It sounds like you realllllly need some god ole fashioned build kits like those used with Arduino or microchip PIC/AVR style boards. LIke the other dude said, you can do all sorts of stuff with it. And damn the arduino boards and knockoffs are sooooo cheap so it's not abig deal even if something were to go poof.
It's pretty intimidating but there's a lot of codesets out there which can be used for templates and for copying-pasting code together. Even using analog feedback systems is pretty easy..