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 What are the topics you need to know to master microcontroll 
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Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2013 2:33 am
Posts: 165
What are the topics you need to know to master microcontrollers?

One of the problems with learning is, "How do I learn something if I don't know what topics I need to learn?" Its like, "What don't you know and how will you figure it out?" because not everyone is going to teach you.

http://dangerousprototypes.com/blog/201 ... ntrollers/


Tue Sep 20, 2016 4:02 pm

Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:54 pm
Posts: 1647
I'm sure it's a useful list put together there. But, note, you're unlikely to be in a need to study lots of topics before you have a chance to get your hands on a microcontroller dev board - so I'd advise you do get your hands on a dev board, and then work through some simple projects. You'll soon find out what it is you find you need to know.

If you wait for full understanding before trying something out, you'll slow yourself down enormously.

(Another approach, diametrically opposite perhaps, and maybe a little like my own progress, is you read anything and everything first, because it's easier to read than to start a project. I will not say this is the best way forward - it's mostly fear of failure, and that's something well work trying to fix. As we know, we learn from failure!)


Tue Sep 20, 2016 5:06 pm

Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2013 2:33 am
Posts: 165
Most of the microcontroller sites that sell microcontrollers as a hobby are teaching people how to assemble a project.

My easy answer is: I asked an engineer and he said that it is basically a college course that you have to take in order to learn microcontrollers.

I bought a second multimeter and it didn't come with instructions because they assume that the buyers know what they are doing which is bad news for the new user or novice because they won't teach you anything. And it is a possibility that if I did buy a multimeter with instructions, it would be written partly for engineers instead of the hobbyist in mind.

There are remarkable people who said they learned on their own. Unfortunately those who don't know where to look don't yet have the lifestyle to learn.

I'll use my brother in law as an example. He is into computers but not electronics because he says it takes a lot of money and a lot of time to use microcontrollers and this is at least partially true because I remember another notable user say that most young people learning microcontrollers don't know what is involved (in building some things).

An attempt was made in the 80's to make people computer literate but engineers (hardware and software) have worried about job security by placing instructions in alphabetical order instead of in an instruction sequence. A similar thing happened at work where we got a piece of software that uses symbols that didn't symbolize anything we would remember to do certain tasks at work. We just had to remember what they were for and each software build was unique so you couldn't read the instruction manual and figure everything out.

I admire the people who have hours and hours to watch videos online of Indian engineers teach electronics. It is basically a college course they are getting.


Tue Sep 20, 2016 6:44 pm

Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:54 pm
Posts: 1647
You're right, that kind of online course takes a lot of investment in time, even if it is free in money.

I don't consider myself an electronic expert, but I got started when I was young - lots of time, and a youthful brain - I had a couple of relatively cheap kits[1] one of which[2] had a really good instruction book, and then I started buying and reading a monthly electronics magazine. After maybe four years I bought a kit computer.

If a person can't afford a cheap Arduino[3][4], say, then I'm not sure what I'd recommend. But getting some hands-on experience seems to me the right way forward. (An Arduino is just a circuit board with a microcontroller and some code on it - you can use it as intended or you can drill down a bit further.) You might not get an excellent instruction book, but you can surely find lots of project guides on the web. Loading someone's project and then fiddling with it is a good way to learn. You will pick up the terminology and the ideas.

[1] on ebay, $25, "Radio Shack Science Fair 150 in 1 Electronic Project Kit"
[2] on ebay, $20, "PHILLIPS ELECTRONIC ENGINEER EE8 KIT"
[3] sparkfun, $20 "SparkFun RedBoard - Programmed with Arduino"
[4] sparkfun, $25, "SparkFun Inventor's Kit Parts Refill Pack"


Tue Sep 20, 2016 7:00 pm

Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2013 2:33 am
Posts: 165
I had a 75 in One Kit from Radio Shack as a kid before other kids fried the transistors in it with extra electricity and I bought a 150 In One Kit from Ebay within the last couple of years. I may have been too young to learn the 75 in One Kit as a kid but I mostly remembered hooking up wire. I tried using different value components in their projects just to see if I could do something different and didn't get drastic results. I can say that I haven't really learned anything.

In my college, you have to take a math class suited for electronics if you want to go on to study electronics because they will argue that you can't learn it without the math so unless you pass it, they won't let you proceed.

It is harder as an adult because I cannot read two pages without hearing myself being called by family members and I also am too tired to learn when the day is done. Even my elderly neighbor calls me to buy her groceries.

