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View Full Version : are X in 1 electronic kits worth it?



vic user
April 13th, 2005, 11:11 AM
i haven't fiddled with digital electronics since high school (and that was a while ago for me)

and i want to go right back to introductory electronics and work my way up, as well as having my daughter learn too.

this kit really intrigues me, but for the price i don't want a glorified toy, but something that i can actually learn from.

i know that the labs are probably more like "paint by numbers" than actually giving any theory before applications, but it seems to have everything included, and i was hoping to supplement the kit with books from the library.

here is the link:

http://www.montek.com/catalog/item110.htm

does it look like a good kit, or should i go to radio shack and buy a breadboard, etc... and go from there?

chris

Terry Yager
April 13th, 2005, 12:28 PM
Looks like a pretty good setup to me, but that price... (even in Canadian buck$, it's kinda pricey). I'm sure daShack will have something roughly equivalent for a lot less $$$. It may not be as well-built or durable, but how long do you expect it to last anyways?

--T

vic user
April 13th, 2005, 01:51 PM
hi terry;

well, you are certainly going down the same thought road i was going down.

i bought the book "robot buliding for beginners" by david cook, ages ago, and he has a whole list of what you would need to get set up for basic digital electronics etc.., which is far more versatile i would assume, than going for the kit.

maybe a trade off, and get a 100-1 kit, for say $50.00 and then buy a multimeter, breadboard, etc.. as well

chris

Terry Yager
April 13th, 2005, 02:12 PM
Sounds like a plan. Round here we have a chain-store called Harbor Freight Tools, where you can pick up digital meters for five buck$. Hell, at that rate you can consider them disposable, cause the batteries inside prolly cost more than that. We also have a local Mom&Pop electronics store, and thier dig meters are only $6.95-or-so. I'm thinking, five-Cs could buy a whole lot of discrete components & test equipment. Add a couple of good books, and you're home free.

--T

erd
April 13th, 2005, 06:45 PM
i haven't fiddled with digital electronics since high school...and i want to go right back to introductory electronics and work my way up, as well as having my daughter learn too...this kit really intrigues me, but for the price i don't want a glorified toy, but something that i can actually learn from.

http://www.montek.com/catalog/item110.htm



That does look like an interesting kit, but kinda pricey. I have a few of the Radio Shack kits, from about the 30-in-1 through the 200-in-1. There really are two essential components to these kits - the components themselves (and their interconnect), and the manual. I've noticed that some of the modern kits are getting away from the forest of spring terminals and migrating towards prototyping boards. I suppose that for the younger crowd, the spring terminals work fine, but for teenagers and up, proto boards are considerably more dense. Anyone can go to Radio Shack or places like it and get a bag of resistors, of capacitors, transistors, LEDs, etc., and stick them on a protoboard and get a few basic buzzer and radio circuits. This is where the book comes in... one doesn't have to be limited to what's in the N-in-1 book, but it's helpful to have a starting place.

Starting someone off with an N-in-1 kit isn't bad, especially if one picks up the kit at a clearance sale (I have an RS outlet store nearby) or at a garage sale/flea market/hamfest. The prices they ask for the new kits is a bit much for me. What I think you will find is that somewhat quickly, the student's skills and craftsmanship enter the protoboard realm. One can somewhat affordably buy a protoboard from Radio Shack, screw it down to a slab of plastic or wood, and hook up batteries or a wall wart, or one can buy a protoboard in a box, like with this kit. At this point it's a sliding scale of cost vs flexibility vs initial effort. Everyone has to figure out how much of the setup work they are willing to do and go from there.

If one is in NZ or Australia, Dick Smith's carries this sort of stuff as books sold separately, and bags of components/spring boards, etc. I've seen the books in second hand bookshops for reasonable amounts of money. One nice thing about them is they come with project labels to cut out for the finished project.

