Thursday, July 28, 2016

I Do What With What?

     My basic trade is electronics, learned in an age when analog was king and transistors were suitable for low-power, portable devices and while a few -- a very few! -- clever designers might be able to coax enough fidelity out of 'em for professional applications, if you needed real power, more than a Watt or two, you used tubes.  Professional equipment took at least two people to lift.

     It was a time when workbenches were kept clear -- clear-ish, anyway -- and big 75 Watt soldering irons hummed in their rests while analog volt-ohmmeters kept watch.  When we did mechanical work, it was drilling or punching a few holes in a metal chassis to clear sockets and transformers, potentiometers and pilot lights.  "Digital" was safely off in the exotic realm of computers, where conservatively-suited IBM techs swapped out module-loads of tiny tubes or simple semiconductors, while punched paper tape or Hollerith cards told the equipment what to do.

     Chassis gave way to circuit boards and an Engineering shop that built gadgets from scratch made space to set up an etchant tank (oh, okay, a glass baking dish under a heat lamp, if you insist on accuracy) and counted themselves among the elite -- and the elite's elite added another tank for tinplating the copper of the finished board.  Transistors shrank, got faster, FETs showed up, and all of a sudden a few dozen transistors on a single slab of silicon formed a whole building-block -- an analog amplifier or a digital circuit smaller than a stick of gum.  Parts kept getting smaller and smaller and by the time surface-mount components came along, you needed special equipment to do much work at the component level.

     But through it all, it was largely a shirtsleeves pursuit, done mostly at tabletop scale.  These days, a lot of it is done on a computer, configuring and provisioning very clever boxes for their particular task.  Good, honest, clean work.

     So why do I have a "tools for work" list on the Roseholme Cottage dry-erase board reading, "string, level, 25-foot measuring tape," why am I glad I have an extra pair of work gloves, why am I wondering if I might want decent boots today instead of my hiking sandals and why, oh why, am I contemplating spending most of the day working in a lift about 15 feet above the floor?

     Just lucky, I guess.


Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

We'll always need tradesmen (and women). Carpentry, masonry, plumbing, wiring, and HVAC (just to name a few of them) don't happen in cyberspace. In general the trades don't happen in controlled situations (e.g., factory assembly lines) where repetitive actions are better done by machine than man. I've worked on enough supposedly-identical homes to know that what you did in the house next door may not translate 100% to the supposedly-identical home you're working in now. There's always a stud or a pipe or a duct in the way that wasn't in the way in the other house :)

The modern cultural insistence that everyone must go to college is ridiculous. I shouldn't have gone to college, I should have gone to welding school. (Not HVAC or electrical school, I'd already been in those trades for a decade when I went back to college, and I would have been a horrible student.)

Roberta X said...

At one time, I was proud of having no actual formal education past High School. In later years, the lack of a degree has proven a hindrance.

The Neon Madman said...

It was a long time after high school before I finally wised up and went back for the formal degrees. Much harder when you have a wife, family, and full time job. Took me 4 years to get my AAS in electronics, then 14 years to get the BSEE. Much like you, I was always working in the field and longterm at each place (25 yes at the current job), but after about 2000 I started to understand that my experience and job title were pertinent at my current employer and not necessarily at any other. The diploma at least provides some certification in case things go to hell.

We're about the same vintage, I believe. My goal is to stick it out for another 3 to 5 years, then get out of the rat race and enjoy life.

Roberta X said...

Alas, I cannot get out of the rat race. My current goal is to die on the job. many decades from now.

I've seen what retirement does to my relatives and I'm seeing what even a nice home for the aged is now that my Mom is in one. I want no part of it.

Merle Morrison said...

Progress can be a real bitch about messing up your plans.....