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Science Technology

Forrest Mimms Has Done Much More Than Most Engineers Know (hackaday.com) 105

szczys writes: If you've been anywhere near the field of electronic design, the name Forrest Mimms (the 3rd) is familiar. He wrote the book on electronics, and is heavily associated with the publications found in every Radio Shack. His entire life has been one prolific science experiment after another, which is why the title of Citizen Scientist fits so perfectly. For example, he invented and has used on a daily basis a device to measure ozone in the atmosphere. It worked so well he discovered and reported a calibration error in NASA's measurements, which are made with satellites.
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Forrest Mimms Has Done Much More Than Most Engineers Know

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  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @12:05PM (#50726763) Homepage
    The Radio Shack that the summary is referring to is your granddaddy's Radio Shack, where overpriced electronic parts, kits and tools were available just around the corner. If you had a battery card, you could pick up a free 9-volt battery every month for your transistor radio.
    • Please. Just.... please.

    • by p51d007 ( 656414 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @12:41PM (#50727141)
      Last winter, we had need for a replacement electrolytic cap for the driver board on a hall effect motor on a gear drive assembly, since the old one had a bad design. I walked into a RS store (city population around 200,000). I told him I needed a 100uf 25v electrolytic capacitor. The teenage looking (to me) genius looked back at me, like I was talking a different language. "Back in the day" (early 70's), say the same thing in an RS, and they would walk you right to it, probably ask you what you were using it for, discuss circuits, talk about electronics, ham radio (since I am one), SW radio and all sorts of things. Now, the only thing they know are phones, phone cases and the like.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Last winter, we had need for a replacement electrolytic cap for the driver board on a hall effect motor on a gear drive assembly, since the old one had a bad design. I walked into a RS store (city population around 200,000). I told him I needed a 100uf 25v electrolytic capacitor. The teenage looking (to me) genius looked back at me, like I was talking a different language.

        Ah, yes. RS's motto - "You have questions, we have blank stares."

      • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @01:18PM (#50727531)

        I'd stare too, if a ham radio entered my store and asked me a question.

      • Back in the 80's, the RS manager in my local mall kept a hidden stash of quality components for ham customers...tempus fugit.

      • and they would walk you right to it, probably ask you what you were using it for, discuss circuits, talk about electronics, ham radio (since I am one), SW radio and all sorts of things. Now, the only thing they know are phones, phone cases and the like.

        Yep, I used to enjoy talking to the RS employees- they were mostly hobbyists and enthusiasts and they knew stuff. They were into the gear they sold and would happily debate the difference between the NE555 and the LM555CN timer.

        Now I would bet that not one out of a thousand of them knows what Ohm's Law is, or has even heard of it. They can barely tell you the differences between the different shitty phones they sell.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      The Radio Shack that the summary is referring to is your granddaddy's Radio Shack, where overpriced electronic parts, kits and tools were available just around the corner. If you had a battery card, you could pick up a free 9-volt battery every month for your transistor radio.

      Ah yes, back when Radio Shack was named because well, it was for Ham Radio enthusiasts to get all they need. Remember, this was the day where if you used Digikey, you were looking at a 4-6 week turnaround for parts, unless you worked f

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't think they've sold any of the books in years.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What's puzzling is they either missed or ignored the rise of the whole maker/hacker space movement that's happening right now. Kids are getting back into building and tinkering with stuff, but RadioShack is DOA. Their whole business model is completely incoherent. They should have dominated this space.

      • by rfengr ( 910026 )
        There have always been kids who makes stuff. It just seems recent since they blog about it now. Internet sales killed off RS' business.
        • by rfengr ( 910026 )
          Oh, and I have a home lab. I don't need a fucking maker/hacker space.
        • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

          Is that why I can't buy anything from radioshacks website?
          The online store has said it was coming back soon for quite some time now.

          • by creimer ( 824291 )
            Radio Shack is currently in bankruptcy proceedings. Most stores were closed. The remaining thousand or so stores are partnering with Sprint. Radio Shack as website portal may come back someday.
        • It wasn't internet sales. By the time internet shopping came along, RadioShack had long since lost business to mail-order catalogs. When I became interested in amateur radio in the mid-1990s, few Radio Shacks still had a decent range of components for building your own circuit boards, as hams had increasingly turned to big catalogs that offered a larger selection.
      • What's puzzling is they either missed or ignored the rise of the whole maker/hacker space movement that's happening right now. Kids are getting back into building and tinkering with stuff, but RadioShack is DOA. Their whole business model is completely incoherent. They should have dominated this space.

