Heathkit logo (fair use)
A couple of years ago, rumors started to circulate that Heathkit was coming back. Last December I posted about “The Great Heathkit Mystery” when the good folks over at Adafruit started poking at the Heathkit hornets nest and finally got them to talk:
Our friends at Adafruit Industries have been doing some sleuthing, and we agree- it’s time for an update. Happily, there’s plenty to report.
Exciting things are happening in the Heathkit labs. We’re pleased at the great feedback from our beta-testers on a range of quality products we’ve been actively developing. As you know, we had hoped to get several of these new products out for the Christmas market, but our team is creating so many new ideas that we’ve been slowed by the sheer work of creating patents (by law we must file them before we may sell our new products, or even advertise them). We remain hard at work, and as excited as ever to ship finished new products meeting Heathkit’s high standards.
The last ten months have given us nothing but rumors — including rumors of a Heathkit retail store. And we waited. Read more
While researching for my last post about the plasma arc audio speaker, it got me waxing nostalgic about the 555 Timer Integrated Circuit, one of the most versatile ICs ever designed. The Plasma Arc Audio Speaker I wrote about was one of the coolest things I have ever seen built around a 555, which is a favorite and classic chip that first hit the silicon scene in the 1970s. Read more
Mike KM5Z posted this article from Bloomberg.com on the Dallas Amateur Radio Club Facebook page that outlines the current negotiations that Radio Shack is making with Sprint Corp. In the proposed deal, Radio Shack would sell around half of their store leases to Sprint, and close the rest. The locations sold to Sprint would operate under the Sprint name, effectively ending the Radio Shack brand after 94 years.
Was nice to see the nod to Radio Shack’s roots in the Ham Radio business. From the article:
The discussions represent the endgame for a chain that traces its roots to 1921, when it began as a mail-order retailer for amateur ham-radio operators and maritime communications officers. It expanded into a wider range of electronics over the decades, and by the 1980s was seen as a destination for personal computers, gadgets and components that were hard to find elsewhere. In more recent years, though, competition from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and an army of e-commerce sellers hurt customer traffic.
Radio Shack is the company that was responsible for my entry into the electronics hobby, which went on to define my career. In my personal opinion, and I will probably come up with a lengthy editorial about this, Radio Shack numbered it’s days when it left the hobbyist market in the 90s and went on to become a place where you would go to buy a cell phone or maybe an audio cable. Radio Shack could have saved itself by watching the market when the maker movement started exploding over the last 10 years and re-entering it with more electronics stuff, which they ended up doing by getting into the Arduino and Raspberry Pi market, but it was too little too late. Online companies like Allied, Digi-Key, and Jameco (to name a few) had beaten them to the punch. When I was young, if Radio Shack didn’t have it, you didn’t build it until you decided to cough up the high minimum orders, or you just bit the bullet and waited until the next hamfest and hoped you could find the part. Now, there are many local electronics shops, and the major vendors no longer have insurmountable minimum order policies. Or you can go on Ebay and get twenty times what you need at the same cost as just a few, if you can wait a week or two for it to get here from China.
Soon it will be time to say goodbye to the Jap Shack. May they rest in peace.
(Published from DFW, Texas)
Adafruit has a featured article on their blog about the current state of Heathkit. When I was a lad I got to tour the Heathkit company in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a short trip from where I grew up. Up until the early ’90s, Heathkit helped many enter the world of electronics, computers, and ham radio by allowing them to build their own equipment and learn how it works step-by-step. In 1992 that all ended when Heathkit closed their doors to the hobbyist market and attempted to stay alive by serving the educational market. That ended in 2008.
Well, last year came an exciting announcement that Heathkit was going to rebuild. We all held our breath, but one year later we’re turning blue. Lady Ada and the intrepid sleuths at Adafruit set to find out exactly who these people were and what they were up to, and their article went viral.
1 year ago to the day today (12/20/2013) a member of the “board of directors” CEO/President of whoever may or may not own Heathkit did a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) – it’s unclear who they are, they would not say when asked and there is not any information on their FAQ page about the ownership. During the AMA, the person with the account “HeathCompany” answered in first person, described the “board” and the “CEO” but didn’t provide any details. The person did say “The CEO is avid musician and composer” and as far as the management team claiming to own Heathkit now, the person said they are: “Active in the industry 25+ years ago? Yes. Hams 25+ years ago? Yes.”
