Trip down memory lane

The amazing development of electronics over 50 years.

(A republication of a post first shown on the 13th August, 2009)

The calendar reliably informs me that this is my 65th year.  My brain, of course, lags somewhat in accepting this!

My step-father during my early teenage years worked for Elliott Brothers (the link goes to an interesting history of the firm that started in 1804) in Borehamwood, just north of London.  He encouraged me to fiddle with ‘steam’ radios and

try and understand how these basic circuits worked.  It was then a small step to deciding to become a radio amateur, popularly known as a radio ham!  In those days it was a case of some pretty intensive studying to pass a Theory exam as well as being able to pass an exam in sending and receiving Morse code.

So joining the local radio society seemed like a sensible idea.  That was (and still is!) called the Radio Society of Harrow.  That it is still in existence after all these years is truly delightful.  Those Friday night sessions at the Society and extra-curricular classes on Sunday morning at Ron Ray’s  (G2TA) house, an hour’s bicycle ride away from home, ensured that shortly after my 16th birthday I was granted a Licence, G3PUK.  It was a very proud moment.

Anyway, once granted a licence it was time to build my own radio transmitter.  Most of the details have been lost in the mists of time but what is recalled was that the final amplifier was a pair of 803s driving an 813 (These are radio valve numbers).  It sounds like something from the ark!  But again ploughing the inexhaustible files of the Web, it’s possible to see what these radio valves looked like.  Thanks to the National Valve Museum.

Here are pictures, courtesy of the National Valve Museum of those two radio valves:

803 – The substantial wide glass tube envelope is 58 mm in diameter (2 1/4 in) and, excluding the special five pin base pins, is 216 mm tall (8 1/2 in).

813 The classic envelope is substantial at 60 mm diameter (2 1/3 in) and 170 mm (6 2/3 in) long excluding the special base pins. The anode is 53 mm long and 48 mm wide. The metal is 1 mm thick.

803 radio valve
803 radio valve
813 radio valve
813 radio valve

It’s difficult, today, to imagine devices which are essentially diodes (well, technically the 803 was a pentode and the 813 a tetrode) being between 6 and 8 inches tall!

My own self-build transmitter had not really been successful emitting more heat than light, so to speak.  Literally, in the sense that these large radio valves kept me warm in my converted garden shed at the bottom of the garden.  They also completely wiped out TV reception for those households with a 1/4 mile range that had invested in early television sets!  It was time to move on to the R1155.

Around this era, less than 20 years after the end of the War in Europe in 1945, war-surplus equipment was widely available including ‘compact’ transmitter-receiver units.

One popular one was the RAF R1155 which had been fitted to RAF Lancaster bombers and RAF marine craft.  It was also fitted to the Sunderland flying boat.  This information plus the photos below is from this fascinating web site for those wishing to be ‘geeky’ about this.

RAF R1155B transreceiver
RAF R1155B transreceiver
Internal view of the R1155B
Internal view of the R1155B

Just compare the view on the right to the inside of your domestic radio or your cell phone.

A lot happens in 50 years!

My personal journey now leaps to 1978 and I have just left IBM UK having had 8 fabulous years with them as an Office Products salesman.  My fledging company, Dataview Ltd, has just become the 8th Commodore Computer (CBM) dealer in the UK, based in a small office in Colchester, Essex, about 50 miles north-east of London.

The CBM PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) released in 1977 initially with a calculator type keyboard was useless for any business application but soon came out with a typewriter sized keyboard, making it a more viable business

CBM computer, circa 1978
CBM computer, circa 1978

machine.  Today, as this is typed on an ‘old’ laptop with 2GB RAM, it seems unbelievable that these CBMs were sold with between 4k and 96k of RAM (memory) and no hard disk, although one could purchase an add-on that comprised dual 5 1/2 inch floppy disk drives.

YouTube obligingly finds  a short video on the Commodore PET for those really wishing to enjoy the nostalgia!

So to turn to the 21st century and to run out of understanding.  We appear to live in a world of multi-later printed circuit boards of unimaginable (to me) component density, assuming that the word ‘component’ is even relevant today.

Haven't a clue what this is but it's very modern.
Haven’t a clue what this is but it’s very modern.

What an amazing period it has been!

A long way from yesterday!
A long way from yesterday!

Now let me see was it Pin 920 to Pin 140, or Pin14 to Pin 860 connected to Pin 56 ………?

5 thoughts on “Trip down memory lane

  1. A consequence of advancing electronics, some day soon, is going to be the reign of thinking machines with neither conscience nor consciousness. (I will explain in an essay…soon.)

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    1. I look forward to that essay. My own observation is that this ‘liberalisation’ of technology and, in particular, the networking effect of social media, email, blogging and so on is leading to a revolution in awareness across the world. This awareness may be, and I sense it will be, the force that leads us into a new period of humanity much more free from corruption, greed and deceit and, at the 11th hour, enables mankind to settle down in harmony with our planet. Sounds naive when I read it back to myself but I still believe that this will be the way forward.

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      1. Paul,

        I found this information on the advancement of technology very interesting. Shortly before the introduction of the computer I used a computer of sorts; it all began with an MTST (magnetic tape selectric (?) typewriter) with an enormous container probably the size of 4’X4’X4’ sitting next to me making an extreme amount of noise. I personally find it amazing to see how far we have advanced in my lifetime.

        An interesting concept, “awareness across the world.” Yes, I for one wish to have faith in the human race as you do. As with all new inventions, technology can be made for the betterment of the populaces, bringing us closer as one with the same goals of peace and harmony. Therefore, I also wish to believe, as you stated, that this will come to pass. On a closing note, still many, many hurdles to overcome, so we must remain optimistic and keep hope alive!

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  2. Wow, I went into the site you mentioned above and found it interesting. Thank you for sharing, definitely brought back memories for me also; happy ones at that, I felt I was on the ground floor of new and exciting technologies, and so it was!

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