Updated: Oct 9, 2020
One of the best Christmas' of my childhood was when I was 8 years old. That year I opened a ghetto blaster, the Big Bear R/C, and a Commodore 64. I was the happiest kid on the planet and would have been over the moon if I had received even just one of the three. It was also the year that I first held a soldering iron.
Between seeing how high I could get my R/C car to jump and walking around all cool listening to Master of Puppets, I would sit for hours plugging a program into my C64 that I found in Ahoy! magazine with no real idea of how it worked just to see what the result was. Then I would spend more time still changing things to see what would happen. Thus began my love of programming. The feeling of being able to control what my computer did.
My dad was a bit of an electronics buff, spending countless hours trying to hack scrambled cable, which back then consisted of a suppressed horizontal sync pulse and inverted video information. I would watch him work soldering this or that, hand making PCB's and installing what I thought were random components. I was fascinated by the idea that a handful of components could make electricity do amazing things even though I didn't really know what electricity was.
Then one day my latest issue of Ahoy! magazine arrived and I still remember when my dad and I built a robot that interfaced to the Commodore 64. I call it a robot, but really all it was was a home made base with two motors and several relays with a separate power supply that we electronic types fondly call wall warts. So named because back then switching power supplies didn't really exist and they contained a large transformer. Because of this, there would be a giant black cube hanging off the wall that resembled a wart.
A cable connected directly to the user port of the C64 and the robot was controlled through it.
My dad helped me to design and make the PCB which involved hand rubbing etch resist transfers to the copper one small section at at time and etching the board in ferric chloride. It was a slow, tedious, and dirty job. After that he taught me to solder on all the components and build the base which held everything in place. It was crude, but worked.
I typed run into the C64 after typing in the program and watched the little platform zip ahead a bit and turn on the spot and zip ahead a little more. I was hooked. Here I was, the person who hand built this gizmo on wheels and the one who with a few lines of code, was able to make it do what I wanted. Now, it didn't do a lot other than move around only as far as the cable allowed, but it didn't matter. I did it. Thus began my fascination with controlling what electrons can do.
I don't remember what year it was, but my dad bought me this exact 160 in ONE Electronic Project Kit. I spent days following the manual and connecting the spring ties together making all the circuits.
I had no idea how they worked or even how to read a schematic, but the fact it did something was all that mattered. From a light controlled audio tone to an AM radio receiver, analog Vu meter, audio amplifier, morse code generator, and many things in between, I built them all. And so began one of many technical subject areas I've developed over the years. In high school, I studied every electrical class I could fit in and followed that path right into college.
I've seen major advances in technology over the years. Most notably the introduction of microcontrollers, the workhorse of today's embedded systems which didn't yet exist when I was in college, and the rise of the internet. I've seen memory densities grow exponentially from a 540 Mb hard drive in my first PC (which cost $5000 for the whole PC at the time and bought just so I could play the first DOOM) to the now standard 2 Tb, a 4000 fold increase and climbing. Processing speeds of 1 Mhz for the C64 to multi-core gigahertz in today's machines.
The electronic industry still fascinates me to this day and I am always curious as to what's just around the corner.
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