So I got my Arduino Duemilanove earlier this week, and I've been completely stoked. I've had no previous work with circuitry aside from some high school classwork, and all I could remember from that was V=IR... and I had forgotten what the 'I' stood for:P So why this sudden interest? Because electronics are awesome, and have now become extremely accessible to create and personalize.
The Arduino, simply said, is a ridiculously easy-to-program microcontroller. You stick an LED onto the Arduino, write a program, upload it via USB, and boom, something happens. It's great for anyone interested in one day building their own robots, pet projects, or any kind of circuit, but have had no previous experience. It's even great for people with no experience in programming, since the programming aspect is extremely simple to grasp: there is a loop function, and it sends and receives information to and from the Arduino on each cycle. The Arduino software comes with tons of plug-n-play examples, with concise and understandable comments. Out of the box, the Arduino is an extremely user-friendly experience.
Three cheers for the simplicity, but why would someone even want one? Well, if you're interested in rapid prototyping, this is a great solution, but most people don't even know what 'prototyping' means. So if you're one of those people, like me at one point, and have even an inkling of interest in electronics or circuitry, this is the most accessible tool to get magic happening. The high learning curve of coding and interfacing with AVRs, and all that other jazz is just not there with this handy tool. The grunt work is done for you, and you can go straight to testing. It's a great learning tool, and you can finally apply those principles you learned in physics! It's also dirt cheap, you can get one for around $30 USD, and starter kits with resistors, LEDs, and other useful components are available as well. But the most important reason is this:
There's something completely magical about seeing a working Arduino that you crafted. When I first loaded up the blinking LED program, I felt something real, something extremely tangible. With that first blink, a thousand ideas of how I can control that light came into my head, and the possibilities are truly endless. And that wasn't even code I personally wrote!
Coming from the world of software, where most of my code and thought goes into making things happen on screen and not really into something I take with me and use offline, making this simple circuit in the flesh made me feel like what I was doing was more... real. It made me feel the same way I did when I first started programming: awed. For this reason alone, I recommend people to at least give this little circuit board a whirl. It's bound to please.