Tag Archives: make

Still Thinking about Radio

Why, you are probably asking, am I so fascinated by radio? While the media’s use of radio, television, and social media sensationalizes and encourages controversy, argumentativeness, and even violence, I find that focusing on the technical application of physics is far more enjoyable.

Back in the day, you could take things apart to see how they worked, and even try putting them back together. A mechanical alarm clock that was headed for the trash is a perfect example–all those gears. It was expected that when you tried to put it back together, there would be pieces left over, but it still gave you some idea as to how it worked–and that was without a Youtube video to explain it. Then there was the other direction–building things–anything–not huge projects, but small and interesting ones.

cat whisker

Did you ever  build (or even see) a crystal radio? A length of wire for an antenna, a second wound around a tube (such as a toilet paper tube), another wire connected to a ground—such as the center screw in an electrical outlet a galena crystal, and a set of headphones. By moving a flexible wire around the crystal, it is possible to tune in a station. In the Second World War, soldiers would build a “fox-hole” radio using a razor blade as the crystal and a pencil lead for the cat’s whisker. When I built my first crystal radio, I began to understand how a basic radio receiver works and was hooked.

I built my first computer, which arrived in the mail and consisted of a circuit board and a plastic bag full of parts. It initially had 256 BYTES of memory and had to be programmed using hexadecimal numbers (that’s where you count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10). By the time I was done with it, it had 8 kilobytes, stored programs and data on cassette tapes, used a mechanical teletype and I programmed it using “Tiny Basic.”

Could I build a smartphone? No, I cannot, but then neither can you. I do, however, have a conceptual understanding—and can explain—how the various parts of a smartphone work and how those parts are integrated. When I’ve asked my kids if they understood how theirs worked, their expression seemed to indicate wonderment as to why anyone would ever want to know.

There’s hope, though, through the MAKE movement, which encourages young people–especially girls–to build, modify, and experiment. I hope they enjoy it. Al I can say is that over the years, my interest in radio and the electromagnetic spectrum has caused me to learn, but more importantly, to think.

My Computers Are Out to Get Me!

I may have mentioned that I had to rebuild my desktop computer and replace my notebook/laptop/whatever they’re called this year computer.

I try to backup my data regularly. I have a scheduled routine to backup my laptop to one of the large hard drives on the main computer in the house. I also have a separate hard drive especially made for backups that I use about once a month.

Suddenly, with a number of computer based issues staring at me, I get the message on my laptop that the hard drive is full.

Now, I know Windows 8.1.a.(3)[4]—or whatever—is a memory hog. So is Norton 360. And then there’s Office 2013, and I did start my taxes with TurboTax, but c’mon!

I usually have to upgrade the hard drives and RAM in computers, so this was not the biggest surprise, but still… so I ordered a 1 terabyte disk to replace the 500 gigabyte. When it arrived, I turned the computer over, ready to open the little access panel that laptops have so you can replace the hard drive. The one next to the panel to upgrade the memory chips.

No doors.

It turns out that this major manufacturer* of home and office computers has decided that the consumer really doesn’t need to be able to upgrade. The entire computer must be disassembled; the bottom removed, the keyboard removed, the upper case removed. Therefore, they must expect us to purchase new computers every few months or send the unit out for professional repair.

You have got to be kidding me.

I Googled how to disassemble and reassemble the computer and figured that if I had to take the whole thing apart, I might as well expand the RAM as well, so I ordered the memory chips.

When the chips arrived, with my son’s help, we got the computer disassembled, upgraded and reassembled.

Take that you customer hating engineers and bean counters!

Oh, and the reason the hard drive was full so quickly? Remember how I conscientiously backup my data? Well, the special backup drives have a program included; and if you do not have the hard drive connected when it’s time for a backup, it just copies all the data on the C: drive to the (ready for this) C: drive. I erased all these convenient programs and reverted to Windows built in “Backup” program.

 

 

*I won’t name the company, but since IBM was known for having signs on the wall saying, “Think,” this company put signs on the wall that said “Invent.” There’s no proof that the signs now say, “Screw the customer.”