Life really began when I was 8.
I loved to take things apart. Trouble was, I couldn’t get them together again. Wanting to feed my obvious interest in electricity without all the destruction, my father bought me an antique tube (valve) radio to fiddle with.
The radio had a ‘magic eye’, a common feature in the ’30s, to assist tuning. Also known as a cathode-ray indicator, this tube was similar to a CRT in theory; it had a gun that blasts electrons at a phosphor-coated screen. As you tuned your radio station in, more of the screen would glow a fluorescent green, giving the appearance of an ‘eye’ winking.
Well, I have never liked guns.
But this electron gun captured my imagination. An invisible stream of something, bombarding its target, emitting a warm, moody green! And warmed by a softly glowing heater, producing that intoxicating smell of ‘oldness’! Over several years I restored this radio with its tuning eye to its former glory; exploring, fiddling, getting shocked and burned along the way.
My father’s shaky experiment worked incredibly well – I was hooked on electronics for life. And the cathode-ray tube (CRT) instantly became my soulmate. Together, we were destined for big things.
Age 10. Summer vacation.
Grandpa introduced me to his Heathkit oscilloscope, and taught me ways to use it. Oh, the audacity of it! No longer just an eye wink; here was an electron gun I could command to draw lines, patterns, lissajous figures! And filled to the brim with hot vacuum tubes, the ‘oldness’ of this device was simply delicious. It was love at first use.
I immediately decided I would build my own tube oscilloscope.
Oh, Grandpa humored me; we gathered parts, recycled a chassis, and plotted construction. And when it was time to go home, Grandpa promised he would pack the parts and diagrams in my suitcase so I could continue the project.
Confronting him later about the empty suitcase, I was told that the project was too dangerous to attempt on my own. My heart broke. But I did forgive him in time. Perhaps he was right? And all is well now – his original Heathkit is now the pride of my own collection!
Around the same time, I began dabbling with computers. This half of the story is familiar to many readers, so it will be brief. It began with learning BASIC on a ‘pocket computer’ and expanded into assembly language programming on an Apple II (clone, mind you). The IBM compatible took over, then computing became my study major. Now IT serves as my humble career.
The Passion Grows
During those formative years immersed in the modern reality of digital logic and silicon, my passion for analog scopes still drove me wild in my dreams and my hobbies. I built a 400-LED oscilloscope at 16, when I could not afford a CRT scope. This tool of trade helped me earn money restoring vintage radios for antique shops.
At 18, I was armed with enough cash to build my first home-brew scope with an actual CRT in it – and I made it with TWO CRTs just for the heck of it!
At 19, I discovered the Holy Grail; the University dump. A treasure trove of parts and equipment, plentiful, free, and ripe for picking! Including oscilloscopes! Filling my heart with glee and my room with junk, I continued to restore, build, and dream up bigger and better projects – always combining digital and analog, vintage and modern themes.
And THAT was how life began.