I admire people who can assemble a working device from a pile of electronic components, something like what colleagues did for Nagios blinkenlights. I have next to zero knowledge of electronics, and have unfortunately never found the time to learn.
Ever since our little blinkenlights tour, I've wanted to have something a little more high-tech, and I recently stumbled over a project called Arduino. So, off I went and bought and read Getting Started with Arduino and Making Things Talk, which where good fun, but what really got me going where the excellent "lessons" in Introduction to Microcontrollers with Arduino by Tod E. Kurt; clear, concise, fun, and practical.
I didn't have to learn a new language (thank goodness), as the Arduino microcontrollers are programmed in a C-derived language, which is easy enough to learn if you don't know C. (There is a sexy little booklet which describes the language and its functions, called Arduino Programming Notebook.)
I then ordered an Arduino Duemillanove (2009) together with a workshop kit containing all sorts of goodies. (Do I really need a tilt sensor and a 1n4007 as well as a MOS and ULN2803? Of course I do!) As my primary interest in playing with Arduino is to get it to talk to the outside world via TCP/IP, I splurged and bought a so-called Ethernet shield (an addon) that can do that.
As soon as I can make some time, I'll have a go at something a bit more real. ;-)