        ^--This. What happened, apparently, is they tried to be everything. You want cellphones? Sure, we've got that. Computers? Sure. Electronics? Well, we'll see what we have left in terms of shelf space... The suits want profits, and don't want to miss out on whatever the next big thing is. I'm sure their electronics hobbyist business generates very small profits compared with, for example, smartphones. I think their business model just played itself out.

        • My locak Radio Shack has been conducting a clearance sale. The whole front end of the store now only sells Sprint phones and Virgin Mobile, who are a Sprint derivative.

          But there's still a whole back half of the store that is Radio Shack. Some of the stuff back there is clearance priced, as they're resorting the inventory. But there are still electronics tools, the big cabinet with drawers full of parts, and some of the Adruino and kit stuff isn't clearance priced. There's still a market for electronics h

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Im modding so posting this anon.

          The truth is they dropped the ball back in the 1980's. When the XT/286/386 systems were the rage they tried to cut out the parts sales and sell whole systems, TV's, etc. They missed the market they had. People who went there loved to build and tinker. They should have sold computer kits to build your own, parts, cards, mother boards, processors, isa development boards, etc. Instead they cut down the kits and tried to sell whole computers, Tv's, VHS Cams, Stereos, etc.

          They los

      • Yeah, if only they had carried Arduino boards or something.

      • Radio shack screwed themselves over years before the maker movement took hold. If they hadn't become nothing more than a cellphone re-seller, then maybe they would be a source of makers stuff like they were a source of computers back in the 80's
  • by srone ( 124495 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @12:35PM (#50727087)

    I was introduced to Forrest Mim's books, by browsing through a Radio Shack about 1974. I was into model rocketry and trying to learn basic electronics at the time and found his material very instructive. I consider him a gift to anyone trying to gain insight in electronics, from the level of a hobbyist all the way to a professional.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Very true. Glad I didn't know about his ultra-wacko religious beliefs until much later in life. Whether consciously or not, I definitely would have held him in a lower regard.

      Maybe unfair but it's just the truth and I suspect others would have felt the same.

    • His "Engineer's Notebook" series were simple to understand and a useful companion to data sheets when I was first trying to "grok" linear and TTL electronics.

    • by nbauman ( 624611 )

      I was introduced to Forrest Mim's books, by browsing through a Radio Shack about 1974. I was into model rocketry and trying to learn basic electronics at the time and found his material very instructive. I consider him a gift to anyone trying to gain insight in electronics, from the level of a hobbyist all the way to a professional.

      Me too. My father started out as an airline mechanic in World War II. He used to repair the instruments in the cockpits of supply planes and bombers, and (after the war) commercial airliners. They were like electromechanical cuckoo clocks. I used to play with electromagnets in my playpen.

      They were constantly retraining him in the new technology, but after a while, the integrated circuit boards came in, and the transistors, and he couldn't keep up with the kids who just got out of the Air Force. So (thanks t

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For those who want to actually design circuits rather than copy them from a Mim's booklet, see Don Lancaster's CMOS Cookbook, Op-Amp Cookbook, etc.

    • For those who want to actually design circuits rather than copy them from a Mim's booklet, see Don Lancaster's CMOS Cookbook, Op-Amp Cookbook, etc.

      That's a fine idea, but they're not mutually exclusive. Education often works better if you start off simple and concrete. You can start fiddling around with Mims's designs and then take the training wheels off with more advanced works like Lancaster's.

      As an analogy, when you're trying to teach people about literature, you don't necessarily start with Finnegan's Wake. Depending on their previous experience, it might be more useful to give them Dick and Jane and Spot first.

  • Not that I'm old, but I remember when Radio Shack not only sold lots of electronic parts and kits, they also sold Tandy leather working kits.

