Monday, December 26, 2005

What's in the box?

So what did you get for Christmas? I’ll bet you got at least one thing that the ad-men would call “high tech.”

Associated Press says we’re all “tech junkies.” We’re not. Fewer and fewer of us have any idea as to how anything works. What we are, are entertainment junkies and Black Box operators. Sure everyone thinks he knows something about computers and cars and electronics. Just ask and they’ll say Sony, Toyota, Apple, HDTV, but the great majority would think you’re speaking in tongues if you mention epitaxial diffusion and some would suggest a massage parlor if you were to ask about a three angle valve job. Tell me, do you know a NAND gate from a waste gate or SSB from BPSK-31? Can you tell a Hartley Oscillator from a Colpitts? Do you really understand how a simple AM radio works?

We used to be a nation of tinkerers and inventors, now we have fewer engineering graduates than the countries we used to call backward. If you designed it; if you can fix it, you’re a geek. If it all seems like magic to you, you’re hip; you have ‘tude, you’re edgy.

I am a Tech Junkie. My friends are Tech junkies – physicists, electrical engineers and inventors. Some are old hot-rodders. Most of them are in their 60’s, 70’s and older. Their children and grandchildren think of them as old fashioned, laugh at their beautiful hand made automobiles, act astounded when someone still knows Morse code or prefers to chat with some crony in Antarctica with complex equipment he built himself rather than buy the service from someone.

“What about using the telephone?” says my son after I’ve been talking to the captain of a 220 foot ocean tug pulling an oil rig near the coast of Angola. What would I talk about in that case? Certainly I wouldn’t have the pride of doing it with a system I put together myself, using the sound card from an old Toshiba interfaced with my transmitter to convert the upper sideband output into binary phase shift keying so that the “conversation” can take place on a computer screen just like a chat room. Besides, it’s faster than “instant” messaging and just ask anyone in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana or the Caribbean how useful cell phones and the internet are when things go awry.

“That’s Marconi stuff,” says Crankyboy, looking at the radio equipment sitting in the corner of my office with its three video screens, two CPU’s, keyboard, half dozen meters and countless buttons and knobs. Well not really. Guglielmo never used Amateur satellites or bounced signals off the moon or sent photos or digital files to a distant repeater interfaced to the internet. Of course I built several Marconi type stations when I was 10 years old – and primitive computers using rotary stepper switches from junk pinball machines. The first time I heard Elvis on Chicago’s WJJD was on a homemade germanium diode radio with preselector and an early PNP transistor as an audio stage. I built go-karts from old lawnmower parts, radios of all sorts and even a triode vacuum tube.

I wasn’t unusual; I just needed to know how things worked. I still do – I’m a tech junkie.


Crankyboy said...

You malign Apple and Crankyboy? What a bad boy.

Intellectual Insurgent said...

I got the first four seasons of the Twilight Zone on DVD. I won't be leaving the house for at least a week.

Capt. Fogg said...

Now there's a proper use of high technology! I loved that show.

Capt. Fogg said...

Apple - bah, humbug. Real men use punch cards.

Parlez vous Fortran?

Capt. Fogg said...

I used to be prejudiced against computerized engine control - until I learned how to reprogram them.