What could kids do in the summer holidays?

For no good reason other than avoid the >30C heat, I browsed some of the old usenet postings I’ve saved over the years. I’ve reproduced one below to illustrate how things have changed, maybe for the better, maybe not. I have a couple of such books, and can confirm that they do have chapters on building and using your own X-Ray machine, including such gems as noting that if your skin reddens you are probably using it too much.

Now I must get back to doing something more up-to-date, such as using the rather interesting XMOS xCORE processors to implement a 12.5MHz ratiometric reciprocal frequency counter purely in software. That’s possible since the have the best hard realtime architecture I’ve seen in decades. Highlights – which enable deterministic timings calculated by the IDE tools before execution – include:

  • many 100MIPS cores
  • no caches/interrupts
  • switching fabric for i/o ports plus inter-core and inter-chip comms
  • programming in xC, i.e. C with parallel extensions based on CSP with timing
  • FPGA-like i/o ports: SERDES, strobed and master/slave ports,Β  timed input and timed output (4ns resolution), multiple programmable clocks

Great fun, and I don’t know of any other processor with those attributes.

(N.B. I simply cut-and-pasted the text posting into the WordPress editor, which has added its own prettyprinting formatting.)

From bill@rosevax.rosemount.com Thu Jan 30 05:40:03 1992
Relay-Version: version Notes 2.8 87/9/11; site otter.hpl.hp.com
From: bill@rosevax.rosemount.com (William Hawkins)
Date: Thu, 30 Jan 1992 05:40:03 GMT
Date-Received: Sun, 2 Feb 1992 01:28:27 GMT
Subject: In Memory of Larry Lippman
Message-ID: <telecom12.100.1@eecs.nwu.edu>
Organization: TELECOM Digest
Path: otter!hpltoad!hpopd!hplabs!sdd.hp.com!elroy.jpl.nasa.gov!ames!agate!telecom-request
Newsgroups: comp.dcom.telecom
Sender: Telecom@eecs.nwu.edu
Approved: Telecom@eecs.nwu.edu
Lines: 136
X-Submissions-To: telecom@eecs.nwu.edu
X-Administrivia-To: telecom-request@eecs.nwu.edu
X-Telecom-Digest: Volume 12, Issue 100, Message 1 of 8


This is just a note to say that there is an article in sci.misc from
my collection of Larry’s articles. It shows something about his early
years, without referring to soap. It has the same subject as this
mail. Well, rather than have you search for it, I’ll append it:

From: larry@kitty.UUCP (Larry Lippman)
Subject: Re: The Boy Electrician (was Homemade Valves…)
Summary: Classic hobbyist and experimenter books!
Date: 2 Aug 90 03:45:08 GMT
Organization: Recognition Research Corp., Clarence, NY

commgrp@silver.ucs.indiana.edu (BACS Data Communications Group) writes:

> I seem to recall reading “The Boy Electrician” by the same author many
> years ago. It had lots of plans for spark coils and tesla coils, told
> how to use X-ray tubes :-O, etc.

I have a 1929 edition and the x-ray tube experiments are a
classic! As if one could today go into Radio Shack and buy an x-ray
tube. πŸ™‚ The x-ray tube was powered by a spark coil. Needless to
say, the, uh, “radiation safety” practices in this book leave a bit to
be desired.

Another classic in the book is how to build a wireless
telegraphy installation using a spark gap transmitter.

> This was one of the all time great books in my opinion. What a
> book! …

This is also one of my favorite antique books!

This is indeed a classic! It was among the precious few technical
books in my highschool library, and was instrumental (no pun intended)
in making my career.

The Boy Electrician by Alfred P. Morgan. Lothrop, Lee &
Shepherd Co. Copyright 1913, 1929, 1940, 1948. 7th printing

Does anyone know its history after 1957? Is this delightful book
still available? Was the titled changed to appease feminists? πŸ™‚

I checked “Books in Print” and it is not there. However,
there is an entry for Alfred Morgan:

“Adventures in Electrochemistry” 1977 ed
“The First Book of Radio & Electronics for Boys and Girls” 1977 ed
“The Boy’s Second Book of Radio & Electronics” 1977 ed
“First Chemistry Book for Boys and Girls” 1977 ed
“Pet Book for Boys and Girls” 1949 ed
“How to Use Tools” 1955 ed

I suspect the 1977 books must have been revised by someone
else since Mr. Morgan would have been pretty old by then!

There was a companion volume, The Boy Mechanic, which I have never

That book is also fascinating! I have a 1952 edition that I
got as a kid (yes, I know that I have just dated myself πŸ™‚ )
According to the copyright page, it had editions in 1913, 1915, 1919,
1925, 1940, 1945 and 1952. I wish I had an older edition, since I
suspect that it would be even more interesting.

Here are a few topics covered in the “Boy Mechanic”:

  • “Build Your Own RELAYS”
    Describes how to build thermal relays using resistance wire which
    pulls a spring contact and allows it to close when the wire gets
    hot and elongates. There is a complete table of resistance wire
    lengths and gauges to provide relays of varying “sensitivity”. I
    use this term rather loosely because even the most sensitive model
    consumed 25 watts!

  • “Mousetrap Supplies `Firepower’ for Simple Toy Cannon”
    [quoted] “In assembling this toy cannon, which uses shells cut
    from wooden dowels, you won’t have to worry about fitting a
    trigger and spring mechanism, as firepower is provided by an
    ordinary mousetrap.”

  • “Colorful Cigarette Tray of Metal and Plastic”

  • “Wheelbarrow Ash Tray is Novel Addition to the Den”
    The projects are obviously before the Surgeon General established
    findings on smoking and health. πŸ™‚

  • “Keyboard Art”
    A description of what would later be known as “line printer art”
    performed by hand on an old typewriter.

  • “Quonset Hut for Your Dog”
    Lots of dog house and dog bed projects, but no mention of cats;
    so you know the book is old. πŸ™‚

There is a section called “The Boy Scientist” which has
various projects and “home laboratory” suggestions like:

  • “To prevent test tubes or any other glassware from shattering
    during an experiment, coat outside of the glass with a thick
    layer of modeling clay or putty.”

  • “To ignite chemicals from a safe distance, use a steel-wool
    filament wound across bared wires of a lamp cord. Hold wires
    apart with putty.”
    You won’t see that one in a contemporary book! πŸ™‚

  • “Sure Sounds Like Bill”
    Complete plans for a manual telephone system, including how to
    wind the induction coil!

  • “Fun with Dry Ice”
    Some of these experiments are not exactly safe. Like generating
    and forming solid sulfur dioxide. Or placing dry ice and water
    in bottle to generate CO2 under pressure.

  • “Fun with Common Gases”
    How about “flaming soap bubbles” and creating a “sun” by burning
    phosphorous in oxygen?

  • “It’s Fun to MOUNT BIRDS”

  • “Mounting the Fish You Catch”
    Do-it-yourself after-dinner kitchen-table taxidermy.

The “Boy Mechanic” was published by Popular Mechanics
magazine, and has no individual author or editor.

Larry Lippman @ Recognition Research Corp. “Have you hugged your cat today?”

[ I deleted the paths and phone numbers. They won’t reach him now.]

Ah, Larry, we hardly knew ye …




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