Wanted: old geezers and their opines

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Around Christmas I found out that Washington State has a law requiring colleges and universities receiving public funding to waive tuition for us in the over 60 crowd. Up to 2 courses per quarter (or semester), non credit, non-degree seeking, etc., but free.

So I enrolled this quarter, and one of the classes I'm taking is a circuit analysis class, beginning EE stuff. I'm a software guy with just enough hardware knowledge gleaned over the years to be really dangerous, and this course has been fun and very helpful in putting my loose collection of factoids and misconceptions into a useful framework.

However, I'm wondering how anyone ever stays up to date with the enormous variety of devices, both analog and digital, and how he/she knows where to begin in choosing components. Obviously experience counts for most of it, but how one gains that experience looks rather daunting to the hardware noob. Obviously looking at existing schematics and using them as a jumping off place is one way, but I was wondering if there are repositories of "good practices" and/or useful components and configurations from which to start.

This is obviously a wide open question with no right answer, but in short - what's your advice to your new EE nephew as he starts out on his way into the wilderness?

Thanks in advance.

ps: I've already succumbed to "Luke, come to the dark side" so that advice doesn't count.

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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Quote:
Around Christmas I found out that Washington State has a law requiring colleges and universities receiving public funding to waive tuition for us in the over 60 crowd. Up to 2 courses per quarter (or semester), non credit, non-degree seeking, etc., but free.

thats so cool...do you have to be a resident or can you "visit" for a semester like maybe during a long summer vacation when its not raining...did you take a slide rule to your class and freak them out? :)

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I used to keep up with industry magazines, which now get sent by e-mail. I suppose I have always spent about an hour/week on catching up with whats new and 2-3 hours/week tinkering (SW or HW) on something new that strikes my fancy especially if samples or a cheap SDK is available.
But I must admit, the idea of wandering around in my campervan with a pre-dinner Chardonnay and then have a nice BBQ steak with a bottle of red appeals to me more than going back to do more study. It is time to hand over the baton to the G generation .

G generation: The "If you can't find it on Google it either does not exist or it must be magic" generation.

Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin & Murphy are always lurking about!
Lee -.-
Riddle me this...How did the serpent move around before the fall?

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Quote:
do you have to be a resident

Yup, you have to be a resident (and prove it).

When my daughter was in high school and we visited on parents' night there was a huge Versilog hanging over the whiteboard in the math class. I later mentioned to my daughter that I should come to her class and demo how to use it. She relayed this to her math teacher (calculus, of all things) to which he responded "Great! I've always wondered how to use one."

This is the other side of the generation gap.

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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Hi Chuck,

Tough question(s).

Short answer, I don't know of any good collection of key concepts circuits, or "best parts".

I learned a lot of theory in college, but a lot of practical knowledge reading all of the electronics magazines. I could never afford to build many of the circuits, but I would still study them! Later I started building lots of Heathkits. Hands on with lots of parts, which I would later use in my own circuits.

The old timers will recall the 2N2222, 2N3904, 2N3906, 2N3055, and a few other general purpose transistors. Before them came the CK722, and I still have several of them in a drawer! It was the "first" transistor available to joe-average, (not the military, NSA, etc.).

These days I think one truely looks at the spec's needed, general purpose, switching, VHF, UHF, power, low noise, etc. and selects an appropriate part. People tend to develop expertise in certain areas, too, and learn from their own experience what works and what doesn't.

These days your computer's motherboard is running at 3 GHz, yet not too long ago that was RF work!

Lots of analog stuff is most easily accomplished with op-amps these days. An op-amp course would be another good one to take. The range of available op-amps is also mind boggling.

Not much of an answer, but just a few thoughts...

JC

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Quote:
appeals to me more than going back to do more study

I was a little apprehensive about this myself, given that I hadn't taken an exam for over 30 years (in grad school), and most of them were well over 40 years ago. This is mostly for entertainment and to get me out of the house for a few hours so I don't sit in front of my computer all day long.

But it's going well. The concepts are quite easy to pick up (way ahead of the kids in that area), but the facts just don't stick on the Teflon brain like they used to (the kids are ahead in that area). My wife, who knows about such things, says young brains see the trees while old brains see the forest. I have the second high grade in the EE class (of about 40), but my main advantage is that I'm probably the one least driven by hormones and love of alcohol (and such).

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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Pizza and beer do cause retention problems, mental and physiological.

