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Australian Electronics Nostalgia – Talking Electronics Kits

Introduction

From 1981, Australian electrical engineer Colin Mitchell started publishing his home-grown electronics magazine “Talking Electronics”. His goal was to get people interested and learning about electronics, and more so with a focus on digital electronics. It was (and still is) a lofty goal – in which he succeeded. From a couple of rooms in his home the magazine flourished, and many projects described within were sold as kits. At one stage there were over 150 Talking Electronics kits on the market. You could find the books and kits in retail outlets such as Dick Smith Electronics, and for a short while there was a TE store in Moorabbin (Victoria). Colin and the team’s style of writing was easy to read and very understandable – but don’t take my word for it, you can download the magazines from his website (they’re near the bottom of the left column). Dave Jones recently interviewed Colin, and you can watch those for much more background information.

Over fifteen issues you could learn about blinking LEDs all the way to making your own expandable Z80 board computer, and some of the kits may still be available. Colin also published a series of tutorial books on electronics, and also single-magazine projects. And thus the subjects of our review … we came across the first of these single-issue projects from 1981 – the Mini Frequency Counter (then afterwards we have another kit):

cover

How great is that? The PCB comes with the magazine. This is what set TE apart from the rest, and helped people learn by actually making it easy to build what was described in the magazine instead of just reading about it. For 1981 the PCB was quite good – they were silk-screened which was quite rare at the time:

pcb

pcbrear

And if you weren’t quite ready, the magazine also included details of a square-wave oscillator to make and a 52-page short course in digital electronics. However back to the kit…

Assembly

The kit uses common parts and I hoard CMOS ICs so building wasn’t a problem. This (original) version of the kit used LEDs instead of 7-segment displays (which were expensive at the time) so there was plenty of  careful soldering to do:

LEDsin

And after a while the counter started to come together. I used IC sockets just in case:

almostthere

The rest was straight-forward, and before long 9 V was supplied, and we found success:

powerup

To be honest progress floundered for about an hour at this point – the display wouldn’t budge off zero. After checking the multi-vibrator output, calibrating the RC circuits and finally tracing out the circuit with a continuity tester, it turned out one of the links just wasn’t soldered in far enough – and the IC socket for the 4047 was broken So a new link and directly fitting the 4047 fixed it. You live and learn.

Operation

So – we now have a frequency counter that’s good for 100 Hz to the megahertz range, with a minimum of parts. Younger, non-microcontroller people may wonder how that is possible – so here’s the schematic:

schematic

The counter works by using a multi-vibrator using a CD4047 to generate a square-wave at 50, 500 and 5 kHz, and the three trimpots are adjusted to calibrate the output. The incoming pulses to measure are fed to the 4026 decade counter/divider ICs. Three of these operate in tandem and each divide the incoming count by ten – and display or reset by the alternating signal from the 4047. However for larger frequencies (above 900 Hz) you need to change the frequency fed to the display circuit in order to display the higher (left-most) digits of the result. A jumper wire is used to select the required level (however if you mounted the kit in a case, a knob or switch could be used).

For example, if you’re measuring 3.456 MHz you start with the jumper on H and the display reads 345 – then you switch to M to read 456 – then you switch to the L jumper and read 560, giving you 3456000 Hz. If desired, you can extend the kit with another PCB to create a 5-digit display. The counter won’t be winning any precision contests – however it has two purposes, which are fulfilled very well. It gives the reader an inexpensive piece of test equipment that works reasonably well, and a fully-documented project so the reader can understand how it works (and more).