On the FAQ page, it has the following:
Q. So who are you guys?
A. More on this later…
It’s been 1 year and there has not been an update on the Heathkit site or Facebookpage. They had some type of prize they promised during last year’s Reddit AMA, it’s unknown what happened with that, the winner was an account called “IFoundTheHeathKit” that only posted once. There is a twitter account called “Heathkit” but it’s owned by “Just some guy” in Seattle, WA.
On December 19, 1974 the first successful personal computer — the Altair 8800 — went on sale to the public. Poynter profiles the Altair and Bill Gates’ contribution to develop its first programming language — BASIC:
On December 19, 1974, the first successful personal computer went on sale. They called it the Altair 8800.
Popular Electronics magazine profiled the new PC in their January 1975 issue. Readers learned that for $395 you could order a kit to build the Altair yourself or buy it assembled for $495. The Altair 8800 came with 256 bytes of computer memory and Intel’s 8080 processor.
“For many years, we’ve been reading and hearing about how computers will one day be a household item. Therefore, we’re especially proud to present in this issue the first commercial type of minicomputer project ever published that’s priced within reach of many households — the Altair 8800….”
Ed Roberts, the creator of the Altair, worked with Bill Gates and Paul Allen to develop the PC’s first programming language.
The partnership between Gates and Allen marked the beginning of the Microsoft company, which officially started on April 4, 1975.
Read more at Poynter.
Tesla Ondra computer (picture:Martin Malý)
I saw this article on Hackaday about the experiences of a man growing up in Czechoslovakia during the cold war. It was quite interesting and anybody like me in the Western world who grew up with computers in the 1980s like the Commodore 64 or the Timex Sinclair (or ZX81) will enjoy the contrasting memoirs of Martin Malý:
In Czechoslovakia, there was the major electronics factory named Tesla. Its name should be an abbreviation of “Technika Slaboprouda” (“Low Voltage Technology” in English), but I guess it obviously referred to [Nicola Tesla]. It was formed as a holding of diverse electronics-related plants. One Tesla made semiconductors, another one made TVs, yet another produced record player chassis. It was a little bit of competition in the world of “total cooperative” (I remember they taught us that “competition is bad” in basic school, because “workers should cooperate in developing of socialism, neither compete nor rival”).
One of Czechoslovak computer prodigies, [Eduard Smutný], together with his twin brother [Tomáš] designed the industrial computer JPR-12, based on Israeli ELBIT, and pushed it into production in Tesla. Some years later they made JPR-1, the simple 8bit computer, based on 8080. One important moment about this computer was that these designers published complete schematics and PCBs in Czechoslovak hobby magazine “Amatérské Rádio”. It was curious – you could not buy parts like LEDs in a store, but there was a very strong hobbyist’s scene. These people made radio transmitters or home automation or HiFi amplifiers. The communist regime surprisingly supported them (or better say: don’t repressed them) in their activities, because it felt the economy needed technically skilled people.
Read more of Martin’s experience on Hackaday.
(Published from Elkhart, Indiana)
Saw this link from MentalFloss on my Facebook feed just now, posted by a friend-of-a-friend: Why aren’t there B-size batteries? Well, it turns out that there are, er, there were:
Reader Donna wrote in wondering why there are AA, AAA, C and D batteries, but no B. Well, there used to be, but they’re not really needed anymore.
Around the time of World War I, American battery manufacturers, the War Industries Board, and a few government agencies got together to develop some nationally uniform specifications for the size of battery cells, their arrangement in batteries, their minimum performance criteria, and other standards.
In 1924, industry and government representatives met again to figure out a naming system for all those cells and batteries they had just standardized. They decided to base it around the alphabet, dubbing the smallest cells and single-cell batteries “A” and went from there to B, C and D. There was also a “No. 6” battery that was larger than the others and pretty commonly used, so it was grandfathered in without a name change.
As battery technology changed and improved and new sizes of batteries were made, they were added to the naming system. When smaller batteries came along, they were designated AA and AAA. These newer batteries were the right size for the growing consumer electronics industry, so they caught on. C and D batteries also found a niche in medium- and high-drain applications. The mid-size A and B batteries simply didn’t have a market and more or less disappeared in the U.S..
The article goes on to say that A batteries used to be used in some early laptops, and both A and B size batteries are still out in the wild. However, a quick search at some of the obscure electronics sites has left me empty-handed.
(Publushed from a Starbucks in Burr Ridge, IL)