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Chuck,

Great idea going back to school. I'm in my 60's and a strong believer that life-long learning is what keeps us from spiraling down. Of course, some of us have to moderate this trait with an occasional bottle of red, but I digress.

I'd recommend that you start by following http://www.edn.com/. As you see components that are interesting to you, add the vendor to a list of websites you follow. Also get on their news letter/email lists. Your email addresss will probably get shared and within a few months you'll have lots of reading. Maybe, too much. It's smart to create a new email account for this activity so that you can slack off from time-to-time and not worry about missing an important email.

I'd make sure that your classes give you enough education for you to read and understand device datasheets. This is a key skill that will make you self-sufficient in mastering new devices as they come out.

Don't worry about the pace of the industry. It's always been faster than any one person could follow. Just aim to follow the big trends and focus on the few areas that are of special interest to you.

While we're on this topic, the software technologies are changing about as fast as the hardware. And judging from many of the comments on the Studio 5 thread, a lot of guys around here are not keeping up, imho.

Good luck,
Murray

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Thoroughly recommend on-going education, Chuck - best of luck with it. I don't tend to keep up with the latest and greatest these days, but I've been studying for twenty of the last thirty years. In fact, I submitted a Master's thesis only this week.

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Lifelong learning for me means reading, looking and
beeing curious. Do you know everything about
flip-flops ? Look here (I found a link on that in
a journal):

http://www.toshiba.co.jp/about/p...

Look at electronic products, read stuff online and in
books. Even if some people may clame that the stuff
in books is outdated when the books appear. I think
in books you often get a superior presentation and
good explanations and a good overview.

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barnacle wrote:
Thoroughly recommend on-going education, ... I submitted a Master's thesis only this week.
Congratulations Neil. I put mine in about 8 years ago. Yes, I received my bit of parchment. The year before that, my son, Shane, was awarded his PhD from Melbourne University. There had been some friendly banter in the previous years about who would finish first. At his award ceremony, everyone was in alphabetical order and much to my delight, Ross McKenzie received his PhD before Shane McKenzie. I met my alter ego afterwards and we had a great laugh about it. I have a photo of the two Ross McKenzies sharing their grip on the citation ... unfortunately it was in microbiology :lol:

Cheers,

Ross

Ross McKenzie ValuSoft Melbourne Australia

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Chuck,

I admire your desire and obvious "stick-at-itness". My professor often called upon me to give real world examples in his lectures. Oh, the burden of age ...

Ross McKenzie ValuSoft Melbourne Australia

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DocJC wrote:

The old timers will recall the 2N2222, 2N3904, 2N3906, 2N3055, and a few other general purpose transistors. Before them came the CK722, and I still have several of them in a drawer! It was the "first" transistor available to joe-average, (not the military, NSA, etc.).

Here in the UK, the first transistors available to the hobbyist were "Red Spot" reject devices, sold by Henry's Radio in Edgware Road, London, around 1958, for 10 shillings each. Henry's is still there, a couple of hundred yards from the original location, where there is now a flyover. The first full spec. device available was the Mullard OC71. I remember scraping the paint off an OC71 to create a photo-transistor - the unpainted OCP71 was a lot more expensive. Mullard got wise to this, and started putting the paint on the inside of the glass casing.

Leon Heller G1HSM

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I was in college from 69 to 73... the heyday of doityourself audio and hifi... I was fascinated by poweramp topology... the full complementary designs seemed elegant because the positive and negative bits were symmetrical. I thought opamps were really cool... just 2 resistors and you get an amp with any gain you want... so I liked the databooks and the application ideas. I went through the stacks of EDN and Electronic Designs that the engineers had at work in the 70s to see the ideas for design. You can buy these collected into books now. I have about three of the series of seven. All this collecting was done BG (before google), so I still have lots of magazines in case I need to look up something I saw once 30 years ago.

Imagecraft compiler user

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Whew. I don't qualify as a geezer yet. What a relief!

 

277,232,917 -1 The largest known Mersenne Prime

Measure twice, cry, go back to the hardware store

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Torby wrote:
Whew. I don't qualify as a geezer yet. What a relief!
Yeah, you look pretty young. Check back in when you start wearing shoes. :lol:

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LDEVRIES wrote:

Quote:
G generation: The "If you can't find it on Google it either does not exist or it must be magic" generation.
That's a good one! Thanks.

