Electronics And Gadgets

Electronics is the branch of science, engineering and technology that deals with electrical circuits involving active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies. The nonlinear behaviour of active components and their ability to control electron flows makes amplification of weak signals possible and is usually applied to information and signal processing. Similarly, the ability of electronic devices to act as switches makes digital information processing possible. Interconnection technologies such as circuit boards, electronics packaging technology, and other varied forms of communication infrastructure complete circuit functionality and transform the mixed components into a working system.

A gadget is a small technological object that has a particular function, but is often thought of as a novelty. Gadgets are invariably considered to be more unusually or cleverly designed than normal technological objects at the time of their invention. Gadgets are sometimes also referred to as gizmos.

Electronics is distinct from electrical and electro mechanical science and technology, which deals with the generation, distribution, switching, storage and conversion of electrical energy to and from other energy forms using wires, motors, generators, batteries, switches, relays, transformers, resistors and other passive components. This distinction started around 1906 with the invention by Lee De Forest of the triode, which made electrical amplification of weak radio signals and audio signals possible with a non-mechanical device. Until 1950 this field was called radio technology because its principal application was the design and theory of radio transmitters, receivers and vacuum tubes.

Today, most electronic devices use semiconductor components to perform electron control. The study of semiconductor devices and related technology is considered a branch of solid state physics, whereas the design and construction of electronic circuits to solve practical problems come under electronics engineering. This article focuses on engineering aspects of electronics.

An electronic component is any physical entity in an electronic system used to affect the electrons or their associated fields in a desired manner consistent with the intended function of the electronic system. Components are generally intended to be connected together, usually by being soldered to a printed circuit board (PCB), to create an electronic circuit with a particular function (for example an amplifier, radio receiver, or oscillator). Components may be packaged singly or in more complex groups as integrated circuits. Some common electronic components are capacitors, inductors, resistors, diodes, transistors, etc. Components are often categorized as active (e.g. transistors and thyristors) or passive (e.g. resistors and capacitors).

Most analog electronic appliances, such as radio receivers, are constructed from combinations of a few types of basic circuits. Analog circuits use a continuous range of voltage as opposed to discrete levels as in digital circuits. The number of different analog circuits so far devised is huge, especially because a circuit can be defined as anything from a single component, to systems containing thousands of components. Analog circuits are sometimes called linear circuits although many nonlinear effects are used in analog circuits such as mixers, modulators, etc. Good examples of analog circuits include vacuum tube and transistor amplifiers, operational amplifiers and oscillators.

One rarely finds modern circuits that are entirely analog. These days analog circuitry may use digital or even microprocessor techniques to improve performance. This type of circuit is usually called mixed signal rather than analog or digital. Sometimes it may be difficult to differentiate between analog and digital circuits as they have elements of both linear and non linear operation. An example is the comparator which takes in a continuous range of voltage but only outputs one of two levels as in a digital circuit. Similarly, an overdriven transistor amplifier can take on the characteristics of a controlled switch having essentially two levels of output.

Digital circuits are electric circuits based on a number of discrete voltage levels. Digital circuits are the most common physical representation of Boolean algebra and are the basis of all digital computers. To most engineers, the terms digital circuit, digital system and logic are interchangeable in the context of digital circuits. Most digital circuits use a binary system with two voltage levels labeled 0 and 1. Often logic 0 will be a lower voltage and referred to as Low while logic 1 is referred to as High. However, some systems use the reverse definition (0 is High) or are current based. Ternary (with three states) logic has been studied, and some prototype computers made. Computers, electronic clocks, and programmable logic controllers are constructed of digital circuits. Digital signal processors are another example.

History of Gadgets

The history of gadgets spans as far back as humanity itself – since hominids began creating tools to make their lives easier. Humans have always created devices and appliances with specific practical purposes that were initially thought of as novelties, due to unfamiliarity with and initial unwillingness to accept the technology. Today, industry has augmented the creation of new gadgets, while certain retailers, including Brookstone and Richard Thalheimer’s RichardSolo.com, specialize in popularizing them.

What famous inventors Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Leonardo da Vinci, among others, had in common was foresight. They understood that a lifetime spent playing with what others viewed as toys and senseless gadgets would eventually result in indispensable technology. From just that small group, the groundwork for electricity, communications, film, and flight was laid because of their gadgets, which obviously possessed more value than novelty.

Perhaps one of the earliest, most well known gadgets created is the wheel, many millennia ago. Take a ride in your car and witness how truly revolutionary such a gadget became and how much we now rely on it for transportation. A more recent gadget, the Apple iPhone, appears to be the beginning stages of yet another gadget-turned-necessity that will reshape communications.

“The iPhone may someday be looked upon as the device that started a second revolution in computing. Desktop computing was the first revolution. Hand-held computing will someday be regarded as the second revolution, and the iPhone is the product that started it.”
-Richard Thalheimer, RichardSolo.com

All gadgets were not created equal. In fact most inventions are built on the newest technology. The world of gadgets is tiered; devices fall into one of four categories: mechanical, electronic, programmable, and application. Mechanical gadgets include the wheel, as well as later developments such as the pulley, the bicycle, the sail boat, the thermometer and the sort. Following the advent of electricity, gadgets were taken to a new level as inventors began to discover different uses for the newly harnessed energy. The television, radio and quartz watch are examples of electronic gadgets. After electricity, inventors toyed around with electronic information via microprocessor, beginning an age of programmable devices such as computers, and later, MP3 players and the iPhone. Application gadgets include iTunes, Microsoft Office and other computer applications that customize our experience with programmable devices.

Richard Thalheimer, the President and founder of online gadget vendor RichardSolo.com, and founder and former CEO of gadget giant The Sharper Image, understands, maybe better than anyone, that there’s much more to gadgets than novelty.

“Certainly most people enjoy the novelty of a gadget that introduces new convenience to their lifestyle. What they forget is that solving these everyday problems is not just entertainment, but some of these devices become functional necessities. In my personal life, I rely on my iPhone, my garage door opener, my nose hair trimmer, my electric toothbrush, and other gadgets that were once regarded as novel gadgets. ”
– Richard Thalheimer, RichardSolo.com

Both his former brainchild and his current venture sell quirky, useful and fun gadgets of all types, from mechanical to programmable and application. He has seen some devices, such as the Ionic Breeze air purifier, spur sensational and lasting trends based on a realization of utility value, while others collected dust on the shelves after their novelty wore out. Specialty stores like The Sharper Image and Richard Thalheimer’s RichardSolo.com serve a greater purpose: spread new ideas, and give credit to the Franklins and Edisons of the world.

~Ben Anton, 2008