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Worthwhile reading on electronics, computing and synthesisers.

How To Build Your Own Working Microcomputer
by Charles K. Adams
Published by TAB Books Inc.
Price £5.95

There is a vast number of books available on the subject of microcomputers and their uses. However, I believe that this one has something different to offer. The unusual quality of this publication is its practical approach. It really does explain how to build a working microcomputer. Details of all the components required, circuit diagrams, board layouts and wiring schedules are presented in a project type format. Suggestions for the power supply design and components are also given.

The microprocessor used is INTEL'S 8080A and the associated circuitry makes available 3K of ROM and 1K of RAM. The input and output devices are a 20-position keyboard, LEDs and seven segment displays (so do not pay too much attention to the picture on the front cover). An EPROM programmer is included in the project so the constructor controls the system from the lowest level. A single step facility is also included, this being almost essential in debugging the system and programs.

The book has three main parts. The first gives information on computers in general, and goes on to microcomputer terminology and structure. The basics are also explained in this section: digital logic circuits and numbering systems. These subjects are not detailed in great depth but there is sufficient information for the beginner.

The second part describes the design and assembly of the microcomputer and also how to get the system working. The construction details are presented as a series of modules. Each module circuit is described with assembly instructions and parts list. The last stage in the assembly is wiring the modules together.

The third part deals mainly with programming. Basic information is given on programming and flowcharting methods. The instruction set for the 8080A is explained and guidance given on programming the microcomputer built with the use of the book.

The final chapter is devoted to expanding the system and its capabilities, this now being essential with any home computer system as they are quickly outgrown.

The book is written for the novice who wishes to learn about and build a microcomputer. The assembly instructions are organised in a logical manner and should be clearly understood. I could see no reason why the finished project should not eventually function properly.

The main aim of the book is to build and operate the microcomputer. However, as each stage or subject is encountered the background information is given. Because of this the constructor also obtains a sound knowledge of how these devices function and their operation. There is sufficient information given for the book to be useful without actually building the computer. I was also impressed by the large glossary and appendices which contain useful information for quick reference.

Like so many publications on this subject the book is American. However, I did not notice many occasions where the difference in terminology might cause problems, the glossary explaining most of the unfamiliar terms.

The only real drawbacks with the book is that a quick calculation of the parts cost revealed that to build the complete microcomputer would be in excess of £100. High for a machine of this specification. However, for the beginner of limited resources the purchase of parts could be spread over a period of time. Considering the knowledge gained I think the money would be well spent.

110 Electronic Alarm Projects
by R. M. Marston
Published by Newnes Technical Books
Price £4.65

Although many of the circuits in this book are simply variations on some of the other circuits, a wide range of alarm circuits are covered in the seven chapters. The topics covered include burglar alarms, light, temperature, and contact activated alarms, plus alarms for use in cars.

The circuits are all tried and tested modern designs with accompanying circuit descriptions that are clear and concise. Apart from the 'standard' light and water activated circuits there are more unusual and equally useful types such as proximity alarms, a power failure alarm, smoke alarms using optical detection, temperature deviation alarms, and resistance activated alarms, which considerably add to the interest of the book. The only obvious omission is infra-red alarm circuits, all the light activated circuits employ devices which operate in the visible light spectrum only.

One slight drawback for would-be constructors of limited experience is that only circuit diagrams are provided, there are no printed circuit or stripboard layouts for the designs. As virtually all the circuits are quite simple this is not a major shortcoming and all but complete beginners at electronics should be able to build the majority of the projects with little difficulty. Any unusual aspects of mechanical construction are explained in the text and these explanations are supported by drawings in many cases. Another useful feature is the inclusion of semiconductor lead-out and pinout diagrams in an appendix, which could save much searching through data books. It is a British book, and the components used in the circuits are all readily available in the UK.

All in all a very interesting and worthwhile book which is easy to read and understand. Well up to the usual standard of this popular series of books by an author of considerable experience, and well worth having on the bookshelf for anyone interested specifically in projects of this type, or electronics in general.

Electronic Music Synthesisers
by Delton T. Horn
Distributed in the UK by W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd.
Price £4.20

This book is subtitled 'How to build or buy - and use - your own electronic music synthesiser!" and crams quite a lot of information into its 168 pages. There are two sections, the first starts with a clear summary of the parts of a synthesiser, basic principles of synthesis, and goes on to examine commercial models in detail; the second deals with construction and presents many circuits. Finally, there is an appendix giving patch diagrams and connections for some of the ICs used in the circuits.

Chapter 2 is, in fact, one of the most useful parts of the book, especially to a beginner. It describes all the facilities normally found on a synthesiser, what effect they have on the sound, the various ways of interconnection and control, and also the external bits such as amplification and recording.

The remaining chapters in this section deal one by one with Moog modular systems, the Minimoog and Polymoog, ARP, PAIA, Oberheim, the EML Synkey and the RMI keyboard computer.

The final chapter is headed Accessories but in fact deals only with the ARP sequencer and the EML Poly-Box, and this brevity is carried through the other chapters. Considering the book was published only last year, there are some remarkable omissions: no Prophet, no Wasp (to take an example from each end of the scale) and no mention of any Japanese instruments, so ignoring a list of worthy instruments which is probably so long that it won't fit in this review. (Yamaha, Korg, Roland - need I go on?) The circuits are all simple enough to be tackled by a near-beginner, mostly using 741 op amps, TTL gates and sometimes the 555 timer. Voltage control is only touched on, using lamps shining on to LDRs; there is nothing very critical or difficult to construct. There are also a couple of basic 'organ' designs - one monophonic, using a stylus type keyboard and a polyphonic circuit using twelve master oscillators.

All in all, then, a handy book for the newcomer to synthesis - those who want guidance on how to spend their hard-earned cash and those who just want to "frighten dogs and small children with grotesque noises" are both catered for here. For the more advanced among us, the second section is a timely reminder that electronic music doesn't have to be made with vastly complicated circuitry.

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Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Oct 1981

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