When I was a kid, my dad’s friend gifted me a “sound box” he had designed. It was a triangular prism made of metal, where the two triangles were the sides of the box—in other words, its top was at an angle to the surface it sat on. This top was covered in unlabeled switches—also metallic, like those found, I imagine, in the cockpit of an airplane—each of which, when switched “on,” made a specific sound effect. That’s all it did, and nothing more. Because it was one-of-a-kind and considerably more technologically advanced than any other toy I owned, I adored it, and probably drove my parents crazy as I endlessly flicked the switches up and down. I wish I could tell you, dear reader, how it was designed and what components he used. But I never broke it apart to find out. I was curious, but too respectful of the care taken to build the device.
These days, I marvel at how far kids’ toys have come. My nephew has a book in which, if you touch an image on any page, the book makes a sound corresponding to that image. I assume that the front and back covers have sensors, and that the book detects what page you have turned to. But even with that likely explanation, and even in the age of smart-things and an ever-more-connected world, using that book feels a bit like magic. It would have completely rocked my world, as a kid, but now it’s a commonplace item.
Having just wrapped Circuit Cellar’s 400th issue last month, it would seem fitting to write an editor letter that looks ahead: What’s next for embedded systems? How will they transform our world, again? But of course, you know better than I do how hard this can be to guess at, beyond what is already publicly available information. Instead, looking back feels like the most reliable guide to the future—at least insofar as the past reminds us how drastically technology can evolve, how drastically the material basis of our civilization can change, in just a handful of years.
Maybe I’m musing in this particular way because of some of the articles we’re bringing you in this issue. Taking fresh inspiration from Texas Instrument’s classic Speak and Spell, Jeff Bachiochi created his own portable association game for pre-readers using an M5Stack. Cornell students Deemo Chen and Sabian Grier used a Raspberry Pi RP2040 chip to build a handheld gaming device that recreates the classic arcade game “Snake.” And our resident Mike Lynes outs himself as a Trekkie in this month’s Technology Feature, which covers embedded systems in transportation. I admit, I had a lot of fun reading and editing his piece, for I, too, am a fan of Star Trek.
The Star Trek connection in Mike’s article is apt, as much of the technology he covers, now taken for granted, would have seemed like magic 50 years ago—much as the tech found on the Starship Enterprise is essentially magic to us 21st-century Earthlings. I’m reminded of the oft-quoted adage from science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is actually the third of his “three laws.” His first is: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.” I’m excited to discover all the ways we’re currently wrong. I’m sure some of our readers already know some of them.
Issue Table of Contents can be found here,
as articles are made available online they will be linked.
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • DECEMBER #401 – Get a PDF of the issue
Sam Wallace - became Circuit Cellar's Editor-In-Chief in August 2022.
His experience in writing, editing, and teaching will provide a great perspective on the selection, presentation, and clarity of editorial content. The Circuit Cellar audience will benefit from his strong academic background encompassing a Master of Fine Arts in Writing and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with honors. His passion for learning and teaching is a great fit for Circuit Cellar's continuing mission of Inspiring the Evolution of Embedded Design.