The previous night my dad's boss hosted a party at his house that my parents had attended. My dad was in the IS department of a medium-sized insurance company, and his department was full of chess players, assembly language programmers, ham radio operators, and computer tinkerers. My dad's boss was all of those rolled into one. "You would love it!" my mom told me, "his basement is full of computers!" My imagination ran wild.
Within a week or two my dad's boss invited us over. We pulled up to his house and I gazed up at a 50-foot tower with a beam antenna next to his garage. As I walked into the basement, I could hear strange sounds of beeping, static, and garbled voice. My first sight was of three walls covered with a custom-built set of cabinets that contained a dizzying array of electronic equipment. I would later learn that it was full of Heathkit radios and computers. I was awe-struck.
Later that fall my dad announced, "we're getting a computer." We proceeded to spend several evenings and weekends at my dad's boss' house where they built our family's Heathkit H-89 computer. As they soldered, I played on the Heathkit pinball machine. Our H-89, as I recall, had 16K of RAM and a 4 MHz Z-80 CPU. My first program was about twenty print statements that displayed a crude outline of a football helmet using asterisks.
That winter I studied for and received my amateur radio novice, and later, my general class license, and my dad's boss administered the novice test. I remember him sending morse code at 6 or 7 WPM and excitedly decoding it and reading it back to him. My first radio was a Heathkit purchased for $80 at a ham 'flea market'. I went on to build a Heathkit VTVM (vacuum tube voltmeter), a code practice oscillator, and a few other kits. There were several Christmas nights spent soldering into the wee hours of the morning.
Without my dad, his boss, and Heathkit, it's unlikely I'd be doing what I do today. Thanks for the memories, Heathkit.
I still build kits and am getting back into tinkering with electronics after 35+ years of software hacking. Hardware keeps you honest about your abilities, and the smoke keeps you humble about your mistakes. :-)
I'll use that. :-)
And I still have my "atomic" clock that reads the NIST radio—same tech as the self-setting wall clocks you can get nowadays, except completely discrete, with 4 or 5 daughter cards, and a speaker so you can actually listen to the beepy radio transmission.
I loved Heathkit. I so wish they were still around...