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500-in-1 Electronics Kits?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the more-circuits-than-you-can-shake-a-diode-at dept.

Education 125

Oneamp asks: "I'm interested in a '500-in-one' type electronics kit. Amazon lists a few, but I've seen some user reviews that maybe they are not all they're cracked up to be. Most of the complaints seem to be of the 'Manual sucks' variety. Nevertheless, I'm sold on the idea. Can any of you, who have had actual experience with any of these kits, recommend a good one?"

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125 comments

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well (1, Insightful)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204542)

If its 500 in 1 that manual would have to be huse to, um, not suck. # 152 [page] starter course manual! # 78 page advanced course manual! # 140 page programming course manual! ------------ 370 / 500 = .74 pages per project.

give it a try (4, Interesting)

ditto999999999999999 (546129) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204556)

Surely the manual won't explain the electronics behind it... but if you want to have fun building stuff, then go ahead a try it.

I had a few of these as a kid, and they were almost certainly not disappointing... It makes me want to buy one right now! ;)

Ditto

Re:give it a try (3, Insightful)

neonleonb (723406) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204678)

I had one as a kid, and I was wildly disappointed. I followed the directions in the manual, and made circuits that did things, but I had no idea how anything worked. All the circuits used op-amps and similar crap; even after taking a college electronics class for physics students, I still don't understand how an op-amp works. I know more or less what it's supposed to do, but its guts are a mystery to me.

The miracles of the Internet (1)

hummassa (157160) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204724)

If found this [wikipedia.org] to be really good explaining what it does and, in the end of the article, one example of how it does it.

Re:give it a try (1)

pe1chl (90186) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204920)

That is the idea of building blocks. You know what external effect they have, but the internal workings are more complex and not necessarily one requires knowledge of the internal workings to use the building block.
When I was a kid, those kits had only about 20 projects in the box and it contained transistors, resistors, capacitors, etc.
You would build a blinking light, a morse code tone generator, stuff like that. The most complex kit would build an AM radio.

With opamps and digital ICs you can build more different and more complex things, but this means you understand less of the basic workings.
An op-amp should only be looked at as a differential amplifier, and a NAND gate has some logic function, but how it is internally constructed out of transistors and resistors is less of a topic.

Re:give it a try (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18205394)

I had one as a kid, and I was wildly disappointed. I followed the directions in the manual, and made circuits that did things, but I had no idea how anything worked.
I went the other way - I largely ignored the directions and tried to understand how things worked to build my own circuits. Turned out I didn't understand basic stuff like amps and ended up killing most of the components in my kit by connecting them straight to the batteries without appropriate resistors.

So I guess a happy medium would be some simple circuits to get you interested but then some solid grounding in the theory before you strike out on your own. But it depends what age they're pitching the kits at.

Op-amps (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18205462)

An op-amp is basically two transistors with the emitters joined together and connected to ground through a large resistance (ideally, a constant-current sink; but bear with me for now). The collectors are connected to supply via load resistors, and one of them is labelled as the output. (The other collector can be used as an inverted output, for connection of another stage to give more gain.) The two bases, with series resistors, are the inputs; the non-inverting input is the base of the transistor not serving the output.

When a voltage is presented at the inverting input, a current flows into it; the transistor on that side tries to let a larger current through its collector (and thus its emitter). The voltage at its emitter -- the output -- goes down. When a voltage is presented at the non-inverting input, a current flows into the base of the transistor on that side and it tries to let a larger current through. But the shared emitter resistor means that the other transistor can't let so much current through anymore, so the voltage at its collector goes up.

The reason for using a constant-current sink in the emitter path is that the changing collector-emitter resistances of the transistors can be significant, making the transfer function horribly non-linear unless the device is only working over a very narrow voltage range (much less than the supply voltage). This was never a problem with valves, when the circuit was called a "long-tailed pair" in reference to the large resistance between the two common cathodes and ground. Fortunately, constant-current sources and sinks are not hard to build using transistors, as long as you can find a pair which have similar electrical properties (obviously) and are in good thermal contact (so temperature variations affect both equally). Such conditions are easily met in an IC.

Uh (1)

soloport (312487) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206038)

An op-amp is basically two transistors with the emitters joined together and connected to ground through a large resistance (ideally, a constant-current sink; but bear with me for now). The collectors are connected to supply via load resistors, and one of them is labeled as the output.......

8-|

Ooh! Look! Shiny banner ad. Ooh! Two posts down is +Funny! Wonder what poster says...

Re:Uh (1)

karnal (22275) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207574)

LOL

Right there with you..

Re:Op-amps (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206592)

Dude - you spent 3 paragraphs giving the "operation", but still didn't say what it DOES. What function does it perform? You sound like the professor in my ECE81 class at Lehigh. He could give us chapter and verse about how a circuit did what it did, but as a mechanical engineer I first wanted to know what the damned thing was used for.

Re:Op-amps (2, Informative)

tchuladdiass (174342) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206950)

From what I recal, the purpose of an op amp is to perform math operations on the input voltages (i.e., if one of the inputs is 2 volts, the other is 1.5, the output will be 3.5 volts). They can also be wired up to do substraction, and other operations.

Now, what good is this? One example is to decode an FM stereo signal. When stereo capabilities was added to FM radio, it had to remain compatible with mono radios. So the idea of broadcasting the left channel on one frequency and the right channel on another flys out the window. So, the solution was to broadcast the left + right (L + R) on the main channel, then send the difference (L - R) on a sub channel. So you end up with two channels, M (main) and S (sub channel), with M = (L + R) and S = (L - R). Using a bit of algebra, we can get L = (M + S) / 2, and R = (M - S) / 2. Op amps are therefore a good fit to do the addition and subtraction on the two channels (the "/2" can be dropped -- without it, you only end up with double the volume, which ain't a problem with audio).

Of course, it's been a while since I studied any of this, and I know that it isn't a complete acurate description of stereo broadcasting, but it should suffice for a discussion on op amp usage.

Re:Op-amps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18207326)

It amplifies the voltage difference between the two inputs.

If the non inverting input is at 3.1V, and the inverting input is at 2.7V, then the output will be (3.1 - 2.7) * A, where A is the gain factor. In practice, A is very large and the output will simply swing to the positive supply voltage if the non-inverting input is at a higher potential than the inverting input, or the negative supply voltage if the inverting input is at a higher potential than the non-inverting input. So we add negative feedback, by literally feeding back a portion of the output voltage into the inverting input. We also assume that (1) no current flows into either of the inputs, (2) both inputs are at the same potential and (3) the output voltage will adjust itself to whatever figure it takes to keep things stable.

