Citizen Scientist: Forrest Mims

Before the modern notion of the citizen scientist lies the earlier ideal of the independent scientist. Scientists outside of the academic community but engaging with it. These days citizen scientists are often seen as valuable assistants in the scientific process, helping collect and process data in a quantity which would be otherwise intractable.

In the past however, independent scientists had a far more central role. Galileo, Kepler, Darwin and Hooke were all self funded at various points in their careers. More recently independent scientist Peter Mitchell won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1978 for his foundational research into cell biochemistry and the development of the chemiosmotic hypothesis.

Sadly, peer-reviewed scientific contributions by scientists un-sponsored by a research organization are now few and far between. In this short series we hope to highlight the efforts of these lone researchers with particular reference to the tools they’ve had to hack together on a budget in their scientific quests (if you know an independent researcher you think we should feature, please comment below!).

In Hacker circles Forrest Mims is perhaps best known for his series of electronics books and the unforgeable Atari Punk Console. But it’s his ability to engage with the scientific community as an independent researcher through a series of well thought out scientific articles that interests us here. Contributions made all the more significant by his lack of formal scientific training.

LEDs as Light Sensors

Forrest’s central contribution is in the environmental measurement of light. In particular ozone and other measurements based on solar irradiance (sunlight). His work began with a neat hack, the use of LEDs, not to illuminate, but to sense light. Forrest’s experiments began in high school where “Observing that an electromagnetic speaker can double as a microphone, I wondered whether semiconductor light detectors could emit light as well”. Forrest’s experiments continued and he discovered that he could indeed generate small amounts of light from photodiodes and photocells. When LEDs became widely available in the 1970s he discovered that these too could be used as light detectors.

The LED Transimpedance amplifier circuit (see his Make article for details)

The LED light sensor circuit is rather simple and simply swaps a photodiode for an LED in an opamp transimpedance amplifier to measure the current produced by the LED (I tried this out myself this week and can verify that it’s an easy and fun experiment).

The LED light sensor has a number of advantages over a photodiode. Not only are LEDs generally cheaper but they have better wavelength selectivity. This allows a particular band to be targeted improving sensitivity. The LED sensors have incredible stability too. While a filtered photodiode based detector might require yearly calibration in some applications, Forrest has been using the same LED based detector for two decades with minimal drift.

Forrest has used these detectors to build a variety of instruments, among these is an Ozone measurement device. Every day at noon over the course of 20 years Forrest has taken measurements at his home in Southern Texas. His device is so accurate, and his work so consistent that he was able to identify a drift in the measurements made by the NASA total ozone mapping spectrometer on the Nimbus-7 satellite. This error, which NASA finally admitted, was published in the high profile scientific journal Nature.

Fungal Fires

Sarah using a kite to collect spores transported by a forest fire.

Forrest has also encouraged other family members to publish their findings. With Forrest, his daughter Sarah published an article on fungal spores which are transported long distances by forest fires. Sarah’s work is distinguished as being a science fair project that resulted in a scientific publication. And it really is the publication that distinguishes this work, the precision and effort required to produce a publication and engage with the scientific community is impressive.

Independent scientific research can be a great way for individual hackers to engage in the advancement of science. While the independent scientist may lack funding they have the freedom to take on the projects that they feel are important and interesting, without having to chase the latest funding craze or incremental publication. And remember “Life is a science fair project!”.

139 thoughts on “Citizen Scientist: Forrest Mims

  1. I think its great that Forrest’s work is being mentioned like this. There’s a lot of smart people out there that never seem to get any credit just because their name doesn’t have two small letters in front of it. Interesting read and hope this sparks more young tinkerer’s to think big on their own.

    I love the idea of self funded science, leaves much of the cooperate greedy interests out of the equation and allows for more discovery. 9/10 any school will take the guy who’ll make the next “possible facebook” rather than the guy who might take 20 years to cure cancer due to funding. This kinda makes me think (and hope) robotics will progress from a more citizen based pool of hackers than just a bunch of well funded guys working for only the auto industry.

  2. Great article–like many here, I’m most familiar with his book series from Radio Shack. Definitely a central figure in my early electronics education. Neat to know he’s done so much more as a citizen scientist.

      1. It isn’t insanity at all. It is just motivated reasoning. Very smart, very sane, very capable people can rationalize any belief and can sweep all contrary evidence under their mental rug.

