Staying motivated as a hobbyist


#1

For those of us who are not involved in electronics for our everyday jobs, how do you stay motivated to learn new skills, complete projects or use your home lab space?

I have a hard time with this. I tend to think of a problem to solve or something I want to try, and once I get past the part that captured my imagination, I loose interest. How do I measure the water level in a barrel? Or clarity/color of liquid in a tank? Blink an LED when there is a weather alert in my area? Create a virtual machine using an old car alarm remote? As soon as I accomplish those things I loose interest. So I have breadboards with all kinds of ~working~ projects on them that would be SUPER useful if I would just make a board, come up with some sort of enclosure, figure out what kind of connectors I want, battery holders, etc… That’s where I stop. That stuff tends to be tedious and frustrating to me.

Anyone have a good way to stay motivated when the interesting part is over or life invades?


#2

I usually set aside at least one evening in the week. Contextual Electronics is put forward as the Electronics Apprenticeship - On-line course so I have been treating it like as it it were a night class. But key for me is to have some concrete project that has a purpose and that will be used to solve a problem, with the intent to be installed and used daily.

I think if I were to use breadboard other than a quick proof of concept, then I think interest would wane. My suggestion would be to start prototyping with PCBs. Getting you own board up and running is very rewarding and certainly keeps me motivated to try out more.


#3

I used to do a “nerd night” with my brother. It was Wednesday nights. We’d Google video chat or Skype and just work on projects together. That was a pretty good way to stay motivated. We’d have progress that we’d want to make before the next nerd night. That project ended and…well…that was it. Maybe CE is a good way to get in regular activity, I also like the idea of working on a project that I plan on using everyday. I’m sure I could always find a way to improve, change or rebuilt that “thing” that I made. Good thought. I guess I need to come up with a project. :slight_smile:

Brian


#4

Steve has been exemplary in his motivation to keep moving forward on his projects. I’m really impressed with the way that he digs into each one, but there is a key difference for what he does: Steve is making projects specific to a need in his life.

The CE program is meant as a way to get people started (especially when they can’t think of a project to start with). But once some of the early stuff is done, having a project that is personally important to you will really help motivate.


#5

Thanks Chris.

I just wanted to also add that even though I had some ideas as to what I wanted to work on, motivation was not the problem. Simply knowing where to start was my biggest hurdle. Working though the guided projects in CE helped to understand the workflows needed for KiCad, ordering parts, assembly and testing. Now my biggest problem is getting time :wink:


#6

Reading your question makes me want to ask, why is it important to finish projects? I have a dozen breadboards with stuff on them, and they all helped me to learn a concept or how a device can be used. That is an end in itself. When I was into woodworking the largest output from my shop was sawdust, but that did not diminish the fun I had doing it. I too have a bunch of stuff that needs to be finished in the electronics realm, but that does not diminish the fun I have with it. I guess my point is if you are having fun, and you are learning things, why worry about anything else?

One of the things that the folks at /r/hackerboxes tried was like your nerd night where they got together on a discord channel and worked on a box together.


#7

Much of it is finding something that catches your interest. People are going to get bored with blinking LEDs with Arduinos, and after a point you’re no longer learning that much. There’s the control side of things which is far more interesting.

The vast majority just want to push forward to the latest thing. They want to move ‘up’ to ARM. You’ve got to find something that you like. For me it with was old computers and unusual architectures.

I like general purpose systems of course, but the control systems even up to the 90s could be interesting as they tried different approaches to architecture like Motorola’s 1-bit MC14500B. That’s not a typo, it was a 1-bit serial processor used for control systems. It’s not all that unusual as most of the early computer systems were bit-serial as well. The NSA’s National Cryptographic Museum has a supercomputer that was more than a thousand 1-bit processors.

Part of it is the hunt. That moment when you complete the puzzle of how something works that had little if any easily available documentation. I do plan on building a serial processor among others. Electronics is a broad field and there are lots of little specialty areas that can be pretty fascinating if you stumble onto them.


#8

That’s an interesting way to look at it, more on the architecture. I see more and more people completely agnostic of the architecture and just want to get a thing done. That’s why I usually recommend finding that thing first :slight_smile:


#9

I’m a security researcher so reverse engineering is a large part of my job. I’ll look at firmware and go all the way down to examining the die if necessary. That includes the architecture of the systems. I’ve been sent to assist contracts that work with older gear if no spares are readily available to document the board so a functional replacement can be created.

It’s like my most recent personal project of making a FRAM board to replace the SRAM one on a RC2014 retro computer. It’s basically giving it a modern descendant of core memory. It’s done but I need to take a look at the board layout. Kicad and layout are the two main reasons I subscribed.