Look at any of the canonical "simple op-amp circuits" with these two assumptions. In the "inverting" configuration (R1 in series with - input, R2 from output to - input, + input tied to 0V; don't try to understand this without a diagram, get some paper and draw it) we see that since no current is flowing into the input (1), every single microamp that flows through R1 must be flowing away through R2 into the output (which must, therefore, have sunk to a negative voltage (3)). And since the current is the same through both R1 and R2, the circuit gain will be R2 / R1. Or, since the output is negative when the input is positive, -R2 / R1. In the "non-inverting" configuration (R2 and R1 forming a potential divider between the output, inverting input and ground; signal applied to + input) we see that the voltage at the - input is (R1 / (R2 + R1)) times the voltage at the output. But the voltage at the - input = the voltage at the + input (2), so the circuit gain is (R1 + R2) / R1, usually written as 1 + (R2 / R1). Knowing that, you should be able to understand what is going on in the "differential" configuration (R1 in series with - input, R2 from output to - input, R3 in series with + input, R4 from + input to ground).

Re:Op-amps (2, Informative)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 7 years ago | (#18209482)

Dude - you spent 3 paragraphs giving the "operation", but still didn't say what it DOES. What function does it perform?

It was in response to somebody saying they knew what it did, but not how it did it...

But anyway, operational amplifiers amplify the difference in voltage between their two (inverting and on-inverting) inputs. They're largely useless used open-loop, as they have voltage gains of tens of thousands to millions, so even slght noise sends the ouptut swinging about wildly. They are virtually always used with negative feedback (some connection between the output and inverting input). An op-amp with negative feedback drives the output till the two inputs are at the same voltage. With various simple circuits around them they can be made to amplify, add or subtract voltages, form the heart of filters (high-, low- or band-pass), buffer signals, integrate or differentiae signals, drive high-power loads or many other things I can't remember just now. Check out National Semicondustor Application Note AN-31 for a whole bunch of circuits you can build around an op-amp or two with a few other basic components. AN-4 and AN-20 give a written introduction to the theory and applications of op-amps.

All you need to know about opamps (1)

John Miles (108215) | more than 7 years ago | (#18211272)

Two things:

1) You almost never see one used without negative feedback (which just means there's a way for some or all of its output voltage to find its way back to its inverting input).

2) By varying the voltage at its output pin, an opamp with negative feedback will do whatever it takes, subject to its DC and AC specs, to make the voltage at its - input equal to whatever voltage is applied to its + input.

That's 99% of it. No, really.

Opamps are cool because it's easy to apply negative feedback to them. Negative feedback is probably the most important principle in electronics, after Ohm's Law.

Here is a real desc. of op-amps, not a crap one (1)

krog (25663) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207770)

The op-amp, "operational amplifier", is a transistor device which has two input terminals, the inverting (-) and noninverting (+) inputs, and one output. It also has two voltage supplies, positive and negative. It has the following properties which make it interesting:

  • The input terminals draw very little current, in other words a "high impedance" input -- in most cases you can assume that it is drawing zero current from its inputs. This means preceding stages in an amplifier achieve the highest gain possible, and don't need to provide much current.
  • The output terminal is able to provide relatively heavy current supply/sink; in other words, it is a low-impedance output. This means following stages in an amplifier can also achieve maximum gain.
  • There is a "virtual short circuit" across the input terminals. This is to say that the voltage difference between them is very close to zero at all times.


This gives rise to all sorts of interesting uses. A simple trick involving Kirchhoff's Current Law allows an op-amp, with two or three resistors, to act as a simple gain amplifier with great input, output, and bandwidth performance. Add capacitors in the feedback loop, and you can exploit the exponential characteristics of the capacitor and build a circuit to model differential equations -- you can use these amplifiers to perform operations like differentiation and integration. These are the famous "analog computers" of the 40's-60's which so diligently simulated missile trajectories. Sum or subtract as many inputs as you want.

On the inside, op-amps of today usually have a differential input stage to provide high input impedance and voltage gain, followed by one internal stage of high voltage gain, followed by an output stage to provide high current gain to provide a low-impedance output. Field-effect transistors (FETs) are usually used in the input stage, due to their naturally near-infinite input resistance. High frequency amps sometimes require the use of traditional bipolar junction transistors (BJTs) due to their better HF characteristics (a result of lower internal capacitance); BJTs have significant input current, and care must be taken both by the designer and the engineer to drive them properly.

In short: op-amps are really easy to use and cheap as dirt. Any time someone wants to make a signal louder and not deal with a whole lot of fuss, the op-amp is the natural choice.

Re:Here is a real desc. of op-amps, not a crap one (1)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 7 years ago | (#18209554)

There is a "virtual short circuit" across the input terminals. This is to say that the voltage difference between them is very close to zero at all times.

This is only true of op-amps used with negative feedback. They are usually used with negative feedback of course, but it's still a property of op-amp circuits, not of op-amps themselves.

Re:Here is a real desc. of op-amps, not a crap one (1)

krog (25663) | more than 7 years ago | (#18210048)

It remains true until the user forces it to be false, such as in comparator operation. But you are of course correct that the virtual short can be defeated.

Re:Here is a real desc. of op-amps, not a crap one (1)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 7 years ago | (#18210516)

No, it remains false until the user (ther person designing the op-amp circuit) creates the virtual short by introducing negative feedback. If you don't have negative feedback (which is not built-in to general-purpose op-amps), there is nothing to defeat. Try it: Take an op-amp, hook up the power then put 1V on one input and 1.5V on the other (via say 1k resistors, to give whatever magic you think drives the inputs in the absence of feedback a chance). There will be a 0.5V difference between the inputs. Where is your 'virtual short'? Now, introduce negative feedback by connecting the output to the inverting input. The output can now drive the inverting input to the same voltage as the noninverting input, which is exactly what will happen - there's your virtual short. No feedback = no virtual short.

Re:Here is a real desc. of op-amps, not a crap one (3, Informative)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 7 years ago | (#18210764)

Yes. And it's not really a short circuit, because no current flows through it.

The reason why the input voltage difference is nearly zero when negative feedback is applied, is because the amplifier is operating linearly. So actually, the difference between the two input voltages is the output voltage, divided by the open-loop gain. But the open-loop gain is huge, so the input voltage difference will be tiny.

Now, there's a thought. If you applied the same inputs to a second op-amp on the same chip (so, hopefully, having the same open-loop gain), would you get a sane voltage at the output, even with no negative feedback?

Re:Op-amps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18208044)

If I'd known that this was actually going to get mod'ed up, I'd have posted as me. But I expected to miss some important detail and get mod'ed down, so I posted as AC.

Just goes to show, some days you're the dog and some days you're the lamp post.

Re:give it a try (4, Insightful)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205474)

'... but I had no idea how anything worked....'

