Make: Electronics book giveaway (and electronics discussion)

Education Technology


Without further delay, here are the winners of the Make: Electronics book drawing:

>> NikonErik
>> EvilGenius121
>> driph
>> xrazorwirex
>> Idlewood

Congrats. All of you: email me your mailing address.

We’re thrilled by the response we got to the giveaway, 166 comments! And not only did people ask great questions, other readers pitched in and answered a bunch of them. We’ll be compiling the best of this content in the next day or so, but if you want to see it in its conversational form, it’s here. Just to give you a tasre of the exchange, here’s Matt Silvia asking about Ohm’s Law:

I get the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance, but I don’t know how to do anything more interesting with it than light up a bulb or make a motor spin. Even then, I’m not confident I won’t set fire to anything, and while I’m not afraid to tinker (and have actually fixed some electronic via basic troubleshooting), complex circuits make me feel like I’m missing out on the secret handshake. I guess I know how a capacitor works… I just don’t know why you would want one.

And here’s reader HowTutorial’s response:

There is a bit of a secret handshake. Electronics is a vast field that can appear quite overwhelming. But Ohm’s law is part of the secret, so you’re off to a great start. Furthermore, much circuit design is individual circuits chained together. Think of it this way, tweak your circuit empirically, and how it all works together becomes easier to see.

So how do you know if you are going to start a fire or not? Ohm’s law says the voltage equals the current multiplied by the resistance. So with any two of these, you can calculate the third. Power equals current times voltage. By lowering resistance, for the same voltage, you have increased the current. So you have increased the power. Put a wire with very little resistance across a battery, then the wire and battery will get hot. The wire might melt. (try a 9 volt battery on steel wool) But if the battery gets too hot, it might pop, exposing you to the nasty chemicals inside or worse. So be careful when playing with fire.

For your next question, there are many uses for a capacitor. A capacitor is made up of two conductive parts that are not touching. If you put a voltage across a capacitor, positive and negative charge will build up on it’s two sides, with charge on one side attracted to the opposite charge on the other side. If you remove the external voltage, the capacitor will still have the charge you gave it. That charge across a capacitor creates a voltage of its own. The voltage is the same as that external voltage that we just removed. So a capacitor stores voltage. If you put a resistor across the capacitor the charge will flow through the resistor to the opposite charge on the other side of the capacitor. The larger the capacitor, the more charge you can bleed off this way before you run out of charge, and thus reduce the voltage to zero.

Using Ohm’s law, we can calculate the initial current through the resistor. That current through the resistor creates a voltage across it equal to what the capacitor holds. That voltage holds back more charge from flowing. So the resistor limits the speed of the capacitor discharging. The smaller the resistor, the faster the charge discharges. Another law to know is the RC time constant. The resistance multiplied by the capacitance equals the time it takes for the voltage to drop 63%. It will take the same amount of time to drop the next 63%, and so on. This also works going the other way, and charging a capacitor through a resistor. It will take one RC time constant to charge 63%.

So a capacitor tries to maintain its voltage. The larger the capacitance, the larger the time constant, and the slower the change in voltage. So one use of a capacitor is to reduce fluctuations in the voltage in part of a circuit. So you can use a capacitor to quiet the noise on a power supply. The noise is the fluctuations you don’t want. Similarly, if you put capacitors across the power pins of IC’s, you can create more stable power for all your chips.

In the Maker Shed:

Make: Electronics
Want to learn the fundamentals of electronics in a fun and experiential way? Start working on some excellent projects as soon as you crack open this unique, hands-on book. Build the circuits first, then learn the theory behind them! With Make: Electronics, you’ll learn all of the basic components and important principles through a series of “learn by discovery” experiments. And you don’t need to know a thing about electricity to get started.

2 thoughts on “Make: Electronics book giveaway (and electronics discussion)

  1. HowTutorial says:

    I have been on again off again thinking about writing a blog with answers like this. Featuring my answer is a nice boost when I need it and as good as winning the book!

    To teach is to learn twice. I like to understand how things work, and how to actually do something with your knowledge. It is one of the reasons I like Make and Makezine so much.

    So I hope it is okay to plug my new blog. I’ll start it off by copying my answers from here over to there. Then I’ll add some pictures to try and make things clearer. But if you have more questions for me that would be great.

    Visit my new blog at


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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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