Electronic Design

Bob's Mailbox

Hello Mr. Pease:
Good article on "More Engineers Stuff" (electronic design, June 12, p. 151). There's a whole other road to travel when talking about "good work." I will shorten my version to say that "good work" lies in the relationship between the maker and the user—both love the thing they are doing. The guy who makes every solder joint shiny, or makes sure that all the flux is off the board, does it because it's good, not because it interferes with the circuit or because it's in a spec. (I'll agree, that's a fair point, although there are times when "good enough" is good enough. Not every piece of work needs to be gold-plated. /rap) You can't "educate" someone to be good. They have to learn it on their own from living in the thing they do.

I worked at the Navy's EMC test facility for a while. RF isn't an art, but more like lunacy. Aircraft RF is lunacy in a can. Navy aircraft RF is lunacy in a can, in a microwave oven, on top of a cookie sheet—a very BIG cookie sheet, covered with salt water. (Nicely put! /rap)

In response to the question, "Where do you find RF engineers?" You hire military technicians—the good ones. (There are a FEW coming out of colleges. I might like some of THOSE better than military technicians who are mostly only trained to follow cook-book troubleshooting procedures. Are they EDUCATED in theory? I doubt there are many who are. /rap) But even they are getting fewer as computerization takes over. I learned about AND gates as a complete circuit board. Now, an AND gate is just a symbol that refers to something magic in a chip.

Once they stop teaching tactical air navigation (TACAN), the true insights into RF will be lost. Everything after that is just digital. Then, all you have to know is if it's ON or OFF. (And when GPS is working well, HECK, that makes everything else obsolete, anyhow! /rap)

I feel old when I think about the lost arts I have learned. I was born when you graduated from MIT. How does that make you feel? I can only say, "Thanks for all the slide rule work." (I still use mine, but I do most of my math in my HEAD. /rap) Can you imagine what the carpal tunnel people would say today if we still used those little wonders?
Dan Conine
via e-mail

Typing the answers would get you into trouble! But writing the numbers down on paper is slow enough, so most people would have a lot less carpal or "Repetitive Stress Injury" (RSI). Thanks for the comments, Dan.—RAP

Dear Bob:
I would like to comment on your various "Mailbox" letters that old equipment ain't obsolete. What got me thinking about this was having my favorite 4-1/2-digit panel meter go funny. The zero-input reading started creeping upward from the usual zero or one count to about 15±3. (What time is it when the clock strikes 15? Time to fix the clock! /rap) It's old, having been made in 1978. This is only the second time in 22 years that it has needed repairs. It comes in handy when a 3-1/2-digit DMM isn't good enough, which happens regularly. Action was needed.

Instead of junking it and getting a new one, I looked inside. The +5-V supply was a bit low and the raw voltage feeding it also was below 5 V. Feeling around with my finger, I found no hot ICs. But, I found a too-warm bridge rectifier feeding the 5-V regulator. A new bridge fixed it. Because the meter was open, the big capacitor next to the bridge also was replaced. It had run for about 17 years with that aluminum electrolytic.

It was also dusted and the analog section of the board was washed with alcohol. It's good for another decade or two. The insides, mostly CMOS MSI chips, are all very repairable. The maker had even included a schematic in the manual. There may be a selected part or two, but no embedded processor with proprietary firmware or board-mounted chips covered with epoxy blobs. It's almost indefinitely repairable.

Probably a lot of older gear is simpler and easier to repair than the current equivalent. Fixing my meter took less elapsed time than having a replacement delivered. Plus, for geezers like me, the parts are all big enough to see without a combination of glasses and headband magnifier. It's a pretty good deal.
Jon Wexler
via e-mail

Hi, Jon. Take good care of your good old stuff—your wife, too. (They ain't making neither of 'em like that anymore....)—RAP

Dear Mr. Pease:
If compensation is based on supply and demand, then there must be a severe shortage of CEOs in this country. Why aren't we raising the immigration limits on CEOs allowed into this country? (A very good point! Actually, CEOs can and do move across national boundaries much easier than peons.... /rap) Go to the web site www.aflcio.org/paywatch/ceou_compare.htm to find out what your annual pay would be if it had risen as much as CEOs' pay has risen in the past five years.
Allen Smith
via e-mail

I'm not griping about my salary. But thanks for raising this point!!—RAP

TREKKING: We have nearly filled up our trek to Nepal (Oct. 4 to Nov. 17) with 10 people, and there's only room for one or two more hikers. In case you missed the earlier invitation, e-mail me to inquire about the details.

All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
[email protected]–or:

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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