Mixsonian

Electronics

I am not sure how old I was when I first got interested in electronics but I think it was in the seventh grade for I would go to the Westwood Junior High school and check out books on electronics . I remember when the first transistor radios first came out and how much better having "five" or "nine" transistors was.

My first project was building a crystal radio which only required a few parts which my dad got for me from the electronics man at the Chemistry department where he worked. I think I probably got the plans for the crystal radio from my Boy Scout book. Anyway it worked but just barely so I wanted to make a better radio and so I found plans for a one transistor radio in a book from the school library. I remember making a list of the parts and then Dad took me to the electronics man at the Chemistry department and I talked to him and he suggested some things and gave me the parts. Dad then got this gigantic old soldering iron which I think was for plumbing and Dad help me solder the parts together. Well this radio worked better and it could get a couple of stations. I next built a two transistor radio and made a little wooden box for it and put it next to my bed and I would listen to it each night when I went to bed. I remember my brother David wasn't happy that I had a radio to listen to and he didn't so I added a second earphone so he could listen to it too.

Sometime around then I started subscribing to Popular Electronics and my projects grew in complexity. I often would go up and down the streets on trash day looking in peoples trash for any old radios or TVs that they were throwing out which I would scavenge for parts. I made all sorts of things, a stereo record player, a light show that connected to the stereo and it would make patterns on the wall in time with the music, and an electronic music synthesizer. Multi Meter

In High School I took an electronics course for one period and found it totally boring for I probably knew more than the teacher.  One project was to build a small tube radio, like this was the 70's, we should have been building transistoer radios!  Well I found a kit for a multi meter and asked the teacher if I could build it instead and he said yes.  I still have the multi meter today.

In my backyard lab I had all kinds of electronic stuff and projects. I made a three foot high Van De Graff generator that would though sparks over a foot long. Dad got me a old spark coil from a Model T and I would connect it up to a metal plate and put caterpillars on it and electrocute them (kind of mean I know).

After I graduated from High School I was pretty set on studying Electrical Engineering in college and got pretty far into the program before I changed majors to Computer Science (see story). My last project was building a computer. In 1976 Popular Electronics had an article about building a home computer called the Altair. One of the students that worked with me at CIRCA bought the kit and built one. I had to have one after that but I waited about six months and bought the newer, better model called the IMSAI 8080. It came in a big box with hundreds of parts.

I moved to Melbourne that Forth of July (see story) and had to wait until after the move before I started assembling it. It had a Intel 8080 CPU, four memory boards each with 2K of memory, an audio cassette interface to read and write from and a serial interface for a teletype terminal. I had to solder each and every chip on the boards. It had a full front panel with address and data switches and LEDs to show the address and data. I got quite good at interpreting binary to hex. After that I didn't do much more with electronics, a few upgrades to the IMSAI but after that I got more and more into software until I got one of the first IBM PCs and then only did software after that. If only I had the vision then and I could have been the "Bill Gates".