One huge difference I see between the N-in-1 kits of my youth and the one listed above is that the one above has a microprocessor. Back in my day (said in an "old man" voice), the kits had a single analog IC. More recent kits have a couple digital ICs. If one wants to learn machine code basics and how to light lights and blink pixels at a low level, this kit looks like a one-stop-shopping place to do it. OTOH, the same sorts of projects here are the kinds of things we used to do with 1802 computers like the Elf (4 input bits, one output bit (speaker/LED), 8 toggle switches, hex or binary output...), just without so many canned projects to do, and without the LCD screen. One can put together a siimple microcontroller and a graphical or textual LCD somewhat easily, but that's not beginner stuff... this kit might be a way to break into things to see if building one from scratch is appealing.

If one has a couple hundred dollars to drop on learning electronics, kits like these are handy. I also recommend picking up a copy of Horowitz and Hill's "The Art of Electronics", a college-level introductory EE textbook. It's excellent and can be found on sites like abebooks.com starting around $15-$20 US (going up to $65 for pristine hardbacks). If you want the theory, get this book. With what's in the book, and one of the beginner's kits, you have both sides covered, theory and practice.

One final thing about protoboard vs N-in-1 kits... if one comes up with a circuit on protoboard that one wants to keep, Radio Shack and Dick Smith's sell solderable protoboards that one can transfer a project to direct from the plug board to copper traces. Nice for advanced complex projects, not so interesting for simple stuff that takes a few min to put together from scratch. If one has any aspirations of permanence, consider working wth protoboards. I remember how much time it used to take to cover my 150-in-1 with wires for the later projects, then how much time it took to clean it off and do a new one.

I'd enjoy some feedback on what I've written here. I have a nephew who is about six and a half, just about old enough to start off with crystal radio kits and the like. I might see about digging up one of the old manuals and building one on a block of wood with him, so he can have one to keep around (I did when I was just a little older than he is now), as a radio is quite a functional item, moreso than some of the intermediate projects in my old 150-in-1.

-ethan

Terry Yager
April 13th, 2005, 07:00 PM
I gave my lil' nephew a (30-in-1?) kit for his 5th birthday. There's no such thing as too advanced for that age, he can always "grow into it". I don't really remember how old my kid was when I gave him his first kit.

--T

erd
April 13th, 2005, 07:39 PM
I gave my lil' nephew a (30-in-1?) kit for his 5th birthday. There's no such thing as too advanced for that age, he can always "grow into it". I don't really remember how old my kid was when I gave him his first kit.

My dad was really good for this stuff with me (he was a ham in the 1950s) I don't know how old I was when we built my first crystal radio, but I had to be about 6 or 7. The 10-in-1 through 50-in-1 kits are probably best for really young kids. I need to get one of these for my nephew. He's about the same age I was when I started playing with all of this stuff.

-ethan

Terry Yager
April 13th, 2005, 08:00 PM
I just talked to my kid on the phone but he doesn't remember how old he was when he built his first kit either. He did, however, remember that he was 8 when I gave him his first PC to play/learn with, so it was sometime before that. He never did do many kits before I found it was more cost-effective to just give him old discarded computers to play with instead.

--T

erd
April 13th, 2005, 09:30 PM
While I agree that discarded PCs are cheap as teaching tools, I'd argue that they teach entirely different things than X-in-one electronics kits, especially now that PCs are made up of so many surface mount parts and ASICs. It's not like the days of the Apple II and the 5150 (original) PC where things were frequently socketed, and always DIP parts.

To me, teaching electronics with a whole PC is like teaching physics by using a modern car for examples - the basic principles are at work somewhere inside the mess, but they are buried beneath many layers of complexity due to modern manufacturing techniques, cost savings techniques, pollution/RFI reasons, etc. Learning with vintage hardware (whether it's air-cooled VWs or 8-bit micros) at least affords a view at uncluttered designs.

