Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The engineer's desktop before computer desktops

When I started my professional career, I was given a desk in a bullpen and a ton of manuals to read.  There were no PCs or web.  We had drafting tools, parts catalogs, and a plethora of free print magazines.The IC Master was like a bible, except everyone didn't have a copy.

Prior to starting work, I subscribed to IEEE Spectrum, Transactions and Comm Society publications.  These fit well in an academic environment.  Over the previous year, I realized that I had learned enough to actually follow most of the articles and was happy with the publications.  Then I hit the real world.  I quickly observed what the other engineers had on their book shelves and began to populate mine. 

I subscribed to probably ten free magazines.  EDN was my favorite, balancing ads with tech articles that I actually used occasionally.  They were the most graphically oriented with nice block diagrams.  EE Times was more of a news paper and provided the closest to real time product announcements.  Computer Design was probably the most technical.  These were my favorites.  At least as best I remember.

I'll also mention Electronics mag.  This was similar to EDN and Computer Design, but was a paid subscription.  I tried it only for a couple of years.  Free was better.  I also paid for Byte, which spanned the gap between my home and work interests. I liked Ciarcia's Circuit Cellar, and I see this guy is still around.

There were others.  Maybe not 10 total but close.  Design News was a mechanical engineering mag that some of the people got.  I never really used the material but there was occasionally an interesting article.  I also requested samples of lots of cool mechanical doohickies like mini-solenoids. I now wish I had saved them!

Think you have a problem catching up with email?  When I was stuck in our fab facility debugging and testing equipment, these mags really piled up - literally!  I kept an 'unread' pile, a 'to be filed' pile, and a pile with special reference issues.  I kept a few issues but in general would physically remove and file specific articles.

What prompted this post was a Nov. 20, 1976 copy of EDN.  This was their 'Microcontroller Systems Reference Issue'.  It actually was before I subscribed...I must have liberated it from another engineer.  This issue described all of the 40 commercially available microprocessor chips, provided a huge list of related suppliers, and a great 11-part microcomputer design course.

I have chunked most of the mags and all but one of the articles.  I have one EDN article written by  one of the senior folks I worked with.  I'm going to find, scan and post it for historical purposes.