Now go outside and look at the sky.
The Zen of Radio Development
I'd been exposed to electronics at a young age... I must have been only about five or six years old when my - six years older - uncle was already building radios from scratch and opening every electronic device in my grandparents' household. I distinctly remember the sharp smell of the soldering iron when we visited their house - Josef was always building or fixing something.
I showed enough interest to receive my own first Philips experiment kit when I was maybe nine years old - I'm not sure anymore about the exact year, but I was barely able to comprehend the instructions, I remember that.
The kits were a thing of beauty - Philips had a complete series of experimentation kits that contained everything to build simple circuits like radios and at the most advanced level even an oscilloscope and a TV. The manuals were well thought out and easy to follow, even for a young teen.
The kits used a unique system of small springs that where pushed through holes in a baseplate to hold all the components in place and it was easy to assemble, debug, re-assemble and take apart a complete radio in an evening, without destroying any of the included components in the process.
In the beginning I only had a smaller, older kit that Josef had long outgrown, but I was more than happy to build small shortwave and AM radios and listen to them on the little speaker all night long. It was the most fascinating thing in my young life - to start out with a handful of components and to slowly build up a functioning receiver and amplifier out of two or three transistors and to then plug it in with shaky - and often bleeding - fingers to hear the white noise on the shortwave band.
Tuning these primitive radios was often a very problematic business, with lots of twisting of wires and squeezing of hand-rolled coils, but then suddenly Radio Luxembourg or the BBC would come in strong and I would just sit there, amazed by what the few components in front of me were doing. Happy days.
I don't think a comparable kit as sophisticated as the Philips EE series exists nowadays - it's all gone and buried under a neverending avalanche of integrated circuits and computers. It would probably take a lot more today to interest a typical fully wired nine- or ten-year old in a handful of transistors that - at best - pull in a very scratchy shortwave transmission from two countries over... "Look Dad - streaming MP3s from Outer Mongolia!"
And I myself haven't touched a soldering iron in a decade - something I am not very happy about, and also something I want to change as soon as we move to a bigger space where I can set up a small corner as workspace. It'd would be nice to build a few small things and to get back to making physical objects for a change... pretty much all the work I have done over the last ten years fits on a few CDs and is as fleeting as a lonely song in a dark forest.
I think I'll have to go down to Radio Shack next weekend and spend some silly money... :)