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Tony asks:

I am really interested in learning about electronics and how to make kits and potentially make things with my kids. However, I am more creative than technical and I was wondering where would be a good book/kit/guide to start with. I am not an engineer and I don’t know anything about circuits, semiconductors or Arduino. My dream would to be able to make a gadget i could put on my dog’s leash and it would transmit signals via GPS/3G as to where he was if he ran away (which he manages to a lot).

While the Arduino is a powerful tool for creating your own electronics projects, a basic understanding of analog electronics can prove to be essential in making them really come alive. A classic book to begin with is Getting Started in Electronics by Forrest Mims. In it, he takes you step-by-step through the basics of electricity and magnetism, on to simple descriptions of what individual components do, and then on to many example circuits you can put together yourself. Besides being a wealth of information, it’s also elegantly scribed with accompanying hand-drawn diagrams.

getting started in electronics Ask MAKE: Beginning Electronics and Dog Transponder Dreams

One of Mims’ projects is the Atari Punk Console, a lo-fi audio signal generator. This is a great project in which you’ll learn by doing, and when completed you’ll have a wacky noisemaker that’s fun to use for kids and adults alike.

atari punk console Ask MAKE: Beginning Electronics and Dog Transponder Dreams

Another great basic electronics book is our own Make: Electronics. It’s a really well-design, well-written primer on the subject, and brings you all the way through analog components and into the world of robots and programming microcontrollers. You can check it out in the Maker Shed.

As for your dream of a dog leash transponder, it’s certainly possible, but there are some sizable hurdles you’d have to overcome. The great thing about Arduino is that it’s excellent for prototyping projects, but can sap energy and space relatively quickly. Thus, keeping the device light, compact, and durable can prove to be difficult for a beginner. The size of your components, how much power they draw, and a suitable battery for your needs all will contribute to the project’s possibility for success.

There are already products on the market, like the PATMicro, that transmit based on GPS data. Down the line it might be more fruitful to figure out how to hack one of these devices to suit your personal needs. If readers can make more specific suggestions for a project like this, please do so in the comments section.

Good luck with your first foray into electronics, and please keep us updated with your projects.

See all of the Ask MAKE columns

Michael Colombo

In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens’ educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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