-ethan

vic user
April 14th, 2005, 07:06 AM
thanks for all the input!

for roughly the same price as the 500-in-1 kit, i can get the following:

- Sandwich Robot PCB & Components 69.00
- 3mm Coloured Sintra 4.25
- DPDT Micro Top-mount Slide Switch 0.75
- Universal Solderless Breadboard 29.99
- 15 Range Digital Multimeter 19.99
- 200-IN-1 Electronic Kit 69.99
- Intermediate Robot Building Book 44.00

Total: 237.98

the thing that i like about the 500-in-1 though, is that it goes from basic electronics all the way to playing with registers etc..

perhaps an alternative to what the 500-in-1 offers, would not be to get a simple cpu setup on a breadboard, and go from there.

chris

Terry Yager
April 14th, 2005, 08:30 AM
Well, my kid is a kinda special case (like me). Above-average intelligence, but with a "Learning Disability", which is something I don't accept the existance of. This syndrome could just as easily be called a "Teaching Disability" on the school's part, and might have been so-named, if educators had not been given the right of naming it. What it means is that the school is unwilling/unable to teach to his learning style, not that he is incapable of learning, but of course, the educators are not about to take the responsibility. Better to turn the blame around to the student instead. My son, like myself, is a "hands-on" learner. Books, lectures, etc. are just not absorbed, he needs to do something to learn it, to get involved, rip it apart, then put it back together to know what makes it tick. He learns by personal observation, not by reading or hearing about someone else's experience. Unfortunately, most schools are not set up to accomodate this learning style, and since it is such a minority, they figger it's better to teach to the masses, and let the occaisional "oddball" slip thru the cracks. Enough of this rant tho, (don't get me started...) the point is that Jeff never really showed much interest in the board-level stuff. He just wanted to know about computers, so I just kinda helped him along by providing him plenty of toys to play with, as well as a little guidance along the way. (I didn't just throw an old PC at him, I showed him, in a hands-on manner, all the tricks he needed to know). When I was talking to him last night, he was complaining that he wished he knew how to weld, so that he could apply for a certain job opening. After I reminded him that I had taught him to weld when he was 12, and he was pretty good at it, then he remembered, and it all came back to him. He had what we call a "Yager Moment", where he just forgot that he knew something. It had somehow become filed away in some corner of his mind that isn't very accessible. (I'm the same way, there's lots of things that I used to know). Anyone remember the old TV series Taxi? There's one episode in which "Reverand Jim" was at a fancy-schmancy party when the piano player called in sick, and the party was about to be a flop. Jim went over to the piano, sat down, and began belting out some complex classical piece. When he finished, he just looked around as dumbfounded as everyone else was. All he could say was, "Wow! I musta had lessons sometime!" He had a Yager moment! (I know, but my friends used to accuse me of being related to him anyways, so there may have been some truth to the rumor).

--T

Exluddite
April 14th, 2005, 05:19 PM
I think the AVR Butterfly (http://www.smileymicros.com/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=15&MMN_position=25:25) would be a good place to start if you want to get into microcontrollers and learn a little bit of C and maybe assembly. You can do a LOT with Atmel's other stuff, but some of it (like the ATMega's with 300+ page datasheets) isn't for the feint of heart! :D Having said that, it's amazing how much you can do with them.
Another thought would be to try some of the kits from Solarbotics (http://www.solarbotics.com/). Check out the BEAM Webring (http://v.webring.com/hub?ring=beamring). The BEAM stuff is predominantly analog, but the circuits are simple to understand and little solarbots doing odd things are a lot of fun. Also, many of the sites on the ring have links to other robotics/electronic hobbyist projects.
My final suggestion would be to go to the Freenode IRC network and check out #robotics , #avr (if you're interested in their microcontrollers), and #robotics . There are mostly helpful and friendly folks on those channels.

vic user
April 17th, 2005, 12:25 PM
Unfortunately, most schools are not set up to accomodate this learning style, and since it is such a minority, they figger it's better to teach to the masses, and let the occaisional "oddball" slip thru the cracks.

i totally agree with you Terry.

luckily for your son, he had you around to give him some home schooling, to supplement his institutuional schooling.

i wonder how many parents rely entirely on the state to educate?

chris

vic user
April 17th, 2005, 12:26 PM
thanks for the links Exluddite !


chris