          1. @phosphor
            I don’t think so, no. I think he’s commenting on the tendency to treat virtue as some sort of binary thing–either you’re perfect or you’re terrible. You can see it in politics when mountains are made out of indiscretions unrelated to policy, or when [famous thinker from field A] is held up as an authority on [issue in field B]. Intelligent people can come to all sorts of strange conclusions, and even genuine geniuses have blind spots.

      2. A good way to stay on the correct side of that fine line is to realize that being knowledgeable in one area does not mean that you should should pretend that this knowledge transfers to other areas. He didn’t seem to be able to grasp this. Kind of like a certain presidential candidate that has been getting a lot of press lately.

          1. @Ren It seems that most of the complaints about the drawings were starting to be published at about the same time Sagan made his statement. Some quotes from much more historical documents are there, but without context it can’t be told whether they are for or against the drawings; it is only the context of the article it self that makes those hundred year old quotes seem to have context which, in my opinion, is a good sign that the quotes are not what they are made to seem.

            But to blame Carl Sagan for quoting something that was, up until right around the time of his statement, accepted as fact and not under intense scrutiny outside of a specific field he wasn’t a part of . . . that seems to be a reach for a comparison. It would be like blaming the creators of the camera obscura or algebra for thinking that the world might be flat (I think I picked things created in an time frame that world-flatness was still a “known fact”, I could have been obtuse and picked the folks who figured out fire and the wheel.)

      1. I just told you. He is an interesting guy because he is so smart in some scientific domains but also holds a belief which is entirely contradicted by scientific evidence. It doesn’t surprise me that people who don’t understand a scientific discipline dismiss the scientific process, but when someone who clearly does understand how science works can dismiss a huge, well supported body of knowledge, that is interesting.

    1. To be fair, as much as I personally have been impacted by the fallout of fundamentalist Christian beliefs, Newton was an Alchemist, yet we’re all willing to sweep that under the rug in light of his significant discoveries. Perhaps we can appreciate Forrest Mims as a whole, while disliking his fundamentalism at the same time.
      Or not. Everyone has opinions.

      1. icanhazadd, I don’t care about Mims’ religious beliefs, and I didn’t mention them, but you did. I mentioned his scientific beliefs in regards to evolution, which are contrary to a large body of scientific evidence.

      2. Newton was only an alchemist because proper chemistry hadn’t been invented yet. Nor had the atomic nature of matter, protons and neutrons, been discovered. If you can change one substance into another through chemistry, why not lead to gold? He didn’t know the difference between elements and compounds.

    1. What a shame. If his science is sound, why do his beliefs matter? I disagree with fundamentalists and their beliefs, but I fail to see how it has any bearing on his technical and scientific knowledge.

        1. So let me get this straight: if someone is a Christian (“fundamentalist”, I don’t know what that means), they cannot possibly a) know and believe true facts about science or anything else, or b) say anything true that non-Christians can believe, all because they have a different worldview than the atheists?

          Sorry, pal, go read history. Modern science was founded by Christians.
          Good grief.

          Love Mims’ stuff. He had a lot of influence on my as a teen, and I can probably trace the fact that I am an engineer today to Mims and my uncle who worked for General Instrument (before it became Microchip).

          1. That is why I enjoy being a Catholic,
            Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason)
            It was a Catholic who came up with the Scientific Method,
            a Catholic (Mendel) who gave us insight into genetics, a Catholic who gave us the Big Bang Theory.
            Oh and if you drag up the same ol’ Inquisition, Crusades, and Galileo diatribes, you’ll only be showing me your
            ignorance on those subjects.

          2. Must be a weird kinda of living-in-a-a-protestant-world catholic. Some people really like to pick and choose. The Catholics next door to me go to Fatima and bargain with Madonna for miracles in their lives… when she doesn’t give what they want, they try the witch doctor and sacrifice chickens to satan…

            Intellectual Catholics don’t need to lie to themselves. For that they have theologians…

          3. The Catholic church doesn’t deny evolution, & doesn’t claim that the Earth is only 6000 years old. There are lots of things I don’t like about the Catholic church (or any religion; I’m an atheist), but it can’t possibly be described as fundamentalist or any kind of biblical literalist.

          4. If he’s going to deny evolution, his credibility as a scientist is massively damaged. He’s taking religion over science. Since it’s Sci Am and not Fundamentalism Nonsense Monthly, I can understand, and support their decision.

