Intimidation and Arduino

For the record, here’s my learning process with the Arduino, so far. I didn’t know what they were before this class. I knew they involved electronics; and that didn’t draw me in — my father taught me a little about electronics, but he and I have no relationship, which is how I like it. I didn’t really think about that as a barrier, but I suppose it might have been one.

Anyway: I started googling Arduino, and figured out quickly that there were different Arduinos, and different kits. Surprisingly, to me, there weren’t a whole lot of reviews evaluating which kit was best — I was expecting to find comprehensive roundups, and the only one I found dated from 2009. Is that an indication that people who use Arduinos are more interested in getting started, rather than sussing out which kit is best? That seems likely, but I wanted a kit that was (A) going to be complete enough that I wouldn’t have to run errands getting more stuff for it and (B) would be nice enough that people might be willing to talk with me about it and/or help me just because they were interested in looking at the kit. (Who says traditional femininity and its strategies can’t be co-opted for purposes other than romance?)

I tried to figure out whether I could get over to Metrix and their vending machine, but determined that for it really to be useful, I’d have to spend several hours there, and it wasn’t quite clear to me what they sold, besides Arduinos (books? other wires? etc.?), and there just wasn’t time to risk having the visit be unproductive. I looked at the kits from Sparkfun and Adafruit, which both seemed pretty good, but feh! I hate paying shipping. Amazon, however, had a Sparkfun kit with lots of stuff (I figured out that having a breadboard, and a breadboard and Arduino holder, were important), and good reviews, AND it shipped Prime. Though I knew that some Arduino work involved soldering, I was relieved that this kit did not.

When it arrived, on Wednesday, I went straight to pick it up after I finished teaching, and unwrapped it, and opened it up, to find a green folded sheet on top of a layer of brown packing material. The top part of the green sheet said: “General Assembly Guide” — and below that, “Soldering tips” and “Soldering Method.” I panicked. I don’t have a soldering iron. I assume that they’re expensive. I don’t *want* a soldering iron. The Amazon description said I didn’t need a soldering iron.

I couldn’t figure out, from the instructions, whether I really needed one or not. I should have started reading the book that came with the kit, but I was busy stressing out, and meeting with students, and my dissertation director.

Happily, when I came to class, the kit started conversations with Blaine, Bennett, and Jarman, which was great — I’d been feeling shy/socially inept, and I didn’t afterwards. Bennett let me copy his program for a blinky, and showed me what the various parts of the Arduino and breadboard landscape were called, and what they did. I was very afraid that I would break it, just by handling it — or break the wires — which is funny, because I handle very old manuscripts, which are often fragile, and they don’t wig me out.

I haven’t had a chance to get it out again — that’s on tomorrow’s schedule — but I’ve compromised by sitting still and thinking very carefully through the process of putting the blinky together, which is usually a good way for me to cement a process in my memory. Monday night, I’ll show Blaine how to put it together, and film it with my iPad. I have to remember to spend some time looking at the programming language before that — copying it from Bennett’s screen, parts of it were similar enough to Java that it felt familiar — but I haven’t actually spent any time reading about it yet, so I don’t feel confident enough to tell anyone else about it at this point.

Earlier this week, I was editing a Word document produced from an OCR scan of a PDF chapter on information science, which was discussing the various models for depicting the way that people search for information in situations. George Zipf’s Principle of Least Effort, first published in 1949, suggests that “each individual will adopt a course of action that will involve the expenditure of the probable least average of his work—in other words, the least effort.” One common example of this principle in action is that a professional might ask his/her nearby colleague whether they have any info on a topic, rather than looking it up themselves first. I proved this true this week — I should, perhaps, have simply started reading my instructions, or searched YouTube for an Arduino video. On the other hand,  there are plenty of instances in American culture (and in academia, and especially in the humanities) where collaboration is frowned upon, and I wonder whether Zipf’s principle reflects that bit of prejudice. I think that working with someone else is often a more effective way of getting past intimidation than trying to surmount it in isolation.


About Paige Morgan

digital humanist, 18th and 19th Ph.D. student of English literature and economics
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2 Responses to Intimidation and Arduino

  1. Aaron Eiche says:

    My Arduino kit review generated a lot of Google value, and so it remains at the top of the list in spite of being a couple of years old now. I posted a link to a more current one I wrote for Conductive Resistance. For anyone else who’s looking for Arduino kits compared, it is here: ( It’s more recently and revised regularly.

    I invite you to swing by the Arduino Forums ( or the adafruit forums ( – there are lots of people in both that are smart and very willing to help. An Arduino can seem intimidating, but the community behind it makes it a far more approachable platform than most microcontrollers.

    • Paige Morgan says:

      Sorry; I intended no slight to your review, which was helpful — this post was a semi-detailed record of my approach to getting an Arduino and learning how to work with it, so documenting my reaction was important. Thanks for commenting — I will indeed check out the forums.

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