Max the Magnificent asks: Is this really important? Does it really matter? Well, actually I think it does, although I find it difficult to articulate why (I'd appreciate any help you would care to give here).
Isaac Asimov shows why this matters in his brilliant story The Feeling of Power" (1958), which probably seemed preposterous when it was first published and people were still being taught the "long division" method of doing square roots in elementary school. It's still under copyright, and probably won't reach the public domain for a few hundred years, if ever.
Dover Publications is still going strong, specializing in printing books and clip art that have long been in the public domain, including Lewis Carroll's Symbolic Logic and the Game of Logic (1897/1887) and George Boole's An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854). [*]
On the other hand, maybe we are simply entering Douglas Adams' "sophistication" stage of civlilization, where we don't care "why" any more and just wonder "where shall we have lunch?"
[*] Prof. Boole's book is categorized as "Western Philosophy and Religion" chez Dover, rather than mathematics. But then, Boolean logic is a form of Applied Philosophy, n'est-ce pas?
@Betajet: Isaac Asimov shows why this matters in his brilliant story The Feeling of Power" (1958), which probably seemed preposterous when it was first published...
I remember reading that story (I'm pretty sure I've read all of Asimov's science fiction, plus a lot of his other fiction like the "Black Widowers Mysteries" plus a bunch of his science books).
Do you remember that story about everyone using "Doors" with a capital "D" and when one breaks down the kid in the house goes outside through the "door" with the lowercase 'd' (I think it wa sin a collection called "Through a Glass Clearly")?
Hey Max, never mind arcane old mechanical do-it-yourself manuals, or retaining the fine art of lighting fires without matches. What about Radio Shack? What about Heathkit? Remember when you could browse through a Radio Shack store for opamps, timers, resistors and caps, transistors, speaker drivers, crossover networks, etc? Where did all this go?
It's pervasive. If you want to keep the do-it-yourself interest of kids alive these days, it would have to involve building their own smartphones or tablets. That's essentially impossible to do by hand, for a hobbyist. That's what happens with progress!
Remember when you could browse through a Radio Shack store for opamps, timers, resistors and caps, transistors, speaker drivers, crossover networks, etc? Where did all this go?
You can still find some of those parts in the pull-out drawers. They don't have a huge selection like Digi-Key, but sometimes you can find something workable. They also have some kits, like Arduino-based projects.
In my experience, it depends on the Radio Shack store. There are several within walking distance of me. One still has a good parts selection, and someone who actually knows something about them. The rest just want to sell you a cell phone, and haven't a clue about what they stock.
Yep that happens because the store owner isn't an enthuiast himself, but instead just wants to "run a store of some sort to make money" and then employs people that are just place fillers, people without an engineering soul.
I remember going to a Radio Shack store several years ago when I was in a big hurry to get a failed circuit board back in service. I ran into the store and asked where the Operational Amplifiers were. The salesperson exclaimed "Sir- ALL of our amplifiers are operational!!" (true story).
I once had a RadioShack salesperson tell me that the 12-gauge zip cord I was looking for, to use as a speaker cable, had "more resistance" than the typical 18-gauge stuff they normally sold for such purposes.
In this case, it doesn't especially matter who actually said it. It just happens to be true.
But on that line, someone elsewhere talked abut "The demise of the canonical text" on the Internet. How do you know that the copy you are reading online is a true bitwise copy of the original? You don't know, and you probably can't know.
I always have a 10lb sack of virtual salt handy when I read online. Much of what I see requires many grains of it...
Training? From the viewpoint of most Radio Shack outlets, they are a retail store. Salaries are a major part of brick-and-mortar retail costs. They want to pay minimum wage, and the requirements are being able to work the register and maybe to have an idea of whether something is actually in stock. Actuially knowing something about what they sell comes from working there a while, maybe.
I'll go to Radio Shack to get tools and adapters. I will assume no knowledge on the part of the staff. It's on me to know what I'm buying and whether they in fact have what I need.
@Etmax: ...and then employs people that are just place fillers, people without an engineering soul.
I remember going into a Radio Shack maybe 15 years ago to get a resistor ... I found something suitable (value, power rating, tollerance, etc.) and the assistant (referring to the colored bands) said "that's pretty; what do you use those for?"
Following that I wrote a letter to Radio Shack HQ saying they shoudl hire me to travel the country teaching fundamental electronics concepts to all their store staff ... I never heard anything back.
Yes that's exactly the problem. And with many of the visitors to the parts portion of the store (if you can still find one) needing some guidance they can get disenchanted, it becomes a vicious circle. I'm a Max too BTW, isn't that magnificent? (even if I do have a sad sense of humour :-))
@bert22306: What about Radio Shack? What about Heathkit?
In the glory days of Heathkit it was possible to make something (up to and including a color television) for substantially less than you could buy the equivalent unit in the stores ... now the price of a new "thing" is much cheaper than you could build one ... so this does have some effect.
Radio Shack? Is that the one whose tagline is "You've got questions and we don't have a clue?" LOL
One thing that does give me hope is the success of SparkFun (www.sparkfun.com) who are doing lots of interesting things with regard to providing educational kits and stuff -- they also give classes in everything from soldering to programming microcontrollers.
I remember when I was addicted to building Heathkits, and felt I was going into withdrawal if I hadn't built one in a while. My first computer was an H-8, a wonderful machine that was so much better designed and contructed than the S-100 machines. I also splurged and built their top-of-the-line 15 MHz dual-trace 'scope, which included internal coaxial cables to delay the inputs so you could see the trigger signal.
