Monday, October 2, 2023

Peeping Into The Past!

By Rajeev N Deshpande

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As we bid adieu to the cherished era of ‘men manning the counters,’ let’s remember their invaluable contributions and embrace the ever-changing landscape of electronics, knowing that innovation and wonder await us in the future. Happy exploring!

Although the basic concepts and theories remain the same, the technology putting the things in operation and action do change, the heart of progress lies in ‘research and development’. Over the last five decades, lots of things have changed in solid state electronics. Among them is miniaturisation and large scale availability of advanced versions of components with better tolerance and reliability, and the surprising dropping of prices of many components due to mass production. As a hobbyist, I have noted two more major shifts: the germanium transistors are replaced with silicon transistors and the power supplies with bulky transformers are replaced with SMPS units.

The image shows a 40 years old 1 watt amplifier using a complementary germanium transistor pair AC127 and AC128 manufactured by Philips then.

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The ready-to-use circuits of the amplifier (with components soldered on PCB) were sold on the counters that time. I had fitted one of such circuits inside a plastic soap case with holes drilled on top for ventilation. The audio input and speaker were fitted from outside. The power supply unit was termed as a ‘battery eliminator’. It consisted of a step down transformer, a metal rectifier, and a filter capacitor. A miniature threaded filament bulb was an indicator. The germanium transistor based amplifier and the battery eliminator are the best examples of vintage solid state electronics.

In the wonderland of electronics, a vast number of persons, those who shine on the screen as well as those who vanish behind the screen, that include: scientists, engineers, programmers, designers, professors, researchers, electronics draughtsmen, technicians, mechanics, skilled and semiskilled workers, appliance menders, students, hobbyists, manufacturers, retailers, publishers, contributors play a vital role, directly or indirectly, in retaining and progressing of a gigantic branch of science and technology called electronics. This is very much the same as the electronic circuit in which there are so many components: big or small, active or passive, costly or cheap, delicate or sturdy, imported or indigenous and each one of them has its own role to play to make the circuit function.

There might still be many people who remain behind the screen and might not have been included in the list. Last but not the least, I would like to make a special mention of those who are ‘men manning the counters’ in electronic retail shops selling discrete components, spares and hardware. As a hobbyist, I often had to make rounds of retail shops to buy electronic components. It is here that I had encounters with these ‘men manning the counters’ many of whom had become friendly with me. These semi-skilled men, often with working knowledge of electronics, helped the students, hobbyists and routine customers in finding the components. They had their own ways of describing the various components by the colours, shapes, sizes, weight, packaging and a lot of physical properties rather than the alphanumeric codes and their technical specifications! They suggested equivalents for the components difficult to obtain. They were well versed in locating the exact box from the racks of boxes piled over others in the shop. Even a single piece of cheapest component like a resistor, that some customer wanted and which was ‘very important’ for him, was made available by magic by these amazing men behind the counters! They were constantly standing and attending to the customers with lists of different components with totally different technical specifications was indeed a challenging task for them. It was a tough time for the shop owner if any of them were on leave. So important was their role in the retail business! With the online shopping facility available now, the components reach your house and the human touch is fast fading. As a hobbyist I always had a soft corner for these ‘men manning the counters’ who too are a part and parcel of this wonderland of science and technology called the electronics!


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