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Posted in: Developing Perspectives (March 2015)

Starting Out: Avoiding the Equipment Acquisition Disorder (EAD)

By Bryan Bergeron

EAD manifests itself in two ways. The first is in the number of pieces of equipment acquired — everything from a digital o’scope to a bench multimeter. The second is in the specifications of each piece of equipment, with a leaning towards an abundance of often unnecessary features.

For example, let’s say you start your adventure by setting up a workbench for microcontroller work. At the outset, you’ll be faced with determining what equipment is necessary, what’s nice to have, and what would simply add clutter to your workspace. If you’re like most novices, you’ll refer to advertisements, reviews, and perhaps join an online forum or two in hopes of determining exactly what you’ll need. Left to your own devices, you might accumulate a dozen different pieces of equipment — either new or used — as your budget allows.

Furthermore, you’ll be tempted to lean towards the feature-laden versions of each piece of equipment in the off chance that you might need those extra features one day — even though you’re unclear exactly what benefit you’ll derive from those features.

For example, let’s say you’re facing the choice of a $9 wall wart and a $300+ bench power supply. Even though the wall wart will probably be all you need for the first six months or so of your experimentation, you’ll be tempted to go for the bench supply. Then, there’s the issue of digital readout — number of digits, single readout for voltage and current, or dual digital readouts, currentlimiting features, and the like. You could easily end up with a power supply that not only requires more space on your bench, but that is so complex you’ll have to spend hours just learning to use every feature. Unless one of your goals is to master commercial power supplies, these are hours that you should have spent working directly with microcontrollers.

How do you avoid EAD? If you’re extremely lucky — or persistent — you’ll identify a mentor at a local electronics club who will take time to understand you, your plans, and real needs. The second best option is to identify a virtual mentor on one of the many online forums.

The challenge is finding a mentor that doesn’t have a hidden agenda linked to sales of equipment or supplies. Otherwise, you could end up with an even more severe case of EAD than if left on your own. I’ve found that the most credible online mentors emphasize ingenuity over equipment.

Another thing I’ve learned is that when exploring an unknown field, it’s better to learn one thing — be it a device or technique — thoroughly before moving on to something else. Taking this approach will naturally limit any EAD tendencies you might have.
Good luck experimenting. NV