I remember that the solder Heathkit supplied had particularly nice-smelling flux. I always wondered if they deliberately put addictive chemicals in it so you would want to build more Heathkits :-)
@betajet: I remember that the solder Heathkit supplied had particularly nice-smelling flux.
I don;t knwo what it is -- possibly spending so much time as a young lad hunched over a small circuit board with a soldering iron -- but I love the smell of flux along with seeing a perfect joint that I've just made.
There are many of us who are working to preserve our national technical heritage. One of the things that really needs to be done is to do oral histories of the early age of silicon valley, the time when Varian, Ampex, Fairchild, and Ford Aerospace were the coin of the realm.
In the aerospace industry we have an active effort in this area but I see little effort to do this in Silicon Valley. I recently met an amazing 85 year old man by the name of Steve Allen. He was a valley whiz kid in the early 1950's. His specialty was filters and his technology underpins much of the early success of the valley and I doubt very much anyone knows who he is.
This could be a project of EE Times, to preserve the lives and the technolgies that made this valley great!
@Denniswingo: One of the things that really needs to be done is to do oral histories of the early age of silicon valley, the time when Varian, Ampex, Fairchild, and Ford Aerospace were the coin of the realm.
YES!!! I totally agree!!!
This could be a project of EE Times, to preserve the lives and the technolgies that made this valley great!
I will convey your thoughts to those who stride the corridors of power!
If you don't manufacture anything, you will lose those skills. Also you lose the hardware that accompanies that production. Here in the Valley, Halted Specialties is now down to just the one store off of Central. That leaves Weird Stuff, Excess Solutions and Advanced Component Electronics (ACE) for any used or salvage hardware to experiment with.
Enjoyed seeing all the mechanism in the old reference. It is now online at http://507movements.com/. The Audel reference handbooks from 1917 on electricity is an interesting read. It's first volume is dedicated to Edison, and covered in some 10 volumes covering everything known from wiring, batteries and hardware. The map of the old DC wiring of Manhatten is included. The Edison plant was on the other side of the East River, and the return current path was supposed to be through the "ground". Instead, the bridge next to the plant carried the current, and massive corrosion of the bridge resulted.
That Tesla guy? Let him go to Westinghouse and show how dangerous AC power is by building the first electric chair.
@JackGrat2: If you don't manufacture anything, you will lose those skills.
That's one of the things that scares me the most -- the fact that once we (the USA and the UK) had such a wealth of manufacturing skills and capabilities -- the big engineering companies had apprentiship programs -- you didn't have to be achademically inclined -- you could learn a trade and become a skilled (and respected) craftsman...
...as an aside ... as as part of my university degree I went through a fast-track version of such a program at Rolls Royce where we learned lathes, mills, drills, grinders, welding (oxyacetylene, electric arc, argon arc...) and a bunch of other stuff) but we digress...
... I strongly believe that "real wealth" (in terms of countries) comes from someone digging something out of the ground (e.g. metal ore) and someone else converting it into a useful form and someone else fabricating it into something that someone else wants and will pay for. I am inherently suspicious of what I think of as "pseudo-wealth" generated by moving money around between banks and suchlike.
Betajet beat me to mentioning Asimov's "The Feeling of Power" (and it's widely available online.)
But the underlying process has been going on for a long time. The issue becomes one Hal Draper explored in a story called "MS Fnd in a Lbry", in which there was simply so much information that it was buried under multiple levels of indexes, and a civilization fell into ruin because no one could get to the underlying data.
The issue isn't whether we know how to do something - it's whether we can find out. A lot of old skills are no longer practiced because we simply don't need to do things that way now. Ity might well be difficult to find people who can still do it the old way, by why would you have to?
But records exist of the way we used to do them, so it ought to be possible to relearn them should we have to. An awful lot of those old tomes are being made available on line. Project Gutenberg has an increasing number of them.
@DmcCunney: ...the issue becomes one Hal Draper explored in a story called "MS Fnd in a Lbry"...
I hadn't heard about this before, but I just did a search on Google and found the Wikipedia Entry and the Full Text (it's a very short story). Very interesting -- thanks for sharing.
There were a series of Asimov stories about a world wide computer and the problems of interfacing with it. I can't remember their names, but there was one where the computer predicted that there would be a murder and the police arrested the man whose name they were given and the chances of the murder increased ... it turned out to be his son and the computer was trying to get the son to kill the computer...
Another one was where there were special folks who knew how t opose questions to the computer -- and one was asking about the origins of humor -- and when he got the answer everything stopped being funny...
Re Project Gutenberg ... I think it's come along just in time ... but I still think we may have lost a lot of knowledge already ... and, as you say, the real trick may lay in rooting out the nuggets of useful information from the haystack of data...
Another one was where there were special folks who knew how to pose questions to the computer -- and one was asking about the origins of humor -- and when he got the answer everything stopped being funny...
Yep. He discovers humor was an experiment on the human race, and at the end is waiting to see what the experimenter will come up with next.
(I knew Isaac, back when.)
Re Project Gutenberg ... I think it's come along just in time ... but I still think we may have lost a lot of knowledge already ... and, as you say, the real trick may lay in rooting out the nuggets of useful information from the haystack of data...
Idon't think we've truly lost anything. If it was discovered once, it can be discovered again.
My concern is about losing context.I've met lots of folks, for example, who can't do simple arithmentic without a calculator (and I'm grateful cash registers in retail stores calculate change, because the check-out clerk likely can't.)