In my early days (I am 55 now): magazines. A nerdy Nard although the word nerd was unfamiliar to me in those days.
Working in the Electronics Industry: high tech medical electronics: learned a lot there! Automotive: same. Engineering agency: managing projects was more of a challenge than technical difficulties.
Even as a manager of engineering I kept on learning by being a coach for the guys: I learned a lot from them :)

When I moved over to consultancy and sales I couldn't keep up with all technical developments. After a decade stepping back in the techie world it took me a year to come by. And the past 6 or 7 years this forum is an inspiration and of course internet in general keep me updated.

A GIF is worth a thousend words   She is called Rosa, lives at Mint17.3 https://www.linuxmint.com/

Dragon broken ? http://aplomb.nl/TechStuff/Dragon/Dragon.html for how-to-fix tips

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zbaird wrote:
... but my main advantage is that I'm probably the one least driven by hormones and love of alcohol (and such).
Starving students are obviously well motivated. Some students are fortunate to have enough money or credit whereas others absolutely must need a job and endure lack of sleep. Very glad you are not adding debt to obtain education.

"Dare to be naïve." - Buckminster Fuller

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What are we defining as an old geezer? Most of your questions could be answered by a younger crowd since they must also keep current with technology. I'm a test engineer, so I just wait till the design team makes something new, then I get to go "golly, look at that". Course then I have to learn how to use the new fangled widget.

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Quote:
Very glad you are not adding debt to obtain education.

I have an undergraduate daughter at a private college, one year of which costs 4 times what my father earned annually. Debt for education is not an unknown in this household. I do feel sorry for the kids on a shoestring (as my daughter is), especially in this unbelievably nasty job market. As for motivation, some have it, some don't - it helps the grading curve fit my growing inability to retain factual information.

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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Quote:
What are we defining as an old geezer?

Yeah, bad choice of words. Someone with a few years of experience has certainly had to deal with all of this.

This thread had a previous life in a series of PMs in which the geezer-ness was more obvious (on both ends of the connection). It sort of migrated over here intact, which it probably shouldn't have.

Good observation.

(plus, I'm sure there are no old geezers in Phoenix)

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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zbaird wrote:
what's your advice to your new EE nephew as he starts out on his way into the wilderness?
Paraphrased from a professor: Hands-on knowledge will stick better. Enjoy and absorb the labs and projects. If you're not close to the lab, acquire the tools you'll need (multi-meter, scope, prototyping tools). w.r.t. projects, think outside the box; i.o.w. use your experience to suggest or ask for alternate ways for projects within scope. Your fellow students can then use these and a good professor will appreciate alternates to the usual MCU/prototyping method/etc.
Time is limited so prototype quickly by using your preferred local parts vendor; subscribe to the local and big vendors' e-mail lists.
Parts choices are sometimes simply due to what's stocked at a local vendor.
For that which you can't prototype overnight/day/week, try some of the free or low-price PCB CAD tools until you find one you like.
PCBs -
Too many EE students don't know how to deal with this now essential; you might be able to get a local PCB maker to support your college.
A number of PCB makers have pools that a lab or set of projects can use; an analogy is MOSIS for VLSI IC prototypes.
You'll get an education at school though not some of the skills you'll need like prototyping, soldering, trouble shooting, etc.
Learn to solder because large corporations may not want to hire a nearly senior citizen EE ;-)

EDN has been mentioned; also consider EETimes/embedded.com and subscribe to its publications-of-interest-to-you e-mail lists.

"Dare to be naïve." - Buckminster Fuller

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Internet is a gold mine of information
Magazine are always a good to keep up to date. There are free one such as EDN, Electronics Design, etc... also paid magazine for hobbyist such as Elektor, Cirtuit Cellar, etc...

Beside that, component distributor sale reps can give you lots of info too.

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leon_heller wrote:
Henry's Radio... Mullard OC71

I got into BBC engineering in the late seventies partly on the strength of a white-line follower I'd built based around a couple of scraped-clean OC71s. I also had a source of faulty ICL logic elements - flipflops, I think, in red plastic cases. They had a couple of usually salvageable transistors contained therein.

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My older brother and I were trying to build a light-seeking robot. We also filed the case of a metal-encapsulated transistor, to make a light sensor. I think that worked better than the OC71.

Leon Heller G1HSM

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zbaird wrote:
Quote:
What are we defining as an old geezer?

Yeah, bad choice of words. Someone with a few years of experience has certainly had to deal with all of this.

I'm just trying to figure out if I'm "old", or an "old geezer".

