Experimenting and Learning
There is a segment of the hobby that still likes to build projects from scratch or from kits. There are still a few kit companies out there but most of the kits are pretty simple. No more
Heathkit TV sets, hi-fi's, or computers. And many still like to
build simple projects with a few ICs or transistors. There is still
a great fascination with crystal sets, believe it or not. There is
major gratification associated with designing and/or building
something yourself. I believe that a significant part of this segment of the hobby is self learning. A major part of all hobbies
is learning more about the subject and becoming competent
with it. Nothing beats hands-on experimentation for learning.
Some Interesting Info ...
Home Networking and Control
People love to enhance their homes. I have seen many people
start electronics as a hobby by adding useful and interesting
electronic gadgets. Security systems are a good example of an
electronic system-level hobby project. Then there are the
remote control applications for ceiling fans, drapes, and lights.
Home networking is getting bigger as more homes have two or
more PCs. A wireless or wired network
lets multiple computers share a high speed
broadband Internet connection by DSL or
cable modem, as well as a printer. This is
one of the fastest growing hobby areas.
Looking at the magazine stand recently I saw several magazines devoted to sound systems for cars and trucks. Any time
you have several magazines addressing some segment, you can
be sure there are many enthusiasts. The autosound field is
enormous. Lots of folks love to install killer sound systems in
their cars and trucks. From 400 Watt amps and woofers to the
400 disc CD players, these systems are "cool." I just love it
when I see a pickup with neon lights underneath and the
doors pulsating in and out with
the speakers. Add to this the
new Sirius and XM satellite
radios and you have lots of
projects to work on. Save up ...
NUTS & VOLTS
Modern electronics experimenters build
projects from scratch using embedded
controllers. These cheap, single chip computers can be programmed to do almost
anything. Most of the work is in the programming. However, considerable effort
must also go into building the interfaces
and I/O to implement the application. This is one of the most
fun and creative parts of electronics experimentation today.A
huge part of this sector is programming. This may be the core
of electronics experimentation today as there is just about
nothing you can't make with an embedded controller. NV
Ihave been reading electronics hobbyist magazines for more
years than I care to admit. As a kid, I was reading Popular
Electronics, Radio Electronics and Electronics World. I
also read the ham radio magazines like QST, CQ and 73. In
the late 1970s and 1980s, a whole slew of computer hobbyist
magazines came along including Byte, Creative Computing,
Kilobyte, Interface Age, and others. Electronics as a hobby
probably peaked in the 70s and 80s. All the emphasis shifted to
Then the electronics magazines started going away one by
one. Magazines like Hands-On Electronics, Elementary
Electronics, and Modern Electronics silently disappeared.
Then magazines merged and changed ownership. Popular
Electronics was one of those that survived, for a while. Radio
Electronics finally went away and Electronics Now came
along and it too was phased out. Finally, in a last ditch effort to
survive, Gernsback magazines came up with Poptronics. It
went away in December, 2002. The only remaining purely electronics hobbyist magazine now is Nuts & Volts. The ham magazines like QST and CQ are still going strong, but Wayne Green's
long running 73 magazine just recently closed the doors. I also
read Popular Communications and Circuit Cellar. The
latter is more of a professional engineering magazine focusing on
embedded controllers, but their projects are great for hobbyists.
It has kept up with the times.
Magazines go away for two main reasons: they lose readers
and/or advertisers. In the first case, readers lose interest if you
don't cover what they want. And second, if you lose the readers,
the advertisers have little reason to buy ads. Basically what happened is that the magazines did not keep up with the technology. As it changed and got more esoteric, they avoided a great deal
of the new stuff and kept producing material they had been successful with in the past. The readers didn't buy it. As the old saying goes, "If you keep doing the same old thing, you will get the
same old result." That is clearly what happened here.
Another thing also happened. The magazines got more
focused. There are magazines for audio, autosound, shortwave listening, electronic music, PCs, ham radio, and so on. And most of
these magazines are at the systems level and not the circuit level.
Is there still an electronics hobbyist/experimenter market?
You bet. But it is significantly different from what it used to be.
Thank goodness that Nuts & Volts has had the vision to keep
up with the technology and change directions as the market
changes — not to mention spinning off a robotics magazine, too.