I ordered a USB-to-RS232 kit, to experiment with USB and SMD soldering. I have been eyeing this kit for more than a year now, but never got around to buy it. I did buy two of the chips used in this kit, but I want/need to have a schematic that I can build upon, which is what this kit supplies.
Also, I ordered a cheap HD44780-based LCD display. The HD44780 is the standard controller for LCD's, and I might want to use them in the future. So why not experiment with it now?
The LCD has a parallel input, along with a few command inputs. There are schematics out there to use a shift register to drive this thing, which might come in handy later on.
Currently, there is a group-buy going on for ARM development boards. ARM processors are souped-up microcontrollers -- they can be found in many portable or embedded devices. There are Linux distributions for ARM processors, which make them ideal for making network- and USB-enabled appliances.
Think about it: with an LCD, a USB-soundcard (perhaps a single-chip solution) and ethernet, running Linux, it would be the right solution for my audio-panel idea.
Embedded Artists have some development boards for quite interesting prices: a board with ARM processor, 10/100 ethernet and serial line for 'only' 55 euros -- which is a lot of money, but it is pretty cheap
But then I read that a Sweex broadband router is actually a mini-computer based on a MIPS chip, that already runs Linux. Of course, lots of hackers are flashing their own firmware, hooking up USB and doing other fun stuff with it -- and that router costs only 25 euros.
When I'm ready to start tinkering with that stuff, I'll get me one of those routers and start hacking that.