Quote:

(plus, I'm sure there are no old geezers in Phoenix)
Yeah right, the retired ones that come down during winter we call Snowbirds.

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I'm a little surprised at the number of people citing EDN and Electronic Design as useful resources! Young whippersnappers, you don't know what a useful resource looks like. Once upon a time (say, around 1980) this was true - EDN in particular was about 3/8 inches thick, packed with in-depth technical articles, and took days to read properly. I built my first floppy disk controller based on an article in EDN. Sadly, greedy publishers killed it, along with other notable magazines like Byte. It was always a vehicle for delivering eyes to advertisers, but at least it returned value for the time spent. Now it's just filled with press releases and lightweight infomercials. The only resource I still find worth looking at in EDN is the Dilbert strip, and in Electronic Design, nothing at all.

When I were a lad there were lots of amateur electronics monthlys to stimulate one's imagination, even if you couldn't afford the parts for many of the projects. If I were starting out today, I don't think there's anything out there that would attract me into the electronic hobby that became the foundation of my career. Perhaps Make Magazine.

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Quote:
what's your advice to your new EE nephew as he starts out on his way into the wilderness?
Take up gardening or cooking, that's where the real money is.
Have you ever seen a top rated TV show about geeks?

Anyway as I won't be a old geeser for several months yet "that's all I can say about that".... :)

John Samperi

Ampertronics Pty. Ltd.

www.ampertronics.com.au

* Electronic Design * Custom Products * Contract Assembly

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Agree about EDN,I'd say they peaked around 1984. For those natively historically unendowed, that's when the first macintosh came out. Still, google will turn up interesting results about 1984, even some multimedia from that era. I seem to recall a superbowl commercial...

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Quote:
The old timers will recall the 2N2222, 2N3904, 2N3906, 2N3055...
The old timers will remember the 12AX7, the 6SN7, and the 80. I know, the 80 is a rectifier and the others are dual triodes.

Don

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I know all the US style numbers on all the tubes in a Fender amp, and all the UK style numbers for the same valves. Does that make me multilingual?

Imagecraft compiler user

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Bob .. nah just bi-phasing

Some of the old timers may recal working on Klystrons aided by transfer oscilators to check the frequency... accurately.

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bobgardner wrote:
I know all the US style numbers on all the tubes in a Fender amp, and all the UK style numbers for the same valves. Does that make me multilingual?
No, but you might be a bivalve. :D

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Quote:
The old timers will remember the 12AX7, the 6SN7, and the 80. I know, the 80 is a rectifier and the others are dual triodes.

Yup. My first short wave radio kit was a super regenerative receiver which used several tubes... but I can't for the life of me recall their numbers.

JC

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Quote:
I can't for the life of me recall their numbers

In your current job as an ER doc you probably only need to know if someone's number is up or not.

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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Quote:
My first short wave radio kit was a super regenerative receiver
same here when I was about 13 ... 6J7 & 6C5 audio stage driving headphones. Unfortunately I did not know the difference between AC & DC so when I powered if from 250V mains it produced a real real lot of hum. Darwinian law ensured that I survived it.

Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin & Murphy are always lurking about!
Lee -.-
Riddle me this...How did the serpent move around before the fall?

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ECC83, EF86 and KT66, a stuffing great output transformer (and perhaps a rectifier valve).

What more do you need?

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I stumbed onto edgeware road a few years ago. I found Maplin but none of the other stores tht advertised in practicl electronics inthe 60's

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The Edgeware Road was OK at one time, Henry, Smith, Techomatic(whom I first used when it was run from a private house in Wembley), but when I were a lad, Lisle Street was the place. My father would take me there once in a while, for me, it was like being in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Quebracho seems to be the hardest wood.

Last Edited: Sun. Mar 6, 2011 - 11:12 AM
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My observation as someone who earned a degree in my 30's and has worked as a contractor is the best place to learn electronics is on the job. I started out in hardware and switched to embedded firmware a few years back. It is a great advantage because I can track cause and effect in software all the way down the lowest level hardware.

I did not learn a whole lot about current electronics in college and some of what I learned was obsolete as it was being taught. With the speed that things are changing I don't think it would be easy to teach a state of the art class in a university. Much of what I do has been distilled down to problem solving and being aware of what is going on in the industry.

One of the funnier comments I heard in college was from a student. The professor, who spent some time in industry always used to say that students just didn't learn the basics and you could bet that when he went to college he learned the basics. In response, a young Martin Green raised his hand and said "But Mr. Lubich, when you were in college, all there were, were basics."

