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Interview: Ask Forrest Mims About Rockets, Electronics, and Engineering

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the ask-me-anything dept.


With his popular Getting Started in Electronics, and Engineer's Mini-Notebook series and a number of different electronics kits sold at Radio Shack, Forrest Mims inspired countless scientists and engineers. Even though he received no formal academic training in science, Forrest has appeared in 70 magazines and scientific journals. He has worked as a consultant for the National Geographic Society, the National Science Teachers Association, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Today, Mims works on many scientific projects including climate change research. He's agreed to answer all your questions about science and engineering. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.

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inspiration - personal (5, Interesting)

lyapunov (241045) | about a year ago | (#45715783)

You are the quintessential tinkerer with a non-standard education. What was the key inspiration that started you on this path?

Re:inspiration - personal (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716441)

As a follow up, what was the key endorsement/position/connection that allowed you to become respected (or even allowed seriously) in your field?

inspiration - others (3, Interesting)

lyapunov (241045) | about a year ago | (#45715825)

What do you feel provides the most inspiration in others, in particular kids, to learn and do hands on tasks?

No Question (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45715875)


Re:No Question (4, Insightful)

lord_mike (567148) | about a year ago | (#45716377)

Second that. I was introduced to Forrest's work back in the TRS-80 days, but his quintessential work for me was the Radio Shack publication, "Getting Started in Electronics." Handwritten on graph paper and printed on 8.5" by 11" newsprint with a soft cover, this was the ultimate intro guide for anyone who had any interest in electronics. Many years ago, I worked at Radio Shack as a summer and holiday job, and every time my manager was away, I'd sneak away the a copy and read it (along with some ham radio books as well). One time a customer came in asking about a fake car alarm box, and I grabbed out the book and we used that to build one. He bought dozens of parts that day (oddly enough, I got in trouble with my manager for that, despite really cleaning house). An original copy of that book still sits prominently on my shelf--one of the biggest influences in my life. So, yes, thank you very much Mr. Mims!

Re:No Question (1)

weilawei (897823) | about a year ago | (#45716633)

I'm curious. On what grounds did your manager complain about this? Was it to the exclusion of other customers or something? Seems to me like that's pretty good customer service--something you can't get in a Radio Shack these days unless you're buying the latest GizmoWidget 3000. I've searched high and low--you can't even buy a variable capacitor in any of the stores around here.

Re:No Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716819)

It's Radio Shaft. Good customer service _is_ what gets you in trouble.

Re:No Question (1)

lord_mike (567148) | about a year ago | (#45716829)

I don't know why he gave me a hard time. There was no one else in the store at the time. I did everything right, I think. I got a customer who came in buying a battery or something, and after he mentioned this fake car alarm he wanted for his car, my eyes lit up and I told him we could build one. We spend maybe 15 minutes at most, but I ended up selling him $27 worth of high markup parts (The exact amount was burned in my brain, it probably would be like $60 today) with many lines per ticket (corporate was big on pushing their salesfolk to sell more than one item at a time the checkout). The customer was pleased as punch. Next week, the guy came in and bought another treasure trove of parts for another box for his other car. I was really proud of myself, and I figured the company would be pleased if they knew about it, but then my boss gives me a hard time about it telling me I took too much time away form cleaning the store or something. The incident still sticks in my craw many years later. I liked my boss very much. He was a good guy and he hired me when he saw me giving advice to another customer when I was buying something, but that day, he really pissed me off. I still don't get what I did "wrong". I made a customer happy, got him to buy lots of stuff, and he came back for more. Go figure...

Re:No Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717025)

You think maybe liability was the problem? Your boss had a boss too. And as for " The incident still sticks in my craw many years later", you need to be more Zen. Let go of the past, it will let you go.

Re:No Question (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about a year ago | (#45718949)

I would have guessed it was because he expected you to sell the guy a multi-hundred dollar real alarm system instead. But then.. why claim it was about cleanup time?

Re:No Question (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year ago | (#45717703)

Ah, I have another Radio Shack story from 1989. I went to a store with my dad, and there was another customer with a question that my dad, as an EE, was able to answer. He then asked the clerk, perhaps a tad naively, something along the lines of why didn't he know this or that about the products he sold. The answer was "If I knew it, I wouldn't be working here now, would I?". Still gives me a chuckle, but there's a lesson there: ultimately, corporations are keeping their employees just passably able to do their jobs. RadioShack, as well as many other corporations, don't care much for people with anything but most rudimentary knowledge for customer-facing positions. They want to keep their costs as low as possible, no matter how many people are pissed off. As long as "few enough" are pissed that the company is afloat, everything is considered peachy. That's a bit sad.

