Learning about electrical dohickies

I'm not proud of this, I don't know very much about electronics, electricity and the components used. However, what I do know is that when there are three poky things on the end the thing-a-mabobber you either have to put it into a thingy with three holes or, if there are only two holes, you have to get a hammer and beat in the third hole. After that my electrical knowledge wanes.

So I'm trying to find an avenue to increase my knowledge about the subject but I'm having a hard time at it. I've checked out books from the library but, being that those books are written by engineers, they're coded so that only those who posses the engineers genome can understand them. I stopped by a local community college, explained to an instructor there what I was wanting to learn and after a few minutes he tells me that I'd have to spend the next year or so learning electrical theory before I could even get started doing what I'm interested in doing. Maybe he's right, but I just want to cover all my bases before diving in.

I have no urge to become an electrical engineer, but I would like to know things like how to repair an extension cord correctly and safely. I'd like to know how to hook up a small DC motor to an AC power supply, use a bread board to make blinking lights or something then transfer them to something more permanent. I'd like to know how to wire up a light table, know what rating of switch I would need and why. So nothing all that difficult, or should I say nothing I think is all that difficult.

I know the standard reply here is "just start playing with stuff" but considering that this is electricity and components can add up money wise, there is a risk of fire, and I have no urge to give myself electroshock therapy, I was wondering if anyone here could at least point me in a direction to start.

I've considered getting one of those electrical sets that you get for kids to learn with but I don't know if that's a decent place to start or not.

So any feedback would be very much appreciated.

Take Care,


P.S. I'm just joking about getting a hammer and beating in a third hole. Instead you get a pair of wire cutters and cut off the poky thing that doesn't fit ;)

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astro347 (author) 7 years ago

Not only have I found oodles of great sites to start on thanks to y'all, or you'ns for those who prefer. But I also found a book. A book that I figured existed, though being the dip sh*t I can be I never bothered looking on Amazon. But I finally found "Electronics for Dummies". I swear I went to library, and a host of book stores looking for books like this and never saw one. It's like it was written for me! The capital 'R's' are even printed backwards. Pretty cool!

So I got a breadboard, and as many little electrical parts as I could safely shove in my pockets and run with before the police could arrive.

I am now on my way to build the doomsday machine that will enslave the world and turn you all into my lobotomized zombie minions.

So thanks again and I'm sure I'll be posting back here soon for advice, so until then ...

hail astro
Yay! I will be the cutest lobotomized zombie minion!
astro347 (author) 7 years ago
The response here has been overwhelming! I'd like to thank everyone for chiming in and for your advice I really appreciate it!

I've been following the links provided and reading those sites, specifically the really basic stuff. Most of it seem pretty clear cut, at least for now.

My next question might be a little more difficult so let me preface it but saying that I'm an architect and the only engineering I'm familiar with is structural. Structural is very "if you want this than you must have that". Example: If you want a beam you must have a column. If you have a column you must have a footing. (sure, you can have a bearing wall but it's an example)

There are also many rules of thumb that, as the architect, you can work into your design before the engineer gets on board. For example bar joist depth, the rule of thumb is for ever inch of distance plan on 1/8" of depth.

So my question now is this, is/are there similar ways of looking at electrical components? When I'm sitting there looking an empty bread board and want to make a dohicky turn on with a thingy, are there general "if this than that" kind of rules to follow? "If I have a dohicky I must have a contraption, if I have a contraption I must have a ...."

See, it's easy enough to read the definition of say, a capacitor, it's quite another thing to know when, why, where and what size you need.

I guess what I'm saying is that at this point I'm looking at electrical components much in the same way I see structural components and I'd like to know if I need to change the way I'm approaching this.

I hope that made sense, if it didn't let me know and I'll re-write it.

gmoon astro3477 years ago
Sure...I mean, if I savvy your question--does everything in a circuit have a purpose? And is it understandable, and predictable? The answer is yes.<br /> <br /> But like an engineering question, the answer might be simple, or it might be very complicated. A component is like any structural element, it's use only makes sence in context.<br /> <br /> So lets use the <strong>capacitor</strong> as an example (since you brought it up) : A cap has certain characteristics that can be used in different ways--<br /> <br /> -- Caps store energy in form of a charge<br /> -- Caps tend to block DC, but pass AC and pulses<br /> -- Together with resistance (or impedance) they have resonance, and form a <br /> filter.<br /> <br /> ------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> So you'll find capacitors in circuits doing various duties to take advantage of their traits. Here are a few:<br /> <br /> -- Coupling : caps are used between signal stages to block any offset voltages that are produced by the bias of the previous stage.<br /> <br /> -- RC (and LC, LCR) filters : By it's nature a coupling cap <strong>is</strong> an filter (it <strong>will</strong> always be followed by some sort of impedance.) Here's a nice simple calculator for designing high and low pass filters:<a href="http://www.muzique.com/schem/filter.htm"> RC filter calc</a> .<br /> <br /> -- Decoupling : Decoupling is a special application of a lowpass filter. It used to shunt unwanted high frequencies to the ground, and away from the signal path. Decoupling caps are most common in digital circuits, and help prevent oscilation and noise.<br /> <br /> -- Smoothing : Caps are a necessary part of most power supplies, due to their ability to store current.<br /> <br />
Goodhart7 years ago
A point of notation, because it can be serious: just becauseone blade (wire) is marked <em>Neutral</em> do not ASSUME it has 0 potential (current). <br /><br />And one last little tip: All Grounds are not createdequal.... :-) <div id="refHTML"> </div>
Right.  That's the problem with Alternating Current -- the current flow runs through both wires, switching directionsixty times per second.
The problem is, there are not 2 hots and one ground on any of thenormaloutlets in the house. At least, there shouldn't be. One iscalled neutral because it is near the center of a 2 phase currentthatis split when it enters the house (two hots and one neutral, enterthehouse). This gets split and part of the house has one phase,andthe other part has the other phase. The neutral is <i>near groundpotential </i><i>but is not always 0 volts. </i><i>At least, that is how Iunderstood it last time I read about USA house current supplies.</i><i /><div id="refHTML"> </div>
gmoon Goodhart7 years ago
A "Ground" is really just a reference point. And it needn't bereferenced to "earth" to still be a ground.

Safety-type grounds are "earth grounds," of course. But as younoted, even those don't always have zero potential...
Goodhart gmoon7 years ago
I just meant that some confuse "neutral" with Ground. <br /><div id="refHTML"> </div>
gmoon Goodhart7 years ago
Yep, and I agree...

Little wonder there--the old electrothingamabobs didn't have a separate ground.
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