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Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915

Bernard Cole
9/5/2012 10:37 PM EDT

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walter_wpg
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
walter_wpg   9/27/2012 4:55:33 PM
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Thanks for a great article! I also remember borrowing those Popular Mechanics books from the public library back in the 1960s, as well as the "Boy's Book of Electricity and Electronics" by Alfred P. Morgan. Back then, I didn't quite understand all of the theoretical aspects of the projects, and I remember doing a few things which (looking back) were pretty dumb. I also have a collection of Popular Electronics and Radio Electronics magazines from the 60's and 70's that have projects which can actually be built without SMT components. In a few years, when I retire from my EE career, I'm looking forward to going through those magazines, and building a few of those projects. (My well-stocked hoard of junk electronic parts will finally get used!)

Spanners
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
Spanners   9/27/2012 4:05:06 PM
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@ Mr Amalfi I totally agree with your observations regarding engineers being turned out of university these days. Like you I grew up with all kinds of electronics and getting my soldering iron into anything I felt needed fixing! I have worked self employed for the last 30 years as a consultant designer in electronics . I have worked in just about every field where electronics / electrical engineering is used. With regard to electronic / electrical engineers ,you are right about the unwillingness of many to observe and engage in experiment. Many also seem to leave uni with no grasp of the fundamental principles of engineering either!! I do think this has alot to do with the advent of micro processors and also computer aided design /modelling . I have on many occasions pointed out to a youngster that what is presented as a solution from their wis computer program is not necessarily related to reality!! They often fail to grasp that they must do some ground work and understand independently what they expect the CAD / simulation to deliver. You are also right in the denied access these days to the fundamentals of a circuit, where the individual functions are either bundled into a processor, FPGA or asic with no documentation sorce code etc. Such hardware is junk to anyone not having such access in the event of a failure . In such cases the only solution is to design ones own based on the behaviour required from the original - but so many engineers these days do not seem to have that kind of thinking in my experience. In the comercial world of course, time is money and there is a great deal of pressure on the engineer to get to a solution in the minimum of time - so bench evaluations and circuit development are very much discouraged instead always follow what is available or what someone else has done. There are very few who have the capability or interest in pushing out the boundaries - or even capable of analysing a problem effectively when things go wrong.

Mr. Amalfi
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
Mr. Amalfi   9/27/2012 2:15:32 PM
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Greetings, I teach electrical engineering at the University level, and have never seen such a group of students so unprepared - in all sorts of ways - for the rigors on engineering. As the main article and several others have mentioned, I also read various publications/books, including: "A Boys First Book of Electronics", "Popular Electronics", "Model Slot Car News", .... I build radios, amplifiers, studied for a Ham license, flew model airplanes and rockets. Almost everyone I knew when I went to University were either Ham operators, Hot-Rodders, Audio 'designers/enthusiast's', .... Whatever their particular engineering passion, the one common bond was an *innate* interest in engineering, which is what I find so often missing in the current 'crop'. A lot of them are *user's* of technology, not innovator's or developer's of technology. I teach signal processing and my job to more of an extent than I would like has a major concentration on being 'Policeman'- code that is identical from variable names, to line spacing to one case where someone actually turned in some code with someone else's name at the top. It's depressing. But, I'm not here to depress any of you. I think back fondly on the days when I would see/'invent' an interesting project, gather the parts together, and make a go of it, learning that getting all of the connections made didn't mean that they were necessarily made correctly, at which the debug stage began. And, oh how much we truly learned about circuit operation 'in the real world' through those debugging session (which continue to this day). The one caveat to some of the above that I must admit, is that manufacturer's going to high-density BGA packaging, and small-pitch packages may play a big part in some of the decline in some areas of DIY, as even for 'pro's' these package types can make it 'hard to play'. But again, where there is a will.... Jim

RB3200
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
RB3200   9/14/2012 6:46:38 PM
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The supply cord is still resistive on purpose in modern chargers for Norelco shavers. They have a sticker warning you not to shorten the lead...

SmokenMirrors
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
SmokenMirrors   9/13/2012 5:19:50 PM
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Agreed Spanners! I seem to remember the resistance was buried in the line cord too, after the fact! It didn't take long for smoke to emerge but I probably learned a heck of alot of what components did and what they look like in the booklet supplied crammed in about 2 weeks than just about most any other time I can remember. (minus the math of course!). I wonder who made that kit? I know it wasn't Heathkit.

