Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/08/31/getting-started-in-electronics.html
Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/08/31/getting-started-in-electronics.html
I have this book! Bought as a youngster from a Radio Shack with allowance money. I hadn’t thought of it for years. I should look through it and think about when would be a good age to get my kids into it.
Fantastic book! It indeed got me started in electronics, along with a 300-in-1 project kit my dad found at a thrift shop.
I stopped reading the book when I got to transistors. I asked my parents what it meant “therefore, transistors act like switches and amplifiers”. They looked at each other and answered that they had no idea. In the pre-internet days, if your parents didn’t know and you didn’t have easy access to a library, you hardly had any options for getting additional explanations of a topic. Since I didn’t understand how transistors could be considered amplifiers (and in my opinion, he really didn’t explain that aspect of them) I gave up on the book. Still, I learned a ton from the book as a teen and have done a lot of electronics projects over the years.
I still have my copy of the book, and it is in pretty good condition. The quality of the paper it was printed on was very low; almost like construction paper. The edges of my pages are a bit yellowed but the middle of the pages is still good.
I got my copy of the book the same way. I can’t remember where I read about it, possibly in the manual for the 300-in-1 kit. I convinced my mom to take me to Radio Shack so I could buy it. One of the smartest purchases I made as a kid.
I’ve thought about handing the book down to one of my nephews or nieces, but I’ve tried doing that with other things I loved as a kid (Choose Your Own Adventure books, Star Wars figures, etc.) and for the most part they’ve had no interest. I’ve learned that you can’t choose a kid’s interests for them; all you can do is support them in what they do have an interest in.
Mims has done amazing things, marred by right-wing, anti-science beliefs. I recall some little bits written by him in a Jameco Electronics catalog in which he belittled government scientists. I was annoyed at this blanket condemnation of folks who decided to go into civil service instead of academia, given that I was one such myself. I complained by email to the company. Mims and I exchanged a few emails, in which he railed about atmospheric scientists in government employ who subscribed to anthropogenic global warming. IIRC he claimed they were using temperature readings measured by faulty thermometers. I guess he believed the whole of climate science (and thermodynamics for that matter) is dependent on a few measurements. He also wrote that the greenhouse effect is much more dependent on water vapor than CO2 in the atmosphere. A common climate change denial claim . . . but we don’t really have much control over water vapor.
It’s pretty clear this guy has a lot of talent as a technician and writer, but (combined with his denial of evolution) has a lack of critical thinking skills when facts conflict with his belief system. The actual working of science requires an ability to accept being wrong on occasion.
Source: Photo clip from online PDF of Getting Started In Electronics by Forest Mims, III, 1983 . Tint added as this is how I remember my copy.
This book and his other manuals were seemed so friendly and were easy to read. My copy started turning yellow almost immediately. The edges may have already been yellow upon buying, that is the memory of what ever printing I had.
Mine fell apart. I was looking for a used copy for my kids and myself; I saw that they were selling for $$. The green covered ones are currently about $35 U.S.
RadioShack had a number of books by him, all of the wonderful. But this book was a synthesis of them all. Containing all the information from those manuals, if I remember correctly.
All too often in those wonderful electronics kits, sometimes containing over 100 different things to build, they were short good exclamation of what you were doing. This book cleared it up.
And Forest Mims copper plate is wonderful to read.
Seems like a happy mutant that would fit in here.
Mims has no formal academic training in science, but still went on to have a successful career as a science author, researcher, lecturer and syndicated columnist. His series of electronics books sold over 7 million copies and he is widely regarded as one of the world’s most prolific citizen scientists.
Source: Wikipedia on Forrest Mims, III
And it looks like he’s still alive and doing science (link to family website).
Edits to add image, text and links.
I cherish my copy of GSiE. Just a few days ago I was on the hunt for a digitized font based on Mim’s handwriting. Anyone have any leads?
