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Thin Air, My Foot!
July 1956 Popular Electronics

July 1956 Popular Electronics

July 1956 Popular Electronics Cover - RF CafeTable 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 are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from Popular Electronics.

New word alert: 'din,' as in "It was dinned into me." OK, maybe you already knew that, but surely I should have been aware of its alternate meaning other than being a loud noise ("the agitated cat made quite a din."). Fortunately, I am not subject to a household of people who refuse to put things back in their respective places when through with them, but this tale of woe tells what might be a familiar scenario to you. To be honest, this could have been written about me as a boy - before the U.S. Air Force taught me a thing or two about organization and neatness - since I continually frustrated my father by leaving his tools (and hardware and lumber and paint) scattered in forgotten places around the house and yard.

See Kohler's "I Married a Superheterodyne," "Unpopular Electronics," and "Operation Chaos," "Thin Air, My Foot," "High Tide in the Tweeter," "Hi-Fi Guest List," "The R/C Cloud," "Kool-Keeping Kwiz ," and "McWatts."

Thin Air, My Foot!

By Carl Kohler

Thin Air, My Foot!, July 1956 Popular Electronics - RF CafeAs a rosy-cheeked lad, standing with awe at my father's knee while he performed such magic as winding antenna coils or constructing a crystal set, I was exposed to an important factor in electronic know-how. It was dinned into me with patient repetition (and a skilled hand with the razor strop) until I knew it better than I did my own name. It was, simply: "A place for everything and everything in its place."

I have since tried to introduce this cardinal rule of good craftsmanship into my own household ... a task which - at times - seems comparable to destroying Boulder Dam with a penknife. I just can't seem to get the Missus (by far, the most outrageous offender of the rule) to put anything back where she found it, and most of the time I'm fortunate beyond my wildest hopes if she even remembers where she misplaced it. When it comes to tracking down mislaid tools, Little Bo-Peep searching for her flock at a wolf-rally stands a better chance of finding what she's looking for than I do in the simple effort to locate "that Phillips screwdriver which was on the workbench just a minute ago."

... Sometimes finding a missing tool gradually becomes a trek of similar proportion to that of searching for the famed dodo bird ...

If this smacks of gross exaggeration, then, you, dear reader, are either single or, the possessor of a workshop guarded by trained lions and a time-lock.

The following dismay-tinged notes are but a few of the cryptic entries in a small book which I carry with me, recording weekly accounts of lost-tool matters:

Monday - Found partially rusted open-end wrench under lilac bush in front yard. Wife claimed she borrowed it to loosen soil.

Tuesday - Discovered cutters lying under sofa. Wife's story: she needed "something" to cut up coat hangers for project she is working in wire.

Wednesday - Found soldering gun in upper hall. Wife boldly admitted using same to hammer nail into wall for picture-hanging.

Thursday - Took socket-wrench, gently, away from Junior. Wife claims I left it lying on washporch (not true, I put things back where I find them) and allowed child to amuse himself with it.

Friday - Discovered ratchet-wrench in silver-drawer while drying silverware for Wife. No explanation offered by anyone.

Saturday - Stepped on pliers ... nearly broke my fool neck. When questioned, Wife allowed as how she was using them to pull tacks from old chair before attempting re-upholstering. Gave her short, spirited talk on leaving tools upon basement floor. Mentioned that our insurance clauses don't include "death by pliers."

Sunday - Came upon strange hand-drill. Not mine. Asked around neighborhood. Found owner two blocks south. Kids were drilling for oil with it. Am reassured I am not alone in this fight.

And those are the trivial facets to this multi-sided pain where it aches the most. At least, I was able to get my pinkies on the abused tool and carefully put it back, in each instance, in its allotted niche or on its own peg.

And, frankly, I would a darn sight sooner have to limp through the danger-infested jungles of, say, darkest Brazil, in my bare feet and armed only with a water-pistol, than be faced with the prospect of ferreting out some completely vanished tool ... particularly when Friend Wife kicks the hunt into action with: "It simply disappeared into thin air!"

... Sometimes finding a missing tool gradually becomes a trek of similar proportion to that of searching for the famed dodo bird ...

Those are fightin' words in my book.

But how did you know it would be there? - RF Cafe

... But how did you know it would be there?" asked Friend Wife, with eyes the size of dinner plates. "I hear voices," I admitted, mystically ...

They are, also, the fantastic symbols of feminine reasoning substituted for cold, male logic ... logic being as foreign to the mind of woman as Martian sand would be to an Ozark hillbilly. Nevertheless, those six, absurd words have been hurled into my stunned face each time Friend Wife is queried concerning the whereabouts of a missing tool.