            What really bothers me, is why fundies took on evolution at all. In most countries Christians keep their nose out of science, and leave religion for the intangible. Every time religion tangles with science, it comes off worse. Which of course it would, as long as people value truth, facts, and proof.

            The teaching of biblical dogma in science classes ought to be a crime. Some people would lead us into the dark ages again, given a chance.

          5. “I was also inspired by Sims in Jr High, built my first projects using his books. You also make a good point… up until the “millennial generation” the majority of engineers and scientists I know are Christian. I work with a young engineer (MS in Mechanical Engineering) what is quite religious, yet will spank almost anyone on this website with his programming skills. He was first hired to automate production data collection, and was later pulled into our R&D dept where he now works for me.

            It is also noteworthy that the crew of Apollo 8 read the Genesis 1:1-10 on their way to the moon. NASA got sued by Ms. O’Hair (lost, but NASA got cold feet after that). On Apollo 11 Buzz Aldrin received communion on the moon. So I think the take away is that being a Christian has nothing to do with scientific accomplishments. I don’t believe in evolution, but bought off Amazon a used copy of “Molecular Biology of the Cell” because it was useful in my job in designing medical devices.

          6. Inre Greenaum’s response below.
            Dark ages? Oh, you mean the era when ancient classics, such as Aristotle, Plato, Homer, Cicero and more were preserved by monks painstakingly recording them before they disappeared into the dust of time.

          7. Ren, no, I was referring to the torture, superstition, ignorance, witch hunting, etc. Copying texts was only the job of monks because they were usually the only literate people, and copying Bible pages is what many of them spent all day doing. Of course churches also burned a lot of literature. Depends on whether it offended their sensibilities.

          8. Science was also practiced by muslims, before Christians left the dark ages. Science was also practiced by folks that predate all the Abrahamic religions (they left pyramids on 2 continents).. Scientists have been around for a very long time, as have those who oppose them. Science is not religion, and those who are religious can still practice good science.

          9. It seems to me that the comment is more “A Christian who denies science when it is spelled out in front of them, like 2+2=4, deserves to have the rest of their thoughts questioned.” I mean the Bible does appear at one point to say that Pi = 3 exactly, but I’m willing to allow for error in measurement way back in history, 3.14 is pretty close to 3. But two plus two will never equal 5 without redefining the order of numbers. If you’d like a proof that 2+2=4, I recall having to prove that 1+1=2 in discrete maths; I might still have that proof around.

            Now, evolution is . . . a touchy subject. Those outside of the field keep seeing things get redefined every few years, like dinosaurs now had feathers, maybe including the giant T-Rex. You either believe that or you don’t. I’d forgive Mims for not believing it because it is so different from what he grew up being told, but belief in a 6000 year old planet would be a step too far (I don’t know him personally, his involvement with the Discovery Institute makes me question whether he believes in a young earth or not). Evolution is not tangential to engineering, they barely cross on a Venn diagram at all; his belief in creationism does not make his engineering work any less. But, were he to come out as believing in a young earth, I would have to question his engineering skills; as the life of the earth is pretty much an engineering problem solved by some of the coolest chemical and analytical engineering we as a species have done.

        2. Any set of personal beliefs can shade interpretation, sure. It’s a problem with people and any field of science. Doesn’t mean you have to immediately discount their discoveries. Instead, make an attempt to understand the potential biases in play, and apply an appropriate measure of skepticism. Furthermore, good science is reproducible. If it can’t be reproduced, odds are something is wrong. Scientific facts are objective.

          1. Yeah, you do that when you have to. But when someone’s blatantly talking nonsense, it’s going to damage the credibility of a magazine that publishes him.

            Nothing wrong with being religious, as long as you keep it in it’s place. Believing it over science is stupid. Just as stupid as the shit Galileo went through.

        3. Here I am stuck in the middle. What the Christian said with regards to the bible is exactly correct and completely insane at the same time. What Bill Nye said is exactly correct and demonstrates a lack of comprehension at the same time.

          Grown scientists make the same damn mistake that the christian in this video makes every day. Bill Nye has made the same mistake.

          It does not take much to make 5 = 4. 5 is just a symbol that has conveniently been set to mean [o,o,o,o,o] in one framework. What does it really take to make 5 mean [0,0,0,0] .

          The failure to recognize this potential is every bit as moronic as thinking that 2+2 = 5 in a framework that believes that 5 is [0,0,0,0,0].

