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[ale] Working with custom hardware/microcontrollers


Recently, I have kind of gotten fascinated with the idea of doing more
things that would involve hardware, both attached to a PC and controlled
by microcontrollers.  However, I am also finding that it seems a bit
difficult to find enough information to get a solid start in figuring
out what I need to acquire to do things.  It probably doesn't help that
I'm very much a software person and know very little about actual
low-level electronics, which is what I would like to learn about.

I'm wondering if anyone on here has been in that boat and knows of some
decent resources to use to get started.  I know that I would eventually
need a breadboard to play with things (though what do you do with a
circuit after you've prototyped it on the breadboard and then want to
use it in something?) and that I would need to find a decent amount of
reading material and also buy collections of wires, resistors,
capacitors, microcontrollers and all that jazz.  I just don't have a
clue where to start.

Many of the things that I would like to do can be done by purchasing
something that someone else has made, more likely than not, and adapting
it for my usage.  That's fine, but I actually want to learn about these
things, and I have a few ideas for what I think might be somewhat small
projects that would enable me to learn how to do things assuming I can
find a base to start working with.

Eventually I would like to have learned enough to do bigger things, such
as creating custom self-sufficient hardware for various specific
applications, though I don't have any clue where I would go about doing
something like that.

Oh, yeah, and here's something else that I don't have: real serial
ports.  I do have a USB thing that has multiple serial ports coming off
of it, but I don't know that I could program them in the same way as a
"real" serial port.  Probably would be to my advantage to learn how to
use USB as a communications mechanism for such hardware, wouldn't it?

	--- Mike