April 1974 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history
of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights
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enough to remember the 1973
Oil Crisis era (the subject of Mac McGregor's and Barney's discussion) that resulted from an oil
embargo instituted by Arab oil producing nations during the
Yom Kippur War where Egypt
and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. I didn't get my driver's license until Fall of 1974
(turned 16 on August 18th), so the worst of it was pretty much over by
then. However, I clearly remember sitting in long lines at the gas station with my father, and then
being limited in the amount that could be purchased (i.e., no fill-ups). Gas prices jumped from a national
average of 38.5¢/gallon in May 1973 to 55.1¢/gallon in June 1974. According to the
BLS' Inflation Calculator, that is the equivalent of $2.21/gallon and $2.89/gallon
in 2017 money. Ironically, that's about what gas is costing right now. Another short-lived gas
shortage occurred in 1979, resulting in the national maximum speed limit of 55 mph (revoked finally
in 1995), and the U.S. extended Daylight Savings Time in order to (ostensibly) save fuel. If you were
fortunate enough owned a boat during those times (my family certainly wasn't), you could fill up at
a dock with no restrictions and then go home and pump it from the boat to your car. I knew a guy whose
father had a huge cabin cruiser at his beach home who never spent a minute sitting in gas lines. No, he
never offered to sell me any of his gas.
Mac's Service Shop: Electronics and the Energy Crisis
By John T. Frye, W9EGV, KHD4167
When Barney entered the service department, blinking from the bright
April sunshine, he found Mac frowning in concentration and scribbling on a note pad.
"Writing a spring poem, Boss?" the youth asked flippantly.
"Hardly," Mac replied. "I'm preparing a brief on the electronics industry's place in the sun during
the long-haul energy crisis. As things have been going, I'm afraid the loudly squeaking wheels - truckers,
commercial aviation, farmers, owners of private planes, teachers, boat owners, etc. - are going to get
most of the grease, or oil, and leave little for the rest of us who do not have a government department,
a strong union, or a powerful Washington lobby to open the spigot for us.
"Electronics is so all-pervasive in our society, it plays such a quiet but essential part in our
lives; that it's easy to take its services for granted and forget that it, too, must have its fair share
of energy to continue and expand those services. Unlike most other industries, electronics returns many-fold
every calorie it consumes! It has played and will continue to play a major role on three fronts in the
energy crisis: (1) the locating of new sources of present forms of energy, (2) the conservation of all
forms of energy, and (3) the development and control of new kinds of energy."
Locating New Energy Sources. "I guess electronics helps locate new oil and gas fields, huh?"
"You guess right. If all the oil wells discovered through the use of electronics were suddenly taken
out of production and we had left only those wells brought in guessing or using a divining rod, we would
have only a small fraction of the 17 million barrels of oil we consume daily in this country. While
electronics plays an essential part in most forms of modern geophysical prospecting, it is the heart
of the seismic type on which the oil industry spends many millions of dollars each year in field work
and laboratory research.
"You know how this works: explosive charges are detonated in shot holes drilled in the earth, and
the refracted or reflected shock waves are picked up by special chart-drawing receivers in the vicinity.
The accurate measuring of the times that elapse between the detonation and the reception of the ground-travelling
waves at several receiver points indicates the presence of anticlines, salt domes, and faults beneath
the surface, formations expected to be oil-bearing. In underwater prospecting from a surface vessel,
detonating charges are often replaced by bursts of compressed air. When new oil fields are discovered,
you can bet that electronics will have pointed the finger."
Conservation of Energy. "How docs electronics conserve energy?"
"Dozens of ways. First, let's talk about what electronics has already done to save electrical energy
in the home, office, and industry. Replacement of tube-type radios, TV receivers, and hi-fi sets with
semiconductor equipment has saved up to 80% of the energy consumed by these entertainment devices. The
same goes for computers and calculators. And don't forget the saving in the huge air-conditioning energy
requirements for keeping those early tube-type computers cool. The replacement of older energy-consuming
relays with newly developed semiconductor products is just getting off the ground in the telephone industry,
and in the future this will represent a very substantial saving in energy. Humidity sensors that automatically
shut off clothes dryers when the clothes are dry, rather than at the end of an arbitrary, energy-wasting
time interval, are already saving both gas and electricity.
"But more is on the way. IC microprocessors will be used to monitor and program heating, lighting,
and air-conditioning in office buildings and factories of the future. By tailoring these quantities
precisely to actual needs - for example, lighting only areas actually occupied by people and maintaining
a uniform temperature during all seasons - it is estimated a 30% saving in energy can be achieved. Back
in the home, electronic equipment will calculate the total heat produced by an oven from turn-on and
eliminate the need for wasteful preheating. You'll be glad to know the electronics industry is constantly
scrutinizing its own uses of energy and trying to make savings. Core memories in computers will be replaced
with semiconductor circuits; CMOS logic circuits will be substituted for TTL."
