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Proposal: *Arduino *

There was another proposal for Arduino that made it into Beta, but was closed due to lack of activity. How can we keep this proposal from failing in the same way?

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    The biggest problem that plagued the previous proposal from the start was that it was almost a complete subset of EE.SE. This is something that needs to be a major focus: the definition questions need to be ones that would be considered off-topic at EE. – JohnB Aug 13 '13 at 2:46
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    The corollary to that is why do you need this site? How is it not being served by the subjects we already have sites for? – Robert Cartaino Aug 13 '13 at 19:51
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    The main problem is that there is a very good forum why somoone should be post here instead of in the offical one? – G M Aug 15 '13 at 15:35
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    Takea look at the RaspberryPi StackExchange site. It already has many forums and knowledge bases, but it succeeded. This proposal doesn't fall under electronics engineering completely, either. It also includes topics about the Arduino IDE and other non-E.E. topics. – TheDoctor Aug 15 '13 at 18:39
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    Here were some of the problems that caused the site to fail. However, more than worrying about site activity, the primary concern right now should be to clearly differentiate from EE.SE as this proposal will (probably) not even get launched if it turns out to be too similar to the last run of Arduino. Contrary to popular belief held within SE, Arduino does have a fair number of questions as well as audience that do not fit into EE. Its highly important that those users and questions become a part of the proposal early on. – asheeshr Aug 26 '13 at 2:08
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    Why is RaspberryPi site successful? Nearly all of the topics could easily fit into one of SO, SU, or EE. Maybe when the Arduino Tre comes out, the Arduino Universe will be even more popular, and that in itself will fuel a dedicated site? – Chris O Nov 8 '13 at 21:04
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The only questions about Arduino that wouldn't fit at the Electronics Engineering Stack Exchange (EE.SE) would be those not related to electronics design. Since the Arduino is an electronics prototyping platform, most questions should be welcome on the EE.SE site.

The times they are not, are generally when the question is about the greater context of physical design, such as how to design a mechanical component, what type of material to use for X, or how to get an Arduino to communicate with another device/sensor/kit (which might be a software question).

Really it's all about phrasing. If you ask a question on EE.SE about a program (sketch) that you cannot get working properly, it may be looked as more of a programming question. If it's a compile error, logic problem, or something that is isolated from electronic components, then it might be a better fit on StackOverflow. However, it's generally assumed (and expected) that EE.SE users have experience with and are fluent in various programming languages that pertain to microcontrollers and embedded systems design.

If that same question about the "sketch" involves, for example, reading a value from an ADC pin and there's a chance that the electrical aspect is at fault, I wouldn't expect a StackOverflow user to know that; I'd expect an EE.SE user to possibly point it out.

Such questions are perfectly on topic at EE.SE, and so should any question about getting external components (shields) working with an Arduino.

The problem is that Arduino is both a blessing and a curse. It makes the complicated world of microcontrollers and electronics design much more approachable to the novice. This is great because it gives people a place to start; lots of people with ideas can begin tinkering immediately. But it's also bad. The Arduino can't abstract away the basic principles of electronics design, and some users don't know how to express their questions very well when basic electronics problems come up. At EE.SE, we get photographs of breadboards and Arduinos with tangled wires where the user asks "Why won't this servo motor work correctly?" (The problem with this is that the person asking might not know what a schematic is, or maybe does but doesn't know how to draw one. They don't realize how difficult it is to follow wires in a 2D photograph to attempt troubleshooting their project.)

Perhaps the EE.SE community needs to be a little more tolerant of beginners and try to help encourage them to learn not only about EE principles but also how to communicate effectively about them. (See What's wrong with EE.) It's a long road, but at some point the novice may need to learn about current, resistance, induction, reactance, I2C, SPI, and so forth in order to not only achieve their goal, but to ask a meaningful question about it.

(I don't know a thing about quilts, but if I wanted to ask a question about making one on a Quilting.SE, I would expect to learn the names of the different kinds of stitches, the fluffy padding in the middle, and plenty of other things before I could formulate a good question.)

Don't get me wrong, I love the Arduino platform. I have a few in my shop, and I got enthused about microcontrollers because of Arduino. But I had years of analog electronics experience beforehand, so I already knew that LEDs require current-limiting resistors, and that an electromagnetic relay cannot be powered directly from the output of the chip.

An Arduino-only StackExchange, to me, would be a mistake, because a question like, "How can I power a fan using an Arduino?" can be asked at EE.SE, but tends to be frowned on because it typically will not "demonstrate sufficient preliminary research." The issue is that asking on EE.SE is that persons' attempt at preliminary research. It might not be the best question, but how would an Arduino-only SE handle it any more productively?

So, here's where I am going with my answer: I propose something like a Maker SE. (Not professional digital fab.) A place for creative questions about all sorts of prototyping environments. It doesn't matter if it's Raspberry Pi, Arduino Uno, a home-brew 3D printer, or a question about a step in a Rube-Goldberg machine. I envision someone asking about making an LED blink with an Arduino starting there ("Can I use an Arduino to drive this robot and make its eyes blink?"), and more specific EE-related questions find their way to EE.SE ("What transistor should I use to control X with an Arduino?").

Questions might look like:

  • Can a Beaglebone Black control all 200 of my robot rats?
  • Is there a better way to cool the motors on my automated Styrofoam cutter?
  • Would acrylic or resin work better as a housing for this device?
  • Should I use an Arduino to blink LEDs for my Halloween costume?

In the last case (hopefully the OP provides detail such as how many LEDs and so forth), an accepted answer might be one like: "Yes, but since you don't need specific timing, and it's OK if the LEDs blink independently, and you're on a budget, you could also use inexpensive LEDs that have blink circuitry built into them."

I realize a Maker.SE would be potentially very broad and might not always have questions with one definitive best answer, but I do think it could be a great solution to give people a place to ask questions about making stuff with components they might not be experts with.

Plus, the overlap is pretty huge. Is there going to be a StackExchange site for every type of prototyping kit? (There's one for Raspberry Pi; how is it doing? Seems good, but questions like this one about powering motors could be equally at home on EE.SE. Why limit it to just a Raspberry Pi audience? It could just as well be BeagleBone, GHI Gadgeteer, Netduino, etc.)

TL;DR

I think a Maker.SE site that is platform-agnostic, open to other (non-electronics) disciplines, and beginner-oriented would be successful.

  • -1, even though I agree with some of your drifts. The question was "how to make this Arduino proposal succeed?" You are basically saying that this Arduino.SE proposal is moot. – Nick Alexeev Dec 6 '13 at 0:43
  • @Nick In a way, yes. I'm saying a different direction may be advised for a beginner-level prototyping sort of Q&A. – JYelton Dec 6 '13 at 8:25
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    +1, I'm not 100% on board with a maker.SE, but it is a great idea. Maybe more for enclosures than actual EE, which brings me to: The problem with this is that the person asking might not know what a schematic is... I say if the project is that complicated (which is sufficiently beyond three wires an LED and a resistor) then a schematic would be a requirement on the site. I realize some novice don't know but in the end I'm sure you'd agree it would make their work easier. Just cuz you started out with blinders on doesn't mean they have to stay on. – MDMoore313 Dec 19 '13 at 15:19
  • And the note about overlap is EXACTLY WHAT I'VE BEEN SAYING FOR SOME TIME NOW, but no one seems to see the forest just the trees, partial rants here and here. Some feel they can't be merged because it's in beta already, they're doing okay with an insane # of visits, but there aren't enough questions being asked on average, which could be remedied with a merge. Let's not forget generating revenue through ads. – MDMoore313 Dec 19 '13 at 15:24

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