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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cliff Stoll on Software, Snake Oil, and the Creation of Real Things


"I guess today's experimenters build things in software, without ever touching a soldering iron. The hocus pocus is inside the program.  It's cleaner this way -- nothing to burn or zap, and you don't need a voltmeter... What happened to home-brewed and breadboarded circuitry? Where's the joy of mechanics and electricity, the creation of real things?  Who are the tinkerers with a lust for electronics?"   

From "Silicon Snake Oil"  1995 by Cliff Stoll  

6 comments:

  1. the same argument came forth when spark was king and the vacuum tube became the challenger. This is where it is going, like it or not. In a few short years, we will wonder how me managed with the old "superhet" technology..... ;-) best wishes, KA9OOI

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  2. Mark: Yea, all the commercial manufacturers will go this way, but fortunately hobbyist homebrewers will continue to make the radios any way they like. Guys are still building tube rigs and crystal radios. I'm with Cliff Stoll on this one -- I hope to continue to burn and zap real things that I have created. 73 Bill

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  3. I'm intrigued and going to give Stoll's book a read.

    The beauty of our hobby is that we can build and operate whatever makes us happy, even if that changes at any given time. There are so many avenues to explore that it's almost impossible to get bored.

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  4. Hi All,
    I agree with Steve, if you have the knack,
    you can use whatever method you prefer,it may be with those golden glowing bottles, transistors or the latest digital IC's.
    I do far more constructing than operating at the moment,while I don't fully understand writing code for the likes of pic chips & arduino's etc I am still able to incorporate them in my builds,thanks to the likes of Pete N6QW. How many of us in the 1960's ever thought we would be using computers?
    Regards to every one..........Peter (GW4ZUA)

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  5. So OK here is where I weigh in on the subject. I actually don't see software and building things as being bipolar or as in opposition to each other. I build a lot of things with real honest to goodness real hardware and a lot of solder smoke is emitted in the process.

    But most of that building today is done directly with the use of software as a precursor to the soldering of wires and components. When I am "noodling" over a circuit, the very first thing I reach for is LT Spice. Currently in work is a change to the Simpleceiver Plus SSB transceiver that will shift the IF from 12.096 MHz to 9.0 Mhz. A few minutes of work with LT Spice quickly told me that just two capacitor changes would move the IF to 9.0 MHz. In essence I have a common template amplifier stored in software and the change is quickly verified in plots of the predicted output. No soldering was involved and the answer was apparent in about three minutes and two iterations of capacitors. The very next task after the LT Spice simulation was to solder the hardware on to the PC Board.

    Another piece of software is ELSIE --again a simulation programs similar to LT Spice and of course who has not used EZNEC to build an antenna.

    There are many software programs that come packaged with publications such as EMRFD including how to build crystal filters. Then of course if you are inclined to believe the program there is the Dishal filter software and the excellent AADE crystal filter software.

    While I take some of the comments to cast a wide net on software where when you open the box there is but one 28 Pin DIP and that is the whole radio. Lets be clear as the use of software today is integral to building rigs out of real parts.

    When I post projects on my blog I will frequently attempt to include the LT Spice Simulations and the plots so that the readers can see how the circuit works and that folks is simulation software.

    I do have several SDR radios made from real parts and not bought as a box. I just use them and enjoy what can be done by mating a computer to a rig. In the true sprit of homebrew using software enables making wise choices for changing things while verifying performance before one wire is soldered or one finger is burnt with a hot soldering iron.

    73's
    Pete N6QW

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    Replies
    1. Yes!!! Those things have become as much staples of the tool box as screwdrivers and wire cutters.

      That said, I do prefer the experience of operating traditional radios over their computer-based descendants and would rather operate a KWM-2 over a Flex 6000. By the same token, I'm having fun trying to combine the elements of both in my current project.

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