The new Heathkit: Electronic Tinkering in the Modern Age
The title sounds like it could be a thesis or book, but I’m not feeling that lofty right now.
To me, Heathkit is the Kleenex of home electronics kits, and though Heathkit Educational Services is still in the business of electronics education, it is no longer geared towards the individual home consumer. I remember when I was a kid that my dad had a Heathkit Freezer Alarm (GD-1183) (for if you leave the door ajar) and my older brother got a Photoelectric Switch (GD-600) (don’t break the beam of light). These electronics interested me the most, and I think it was because they were put together by members of my family, even if the reality was one of simple assembly. The act of putting the puzzle pieces together, and that the results didn’t look like perfection, was perfect. I was hooked. And though I haven’t been a kit builder per se, I’ve embodied the spirit of the tinkerer.
Of course at the time, the holy grail of the home electronic kit was the Hero Robot series, and saw mainstream advertising. But the DIY electronics has caught on only slightly better than the Sears DIY mail order houses.
But in the modern computer world, fueled less by social networking and more by viral videos, there has been a resurgence of hacking – the art of modifying things in a roughshod way to fit our needs. Popular sites like Slashdot and Digg often feature simple hacks for others to try (generally illegal hacks are not shared so publicly). Great sites to check out include Hack a Day, The Daily Hack, Make, Lifehacker, and Instructables.
For another way of getting started with your own programmable electronics, you can look to NerdKits or SparkFun Electronics for kits and eduction resources. From these kits, you can move beyond basic electronics with software coding, memory, and processors that let you quickly develop more complex projects.
When in doubt, there are plenty of broken or discarded electronics all over the place that you can carefully take apart and see what you can see. Be careful, and have fun.