Last weekend, Cort and I went to Pittsburg to help Slim‘s wife go through his mounds of AV gear and electronic parts. A couple of guys from the amateur radio club joined us, and we spent Friday night and most of the day Saturday identifying and sorting things.
For all that effort, we basically got the van cleaned out and the family room counter cleaned off. We could tell we’d made a dent, but there’s obviously a huge amount left to do. Nevertheless, Maeve was overjoyed at the work, and I think the most important thing we accomplished was helping her reduce how overwhelming the job seemed to be. Plus I got her DVD player, worldwide and NTSC-only VCRs, and Tivo hooked up to her TV so she can watch movies again.
As we sorted, we grouped things into six rough categories:
- things that Maeve will use herself
- expensive items that she should sell (possibly to one of us, possibly elsewhere)
- miscellany that one of us was interested in
- miscellany to take to the radio club grab pile
- stuff (mostly non-electronic) that won’t bring enough money to be worth the hassle of selling, but is still potentially useful to someone, to take to the thrift store
Each of us took home a few things, and I have others to talk about in due time; but the one that impresses me most was Slim’s prototyping station. Cort often talks about how important it was to Slim that people use things and how ready he was to give things away to people who would actually use them.
The radio guys aren’t really building things these days; Cort said that he and I are the only ones doing circuit design, with me doing the most right now. Because of that, Cort insisted that I be the one to take the station. I am very honored; and with great honor comes great responsibility.
Slim designed and built this himself. To me, it not only is a very impressive piece of work, but also reflects a lifetime of experience prototyping circuits and knowing what features are useful to have at hand. A station like this should come with a manual, and it’ll take me some time to figure it out and become fluent with everything it offers.
Starting at the top, the station has a multitude of connectors: DB-25 male and female, a card-edge socket that reminds me of my VIC-20 days, 1/4″ and 1/8″ jacks, barrier strip, RCA, BNC, and binding posts.
Each connector breaks out to well-labelled wire sockets in an area near the left of the front panel. These pin sockets are a Slim signature item — he used them on all of his breakout and prototyping stations, and I’ve never seen them anywhere else.
Next to the connector area, in the right of the photo, is an area for a signal generator that looks like it wasn’t finished. Based on some conversations I had with Slim about signal generators, my guess is that he intended to take the board out of a commercial unit, embed it inside the case, and extend its controls to the front panel, rather than construct his own from scratch.
At the far left of the front panel are power supply connections providing variable + and – voltages and dual +5V supplies. If I’m following correctly, the two 5V supplies run to the ends of the rail above the breadboards, and are jumpered down to the left and right breadboard sections from there.
In the upper center are two six-digit sets of seven-segment LEDs. The lower set appears to be broken out for matrix drive (labelled Digits 1-6 and Segments a-g at the left), and the upper set appears to have integral decode/drive (individually labelled A-D and Dp under each digit). There’s also a set of sixteen LEDs for individual use.
The upper right corner has a microcomputer section with a 24-pin ZIF socket for EPROMs, selectable between 2708 and 2716 (this is old school) and presumably a microprocessor hidden behind the panel. Given the PIA labels, I’d guess it’s a Z80, but it could be something else with an external PIA chip as well.
That’s all the closeup pictures I took, but there are a few more features I’ve already figured out. The row of black knobs across the center are potentiometers of commonly useful values, broken out to pin sockets underneath each one. The row of tracks between the pots and the breadboards delivers power and also has four buses labelled A-D.
Above the tracks are wire sockets for the switches and pushbuttons across the bottom of the case. There appear to be six logic inverters. And at each end are two sets of LEDs labelled H (red), L (green), and P (yellow) — I assume logic probes showing high, low, and pulse.
And of course a breadboard, generously sized, with a bunch of parts still on it. It has a couple of TL064s, Slim’s and Cort’s favorite op-amps, but it doesn’t look like it’s really a circuit in development. It looks more to me like it might be leftover parts that he was moving out of the way.
My challenge now is to learn to use it effectively. I always have enough clutter on my workbench that I have preferred using small breadboards and pulling out only the parts and connectors I need at the moment. On the other hand, the benefit of a prototyping station like this is always having everything at hand, saving the time of having to dig out the right connectors and displays.
It’ll definitely take some to get used to, and to determine which method really works best for me. Maybe eventually, it’ll inspire me to build my own comprehensive station that’s just right for me; and with Cort’s help, hand Slim’s station down to the next generation of experimenter.