The winter of 2010/11 the local ham radio club worked on the PICAXE processor - a PIC processor combined with a free, easy to use “BASIC” like language Integrated Development Environment (IDE).
Here are some pictures of one of the meetings.
The real plus of the PICAXE system is that a very inexperienced programmer can get the canonical “led flashing” program going in a few minutes.
There are also lots of support for digital and analog I/O, timing, etc. in the language so you can build fairly complex programs quickly.
The downside of the PICAXE system is that it “hides” the details of the chips and keeps you away from the metal, so it is harder to do some more complex things that you could do in “C” or assembler.
To get started, I recommend that you get one of their starter kits like the PICAXE-08 Starter Pack to get your feet wet (blink a led, read a switch). It is available from suppliers in many countries (i.e. PICAXE-08 Starter Pack from Canada). Note that this starter kit contains the PICAXE USB programming cable that you will need for all PICAXE projects in the future.
Note that if you have an older computer with a real old fashioned 9 (or 25 pin) serial port (or an add on serial card) you can buy this cheaper PICAXE-08 kit with a serial programming cable, or make your own PICAXE programming cable from junkbox parts (that is what I did). Also Note that the PICAXE USB programming cable is apparently just a regular USB to SERIAL cable using the FTDI 232 chip with a mini stereo connector instead of a DB9, so you could probably home brew one.
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