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The original question was about how folks "keep up" with

Quote:
the enormous variety of devices, both analog and digital, and how he/she knows where to begin in choosing components.

First of all, in my mind, there has not been a genuinely new electronic device on the market in maybe 10 years (maybe more). For me, "device" = transistor, resistor, etc. All that other stuff (microcontrollers, ethernet switches, and such) are just collections of devices arranged in somewhat novel ways. Sure, there WILL be some new stuff (like quantum dot devices) but thats all a ways off.

I do read magazines, etc. I poke around web sites at places that make the kind of stuff I am generally interested in. I don't look for the details, so much, as the concepts and ideas and trends. If I need to start a new project, then I start digging in some detail, ask questions, and use Google a lot. Here, the biggest challenge is knowing what to search for - often its not very obvious because commercial product names often don't reflect the actual function. Case in point: "BuckPuck" for a switch mode buck converter module that provides high power constant current drive for a big LED (pretty nifty, by the way).

In short, I do not think that any one individual can "keep up" with the broad component picture in any detail. I cannot even keep up with what, lets say, Texas Instruments, offers in detail; I find surprises every time I visit their web site. That's one of the things that keeps it all interesting!

Jim

Jim Wagner Oregon Research Electronics, Consulting Div. Tangent, OR, USA http://www.orelectronics.net

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John_A_Brown wrote:
Techomatic

Ah yes... bought my first memory upgrade for a Sinclair MK14 there - half a k for half a week's salary.

A curious day; while I was paying, the door slammed open, and a chap rolled in on a unicycle. He balanced a moment in the middle of the shop, spun around a couple of times, said 'bugger me, it's full of Indians' and left... very odd.

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Here's an observation: devices get better. A lot of the early fretting about transistor connection topology was done to get good current gain and matching. Transistors were wimpy right up to the mid 70s. Phase Linear amps needed hand selected matched gain horizontal transistors... the only ones made with enough vce and hfe to run a hi power amp. Early opamps were wimpy too. Not enough bandwidth. They excel in every spec today... you can pick lowest power, lowest offset, highest speed, current, whatever you need. Power magnetics was an unknown science in the 70s. One thing that hasnt changed one twit since the 60s is sw development... programmer still edits an ascii file with his favorite editor, then runs a sequence of programs that compile and link the source files. Editors are better, and computers are faster, but the 'tell the compiler what you want by means of an ascii file' is unchanged since cards and fortran in the 50s.

Imagecraft compiler user

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Wouldn't that have been EBCDIC in the 50s, Bob?

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IBM introduced the new fangled EBCDIC in 1964, before that was good old reliable Hollerith.
http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?HollerithPunchCard

When I need a device I generally pick whatever DigiKey stocks the most of. 50 million little engineers can't be wrong :)

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Quote:
since cards and fortran in the 50s.

And 1970's...

I recall a Freshman year Fortran Class with card decks, and going to the Computer Science Center between 2AM - 4AM cause the turn around so so much "faster" then.

I remember my sophmore year I got an account that gave me access to the old ADM-3A terminals (on a Vax network). I use to go to the Areonautical Engineering building cause they always had open terminals, while the EE and CS buildings did not have near the capacity needed.

JC

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I was still using punched cards on an ICL 1906 mainframe in the 1970s. The university then got a Prime time-sharing system that was used via terminals.

Leon Heller G1HSM

Last Edited: Sun. Mar 6, 2011 - 09:41 PM
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And now back to the past... I have my ADM-3A in my workshop....

Imagecraft compiler user

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KSR-33 teletype, but it needs a new ribbon. No need for any ASR-33 with its unreliable paper tape mechanism in this age of cloud computing. Interesting factoid, the slow speed of '33 teletypes was the motivation for the terse unix cli interface.

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Ah, Bob has his ADM-3A, but like Dak I also used an ASR-33. I still have my old ASR-33 in the basement. I've lugged it around everywhere I've moved over the years.

I still remember I purchased it for the I/O system of a telephone call restrictor system I did back in the late 70's. It got replaced by a Radio Shack printer that printed on "aluminum" paper, and a Hex key pad.

An 8085 drove the system. It was programmed in JS's favorite language.

JC

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You guys are ranking pretty low on the geezerness scale. 8)

My first teletype was a Model 15. Did a bit-banged interface to it using hand-assembled 8008 code. Worked great as long as you could get past the racket and hot oil smell.

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