Re:No Question (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about a year ago | (#45718981)

It is still just a retail job. Are they going to pay the same for their employees as a company would pay a qualified engineer? If not then why WOULD someone who 'knew that' work there?

Re:No Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45719309)

> It is still just a retail job.

Yeah, and once upon a time, retailers took responsibility for knowing the merchandise they sell. I know that's considered old-fashioned these days, when you can Google it on your mobile device and find out what you need yourself. Where can I buy a "Get off my lawn" sign?

Re:No Question (1)

mlts (1038732) | about a year ago | (#45717143)


The books were excellent when I was in high school and learning the basics.

Thank you for making such clear books for an absolute beginner to even get near grokking basic electronics.

Of course, I still suck at soldering (last time I inadvertently made a solder bridge on a 741, and had a prompt magic smoke exit, so I leave that to people with steadier hands.) However, this knowledge helps later on, be it with a solar charging system or other projects.

Re:No Question (1)

weilawei (897823) | about a year ago | (#45717411)

Solder wick is your friend.

Influences (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45715923)

As is typical, you are stranded on a desert island: Which three books on the whole of technology would you bring?

I greatly enjoy your work, and I have started my children off with your books.
Many thanks!

Re:Influences (2)

fredrated (639554) | about a year ago | (#45716143)

Don't you think he would want books on how to get off a desert island?

Re:Influences (4, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#45716251)

As is typical, you are stranded on a desert island: Which three books on the whole of technology would you bring?

Know Your Knots - Jonas Grumby
Coconuts, Bananas, and Pineapples, Oh My! - A Guide to Edible Plants of the Tropics - Mary Ann Summers
Bamboo: 1001 Uses and Counting - Dr. Roy Hinkley

Re:Influences (1)

weilawei (897823) | about a year ago | (#45716657)

You are stranded in a cave thought to be inhabited by wild grue. Which three books would you bring?

Re:Influences (2)

lord_mike (567148) | about a year ago | (#45717019)

How could he read them? Isn't it very dark in that cave?

Re:Influences (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717159)

the zork walkthrough
or a kindle (which can double as a lamp) with the zork walkthrough on it.
Wow, I must be really old to catch this obscure reference.

Re:Influences (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45718325)

As opposed to tame grue?

Re:Influences (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year ago | (#45721679)

If you're stranded in a cave inhabited by me they better be some damned good books. I hate uninvited visitors.

Past vs present (3)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#45715931)

What's your opinion on the old ways, i.e. buying parts locally from Radio Shack and meeting people in local clubs compared to the new online way of buying parts and kits, publishing tutorials and forums full of people helping each other?

More to the point, what do you think has been lost from the old way and what has been gained from the new way?

Re:Past vs present (1)

weilawei (897823) | about a year ago | (#45716671)

For one, you can't buy a variable capacitor from Radio Shack anymore (at least, around here). Kinda hard to build a useful radio without one.

Re:Past vs present (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716865)

I had to repair my television the other day. Literally all I needed were some capacitors (to replace some electrolytic ones which had popped) and a blown fuse. The selection was so dismal at radioshack that I ended up having to order the parts online.

Oddly enough, it was the fuse I couldn't find (I needed something mostly standard, like 12A slow-blow 20mm or something). However, if I was going to have to order online anyway, I wasn't going to bother paying Radio Shack $4 for 2 capacitors. I mean, not having a selection of fuses?... I miss the old Radio Shack.

Re:Past vs present (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717223)

I remember about 20 years ago I built a radio using a pot on a cap for the tuner. The frequency timings were adjusted by raising or lowering the resistance on the potentiometer which would shorten or lengthen the pulse interval of the capacitor. Maybe a circuit redesign is in order if you absolutely MUST have your components from RS. Personally, go with an online retailer and order the components in bulk, it comes out a HELL of a lot cheaper.

Re:Past vs present (4, Insightful)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#45717487)

Having a local real electronics store available is nice even when bulk parts are cheaper online. There's always that one random thingamajig that you left off the bulk purchase, that you discover on the evening you're soldering everything together; and you don't want to pay $5 shipping for a 10 cent part and wait a week to finish the project. Being able to pick up a 10 cent part for $1 at a local store is really handy. Unfortunately, RadioShack hasn't been that store for a couple decades.

