Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Older electronics

In driving around this week, I took special notice of where I recall the last of my area's TV and electronic repair shops used to be. Best I can tell, they've now all gone away. Victims of advancing technology and today's era of disposable electronics.

The Realistic DX-150B was a popular
SW radio of the early 1970s
Older electronics were designed to operate for decades. Most of today's devices seem designed to be obsolete in just a few years, and if they fail, you tend to go shop for a replacement.

Things like computers, smart phones and devices like iPads are a must in this day and age. But what would your communications capability be if these devices were to die, and there were no replacements available?

As a kid, I enjoyed poking and prodding inside old radios of the era (more accurately, the era that preceded my own), and now some 40 or more years later, I find myself taking a renewed interest in old-school communications technology.

Admittedly, a thirty or forty year old radio can't put you on the Internet or make calls through cell towers. But they can still offer robust communications access as they were intended to do when they were new.

I have to admit, I've forgotten more about old school electronics than I remember. And I sorely need
some brushing up, if not an outright reeducation when it comes to how electronics work. But there's plenty of old radios, test gear, and more that are still up and running after 30, 40 or even more years of service. And these older devices, lacking micro-components like chips or teeny-tiny integrated circuits, remain self-serviceable for many people who possess only a hobbyist level skill set.

Radio repair station at a 'self-help exchange'
U.S. government photo, 1942
That's part of what I like about older gear. They provide solid platforms to learn basic electronics. While microchips present themselves as little more than tiny components filled with magic, tracking the circuits in old style electronics with identifiable components like transistors, capacitors and resistors can enhance one's electronics understanding of devices - both old and new.

I miss the days when everyone seemed to know at least someone who understood electronics and could affect repairs on household items when needed (I'm talking repairs beyond mere module swapping). Electronics seem to be one of the areas where, as a society, we're losing our general understanding of how things work, grasping the concepts behind the switches, menus or remotes. Our knowledge has declined to something where most people have little concept of the difference between technology and magic.

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