I have been reading about electronics for the last eight years or more and I still don't know how to do a lot and I own about all of the major microcontrollers from all the "learn sites" and beyond.

These teaching sites have forum help where the users tell you to read the manual instead of explain and one of the microprocessors doesn't have a readable manual or a manual for their programming language. They expect you to make the jump from BASIC to another programming language that there isn't a book for.

The encouragement I get from others is to give up and they are right because most electronics is written by people who know what they are doing for people who know what they are doing.

The reality is that one of these microcontroller companies has exhibitions and 200 attendees at their shows and the forum users are the same users every year. Why is that? Because no one is interested? Because no one learns? What I hear in some of the forums is that some users can't hack the product which means they cannot think outside of the project because they are only taught to assemble. I built projects from these "learn" sites. I didn't learn anything tangible in doing something new or outside of the box.

Part of the problem is that electronics is a multi disciplined environment where someone has to learn many things in order to participate because I have to learn new languages, I have to use mechanics, etc.

Teaching is not about just giving people a bunch of information. Teaching is about giving people the right information in a format that they can learn. The other example is that many people can use a computer today but many people can't program one and that is my analogy between these learn sites and electronics. Most computer clubs today teach you how to set up email or use Microsoft Word or Excel. The hobby computers of the 80's has almost been replaced by companies making the product or software because there are few and far between programming clubs.


Tue Sep 20, 2016 8:13 pm

Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2013 2:33 am
Posts: 165
One of my relatives worked for General Electric and back in the day you had to know about amplifiers to get a job.

Some people moved up and other people stayed on the assembly line. They hired people but only a few people moved up because there is a learning curve. They brought people on board in hopes they would create new products but I'm afraid that kind of thinking doesn't exist anymore because most didn't make anything new.


Tue Sep 20, 2016 8:25 pm

Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:54 pm
Posts: 1647
I'm not sure what to say - of course if you have trouble finding space and time to concentrate, for any reason, that will make it harder to make progress.

For sure different people have different learning styles. The best teachers, in the smallest classes, can respond accordingly, but not everyone will find that circumstance. The best students will have some insight into their learning style make use of that knowledge.

About forums though, they are sure to be variable and the feedback you get is bound to be variable in quality and positiveness. If you possibly can, discount anything and anyone which doesn't seem helpful or encouraging. We don't need any help in becoming discouraged!

If you already have boards, then you already have what you need to start experimenting. It's possible you have too many, so too many options as to what to try. So, pick one, put the rest away, and stick with that one for a couple of months. It's a common story that people have too many projects to make progress. I'm as good an example as any...


Tue Sep 20, 2016 8:34 pm

Joined: Tue Dec 11, 2012 8:03 am
Posts: 285
Location: California
This got kind of long, but hopefully it will serve as inspiration.

Quote:
I'll use my brother in law as an example. He is into computers but not electronics because he says it takes a lot of money and a lot of time to use microcontrollers and this is at least partially true because I remember another notable user say that most young people learning microcontrollers don't know what is involved (in building some things).

Spending a few bucks on a few microcontrollers and breadboarding some sort of circuit to use one is not expensive at all. The development software is often free too. What might cost a little more is a programming device, if you're not in a position to make your own. Basic test equipment like an oscilloscope, so you're not working blind, costs more, but even then, sometimes you can get a basic, triggered, dual-trace, 20MHz oscilloscope free from a local school or business that's retiring them.

Quote:
In my college, you have to take a math class suited for electronics if you want to go on to study electronics because they will argue that you can't learn it without the math so unless you pass it, they won't let you proceed.

You can probably test out of it and proceed if you've had standard high-school math classes like algebra 1 and 2 and geometry. There's no reason you can't do basic electronics if you have a reasonable understanding of those under your belt.

I do have a small beef with academia in this area though. The math teachers often have no interest in electronics, and you're supposed to get the math first. There's little motivation to get into the math when you don't have an application yet. There are people who enjoy math for math's sake, almost like a sport, with no real application. I'm not one of them. I buckle down and learn the math when I have a problem (a real-life one, not a canned one from a text book) that I can't get a handle on with my existing understanding. Sometimes I have also brute-forced it to get the job done, like writing a calculator program that ran for hours to simulate a circuit when I didn't have the needed knowledge about the Laplace transform yet. It chopped up the decay of a resonant circuit with a given Q in tiny intervals of time, similar to doing the Simpson's approximation for taking a definite integral.

