Charles Platt on the Basics of Electronics

Make: Electronics and Learning Through Discovery

By Mary Rotman
December 9, 2009


Want to learn the fundamentals of electronics in a fun, hands-on way? Author Charles Platt (@charlesplatt) has created a book in which you will explore all of the key components and essential principles through a series of fascinating experiments. I asked him a few questions about Make: Electronics earlier this week so I could understand a little bit more about electronics (and why he wrote this book) for myself.

What made you write the book?

I wanted to write a book that I wish I had been able to read when I was learning electronics. Having clear explanations all in one volume would have saved me so much time.

People have been tinkering with electronics for a long time, and there are quite a few introductory books on the topic. What sets your book apart from the rest?

Other introductory books want you to learn electronics theory before building anything. My approach is the opposite. First you put things together and get a result; then you figure out why it works and what it all means. I call this "learning by discovery." Also, since many components are now very cheap, I show you how to take them apart or
burn them out, as a very important part of the learning process. The best way to learn is by experimenting and being willing to make errors.


What is the single most important thing your audience will be able to do after reading your book?

I hope and believe that anyone who reads my book and enjoys the hands-on work will be able to choose which area of electronics to explore in greater depth, and will have a solid understanding of basic principles which should be good for a lifetime. The book can also be used for easy subsequent reference.

Who is your intended audience?

Anyone who is old enough to read and follow step-by-step, illustrated instructions. The ability to add, subtract, divide, and multiply is also necessary.

I think any book is important if it gives someone a love for an area of technology, and shows people how to do things themselves instead of remaining passive consumers. Electronics is ideal for hobbyists, because the components and tools are cheap, the work area can be small, and many of the ideas are easy to understand. But a basic
understanding of electronics can be a first step toward ambitious goals such as building robots--or starting a career.

Do you have a few basic tips & tricks about working with electronics that you can share right now?

To demonstrate the relationship between magnetism and electricity, just slide a 3/4" diameter, axially magnetized neodymium magnet through the core of a spool of hookup wire, with an LED between the ends of the wire. Watch the LED blink.

Ultra-low-power LEDs, drawing as little as 3mA, can be used to show chip outputs with no need for transistor amplification.

5V and 12V LEDs are readily available, eliminating the need for load resistors.

Use an old steel desk as a workbench, and it has enough mass for you to ground yourself when working with CMOS chips.

If you're interested in learning more about electronics, please purchase Make: Electronics today!


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