I talked to a lot of people at Phoenix ComicCon about electronics, and it makes sense to put a bunch of the basic information here on my site to help those budding enthusiasts.
First, a plug: I buy the vast majority of my electronics from two wonderful companies dedicated to the electronics enthusiast: Sparkfun Electronics and Adafruit. Both companies are amazing, and develop their own products as well as carry “stock” products like the Arduino…in fact, both make their own Arduino variations (remember, Arduino is open source!) that are very cool. Sparkfun is closer (Colorado) so shipping is a bit faster and cheaper, but to be honest, Adafruit has made a ton of cool products that are best to get from them. Adafruit is in New York, I believe.
So…how do I start?
To understand basic electronics, Sparkfun has a great free online tutorial set that really begins at the “how electricity flows” level — very useful!
I highly suggest spending the $100 to buy the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit – this kit and full color included guidebook will get you up and running with Arduino and electronics in no time! Best of all, the Arduino and all the parts are reusable, so you really aren’t out much money in the long run. Plus, you don’t need to know how to solder (or need a soldering iron!) to use the kit, so it’s a great way to start out to see if this is something you’d like to continue.
Adafruit has a ton of detailed guides on their Adafruit Learning System site — if they sell a product, they likely have a tutorial on it! This site is amazing when you buy a component (like an GPS receiver or LED strip) and you haven’t used it before, they’ll teach you all about it with sample code and tons of pics. Often times you’ll see closeups of a hand with colored nailpolish on…that’s Lady Ada (Limor Fried), the owner and founder of Adafruit – she is an amazing maker and is really enthusiastic about teaching electronics!
Finally, look at youtube. Just search for how to videos (how to solder, etc) — there are tons! I shared my personal favorite soldering video in my last post — that’s an Adafruit video, btw!
Have fun, and happy making!