6 July/August 2018
Electronics as a hobby is unique in that it touches upon just about
every other technology or area of
potential interest, from photography
One electronics enthusiast might
be working on a throat microphone
design for a helium diver while
another is hard at work on an
Arduino-enabled bingo game display.
Moreover, as you mature and
your life evolves, the focus of your
electronics experimentation can co-evolve. For example, you’re not stuck
with the turntable audio electronics
of your youth; you can move to RF
communications as you spend more
time on the road commuting to and
As such, I view electronics as a
portal to other hobbies and interests
— often in a way that enhances and
renews the initial focus on
For example, I’ve been working
with wearable computing for a while
now, including a spine position
sensor that enables the user to know
the status of their posture.
When PDAs first became
available, I strapped one on a belt,
Batman style. Today, I get the same
results with a miniature Bluetooth
transmitter on the body and a remote
The appearance of more
powerful and functional smart
watches has encouraged me to look
into small computing systems that fit
in a watch case.
For example, I’m a fan of the
Panerai watch clones because they’re
big and thick — on the order of 45
mm x 17 mm, depending on the
model. That’s plenty of room for a
project. The inexpensive mechanical
watches on eBay can be had with
glass backs as well as fronts.
As a result, any sort of optical
monitoring of pulse or even
oxygenation is possible with a few
LEDs aimed at the wearer’s skin
through the mineral glass case back.
My latest work is trying to
leverage the solar watch faces I’ve
reclaimed from Seiko watches to
power the electronics, simply
because opening the case back every
week or two to change batteries is a
As a result of my foray into
watches, I’ve picked up a few dozen
tools and a handful of techniques
useful for working in small confined
spaces not much larger than three or
four stacked quarters.
One of my most useful finds is
so-called “T” screwdriver blades.
Instead of a standard shaped blade
that gradually narrows to an edge,
“T” screwdriver blades are scooped
out, leaving a clean, nearly parallel
blade that easily inserts into even the
finest head on a screw.
I’ve even gone as far as
purchasing a screwdriver sharpener
made for watchmakers so that I can
renew the T blades as I need them
(for T blades, see Esslinger.com).
Of course, I use these new
screwdrivers and other tools on my
robotics experiments. No more
stripped screw heads because the
screwdriver blade is too thick. I’ve
also located sources for ultra-miniature screws, pins, washers,
bearings, and the like.
Watch supply stores online are
one source for new parts, but I’ve
had great luck tearing down broken
watches that sell by the pound on
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Fred Eady Kristen McIntyre
Jim Arlow David Goodsell
Jon Titus Don Dor ward
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