That's sort of like complaining that Tinker Toys or Lego don't come with detailed descriptions of strength of material and molecular dynamics.

Re:give it a try (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | more than 7 years ago | (#18208718)

'... but I had no idea how anything worked....'

That's sort of like complaining that Tinker Toys or Lego don't come with detailed descriptions of strength of material and molecular dynamics.



But even the dullest kid with minimal physical intuition could be creative with those and figure out how to build something other than what was pictured on the box. Try being creative with electronic components you have no understanding of and you will likely either end up with nothing or worse let out the magic smoke.

Re:give it a try (2, Insightful)

MindKata (957167) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205638)

"I had one as a kid, and I was wildly disappointed. I followed the directions in the manual, and made circuits that did things, but I had no idea how anything worked"

I had a few of the earlier kits like this back when I was still at school. (Thinking back it must have been around about 24 years ago!) ... I think they are a great way to get into learning about electronics. They also allow building circuits faster than with a soldering iron so again good for learning. They are also a starting point to find new ways to adapt the circuits they provide with the kits.

The problem isn't the kits. The problem is with your approach to the subject. You imply you want a ready made package of all you need to know to understand electronics. That will not happen. The field of electronics is potentially a life time of studying. You can go as deep into the subject as you wish. No one book or one kit can every show it all. Anyone truly enthusiastic about a subject seeks out information wherever they can. The great thing about learning these days is the internet now provides a vast extra resource to help study just about any subject.

Re:give it a try (1)

walt-sjc (145127) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205878)

I had one when I was a kid too, but it was back in the days when the most complicated circuit in the kit was a transistor, and radio shack actually carried electronic components. They used to carry kits for building radios, and other things. My first major project was building one of those table-top AM radios, which worked well enough that when I connected the antenna lead to my wire book shelf, I could pick up stations over a thousand miles away on the skip.

The kit itself and it's manual wasn't enough to learn by, so I bought some books and a meter, and played with the kit modifying the examples until I understood how things worked. That was when I was 12. Over the next several years I got into wirewrapping and trying my own circuits. Bottom line is that the manuals for the kit won't teach you jack. You need something more to teach you how the examples actually work.

Re:give it a try (1)

mikael (484) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206248)

For me, understanding what the different components did wasn't the hard part (an op-amp was simply a varying resistance resistor controlled by another current). The hard part was getting all the different wires to stay in the springs as the circuit was assembled. You would have short red wires, medium length green wires, and long yellow wires. Putting together a circuit would involve making around 20+ connections for a simple circuit, and 100+ connections for a complex circuit. Some circuits would require 5+ wires to be placed together.

The Bloc-Tronic kit [lifeaftercoffee.com] seemed to solve this problem by having each component sealed in a little plastic cube. Each cube has a number and the electronics symbol. Putting together a circuit simply involved placing the cubes together in the right order. Notches/bumps made sure you could only put safe combinations of cubes together. There's a gallery of what a kit looked like [lifeaftercoffee.com]

As the author of this website speculates, you could only imagine what a similar kit could do with todays components (LED displays, A/D convertors, light/temperature/pressure/humidity sensors).

Our hardware engineering course did something similar with logic gates - a number of basic circuits - flip-flop gate, and, or not, nand and LED's were combined on a single circuit board. The chips could be wired together to form circuits, and the results noted down.

Re:give it a try (1)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206454)

even after taking a college electronics class for physics students

Sorry to say, but you took the wrong course. Waste of time if your goal was to figure out how an op-amp works. How ever, almost any book about solid-state electronics would have sufficed, the library is a wonderful place.

As a former USAF avionics specialist, electronics school in Biloxi was not my first foray into the field. I was lucky enough to live in Japan, near Tokyo, during my high school years and was able to visit the electronics mart in Akihabara. First kit was an AM/FM radio with 6 transistors!!! O.K., this was 1974. I built several other kits, and eventually built my first computer from a kit, an S-100 system that was basically an Altair (this was before Radio Shack and Apple hit the home market, and I don't know if the kit was available in the U.S.).

I do some of my own hacking from time to time, with microcontrollers like the ATMEL and some PIC stuff (knowing the instruction sets of several old chips is kind of cool), but I've moved on. (I'm married to a former QA from Zilog. The Z80 still rocks.)

The X in 1 kits are good, but pick up copy of "Nuts and Volts" magazine. There are similar microcontrol and digital kits that are specifically designed to get you into theory and will allow you to get into some cool areas of electronics that the Radio Shack and other X in 1 kits won't.

ad-homs won't help. (2, Funny)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204570)

I've seen some user reviews that maybe they are not all they're cracked up to be. Most of the complaints seem to be of the 'Manual sucks' variety.

That's not a very nice thing to say about Manuel. You know, he's trying the best he can.

Re:ad-homs won't help. (1)

BlackMesaLabs (893043) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204792)

He's from Barcelona.

Re:ad-homs won't help. (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204892)

There is too much butter ON, THOSE, TRAYS!

Re:ad-homs won't help. (1)

laejoh (648921) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205016)

No no no, senhor, you say it all wrong, it's not "ON, THOSE, TRAYS!", it's UNO, DOS, TRES!

Re:ad-homs won't help. (1)

Archon-X (264195) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204922)

I tryyyyyyy Meeesta Fawlty! I trrrrrrry!

Re:ad-homs won't help. (2, Funny)

polar red (215081) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204868)

Basil: Manuel! (Nothing) Manuel! (Still nothing - totally
apopleptic now) MANUEL! (Manuel enters from the dining room)
Manuel: Que?
Basil: (Holds up vase) What is this?
Manuel: Ah, is voz.
Basil: No.
Manuel: Que?
Basil: (Patiently) No, try again.
Manuel: Oh, um - ah! Is flower pot?
Basil: (Grinning a very scary grin) No.
Manuel: Que? (looks over to Polly and Sybil) Mister Fawlty, is
crazy! (Whereupon Basil removes the flowers from the vase and dumps
the water over Manuels head, then as Manuel is spluttering, whaps
him in the face with the flowers)
Basil: This, you dago basket case, is a vase that is about as shiny
as a decaying dog turd. Now go and polish it properly or I shall
kill you. (Manuel scuttles off) Honestly, where do you have to go
to find good help these days? Beyond me. (turns and sees Polly and
Sybil giving him the evil eye) Well?

Re:ad-homs won't help. (1)

BobPaul (710574) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207092)

This sounds vaguely familiar. What's it from?

Re:ad-homs won't help. (1)

Tool Man (9826) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207576)

Fawlty Towers... the old non-Python BBC series with John Cleese.

CPU Kit (1)

Konster (252488) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204574)

I'm still building the DIY Home CPU Kit, and I will tell you that the gates are a #*@% to install.