Decades ago, I worked for a bank, and a co-worker described getting out of a graduate finance exam because his HP calculator had died. He could have done the calculations manually, but it would have taken too long. My job there was resident expert in the mainframe based financial modelling system my area used to generate reports for senior management. At one point I was asked to produce a report, and I asked several senior financial people in my area "How is this number calculated? I can make the system do it, but I need the formula." Nobody knew. They were used to having a device do it, and had forgotten how it was done.
We risk reaching a point where you get a canned answer and it's wrong, but you don't know it's wrong because you don't know how it is derived or the circumstances under which it might not be valid.
@DMcCunney: We risk reaching a point where you get a canned answer and it's wrong, but you don't know it's wrong because you don't know how it is derived or the circumstances under which it might not be valid.
Thsi is why I tell my son to always generate a "guestimate" of the answer before plunging into the problem in detail -- round things up and down -- al least get a "feel" for what the answer shoudl be ("somewhere around 400-ish") ... then do the real calculation ... oif you come up with something like 386 or 415 then you hav ea reasonable level of confidence in the result -- if you come up with 0.92 or 1,040,992 then either your estimate was off or your main calculation.
Of course, as you point out, all of this assumes you actually have a clue as to the underlying algirithm for the calculation you are trying to perform.
PS What was Asimov like? From what I've heard he was fun to be around (if you were a guy), egotistical, and something of a ladies' man
PS What was Asimov like? From what I've heard he was fun to be around (if you were a guy), egotistical, and something of a ladies' man.
He was fun to be around, period. He certainly had an ego, but he wasn't arrogant, and he had accomplishments to back up his ego. He was one of those people who could hold a knowledgeable conversation on almost any topic (and he had likely written a book on it.),
The "ladies man" persona was a game he played, and all concerned knew not to take it seriously. He loved to flirt, but that was as far as it went. Decades ago, I ran into Isaac at a literary SF convention. (I help plan and run such things as a hobby.) At the time, Isaac was concentrating on non-fiction, and hadn't written actual SF in years.
He was coming on to the woman I was there with. When he realized she was with me, he backed off hurriedly, and assured me he was not serious and was too old for that sort of thing. I asked "What sort of thing?" and he said "Oh, anything!" I said "Like writing science fiction?" Not that long after, his SF novel "The Gods Themselves" was released. I'm not willing to take creduit for his return to SF, but I like to think my push helped.
His death was a tragedy: he went in for bypass surgery, and got a transfusion of HIV tainted blood. It was the early days of the AIDS crisis, and blood screen for HIV was not yet standard. I mourn what we lost when he was taken from us, as he still had a lot of writing he planned to do.
@DmcCunney: His death was a tragedy: he went in for bypass surgery, and got a transfusion of HIV tainted blood. [...] I mourn what we lost when he was taken from us, as he still had a lot of writing he planned to do.
I cannot tell you how many times I've re-re-re-read his stories -- it's hard to pick favorites because I loved them all so much. And the thought of the stories he might have written -- just thinking about this makes me want to re-read everything...
Re-reading everything would be a challenge. Isaac was a lean, mean writing machine. He had the ability to study a subject, then explain it in clear expository prose aimed at a layman, and his output includes guides to Shakespeare, Opera, and the Bible as well as a varierty of technical and scientific topics.
His first wife was reportedly unhappy when he insisted on dragging a typewriter along on vacation, but to no avail, Isaac needed to write every day. He took a disciplined approach, starting at 8 in the morning, working till lunch, having lunch, then writing more till 5pm. I understand what he submitted was largely first draft. He knew what he wanted to say, and said it. He didn't need to rewrite to get it right.
For most writers the question is "Do I feel like writing today?", but Isaac always felt like writing. If he couldn't do it every day, he was unhappy.
@DMcCunney: Re-reading everything would be a challenge. Isaac was a lean, mean writing machine.
Sorry -- I should have qualified myself -- I was only talking about the science fiction (Caves of Steel, Naked Sun, Pebble in the Sky...) ... and even that's a task ... but I do read a heck of a lot ... and I have been thinking about re-reading the Foundation Trilogy (I'm not really planning on re-reading the stuff generated by other writers).
@DMcCunney: All this talk about libraries and indexes makes me think about "A Fire Upon the Deep" by Vernor Vinge ... that starts with a company of archaeologist programmers on a desolate planet at the very ourskirts of our galaxy trying to access the contents of an aeons-old library ... .which wakes up...
I have "A Fire Upon the Deep", and I've met and corresponded with Vernor.
He popularized the notion of the Singularity, commonly stated as "What happens when your machines are smarter than you are?" Vinge postulates that the speed of light is a local limit, and that Earth is in the "Slow Zone".; Get past that to the Beyond, and energies become available that travel many times faster than light. His protagonist works for a galactic ISP, and a lot of communication is over something that looks a lot like Usenet.
Go farther out and you reach the Transcend, where it's possible for AIs to morph into god-like creatures that rapidly lose interest in communicating with organic life. The Blight his hapless explorers awaken is one such.
Vernor has subsequently gone in other directions in his fiction, precisely because he hit a metaphorical wall with the Singularity.
I personally doubt our machines can become smarter than we are, for reasons Bertrand Russell touched upon in "The Problems of Philosophy", like the notion that there are classes of problems not solvable within a system of logic, and require stepping outside that context to address. Can a machine magically step outside it's own context? I rather doubt it.
(I'd also postulate we are in a Singularity now, whose end result we can't foresee, with the Internet as the catalyst brining is about, but that's another discussion entirely.)
@DMcCunney: Vinge postulates that the speed of light is a local limit, and that Earth is in the "Slow Zone".; Get past that to the Beyond, and energies become available that travel many times faster than light.
