I have kind of an advantage in component level electronics. I, literally, cut teeth on project bread boards. My dad was an electronics technician of the highest order. When he passed on, I lost the best technical reference anyone could have ever hoped for in built electronics (not printed PCB's or micro-whatevers) particularly RF engineering. Case in point: once we chatted to a guy in NZ. We lived in IL, US. We were operating on less than 400W. On top of that, he was a great guy. That said, I'd been training up 'at Daddy's knee' on electronics my whole life. I'm kinda hard pressed to come up with links and specefic doc's off the top of my head, because I've gotten it from a multitude of differnt sources: verbal, texts, burning my own damn fingers, etc. for over 2 1/2 decades.
If you want to learn electronics, in my opinion, the best way to get 'intimate' with equipment is to:
1) Study for and get an amateur radio license. You'll have to learn some AC/DC circuitry, RF modulation, signal recomnination, signal flow, FCC rules, RF propogation, etc. There are varying levels of profieceincy in licensing of course. Start them out on the soft stuff :P
2) Start _building_ some of your own rigs. See what works. Really, you learn better the things you enjoy.
The cutting edge of technology is always on the amateur circuit. Things that come out in a branded box one day were on some hobbyists bench years before. We're the guys who look at a funny problem and say "Oh, hell, I've got some time, let me futz around and see what I can get."
One of the best band pass HF tuned chamber filters I ever saw in action was one my Dad built out of 2 - 2 lb coffee cans inside 2 - 5 lb coffee cans, telescoping the tuned chamber on a threaded rod to adjust the matching freq. Sounds funny, no? But that's the same principal of all tuned chamber filters.
Now, about clipping in tubes, the amplification is going to be limited by the allowable power consumption of the tube. And yes, that means, where do I smoke it. The mercury vapor condensate on the top and bottom of the tube is normal in an aged (100+ hrs) component. If the whole thing is covered, probably bad It's almost like it's doing its own DC/DC transforming internally, but a bit different. I'd really have to look up the specifics on that to be sure. Also, when you get WAY up there on what the tube will do, you will get some distortion. Build them up based on your aplication, basically. But you knew that :P
I really do think that studying basic circuitry will help your programming and micro designs. Be careful not to get _too_ muddled down in someone elses jargon and conventions. But getting the theories of operation and basic concepts is always a plus. For me, I frequently find myself when looking into an electronics troubleshooting job thinking in terms of plumbing. Where's the clog? Where's the leak? Why don't I have any damn pressure? Stupid, but it works for me. Well, I hope that was at least marginally informative. And if you've got questions on specifics of electrical components, troubleshooting, whatever, anybody feel free to give me a buzz.
Damn, that was long.