Make magazine is one of my very favorite publications. It’s made for hillbilly engineers and aspirants like myself.  Their Maker Shed Store offers kits as well as plans for making all sorts of cool gadgets. Check out this Berliner Gramophone kit and this vacuum tube radio kit.  

Kit building and garage engineering are important activites for aspiring young scientists. We senior scientist types should be on the ready to mentor local high school students in their bid to learn about technology from the ground upwards.

Electronic experience is invaluable to all experimentalists- physicists, chemists, geologists, biologists, etc- and is a subject of lifelong utility. Many students do not have peer groups or family members who can help them get into this subject.

As a junior high school kid, I worked on TV sets (tube electronics) and acquired some electrical and mechanical ability in doing so. I actually fixed a few problems, surprisingly. A family friend had a TV repair shop (remember those?) and as a result I had a steady supply of TV chassis to take apart for my collection of parts like potentiometers and variable capacitors.

Like most kids rippin’ stuff apart and eyeing the construction methods I gained valuable electrical insights and personal experience with electrical current.  Like the time I discharged a picture tube through my hand while trying to remove a flyback transformer from my grandparents color TV. It was great lesson in capacitance and isolated static charge. As my grandparents sat on the Davenport and watched, they heard a sudden and involuntary grunting noise burst from my mouth as I hurled myself from a squatting position by the opened console TV set and backwards across the room. I probably absorbed more joules of energy from landing on my backside than the joules absorbed by my hand. Luckily I was not burned. The next day I learned how to properly discharge the aquadag in the picture tube.

It is nothing at all like tangling with an vicious animal who might stand there after the altercation spent and panting, wondering in its little badger brain how to tear an even bigger chunk out of your leg. A discharged electrical appliance bears the same silent affect before as afterwards. It’s wicked electrons are inanimate and unparticular in their singular drive to find ground. An unexpected jolt from a device is much like a magical experience. It comes from nowhere and everywhere and is over in the blink of an eye. Afterwards you stand there in shock and awe of the effect of even modest amounts of energy.

The impulse to do science is also the impulse to find boundary conditions of phenomena. Where are the edges? How does it switch on or off? You have to be willing to leave some skin in the game to find out about things.