electronics is the best example I've yet seen of a decent beginners book on electronics. I'm about half way through it and generally find both the pacing and the content to be very well thought out.

    I've been messing around with an Arduino and electronics for the last year or so and have picked up a few different books to try to get myself up to speed on all of this stuff. The Make book is easily both the clearest and most relevant book I've found. The examples do a good job of explaining the core concepts without seeming so arbitrary and useless as to not have any application in the real world.

    One area where I've been having trouble for a long time is in really getting an intuitive understanding of resistance, capacitance, voltage and current. Unfortunately the Make book didn't really help me out much in this area since it is more focused on practical application than theory.

    But other than this minor gripe I'm finding it to be quite well written and I'm learning a lot from it. Full kudos to Mr. Platt!

  6. I picked up the book after downloading the sample chapter. I haven't read through it all yet.

    One experiment that I think is useful is to play with a DMM and some electrolytic capacitors.

    First, you can show with the capacitor or with an LED that the meter puts out some voltage on the resistance measurement settings. It's usually very low current. The amount of voltage put out is higher on the lower resistance settings. Most meters I have tried can dimly light an LED.

    If you hook up an electrolytic (red lead to positive side) and turn on the meter on to the resistance setting you can see the resistance go up until infinity as the capacitor charges. After waiting 10 seconds switch the meter to a low DC voltage range. You can see the amount of stored electricity, which will slowly discharge through the meter, so you can watch the readings go down.

    Aside from seeing capacitors in action, you start to learn that using the meter can have an impact on the circuit under test, adding resistance.

    Hope this helps,

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  8. I like that the lessons start with doing, and then explain, rather than the other way around.

    I *love* the asides that get into the details of (for example) how a transistor works. A little formality like that after some hands-on has been very helpful.

    Both theory and practice are important, but it's nice to start with practice, and fill in the theory after it's been seen in action.

    (don't count this comment in the contest. This is the same Brian who already won one).

  9. I really like RCT's suggestion of playing with a meter to see how it behaves as an active participant in a circuit, not just an observer. I'd like to steal this suggestion for a future article in Make magazine, if RCT is willing! It's a really good thought.

    The whole issue of schematics is a vexed one. My technical fact-checker was quite unhappy with my decision to lay out schematics in a way that would emulate a breadboard layout. In his view, plus should always be at the top, minus at the bottom, and the flow of action should be from left to right. Well, he's correct, schematics are usually drawn that way, but then when you build them you have to convert them mentally to a breadboard layout, which is hard. I feel I never did solve this problem satisfactorily, and now James has given me further food for thought because he sees a circuit as being literally a circuit, and visualizes this more easily if the plus and minus signs are adjacent, as they would be if I substituted a battery symbol for them. Of course my technical fact checker would not necessarily agree!

    Perhaps in an ideal world I would have included two versions of every schematic (one in breadboard layout, one in conventional layout). But that itself might become confusing.

  10. Charles,

    I like the schematics as they are - it makes it a little easier to work with the breadboard. Even though it's not the way I learned elsewhere, there's nothing wrong with learning a new method... and it makes me think harder. I think having multiple versions of each circuit would also get confusing... but that's just me.

  11. One of the reasons I purchased this book was because of page 221. (and many other pages like it)
    It shows a complex circut with the scematic, and RIGHT NEXT TO IT shows a photo of the completed project.
    That my friends is how you teach to a beginner. Pictures with explanations why it works.
    I'm sure I'm not the only one who learns by messing with completed projects.
    Love the book Charles. Thank you!!!

  12. I numbered all the submissions... (6 in all, not counting Charles and my comments plus Brian who already won a notebook)...

    I picked Mike and Skain as the two winners.

    Mike and Skain, please email me at jktechwriter *at* for more info on getting your notebooks.

  13. Charles:

    Sorry I didn't see your response earlier. By all means please feel free to use the idea of using a DMM, some electrolytics, and an led for demonstrating a few things like the voltage a meter puts out when measuring resistance, that the meter can drain the capacitor, etc.

    I think experiment 9 could have used the meter to drain the capacitor instead of a separate resistor.

    Hope This Helps,