Joe’s workspace is a
model of efficiency. This just
goes to show you don’t need
a ton of space to get things
done. A small workspace can
also be a good tool to force
those of us who are less
organized to pick carefully
what we are working on and to
finish what we start! It’s pretty
hard to begin a new project
when you run out of AFS
(Available Flat Surface). Joe’s
got some good comments and
advice for making an efficient
I live in a small apartment
in Seattle, WA, so space is an
issue. Check the photo of my
workstation. Yes, that is a
vacuum tube! It’s part of a
Nixie clock I’m making with
only glue logic; no processors.
My father-in-law is an old-school
engineer who absolutely loves tubes. We have built
oscillators, latches, flip-flops, counters ... all sorts of
things out of tubes. I’m not sure if there is anything
I’d do differently, I’ve learned from all my successes
high altitude balloons, etc.
• A beginner should invest in a decent soldering iron
(Welland). My first two were RadioShack fire torches;
I realized after acquiring a decent iron that most of my
problems were due to poor equipment.
• Work with plenty of light. I have an “under-the-cabinet”
xenon light bar purchased from Home Depot that I
screwed in under my shelves. It plugs into the wall and
offers great light.
• You can sample parts from most manufacturers. The
hobbyist does not need large quantities or very high
range components. You can get A LOT of useful
components for free.
• Start with easy circuits to gain success and confidence.
• Keep a logbook or journal to document your successes
and failures. That way, when you have a similar problem
you can return and see what was done before to make
Join electronic forums for advice and ideas. There are
a bunch of good ones, Nuts & Volts ( http://forum.servo
magazine.com), Sparkfun (http://forum.sparkfun.
com/ index.php), and ladyada ( http://forums.ladyada.
net). She also has a great discussion on equipment for
beginners ( www.ladyada.net/library/equipt/kits.html).
Or, forums specific to your interests like robotics, RF,
Start with basic circuits, and jump in and do it! I started
wanting to do fairly complex projects and got quickly
discouraged. I then kept looking for complete projects
with a purpose. I finally learned my lesson, but felt like I
wasted great tinkering time! I suggest looking at the
circuits in Nuts & Volts, especially in the Q&A section.
Now, actually go to your workstation and build them. You
will find, at first, that it isn’t as easy as it looks. There is
external power to consider and, of course, debugging your
mistakes. Think about why it works, not just replicating a
circuit. NOW, start looking at the unanswered and see if
you can figure out the answer. I almost never get the exact
answer as someone else. Sometimes I use a different
method or parts. Sometimes I couldn’t answer it, but at
least I have thought about the problem and learned from it.
Build and design your own circuits! Start with
something easy like oscillating an LED with a 555. Then
go to two alternating blinky lights. Figure out how and
why it’s working, then expand on the design. Can you
add an 8 ohm speaker or a switch? What modifications
are required? Can you do the exact same blinky light with
capacitors and transistors? What is the difference? What
are the advantages and disadvantages?
Finally, I’ve been following the articles and websites
for the Ponginator. Kudos to the Austin Robot Group for
making electronics fun and exciting! I have also enjoyed
Vern’s previous articles on the Thereping, model railroad
controllers, and Parallax controllers.
June 2008 93