Re:CPU Kit (0, Redundant)

Scarletdown (886459) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204786)

I'm still building the DIY Home CPU Kit, and I will tell you that the gates are a #*@% to install.


And the ballmers are an even bigger PITA to install; so frustrating you will end up throwing a few chairs.

Re:CPU Kit (1)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204872)

Ah! I've got the DIY Oxygen gas molecule kit. Very tough to build. I keep losing those damn electrons and once those Quarks get stuck together they're nearly impossible to get loose again. Not to mention how trick the neutrons are. If you add one too little or one too much the whole thing splits in two.

Re:CPU Kit (1)

lwriemen (763666) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205644)

Gates has always been an impediment to home PC advancement. :-D

Most of their manuals do suck. (5, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204578)

To be honest, I think your best bet is to get the kit and the "manual" separately.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to tutor an absolutely prodigal young kid, who happened to be 'into' electricity that season. I couldn't find any electricial kits that seemed up to snuff in both the hardware and manuals departments, so instead I ended up taking one of the bigger Radioshack kits, and then using some of the Forrest M. Mims III [amazon.com] books as project guides. Why they don't have that guy do the manuals for the kits I have no idea, because he's really quite good.

For the few projects we wanted to do where the board didn't have the right parts, I just hacked them on, either in place of parts that I thought were trivial (resistors, etc.), or just by drilling a new hole in the board surface and adding it in.

Re:Most of their manuals do suck. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18204650)

Wow, I read through that book when I was 7 or so. And played with a 500-in-1 kit soon after. Dad?

Re:Most of their manuals do suck. (1)

schwinn8 (982110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205992)

I used to have a few of the old http://www.radioshack.com/ [radioshack.com] kits that served me pretty well. They have a newer version of my old one here: http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?produc tId=2102913&cp=2032062.2032398.2032405&parentPage= family [radioshack.com] and from the reviews, it seems to be pretty good. The "details" of the listing at the site seems to tout a good manual, too, written by the author referenced in the previous post...

Re:Most of their manuals do suck. (1)

wcbarksdale (621327) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206676)

Actually, there is at least one kit [radioshack.com] that contains guidebooks by Mims. My only complaint is that there isn't a variable capacitor included, so you'll need to scavenge or buy one if you want to make an AM radio or something.

Re:Most of their manuals do suck. (1)

jpetts (208163) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207468)

Why they don't have that guy do the manuals for the kits I have no idea, because he's really quite good.
They do on this one [radioshack.com] :
Documentation was written by best-selling author and science writer Forrest M. Mims III

Re:Most of their manuals do suck. (1)

johnrpenner (40054) | more than 7 years ago | (#18210212)


Forest Mims had a rare talent for being able to teach electronics.
he's a lot of what made those early radio shack kits so good.

unless they're luck enough to find one of his talent,
the kits may not be as good.

2cents,
j

Haven't seen one of those for over 20 years! (3, Interesting)

linuxtelephony (141049) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204634)

I remember playing with these in the early 80s. I think I had a 150 in one, and then they came out with the 160 and 500, but it has been so long I don't remember for sure. There were no ICs, just bunches of resistors, capacitors, etc., all with wire jumpers that were held in place by springs. Seems like there were all kinds of circuits you could build, from water and light sensors, to a radio.

I don't know if they are "worth it" as far as parts are concerned, but if a kid is wanting to play with and learn about basic electricity and electronics, it can be a good toy. In my case, my father worked on electronics and I grew up calculating resistor values by color and reading schematics.

Kits like these might be a good way to gauge the interest of a young person in electronics. If they really enjoy the kit, then it's probably going to be worthwhile to invest in more serious projects, books, and so on.

It used to be you could buy all kinds of chips and components from radio shack to build your own stuff. Over time a lot of those have fallen by the wayside. It's still possible to get some of them, but not like it used to be. Instead, I find Fry's Electronics to have all kinds of kits and things to build, like Radio Shack used it.

Re:Haven't seen one of those for over 20 years! (1)

lundqvist (1070102) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205228)

Same here, except in my case it was more like 33 years. I loved it and made all the projects available then went on to buy parts and create my own. Lead me into Ham radio and eventually IT. Just reading this takes me back a long time. I'd definitely buy one if I wanted to get into electronics its a good basic grounding.

There's a name we call it now... (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207706)

Cellular Shack, Big-Boy ToyBox, etc.


They've definitely moved away from the electronic-component store to a much more consumer electronics store. I still go there to get basic soldering supplies, fuses and the occasional coax connector and to their credit they carry a few basic components, but few and far between. However, it seems the only way to get most electronic components from them is through their website. I've switched to a local electronic supply company for most of the electronic components I need.

The last time I had a kit... (2, Interesting)

jackb_guppy (204733) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204646)

Was around 7. It was no fun compared to my mother's uncle or my older brother "sets". There are lots of things you can do with just wire, battery, old can and some nails. "Grow" salt crystal and build a radio (AM). Telegraph key and receiver. Motor.

True come are not electronic but the basics are there. There are big and easy to debug. Then get to into a TTL or Analog IC Manual. You can build from parts timers, radios, computers (from ALU and gates)

After all that start into computers like Z80 or V30. Look at embedded controlers.

After all all of this is just build blocks like legos!

Great Boards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18204694)

Why not go for a slightly higher end FPGA board.. Altera do some great development kits: http://www.altera.com/products/devkits/kit-dev_pla tforms.jsp [altera.com] and you can then get some bread board and drive anything you want though various I/O ports on the boards.

Re:Great Boards (1)

scsirob (246572) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204928)

Maybe, just maybe because the concept of FPGA's is waaaay over their head? It takes a basic understanding of electronics and gates to put together a useful circuit. FPGA's assume you have that understanding already and apply it to turn the FPGA into something useful.

Kids need to learn how to walk before they can run.

Re:Great Boards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18206302)

Without knowing electronics you'll never succeed in connecting the FPGA to anything without breaking it. They're just too expensive to experiment with.

I just bought... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18204708)

Weird this question should come up. I'm just sort of starting to learn about how electronics work, and picked up this thing [amazon.com] at Fry's for $12.99. It's for kids, and I'm in my 30s. But what the hell.

It comes with a 76 page illustrated book that takes you through building circuits of greater and greater complexity. I'm only up to page 22 or so (capacitors). The illustrated book is fairly clear, uses a water/pipe analogy to explain what's happening..

This, along with this free book [ibiblio.org] , has provided hours of fun and an interesting intro to how these electric devices we see all the time actually work...

I haven't used a 500-in-1 kit yet, but considering how cheap this was, I feel like I've already gotten my moneys worth in watching a capacitor charge at different rates depending on the resistance I throw in front/behind it.