    Okay, maybe I am old. :(

  • I've been in electronics for almost 20 years and I have no idea who he is. I'm not trying to belittle anyone, it certainly looks like he has contributed quite a lot. But the guys who wrote "the text" on electronics are probably Sedra/Smith in Microelectronic Circuits (https://books.google.com/books?id=RcodQm6LaVEC), pretty much everyone I knew when learning used that book, I still have mine on the shelf behind me. The only other "the text" i could think of is Horowitz/Hill "The Art of Electronics". I think

    • Same here, been doing this crap as a profession for 17 years and never heard of this guy. I started after the Radio Shack era, and have mostly been a Digikey guy for all the jelly bean level tinkering. The real stuff is all on wafers.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      I recall Mimms' Radio Shack publications. Good stuff for beginners but I wasn't aware that he was anything more than an EE/Tech guy with a knack for putting together teaching stuff.

      I've heard of Bob Pease and read his stuff. I've also run across Winfield Hill and Don Lancaster on the Usenet s.e.d. group and gotten into a few threads with them in addition to having (some of) their books. Pease, Horowitz/Hill and Lancaster seemed to me to be the 'next step' beyond Mimms stuff. Not that Forrest is a dummy, bu

  • by erice ( 13380 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @01:39PM (#50727731) Homepage

    As a practicing electrical engineer, I know just six names*:

    Thomas Edison
    Alexander Graham Bell
    Nikola Tesla
    Steve Wozniak
    Jay Miner
    John Mashey

    I don't mean to belittle Forrest Mimms or his contribution. It just never seemed important to know who did things if they were not people I was ever going to interact with.

    *Yes, I'm sure I could expand this if I spent time trying to come up with names and researching who wrote certain books but this is the full list that immediately comes to mind where I know just as immediately what they all did.

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      Presumably this was not an academic exercise in the history of electrical engineering or hobbyists. These people know who Forrest Mimms is because they have a shared experience of reading and using his books. Sort of like someone who knows who J.R.R. Tolkien is because they all read his books too.

      In other words, they did interact with his works, and that is why they know who he is. You apparently have not and so you don't.

    • by CharlieG ( 34950 )

      Me thinks you need to broaden your horizon a bit. Forest Mimms started a lot of people along the path with his very simple books.
      How about Horowitz and Hill - I'm QUITE sure you've heard of him. How about Schottky?
      Do the name Armstrong (Not Neal) mean anything?

  • by Beezlebub33 ( 1220368 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @02:07PM (#50728025)

    Seriously, the summary is basically a link to an article, and you still get the name wrong?

    Mims is an odd guy, since he is (historically) important in his promotion of electronics education, but is also a creationist / IDer, which is odd for anyone with a brain.

    • by lowen ( 10529 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @02:29PM (#50728269)

      Whether or not you believe in young-earth creationism or intelligent design has nothing to do with your aptitude in non-biology sciences and in engineering. I know a number of rather bright electronics and computer folk who are also YE creationists.

    • by pcsnow ( 1353993 )
      I think that Forest Mims can be honored for the number of people he inspired. There are many people who have religious views that I do not share but nonetheless they have helped many people. Perhaps, another man who is a Lutheran and an author of "Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About" and a brilliant mathematician is Donald Knuth. I don't share their beliefs but I can still honor their work.
    • by hazeii ( 5702 )

      I'm old enough to recall the controversy over a creationist writing for Scientific American [nytimes.com].

  • Was old Gordon West, WB6NOA. Wouldn't have gotten into amateur radio were it not for his books.
  • I've got 4 of his circuit cookbooks. There's precious little explanation of how the circuits work, why particular component values were chosen, etc. If you want to duplicate his circuits, fine, but the books sure don't teach anything about how to design your own. The hand drawn and lettered graphics are cool, but the information content is minimal.

  • When I was a kid in the 80's, I was interested in electronics... it was Mims books and Radio Shack that made my interest bloom from a mere hobby to eventually a profession. I'm not genius, but because of Forrest Mims books and Radio Shack, I was doing a lot more than "building" a clock. Thank you Forrest, your books resonated with me a a young age. I was able to understand the content and experiment with some really interesting projects, learning a lot along the way. Arduino is the new electronics bread
  • I was feeling disappointed looking through all the comments at how many people were misspelling Forrest Mims' name. I mean, it's right there at the top of the page, for crying out loud.

    Oops, then I realized that it was misspelled there, too. Thanks, Slashdot editors. You are really doing a top-notch job.

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