One Year of Contextual Electronics

Before Contextual Electronics, I knew I wanted to get back into practical electronics, after a very long break. But I still had a lot to learn or re-learn. My study days left my head spinning trying to grasp operational amplifiers with two or three pages of algebra and still did not know exactly how they are applied. So the whole thing was a little daunting. I found gEDA and tried using it. It was not very stable, even on Ubuntu and then It was in December of 2014 that I came across KiCad. This is also when I discovered Chris’s tutorial, “Getting into Blinky”, the AmpHour and of course Contextual Electronics. So I signed up January 2015, not knowing where it would take me or if I could even keep up. Reflecting back, my goals were to understand better how to implement components like transistors and op-amps etc. Particularly to take a design from schematic to PCB. Local Fabs (Germany) are prohibitively expensive, so I was after any tips I could get along the way.
When Chris announced the Roll-With-It project, I had a small panic attack. I wanted just to learn how to implement a transistor correctly and now I am supposed to build a tele-presense robot? So that is where my journey began. Since January 2015, I have been part of the subscription based Contextual-Electronics and have seen it change its appearance and evolve to the current site. I don’t know if it has always been subscription based but this works well for me. I am liking the “workshop” approach to the projects as opposed to a fixed time period school-term like approach.

In terms of ticking off goals achieved, that list is much larger than when I started. Over the last twelve months, I have learned about applying an op-amp (yay!) and even a comparator. I have learned about PCB layout and where I can get them created for a reasonable price. I have also learned about SMD and how to solder them by hand and now using reflow. I think one of the biggest lessons is prototyping though board design and not necessarily with bread or vero board. Other things added to the list are In System Programming of micro controllers i.e. outside the safe-haven of a dev-board such as Arduino. These things I would not have dreamed of twelve months ago.

Now we are starting a new year and can think about “what would I like out of Contextual Electronics?”: The direction of the course seems to be heading towards a more micro/digital based. I was probably expecting more of an analog component. However, when everything that is published is interesting, relevant and seems to just flow with the ultimate goal in mind (Roll-With-It), the question of what do I want from the course become a difficult question to give a direct answer to. The work by Ron and Eric providing professional instruction in Embedded system design and coding has given the course a whole new dimension. I have not taken the opportunity to work through the material properly but that is a goal for 2016!

The journey with Contextual Electronics has been a very inspirational one and the support from Chris has been motivating. I probably would not have gotten so far with my own project without his encouragement – I certainly would not have started a blog on it! So it has been an a amazing journey, though I now have to say, I don’t remember what I did in my spare time before Contextual Electronics, as there seems to have been little time for anything else 🙂

I look forward to 2016 and our first CE all-in, live, tele-seminar with our RWIs.


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