I know, I know. I'm easily entertained. Can't wait to make the transistor radio. That'll be cool. I mean, when it's done... I'll know how a radio works!

For anyone who's ever been interested in electronic machines and how they operate, I highly recommend the book ("Lessons In Electronic Circuits"), which is easy to read, and getting one of these little kits. Good times.

They look a little sparse (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18204716)

I guess nowadays you are supposed to do everything with ICs. When I was a kid the kit I had had a couple of basic ICs (NAND and NOR gates IIRC) and it came with about a hundred other discrete parts, resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors and LEDs to speakers, meters, and photocells. These kits look like they have a handful of ICs and almost nothing else. The LCD is a nice touch though, a lot better than the 8 segment LED I had.

One thing I remember is that, when you're 8, an IC might as well be a device of magic. The discrete components are a little easier to understand. Change a capacitor or a resistor and the pitch of the sound or the reading on the meter changes. Change a connection on the IC and everything just stops working or does something baffling. If you just want to build the circuits without understanding what they do then the ICs can do more but you won't learn anything.

If you want to learn about ICs that is great too but you can do that better with a breadboard, and when you're 12-14 and better able to understand them.

Re:They look a little sparse (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205582)

I guess nowadays you are supposed to do everything with ICs.

      That's sort of the whole point of technology and progress, isn't it? I mean I guess they COULD sell a kit that ran with a water-wheel and belts but it's just so out of fashion now ;)

$183.89 well spent (1)

psicop (229507) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204772)

Just bought mine.

I've been an amateur radio operator for 13 years now, so if the manual atleast has a circuit diagram, I think I can figure it out. Probably even come up with a few things not in the manual. I recommend looking into the Knight Electronics mini-lab as well.

I know Ramsey has a lot of experience in the DIY kit business. I would have more of their products, but I deliberately prevent myself (aside from this purchase) from spending money on their kits because there would be "one more thing" until I was completely broke. :)

Need KITT (1)

Dareth (47614) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206146)

So you are saying I need a kit to build a KITT - Knight Industries Two Thousand ?

Another way... (1)

azrider (918631) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206412)

Another option, as has been pointed out twice so far, is to start to learn amateur radio.

Buy kit + good electronics book (3, Informative)

impeachgod (982062) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204800)

The best combination is a kit + a good electronics book (get Art of Electronics by Horowitz and Hill and tell your kid to skip the math he doesn't understand). I remember being very disappointed with my electronics kit when I was a kid as it did not explain how the circuits worked and how to design your own.

Re:Buy kit + good electronics book (1)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204976)

I second that. The Art Of Electronics is the best book on electronics I got my hands on.

Re:Buy kit + good electronics book (1)

spagetti_code (773137) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205100)

For a home learner, a better choice is the Art Of Electronics Student Edition.
Its a series of labs that works you through, in a very practical manner,
what each component does and what it means. If refers to you readings
from the Art.

Absolutely brilliant.

Re:Buy kit + good electronics book (1)

problemchild (143094) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205082)

The Horowitz and Hill book is an absolutely great book. More for those starting their degrees etc and often quoted as a course required book. I was impressed on how readable the book was, I'm not sure how well a young kid will get on with it as even the book is a bit of a weight and the content more so. Having said that it does have many different layers and you can read the bits that would be appropriate to you or more importantly who the kit was for. Maybe the "hardcore" stuff in there to will entice the reader to go further.....Best of luck

Alternatively... (1)

PopeOptimusPrime (875888) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204808)

You could do it the proper way, buy yourself a DC power supply, a whole bunch of breadboards, and a bunch of basic components.
You'll spend not much more money but you'll have the makings of a pro lab-bench.

Re:Alternatively... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18205964)

And you'll also have no fucking idea where to start, and you'll probably end up setting something on fire.

Re:Alternatively... (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207400)

You could do it the proper way

There's really no good way to bootstrap that process. If you're just starting out experimenting in electronics, you don't know enough to even make the shopping list. Just pick a kit that looks interesting, use it a little while, and use that experience to get your next one -- whether it be a bigger kit or a collection of parts.

The manual counts for less than local help (1)

cheros (223479) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204862)

I started with electronics in that way (at age 11), in the days when we'd only just started to leave the radio lamp era behind (yeah, I'm /that/ old but I refuse to grow up :-)

The manuals tend to tell you how to put things together and how to move from the schematics to the physical side of things, but few of them even have the most basic theory in.

Putting designs together is good to start with, and changing components to see what happens is also educational (as long as you stay with low voltage battery power or you get other effects of a more permanent nature :-), but the real education took place when I started talking to the guy who ran the nearest electronics shop and who was kind enough to make time to explain the basics to a curious 11 year old (who cycled an hour to get to his shop :-). Learning about resistors, capacitors and how thy behave under AC and DC conditions, how a transistor works and things like NAND gates - all that is interesting but not always captured in kit manuals.

Conclusion: the kits are good because they give you the tools, but don't expect the insight to come from there - either local help or other beginners books may be better. Maybe How It Works on the Net may help, and I think there was a program called Crocodile Clips which did a similar thing on a virtual, on-screen board. No idea if it's still around.

Good luck, it's an interesting hobby.

Man, that blows away the ones I used (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 7 years ago | (#18204962)

The amazon one isn't too bad. The one I used as a kid thousands of years ago had wires you stuck into little springs. This one has a real breadboard area, an LCD and look at that nifty little keyboard! :) Actually, I could use one of these things at work when I need a quick and dirty test fixture to provide some simple control signals. Cheaper than having our assembly area cobble something together. They ought to make one with a small FPGA on it. And an Ethernet to serial port bridge to explore networking.

Re:Man, that blows away the ones I used (1)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205900)

I bet one could put an Ethernet port and small FPGA on the breadboard. And with some long pieces of wire/ribbon cable, one could use an external breadboard.

Re:Man, that blows away the ones I used (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18206208)

Go ahead and try! Stray inductances and capacitances are a bitch (as well as contact resistances on breadboards). Those things sometimes won't work properly even on a PCB, if you are not VERY careful.

Small, single chip 8-bit micros are top tech for breadboards. Anything more demanding is off the reach. FPGAs, PLDs, they are too flaky, need to much current, are sensitive to "hairline" short glitches, so even a slow-clock circuits are unlikely to run smooth on a breadboard. If you wish to try them hands-on, you better learn how to make PCBs (and prepare yourself to make a lot of them) and get yourself a lot of 0.01uF, 0.1uF, 1uF and 10uF multilayer chip ceramic capacitors.

Re:Man, that blows away the ones I used (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206450)

That's why I was thinking the of having it embedded in the kit. A little Virtex-4, EEPROM and a JTAG port with serial cable and you're good to go.

Lantronix sells these neat Ethernet to serial port bridges. The device handles all the Ethernet. You just have to do the serial port stuff, which is trivial in an FPGA. It's not a big pipe, but it's great for control and command stuff. I put them in everything I design now to Ethernet enable them.

huh (1)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205032)

Even the description is hard to understand:

Item Weight: 1300 hundredths-pounds

They need to have a sit-down with their marketing (2, Interesting)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205064)

...guy. From the Amazon blurb:

We went one step beyond our 300 in one lab kit! Yes, 500 in one, PLUS comprehensive learning course manuals!
Come on, everyone knows that one step above 300 is 301. Doesn't "we went 200 steps beyond our 300-in-one lab kit" sound more impressive?

Anyway, I had one of those old stick-wire-in-spring kits back in the day, and it claimed a whopping 50 projects, ranging from basic instruction on concepts like resistance on up to basic crystal and transistor radio. A bit basic in terms of theory, but frighteningly close in scope to the hands-on experience I got while earning my degree in EE years later.

If you're a bit more hardcore, you can probably do better with some modular breadboard (you can buy build-it-yourself kits that include complete instructions for the power supply), a good electronics textbook, a multimeter, and a local electronics hobby shop. Avoid Radio Shack like the plague, and ask the EE department at your local university if they have any recommendations for where to buy discrete parts.

Re:They need to have a sit-down with their marketi (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18206040)

As an EE who started off with one of those 50-in-one kits when I was 8, I have a few recommendations. I had a 200-in-one, but the more impressive projects on it required so many wires it was nigh-impossible to get things to stay working. Put one in and two fall out.

You can start with one of those kits, but once you get to the point where you'll really learn what you're doing, go look for books and kits separately. Look for books by Forrest Mims III [forrestmims.org] and Don Lancaster [tinaja.com] (TTL Cookbook and CMOS Cookbook are classics). Check their sites out as well.

As for parts sources, for online shopping, I'd recommend Digi-Key [digikey.com] . Jameco [jameco.com] is a little pricey, but they have some really interesting parts, including a lot of older stuff. All Electronics [allelectronics.com] is a place I used to buy from a lot; they have a lot of manufacturer surplus parts, so it's kind of like shopping in a flea market or surplus auction. Another surplus shop is MPJA. [mpja.com] Newark [newark.com] and Mouser [mouser.com] are good places to look when you want some specific part that Digi-Key doesn't have.

For starters, you'll want to buy a modular breadboard [jameco.com] , and one of the pre-cut wire kits for them. Or, if you want to blow some more dough, you might want to get one of the Analog Design Lab [jameco.com] or Digital Design Lab [jameco.com] things that has a bunch of things like power supplies, LEDs, and switches integrated into it already. Also look for parts assortments, like resistor and capacitor assortments (e.g. Digi-Key items RS125-ND and PHD1-KIT-ND). If you're going to be doing digital work, you'll probably want to get lots (20 or so) of 10K resistors (for pullups) and 0.1 uF capacitors (for decoupling).

Radio Shack is where you go as a last resort. Their selection is lousy and prices are worse.

Re:They need to have a sit-down with their marketi (1)

lilgorgor (7238) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207614)

noted.

200-in-1 kit, link and review (5, Informative)

Cheesey (70139) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205144)

When I was younger I had this 200-in-1 kit [quasarelectronics.com] which I am amazed to see is still being made! The manual for this one was good, at least in the edition I had. It included circuit diagrams for everything along with some explanation. Early circuits included wiring instructions - later on, you were supposed to figure those out from the circuit diagram. The projects start simple: by the end, you're using almost all the components on the board.

I see that the same company makes a 500-in-1 kit. Assuming this is of the same quality, it would be worth considering.

The problem with the 200-in-1 kit is probably common to all such kits. The transistors, ICs and LEDs are real - they are easy to damage by incorrect connection. You can replace the transistors with a bit of effort, but some components are soldered directly to a board. It's a real pain if you damage anything. I also don't like the use of batteries as a power source. I suppose that's a safety thing, but I'd prefer a good quality low-voltage PSU with an electronic fuse.

I think the next step after a kit like this is making your own circuits from 74-series logic ICs, which provide basic logic functions and some more complex devices like flip-flops, registers and counters. You can make all sorts of fun stuff with this, and you really only need a data book that covers the 74 series, a breadboard and a 5 volt PSU. This is great fun. Especially when you add a microcontroller!

Re:200-in-1 kit, link and review (2, Interesting)

gmarsh (839707) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205514)

Nice! I grew up on the same electronics kit.

I actually found an old exercise book in a closet, from back when I played with that thing when I was 8 years old. I can't believe I was inventing circuits like this:

Two transistor oscillator -> third transistor amplifier to boost output to CMOS capable level -> 4000 series JK flip-flop -> two LEDs from complimentary outputs. Got a decision to make? push the button, the LEDs would toggle back and forth at ~1KHz. Let go of the button, you've got a decision. The following circuit in the notebook used the second half of the JK for two possible outcomes.

I also remember the thing hitting a lot of different subject areas - audio amplifiers (microphone in, speaker out), AM radio, and something using a photocell where the kit would let out a horrible shriek when there was no ambient light which I likely hid in my parents' bedroom. Good times.

Sure enough, I'm an electrical engineer now. I blame that kit :D

Re:200-in-1 kit, link and review (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205616)

I also had that same kit (or if not that one, one that was almost identical) when I was a kid. Great kit actually :)

Re:200-in-1 kit, link and review (1)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207410)

Wow, I had no idea that thing was so common. I had one when I was about 9, though I didn't really know what I was doing so I ended up frying all the LEDs :(

Re:200-in-1 kit, link and review (1)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 7 years ago | (#18208802)

I also had that kit, and can vouch for it and its manual. My only complaint is that the variable resistor eventually wore out -- that's how much I enjoyed using the kit. Some kits skimp on the logic gate stuff, but this one has dozens of projects that use the IC's extensively. I'd definitely recommend it!

try other stores (1)

will_die (586523) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205218)

Radio shack use to have lots of them, also isn't there a store called Brainy Kids or something like that they would probably have a wide range of them.

Re:try other stores (1)

smchris (464899) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205586)

What I remember from Radio Shack is that they used to have a lot of books: an IC Projects series, at least one similar to an electronics kit projects, and some references on using test equipment and the like. A natural tie-in to their component sales to build your own kit.
 

An alternative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18205454)

www.arduino.cc

The arduino is designed to be a multimedia interface. It connects your computer to sensors, switches, controllers ... etc. Its heart is an Atmel chip which is roughly similar to a PIC. Once it is programmed it can operate without being connected to the computer. In fact, you don't even need the board. You can develop using the board and then incorporate the chip in a standalone project. The online tutorials are excellent. In particular, there is a whole set of tutorials on learning electronics. The other thing that excites me is that there are hooks to a large variety of multimedia and web enabled programs. You can thus control your project from anywhere in the world.

