Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Review of Environmental Monitoring with Arduino by Emily Gertz and Patrick Di Justo

So, it's been quite a while but I finally got around to going through another book to review. This time, it was Environmental Monitoring with Arduino by Emily Gertz and Patrick Di Justo. I've become a little more familiar with Arduino so I didn't really need this book but I got it more to see how it handled really beginner type information. For the most part, I think they did a pretty good job.
It starts off by going through some really basic information that is fundamental to programming and engineering in general. Sometimes we engineers take that for granted and assume everyone will take those same steps. That's a nice little prelude to the rest of the book.
The first chapter is titled "The World's Shortest Electronics Primer" and that pretty much sums it up and unfortunately, this is where there is the only real glaring mistake that I found in the entire book. The first example they step a reader through is blinking an LED, which is really the first thing anyone does with an Arduino. Without actually connecting up any hardware, it would be easy to run this sketch but instead, the authors try to help out the reader by explaining how to create their first circuit. I'm sure their intentions were good but they connected an LED from an output to ground without the use of a resistor.
No, it won't burn up the Arduino and no it shouldn't burn up the LED in an instant but that's poor practice and might be construed as another way to connect an LED to a circuit. Later in the book the proper way to connect an LED is shown but with two conflicting examples, a novice would take the easier route by not using a resistor because "it worked for the first example so why not do it again?" It's bad practice and design.
Aside from that issue, the rest of the book did an admirable job of teaching a novice how to connect up simple circuits and program the Arduino to make it do something with the circuit. Occasionally, there were a few somewhat related but not really relavent tangents that I thought could have been omitted from the book (e.g., save the whales from noise pollution) but that's more my opinion that it didn't belong more than anything else. Others may appreciate those tidbits.
The "Things to Try" at the end of each chapter were nice exercises for the reader to try but there were a few that would really be difficult to do even for a more advanced programmer and designer (e.g., waterproofing a sound sensing circuit for underwater use). As nice as the idea sounds, actually executing the idea will be quite the difficult task, especially for a novice.
One nice potential addition to the book would have been a full parts list up from or as an appendix that outlined all the parts used in the book and where to get each part. They do list out each part in the respective chapters but a consolidated list would be nice.
Overall, I thought the book did a good job of outlining the basics of sensing the environment. It should be a good book worth looking at for anyone interested in sensors but only as a basic primer to sensing as there are a lot of other things to consider when setting up a sensing circuit.
Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

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