Enroll at Ebay University
I got a few comments on my last post, which was about studying electronics online. I feel like I should add a few things.
Andy-in-Japan says: “Thanks for the info – I’ve been looking for something to help out some members of the extended family that were a step up from Khan. And this looks fantastic!”
Steve G. (not sure if he wants his full name here) says: “The MIT courses are good from what I’ve seen. There’s also a new edition of The Art of Electronics out this month that I am digging into now; depending on the things you want to learn, it could be a good resource.”
I’m glad the stuff I wrote looked helpful, and I hope it was, but I know a little more than I did then, so I am adding a few things.
First off, I had to take to my bed after Steve mentioned The Art of Electronics. This book was one of the few dark spots in my efforts to get a physics degree. I felt like it was written in nerdese, which is impenetrable to normal people.
One of the big problems with technical texts is that they are written by people who can’t remember what it was like to NOT know the subject and the jargon. So they use weird slang and explain things poorly, if at all. I think the lab manual from The Art of Electronics is great, but the book seems more like a reference than a teaching tool. I would stay away from it if I were getting started. Which I am, sort of.
I am going through the lab manual now, redoing the experiments with a breadboard, an oscilloscope and multimeters (thank God for Ebay). It’s good for me to remember what it was like to do things in an ordered way, with tables and whatnot.
Second thing…I would not recommend relying on the MIT/EDx course. It’s incomplete. I don’t consider this a knock on MIT. They do a great job producing miracle workers. I think it’s a knock on electronics teaching in general.
I rounded up a few external sources when I got started. I will list them here.
1. The Electric Circuits Problem Solver
2. Electronics Demystified
3. Basic Circuit Analysis (Schaum)
4. Principles of Electric Circuits, Thomas L. Floyd, 2000.
I have some other things, but these are the really useful ones.
I knew I needed to do solved problems in order to learn, so I started trying to do problems in the first three books. I found I could not get through a chapter without extra research, because they mentioned ideas and methods that were not mentioned in the MIT lectures.
For all I know, later on in the MIT course, all these things are covered, but I doubt it, because they are fundamental things that would be unlikely to appear in relatively advanced lectures.
I have been taking written notes from the MIT class, and I have been inserting additional notes between the pages. I write up my own explanations of material from other sources, including debunking some of the BS. This has made a world of difference in my progress.
It doesn’t do you much good to learn three methods from one guy when you find yourself confronted with challenges that require five methods from other teachers. And sometimes the things you learn will turn out to be wrong or so backward they cause you problems.
If your teacher is good, you should be able to do any problem that isn’t above the course’s level, regardless of which book it appears in. Obvious?
Example: I had to relearn Gaussian elimination, for purposes of solving systems of linear equations (voltages and currents and so on). One source said to put augmented matrices in reduced echelon form and then use the results. This is insane advice. It can be incredibly tedious and nearly impossible to put a matrix in that form. In reality, you can save yourself a lot of pain by settling for echelon form or simply creating one row among the unknowns with only one nonzero entry.
I’m not going to explain that, because it’s boring, but trust me: you do not want reduced echelon form unless the matrix is really cooperative, and you can waste your life trying to obtain it. I spent hours trying to do it with a 3 x 3 matrix, and then I wrote my own treatment of linear equations and realized it’s a five-minute job IF you don’t do it the stupid way.
I also learned that Cramer’s rule (another tool for solving systems) is to be avoided at all costs. Lots of tedium, and no advantage over Gaussian elimination. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see any reason to consider using it. But the books teach it.
Another example: an instructor may not tell you how to count loops in a circuit. This may be important, depending on what you’re doing. The answer is simple: count the components and sources, subtract the number of nodes, and add 1. Again, it’s too boring to explain, but it’s very useful.
If I were enrolled in the MIT course for credit, I would be in trouble, because I would never have time to consult the other sources or write my own material. I would have to keep up with tests and so on, so my time would be limited. Because I’m not taking tests, I have time to do it right. And if I ever decided to take the course for credit, it will be a joke, because I’ll be better prepared than most students.
Third thing…if you plan to study electronics, you should definitely get your own equipment and do practical work at home. After all, you’ll eventually need it. You’re studying so you can use what you’ve learned, and you can’t do that without equipment.
I have a breadboard and some handheld multimeters, and I also have some other stuff lying around. An old HP function generator and an HP current source. I learned something that will be very helpful to anyone amassing equipment on the cheap: old bench multimeters are plentiful on Ebay. A bench multimeter is a big box which, if you’re lucky, has an AC cord instead of batteries. They do all sorts of things, you don’t have to hold them in your hands or prop them up, you never have to change batteries, and you can get a nice one delivered for $50.
I forgot to mention the oscilloscope. I have an ancient Hitachi I bought for $50. It would not be useful for creating the next groundbreaking CPU, but it will be a very long time before I reach a point where I need anything better.
Radio Shack has an interesting product that can be useful. They’re going out of business, so this is the time to buy it. Forrest Mims, the electronics educator, helped them create a self-contained project lab, complete with a little breadboard, an ammeter, and components. You can buy it for under $35. It comes with two books of projects. I grabbed one, and it’s nice for gaining practical experience without driving yourself crazy looking for the components you might find in a college lab text. You can also use it for testing your own ideas.
They call it the “Electronics Learning Lab Kit.”
I fiddled around with electronics in the past, but I never really got anywhere. It was like I was in a jar with a big heavy lid on top, obstructing my progress. Now things are really coming together. It makes me wonder what I could have accomplished when I was younger, had I really known how to study. In the past, I just showed up in class and did what they told me. That doesn’t really work unless your teacher is exceptional.
It shows how life changes when you submit to God. When you do things in your own strength, no matter how great it is, you will fail, or your success will be a curse, because God opposes the proud. Once you submit and start gaining supernatural power, tasks that used to defeat you start to crumble before you, and people who used to chase you start running from you.
America is in decline because we’re proud. We forgot who made us strong, so we don’t pray or give him credit. We don’t get to know him, and he does not guide our lives, so we do silly unproductive things, and we lose a lot. People who used to hide from us are now out in the streets giving us orders. Foreigners come here illegally, appear on TV, and shame us for refusing to give them privileges exceeding our own. Terrorists kill us from time to time, on our own soil. This is how life goes for the rebellious.
Things are rapidly getting worse, not just for America, but for Christians who live in America. We are not being spared. Our enemies beat us every day. That’s because we’re not good Christians. We don’t pray in the Spirit. We don’t hear from God. We have no idea which way to turn. He doesn’t help us, because we’re trying to do our own will, and we’re claiming it’s his.
I can’t go back to that. I would rather die than go back to wondering who would defeat me next. It’s not an acceptable way to live. Often released convicts say they will never go back to prison, no matter what it takes to avoid it. I understand that completely. No one wants a life of defeat, hopelessness, and humiliation.
It’s not really important whether I master electronics, but my success is a good example of the way God turns things around when I listen to him.
America is not going to do well. We can’t admit we’re wrong. We think evil is good and good is evil, so we can’t even diagnose our problems. A small residue of people will find help from God, and the rest will continue to fail. Even those who prosper financially will be failures, because they will have to lose themselves in order to get what they want.
When things get really bad, people will point to Christians who are successfully persecuted, and they will say it’s proof God isn’t real. In reality, it will just prove that proud, ignorant Christians don’t get much help from him.
It’s unfortunate that there is no solution to the problem, but at least you can save yourself, and you can help a few people around you avoid the mess. Really, that’s what we should expect. Lot, Noah, Moses, and Jesus were not able to save many people, and that’s a pattern which exists because of the stubbornness of human beings. It will never change as long as we have free will.
Anyway, while the country continues to slide, I will try to enjoy whatever peace and productivity I can.
I hope the information on electronics will be helpful to people, and that folks who know more about it than I do will add to what I wrote.