Having said the above, I have an old Radio Shack Science Fair kit. If you want to develop a project that uses simple electronics, it is excellent. Maybe the best thing is that everything is in the same place. You don't have to scrounge around to find things. You can use the projects in the manual to kludge together a simple system. Once everything is working you can design and build a pcb with confidence that it will work.

The impression I get (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205600)

is that most of these kits are like low end chemistry sets: toys designed to appeal to parents. My wife bought one of those for my daughter; I went through the manual, and you couldn't do any of the interesting experiments with the basic kit. Instead it had you doing things like mixing sugar and iron filings, then separating the mixture with a magnet. I get the point, but it's hardly going to ignite a lifelong pssion for chemistry.

A good educational kit should allow you to interesting things at every level, your increasing skills opening up new possibilities.

I'd probably steer clear of toys. I'd look for something designed as a trainer for adults. The kind of kid who is going to do anything with the kit fits the adult profile better.

Re:The impression I get (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18207446)

I think it's just because well, uh, fun chemistry is not REALLY safe. I had a lot of fun as a kid making thermochromic mercury iodide (that was also quite a project!), but who would allow their kid nowadays to refine mercury nitrate (V) in the yard? I mean the most important thing about United States suburbs is that they are - above all - safe for the kids!

Buy a breadboard and then bags of components (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18205800)

I'm a professional electronic engineer. I have recently been wondering about what would be the best sort of thing to buy for the kids in my life (i.e. my nephew) and I'm convinced that the best thing to do is to buy a breadboard and components separately. There is lots of this sort of stuff available on Ebay. Then you can go in whatever direction you fancy: analogue electronics (op-amps, and fun things like the AD633 analogue multiplier), audio, video effects, microcontrollers, discrete digital logic, etc. Also consider getting an FPGA board like the $99 one from Digilent with a VGA video output. There is so much more flexibility when you can just order a few more components each month to build on what you already have.

The real challenge is finding a good book. I'm afraid I don't have any suggestions.

An alternative. (1)

markrages (310959) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205868)

My brother got one of these 150-in-one electronics kit when I was a kid (mid 80s).

It came with a thick book that had a one-page writeup of each circuit. I studied each one until I started to catch on. Then I went to the public library and read their (abysmal) selection of electronics books.

Now I have my MSEE and I can still remember some of the experiments. The perplexing explanations I now realize were wrong. The Internet has made getting answers and datasheets to almost anything possible.

To someone starting now, I would suggest an alternative. Get one of those white plug-in breadboards and a selection of discrete components. A place like Electronix Express sells this stuff and caters to the educational crowd. Get a multimeter too. Then get books. For general electronics, buy the Art of Electronics. For a gentler introduction, borrow "There are No Electrons" from the library. To stay interested, get a practical book in an area you are interested in, such as the ARRL handbook if you like radio, or a robotics book if that's what you like. Examine those circuits until you understand them. And find an Internet forum to ask questions about what you're learning. sci.electronics groups are good. I've found the PIClist to have excellent off-topic discussions about general electronics questions. It's pretty good for PIC microcontrollers as well.

I think I had a couple of the smaller ones (1)

Kris_J (10111) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205902)

Dick Smith Electronics [dse.com.au] sells a few of these. You can find the 300-in-1 kit by visiting the main page and searching for "K0030" (for some reason they prevent deep-linking). I played with a few of these things back in the day and I remember them being pretty fun. However, these days I'd probably recommend Lego Mindstorms [lego.com] instead. With the kit, you're pretty much stuck with the 300 (or whatever) things it can make. With Mindstorms there's a huge fan base with new things being created and details published all the time.

Get Radio Shack's "Electronics Learning Lab" (3, Informative)

quadshop (806550) | more than 7 years ago | (#18205914)

Get this one: http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?produc tId=2102913 [radioshack.com] It has a VERY good "manual". Actually, there are two - one focused on digital, one on analog. This is the kit that started me on a long journey from "I don't know what a resistor is" to taking graduate classes in electrical engineering. You will also want to get Horowitz and Hill's "The Art of Electronics". If you have any interest at all in learning about circuits, you'll want that book.

Do get one. (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206014)

It's been years, so I doubt if the specific ones I have would still be on the market. I have a small one (a ten-in-one I think) that I got when I was in about third grade, and a somewhat larger one that I got when I was in about sixth or seventh grade I think. I haven't played with them in a good while either, but I'll tell you want I remember, in general: they're a lot of fun.

You do have to be diligent to go ahead and do all the projects in the book, even if some of them don't sound exciting and interesting. The reason is because each one is included for a reason, to demonstrate some principle. They start with simple concepts and work up, so if you skip, you'll miss and potentially not understand stuff. (I assume some kits have more built-in redundancy in this regard than others, though, and maybe with the larger kits you can afford to skip more than would have been the case with my relatively small kits.)

On the other hand, once you've built the stuff in the book, you can improvise a bit. I was able on a couple of occasions to combine two different projects from mine and make something the book didn't really tell you how to make as such, though I no longer remember all of the details. (This was in about 1989, so as you can imagine I may have forgotten some of the finer points ad interim.) It does stick in my head that the kit didn't have a microphone as such but the earphone could be used as an input, and the piezo buzzer as an output (albeit, not a very high-quality one). One supposes if I'd had several of each component, rather than one each of most of them, I'd have been able to do more advanced things like telephone-like two-way communication systems.

One of these kits may not fulfill all your dreams of being an electrical engineer, but IMO it *is* well worth having. Recommended. Get one.

No kit needed (1)

Discopete (316823) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206134)

I've always been a fan of the "Engineer's Mini-Notebook" [forrestmims.com] series from Forrest Mims. You can get them at Radio Shack, most HAM radio shops or online here. [forrestmims.com] (were originally like 10 books, they've now condensed them down to 4)

Entry-level electronics projects with detailed explanations and parts lists. You'll have to get the parts yourself, but with companies liker Mouser, Graybar and Fry's, that shouldn't be a problem.

I had several of these kits... (1)

camusflage (65105) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206220)

While I dug the Radio Shack ones, and my runner up was the previously mentioned 200 in 1, for sheer fun, my favorite was the Gakken EX 150 system [wikipedia.org] . Everything was inside little blocks that you fit together. The manual was not something I would call stand-alone though, nor should it be. If you want to learn more, you start digging into Forrest M. Mims' books. You can't expect a toy manual, regardless of level of detail, to explan PNP versus NPN.

Seeing this post took me back to the many mis-spent hours of my youth, tinkering with electronics and magnets. If my son, when he's ten, asks for an oil furnace transformer, you can bet I'll be asking what he's planning on building (I was building a jacob's ladder).

Microprocessor Kits (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18206314)

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Microprocessor kits!

I understand it's a little bit different than the poster's request, but they're great for entry level learning about electronics too!

You can find them on eBAY for great prices, and can be used for all kinds of really interesting projects.

Just to plug one example that I've used to tutor a few children, do a google search for "Basic Stamp" by parallax. Parallax also makes a chip with a Java interpreter in it, and all kinds of really interesting peripherals

We had those in my day. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206324)

They were called "junk TV sets". The "manual" was the ARRL Handbook.

Just buy a solderless breadboard, some parts, a power supply, a meter, and some books and start messing around. Circuit simulation software can be cool, too. Some packages:

gnucap - GNU Circuit Analysis package
klogic - digital circuit editor and simulator for KDE
ksimus - KDE tool for simulating electrical circuits
ktechlab - circuit simulator for microcontrollers and electronics
qucs - Quite Universal Circuit Simulator

There are also simulators, assemblers, and compilers for many one-chip micros.

Big influence on my life (1)

raddan (519638) | more than 7 years ago | (#18206378)

I don't recall exactly which kit I had, but I loved it when I was a kid. I think I was 11 when I got my first kit, which was a crystal radio set. The second kit was one of the 100-in-1 kits, and included a simple digital readout and some relays among the standard parts. The thing is-- you weren't really limited to 100 projects, because once you started to understand some of the patterns, and once you learned some of the basic concepts (Ohm's Law, and so on), you could come up with your own designs. I used my kit as a starting point for my high school science fair project (a science fair that I won); later in the project I moved to experimenter sockets and then breadboard. Once I found out that I could build my own guitar effects pedals based on designs found on the internet (this is c. 1995), I was hooked! The nice thing about these kits (or mine, at least), is that the contacts we're all spring-loaded, and the wire ends were already silvered, so it made playing with the stuff really easy. Highly, highly recommended.

eBay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18206426)

I still see a lot of the older Radio Shack kits on eBay, often in decent condition with their original manuals, selling at very reasonable prices. My favorite as a kid was the 150-in-1 [ebay.com] model from the late 70s-early-80s timeframe. Every card-carrying adult geek has his or her own "Rosebud," and the 150-in-1 kit is probably mine.

It's probably the most fun you can have for $15-$20, unless you already happen to live in a seedy part of Bangkok.

Yes! (1)

metamatic (202216) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207310)

That was the exact model of electronics kit I had as a kid. I remember it as being pretty good. Interested me enough that I went on to study electronics to university level.

Snap Circuits (1)

ghotihed (928294) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207038)

Depending upon the age of the child, you might want to consider the Snap Circuits line of electronics learning kits [hobbytron.com] . I got the 500-in-one Pro version for my seven-year-old (now nine), and it worked out quite well.

The thing comes as a flat clear plastic board with little nubs on it, like Lego. Then there are a number of flat snap-on pieces with various electronics components on them. Included are just about anything you could imagine, up to and including some specialized DSP chips to help the kids experiment with weird sounds.

The booklet(s) that come with the kit are quite detailed. They go over how to build a circuit, and encourage the child to try and figure out what's going to happen before they actually put the pieces together. Then it goes on to describe what's happening in good simple language.

It's hard to gauge exactly how much my son has learned from this set, but I think he's got some of the basic ideas down, and it should help a bit when he gets older and starts dealing with more of the real thing. I highly recommend it for the younger children, not least of which for the party-colored pieces and ease of assembly and disassembly.

Electronics Are Fun (1)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207462)

I'm a 37 year old software engineer. About 3 years ago I decided I wanted to learn about electronics. I started with one of these [radioshack.com] . It was nice, and had some very nice example projects - both analog and digital. It also came with a nice supply of op-amps, transistors, resistors, capacitors, and other goodies.

The only complaint I might proffer is that I very quickly outgrew the relatively small breadboard and graduated to something like this [allelectronics.com] . I was infinitely more pleased with the layout. If you enjoy it, a breadboard and a small arsenal of nicely varied resistors, transistors, caps, diodes, and other bits will be an excellent choice. If you start getting them in any significant quantity, look online. Radio Shack is nice and convenient, but does charge a bit of a markup.

Also, if you want to really blow your mind, pick up a copy of The Art of Electronics [google.com] by Horowitz and Hill. It was recommended by a coworker who is an MSEE, is mind-bogglingly good, and is used in lots of college courses.

This manual is better than the kit (1)

NutMan (614868) | more than 7 years ago | (#18207498)

This isn't a basic electronics kit, but Parallax sells some starter kits [parallax.com] with their BASIC Stamp microcontroller. They have a built in breadboard and some basic components. They have a large number of excellent manuals online which can be downloaded for free. Download [parallax.com] some of the manuals and/or school curriculum [parallax.com] to see if it might meet your needs.

proto board and Forest Mims (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 7 years ago | (#18208040)

I like the idea of the 500-in-1 kits, and have used a couple for education purposes (I volunteer as a technology teacher for primary education courses.) The nice thing with the kits is that everything's tested, so if you do the experiment as listed, it will work. They also often have safety stuff built in: the LED's have current-limiting resistors integral to the LED so you can't burn them out.
If the student isn't particularly motivated, is a sort of passive person, the 500-in-1 kits make a lot of sense. But if the student is motivated, buy all the Forest Mims Shop Notes notebooks -- the ones Radio Shack used to sell -- and go to jameco.com and buy some protoboard (get a big one, spend the money, you won't regret it -- or buy about 10 of the small 20-pin ones -- and just work your way through the notebooks. Start with basic, then do logic, sensors, 555/comparator/opamps, and so on. Mims has better explanations than most 500-in-1 manuals, because he's writing for adults not kids, and does some really interesting, funny things like lightning detectors and multi-output function generators that are surprisingly useful. Because the notebooks are all standalones he doesn't do as much building on previous work as you can do in a 500-in-one, but he spends more time exploring the math and physics behind what's going on.
And then go buy Hill and Horowitz, "The Art Of Electronics", and read it, and you can get a job as an electronics technician.

For you or your kids? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18208284)

If this is for younger kids, I would recommend one of the spring-and-wire kits, like the Elenco ones at Amazon (e.g., the MX-907). The components stay put, which is nice. For older kids (or yourself), I'd recommend one of the hybrid breadboard kits, like the Radio Shack one that has been mentioned several times. These are nice because you can customize them by adding new components (e.g., timers, digital logic ICs, etc), plus you get to work with a breadboard from the beginning, which is a useful skill.

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