My name is Todd Harrison from Mesa, AZ (USA). You can reach me at toddrharrison at gmail dot com. On 11/28/2011 I was honored with being the “Featured Engineer” of the day at www.EEWeb.com. You can read the Featured Engineer interview if you want to learn a few tidbits about my history and career in engineering.
This blog is dedicated to subjects that interest me at any given time. Things I build, do, read or experience. But mostly it will be about hobby electronics. You can follow this blog by visiting or by subscribing via RSS (see link on sidebar).
I’m currently working as an Oracle and SQL Server Database Administrator but I spend my free time doing a mix of activities such as (in order of interest): Playing video games with my son, playing piano, hobby electronics, building computers, welding and metal work as well as fixing old cars. I’m also into hiking, rock climbing and Taekwondo with my son and daughter which we do some mix 3 to 5 times in any given week.
I received a BS in Engineering Physics from North Dakota State University in 1993. I never really used my Engineering degree, which was specialized in electronics and optics, but I also never lost my love for it over all these years either.
Since college I have tinkered in electronics but in the past few years I have really connected with some online groups which share so much of their experience and knowledge that I have been able do more than I could have ever dreamed of doing a decade ago.
In college my Engineering classes focused on theory and how electronics got discovered, improved and functioned mathematically, but they never really taught you how to use the stuff. We never really learned how to approach an engineering problem and use electronics to make a device to perform a useful task. We had the standard labs but they were never focused on critical thinking, but rather to just build a diagrammed circuit and fill in the blanks at the end of the lab.
For anybody reading this and currently taking Electrical Engineering, I would suggest to them to do their best in class and lab but spend all your free time on electronics sites, blogs and forums which share detailed real life application electronics. For starters try some or all of the links you see in my “Blogroll” at the sidebar.
I also recommend you get the books by Forrest M. Mims III as listed in on my page “Links for Beginners in Electronics” and read them often, over and over again, as you progress through your education. Plus, do as many of the projects in these books as you can. Pick one project each weekend as a goal and you will be so surprised what you will learn from building and, more importantly, trouble shooting the projects.
And of course the bible of electronics:
The Art of Electronics 2nd edition by Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill
**** Todd Harrison’s life timeline
**** by Todd Harrison
**** copyright July 15th 2012
1969: Age 2: Todd the toddler
1975: Age 8: I’m playing with my older cousin’s electric trains.
1977: Age 10: My 5th grade class. I’m the blondish boy in the back – middle – blue shirt. There was a mix of 6th graders in this class.
1980: Age 12: I’m on the right with the wonderful stripped tube socks and cutoff jeans. Wow what a sight. But it gets worse trust me. My father is in the middle and a guy named Bing on the left.
1981: Age 13: Well, I’m kind of in this photo. You can see my hand in the lower right holding a tape recorder microphone to the television. On the TV is the first landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia on April 14, 1981. It was a Tuesday and I skipped school to stay home and watch the landing. I still have the cassette tapes for all the audio on that day. I listened to a few minutes and I make some short intros between commercials. I should convert them to mp3 and upload them.
I don’t have the tapes or photos of the 1st launch. The 1st scheduled launch was for Friday the 10th but was canceled and I was thinking “They will never get this bird off the ground on a schedule”. The 2nd attempt which did launch was on April 12th 1981 at 7 a.m. EST and I wasn’t going to get to use my grandmother’s TV starting at 4 a.m. CST.
There was NO question I was destined to be a nerd at this point.
1983: Age 15: I’m the grumpy looking one on the right. I was selected to go to a summer boot camp for 3 days to learn about military life. It was grueling and very restrictive schedules. Thanks to this program I learned I wasn’t going in the military unless drafted. My cousin on the far left loved it and he joined the Air Force right out of high school. He stayed in until he retired. Lucky bastard, I wish I was retired but I know I couldn’t have taken 21 years in the military.
I’m the blond on the right. My friend Frankie was my teammate in a 4th of July raft race my hometown held in 1983. I knew a canoe was NOT in the spirit of a raft race and I didn’t want to spend days building something that was fast and could win but not qualify for the race, so I asked the race organizer what the exact build rules were to compete as a raft in the race. He said it had to be homemade and man powered. I asked “That’s it, no other rules?” he said “nope, no other rules”. Well as you can see I designed and built a canoe! Why not, I wanted to win and it was well within the rules. I used thin strips of wood trim, ducted tape, wood glue and a few screws. A 3 foot post cut in half for the stern and bow with long wood trim mounted as ribs. We bowed out the middle and covered it with canvas and paint. I originally wanted to cover it with newspaper soaked in glue over cardboard and lots of oil paint. It only needed to work one time to win. My mother had made several canvas covered wagon tops and she was good at making stuff out of canvas. She talked Frankie and I into letting her make the canvas cover but that job took much longer and we finished just in time to put the raft (aka canoe) in the water on race day. Our maiden voyage was the race, pressure!