          Discussions in threads on web pages don’t often give us the time to explicitly define everything though. It is faster and more effective for Bill Nye to just call BS than it is for him to figure out how to communicate with the person he is lambasting. It also works better for getting your next gig.

          0 can be o. 1 can be 10. They are all just symbols. Trying to clearly define symbols is challenging. There are too many symbols that can’t be easily pointed at. They are concatenations of other symbols. The concatenations build up differently in each of us. Occasionally we realize that our concatenations don’t match up with other people’s concatenations. Occasionally we have a realign. Occasionally we just realign enough so that we can figure out where the other person is coming from so we can communicate. Pundits don’t do that…. Bad for business.

          1. But we’ve had this counting system for a long time. The text of the counting system must predate the translation of the bible into that language (the language must exist before the bible can be put into that language). So if we have agreed that the symbols go 0,1,2,3,4,5 (part of the language existing) and the bible says 2+2=5 (as guy in video posits), then one of them MUST be wrong. So, if the language is wrong, then the ordering might need to be 0,1,2,3,5,4 but then the bible would need to accurately be re-translated as 2+2=4 to maintain which ordinal it is referring to.

            Proof by contradiction, a book’s reference to an ordinal number can not be fixed by just relying on the ordinal number being a symbol for a concept. If a book insists that the ordinals are 1st, 3rd, 2nd then simply changing the symbols for the ordinal numbers does not fix the flaw in the book. QED.

      1. Martin Gardner was also a theist and wrote is Scientific American Column during many, many years…

        Theism and religion[edit]

        Gardner had an abiding fascination with religious belief. He was a fideistic theist, professing belief in one God as Creator, but critical of organized religion. In his autobiography, Gardner stated: “When many of my fans discovered that I believed in God and even hoped for an afterlife, they were shocked and dismayed… I do not mean the God of the Bible, especially the God of the Old Testament, or any other book that claims to be divinely inspired. For me God is a “Wholly Other” transcendent intelligence, impossible for us to understand. He or she is somehow responsible for our universe and capable of providing, how I have no inkling, an afterlife.”[21]

        I am a philosophical theist. I believe in a personal God, and I believe in an afterlife, and I believe in prayer, but I don’t believe in any established religion. This is called philosophical theism…. Philosophical theism is entirely emotional. As Kant said, he destroyed pure reason to make room for faith.[22]

        – Martin Gardner, 2008

        The editorial line and tradition of Scientific American is against creationist bullshit. Why would they put a fox in the hen house?

        1. Theism isn’t radical Christianity. I know of no theist group trying to push political or social ideals or trying to get their own ideals inserted into science textbooks around the country.

          On the other hand, Mims is working with a group who’s goal it is to get Intelligent Design into textbooks, and the same group that brought us “Teach The Controversy”. If Gardner had been involved in something similar, opinions on him might cause large threads like this as well.

  3. I love Forest’s RS book series!

    Here is a >bizarre< side-fadct about forrest mimms:

    Recently a self-impressed UT-Austin professor got national headlines for his over-population rhetoric. The professor claims there are too many useless eaters, never mind that consumption paradigm behind the curtain! Forest was one of the few to actually stand up to this creep.

    Apparently Forrest is very religious, which is not something I share with him, but his reasoning to stand up to this anti-citizen,
    'de-population proponent' was the same as mine.

    Over population rhetoric is over 600 years old – the rich cucks invented over-pop rhetoric to help justify their own positions of comfort compared to the rest of us. Rich people look at us and think "the world is too populated! These people should die!"

      1. That does not have anything to do with being willing to stand up to Pianka while the idiot texan scientists cheered his eugenics-tinged anti-citizen over population rhetoric.

        For 600+ years rich men have paid to spread the concept of over population – it exists now as it did in 1500s, simply put “the earth cannot sustain all these people”.

        Now the population has grown by a large amount, but the rich men will never stop telling us we are worthless. Read about Thomas Malthus for some historical perspective.

      2. Having read Pianka’s self-defense, I am even more irritated with his rhetoric.

        The gleeful marginalization of humanity was on display, not, as Pianka claims here the idea that humans are racing against a pandemic.

        The overpopulation eugenicists always have some ‘scientific’ excuse for their anti-citizen beliefs, but it is always some BS about disease or maybe food.