I think it was soon after I'd read Vinge's stuff that I read Reinventing Gravity by John Moffat (Click Here to see my review) ... the idea of gravity varying in a non-linear way sort of tied into Vinge's stuff .. .it certainly gave me pause for thought...
I've often wondered about this kind of thing. How much use would I be in a post apocaplyptic world? If they were still lying around, I could string a few transistors and ICs together to do something useful. But if not, I couldn't even make a transistor. I might make a crystal diode. Going back even further, could I make a steam engine from the start of the industrial revolution? Or even beyond that, could I smelt Iron out of rocks to make spearheads? I doubt it. So I'd be less use than someone from the Iron Age.
@KB3001: The same thoughts crossed my mind several times in the past and I always find myself learning skills that were commonplace 100 or 200 years ago. Some of us need to :-)
I have a friend who I think would be one of the survivors. He can hunt and trap and live off the land -- he grow shis own fruid and veg -- his wife preserves everything -- he packs his own rifel and handgun bullets -- he's good at woodwork and metal work (to the extent of reboring rifels to make them more accurate...)
@KB3001: The same thoughts crossed my mind several times in the past and I always find myself learning skills that were commonplace 100 or 200 years ago. Some of us need to :-)
It sort of depends on the disaster. Assuming a virus that very quickly took out 99.999% of the population,there would be lots of supplies (food and water) left for whoever was left -- the real skill would be to protect yourself from the other survivors (just yesterday I read The Dog Stars by Peter Heller).
Assuming more survivors and less supplies, I think people like Doctors and Nurses woudl be considered invaluable to any community -- and also I think engineers and mechanics and anyine who could "make things work" would be invaluable also.
@David: I've often wondered about this kind of thing. How much use would I be in a post apocaplyptic world?
I think you would be incredibly useful. Most post apocalyptic scenarios woudl hav esome form of power generation capability, from full-up hydro power stations (Stephen King "The Stand") or nuclear stations (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle "Lucifer's Hammer") to wind turbines and solar power .... you are the type of guy who could get some sort of power up and running and power up a fridge or a water heater ... which would make you a VERY popular person to have around...
@Max....and Karen.....flattery will get you everywhere!
But I wonder if I would want to live in a post-apocalyptic society. If everyone pulled together it would be a great way to start afresh. But I fear it would quickly degenerate into a dog-eat-dog kind of society where those who had or could make guns and other weapons would have the upper hand. So, as you pointed out elsewhere, the main skill would be protecting yourself from the other survivors. The guy in your referenced story Silly Asses below had it right, I fear.
It's always bugged me that the social progress of the human race has nowhere near kept up with its technological progress. We need some serous pruning I fear....
My favorite survival book is Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island (1874) about a small band of Northerners who escape from the South in a balloon during the USA Civil War. They find themselves on a tiny island. The hero is the Engineer, who first figures out which hemisphere they're in, calculates latitude with a stick, and calculates longitude thanks to someone's pocket-watch which is still working. The other pocket watch is dead, but by taking the two watch glasses and filling them with water (sealing the edges with clay), he makes a magnifying glass which which they light fires. This is just the beginning of one feat of engineering after another.
There's a fun 1961 film version which adds women and giant Ray Harryhausen monsters, none of which are in the book, but who would want to watch a 50-hour movie about why every survival pack should include an engineer?
@betajet: My favorite survival book is Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island (1874) about [...] the hero is the Engineer, who first figures out [...]
Do you know, I haven't read that one, but it's now at the top of my Amazon Wish List.
This reminds me of a TV program I saw where they put a small group of scientists and engineers into a plane -- closed the windows -- and flew them to an island -- they went by a roundabout route so they couldn;t work out where they were from timing the journey or anything -- there were "things" on the island they could use -- like an AM radio receiver and bits of "stuff" -- their job was to work out their location.
From the radio they could hear a news program that gave the time on the hour in Italian. One of the things they did was to create an aperatus to determine the exact point tha tnoon took place in their location. They also greated a pendulum and used that to time how long it took from their "noon" to the news announcement of the local time on the radio ... and so on and so forth.
It was a really interesting program -- I wish they had done more of them...
I have always considered Bob Dobkin and Jim Williams to be two legends in the world of analog design. They both have a way of making complex ideas understandable without trying to impress me that they are smarter than me. Obvoiusly, they ARE smarter than me (by a LONNGG shot). Bob Dobkin along with Jim Williams (posthumously) published the book Analog Circuit Design: A Tutorial Guide to Applications. This is a WONDERFUL book that is chock-full of helpful information. You can tell you're in for a great ride before you even open the book- just take a close look at the rather unique digital thermometer on the front cover. Look here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0123851858/ref=pe_309540_26725410_item_image
There's something about the construction of the thermometer that makes me realize that if it's OK for these geniuses to build something like this, then maybe some of my "breadboards" weren't so bad after all. I wish I had one of these thermometers hanging on my office wall.
There's a volume 2 of this book available and I intend to order one in the next day or two.
While we're on the subject of losing the secrets of the masters, the series of Foxfire books comes to mind. Sure, they're not technical, and many of the authors of the Foxfire books may not be "masters" in the traditional sense, but there is a treasure trove of backwoods information that, had these books not been published, would already have been lost forever. Even though much of the information contained in these books - like how to skin a squirrel or how to manage a hive of bees - will never be of practical use to most of us, just leafing through the articles seems to calm the soul and remind us how resourceful we can be when we really need to.
@Rick: $64 is a bit pricy for abook, but the next time you come to Huntsville can you bring your copy of Analog Circuit Design: A Tutorial Guide to Applications for me to look at and make a buying decision ... I must admit that I want one of the thermometers from the front cover myself.
