by Bryan Bergeron, Editor by Bryan Bergeron, Editor
Thanks to readily available kits, DIY articles, and web resources, it’s a simple matter to cobble together a
functional circuit with little real understanding of the
underlying electronics. The circuit description for an audible
siren kit might read something like “Q1 and Q2 form an
astable multivibrator.” At some level, this may be adequate.
However, if you’re interested in truly understanding an
astable multivibrator — or any other circuit for that matter —
you have to dig deeper.
There’s a cost, of course, for digging deeper. You have to
invest the time to read about various oscillator circuits
including the tradeoffs of each design, perhaps historical uses
of the circuit, and perhaps applications beyond that of a
siren. The payoff for going beyond the surface descriptions of
circuits on a regular basis is the ability to intuit circuits. It’s a
skill that I’d say is possessed by less than 1% of hobbyists.
Developing a deeper understanding of electronics often
means looking into other systems. For instance, if you gain an
understanding of a mechanical oscillator, many of the
principles will transfer to an electronic version. Consider that
mechanical damping has direct parallels with electric
dampers, for example. In this regard, digging deeper often
involves studying the history of engineering.
My favorite historical topics are watches, clocks, and
robotics — all of which predate electronics by over a century.
By searching the Web — including the US Patent and
Trademark Office site — I’ve found mechanical analogs for
everything from batteries (springs) and voltage regulators
(mechanical regulators) to ergonomic user interfaces (watch
faces and winding stems). In some cases, I find myself
wondering why perfectly good mechanical designs were
replaced by inferior electronic circuits. I also wonder if there
is anyone alive today capable of recreating the mechanical
systems of a century ago. Of course, if you’re not
comfortable with self-directed learning, there are schools of
6 June 2015