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I just finished doing an electronic restoration on an old Hallicrafters S40 communications receiver circa 1947. Replaced all the old paper capacitors and the electrolytic capacitors and a few resisters. I also replaced the audio output tube and its associated components with an audio amplifier module I had since that particular vacuum tube was pretty pricey and the transformer as well.

Where I currently live I am not to far from the transmitter sites of some local radio stations but this did not seem to bother this radio when I was tuning around, I was able to listen to a station in Toronto Ontario quite well. This was not the case with a much newer Radio Shack DX302 that I had which was overloaded by these close and powerful signals to the point of making it nearly useless trying to receive anything on the AM broadcast band.

With my hearing the way it is, I find the sound from the old Hallicrafters much more pleasing to listen to than my newer high priced receivers for AM and shortwave. But to be fair the old Hallicrafters was not as sensitive on the upper shortwave bands as any of the newer ones I have, including the RS DX302.

This not a diary to bash current technology. After all I have been mucking about in it since I was 10 years old and I am now in my 60s. Also, I enjoy working on and building and modifying radios and such, and have done so for nearly that long. I am concerned, though, about a few aspects of it.

I had a talk the other day with a gentleman who was here to do maintenance on my furnace. He came into my radio room and was fairly impressed – I guess – with my equipment and such. We got to talking about the current electronics and such, and how people just pitch them out when they break rather than getting the items repaired. I said that was the main reason I left the field of repair and went into computers. The occupation just went away. In fact component level repair is just not practical on today’s electronics. The parts are way too small and require specialized tools to replace them — assuming one can even get the replacement parts. In the case of microprocessors and specialized chips, this is quite often very difficult or impossible.

Which brings up another aspect of our current technology. The old vacuum tube equipment, though some it was pretty cheaply made, it was still quite robust. It was not as affected by voltage spikes or lightning or heat and humidity as current equipment is. It was much more repairable and less complex, to the point that you did not need much training or specialized tools to maintain it. Also we were not nearly so dependent on it in our lives.

Like the old cars with carburetors and distributors and such, that if they died on the road you could do some kind of quick fix to get you to a gas station to do a more complete repair. Nowadays that simply is not possible. Nearly every part is controlled by a computer.

Speaking of computers, I helped a friend last night with her’s because it had some unwanted software on it and getting rid of it was a considerable task. Computers are beyond most people to maintain, even the software can become unusable pretty quickly. With our dependence on them, this is becoming a major hassle.

Not simply computers but nearly everything we do now requires some sort of high tech to accomplish. There are processors in nearly everything now  and the infrastructure as well. And little of it is protected from anything. From simple communications to every financial transaction and even many medical tasks. And all this data runs on fiber optic cable that has little protection from the the environment or from sabotage. Our electric infrastructure is right out in the open  and as we have seen a number of times, can be brought to halt rather quickly.

We know how much pandemonium is caused if we lose electricity for a week. Imagine what it would be like if we lost it for a month or more. Or if we lost our data communications for a month or more, which can happen. It is nearly impossible to protect as it is so vast. But the loss of a few key sites could bring the whole thing down.

The fact that this has not occurred yet does not mean if would not or could not happen. And it’s a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to disable than flying planes into buildings. Weapons have already been developed to disable the electrical grid or parts of it.

One of the main reasons for this is the centralized control that is maintained by private monopolies, making our infrastructure very vulnerable. So while we sit back at our computers…sipping on our electrically brewed coffee…remember this the next time you use your cell phone.

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