Re the Firefox books -- do you have these also? If so, can you breing those up for me to take a look at also?
There was a show on SBS recently where some English presenter made stuff from scratch:
e.g. electric light bulb , a flymo , a toaster , a pair of joggers. etc.
He was pretty inept, a PHD and not an engineer I guess , and he cheated a bit (he only made 3 critical parts of each)
But to his credit he made the mower blade from iron ore, he smelted it to spongy iron, then hammered it into shape.
For the toaster element he took some water from an abandoned nickle mine, plated it out in a bathtub, then smelted and rolled it into thick wire, (but then he cheated and swapped in resistance wire).
He dug up the mica from rocks on the side of a hill.
I think you would be capable of making iron spearheads , the Eqyptian method using a cupola is easy enough, it's just a clay vertical tube, filed with iron ore and charcoal, you light it up from the bottom, come back a day later and pick out the spongy iron. Reheat the spongy iron in a hearth (with some bellows for more air) , and beat it with a hammer to the required shape.
@Adam-Taylor I can't imagine losing the Internet for a few months, I don't know what to do when it's down for a few hours! A few years back, I was trying to fly out of the Newark, New Jersey airport and all online systems went down. It was total mayhem, as you might imagine!
Well thanks for the kind words Karen, I've always prided myself on being a practical guy, but I still wonder how far it would take me. Strangely enough just last week a friend of mine gave me a box of old computer and electronic bits which (as usual, much to my wife's disgust) I accepted with open arms. His wife (who delivered the box) said that my friend said I'd be a good guy to have around after the apocalypse. I still think I'd feel very inadequate next to Gronk the caveman.....
Incidentally this reminds me of a play, "The Admirable Crighton" about a resourceful butler who...well, read about it here:
@kfield: David - your skills would likely take you further than a whole generation of us who basicallly turn on our devices and expect them to work.
I agree -- and David is one of those guys who has spent countless hours debugging things and making them work -- there are a lot of engineers who are good at designing and building things out of "known good" pieces ... but who wouldn't be any good at actually pulling disparate things together and kluging a working system...
Even if we do find good ways of digitally capturing technical knowledge, how do we capture the wisdom that's gained from experience and passed from master-to-trainee (who one day becomes master)? How do we capture schools of thought, of mindsets that people adopt in tackling certain challenges?
These are perphaps more powerful forms of knowledge than sheer technical knowledge, and leads to a more perilous future when lost. The same is true with innovation - you can be an absolute master of current techniques or memorize an encyclopedia, but is of little use in imagining future possibilities.
My contention is that without the right compass, we will both fail to appreciate the wonders of yesteryear and make significant future innovations.
For the last couple of years I've been becoming more and more involved with online forums regarding vacuum tubes. One of the things that has become abundantly clear; there is a tremendous amount of information that will forever be lost because the guys that know the stuff, how to put this gently; are dying off. I have a good collection of "tube" books" (ever increasing) and much of the information the "old timers" have can't be found in a single one of them. When they die, the information is gone. If I were a rich man, I'd travel the world and collect this information (as best as one could, I suspect one could do this "forever") into a compendeum. I'm not, so the best one can do is ask questions and collect as much of this information as possible.
I've run across an article or two lately about hobbyists building their own vacuum tubes. I also recall reading about someone home etching primitive ICs, so there are a few folks hanging on to some of these old secrets, but beyond that, I think we do lose a lot.
My kids can't even write in cursive. They happen to have some basic survival skills like map & compass & such from scouting, but many people I know likely couldn't survive more than a night or two in the wilderness.
How many people could get around without GPS, maps or roads? Basic navigation without those tools was once a necessary life skill, but has been all but lost.
@Duane: I've run across an article or two lately about hobbyists building their own vacuum tubes. I also recall reading about someone home etching primitive ICs...
I love the idea of building something with hand-constructed vacuum tubes.
I once saw someone make a transistor by hand in a small furnace -- very interesting.
I have thought about making my own relays and then building a digital computer out of them ... but then I think of all the time it would take ... plus I also like the idea of using antique relays of th etype I talked about in my Mock Relays column
When I was in Elementary school (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), Bell Telephone had a wonderful series of free "Adventures in Science Kits" that helped me get my start in electronics. Look at this manual from one of the kits: http://wedophones.com/TheBellSystem/pdf/kit2.pdf
Beginning on page 45 it explains how to make your own solar cell using materials provided in the kit. Take a look at page 46, where the instructions include steps such as "Diffuse the boron into the silicon by high-temperature heating" and "Deposit nickel on the unmasked surfaces by electroless plating". I think it is unlikely that you would find instructions like these in kits intended for Elementary school students today.
@Duane: My kids can't even write in cursive. They happen to have some basic survival skills like map & compass & such from scouting, but many people I know likely couldn't survive more than a night or two in the wilderness.
I'm not sure that I care about cursive ... but I do worry that my 18-year old son has no idea how to read a map -- he relays on GPS directions -- goodness knows I've tried to teach him, but he has zero interest (sad face)
How to go about designing a new Arithmetic Processing Unit without previous training in concepts of long mutliplication and division? How to spot a CAD bug without some basics of mechanical design in the head? This gets really scary as one considers the compilers' bugs (found few of them myself ...)...
@bbaudis021: This gets really scary as one considers the compilers' bugs...
You are right, it does get scary!!!
Take something like floating-point that software developers use in their programs all the time ... without any clue as to how it actually gets performed inside the computer and where any errors might come from...
