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Book Review: Arduino Workshop

"A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects"

By

Arduino Workshop
Arduino Workshop © 2013, John Boxall

Once upon a time, electronics were the sole domain of professional engineers, electricians, and inventors toiling away in basement laboratories. Today, fueled by inexpensive and easy-to-use components, open source hardware, and a community of enthusiasts, the maker revolution is well underway, and hardware hacking has become an extremely popular hobby. While there are many ways to get started, Arduino is one of the most common entry points.

Arduino Workshop At a Glance

John Boxall's 392-page introduction to Arduino takes readers on a journey that spans basic concepts in electronics and fundamentals in programming set against the backdrop of 65 individual projects. If you're completely new to the topic, you'll appreciate Boxall's careful coverage of things like resistors, diodes, and reading circuit diagrams. More advanced hobbyists will find inspiration in the book's projects -- some of which get quite sophisticated -- as well as the extensive examination of ways to push Arduino to its fullest with add-on software libraries and electronic components.

Background

Compared to open source software, open source hardware often involves more tools, larger skill sets, and a wider range of knowledge. Successful makers need to understand electricity, electronics, the tools and instruments used to complete a project, and the programming required to bring a creation to life. And with a professional background that spans everything from IT to mobile communications, it's no wonder that Boxall does such a great job of touching on it all.

In the first few chapters, this book answers questions like: What exactly is Arduino? What can you do with it? And, how do you start your first project? From there, Arduino Workshop moves into the basics -- electronics and electricity -- before tackling general programming concepts. After that, it's on to ways to expand your Arduino with both software and hardware, alternatives to the Arduino Uno, and projects that involve movement and positioning. Boxall wraps up with input and output (both wired and wireless), connecting to the Internet, and finally communicating over cellular networks.

Having grown an online following through his website, tronixstuff, Arduino Workshop feels like a natural extension of the tutorials that the Australian-based Boxall has been publishing online since 2010. In fact, many of the same ideas, lessons, and discussions found in the book can also be found on tronixstuff, but in Arduino Workshop, they're presented in a clearer and easier-to-follow format.

Features

For this review, I used the first edition, English-language version of Arduino Workshop published by No Starch Press, which focuses on the Arduino Uno.

  • Foundation - If you're new to the hardware side of open source, you'll find there's a lot to learn. And with its in-depth treatment of the most basic electrical and electronic concepts, Arduino Workshop does a fantastic job of making even the most timid of beginners feel right at home in this world.

  • Breadth - While some introductions ignore anything slightly advanced, Arduino Workshop covers the fundamentals expertly while never shying away from the more sophisticated subject matter, as well. I was pleasantly surprised by Chapter 11, "Meet the Arduino Family," where Boxall explains how to build an Arduino circuit on a solderless breadboard and also provides a breakdown of Arduino-compatible alternatives.

  • Projects - Without a doubt, Arduino Workshop's 65 individual projects set this book apart from others on the market. When it comes to technology, there's really something to be said for learning by example, and with each key point focused around a specific project, the information in this book is easy to learn and retain.

Drawbacks

Arduino Workshop is the kind of book that makes me wish I had more free time. Given a few weeks off, I could definitely imagine myself working through these lessons, page-by-page. That said, there are a few things that I wish had been done a little differently.

  • Code Explanations - As a professional software developer myself, it was easy to follow the code examples. And, while Boxall does spend extra time explaining major programming concepts like loops and functions, I feel like he moved through this material too fast for people completely new to programming. I would have liked an overview of the Arduino language itself with an explanation of its relationship to C and C++ as well as where to go to learn more about the software side of things.

  • Abruptness - While I felt like Arduino Workshop covered a lot of ground -- and covered it well -- in some ways, each chapter felt a little too atomic for a cohesive work. It would have been nice to have had an introduction to the author and open source hardware at the beginning of the book and an additional chapter with suggestions on where to go next at the end.

  • Photos - Although it might seem trivial at first, I wish the photos in this book had been in full color. Maybe it's because I'm used to full color photos in No Starch Press' other publications, but the grayscale images gave the entire book a somewhat dated feeling. And while I know that Arduino Workshop was just published, I can imagine someone picking it up in a bookstore, thumbing through it, thinking it's old (based on looks along), and then moving on.

Getting Arduino Workshop

Paperback and ebook versions of Arduino Workshop are available from booksellers both on and offline throughout the country, and updates and errata can be found at http://nostarch.com/arduino.

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Disclaimer: No Starch Press provided me with a copy of Arduino Workshop at no cost for the purposes of this review.

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