"How about transportation? Don't tell me electronics can't help save some energy there. "
"It most assuredly can, and this is very important because transportation consumes 24.8% of all the
energy we use, making its consumption second only to that of industry, which takes 37.3%. Actually,
electronics is already doing a good job of conserving fuel used in cars. A good electronic ignition
system can add up to 2 miles per gallon over a period of time by eliminating misfires and providing
stable ignition timing that does not change because of wear. Automatic speed control devices can increase
mileage 20% on highway travel. It's claimed that the substitution of electronic fuel injection for carburetion
can, on average, increase mileage in stop-start driving from 4 to 16 miles per gallon. All in all, Floyd
Kvamme of National Semiconductor says that electronics can provide up to 40% savings in automobile fuel.
"Don't forget that the car of the future is going to come equipped with an on-board computer to provide
separate digital readouts for the speedometer, gas gauge, electric clock, tachometer, etc. At the same
time, as we have discussed before, this computer will provide, by means of pulse modulation, exactly
the amount of power - no more and no less - needed for braking, steering, window control, windshield
wiping, and other mechanical jobs. It will do this over the single-cable wiring system that will replace
the rat's nest of wiring found in today's cars. The saving in dc power from the battery, of course,
means a saving in fuel required to recharge that battery. But that brings me to my 'invention' that
I was working on when you came in."
"What invention?" Barney asked.
"A really accurate miles-per-gallon digital readout meter controlled by the on-board computer. All
we need to do is provide that computer with two inputs from digital sensors, one of which will indicate
distance travelled per unit of time and another which will indicate gasoline consumed per identical
unit of time. The computer will sample inputs from both the flowmeter installed in the gas line and
the speedometer at very short time intervals, compare them, and provide a constantly updated digital
readout in miles per gallon."
"Hey, I like that!" Barney exclaimed. "It certainly would be a vast improvement over those so-called
mileage meters that are nothing more than intake manifold pressure indicators. That thing would really
give religion to some of our lead-footed brethren, especially if you modified the readout to indicate
cost-per-mile for the high-priced fuel we're going to be using."
Mac grinned as he nodded agreement. "All of us would be better drivers if we were made instantly
and irrefutably aware of the effect of our driving performance on fuel consumption - and our pocketbooks.
The installation of such meters on all cars would probably do more to save gasoline than would all the
dire predictions and exhortations coming out of Washington. And there would be other advantages. You'd
not need to take the salesman's word about the gas mileage you could expect from the car he was trying
to sell you. It would be right there on the dash in little glowing numbers at any speed you chose to
drive; furthermore, after you got a tune-up, if you couldn't see an immediate improvement in gas mileage,
you could ask some very pointed questions of the mechanic."
New Forms of Energy. "You said something about how electronics would help with the development and
control of new forms of energy," Barney pointed out.
"That's right. Electronics really shines in the areas of precise measurement, tireless monitoring,
remote control, almost instantaneous communication, adjusting output to demand, and elephant-like memory.
No matter what kind of energy source we use in the future - whether it is solar energy from sun farms
in the Southwest or from circling satellites, breeder reactors, 'laser energy' resulting from continuous
controlled nuclear fusion triggered by a laser beam, shale oil extraction, the gasification of coal,
or some as yet undreamed of source - all of these functions of electronics will be sorely needed to
design the hardware for the new energy source, to harness and control its output, and to make sure that
it does no harm to man or his ecological environment."
"Well," Barney observed, "you've done a pretty good job of convincing me that electronics is the
key to man's survival during the approaching period of exhaustion of the earth's supply of fossil energy.
It helps him locate and extract fossil energy deposits still left, it's absolutely essential to stretching
those supplies as far as they will go, and it's the best hope of discovering and using new sources of
energy. Depriving the electronics industry of the energy it needs to do the work it is already doing
and to expand its potential would be suicidally short-sighted. How could energy-allotting bureaucrats
fail to understand that?"
"Never underestimate the ability of a bureaucrat or a politician to overlook something until it is
forcefully pointed out to him by a powerful lobby or voting block," Mac warned. "Electronics has no
voice of its own because it speaks through the languages of medicine, science, industry, entertainment,
research, computation, and communication. There are some who will not appreciate the contribution of
electronics to our way of living until pacemaker-stimulated hearts quit beating, space vehicles never
leave the launching pad, or TV and radio sets go dead."
"You don't really expect that to happen, do you?"
"Not unless we continue the policy of greasing only the wheels that squeak the loudest. In our highly
organized, specialized, and interdependent society, it's difficult to judge the essentiality of any
segment. Certainly, you can't base that judgment on which group bellows the loudest when it is asked
to conserve energy. Some of the gears in our society are large and some are small, but remove anyone
gear and the whole clock stops. This is no time for anyone group to claim it should not be asked to
join in energy conservation on the grounds that its work is absolutely essential to the welfare of the
Posted May 16, 2017
Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe
This series of instructive stories was the brainchild of no other than John T. Frye,
creator of the Carl and Jerry series that ran in
Electronics for many years. Mac's Radio Service Shop began life in
Radio & Television News magazine (which
itself started as simply Radio News), and then changed its name to Mac's Service
Shop after the magazine became
World. 'Mac' is electronics repair shop owner Mac McGregor, and Barney is his eager,
if not somewhat naive, technician assistant. 'Lessons' are taught in story format with dialogs
between Mac and Barney.