        Meanwhile our society throws away as much food as it consumes, and healthcare is a sacred cash cow for rich men.

  4. I was a kid, back then in the early 80’s, when I bought the famous Mims book on the 555 in my local Tandy store (which was the name of the Radio Shack stores here in Belgium). That was the beginning…
    There was something special about those books, mostly drawn than written.
    Nothing of what I read since that time was more inspiring that those little Mims books.
    Thanks for that, sir !

  5. “What a shame. If his science is sound, why do his beliefs matter? I disagree with fundamentalists and their beliefs, but I fail to see how it has any bearing on his technical and scientific knowledge.”

    Because all science is “beliefs” backed with facts. If he is available to have is politics and religion in the way of the facts he is not a scientist. Maybe a teacher or an engineer. And those are no different from a mercenary…

    1. He can believe what ever he wants, and still be a great scientist.

      As long as he used facts, and measurements, etc., his results can’t be biased.

      His hypothesis may be, but experimentation, measurements, and proven results backed by scientific method cannot.

      Seems you’re the biased one!

      1. Do you have any logic in your brain left? Just read what you have written.

        Of course your results can be biased even with numbers and facts!!! Have you not studied anything?
        Do you know what is error analysis? Do you know what is a double or triple blind experiment?

        Christian and Muslim scientists are most hypocritical, opportunistic and false people in the UNIVERSE.
        Most are liars that use their so-called belief to gain advantage, buy political leverage over other scientists in their universities, institutes and state-based institutions over the whole world! Most “scientists” don’t want to know the truth, they just want a cozy career…

        1. Wow, you must be fun at parties. Get a grip. There are plenty of people that still believe in a higher power. Just because you are too arrogant and bigoted to respect that doesn’t mean that their science is in any way unsound. Most of the greatest minds in history, Albert Einstein included, have believed in God. According to your logic, Einstein was a moron?

        2. You are not saying inconvenient things. You are saying azzhole things.

          People have personal faith, and through history scientists have quite often fallen into that category. It is ‘categorical’. there is empirical evidence that a large body of scientific discovery has been done by those with religious faith.

          I am an atheist, but try hard not to hurt people with my opinion unless it is a specific religious discussion. Many scientists have faith. I work with some.

        3. Christian and Muslim scientists are most hypocritical, opportunistic and false people in the UNIVERSE.

          You are an idiot. Just STFU and stop embarrassing yourself and spew your hate somewhere else. Your original argument against Mims is also a fallacy. Enjoy your life and do something else like going fishing.

    2. So let me get this straight: if someone is a Christian (“fundamentalist”, I don’t know what that means), they cannot possibly a) know and believe true facts about science or anything else, or b) say anything true that non-Christians can believe, all because they have a different worldview than the atheists?

      Sorry, pal, go read history. Modern science was founded by Christians.
      Good grief.

      1. Thats funny, christians called alot of science blasphemous bull shit (I paraphrase here as they wouldn’t swear)
        Poor Darwin knew that from experience.

        The world was always separated into 3 categories:- Science, Magic and religion.
        Science = it work because we can do this and show it works.
        Magic = It works because we say it works,
        Religion = It works because its gods will!

        Religion was force to change there beliefs when science could disprove there preaching.

        UCLA did a good course about the war religion had against science under there History 2D studies.

        1. You, sir, are the reason science and religion are considered to be mutually incompatible. I am a Christian, as well as a research chemist, and will give you but one example;

          Science – Our particle accelerator works! Hey, we still haven’t found this thing the standard model predicted
          Magic – Make it Bigger! And if that doesn’t work we’ll interpret some data in a nontraditional manner and prove our point either way
          Religion – You know what, screw it, we already call it the God Particle, so it must be there. . . Our data says it must be true, so keep building bigger until we find it!

          . . . See a pattern? Anything seem a bit non-sciency there, possibly to the point of being a theological pursuit? There is nothing wrong with being a “scientist” with a mind that knows we don’t have all the answers – That’s kind of the entire point of it all. So long as objectivity in ones pursuits is prominent and detached, what one believes shouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.

          1. It’s possible to be a Christian without being a bigoted, stupid asshole. But you lot really need to spread that fact around.

            Of course it doesn’t help that the media love controversy, and any idiot willing to say something stupid is held up as some sort of authority over something or other.

