Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reliving my Childhood Through a Favorite Book

When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, I received two presents that still live on in my memory. The first was a used electronics project kit. Missing a few components, with a few more broken, I had to figure out which circuits I could actually make. Still, I spent countless hours with it, as my parents can attest.

The second was a book which corresponded to the kit in subject matter. It was entitled All About Electricity. This book became my very most favorite of books, and I read it over and over through my elementary school years. 

The electronics kit has long since disappeared, although I have a better one I kept from my Jr. High days. The book remains a treasured part of my library.

Tonight, I started reading it to my kids.

Surprisingly, it has aged well. It was written with a certain grade level in mind, and thus is simple, with large print. It skips over the names of many of the scientists who experimented with electricity, focusing only on the most important. However, it is still a lucid and informative read. In addition, the simple illustrations are prefect for explaining the concepts.

One of the things that struck me even at an early age was that the book seems incomplete. It was published in 1957, and thus leaves out the semiconductor revolution. After focusing on vacuum tubes for both amplification and early computers, it ends with a mention of the transistor, and its potential to revolutionize the world of electricity. Even in the 1980s, tubes had been replaced for all practical purposes with solid state devices. My electronics kit had a few diodes and transistors, and a later one even had a few IC chips.

Still, I was fascinated with tubes because of this book, and wistfully thought that maybe some day I could find some old radio or something that had them.

The 1990s brought both my teen years and the revival of vintage tone for the electric guitar. Suddenly, solid state was out, and tubes were in. I bought myself a guitar, and determined to buy a tube amp when I got through school. (I did, and yes, there is magic in the old technology) 

 6L6GC power tube, a beam tetrode, for those who care.
 12AX7 twin triode

In starting this book with my kids, I find myself again as a kid, learning about the mysterious forces which dwell in all matter, and that can be harnessed in ways we all take for granted.

I have no idea if any of my kids will find this particular book as influential as I did, but my son Ted is already fascinated with wires and how they connect. Even at age 5, he has a pretty good idea where all the cables go for my guitar rig, and can tell me where all the outlets are within 2 minutes of checking into a hotel room. Maybe he will choose the engineering career I considered before picking law.

I have been primarily responsible for the science education of my children. Amanda and I homeschool them, in case that wasn’t obvious, and I get to teach them science. It has been an amazing experience over the last three years. There are so many more fun things to learn, and I am thankful that I can be a part of that process with my children.

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