Author: Chris Walker
Publisher: Make (O'Reilly)
Aimed at: Hardware beginner with a C# background
Pros: A taster that will motivate the right reader
Cons: A very slim and slight treatment
Reviewed by: Mike James
Netduino is compatible with the Arduino but programmed using C#. This makes it easier to use. Does this book help?
There's a style of hardware book produced by O'Reilly that features what look like hand-drawn diagrams. They look good, but they aren't very useful at showing you things. I suppose the idea is that you think that the content is pages from an engineer's notebook.
The subject of this particular hand-drawn volume is the Netduino, for which I have to admit a particular liking. It is an Arduino-compatible controller, but it is programmed using C#. This means that you get a slightly higher level view of programming the hardware. To be precise you get an object-oriented approach and events rather than the lower level procedural approach of the Arduino. In principle, this is a good approach for the hardware beginner, especially if they have programmed in C# on the desktop.
This book is designed to introduce the Netduino to a complete beginner. So if you are an expert or know a lot about the hardware side of things just give it a miss. It also doesn't contain a lot of information - it is only 84 pages long in a small format.
The first chapter tells you about the Netduino and the different models available. Next we discover how to setup the development software - using Mono is covered in an appendix. Chapter 3 presents a first project - to flash an LED. Then we learn how to use the button for input.
Chapter 4 explores the different shields that you can get, but only in terms of "they exist" and very roughly what they do. For such a small book there is a lot of wasted space - do we really need a hand-drawn rendering of what a breadboard looks like?
Chapter 5 gets a bit more practical with an example of using the MakerShield for digital and analog I/O,. Here we learn about reading buttons and voltages and how to use a potentiometer as a transducer. Chapter 6 goes over some of the same ground with LEDs and how to flash and dim them.
Chapter 7 explains about using speaker to create music and how to use servos as actuators. Finally we have a look at how to connect to the internet.
This is a fun introduction that might motivate a complete beginner to actually learn something, but it has a very slight coverage of the ideas. It doesn't have any projects that actually do anything useful - you simply learn how to flash LEDs, read voltages and move a servo. You also don't get any introduction to electronics or to programming - you just get on with it at a very "what to do" level. So at the end of the book you might have some ideas about what the Netduino can do or more generally what a microcontroller can do for you.
If you have an imagination you will probably find the introduction to be a reasonable start, but if you really know nothing at all about programming or hardware you won't know very much more after reading the book.
While the book does manage to state some of the advantages of the Netduino approach it doesn't actually demonstrate them. There is no use or emphasis on the object-oriented approach and no use is made of events in the sample program. This isn't unreasonable for an introductory book but don't expect it to succeed in converting you from the Arduino approach the Netduino.
This might do as a small, non-intimidating starter for an intelligent beginner, but if it is successful you will need a much bigger book to master the topic. This is no more than a taster.