I also have a beef with how sterile most math presentation is. For example, when I needed the Fourier transform for spectrum analysis, all the books presented it in a mathematician's way, not an engineer's way, and it made so sense to me. So I pushed the books aside, and applied myself to what really had to happen inside to get the result. When I was done and had come up with the summation equations with sines and cosines and so on, I thought, "That looks familiar!" I went back to the books, and found it matched. The difference was that now I understood it, because I had derived it myself. How different from the situation with a couple of mechanical engineers who said to me beside the pool, "I got A's in my transform classes, but to be honest, I still don't know what the Fourier transform really is and what it's for!" so I was able to tell them and make it make sense in a lot less time than they had spent in class. These were actually medical doctors who got a degree in mechanical engineering too because of their interest in prostheses.

Quote:
The encouragement I get from others is to give up and they are right because most electronics is written by people who know what they are doing for people who know what they are doing.

Good writing is not easy. What is easy is thinking that it's more important to get my message out there than it is to make it all concise and relevant. When writing web pages, I take a huge amount of time re-reading, re-doing, finding things that aren't very relevant and could be removed, finding things that aren't in the most logical order, etc., and once in a while someone will come up with a question that shows me how I still had something that was misunderstood, and I need to fix it.

I also see a lot of web pages from hobbyists who had some success in something, sometimes by accident, that had a lot of factual errors so they're really not helpful to the poor fella who really wants to know and succeed but doesn't have the background to spot the errors.

Dig up and soak up all the info you can, but don't feel like you have to wait to be taught. If you see a way to do something, don't let others tell you can't do it. (If it's true that it cannot do it, or at least not in the way you had envisioned, you'll find out in the process of trying, and you'll end up understanding better than you would have with the safer classroom approach.) Some kinds of stubbornness might be healthy and productive. I've had a couple of bosses who would lecture about all the reasons my idea wouldn't work, but they had to stop lecturing when I built it up and demonstrated it. I have a Dilbert cartoon about that here on my wall.

I was interested in electrical and electronic things starting in 3rd grade, age 8 or 9, because of our science book in school. Our teacher did experiments with us using batteries, wire, switches, light bulbs, and buzzers. That got me started. Toys had motors in them, so I used those too. Like the situation Jeri Ellsworth tells about from her childhood, my parents were distressed that I would take apart toys they paid money for, to modify them or get parts out of them to make something else. My addiction to spend my time devising and making things rather than on my schoolwork was also a constant source of friction with my parents. They were no help. Their attitude was, "This kid is too smart to be getting anything but A's in school," and they tried to keep me from what really interested me until I became the professional student they wanted me to be (which never happened).

Friends in grade school had walkie-talkies, so I got very interested in that, and later in amateur radio. I tried to learn everything I could from books and magazines, and from engineers anytime I could find one to talk to. (The internet did not exist yet.) I am also a musician (cellist), and became very interested in recording and high-quality music reproduction, and I wanted to make my own stereo and recording equipment, which I did. I passed the test to get my amateur radio license in high school, and got on the air with a transmitter I made from a schematic in a magazine. I got lots of compliments about its sound. A few years out of high school, word of mouth and recommendations got me in on the installation of two new AM and FM broadcast transmitters at different stations. My wife and I got married in '84 and I moved out of my parents' house and into an apartment that didn't allow antennas; but by then I suppose my interest in amateur radio was waning because I wanted to talk to others on the radio to learn everything I could about radio but I had already surpassed them so they weren't any help anymore.

One thing led to another. Some calculations I wanted to make for filters and other things required looping far too many times to do by hand. In 1981, I was able to borrow a programmable calculator, and then later I bought one, a TI-58c. That was the beginning of my programming experience. In 1984-'85, I worked in applications engineering at a place that made power transistors up to 3GHz, and there was lots of test equipment that could be controlled by computer, so my imagination got started for automating repetitive tests. In 1985, I started work at a place that made aircraft intercoms, first as a technician; but soon I was recommending design improvements to the owner. He gave me freedom to do the improvements that didn't raise the cost of the product significantly, but far more to develop automated test equipment. (One type I did is shown here.) I eventually got fed up with the management problems there and left, and a man who had also been there started his own company asked me to join him as his circuit designer. The company has morphed and changed hands so it's debatable whether it's still the same company or not, but I've been there 24+ years now. I've brought a lot of products to market using PIC16 microcontrollers, and two with 65c02's.

