Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Father's Day reprise - how my Dad got me started on an engineering career.

I originally published this article on July-10, 2010, under the title "Antennas at War". At the time, that was a play on words to poke a little fun at Apple's iPhone-4 antenna controversy. But this article was much more about my very first electrical engineering project, which began when my dad helped me build a World War-II "Foxhole Radio".

The folks over at EE Times got me thinking about that article when they tweeted a request for stories about Dad's who influenced their offspring to go into engineering. With Father's Day coming up tomorrow, this is my story...

The first electronics project I ever worked on was a radio that my father helped me build when I was about 8 years old. As I recall it, there was a book on electronics for boys (ok - they were sexist back then) that had the project in it. The radio was based on building an antenna from a coil of wire wound around a cardboard toilet paper tube.

Now, before you assume that I am making some sarcastic allusions to another antenna story that's been all over the news recently... I assure you that is not why I write this today.  (Although I have to admit that more iPhone-4 jokes do come to mind).
I was looking for some wire to use in order to hang yellow jacket traps today, when I recalled that I had a spool that's been in my toolbox as long as I can remember. I've used this wire for similar purposes many times in the past, although never (that I can remember) for its intended electrical application.

Except for one time.

Suddenly it struck me. This was the very same wire that my Dad bought for the antenna coil in that radio project so many years ago.  I don't know why it never really struck me so vividly before today (faulty memory). My wife likes to tease me about holding on to things, but this has to be some sort of record for me. With my memory jogged I can even see my Dad taking me to the electronics parts store on Vulcan Street in Buffalo. I looked it up, and I think it's still there... Radio Equipment Corp.!  How cool is that?!

So, I had to do a web search to see if I could find that book. I physically looked for the book a few years ago shortly after my Dad died. I had the somber task of closing up my Dad's house when it was severely damaged after a burst water pipe went undetected in the middle of winter. Regrettably, the book was not to be found.

However, Google did find something that looked just like the image in my now rejuvenated memory, the "foxhole radio". According to my internet search, the origin of my first electronics project (and 1st experience in the world is analog) was "How to Build a 'Foxhole Radio' ", from All About Radio and Television by Jack Gould, Random House, 1958.

That's a little bit different than my memory of a book on electronics for boys, but it could make sense because my Dad did some part time TV repair when I was growing up. Google books also came up with a reference to a guide to books for school libraries, so maybe my memory is correct as well. Perhaps the article was copied in other forms.

As the story goes according to my internet search, soldiers in WWII were not allowed to have radios, for fear of detection by the enemy. So they improvised with this simple - unpowered - design. I may just have to go see if I can re-create one now.

In any event, I thought this was a great way to cap off the week that brought us "Antennagate". It also serves as a great reminder. Yes, The World is Analog!

p.s. if you happen to come across an original edition of All About Radio and Television, you can imagine how much I'd love to put my hands on one.

p.p.s. My lovely wife did exactly that, which you can read about in "A gift then, and a gift now. My introduction to electronics"

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