I recently came across a feel-good story about a young engineer-to-be that reminds me of my own experience as a youth.
The story is a about a pre-teen who saw an article in a magazine that showed how to build electronic dice. With help from his dad, who was an electrical engineer, he was able to obtain the components and build a working model. He actually deviated from the directions and built what he considered a better mousetrap.
In my case, it was a color organ. Do you remember those? You connected it to your stereo, and it would display different colors based on the bass, treble, and mid-range sounds that it heard. I got this as a Heath-Kit (I guess I’m showing my age now) and couldn’t get it to work. Dad wasn’t an electrical engineer but had some pretty fair skills in that space. He let me struggle for a little while, and then came to the rescue. The problem ended up being a bad (OK, sloppy) solder. We got it to work, and I’m sure Dad was sorry he ever got involved because the louder you turned up the music, the more colors that were displayed.
That original story was posted on a site dedicated to similar stories. It might be worth checking out. You go on and vote for the story you like best, and a prize is being awarded to the one with the most votes.
And be sure to tell us your own stories in the comments section below!
I believe I also had a TRS-80, Rathomas (although I may be confusing it with another model). Mine had a small door in the side for insertion of a tape cartridge and it used my color TV set as a display. For word processing, I slid a tape cartridge called ScripSit into the side door. Was that the TRS-80?
Remember the desktop telephones from era when you paid Ma Bell a rental fee on them? I took the plastic domed transducers (can't remember if they were the mic or the speaker) out of a couple of them and, along with some wire coat hangers, made a set of stereo headphones out of them. I was really surprised at how good they sounded. Roll forward a few years and Sony introduced the Walkman with these tiny headphones with great sound that just had these little plastic domed speakers.
Probably the first thing I did that might be called "engineering" was around 1982 when I had access to my older brother's TRS-80 for which he'd bought a 300 baud dumb modem. A dumb modem can't dial or answer the phone itself and I wanted to run a BBS (remember those?). At Radio Shack I found an 8 pin ring detector IC from TI. While TI had two flavoers, the one that RS stocked put out a square wave "ring" tone that was intended to drive a speaker or piezo transducer. I put a rectifier on the output and fed that to the Trash-80 as a logic level input. My BASIC BBS program then camped on that input and when the phone rang, the program would set an output that drove a transistor that drove a relay that connected the modem to the line. I guess I was about 14 at the time.
It's a bit of a stretch, but my first "engineering story" actually involves a toy I played with at age seven. It was called Kenner Girder & Panel Building Set and I conservatively estimate that I built more than 500 "buildings" with it before I finally lost most of the parts. I later studied theortectical and applied mechanics in college, which I directly attribute to the Kenner Co. When the toy was resurrected a few years ago, I wrote about it in Design News.
I think the first thing I can remember that made me think about being an engineer was a science project we did where our teacher shot a gun at one end of the track and we saw the smoke and then heard the bang. Or was it hear the bang and then saw the smoke. Either way it was little projects and experiments like that, that led me to think science and then engineering was cool. Kudos to all those Science teachers our there.
I had been putting electrical and electronic things togather from kits even in elementary school. I could solder fairly well before I learned to write script. But the electronicas was kits, until later on. By ninth grade I had discovered that I could build up an audio amplifier and listen to the phone line, and when nobody was using our phone I could hear signals from the other pairs in the cable. That was sort of interesting. But that 90 volt ringing signal was hard on my input circuit until I discovered high voltage capacitors. The phone line monitor was the first experience with putting togather pieces of circuits that were originally intended for other uses. That was a lot of fun.
A couple years later I built an audio oscilloscope out of a really old television that had an oscillator high voltage supply. That allowed me to have an adjustable sweep frequency. The audio patterns on the scope screen certainly beat the color organs that other folks had. The scope wound up being just too big for any useful or fun stuff, eventually.
I remember building a razor-blade-and-pencil-lead "crystal" radio when I was 9 or 10, but I really got bit by the electronics bug when I was 11, and we moved across the street from two Ham Radio brothers only a little older than me. They taught me to solder, and my dad bought me a Philmore 3-tube shortwave radio kit which I successfuly assembled and had a blast with. I even modified it to fit in a gym bag along with various antenna hookups, a logbook, and headphones instead of its speaker, so I could take it with me when we went to visit our many (boring) relatives. Now I've been a Ham over 50 years, and an electronic engineer for over 40. It's still a thrill to build stuff.
My first engineering story took place in High School during the early 1970's. I helped out at a TV repair shop mostly for free parts. During the summer between 8th grade and freshman year I "designed" a tube TV using the parts I was able to scrounge up and purchase. It used a RF front end from one TV and the remainer was put together from scratch. I used an old 15" BW TV picture tube and in fact all of the design used vacuum tubes. I was delighted when after some initial trouble shooting, a picture showedup on the CRT. It was upside down and a negative image, but it was there...for about 2 minutes when the contraption caught fire.... Funny thing, now that I am designing motor drives it is not all that unusual for the first versions of the drives to catch fire too ... Hmmmm?!
The earliest build I can remember was a science fair project in middle school. I found instructions for making a carbon arc furnace from battery carbon rods, a flowerpot, and a salt water rheostat. But I wanted to do more. I had read that carbon had a broad spectrum (nearlt a full rainbow) and thought that if I burned stuff from my chemistry set in the furnace I would get bright lines on top of the carbon spectrum, so it would be easy to tell the lines of material I was burning from the carbon rainbow. Didn't work quite as well as I would have liked as I didn't have a narrow enough slit, but you could see some differences, anyway. I got an award, at least. Some other kids had also seen the carbon arc furnace and made one, but I was the only one who had used it as part of a larger design.
I'm an electronics geek. I come by it honestly: My dad worked for the phone company (back then there was only one), loved his job, didn't get enough at work and was always building or modifying some electronic gadget. He loved that I was interested and was patient enough to explain things. My earliest engineering recollections come from about 1953. I was four years old: By then I knew my colors. My dad had designed and was building a hi-fi amplifier. He'd call out the colors so I could find the right resistor and hand it to him. Then he told me the colors stood for numbers and started calling out color and number, then just number. I learned my numbers while I was learning the resistor color code. With my dad as a teacher, it was easy, because he made it so much fun.
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