On hardware tutorials

A friend of mine sent me this post from Phillip Burgess on why Arduino foster innovation on the long run. And he is absolutely right, Arduino does provide the basic environment for learning electronics and basic concepts on computer science and programming.

But I think we could do better. Arduino lack of proper debugging interfaces is a real problem. But it is easily fixable, just create and kickstart an open Arduino Debugger, using the debugWire or the default JTAG interface.

What is my main issue is the lack of in-depth tutorials and manuals, for the ones that need to go the extra mile – learn and explore the full capabilities of the platform. The VIC-20 and the PET computers (or toys) had really great manuals, including the whole schematic and full programming documentation. We don’t have that for Arduino, we have lots of scattered tutorials most on the same subject, without adding much to it.

The basic example, of one of this tutorials, is the “hardware” hello world: blinking a LED. We, electrical engineers, computer scientists, physicists, chemists, take for granted what a LED is, what a CPU does, what an algorithm is, etc. So we just write the really basic steps for doing this hello world. That’s more than enough for us, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for a beginner and sometimes even for someone with a technology background.

Why can’t a tutorial begin explaining some basic physics of how a LED works, why a through hole led has different length legs, and how an embedded cpu has digital and analog inputs and outputs. LED is just ubiquitous nowadays, but no one really knows how it works (ok, you physicists should know it pretty well). Couldn’t we, as a collective work, write better tutorials? Have a physicist write a basic outline of a PN junction and how it can emit light. Then ask an electrical engineer to write basic concepts of an output port and a computer scientist could write on how a CPU is just a “dumb” serial worker and how software is translated to that “dumb” worker.

I bet that we would have better engineers, fewer frustrated engineers working on software and not on hardware, and happier computer scientist willing to go to the really low-level of the CPU. Just because they now know all the effort that have gone in the develop of that “toy”.

Maybe I should try to write this tutorial…

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