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The GE Transistor Manual

Summary: One of the old bibles of electronics is still available.

In Ogilvy On Advertising David Ogilvy claims there are three magic words in the ad world. Put one in the headline of your ad and people will read it. The magic words are new, free, and sex.

But the one sure way to get my attention when flipping through a magazine is to have a schematic diagram. Any kind. A radio. Vacuum tube circuits. Logic. Piles of op amps. For some reason I find schematics arresting and always stop and take a closer look.

Clicking around the web recently I stumbled across some vacuum tube sites, which brought back fond high school memories of building tube ham radio transmitters. Everyone relied on the RCA Vacuum Tube Handbook as the bible for specs on the parts. Wouldn't it be cool to find an old copy? And wouldn't that be utterly pointless? That thought morphed to memories of the other indispensable tome of the time: The GE Transistor Manual. Not too many clicks later and one was on its way here.

I ordered the 1964 version. What's astonishing is how much was known about transistor theory by that date; transistors had been in common use for just a handful of years at the time. And this is the seventh edition! Yet it explains transistor theory in a level of detail that my college classes almost a decade later never approached. Read - and understand - the first 170 pages and you'll be a transistor expert. But no attempt is made to make the subject easy.

The price on the cover is $2, though it cost me, used, $6.98. Alas, the one that arrived is the "light-weight edition," a 594 page subset of the full-blown one I remembered. The light-weight version is missing all of the detailed specs of the transistors GE once made.

The GE Transistor Manual was, and still is even though it has been out of print for generations, one of the best compendiums of information about designing transistor-based circuits. Part of its appeal was that it's just stuffed with schematics of every conceivable kind of circuit. One can get lost for hours and days studying the cool ways the authors crafted designs with an astonishing economy of parts. It's engineer porn, graphic illustrations that makes one's heart beat a little faster as one furtively flips from page to page, mostly not reading the "story" but gazing deeply at the pictures.

Old timers will remember the unijunction transistor. There's an entire chapter dedicated to its use. These were used in timer circuits in the pre-555 days. UJTs are still available, though it has been a very long time since I've seen one in use.

But there's no discussion at all about FETs, which today represent, to a first approximation, 100% of all of the quadzillion or so transistors made every year. Though FETs existed at the time, they enjoyed little commercial success, and even into the 70s were seen as niche products. Its exclusion from this book suggests that GE did not make any at the time.

Some of the components discussed are obsolete. Or, at least I thought they were till checking the web. Stabistors, for instance were low-voltage zener diodes, but it seems these are still available, and one can even get them in modern SOT packages. Are SNAP diodes still around? There's a good description of them in the book.

Those who enjoy tech nostalgia - or schematics - will get a kick out of the book. If you want a deep look into transistor theory and use, this is a great resource. Copies can be found on Amazon.

On another topic, results of the salary survey I mentioned last week are now available here: http://www.ganssle.com/salsurv2012.html .

Published March 9, 2012