October 20, 2010

587 words 3 mins read

Review: Getting Started with Arduino (Book)

Since I’ve gotten onto my Arduino kick, I figured I should get some proper reading material on the subject. One of the first I saw was Getting Started with Arduino by Make: Magazine. Since “Getting Started” is exactly what I wanted and I rather like most of what Make does, I bought and read the book.

I’m going to be blunt, I’m not a huge fan of the book. Basically it assumes you know NOTHING about anything. Getting Started with Arduino is only 111 pages which includes the Appendix and the first two chapters, neither of which teach you anything. Those first two chapters are an introduction about the “Arduino way”, which is basically “we like to hack things up and do cool stuff”. Useful to some, maybe, but wastes 20% of an already very short book.

The book then goes on to teach you about electricity, how to install the Arduino IDE, how to program, and how to make basic circuits. Since I’m well versed in programming, a large section on what a curly bracket is or how two forward slashes denotes a comment… is a big waste. I realize that for others it will be useful though. If you’ve never programmed a line in your life, this will definitely help you get started. Granted, I think you should learn basic programming from another (more detailed) source, but this book will get you going.

Now my electronics side is a little rusty, but not rusty enough for this book. It really does go all the way down to explaining you the very basics of electricity and how it works. Then they build up a little bit, but not much. I find it quite displeasing that there isn’t a single circuit diagram in the entire book. Everything is done with hand drawn pictures to show you what plugs in where. Again, great for the beginner, but it doesn’t prep them for any real work. They do have an Appendix in the back which illustrates some symbols and basic circuit diagram concepts but again, not enough in my opinion.

My biggest single complaint is that they don’t explain WHY for any of their circuit designs. The first circuit they have you build is the “Hello World” of Arduino, blinking an LED. You are instructed to put an LED into pin 13 & ground – but they don’t explain to you that pin 13 is “special” (it has a build in resistor, from what I’ve read elsewhere). On the second diagram they’ve got a push button to activate the LED, which also has a resistor and some extra wires going to other locations. Again there is no information as to WHY you would want to do this. I think I know why, but my electronics is too rusty to be sure.

In the end, this book will be great for anyone with a non-computer, non-electronics background. In other words, it is targeted for that tinker/builder who wants to include a microcontroller, but has never seen a line of code, let alone a circuit diagram. I suppose for that demographic it will be useful, until you finish the book in an hour (which is exactly how long it took me to read, a single ride on BART). After that the beginner will find themselves with a taste of things, but not enough knowledge to actually go out and APPLY that knowledge to anything useful. So, if you spend the $10-$13 on this book, plan to buy other books with it.