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posted by hubie on Sunday March 31, @07:03AM   Printer-friendly
from the when-Radio-Shack-was-useful dept.

It is a Medium post, so here's an archive link in case the original goes missing:

In this day and age with the bewildering availability of electronics readily available, deciding on a project to embark on can be paralyzing. This sentiment was best summed up recently in this Hacker News comment on an article announcing the CHIP Pro:

I have the chip, esp8266, rpi, teensies, trinkets, arduinos... I studied electronics principles and built various circuits.. yet I have no idea what I can practically use these devices for in my life. They all sit in a box and I have a hard time justifying buying more of them.

See also: the paradox of choice, analysis paralysis, etc. Decades ago, all-in-one electronic project kits were popular. Shown above is the Science Fair 160-in-1 Electronic Project Kit, #28–258 (image source: eBay), © 1982.

With a modest number of components, 160 projects could easily be built by inserting wires into the spring terminals connected to each component. An included manual guided you through each of the projects, introducing new concepts and providing structure, while still offering some latitude of freedom to tinker — but, crucially, not the nearly-infinite amount of latitude available on modern electronic marketplaces today. You are constrained by the components in the kit (unless you add your own), and the included project documentation (unless you invent your own), a finite possibility.

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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Sunday March 31, @07:29AM (2 children)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Sunday March 31, @07:29AM (#1351080)

    This horror [].

    He got it at age 21, and even back then after the war when atomic-anything was the latest buzzword, he couldn't believe kids could get their hands on that sort of thing, and he got scared enough to stick it in the attic and resell it a few years later.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by sjames on Sunday March 31, @08:03AM

      by sjames (2882) on Sunday March 31, @08:03AM (#1351086) Journal

      I saw a book from the same era targeted for older children that had instructions for adjusting an old television to be a decentish X-ray source (more so than old CRTs already were).

      To be fair, it DID say get parent's permission first...

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 31, @01:08PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 31, @01:08PM (#1351100)

      That kit looks really cool. Your dad wouldn't have needed to worry about the radioactive sources unless he was planning on breaking them out of their packages and eating them.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Snotnose on Sunday March 31, @12:05PM (1 child)

    by Snotnose (1623) on Sunday March 31, @12:05PM (#1351095)

    As a teenager I built a shortwave radio, a HAM radio, and a color TV. Got my HAM radio license and quickly learned I enjoyed building kits, not talking to strangers on the other side of the world.

    My ducks are not in a row. I don't know where some of them are, and I'm pretty sure one of them is a turkey.
    • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 31, @12:33PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 31, @12:33PM (#1351097)

      Heathkit was truly great. A lot my friends' dads or older brothers built various radios or even a working television, if I recall correctly. Even an uncle and a one grandfather was building them. Heathkit was selling all kinds of kits toward the end, even a computer or two. However, as the components in off-the-shelf devices became surface mount and smaller, that meant the end of the kits.

      I and some friends each had 150-in-One kits. That kit was quite interesting but I was almost a little old for it by the time it hit the market. Almost, though maybe not quite: A friend's dad went through the kit's book and conscientiously completed all 150 projects over a few weeks. I did about half of them, mainly the ones I was either very interested in or thought I could learn from.

      As a confession about the 150-in-One, I modified the AM transmitter project so it worked in the FM band. It was obviously not an FM signal but it did the necessary job of providing a lot of static on the dialed in frequencies. See, my sister had put her FM radio in her room against the wall shared by my room but where the head of my bed was so I could hear her radio probably as well or better than she could. That would have been fine but she started listening to nasty "easy listening" and soft rock and similarly horrid stuff until I modded the transmitter so it could provide static on those stations. She would change the station promptly and then, if the music sucked, the static would soon follow to the new station. I wasn't sure about increasing power so I had to keep the kit over near that part of the wall. The static went on for a few months. Eventually we reached an unspoken compromise on music and I retired the kit. For some reason we still have pretty similar taste in music to this day.