The title "Lindsay Publications" (with the name figuring promininently in the company title) just happened to remind me of another publisher who was a master in his own right, who was in fact the holder of 80 patents himself. Does anyone remember the reason that the prize for science fiction writing is known as the "Hugo"? Why it's in honor of Hugo Gernsback of course, who in addition to being one of the very first authors in the genre, was probably best known as the publisher of many technical magazines. I remember when I was growing up I used to look forward to reading Radio Electronics magazine every month (I believe when I first started reading it the name was Electronics World but I could be confusing it with another title), that magazine was published all the way until 2003. The man died way back in 1967 so just by the longevity of that title alone you can see that his accomplishments lasted way beyond his lifespan. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that his influence on the technical magazine industry would be comparable to say Ted Turner's influence on cable television. You can learn a bit more about his accomplishments here:
While it's inevitable that we lose people like this, I too am concerned that we are losing not just command of, but also respect for, the fundamentals. When I see articles with titles like "what the C language is actually useful for" I have to shake my head in amazement, I could see that happening maybe in 2113 but not in 2013! Maybe I've become a "fuddy-duddy" and don't know it...
JeffL: I don't think I ever read Radio Electronics, but publications like that and the one that Max outlined in his story are nothing short of inspirational. Yes, the Internet enables sharing of almost all the world's information, but somehow holding a periodical in your hands tells you these are fresh new ideas that you should consider before the next issue arrives. We'll never know how many new ideas they inspired, and I don't mean to romanticize the question, but the Internet is a very cold medium compared to those publications. We're losing more than an engineering guidebook, we're losing the art of telling stories through engineering.
@tom: ...but somehow holding a periodical in your hands...
I have some old (1950s to 1970s) magazines in my office -- they used to be jam-packed with interesting adverts -- I can spend a happy hour picking one up and reading it cover-to-cover, adverts and all...
Max: My neighbors are moving and, for the past week, they've had a card table in the driveway with a "Free" sign. The table is piled high with old mags (mostly hundreds of National Geographics). I've watched several people stop and leaf through them for 10-15 minutes and smiling, but leaving empty handed. It seems few people are willing to save those wonderful old mags while we all appreciate their greatness. We will miss them when they're gone. (I wish I still had my old Popular Science issues from the 60s, which hooked me on electronics at an impressionable age.)
@Tom: ...I've watched several people stop and leaf through them for 10-15 minutes and smiling, but leaving empty handed. It seems few people are willing to save those wonderful old mags while we all appreciate their greatness...
I know just what you mean ... it's like when I go down to the public library -- they have a store where they sell old books -- you can occasionally pick up an entire set of the Encyclopedia Briticannica for say $150 ... but where would I put it?
The same goes for all of the old magazines -- the pictures in NG magazine where unbelievable -- I only hope the folks at NG have everything presenved digitally...
I remember him quite well! I was about 11 when I first subscribed to several magaizines: Popular Electronics, Radio/TV News (which became Electronics World some years later), and Radio Electronics. When I was in college studying EE, one of the part-time jobs I had was working as a counter saleperson in a major electronic parts distributor. One evening, an older gentleman came in and asked to speak to someone who could help him with recommendations. I was asked to help him. After we had finished picking out the parts he needed, he paid and left. One of the senior salesmen came over to me and said, "Do you know who that was?" I said "No, but he was really nice to me." The response was "That was Hugo Gernsback!" He came back several times and asked for me, and I enjoyed talking to him and "helping' him select parts!
Of course I was also a huge SF fan (and a radio ham), so I knew him as a major factor there as well.
@betajet: ...I remember when Radio-Electronics had the tag line [...] I also remember when it saw the error of its ways...
I remember when a computer company I worked for had a bunch of T-shirts made for us all to wear at a tradeshow -- some of the ladies on our team complained -- the tagline on the T-Shirts was "The Better-Built Box" :-)
Wasn't there a Japanese telecommunications company that licenced the Woody Woodpecker character and posted a series of adverts for their Internet service featuring the byline "Everyone needs a Woody"?
And I seem to recall an admiril in the US Navy who was planning on using "In The Navy" by The Village People as the song for a new round of recruting adverts on television... until someone explained the error of his ways...
@JeffL_2: When I see articles with titles like "what the C language is actually useful for" I have to shake my head in amazement, I could see that happening maybe in 2113 but not in 2013!
Of course, that title may have been selected to make someone like you shake your head and then open it up to see just how silly it is... at which point the author of the article just got one point (LOL).
I design circuits using radio chips and microprocessors just the same way as lots of other people and like the majority of the people who use the parts designed by somebody else, I don't know how to design a radio from discrete parts and I worry that the people who designed the cores of the parts we all use will be gone nad if we run into a problem, the masters that made the original circuits will not be there to fix the problems. We only see far because we are standing on the shoulders of giants but most of the giants are dead or will soon be dead and then we might not be able to see quite as far.
It is true that a lot of data in print is being lost. I have felt the same way about my old electronic data books. It still happens 2 or 3 times a year where someone asks on some forum "does anyone still have any data on xxx". I sometimes felt that I am the only person left in the world with the data.
You see Design Ideas that are not new or original and people re-invent the wheel and I am sure that the availabilty of the old data would alleviate this to some extent.
I decided I didn't want all my data books to go to recycling, yet my wife kept on harping over the many metres of bookshelf consuming space and gathering dust in the basement.
I tried to interest computer museums, Google and other repositories with no luck. MIT was inetersted until the discovered that they weren't valuable (only the data is!)So I embarked on a mammoth exercise and scanned (OCR) all my data books, app notes, design ideas going back to ~1975. It takes up 107GB. It makes searching them much easier, but reading them in bed, not so much!