            Humility is a virtue. Something many Christians need to learn, particularly the ones who make careers out of it. And especially, gods help us, the ones who use it for political advantage. There are some bad, stupid people in the world, and some of them like to make a big deal about religion, use it as a personal army. If Christians aren’t going to put these people in their place, someone else will do it, and Christianity will look like the religion of credulous loudmouthed morons.

          2. It was called the “God Damn” particle. There was no basis of religious faith that the particle existed. It’s name is merely a byproduct of media editing because “God Damn Particle” is not printable, partly because religious groups would attack anyone who published it.
            It’s the God Damn Particle because it was so difficult to find and detect. This didn’t mean that because it was hard to detect that they should give up. In fact most religious beliefs do the opposite and say “well, it must work because God. And God put a limit on our understanding of the universe, hence why faith exists.”
            Except that there is no limit on what we can do or discover. Sure eventually it could take vast amounts of energy and resources to the point where we could destroy the universe, but god damn it we will continue because “Faith” is not an option.

    3. “At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
      ― Robert Jastrow (God and the Astronomers)

      I read the book around 1986. And if you don’t know who Jastrow is, perhaps you should google it and then return to the discussion with actually having learned something.

      1. from wikipedia: “Robert Jastrow … American astronomer, physicist and cosmologist. He was a leading NASA scientist, populist author and futurist.”
        I don’t see biologist/chemist mentioned there at all.
        Why do you think a populist book by an technical person with no experience in the field at hand has much value for this discussion?

        Man the current Pope is more qualified to talk about climate change as chemical technician than this R.Jastrow is about evolution.
        Or do you ask your plumber on his opinion when your kid has a flu and the car mechanic about your financials?

        1. Man the current Pope is more qualified to talk about climate change as chemical technician than this R.Jastrow is about evolution.
          Or do you ask your plumber on his opinion when your kid has a flu and the car mechanic about your financials?

          Funny that you ask that… seems your Republicans who are often lawyers and businessmen are more qualified experts in climatology than environmental scientists. So Being that Republicans are experts, and cheap greedy experts at that, they probably do ask the pool boy about their cough…as long as the kid can answer while cleaning the pool…

        2. Think it through… Jastrow’s primary discussion was the origin of the universe, which is a fundamental question parallel to evolution vs creation. Even among astrophysicists, there is distention about the big bang theory (the author of the “Big Bang Never Happened is arguing that the universe itself had no beginning)… which means my favorite comedy about 4 nerds will have to called the “Steady State Theory”.

          Keep in mind that there is great diversity of views among religions claiming to be christian. Yes, you have fundamentalists who believe in a literal 6-day creation (and like to make gay marriage illegal). Then there are those who believe in creation (with a universe that is billions of year old) and believe that the “separation of church and state” is a bible principle.

          It is ironic that the world lines up to kiss the popes ring when he talks about economics or climate change, but has no interest in his views on morals (i’m not catholic, but my first wife was…)

          I find it interesting that Jastrow (though a leading NASA scientist), and who is a self proclaimed agnostic, would be so easily dismissed as out of his league. Then again, the focus of his book was the origin of the universe, not the origin of life. However, the “first cell” problem still remains. The book I mentioned earlier, the “Molecular Biology of the Cell” makes its standard evolution plugs,goes on to describe some of them most incredulity detailed structures and chemical processes. And then you have the differentiation of cells in a growing creature. It is all incredibly fascinating.

          You last question: are you saying we can’t have an opinion about general science? I am by education an Industrial engineer, who worked as an electronic tech for 10 years (USAF). So, even though CNN would be interviewing me as an expert witness, I still am smart enough to have an opinion and tell you when you butt is showing.

    1. When he talks about religion in that sentence is not about RELIGION. It’s theoretical physicists sarcastic jargon for one’s own hypothesis, creativity and imagination.

      Einstein was raised by secular Jewish parents. In his Autobiographical Notes, Einstein wrote that he had gradually lost his faith early in childhood:

      . . . I came—though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents—to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment—an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections. It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the ‘merely personal,’ from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.[3]

          1. Evil? Probably. I know I’m a sinner and therefor go to church in the hope of improving myself.

            I’m open to hear reasoned discussion about beliefs, but I am certainly not going to switch to your religion just because you and your fellow non-believers are the loudest bullies on the block.

          2. You do know that Stalin, Pol Pot and the Kin dynasty are all card carrying atheists? I would add Hitler to that list, but since he used religion as a tool, he can be disqualified on a technicality.

