NOTE i'm a noob too, but here is what I know. there really is no such thing as a "best" microcontroller. They all have different features for different purposes. I would use the programming language as a determining factor. If you know basic you may want to start with a basic stamp. If you know C you may want to go with an avr based board. I like the arduino as was mentioned before. It uses a language called wire which is similar to C++. The board is also rather noob proof, which is a plus. I would recommend an arduino diecimila or nano (nano comes out on the 15th I believe). The nano is small and plugs into a breadboard, making it good for prototyping.