A grandmother asked me what to buy for her 14 year old grandchild. For good or bad, after some thinking i’ve recommended her to buy an Arduino. Arduino’s cost less than $25 and comes in a small box. When you open it you see a small computer board filled with computer chips.
A small computer isn’t your everyday present. This device - coined ‘Open-source electronic prototyping platform’ - isn’t a toy, but it’s a great way to learn how computers work. The reason why I suggested the granny this present is because at the age of 14 I’ve learned how to change computer parts from a friend. Because of this I’m not afraid to take apart all sorts of devices these days.
The Arduino community build an extensive tutorial page where you can learn how to do basic things like turning a LED light on and off. Check youtube for video and amazon for books there is even more inspiration.
A cheap computer that is taken apart from the start is a huge thing. Not only is it easier to embed these in devices it can also bring computers to people who never had them before. For the grandmother seeking advice, I hope the Arduino put computers in a different light for her grandson and that he might be one of the future engineers who realize that not all computers have to be designed in California.
On a footnote: There is also the raspberry PI project. Which offers even a ARM processor, HDMI connector and SD card reader. It’s a media center out of the box! Unfortunately, I haven’t played with that one yet.