#10

[quote=“grtyvr, post:6, topic:852, full:true”]
Reading your question makes me want to ask, why is it important to finish projects? I have a dozen breadboards with stuff on them, and they all helped me to learn a concept or how a device can be used. That is an end in itself. When I was into woodworking the largest output from my shop was sawdust, but that did not diminish the fun I had doing it. I too have a bunch of stuff that needs to be finished in the electronics realm, but that does not diminish the fun I have with it. I guess my point is if you are having fun, and you are learning things, why worry about anything else? [/quote]

That’s a great point. I suppose the end result doesn’t always need to be something tangible other than maybe satifying a curiosity or a little extra knowledge.

Brian


#11

Maybe that’s the gateway to discovery though. You want to accomplish something, so with Google’s help you complete your project and it works. Now you start thinking, “Could I make this solar powered?” “That button isn’t quite right, I wonder how I could make that more responsive?” Now you start looking at power systems for the solar power and start learning the different methods for debouncing. Those could easily just be breadboard projects that never turn into something. “Got it! Ok, so when I rebuild that thing, THIS is what I’m going to use on the switch inputs, or THIS is how I’m going to do the power.” Meanwhile you’ve learned a little something about debouncing and power delivery.


#12

Like you Brian, I am generally motivated by the desire to learn new stuff. The challenge of mastering something new keeps me obsessively motivated until I feel like I have completed that challenge. e,g. Moving from Arduino to ATtiny AVR to ARM keeps me engaged.

Completing projects has been a useful motivator especially when I need to learn new skills. e.g. An LED lighting controller for a room in our house kept me busy for a while. I started with a relay and radio control; upgraded to ATtiny PWM drive of a MOSFET; added IR and ZigBee control; replaced the Buck convertor with one I made and then integrated everything into a single SMT PCB. However I still find it a challenge to find the next engaging project.

Another thing that helps me is maintaining a blog BecomingMaker.com. Consolidating what I have learned in a form that I hope others will find useful helps keep me motivated. It also forces me to dig a little deeper into the details and clarify my thinking.

Setting aside one evening a week has been helpful to keep things moving when life gets busy. Often getting started on the next step is half the challenge and having some time set aside can get me over the hump when some energy is required to get things moving again,

Also buying a new component or dev board can help. We all enjoy playing with new toys!


#13

[quote=“MarkOsborne, post:12, topic:852, full:true”]
Completing projects has been a useful motivator especially when I need to learn new skills. e.g. An LED lighting controller for a room in our house kept me busy for a while. I started with a relay and radio control; upgraded to ATtiny PWM drive of a MOSFET; added IR and ZigBee control; replaced the Buck convertor with one I made and then integrated everything into a single SMT PCB. However I still find it a challenge to find the next engaging project. [/quote]

HAHAH!!! Yes! see, that’s what I’m talking about. LOL! Right, you build something and have it in “production” and you can’t stop thinking about how to improve or change it. That’s why finishing a project is sometimes important.

I have tried that also, and you are absolutely right. In a, sometimes feeble, attempt to not say things that are wrong, you research your project WAY more than you would have if, “who cares, it’s working” were enough. My blog, that I never update and no one reads is http://www.dagobah-system.com, but it does give me a chance to empty my head. Even if it is to a fictional audience. My goal a few years back was one new PCB a month. That would build in a project, and a blog post into every month. I might have to attempt that again after the first of the year.

Brian


#14

Why would you replace SRAM with FRAM? The SRAM used on the RC2014 is widely available and inexpensive (less than $2). The equivalent FRAM is 10x the cost. FRAM is also non-volatile which is completely unnecessary for the RC2014.


#15

Non-volatility is the point, otherwise I wouldn’t be using FRAM.

I like old computers, PDP-8/i or 8/E, and PDP-11s in particular. There’s a number of things done that would otherwise be impossible if it wasn’t for the non-volatility of the core memory.

The registers in the Z80 are volatile of course so there’s a bit of logic on the system supervisor that when the power is cut it saves the state and restores it when power is turned on before releasing it to run on it’s own. It’s a system you can turn off and when you turn it back on it’s right where you left off.

It’s just an experiment in using non-volatile memory spaces and what adjustments will be needed to make it work at the architecture level. The RC2014 was just a convenient test subject.


#16

I did something similar about 30 years ago (has it really been that long) also with a Z80. I simply added a little $2 battery to my SRAM. I think FRAM is a little over the top for an application like that. :wink:


#17

Overkill, yeah, but the chip I’m using is from samples. Had to do something with it. :grin: