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:: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 ::

Woz 'n Dad.
geek nostalgia: Been spending a bit of time listening to podcasts. While I am sure not all of them are worth it, so far since last Friday I have downloaded nearly a GB of audio MP3s.

Burned the first half of Steve Wozniak's Gnomedex talk to CD so I could listen to it in the CRV - and spent part of my lunch on Sunday sitting in the Tim Horton's parking lot eating and having a listen to some of the 50 min talk. He is an interesting speaker. He teaches now and does nothing with Apple. In the first part of the talk, he spoke about some of his early beginnings and interests in computers and electronics. As I ate my sandwich, it reminded me of something I had not thought of in a very long time. When I was a kid, for a space of perhaps a few years between when I was 8 and 11 or 12, my dad used to encourage my brother Murray and I in messing around with electonics and circuits and such as a hobby. Think big switches a cartoon character would flip to activate an evil device or whatever.

We used to make a big deal of wanting to go to Radio Shack on Saturdays - back then stores were not open on Sundays. The store was on Yonge Street at Pleasant blvd. - a couple of blocks South of St. Clair in Toronto. With our allowances, and a little extra from mom and dad, we used to buy switches of different types, wires, miniature little lights and buzzers, and later mount them to pieces of wood or circuit boards. We would attach battery holders and build crude circuit paths. Lots of purple and white rechargable Radio Shack brand D-cell batteries. We used to go through them like water. Oh, and alligator clips. Had to have those for quick changes between configurations.

We did this mainly on warm summer afternoons while sitting on the front porch of 298 Glen Rd. Soldering contacts and messing around with cool looking things inevitably attracted attention of the local kids. Often Craig and Drew and Sarah and Cameron and Tommy would sometimes help out in the building of these cool devices, which did nothing other than teach us about the concepts of logic gates, and on/off, parallel and serial, and so on. Just electrical jig saw puzzles - often without a proverbial start picture on the box - not that we knew any of that at the time.

As an aside, my dad was an incredibly smart and well educated guy. He read voraciously. He didn't have a degree in electrical engineering, but he could teach us kids complex ideas and would be at home in a room of engineers and pick their brains and hold his own. Or with botanists or mathematicians or historians. History was his main love. That was his real calling I think. It was from where his interests in everything else stemmed. My friends found that trying to challenge my dad to a friendly conversational debate about anything was a dangerous proposition as he could and would run circles around you. No mercy. I know now that it was to make us think outside of the box. Back then it just pissed me off as he pushed my buttons, and I got into more uselessly heated arguments with him over trivial things. All to make me think critically. Later, in his last years, my ex- found talking with him and listening to him fascinating. Mor opened my eyes to a lot of things about my dad which I took for granted, never knew or never appreciated as a kid... And in time to get to know my dad a bit better before he died.

Later at school science fairs, I built - with some my dad's assistance and guidance - a VanderGraaf generator (like the one at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto that makes people's hair stand on end.) and another experiment involving Leyden Jars. I think I won a prize for one of them. I know I learned a lot putting them together.

Woz recounted similar tales. But on an order of magnitiude or two greater than mine. Stringing circuits of wires all over his neighbourhood, sneaking into the local community college after hours to use the punch card computer machines as he knew the smart guys there always left doors unlocked, and so on. One hilarious story involved being at university and developing a very small TV picture jammer that he put inside the barrel of a marker pen case. He really messed with people's heads at school as they tried to make the TV picture better! If you have an inner geek, and want to hear a good story or two, give it a listen. It is at ITconversations.com As I said in a previous post, you have to log in to the site.

Carpe Diem

:: Mike Wood 02:27 [+] :: 0 comments


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