Spanners
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
Spanners   9/12/2012 8:03:35 PM
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Yes Smoke & Mirrors - my grandmother had a wireless set made in the USA ( I think) .It had no isolating transformer either and the HT for the valves was supplied by a resistance wire actualy the live wire in the cotton covered mains supply lead !!!- which got quite warm in use!!. I was never sure if the set was designed to run from 110V or 240V - but the valves glowed at the correct brightness on 240V. Yes it was leathal - on more than one occasion the plug was wired so that the chasis of the set was at line potential rather than the intended "safer" neutral potential. I guess transformers were expensive and heavy in those days and life was cheap!! - hence the design

SmokenMirrors
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
SmokenMirrors   9/12/2012 3:15:36 PM
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I can remember back in my early teen years I built my first vacuum tube receiver which pluged in the wall socket with NO isolation transformer (yessh!) that my parents got me for Christams. I asked my dad for help but he was to busy and stayed away from electricity anyways. So from that point on, anything I do in and around electronics I took it upon myself to reserch and learn, mostly through RADIO ELECTRONICS magazines in the early seventies. Electronics fascinates me today as much now as it did then. And with the web, researching this stuff is much easier. Now I can't live without my wi-fi and laptop.

trigoli940
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
trigoli940   9/12/2012 2:00:37 PM
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Great memories, Bernie. My childhood fascination with radio led me to build my first crystal set using my mattress bed-spring as an antenna. It seemed like magic to manipulate a “cat’s whisker” atop a small grayish-white rocky clump of germanium and voilà (!), out of the ether streamed my favorite music and drama programs. Many nights I would fall asleep wearing earphones. I still take delight in warming up an old vacuum tube radio, recalling how I migrated from building crystal sets to rescuing vacuum tube radios in disrepair that neighbors put on the curb. It was great sport to salvage those radios before the trash collector arrived so that I could get them working again. I eventually became a big fan of mail-order Heathkits, building high-fidelity audio systems. Little did I know that my early interest in electronics would ultimately lead me to Silicon Valley, where I would spend most of my adult life working with high-tech companies and some of the legendary personalities who established them.

Spanners
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
Spanners   9/11/2012 3:38:18 PM
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I actually have the companion book - The Boy Electrician published in 1925 - probably a revised edition. Get this though - not only does it describe how to make a large spark coil (using an electro magnetic interrupter on the primary ) - it also shows the reader how to attach an XRAY TUBE!!! including instructions on how to make a primative Flouroscope to look at the bones in your hand!! There is also a fairly minor warning about over exposure to Xrays - it states " If your hand becomes red , inflamed or itching & irritated you must stop using the tube!! Incredible eh??. I do not know what todays Health & safety executive would make of that. The xray tube shown was obviously available to the general public - like radio valves ( tubes) in their day. It consisted of a non heated cathode electrode at one end of a glass bulb with two anodes ( connected together) that subtended an estimated angle of 45 - 60 degrees, the xrays being emitted at 90 deg to the axis of the glass bulb. The spark coil could produce sparks about 1 inch long - which I think represents a voltage of about 35kV at standard humidity ,temp and pressure. There is also a whole chapter on how the spark coil secondary could be tuned to drive the primary of a self constructed tesla coil - at 20 - 50 kHz. with sparks a foot long and a description of the skin effect of RF energy The rest of the book covers mainly battery building and minature lighting. I wonder if there is anyoneoou there that actual built and used these projects from the book ( and still alive!!)

cdhmanning
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re: Early DIY electronics projects, 1910-1915
cdhmanning   9/9/2012 7:02:35 PM
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Those were the days... Most technologies were so primitive that it was possible to make a lot of stuff yourself. If you listened to radio in the 1930s-1950s then you needed some technical ability. Crystal sets needed a lot of fiddling. Even valve (tube) radios needed their values (tubes) replaced on occasion and that was something the average home handyman could do. My favourite memory of these projects was one to convert a Model T Ford from gasoline to diesel. That was in a magazine from the 40s which I read in the 70s. The hardest part was having to make shims for the pistons to increase compression. Thanks to the low-key tech of the day this could be made from wood and lined with thin steel (eg. a baked beans can).

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