I have shipped copies on HD to some people in the hope that the data does not disappear when I do.
I still love to sit on the couch with a good magazine, although that Nexus 7 tablet is starting to get a share of that time.
One place print still lives for me is the WC. My rack includes copies of Outdoor Magazine (not Outhouse!) and yes a compendium of Mad. I love visiting my friends house because he has a compendium of the Onion.
@DMcCunney: I still have a large number of 5.25 and 3.5 disks, I even have some Zip disks. I can still read them...
I once went to a techno-geek fair thing in the valley -- someone had a table set up with all sorts of different disk drives -- apparently he went to every event -- folks coudl take their old media in and he would copy the files over to new media for them -- this must have been 15 or 20 years ago now .. I wonder if he's still doing it?
Oh, I can use them -- I need use them -- call me a fool: I love them! :)
I have hundreds of 3.5'' floppy disks, various different FDDs (also several units of a slim TEAC model new on stock I build into computer prototype systems for personal use) and work with them every day. I store almost everything on them, namely my whole RTOS project and other systems software. I do most of this in assembly so---in relation to my probably obsolete implementation technique---a floppy really means mass storage to me. :D Floppies are simply practical to hold small amounts of data. I can easily make copies. And they are more reliable as one may think. I lately found some disks I lost many years ago in a small dirty box too disgusting to describe further. They were indeed stored under the most terrible conditions ever but I could successfully read and---when necessary---restore all files from them. Gee, the disks contained my first Pascal programs I wrote in 1992. I really don't believe that any CD-R stored under the same rough conditions would preserve data that long and even if they did I would surely not be able to apply these more or less "evil" restore techniques to them as I can do with those floppies. And my love goes even further.
For instance, testing systems software is really fun with a floppy boot sector and ROM image loader. I simply prepare a disk with this 1.5 K loader software and a binary ROM image of my system, put the floppy into the drive on the test system and hit the reset button. I cannot get my own software into RAM much easier. That saves me a lot of time. The ROM and boot sector loader I wrote on my own, of course, but I found the principal idea in "The Embedded PC's ISA Bus" by Ed Nisley. A great book, besides many others I collected during the last few years. Another valuable hint I got from "80386. A Programming and Design Handbook" by Penn and Don Brumm. They use a printer as debug console which made me explore this possibility to build monitor programs that turn my old Epson LX-400 printer into a very neat debug facility. I coupled this with a tiny debugger and now get hard copies of complete memory and register dumps including source and machine code listings of the program section currently executed when any exception has occured or I stop program execution at will. Very convenient because most silly bugs show up easier on paper than on screen and I can pen down some thoughts coming up during a debug sessions where they belong. There are many other examples but I stop here. However, I *can* use these disks and yes, they *do* contain useful data! :)
Anyway, the point is that without having printed books containing secrets as these at hand, life in my lab would be much harder. I always feel that if my creativity is the lever, then old tools make it strong enough and good books provide me with the right place to stand to move things forward into the right direction. I'm not often in need of high-tech tools and techniques since many older but extremely useful things are still available or even in production. One must sometimes look hard enough, of course, to obtain them. I do. I, Fool! :))
@Max: Thank you for the reference to the 507 Mechanical Movements. What fine, practical work this is, it really make things move! I would love to re-typeset works like this with TeX and give them a fresh start in print. Either way, it'll turn out to be more than helpful to solve some mechanical problems I'm working on. Great! Many, many thanks!
@cefischer: @Max: Thank you for the reference to the 507 Mechanical Movements. What fine, practical work this is, it really make things move!
I'm so happy you like it -- even thought it's availbale for free download, I've ordered myself a copy of the paperback version from Amazon ... I'm thinking of re-creating a lot of these movements just for my own enjoyment -- in turn, this has made me seriously start thinking about looking into buying a 3D Printer...
Not just available for free download: someone has converted it to a website, and is in the process of animating some of the movements for a visual demonstration of how they work. See http://507movements.com/
There is a companion site called Animated Engines: http://www.animatedengines.com/
@DMcCunney: I've seen the Animated Engines site -- very clever -- currently there don;t seem to be many animations on the 507Movements.com site, but there are a few -- I'm looking forward to seeing them develop more over time.
@Max: ...even thought it's availbale for free download, I've ordered myself a copy of the paperback version from Amazon ... I'm thinking of re-creating a lot of these movements just for my own enjoyment ...
Yes, I will also get a printed copy for I don't like PDFs that much but it was too tempting to follow your link to take a first glance at the work. My heart beats for books and (very often) books alone. I always chase book sellers up around the world to get me copies of seldom titles no longer in print. Sometimes this is an easy thing, spending $1.95 for an old hardware reference manual or so but there are more complex cases, of course. Either way, I will get a "real" copy of the 507.
This copy I will take, by the end of this year when I have less business with my electronic affairs, disappearing in my workshop for a week or two, enjoying the very depths of this wonderful collection of ideas, exploring some clues for my telescope mount, making things real...---
@cefischer: ...I do most of this in assembly so---in relation to my probably obsolete implementation technique---a floppy really means mass storage to me...
I know what you mean -- I come from the time where you were very aware of every byte and clock cycle used ... in my second job (back in 1981) we had a PDP 11/23 computer shared between everyone in the office -- the hard disk contained just one folder / directory shared between all of us -- the first letter of the 8.3 filename indicated the owner ("Mxxxxxxx.xxx" indicated one of my files) ... and the entire disk -- which was in a cabinet the size of a washing machine -- could store only 1MB!!!
