Saturday, 28 January 2012

Starting Electronics (Fourth Edition)

Starting Electronics (Fourth Edition)

by Paul McGoldrick

Starting Electronics (Fourth Edition)
by Keith Brindley, Published by Newnes (Elsevier)
ISBN 13: 978-0-080-96992-3, softcover, 284 pp, $31.95, September 2011

Getting a basic handle on electronics is not the easiest of tasks. Students who come to it through college courses get bogged down with theory which is pretty irrelevant when it comes to simple circuits, and the number of magazines that offer the beginner a leg up in practical work have become rather few and far between. The days of being able to get practical experience through radio amateur work have become less easy as well, because the majority of equipment in use comes neatly packaged with made-in-Japan labels.
Brindley has written and taught basic electronics for some time. This book, now in its fourth edition, has been updated and expanded to try and meet the needs of the newest adventurers on the block. How has he done?
The author is British and has tried to capture a North American audience by using spelling like ‘analog’ instead of his native ‘analogue’ and by converting the prices of some of the tools he suggests into USD. But the appendix with a list of UK component suppliers kinds of negates those timid efforts.
The first chapter offers some advice on basic tools and an explanation of electron flow – quite nicely done – leading to Ohm’s Law. He then gets into the first practical work. The book uses breadboard techniques where a circuit is being constructed with suggested component layouts for those circuits. He starts with some resistors, a battery, and a multimeter used to measure combined series and parallel resistance (explaining, thank heavens, about zeroing the meter).
The next chapter moves on to capacitors and time constants before moving into building an astable multivibrator using a 555 and an LED, and a very basic explanation of filters. Next are two chapters on diode behavior and characteristics leading into rectifier circuits and smoothing.
Transistors are next (using, for some obscure reason, a 2N3053) and there is a reasonable explanation of npn action without delving into chemistry. The pnp device is mentioned and a circuit symbol is given but no practical work is done with one. The 2N3053 is used, however, to show a small base current controlling a larger collector current flowing through a LED.
A further chapter moves on to ‘Analog Integrated Circuits’ and uses a 741 as a demonstrator. Dave Fullagar (designer of the µA741 when he was at Fairchild) would be the first to admit that it is probably not the best op amp to start your design life with, but here Brindley (who mistakenly thinks the 741 is the “most commonly used IC of all time” – it is actually the 555) uses it only in dc conditions.
We then move to digital ICs, by which he means logic devices, which he spends two chapters on with logic explanations and a lot of pages on 7400 and 4000 series examples.
The book is completed with fifty pages – yes, fifty! – on soldering and a fairly incomplete glossary.
Brindley’s writing is folksy and he has quizzes at the end of each chapter (with answers, but no explanations, at the rear of the book). The basics are covered but there is a lack of ‘fun’ in the practical work because there is nothing really useful that is built. Where is the audio circuit that could get that 2N3053 doing something real? After all there are many safe sources of audio signal available these days from portable players and phones. Why not add some RF circuitry to the audio stage and get a TRF receiver going?
We’re not suggesting that the majority of readers of EN-Genius are likely to find this text useful in their daily work, but there are undoubtedly questions asked of you by others to suggest a way that young Tommy or Maria can get into electronics. This book won’t help you get through any academic exams but it isn’t intended to.
Let’s not leave it another seven years for the next edition, Newnes. But next time let’s put some more fun into starting out in the wonderful world of electronics.

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