OT-ish: Build-it stuff

Brent Hilpert hilpert at cs.ubc.ca
Wed Jun 14 17:46:03 CDT 2006

I'd suggest that the reason for the demise of homebrew electronics is that
most of the people these days with an inclination towards such skills/stuff
are off doing homebrew software development of one form or another. I don't
think it has anything to do with an absence of creativity or loss of build-it mentality.

Compared to doing some software development on modern hardware with modern languages,
homebrew electronics is rather limited and expensive: the
development/construction process is relatively long, the physical result is
relatively inflexible to further development, and (perhaps most significantly)
** what you can reasonably accomplish is going to be way behind the curve of
current technology **, etc.

In other words, homebrew has gone the same way as the rest of the industry:
powerfull, sophisticated hardware is cheap and commodified while the variable,
creative element is more easily accomplished and satisfied at the level of 'pure
information' (software).

I'm speaking in good measure from my own feelings about it. I like working
with both hardware and software, but most of my hardware hacking these days is
in the form of maintaining/diagnosing/RE'ing old stuff. I like doing some new homebrew
construction but once the design is done it seems like a long and
often-tedious process to get to the physical end-product, compared to thinking
up a programming project and writing some software. As much as I like the tactile
involvement with physical hardware, programming is a much more direct and flexible
route into that creative/design place.

As an example, a couple of years ago I became interested in the ABC
(Atanasoff-Berry Computer (very on-topic)). I read about about it, researched
some technical details and then wrote a full-blown web-accessible
graphical-interface simulation in software. At the same time I figured it
would be neat to make a hardware reproduction of the simpler, limited,
prototype machine that A & B also made. The software-simulation thing has been
completed and functional for several years, the design for the hardware thing
is essentially complete, but the physical implementation is languishing at the
level of about 1/4 complete.

(And to be completely low-tech (ala that other thread on the list) it's now time
to grab the axe and swede saw and head off to the forest to do some trail construction.)

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