Re:Past vs present (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year ago | (#45717595)

These days you buy a radio on a chip, who cares about variable caps? It's digitally tuned. If you really insist, use a varicap.

Re:Past vs present (1)

weilawei (897823) | about a year ago | (#45717891)

I'm more interested in doing things the hard way first, to really grok what's going on. Also, last I checked, you can't buy varicaps either. Femtobyte's comment above is also why I wind up at Radio Shack more often than I'd like.

Re:Past vs present (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45718167)

Ah, of course, so you make foxhole radios from locally-sourced blue steel and galena crystals you mine from your own garden? Perhaps you build your own carbon-arc transmitters or make your own vacuum tubes? The problem with "doing things the hard way" is there's almost no end to how hard you can make it. So are you more interested in the destination or the journey? If it's the journey, read this:

http://tinyurl.com/oaaktbc [tinyurl.com]

That links to an awesome PDF.

Of course you can still buy Varicaps. When did you check?

http://www.digikey.ca/product-search/en?x=0&y=0&lang=en&site=ca&KeyWords=varicap [digikey.ca]

Maybe it's time to re-think your approach??

Re:Past vs present (1)

weilawei (897823) | about a year ago | (#45718349)

Sheesh, I meant at Radio Shack. That's what this thread is about. And yes, there is no end to how hard you can make things. But you're being overly dense.

Re:Past vs present (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45718827)

"there is no end to how hard you can make things."

That's what your mom told me last night!

Re:Past vs present (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45718855)

When did slashdot become populated by 3rd graders?

Re:Past vs present (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45719587)

When enough of the second graders posting last year managed to graduate.

Can we PLEASE get some mod points... (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about a year ago | (#45720727)

...if only for that first link. Really, REALLY cool stuff!

Re:Past vs present (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year ago | (#45719551)

If you want to do things hard way first, you might as well do SDR. The hard part then is the software. Or use a voltage controlled oscillator, and use a potentiometer as your input element - there's plenty of both of those. Heck, be fancy and noncontacty and use an eccentric on the shaft and a light-based angle sensor to derive the tuning voltage. I don't think there's much reason to use variable capacitors for across-the-band tuning in any modern circuit, even if doing it just for kicks. There's a whole bunch of obsolete kinds of parts that were popular once but make no sense anymore. I'd say it doesn't take out any of the fun to use more modern methods, but that's just my opinion, of course.

Re:Past vs present (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717997)

These days you buy a radio on a chip, who cares about variable caps?

You must be new here. This is a geeky website inhabited by geeks who build things, whether they're actually practical or not. "The journey is the destination" and all that.


Re:Past vs present (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45718933)

By reverse biasing a diode, you can widen the depletion region in the semiconductor. This allows voltage to vary the capacitance across the PN junction. This also allows simple digital control of the tuning through a DAC.

Re:Past vs present (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about a year ago | (#45717793)

Well, as a socially isolated nerd in the 1970s, I never got much help from local people even when I shopped at Radio Shack. Those Mims project books, though, bootstrapped me to a point where I could get into Don Lancaster's books. It was enough to let me design and build a high-res video display system for my TRS-80, fifty-odd packages of SS and MS TTL.

I still have all the Mims project books, though, and I'm hanging on to them.

Re:Past vs present (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45718721)

So how's life like as a socially isolated nerd in 2013?

Thankyou. (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about a year ago | (#45715935)

This isn't really a question.

I'd just like to extend a note of appreciation for those books. They were amazingly clear and well written and I learned a great deal from them. I still have my copies (purchased for me by my grandmother) and I still find them useful as a handy reference.

Re:Thankyou. (1)

Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) | about a year ago | (#45716673)

I second this.
To this day when I draw out a circuit it still looks like the drawings from the Forrest Mims books.

Ask him about Darwin (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45715949)

Mims is well known as a creationist. Ask him why he trusts science when it comes to electronics, but not when it comes to biology.

Re:Ask him about Darwin (1)

Norwell Bob (982405) | about a year ago | (#45716381)

Why don't you man up, log in, and ask him yourself?

Re:Ask him about Darwin (4, Interesting)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#45717193)

Not the AC above, but logged in...

Mims, why do you trust science when it comes to electronics, but not when it comes to biology?

