In the world of electronics, the 555 Timer IC surely ranks as one of the Greatest Simple Ideas that works wonder. Designed by one Hans R. Camenzind in 1971, and introduced by Signetics in 1972, it is estimated that over a billion pieces of this unassuming integrated circuit device are still being made each year. Whoosh! That is one old-timer whose popularity has not waned with age.
In the years that followed almost every semiconductor company worth its silicon had a 555 in its product line-up.
With fond memories I recall how, after bumping into a specimen in 1980, I became wildly fascinated by the myriad of applications achievable using this 8-pin IC. Flashing lights, dimmers, buzzers, etc, etc. It was the era of fun for me.
Who would have thought that a simple Square Waveform could be harnessed to do so many tricks?
I recall a delicacy which I used to eat with relish in my young days in the kampong in Butterworth.
90% of my neighbours were of Indian (nearly all Tamil) ancestry. During the Deepavali festive season, they would send their children over to my house with plates of goodies – among them was a kind of very hard ball.
These required a hammer or a batu lesung* to shatter them into smaller chunks. Even then, it took some strong jaw muscles and very robust molars to pulverize the smaller pieces into minuscule bits that can be savoured by the taste buds.
I think these are called Kallu Urundai. It has been donkey ages since the last time I saw them, let alone ate one. Alas, now my teeth may not be able to handle them anymore.
*batu lesung = a mortar & pestle set (in Malay)
“Three things are too wonderful for me; four, I do not understand”.
As I was clearing my junk, I came face-to-face with not 1, not 2, not 3,..but 4 sets of Camera Tripods. In the days before Smartphones and Selfie-Sticks, these tripods were necessary if one wished to have oneself included in a photo that one was shooting.
I disliked asking strangers around me to help me shoot a photo, because almost all of those shots failed to meet my expectations. Using a tripod, I could take my own sweet time to re-compose and re-shoot a thousand times till I was happy.
But how on earth did I ended up with 4 of them ?
Initially I had one set at home, but I kept forgetting to pack one along in my travels. So, I had to buy another one on location. Repeat.
Yet another nostalgic item found in my store room – legacy from the days of my venture into electronics business some 25 years ago (as of 2018). I think it cost me S$700 then.
A DC Power Supply used in the product development lab, it provided twin outputs of 30A DC (max) at adjustable voltages, plus a pair of fixed 5VDC terminals. It served me and my fellow workers for about 5 years before we had to call it quits – as our business model could not cater to the new economic order.
The beast was huge and heavy – something like 12kg. I believe these days there are more compact, lighter and cheaper models on the market.
Recently, I had to give it away to a second-hand goods dealer, as I prepared to move to a smaller dwelling. Goodbye, old friend.
Clearing my store room today, in preparation for relocation, I came upon a a well-sealed carton box that I had not opened for 18 years (as of 2018). Inside was this beautiful piece of rather vintage bench digital multimeter, made by Fluke Corporation of the USA.
Upon power-up, on came the brilliant cyan-colour VFD (vacuum fluorescent display….something that has been totally supplanted by LCDs today. Overall, it was a very well-made piece of precision equipment.
I bought it for around SGD2,000 in 1998, in the heyday of my small electronics assembly business. At that time, the business was good, but looking back I think it was a kinda fluke, given that I was 99% engineer and only 1% businessman.
Business failed in 2000, and I had to “lelong” most of the equipment; but I kept back this one.
*lelong = auction, in Malay
On that fateful day circa 1979, I was driving the amber-coloured Datsun 120Y (borrowed from a cousin), ferrying my parents from Alor Star to Butterworth.
Traffic was light and, unlike the Penang folks who loved to drive like tortoises, everyone was going at exuberant paces. “Arriba Arriba” as I imagined myself to be some kind of Speedy Gonzales. And then some.
As I was negotiating a bend just after the town of Gurun, out from behind some bushes popped two traffic policemen, armed with a radar gun.
They flagged me down and asked to see my driver’s licence and told me I was going at 70mph! I was too traumatized to remember what my reaction was. They told me that for 70mph, I had to pay a fine of RM70 at the Gurun Police Station. Our day was ruined.
1964 was milestone year of great significance for rail travel in Malaysia, as KTM finally made that great leap forward over the River Prai. The opening of the Swing Bridge allowed the railway tracks to move onward to Butterworth.
Prior to that, goods and passengers had to be transported via a special “train ferry” between Penang Island and Prai Town.
The swing bridge could be swivelled around to allow ships to pass through.
I had a frightening experience once, circa 1972, when with a friend, tried cycling along the railway track on it. We heard the train whistle, and in my panic, had my bike pedal caught in the steel rail. Adrenaline gushed in, and I was able to extract myself in time – albeit with a gashed toe.
The bridge was replaced by a twin-track one in 2013.