@Max: ...I come from the time where you were very aware of every byte and clock cycle used ...
Combine this with a good idea and it is poetry.
Last year I got the opportunity to show a few students how to write short programs and feed them into the processor instruction by instruction thereby watching how the registers change, the flags, and memory locations. Then they ran their programs at full speed, obviously fascinated that *they* were the ones who made the machine doing that---not a compiler. They had never got in touch with this before. Seemed they liked that assembly tune and even forgot about their smart phones for a little while. :) The potential to do things "by hand" is still there and that's good.
Fascinating this is, necessary it will become, too. It's just a guess but putting severe restrictions on a design isn't thus bad an idea and often results in astounding solutions. I think we need exploit equipment much better than we've done so far. Be aware of every byte and clock cycle whether you need do so or not and you need not take care of Moore's Law's---surely unavoidable---demise (at this early point in computer history). There are many things to find out in the software universe we haven't had the opportunity to explore well enough since the tremendously fast progress of hardware technology pulls us nearer the event horizon of its critical mass. That's like astrophysics: From a far vantage point, the nearer you come a black hole, the *slower* you'll become and the fainter your outline, until you finally seem to disappear and *stop* just before crossing the event horizon. In fact, that is from your own viewpoint, you've long be pulled *beyond* it and made your final trip into the singularity.
My studying matured hardware technology and forgotten software solutions from the early 1980ies to 90ies has often saved me from falling and it keeps doing so. Whether building discrete logical circuits, combining them with analogue features, writing programs that fit into a few bytes, or implementing one of those 507 Mechanical Movements---if we lose the knowledge how to do things like that we are lost.
This makes this column here such a precious little niche in a world full of more or less useful information.
I am writing this letter to introduce my self , I am a student in Master networking computer ,
I have a project to do and I need your help . If possible just I need some information related to my project .I tried to find paper related to my project subject but still I did not find any paper , Please Please help me and send me paper related to this subject .
My project is
Formulation of a model for measuring the costs of security and privacy breach in smart meter deployment
And I must answer the Qustion
1 - what are the type of security and privacy breach that can occur on smart meter ?
2- how can the security and privacy breach on smart meter cause loss of money to the power company as well as to the users?
3- what is the monetary cost of particular security or privacy breach of smart meter ?
4-To identify the type of security and privacy breach that can occur on smart meter . 5-To measure the monetary cost of various types of security and privacy breach. 6-To formulation a model that can assist in measuring cost of security and privacy breach on smart meter . 7-To validate the applicability of the developed model .
@fatemeh: ...I have a project to do and I need your help...
I will make this my #1 priority ... right after I finish all of my own projects LOL
I'm sorry to make fun of you, but did you actually read the contents of this column? If so, what on earth made you think that your comment was appropriate in the context of the discussions associated with the column?
Great article Max. I've been reading EE Times for a while and just wanted to say that you guys always get my mind engaged with really thought provoking discussions. In the days of mass media Miley Cyrus filler stories, it's refreshing to see you write with insight about things that are interesting, yet also still accessible without having a lot of background in a particular area. And i'd say i'm not the only one who thinks this way, because there's always a pretty good discussion in the comments. Anyways I just wanted to say thanks, you guys are like TED talks for articles!
Speaking of Dover - one of my favorite Dovers is 'The Kinematics of Machinery' by Franz Reuleaux, translated by Alexander B.W.Kennedy, C.E.
This is a 1963 reprint of a book first published in 1878. The original was written in German and appeared in 1875. The brief delay between the German and English versions is an indication of how important this work was to the world of 1875-78.
The copy I have was purchased in 1974 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Bookstore and has been on my shelf through my career. My original machine design courses could have been taken from the first few chapters - crank trains, four bar linkages and all the rest.
I have spent a lot of time browsing through the book - amazing how many of the mechanical details of devices we use today were worked out in the 19th century. And they were useful for my own work, especially as they were hard for patent trolls to challenge them. If something was in Reuleaux it was prior art, no questions asked. I settled a few arguments with the USPTO using citations from M. Reuleaux.
For those interested in the topic of "losing the masters" this is a enjoyable/interesting/entertaining read. If you happen to enjoy motorcycles it's even better. My own poor summary of the basic thought of the book: "At one time the craftsman could choose the tree to cut down based on his knowledge of wood grain and the affect on the finished wheel he was going to produce". Also the author gives his take on the loss of these "tradesmen".
I understand this is off-topic, but after noticing "Thomas Edison types" couldn't help myself. After Oatmeals' comic about Tesla just can't take Edison like it's something good. Sorry if the link is inapropriate here. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/tesla
Back to the topic. Yes, we're moving to the future where the world is fully dependent on computers and electricity. Also the technology is so complex we no longer able to fix stuff without computers and internet. There were similar topic on APP about modern cars. So digitizing stuff is good, but again it's completely internet-dependent.
It seems like civilizations lose much over time. Thank goodness our civilization has been able to retain and restore so many treasures from the past. And thanks to those who carry on discovering new techniques, we can possibly now use the marvel of 3-D printers to spit out some of Mr. Henry T. Brown's interesting movements.
Thanks to those who keep this information available because there are far too many who are ignorant of the value of keeping such precious past secrets. And thanks for the interesting read Max.
January 2016 Cartoon Caption ContestBob's punishment for missing his deadline was to be tied to his chair tantalizingly close to a disconnected cable, with one hand superglued to his desk and another to his chin, while the pages from his wall calendar were slowly torn away.122 comments