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.
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
9 months ago