Re:Ask him about Darwin (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#45717849)

and for any other mods considering upmodding my post above, how about giving that point to the GGP AC instead (who originally asked the question, and suffered the consequences of Slashdot's resident anti-science troll mod crew)?

Re:Ask him about Darwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45720147)

This would be more interesting if you phrased it as ah honest inquiry rather than a passive-aggressive "gotcha".

Re:Ask him about Darwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45720355)

His non-scientific beliefs are why I am reluctant to buy GSIE for my nephew, although it looks like it would be a suitable book.. If any reader can recommend similar books about getting started in electronics, I'd be interested in their titles.

Re:Ask him about Darwin (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about a year ago | (#45721423)

The Art of Electronics by Horowitz and Hill, although it's more of a textbook than for a kid.

Re:Ask him about Darwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717391)

Why don't you man up, and give your full name, address and phone number?

Re:Ask him about Darwin (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716385)

Mims is well known as a creationist. Ask him why he trusts science when it comes to electronics, but not when it comes to biology.

(bump to get around crackhead downmod)

Re:Ask him about Darwin (1)

Norwell Bob (982405) | about a year ago | (#45716481)

I find it amusing that you question somebody else's publicly known conviction anonymously. Shall we infer that perhaps you lack faith in your own convictions?

Re:Ask him about Darwin (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716583)

I find it amusing that you care whether or not someone fills in a data field with something completely arbitrary and unverifiable. Shall we infer that perhaps you wish ideas to be judged based on the people who propose them?

Re:Ask him about Darwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717067)

I post anonymously because the mods here are perpetually on crack, as the above downmodding of an honest (if a bit snarky) question demonstrates.

Re:Ask him about Darwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717653)

Why don't you man up, and give your full name, address and phone number?

Also, since when is personal faith in convictions some sort of yardstick of validity? Lee Deforest who supposedly "invented" the triode thought a hard vacuum was bad for tubes. That was his faith too.

Re:Ask him about Darwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717949)

Because it shows that just because he's "qualified" to write on hobby-level electronics, doesn't mean much for his extraordinary claims in other fields...

"Although he has no formal academic training in science" from Wiki...

Ooops. But he drew cute LEDs with sperm-photons coming out of them! He launched model rockets at a time when they were very popular and consisted of a cardboard tube with a fireworks motor shoved in one end!

He was barely qualified to write on electronics. He probably thinks of himself as hyper-competent and therefore thinks his opinions based on emotions are actually hard facts.

Re:Ask him about Darwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45718149)

Sounds like the poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect...

Re:Ask him about Darwin (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about a year ago | (#45720803)

Hey, post links to some of the tutorials you've written and published. Then all the people who were inspired by them to go into a career in EE will post replies, and we'll all know who's really competent!

Or you can continue taking anonymous potshots. Your call.

I don't get the creationism/climate-change-denial perspectives, either. But I can't minimize his contributions as a popularizer of electronics. He doesn't have to be a Tesla or Maxwell on the forefront of research, and he doesn't have to have the media popularity of a Sagan or a DeGrasse Tyson. He's done a world of good as an educator.

Re:Ask him about Darwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45720881)

Ah, the old "you have to be a chef to criticize the food in a restaurant" fallacy.

not gump (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716003)

You seem smart and have done neat things, have you considered running?

Re:not gump (1)

weilawei (897823) | about a year ago | (#45716751)

Running for fitness? Running from bears? Running a business? Running for public office? You seem anonymous and have done cowardly things. Have you considered running?

Re:not gump (1)

Dadoo (899435) | about a year ago | (#45717725)

have you considered running?

Assuming you mean "running for office", do you really think we need more creationists in Congress?

Re:not gump (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45719161)

Yes, because "seeming smart" and doing "neat things" is all that's required? Running for what? Camp band leader?

Model Rocketry (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716015)

Please retell the story of how you got started in Model Rocketry and some of your earlier projects, successes, and of course failures. Be sure to name names and clubs!


Re:Model Rocketry (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717543)

And I'd like to ask, are you still active in model rocketry?

modern high powered rocketry is a fantastic sport, from innovations in simulation, electronics payloads include cameras, altimeter controlled recovery deployment, sensors, beacon and APRS tracking, and much more. doing any of that?

Global Warming? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716025)

Wikipedia says "He is also a skeptic of global warming."

Does this mean you don't believe that average temperatures are rising worldwide?