Sad, but it doesn’t really surprise me. It seems that we keep learning about people who made great contributions to art and science but were horrible persons in other ways.
There is a definite ethical dilemma in whether to separate a person’s contributions from their personal failings, but I don’t know that there is a defined line on whether or how to do so. It’s a very gray area. It may be something that each of us has to determine on our own.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with him. I wasn’t aware of his anti-climate science alignment.
I’ve never been that excited by his books, especially not by the style. His magazine articles and columns are different. He was connected with MITS when I first saw an article by him in 1971 in Popular Electronics. Model rocketry I think it was.
But then the first book about electronics that I owned was “How to Become a Radio Amateur” in 1971, followed shortly by the ARRL Handbook.
By the time he started writing those hand drawn books, i was well beyond beginner.
Don Lancaster’s books were always better, but often duplicated what could be had in databooks.
I think I still have an issue or two of the science project magazine put out by Gernsback publishing about 30 years ago, and edited by Mims, it was called “Science Probe”
Don Lancaster books were a step beyond compared to Forrest Mims ones. I have both his TTL and CMOS cookbook, bought before Internet access, when I probably neither had a Fidonet node account (mid-late 80’s) and they were immensely useful since data sheets over here were next to unobtanium, and his although short explanations and examples filled a gap that seemed unbeatable back then.
I LOVED his articles in Popular Electronics in the late 70’s. Some really interesting ideas, and the hand drawn visuals were wonderful. To me they are as good as Roger Hayward’s classic drawings in “The Amateur Scientist” in Scientific American. Different, but both did a great job conveying complex technical designs.
My favorite Mims article was probably his solid-state oscilloscope from April 1979. Amazing, and very much ahead of its time.
The full article is available online as part of a nice repository of Popular Electronics issues:
I had this book as a kid, bought at Radio Shack where one could also pick up all sorts of electronic components. I lost the book years ago, and seeing pics sure brings back good memories.
Available to borrow for one hour at archive.org
(enough for most of us to flip through and get a taste of the work)
Forrest Mims is a notorious denier of climate change and evolution, and a an almost religious distrust of civil government, who also has a genius for explaining electronics to beginners in an entertaining way.
You correctly observe that a great many great artists, musicians, writers and scientists were utter dicks in their personal lives, or their public and political lives. If their accomplishments must be rejected to avoid condoning their failings, we’ll have very little art, music, literature or science left. They’re made by human beings. Angels are in very short supply.
This strongly reminds me of “Page’s Pages”, an odd little set of 4 or so similarly beautifully-handwritten (if incredibly densely-packed) double-sided pages at the front of a quadrille graph paper notebook I bought at the school store. It crammed equations, methods, and incredibly useful trivia for algebra, trig, geometry, calculus, physics, chemistry, and engineering in those 8 print pages.
I actually bought a few of them, with the intention of giving them to a few friends, but none of them were interested. Idiots; they were a LOT of help on open-note tests ^^’. I kept a couple of them for over 20 years, til they finally were lost in a move.
The look reminds me of the wonderful project kits one could purchase ~40 years ago from (now defunct) Lafayette Radio Electronics.
And besides Don Lancaster’s electronics books, don’t forget his Postscript books. In the mid 1980s, when Postscript printers like the Apple Laserwriter came on the market, drawing programs were in their infancy. So what did Lancaster do? Realizing that Postscript is an actual stack-based programming language akin to FORTH, he wrote tutorials on how to draw diagrams using Postscript – by literally writing Postscript code!
From his homepage, “Postscript Secrets”
And didn’t Don Lancaster for a long time use an Apple II for writing, but hooked up to a laser printer? I think it was even one that had a hard drive (which made for streamlined book on demand printing).
Even the early Macs had lesser CPUs than the Apple laser printer (and likely more memory), and the Apple II even less.
I have many of these. They contain great information, fun projects, and of course I love the hand drawn aesthetic.
learning is one process… big deal a…
but being confined to one platform is maybe another…