One of the reason that it is so hard to get new (aka “younger”) people interested in electronic-circuit design and hands-on engineering is that the active and passive components are too small to handle, probe, swap, and generally do much with—unless you are a pick-and-place machine or bed-of-nails prober.
Yes, we have seen articles explaining how a skillful amateur can load and solder those high-density PC boards with ICs whose leads are under the package and passives almost too small to see. But reality is that it is fairly hard and unforgiving, and even if you are successful, it's pretty much impossible to poke and probe. And if you decide you want to try a different resistor in that circuit. . . well, good luck on removing and replacing the grain-of-pepper one that is soldered down.
But there's still hope out there . The other day, I received a printed—yes, printed—catalog from a company that provides all sorts of electronic and electromechanical components for hobbyists and professional prototypes. Some of these components were new, while others (such as motors and gearboxes) were likely removed from equipment or a supplier's overstock; almost all were interesting. This particular catalog was from All Electronics Corp. (click here ) but there are many other supply houses out there with similar offerings. [They also had ICs, transistors, and diodes, but these were only a few pages of the catalog.]
And what joy it was , to thumb through the pages. There were small and fractional-horsepower motors (AC and DC), gearbox assemblies, rocker and toggle switches, multipole relays, rocker and toggle switches, LEDs in various configurations, specialty items such as a switch which trips a tiny amount of air pressure, and much more.
The joy wasn't just nostalgia, which is a non-starter in our industry. All the items displayed and detailed on the pages combined to stimulate ideas and remind me of the possibilities of what you could actually build, touch, adjust, poke around in, reconfigure, and more. Almost everything could actually be handled, soldered or wired to, resoldered and rewired, reconfigured, and in general, be real and tangible.
So go ahead , go to the web site of this company or others like it, or even better, get your hands on a paper catalog. It will confirm that there is still an opportunity for the joy of discovery. You can plan do-it-yourself construction of circuits and systems with human-sized parts, with motors and switches and lights than do and mean something, and which provide a hard-to-explain—but very real—sense of satisfaction. Just looking at those motors and switches, I could see some potential projects might want to try.
Is my point valid ? Or am I just longing for a time and type of hands-on project that is gone, and no longer realistic? Do you have a similar supply house/source you use? ◊