If you believe that average temperatures are rising, to what degree to you believe there is a human contribution?

Please provide appropriate pointers to evidence supporting your reasoning.

Thank you.

Re:Global Warming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45718303)

Careful, he's going to draw a cute cartoon planet on fake grid-paper with a happy Jesus in the clouds watching over Blessed White Americans driving their Holy SUVs to the gun range. That'll be the extent of his reasoning, but it'll fit on one sheet of paper.

projects (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716245)

Of all the projects you have worked on, what has been your favorite? Personal or professional. (I would like to express my gratitude, getting started with electronics, got me started in electronics and I am now an engineer. I also have a "non-standard" education as they say, having mostly taught myself from reading and taking online free courses.

When they say "research"... (0)

unitron (5733) | about a year ago | (#45716273)

"Today, Mims works on many scientific projects including climate change research."

To learn whatever's there to learn or to seek evidence to support a previously reached conclusion or opinion?

I forget if you were in PE or R-E or both (and the back issues are in boxes on a high shelf), but I used to enjoy reading your stuff back in the '70s.

Trouble learning stuff. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45716337)

You inspired me to try and learn electronics on my own, but above the basic concepts (what components (resistors, capacitors, transistors, etc...) do and basic circuit analysis), I get lost. For example, for the life of me, I cannot understand how to design a filter. I know what components to use but which values? No idea and I am having a lot of trouble understanding it. There are more examples using OP Amps and transistors other than for basic digital circuits.

So the question: if there are times when you have a hard time understanding a concept, how do you over come it?

a distinguished tinkerer, indeed (2)

swschrad (312009) | about a year ago | (#45716363)

grew up on your Popular Electronics crew, all those soldering wizards who educated us all. like to hear the back-story of how you and AT&T got into a cage battle over optoelectronics.

March of progress (1)

null etc. (524767) | about a year ago | (#45716415)

Has science or technology revealed any secrets recently that would change how you teach these topics? For example, when I studied electronics as a kid, the theory was that electrons travelled through conductors at almost the speed of light. I think it's now well know that individual electrons actually travel through conductors quite slowly.

Re:March of progress (2)

tibit (1762298) | about a year ago | (#45717643)

the theory was that electrons travelled through conductors at almost the speed of light

I don't know when did you learn that, but no physicist worth their salt would say that by mid 1930s at the latest, I'd hope.

What book are you most proud of? (1)

TheBrez (1748) | about a year ago | (#45716433)

What single book are you the most proud of, and see as your best work? Or which one have you had the most people tell you was _the_ book they use/recommend the most?

No Question, Just thanks (1)

Eddy_D (557002) | about a year ago | (#45716597)

I still have my original Blue and Yellow RadioShack Notebooks that I purchased when I was 12. As a practicing professional Engineer now I want to say thanks for that leg up.

For all the kiddies reading this, realize that back in the 80's there were no readily available resource other than small electronic stores and mail order catalogs for young people to feed their interest in electronics. The material that Forrest Mims wrote was an invaluable resource into learning how design digital circuits using the new IC technology for that time.

I never made that flanger/phaser (audio effect) circuit though...

Next generation (1)

Netdoctor (95217) | about a year ago | (#45716601)

Sir, you were very instrumental in getting me excited and motivated to study electronics as a child, and largely why I am here now.

I have just had a child myself recently. Given the opportunity to motivate and influence a new generation of children, how would you communicate to them differently now?

Thank you! (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about a year ago | (#45716705)

Thank you, Forrest! You are the best. I am a fanboi. I own all of your electronics mini-notebooks and your _Getting Started in Electronics_. Over the last 15 years they are usually the first place I turn to when I need to make a circuit in support of one of my hobbies. I don't have a question. I just want to say thanks and keep doing what you're doing! And keep those books in RadioShack!

I guess I have one question: How did you get so awesome?


How do I build my own space shuttle rocket? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45717133)

I'll need blueprints, parts list, etc.

Makerspaces (2)

cowtamer (311087) | about a year ago | (#45717245)

What do you feel about the Maker movement and Makerspaces in general?

It seems to me as the Maker/tinkerer is the new equivalent to the electronics hobbyist. Do you believe new project designs need to keep this in mind? (i.e, present the design of an entire gadget instead of just the electronics)?

Tell us about your parents (1)

platypusfriend (1956218) | about a year ago | (#45718395)

Forrest, in what ways did your mother and father contribute, indirectly or directly, to your eventual success in science and technology?

