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A bit of background: I have a masters in engineering, mostly electronics. That was years ago however, and I've been working in finance since college. I've learned a great deal of programming as a part of my job, but when I was a kid, I always thought I'd one day learn how the insides of electronics worked. These days though, the easiest form of "designing something cool to play with" is done by programming, so I never really got into electronics design.

I do recall I made a radio back in Uni, and we designed a simple CPU using Cadence as well. Of course I'm not fresh on the details of how that works, though I believe I still have my semiconductor physics books somewhere.

What are some interesting projects I can start with building? What kind of books/magazines/software/websites do you guys recommend? What kind of tools would I need?

My partners and I are going to be building a car later this year. I was wondering if that's the kind of thing people on this board get involved in? What about things that interface with a computer? Home equipment?

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That's a really, really, broad question. I can't give you a right answer, I don't know what you remember and don't remember from your masters' degree, and I couldn't answer all of those questions in one post if I tried.

However, since it's your first post, and since you can't learn the rules of the site without using it for a while, I'll try to help get you started.

For your car project, what you need to learn about right now is communication busses and automotive wiring. A Bus Pirate or other development board for automotive communications (Would ideally have CAN, the venerable Bus Pirate does not, sadly) will help you interface various modules in the car, and allow you to develop custom modules for your car if you need that. You'll need a DMM to check the voltage, current, and resistances between wires as you connect your wiring harness. A solderless breadboard will also be a good tool to quickly and easily prototype low-speed digital circuitry. However, you'll want a temperature-controlled soldering iron when it's time to actually build something. An oscilloscope and/or logic analyzer are also great to have, but they're quite expensive.

As far as websites go, this one is great! :) edaboard.com, ladyada.net, and adafruit.com are other popular sites, but there are far too many to list. You'll want to know a few distributor websites as well, like Digikey or Sparkfun from which to order your components and tools. I like the Circuit Cellar magazine, and I have a lot of books but it's hard to nail down a specific one that covers electronics in general.

I've never built a car, but I work at a company that builds electronics for cars, and I'm in a club converting a gasoline-engine car to a plug-in electric with my school. A number of us are in the automotive industry, and a lot of us like to work on our cars; not sure if anyone's built one. Most everything interfaces with a computer, and I've seen a lot of questions on household electronics and home automation. I'm sure you'll get plenty of good answers for questions in all of those departments here.

I hope that gets you started. When you have a better idea of what you think you want to do, feel free to ask for clarification and advice here. When you have a problem with something you're working on, that's what we're really here for.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ CAN-Pirate dangerousprototypes.com/forum/… \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18 '11 at 0:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Joby - Yeah, but that's still pretty experimental, is hard to get, and requires assembly/soldering. I didn't want to recommend it for a first time back to electronics. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18 '11 at 3:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree, just thought I'd mention it \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18 '11 at 8:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I appreciate the answer. Have a look at Caterham 7 online. They make car kits. No idea what one could build for ones car however. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carlos
    Jan 18 '11 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Carlos - Also have a look at wikispeed.com, I talked to one of their engineers at NAIAS this weekend, and it (their modular, carbon-fiber body, 100mpg, Honda engine car) looks promising. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18 '11 at 15:49
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When I started making things out of electronics, I bought an EasyPIC6:

EasyPIC6

It's a pic microcontroller development board with loads of features you can play around with and test, without even having to touch a breadboard or soldering iron.

If you want to start building systems that need a microcontroller, I'd highly recommend this. Also, they have loads of extra addon boards you can plug into the board to support things like ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, Flash cards, TFT Displays, accelerometer, distance meters, etc... all very cool stuff.

You can either program it in assembler and upload the HEX file, or use their C, Basic or Pascal compilers.

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Since you have experience programming. I would recommend an Arduino variants are around of each of their boards. Its quick and easy to get projects running with them. Then you could advance on to other microprocessors if you don't feel they would do the job that you want.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Fixed the spelling of "Arduino" for you, not that I recommend it as the starting point for a project like this. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18 '11 at 0:09

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