  • (Score: 2) by ElizabethGreene on Sunday March 31, @03:11PM (2 children)

    by ElizabethGreene (6748) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 31, @03:11PM (#1351106) Journal

    Younger me loved these. In the 00's, I bought Radio shack's larger 28-280 "Learning Lab" kit that included a breadboard slotted into a plastic case, a pile of discrete components and ICs, and a handful of spring terminal components, e.g. a speaker, 7 segment display, transformer, LEDs, momentary switches, etc and a battery power supply tapped to pull out a few different voltages. I still have and use it.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by JoeMerchant on Sunday March 31, @03:30PM (1 child)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday March 31, @03:30PM (#1351109)

      I had a few of these kits growing up, they'd tend to show up at the odd birthday usually...

      My main problem with them was: destructive testing. Part of learning is learning the limits and those 1/4W components definitely had limits. Most of the kits made it impractical to replace the parts once they were blown.

      10 year old me discovered that all diodes are light emitting, at least for a short time.

      At University, I did a series of tests on 10Ω, 100Ω, 1KΩ, 10KΩ... 1/4W graphite resistors - too lazy to do the math now, but within the rated power spec, of course you can short 110V 60Hz AC across a 1/4W resistor and it will barely get warm to the touch. As you move down the scale, up the power dissipation, they get warm, then hot, then they scorch, then they burst into flame, and when you get to low enough resistance values they detonate like a grenade when the same voltage is applied.

      It's one thing to be told: "This is the power rating, never exceed this" vs seeing the reality.

      Some 10 years later, I was attempting to attenuate RF emissions from a 1/2HP brushed DC motor we were using in our product, I simulated something in SPICE that looked promising, gave the design to a tech to implement using 10W components, he built it to print, switched it on and there was a mighty POP - luckily no injuries, but the potential was certainly there. Seems I failed to look at the imaginary component of the power plots before handing the design over for testing and there was a pole... oops.

      🌻🌻 []
      • (Score: 5, Funny) by ElizabethGreene on Sunday March 31, @07:07PM

        by ElizabethGreene (6748) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 31, @07:07PM (#1351125) Journal

        > All diodes are light emitting, at least for a short time.

        This made me cackle. :D

        The coolest non-explosive failure mode I've seen is when one of my dead bug circuits spontaneously de-soldered itself. I'd consider that a feature! :)

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by crafoo on Sunday March 31, @03:30PM (2 children)

    by crafoo (6639) on Sunday March 31, @03:30PM (#1351110)

    electronics is tooling to get other things done. like coding, or much of machining. find another interest and put electronics to work in that hobby, pastime, or profession. otherwise you'll forever be building electronics test equipment as your projects. much as coders end up spending time arguing about compilers and building the perfect unit tests.

    • (Score: 2) by mhajicek on Sunday March 31, @04:20PM (1 child)

      by mhajicek (51) on Sunday March 31, @04:20PM (#1351113)

      Isn't everything tooling for other things?

      The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday March 31, @06:30PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 31, @06:30PM (#1351120) Journal

        Isn't everything tooling for other things?

        I guess crafoo's argument is find something to do with your tooling. Else it's tooling for tooling's sake?

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Rich on Sunday March 31, @06:47PM

    by Rich (945) on Sunday March 31, @06:47PM (#1351122) Journal

    Funnily enough, I just came over from YouTube where I leisurely watched Sam "LMNC" Battle build a synthesizer voice on a breadboard: []

    Here in Germany, electronic education kits were a thing in the 1970s. Major vendors were Kosmos and Philips. I had a Philips EE2050 ( []), which had two-part springs freely assignable on a hole grid and you'd have to jump your bits from spring to spring. Transistors had their little adapter PCB that could be stuck to the top of those little spring towers. I remember it being pretty awkward to handle the springs and didn't do a lot with it.

    In retrospect, "modern" breadboards (or a variant thereof) would have been much easier to use, so I looked it up and saw that the breadboard as we know it only was patented in 1971. I guess they probably kept that proprietary as an expensive tool for research and education until the patent ran out and only then, and with cheaper knockoffs, it became everyone's favourite. Nowadays one can assemble the educational value of the old big boxes for the price of a pizza, and there are books and kits to get started. With that being so accessible now, I wonder where all the MINT education has gone...

    Personally, even though I have a decent breadboard, I prefer to draw up protoype schematics in KiCAD, do a one-sided layout on a 2.54mm grid for everything (including the wires) and then transfer that to a piece of perfboard. Experimental parts get exposed through headers. I feel that is much more manageable, although I occasionally come across such contraptions of which I have forgotten what they were supposed to do... (Note to self: Need better labeling)