How I got into 6502 and workbench computers is in my "Introduce yourself" post on 6502.org, the first one at http://forum.6502.org/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1935 .

After all that, my only formal education is Associate's degree in recording, but none in electronics, except a 6502 class in 1982 which I took for personal interest. Most education happens outside the academic environment.

_________________
http://WilsonMinesCo.com/ lots of 6502 resources


Tue Sep 20, 2016 10:43 pm WWW

Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2013 2:33 am
Posts: 165
Thank you, Garth. I will try to digest that when I get a chance.

Ed,

I'm not trying to be negative. Some see microcontrollers half empty and others see them half full. Either way, we need more teaching so let's call it what it is so we can see the areas for growth.

Where are we supposed to get new users from? If the plan is to show new projects to gain interest, aren't you competing with Hackaday? Because they show new projects every day and they get over 1,700 hits a day for those who are interested. And how many new projects were created here to show people a year?

If you imagine this website to be for professionals then you are competing against manufacturer forums like Microchip and professional forums like AVR Freaks. They basically closed new registrations on their board because they are large enough and probably tired of answering newbie questions.

This website is not going to compete against forums like 6502 because they are too established.

You are basically fishing in the same pond so how are you going to find new fish or growth here?

Raspberry Pi users aren't going to join in big numbers because they have their own site. Chip users have their own forums.

Amiga and Commodore users won't leave their forums to build something new. You don't have a store like "Make" (aka "Makershed") so there is no pull.

There was a site dedicated to teaching ( Nerd Kits ) but they decided to close their store because they might have decided that they weren't making enough money but they were very popular because they were teaching.

So because Nerdkits closed their store and new user registration, there is a niche that we can get into which is filling a need. The problem is that microcontrollers are hard for the average population and you need to have a class like Microcontroller appreciation for people to want to come. If I don't know anything about microcontrollers and you need new users, what is in it for me? For example, what is having money worth if it can't buy anything because of inflation? Money is only important because of what it does. Teaching is important because of what it does. If we can teach then someone says, "Yeah, I would like to build that" and then perhaps they stay here, get involved and learn so that they can make a project. If I can't program a microcontroller, what is it worth to me? If others can't program a microcontroller, why would they come here?

I'm not here to be negative but the problem is what it is. I'm reluctant to buy new electronics because I see it as a bunny trail. I follow the bunny, the bunny hides in a hole in the ground and I get lost.

In order to get new users, you have to sell the idea that because you can do it, other people can also. But if people teach to only those who know, what they know isn't communicated because only their audience knows. Itt is like giving people a box and they tell people to wire the box and then the average user doesn't know what to do with it because he doesn't know what is inside the box because those who know what is inside the box understand but not those who don't. And teachers often make the mistake of telling the student too much and then there is all this stuff to remember and then they can't remember it all because they haven't learned to summarize because the teacher hasn't learned to summarize what is important. I think I've answered a few users on another forum who were Engineering students who learned a lot of information but didn't know how to apply it so they don't know what to do with all of that engineering knowledge or applied science.

Fifteen years ago, I started writing about another topic that I thought I knew about and all of my writings were pretty bad. It had nothing to do with comprehension. It had everything to do with practice. Today, I make what I write look easy but it doesn't mean what I do is easy. It comes with a lot of practice and I am guessing that the average user is looking at a microcontroller as a square box or a rectangular box and I think it takes lots and lots of practice for a user to be able to do something with it.

Jim Butterfield took a subject like Machine Language and now his book sells for sometimes $80 dollars or more because he was the man. He taught people to do stuff that they didn't know how to do and he gained a following. We need users and we're fishing in the same small pond. We need to find alternate ponds to fish from or you have to get more fish from somewhere. You only get more users by teaching them to make things or to program chips.

My experience was this. I saved up to buy a microcontroller kit and I waited for my tax return to do it. I had to wait weeks for it to arrive from another part of the country. They didn't send me a power supply so I called them up and then it took weeks to get a new one and then they sent me the wrong one. I think I waited two months and then the summer was almost over. Then new users don't know anything about product selection so even if they learn, it is going to take hours researching, selecting a product, ordering it and then getting it. Life gets busy and they are going to put it aside, there is bad teaching and some of them will and some of them won't learn.

Chuck


Tue Sep 20, 2016 11:23 pm

Joined: Tue Dec 11, 2012 8:03 am
Posts: 285
Location: California
So true, and I might have misunderstood your reason for your original post here. (Still, I hope my response above will be somewhat inspiring for someone to take the bull by the nose ring and make progress.)