Challenges faced by computer-aided learning (1)

LordMyren (15499) | about a year ago | (#45719005)

You've written hobbyist-targetting books with Radio Shack that work through hands on projects hobbyists can do themselves. My question is, for those seeking to carry your mission in writing those books over to computer-aided or simulation based learning, what things of value did you create that will be the hardest to carry forwards and what are the greatest things of value that computer-assistance will uniquely be able to take & make it's own & go furthest with?

What's next? (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about a year ago | (#45719083)

What's next? Any new books?

Also, I've noticed that the mini-notebooks seem to have changed. I have what I think is a complete set of the older ones. The new ones appear to be the old ones combined into fewer but larger books. Is that all they are? Or is there new material? I'd like to verify that I have them all or buy any that I am missing but it looks like simply comparing titles will not do the trick and I don't think I want to bring in my collection to compare page by page!

Thank you.. so much. (1)

xtal (49134) | about a year ago | (#45719499)

On behalf of myself, and I am guessing, many others here, a heartfelt thank you. I am an Electrical Engineer and am enjoying a great career that has opened many opportunities and let me see the world - largely because of a green, hand-printed, "Getting Started in Electronics" book I noticed in a Radio Shack a very long time ago.

I still reference your books from time to time, and I look forward to sharing them with my kids someday.

Thank you.

73 de VE1SFM.

Agreed. Good stuff. (1)

fsagx (1936954) | about a year ago | (#45719971)

I still have the copies I bought in the 80s. I learned more from these books than from the EE course (the intro EE course all engineers have to take).

Hardware in the days of software (1)

LordMyren (15499) | about a year ago | (#45719501)

How do we promote electrical engineering when we're surrounded by an increasingly software & solution based world? Microcontrollers and increasingly so, full-blown microprocessor system-on-chip designs integrate a bedazzling array of top-notch analog and digital peripherals. Watching electronics parts catalogs, there's an ever growing profusion of special-purpose ICs, a low cost on hand solution to every problem. And in this state of being well served, I'm curious how we maintain proficiency, expertise, and interest in hard electrical engineering when soft skill-sets can carry us so far, when so much is provided. It seems great to me that we have NodeBots and AVRs &c &c that get people excited and spooled-up so quickly doing hands on work in amateur and professional electronics projects, but at the same time it seems cause for worry.

Reflecting on myself: I've gone through a number of high speed signals and systems books but still cower in fear for that day when I'll have to wire up DRAM to a microcontroller: I keep fingers crossed that my vendor will include an application note specifically for wiring RAM, that I'll have reference designs I can crib from, and I look forward to the day when RAM comes package-on-package with my micro. I want to have a better mastery of electrical engineering, want to be better equipped to face these challenges, but education has only taken me so far. Or, another example, I can carefully step through design of a flyback converter to plan out the behavior of that analog based system, but these days I'd tend to rely on some microcontroller functionality: take advantage of some comparators and timers, and begin with a much less carefully planned out and much more stripped down set of hardware components that I can fudge into near working order with software.

I'm wondering what the response is, if any, to this shift in skill set, and how we ourselves in touch with and unafraid of first principles, hard as that hardware-oriented knowledge might comparatively be.

Re:Hardware in the days of software (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45720031)

Get over it. EE is dead, I have no idea why someone would choose that path today in the Western world. Skip all the boring hardware crap and go straight to the boring software part, but at least you'll earn a living.

Thank you! (1)

Gibgezr (2025238) | about a year ago | (#45719933)

Just tossing out a thank you to a wonderful author. I am pleased to hear that you are still alive and kicking! I wish you and yours happy holidays.

Your calculator (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45719989)

Which calculator do you use? Or do you no longer need one?

Cards Stacks Against Independent Inventors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45720083)

Sure, you can patent something; but, without a huge pool of money for lawyers, the large corporations will just steal your ideas. Or, the off-shore manufacturers will flood the market with your design long before you raise enough money ship something out the door. Is the day of the lone inventor past?

Thanks (1)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year ago | (#45720669)

I loved your books back in the 80's; my allowance went to buying them and then to the bits required to make things go beep. Money well spent.

What I loved with the handwritten style and the funky pictures was that they made the subject so accessible as opposed to the extremely dry material generally available. I was watching a video for an EE course the other day and they sucked every bit of fun out of the subject. So again thanks?
Any new books about Arduino (the 555 chip of 2013) or something 21st century?