And for the curious –  here it is in action:

[Update 20/07/2013] Siren Kit

Found another kit last week, the Talking Electronics “DIY Kit #31 – 9V siren”. It’s an effective and loud siren with true rise and fall, unlike other kits of the era that alternated between two fixed tones. The packaging was quite strong and idea for mail-order at the time:

kitbox

The label sells the product (and shows the age):

kitlabel

The kit included every part required to work, apart from a PP3 battery, and a single instruction sheet with a good explanation of how the circuit works, and some data about the LM358:

kitparts

… and as usual the PCB was ahead of its’ time with full silk-screen and solder mask:

pcbtop

sirenpcbbottom

Assembly was quite straight-forward. The design is quite compact, so a lot of vertical resistor mounting was necessary due to the lack of space. However it was refreshing to not have any links to fit. After around twenty minutes of relaxed construction, it was ready to test:

PCBfinished

finished

It’s a 1/2 watt speaker, however much louder than originally anticipated:

Once again, another complete and well-produced kit.

Conclusion

That was a lot of fun, and I’m off to make the matching square-wave oscillator for the frequency counter. Kudos to Colin for all those years of publication and helping people learn. Lots of companies bang on about offering tutorials and information on the Internet for free, but Colin has been doing it for over ten years. Check out his Talking Electronics website for a huge variety of knowledge, an excellent electronics course you can get on CD – and go easy on him if you have any questions.

Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.

And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

LEDborder

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in australia, counter, digital, electronics, frequency, history, kit review, learning electronics, magazine, talking, talking electronics, test equipment, tronixstuff, vintage8 Comments

Australian Electronics – David Jones interviews Colin Mitchell

Welcome back

In this post I would like to share a series of interviews conducted by Dave Jones from eevblog.com. Dave interviews Colin Mitchell from Talking Electronics. Throughout the 1980s and onwards, Colin published a range of electronics magazines, tutorials and a plethora of electronics kits – of which many are still available today. Personally I was a great fan of the TE products, and sold many of his books through my past retail career with DSE. I hope you enjoy these interviews, and if not – stay tuned for upcoming articles. Furthermore, I’ve reviewed one of the classic TE kits.

Once again, thanks to Dave Jones and of course Colin Mitchell from Talking Electronics for their interview and various insights.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in australia, education, electronics, history, talking electronics3 Comments

Welcome to “Silicon Chip” Magazine readers

Hello readers

Published in the January 2012 issue of “Silicon Chip” magazine is an eight page feature article by Jonathan Oxer introducing the Arduino system and how the hardware and software work together to allow anyone to turn their technological ideas into reality. If you have read Jon’s article and were directed here – thanks for visiting! We have much more content than just Arduino tutorials, however to get started with them please click here or select from one of the chapters listed in the “Arduino Tutorials” section on the right-hand side of this web page.  Our site is a work in progress and if you have any feedback or questions please email john at tronixstuff dot com, or visit our moderated Google Group.

For those not familiar with the magazine, here is the cover for the January 2012 issue:

coverss

So what is “Silicon Chip” magazine all about? It is Australia’s window to the wide world of electronics, backed by a team of engineers and enthusiasts with decades of experience and knowledge. Each month you can read about in-house projects by the team and also submitted by readers – covering basic circuits right through to digital and computer systems, quality hi-fi and audio projects, news, reviews, readers’ letters, the humorous columns and a wide variety of kits to assemble. There is also a wide range of advertising from related businesses that helps you find new products and suppliers that you may not have known about.

Silicon Chip is the only Australian electronics magazine and one of the few left in the world with a broad appeal to the beginner and expert alike, and the projects described are always good value and not priced or designed out of most peoples’ reach. I unashamedly recommend you pick up a copy from the newsagent or take out a subscription if possible, it’s a great read and there’s always lots to learn and laugh about.

cover2ss

Finally, that’s it for 2011. A big thank you to all of our readers for your visits, feedback, compliments, criticism, donations, and the crazy emails received through the year. And of course to all the great suppliers who help out with promotional considerations and sponsor our monthly competitions. Keeping this site together has been interesting, educational and a whole lot of fun, and I hope you think so too. There is a lot coming up for 2012 – so stay tuned via twitter, Google+, or subscribe by email or RSS on the right-hand side of this page.

Have fun and Happy New Year 🙂

John Boxall.

Posted in arduino, australia, magazine, silicon chip2 Comments


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