Part of the problem is that the culture is changing. When my family came to this area 41 years ago, and for quite a few years after that, there were a dozen electronics stores I could ride my bike to, of different kinds, like the retail chains (Radio Shack and Lafayette), surplus, mom-and-pop stores, etc.. It was wonderful. I think Radio Shack is the only one left, and they have less and less for making stuff. The closest other store, a sole proprietorship, went out 5-10 years ago, because the stereo & TV repair business dried up, the local college and high school no longer taught electronics, and the floor traffic dried up. The only business left was that the owner was acting as a distributor doing phone and internet business and drop-shipping product so he hardly needed any inventory anymore, so he moved the business to his house.

The move to SMT was great for compactness, production costs, and high-frequency performance, but discourages hobbyists from getting into electronics. Where will tomorrow's engineers come from? Microcontrollers are a wonderful thing that we didn't have 40 years ago, but they're not an end in themselves. They're there to control other electronics, in my case all analog stuff. Is there a vision for what can be done with the circuits the microcontrollers control? And how do we reverse the trend and start getting more people into it?

Heathkit was great back in the day. I think I've had 20+ Heathkit products. Heathkit eventually folded, thinking they had to compete with tinier-and-tinier SMT products, and that they couldn't do it. When I first read that though, thin, flat-screen TVs weren't out yet, and I thought of TVs and home stereos and other things that were crammed full of empty space in a box that had to be big for the human interface, and I said they made a wrong decision. Today, they're coming back (or at least trying to). There's a facebook Heathkit group. Even back in the day though, they could still have made things a lot smaller. For example, I don't think they ever used 1/8W resistors (even though they used diodes that were the same size). They could have made things a lot smaller and still had products that could be assembled by hand, without special tools. If there were good kits and good manuals, maybe we could retrieve some of what we've lost.

Good manual writing has become scarce too. Companies don't want to spend the resources refining a manual, because "Who reads the manual?" And who's going to read the manual if they're conditioned to believe manuals are never any good? Vicious cycle. You mentioned the books by people like Butterfield, and your frustration that we don't have anything of that quality on the new microcontrollers. I agree. Is it possible for us to write and post something like that about PICs here? I don't know. Those who are the best candidates to do it have their plates pretty full. I wonder if there's also a reluctance to put a lot of effort into a target that moves so fast. It doesn't need to though. The advent of more and more advanced microcontrollers does not mean there aren't still just as many applications for ones that have been out for 20 years.

_________________
http://WilsonMinesCo.com/ lots of 6502 resources


Wed Sep 21, 2016 12:30 am WWW

Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:54 pm
Posts: 1647
Yes I think I too might have missed the point of Chuck's post... certainly Chuck you raise quite a number of different points. I thought you were interested mostly in your own path to gaining mastery of microcontrollers, and perhaps sharing any resources which might be useful, so as to help others on the same path. And that's fine.

As to what this site is about and what the forums are for, as you know it started life as a small number of exiles from 6502.org who had a number of projects and interests in mind, all of which would be a great fit with the kinds of things we see on 6502.org, with the exceptional characteristic that they don't involve a 6502.

So, originally these forums were for people making single board computers or homebrew computers or FPGA projects based on any other cpu: 68000, 6809, Z80, 1802 and so on. Also I've a penchant for posting interesting historical notes, because we can often learn a lot from earlier efforts to make computers or CPUs.

It's true that hackaday features many similar projects on their main site, and hosts many similar projects on their hosting site hackaday.io - the difference between them and us, other than size, is that they also cover a whole lot more. The single board computers are a needle in a haystack of other electronic and maker projects.

Which gives me an idea - it might well be useful to post here about interesting finds from over there, whether projects, people, or collections.

What we don't need to do is aim to be as big as hackaday or as big as 6502.org - it's enough that we interest each other, and we show up on web searches, and that when people land here, they find things they like and join us. It's that last point I had in mind when I moaned about the small number of projecty posts here, and the dilution by the small number of off-topic(ish) posts. To be positive: when we find something interesting, which fits with the aims of this community, we should post about it. We should make an effort to give the post a good title, and include an image, and write some words which encapsulate what the thing is and why it is interesting. This is exactly what the hackaday blogging team do - they don't always get every detail right, but they almost always succeed in showing and telling and creating a post which will show up in search results.


Wed Sep 21, 2016 6:17 pm
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