From the Tutor's Corner

The Age of Electronics --- A 70 Year Perspective

The development of electronic devices over the last 70 years has been truely amazing. It started with the development of television before World War II, which in turn lead to the intensive development of sophisticated radar systems that played a major role in ending that war. Concurent with this was the emergence of electronic computers in the late 40s and the discovery of the transistor in the early 50s. The electronic computer and the transistor complemented each other, neither would have attained their full potential without the other. It was one of those rare symbiontic relationships that occurs when two unrelated fields interact in such a way as to enhance the other far beyond what each could achieve individually. As a design engineer, I was fortunate to have been deeply involved in the design and development of all these fields: television, radar, the transistor, and computers. Following are some observations from that career.

The design of vacuum tube circuits for television and radar systems relied heavily on a basic understanding of how each component in the circuits worked and how these components could be combined to produce a desired result. A detailed analysis of individual waveforms was almost never achieved, requiring advanced integration technics that were virtually impossible to perform. And even if these analyses could have been done, such detailed information was rarely necessary. But with the ongoing development of the computer, higher and higher speeds were constantly being demanded and this in turn led to strange things happening in the operation of the circuits. It was clear that more detailed analytical analyses were needed. And then, presto!

As if by magic it was discovered that computers already designed could be programmed to perform the sophisticated integration analyses needed to design newer and faster computers. It was like computers giving birth to computers that were faster and smarter than their parents. Not only could these programs analyze performance, they could virtually design the circuits. An engineer could tell the computer how the components in a circuit were interconnected, press the Enter key, and within seconds see how the circuit performed. And this could be done without knowing very much about circuit operation at all.

The development of advanced design techniques were a vital tool in the development of computers. But there was a down side to these developments. Engineers, particularly new grads, became so enthralled with the computer analyses that the basic understanding of circuit operation was often neglected. Engineers would come up with designs that an experienced designer would instinctly recognized had serious flaws. As wonderful as computer design programs were, they could not