Forrest M. Mims III has written over sixty books about science, computers and electronic circuits that he has tested and built. We were able to wrack his brain and learn a little more about the man who has sold over 7.5 million copies of his books. Throughout the Q&A we were able to learn a little more about how he got his start, his favorite build and how he is able to turn circuit analysis into something that DIYers are able to understand!
The Shack Blog: How did you get your start in electronics?
Forrest M. Mims III: My father built a crystal radio for my brother and me when I was 11 years old. That radio project got me started. My first “circuit” was a headlight for a soapbox racer made from a flashlight bulb soldered into a hole in the bottom of a tin can. The switch was a nail that rotated over a second nail. Unfortunately, the switch was connected across the battery and not in series with the battery and lamp. That meant the battery was shorted when the light was off. After the first battery was quickly discharged, I learned how to troubleshoot a circuit and quickly found the silly error.
TSB: You’ve built a ton of cool projects over the years – which one was your favorite, and why?
Mims: I built and published a series of solid state oscilloscopes using arrays of LEDs. While their resolution was low, they worked. I also designed and built from discrete chips a 4-bit digital processor that could be programmed with several instructions. My favorite projects were the lab kits I designed for RadioShack, especially the Electronics Learning Lab and the RadioShack Sun & Sky Monitoring Station. I just returned from 13 days at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory, where I calibrated the first Sun & Sky Station for the ninth year. I use this device every day the sun shines, and it provides beautiful data.
TSB: Were there any circuits you designed but eventually excluded from the books because you felt they were too complex?
Mims: I published only the block diagram and instruction codes for the full processor circuit described above. I didn’t publish full details for various travel aids for the blind, rocket instruments a thumb-size Geiger counter and a host of other projects..
TSB: How do you go about translating something like circuit analysis into an understandable application for the DIYer?
Mims: Easy. Since my degree is in government, not electronics, I explain circuits only after I build and understand them. If I can understand them, then so can the readers. You might be surprised by several letters I’ve received from PhDs and others who claimed one of my circuits would not work. In all cases, they never built the circuit before contacting me!
TSB: Over the last 5 years, what do you consider to be the greatest technological innovation?
Mims: Smart phone technology is transforming the way many of us work, stay informed and contact others.
TSB: What’s your take on the smartphone craze?
Mims: My smart phone has become one of my most important instruments. It’s really not just a phone. It’s a hand-held computer that includes a phone.
TSB: What advice do you have for today’s DIYer?
Mims: Build stuff! Too many people are couch potato DIYers. They love to read about what real DIYers are doing when they could do be doing the same thing or even more. DIYers should also consider finding practical and scientific applications for some of their creations. That’s what I do, and it’s very fulfilling. For example, a simple sun photometer I built in 1990 has been used almost every day to measure haze and the total water vapor of the atmosphere. This simple instrument has been published in several scientific papers (with more on the way). It’s among the longest operating of any such instrument. I published basic details for this in a RadioShack comic book.
TSB: Where do you believe the DIY movement is heading?
Mims: The biggest and most important shift for the electronic DIY movement has been away from discrete component processors to microprocessors. The down side is that some DIYers have used a micro when a much simpler 555 would do the job. The upside is that programmability provides a virtually endless array of applications when the power of a micro is needed.
If you are looking to start on your own DIY project be sure to check out The Great Create movement. Show us what great creation you can come up with using RadioShack products. We would love to show what our most creative customers can do!
Learn more about Forrest Mims at his website: www.ForrestMims.org