One morning, I became aware that my prized and treasured electric drill was not suspended in its customary place. Before succumbing to hysteria, I forced myself into a tense, controlled state of mind and made a trembling inch-by-inch check of the workbench, the larger drawers, the cabinets and, finally, the workshack floor.

No electric drill.

Fair-minded lout that I am, I sauntered casually through the house and grounds, keeping two weather eyes straining from their sockets for even a hint of a misplaced, unreturned electric drill. I happened upon my extra pliers (half-buried among the ferns) and a given-up-for-lost long-ago screwdriver (encrusted with dried paint) but still no electric drill.

So, letting my fury lash itself into a rousing lather, I abandoned further cool-headedness and charged off to fight "City Hall." Electric drills don't grow on trees.

The culprit was in the kitchen, affecting an air of spritely cheer and threadbare innocence as I boiled into the room. Gripping the edge of the sink for support, I glared at her from head to toe. Her cheer dampened visibly.

"Well, what's eating you?"

"Where is it? Come on, now. Where is it? Stop stalling and just tell me what you did with it and I won't-"

"Where is what?" She had the audacity to smile.

"The electric drill," I snapped peevishly.

"My fine, wonderful electric drill that I am lost without. It's gone and you know where it's gone to, and I demand that you-"

She rested her chin upon a slender finger and stared thoughtfully at me. "Electric drill. Is that the gun-like gismo that goes rrrrrrrzzzzzzz and makes holes in things?"

"That's it," I agreed. "That's my electric drill which I bought with my own little money and have cherished like some men cherish their-"

"Welllll ... let ... me ... think ... " Her eyes glazed over with vague thought.

I drew myself up and stood, with folded arms across my chest, peering mercilessly into her little act with what I was sure were gimlet-colored glances. Friend Wife has a nice trick of assuming a cooperatively confused aspect when cornered in matters of vital concern - like lost tools and such. I've had reason to suspect, in the past years of marriage, that this is what my mother used to refer to as "the wiles of women."

"What did you do with my electric drill?" I hissed.

"Oh, now I remember!" She beamed joyously at me, and I could sense a real humdinger building up voltage. "I used it to put drainage holes in those tin planters you made for me! And was that ever a job! Drilling ... drilling ... drilling ... all those oodles of holes! Gosh, I never realized how much-"

"Listen, lady," I said patiently, "I don't want to sound like so much tube noise, but I insist upon knowing exactly where my drill is - right now."

"How should I know?" she complained, shrugging. '''It just seems like I lay things down and - and the very next minute, they disappear into thin-"

"Hold it!" I shrieked. "Hold it, right there!" Unnerved, I collapsed into the nearest chair, every muscle in my body quivering. "I've been led over that 'thin air' route before. I'm not buying it this trip. And now that you're a great, big grown-up girl, I think you're old enough to face facts. Lady, despite your fondest wishes, nothing-absolutely nothing - disappears into thin air." I stopped for a breath of thin air and busied myself with a disgusted frown.

"Well, where is it, then?" she countered. "That's what I want you to tell me." Sudden cunning tinted her face. "Isn't it possible you left it inside that baffle you built last week? I heard you using it!"

"Oh, no, you don't!" I chuckled nastily.

"Nice try, but I remember returning the drill to ... its ... proper ... place. No, you've had it since then. Where is it?"

Her mouth began trembling. Then, quite without warning, the process of related-objects-thinking went off in my head and I knew exactly what she had done with the drill. Five minutes later, I had excavated the tool from the bottom of the planter where it had been left and carelessly buried.

"B-But how did you know it would be there?" asked Friend Wife, her eyes the approximate size of dinner plates. "I can't imagine how I could have possibly left it in there. Nor can I see how you knew it was in there, either."

"I hear voices," I admitted, mystically. "Y-You do!" The dinner plates grew into meat platters.

"Yeh, and one of the things they kept repeating and repeating was: "They ain't nobody but us voices in this thin air!" I couldn't refrain from slapping my knee and yocking heartily at this bit of humor.

I've had better audiences.

Since, the battle to keep tools on hand goes on with the usual percentage of items vanishing, never to be seen again, and the usual number bobbing up in the unlikeliest places.

Like all good, red-blooded All-American types who find themselves gaping into the horrific maw of a seemingly losing battle, I have turned, of late, to the methods of my forefathers. And since Friend Wife appears to be immune to patient, kindly, repetitious suggestion, education and dire warning - I'm left with only one as-yet-untried course.

Does anybody know where I might buy an old-fashioned razor strop?


Posted March 3, 2016

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