Arduino: A Quick-Start Guide
Maik Schmidt is our guide in the Pragmatic Bookshelf’s venture into the world of electronics. This is a compact work, like all others in the series, it goes straight to applicable examples and makes you get your hands dirty with real work. The Arduino platform has been described in many ways, but the best I have heard so far insightfully labels it “The 555 of the future,” referring to the ubiquitous timer chip so many simple electronic projects make use of. If you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you have doubtlessly seen the plethora of material on the subject that’s out there: even O'Reilly, which usually does not ship multiple titles on a single subject, has a variety of them. Most of these works are rather similar, the ones I prefer are Massimo Banzi’s Getting Started with Arduino (O'Reilly, 2008), by one of the original developers of the platform, and the strongly related Getting started with Processing by Casey Reas and Ben Fry. These are brief books in the 100-page range, not exhaustive works, but covering the core philosophy and basic operation of the tools is sometimes the best way to jump into a new subject.
There is a lot of material on the subject, even the current issue of Make magazine has a very good roundup (and not for the first time, if I may add). So, how does Maik’s work stand out in the fray? Right after a brief introduction to ease you into the Arduino environment, the book turns to interesting projects, more sophisticated than the usual fare (read: not the usual LED-blinking using pulse-width modulation that every tutorial out there walks you through). Examples of this include connecting with a Wii Nunchuk, motion sensing, networking, infrared remote control interfaces, and more. These projects are the high-note of the book, and span almost two-thirds of its length — and are significantly better than most other project material currently in print.
This is a hands-on book, theory is kept to a minimum, as you don’t really need previous experience to tackle an Arduino: the platform was specifically designed to cater to artists and designers, it is meant to be approachable by users who are not EE wizards. That said, if what you are after is learning the underpinnings of low-level electronics or hardcore embedded systems programming, this book is not for you: pick up a copy of Horowitz and Hill’s The Art of Electronics (possibly including the student manual), and check back with us in a year or so for the digital followup recommendation. But if you have less time on your hands, and you just want to network-enable a coffeepot or build some interactive art display, the introduction to Arduino Maik delivers is quite sufficient for your aims, and it spans material other authors have been remiss to include, like developing libraries and (Appendix C) use of serial line protocols.
Zooming in on the details, perhaps the comment can be made that it would be good if there was a single kit available including all components used in the text: perhaps Makershed or Adafruit Industries will supplement their existing kits with one comprising the full range of the author’s selection. On the plus side, I must highlight the extensive illustrations, which visually represent the breadboard linkage between the Arduino and the sensor or actuator being used with extreme clarity, and are much more effective in teaching neophytes than more traditional circuit designs. Where these are not actual pictures, they were generated using the alpha release of Fritzing, a very interesting piece of software (see fritzing.org) aiming at facilitating circuit design for those of us without a background in electronics.
The landscape of Arduino publications is shifting faster than many other subjects in print, and doubtlessly Maik’s status as “king of the Hill” is but temporary — however, among those books on the subject I have personally surveyed, I am pleased to say that he currently holds the championship cup.
Cross-posted to Slashdot.