Translate to six pack? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45720813)

I got into Amateur Radio not for the communication aspect of it, but because I am fascinated about radio / light / sound / other electromagnetic waves. Of course you can't read too much on those topics without stumbling onto Nikola Tesla and the conspiracy theories that surround his research. I haven't been able to stop thinking about this little tidbit that I found on the Internets and I wonder if you can comment as to the validity of these claims and why this line of thinking does not appear to be being pursued.

"Counter-space as Tesla and Eric Dollard accurately describes is a wave that does not travel through space per time (like a regular sinusoidal transverse wave), it actually travels per space time (as a longitudinal non transverse wave with an infinite amplitude) - and has the ability to connect two points in space - where - with the waves that Tesla and Leedskalnin worked with - because the amplitude was infinite (e.g. longitudinal) there could not actually be any space in between that 'required' crossing. Exactly hence, why these waveforms exhibited an interesting kind of absent-resistance. And that is why Tesla describes it as a 'means to overcome' distance, because the waves being generated were not per se transmitting faster than C, but rather generating amplitudes that nullified distance as a significant limiting factor in efficacy."

You are white and old (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45720847)

What are your excuses for being so? Why can't you be hipyhop like Justin Beaver. Why are you soooo gay? Do all people get gay and faggy when they get as old as you? What do you think of mandatory exterminations for anyone over the age of 14. Why would anyone want to learn shit when they can immerse themselves in music and blogging. What are the best dance moves. Why is it that black people can be old and still be somewhat cool, but this is completely impossible for white people. In society we have progressed to the point where you no longer have to know things, you just have to be cool. Do you think it is about time we do away with the readin writting and rithmatic in school, and concentrate on important things like creating a positive social vibe, and killer dance moves.

Can you fly?

Yet Another Sincere Thank You... (1)

GeneralEmergency (240687) | about a year ago | (#45720923)


How does one adequately thank a person who provided exactly the right help and encouragement at exactly the right time in a young man's life resulting in a family supporting career and income? Even two wives (nobody's perfect) and daughter owe you a thank you.

While I have fond memories of a few key teachers in some classroom settings, I can firmly point to that Radio Shack purchase of my copy of your "Engineer's Notebook" in 1977 as the real start of my career in Electronics-to-Computers-to-SoftwareEngineering.

I suppose the obvious answer is "Pay it Forward". While I have recommended your books to techno-curious young people I have met over the years, what else can and should be done?


"Science Probe!" Magazine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45721545)

Thank you for "Science Probe!" magazine, which was superb!

Handwritten Graph Paper (1)

electromanj (3466591) | about a year ago | (#45721907)

Hello Mr. Mims! First of all, thank you for the chance to speak with you. You have inspired so many people, and I for one can say that if it wasn't for your "Getting Started in Electronics" I would never had done so. The handwritten style that you wrote the Getting Started book along with the hand written graph paper style of the mini notebooks made it so appealing and unintimidating. The cartoon drawings of components were very much appreciated! My question is this: Why did you decide to do it in that format? To me it is pure genius. Was that intended to make the recipient more comfortable, or was it just more natural for you? Thank you very much!!! Travis. P.S Are you adopting? I am in my 40's but I promise to take out the trash and mow the yard.

Why not hydrogen/vacuum space launch? (1)

Slicker (102588) | about a year ago | (#45722539)

Why not use a dirigible (zeplin) for space launch? 17,500mph at 99 kilometers up is considered orbitable. Why not use use a dirigible in these stages for cheap, heavy lift into orbit: (1) hydrogen lift until the air density is low enough to make pushing a balloon energy efficient (perhaps 60 kilometers); (2) vacuum out the hydrogen as the balance between air density and structural integrate allow and heat it for rocket thrust. Use a large aerodynamic shape such that this thrust pushes the ever lighter vehicle faster, easier.. and so long as there is air resistance, there must also be lift.. When there is no longer air resistance/lift, stable orbit is thereby achievable. Helium balloons have gone as high as 59 kilometers. Hydrogen is far lighter and nothing is lighter than vacuum. A small thorium reactor is perhaps the most ideal choice to heat the hydrogen... which expands quickly and greatly when heated. I do wonder if heat at high speeds in ultra thin atmosphere would pose a problem but if it does, then use that the expand the hydrogen for thrust.... so ever better.

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