Did we win? Here we are after crossing the finish line and rowing to shore. The river sides were full of spectators and only my family knew we had won because the other racers in their rafts (aka floating anchors) hadn’t even come around the bend in the river. The other spectators didn’t know the race had started or that we had already won. For weeks people asked why I was listed in the newspaper as the raft race winner when they seen somebody else win. I had a hard time telling people they had been cheering for 2nd place because Frankie and I had won the race 20 minutes earlier. I mostly got called a cheater and even my Science teacher who was on a floating door called me a cheater for entering a canoe in a raft race. I always did that even when I was young, found out the rules and/or requirements and maximized my ideas to succeeded or win. I still don’t see it as cheating because I followed the rules. The people that called me a cheater didn’t know the rules to the race, only the name of the race so I understand their view. I learned one really great life lesson after that race, “Don’t underestimate your ideas, talent or designs.” I say that because I was stressed the whole time when building the canoe and even on race day I was thinking I might not win. I just wasn’t able to understand at the time how much faster a canoe was than a door.
My commodore 64 in 1983: I got my Commodore 64 a short time after turning 16 for Christmas 1983. I had been using an Apple ][ plus at school, when I could, for a couple of years before getting my Commodore 64 system. I was so lucky to get that computer. My parents had very little money and relative to today’s money my $500 1983 C64 system would be ~$1200.
That is one hell of a Christmas gift! I know many relatives pitched in to get the system and I am so thankful. I still have my C64 and as I’m typing right now it is setup on my dinning room table where my 8 yr old son plays games on it. I’m going to have to introduce him to Commodore BASIC soon.
1984: Age 16: With my mother on a summer vacation. This is proof it gets worse! Ha! Look at that cutoff shirt. I couldn’t afford to buy a real cutoff shirt so I just fashioned my own with a scissors. I remember I ran a lot when I was young. Like 3 miles every weeknight and 9 to 10 miles a day on weekends. Maybe that is what I need to start doing again. :)
1986: Age 18: This was taking at my high school graduation party in the spring of 86.
1988: Age 20: Graduation photo from University of North Dakota – UND Williston Center where I got my Associate of Arts (AA) degree. After getting my AA degree I did transfer to the 4 year university in Grand Forks North Dakota – UND to work on my Engineering Physics major but their program sucked. I think UND only cared about pilots because at the time it seemed all the money was dumped in to expanding the pilot programs. After two years I started over at NDSU in Fargo North Dakota.
1992: Age 24: Cake cutting photo at my wedding to my wonderful wife, Pam. Pam and I went to the same High School but she went to NDSU and as I said I went to UND. You can imagine I had more than one incentive to start over at NDSU.
My commodore 64 in 1993: My wife and I used the commodore 64 throughout our college years and we both printed our final class papers using this reliable little computer.
I built this computer desk back in 1986 to exactly fit my commodore, monitor and printer. The traction paper feeds from a shelf under the desk up the back and through a slot to the printer. I had built this desk with a full hutch using just a circular saw and lots of careful measuring and cuts.
I must build tough furniture because the desk part flipped out of a pickup truck in transit one time going 65mph in a 50mph side wind. It rolled about 8 times in the ditch before stopping. One corner was scoffed but no other damage. Every joint was a dado with wood glue and 2 inch wood screws. Ha! It was a tank.
1993: Age 25: Graduation photo from North Dakota State University – NDSU in Fargo where I got my Bachelor of Science (BS) in Engineering Physics. NDSU had a great engineering program and much better teachers in science and engineering.
1994: Age 27: At my first job as an Associate Engineer with a company that produced utility power management software. I coded in C on OS2 computers. Look at that old computer and metal desk. What a hoot! This is back when the computer had not yet earned its place at the center of an office desk. Even for a programmer the computer was only considered a secondary tool on the desk more like a typewriter. How times have changed.
1996: Age 29: My wife and I with our daughter Veronica.
2010: Age 43: Not much goes on from age 30 to 40 other than work and a son, Alex, in 2003.
2011: Black Belt awards: This is a photo when my son Alex and I got our black belts in American Taekwondo. My wife is holding our old color belts and my daughter is to the right. Veronica got her black belt a year earlier and has a red collar because she is in the Taekwondo leadership program.