          3. @DainBramage
            How is it intolerant of your beliefs to clarify the intent and context of a quote?
            Does it offend you to be informed that Einstein didn’t really believe much in god, if at all?

        1. “A-“. It’s a prefix meaning “none”. Atheists aren’t religious. It’s the default state you’re born in, until someone teaches you otherwise.

          In the absence of evidence of gods, it’s the sensible belief. In the past, we didn’t know the reason for the Sun rising in the morning, for rain, for the Earth’s existence. So people made up stories they could relate to, where beings that were a lot like humans, only with superpowers, were the will that animated all of nature. Made sense to them, no action without an actor, nothing happening without intention.

          Now we know better, we have proof gods aren’t responsible for most of the things in nature. There are still a few questions science hasn’t answered yet. And there are some things that are beyond the purview of science, fundamentally unanswerable. Some people fit their newer gods into those gaps. As humanity progresses, those gaps close.

          The alternative is the King Canute method, stand there shouting loudly in the face of evidence. But it’s not evidence who ends up looking like a dick.

          I can’t prove there are no gods. I do know, that there are many different, mutually-exclusive religions. They all answer similar questions. Apparently unasked, until one day an avatar of godhead came down and explained it all for us, thanks, godhead!

          Everyone agrees there are false religions, everybody agrees they can’t all be right. Those other religions were just plain made up, by credulous people in primitive times, to explain what they didn’t know, and to ease their existential fears of death, to answer the question of “what are humans, and how do they work?” “where does the mind come from?” “what am I?”.

          There were no answers available, so people made them up according to the traditions of their own cultures. I hope you accept that, at least as far as all those other religions, the ones you don’t believe in.

          From there, it’s a little step to atheism.

          1. No, some people actually do believe that all religions are true. I’ve never heard of this one but I guess if one can believe that they could believe in the fundamentalist 7 day 6k year ago origin of everything AND the billions of years old universe. Don’t ask me how that one would work but believing that two contradictory religions are both correct is just as ilogical so why not?

            I can’t really get my head around the fact that one can think that way. It hurts to try to even imagine being like that. But.. there are all kinds out there…

          2. @me (who isn’t me, but . . . *sigh) Yeah, there are all kinds out there. But the folks who “believe” in everything may not actually believe in it.

            Stick with me here, this is a hobby of mine but it does get a little zen. There is an old joke religion Discordianism, based on a book written by some really stoned guys, worshiping the Greek goddess of chaos, Eris. In this book, it’s suggested that all religions are true, and all religions are false. It was kind of a rip at the mysticism movement of the era. In one way, it’s a parody religion. In another light, it can be seen as a philosophy of “what ever makes you laugh”. In my view, the later could be extended to “what ever gets you through the day” and that leads back to your pondering folks who believe every religion.

            If it must be reduced to just self-delusion, then so be it. But if believing that the sky is purple while knowing that it is blue helps a person get through a boring business meeting without simply walking out, then so be it. And as for how a person can believe something they know they don’t believe? Every New Years resolution ever.

      1. Thanks for the Einstein quote.. have to safe that now somewhere as my personal life has had similar eye-openers about real-live vs. what-you-get-taught.. only that it took me until I was 20-23 I think.

  6. I grew up with his books and they helped me learn electronics (alas I keep having to dig out the tattered worn copies to refresh myself.
    Every time I mention his LED as a sensor, people think I am talking B.S.
    Glad to see someone else try it and prove it!

    1. Well, an LED is a diode, in a clear case. Back in the old days people would open the cases of transistors to make photo-transistors. All / most / some (dunno, these days) semiconductors are light-sensitive. Even photodiodes (and LEDs) will generate a voltage, as teeny little solar panels, under light. There’s that, or the conductivity method of measuring light with them.

  7. I’ve enjoyed Mims’ books for years, and have appreciated his, and Sir Isaac Newton’s, different perspectives on the majority opinion that some have obviously made into an intolerant canon as obnoxious as any religion. Even before opening the comments, I knew very few would be about his contributions to electronic education and science, before the usual dogs started barking for the usual reasons. He is not an ‘evolutionist’ (AKA the one and only shibboleth for rational productive thinking in the twenty-first century), therefore he shouldn’t be allowed around leds and coin cells, much less allowed to investigate weather phenomena without a police permit. (sigh) Haters will Hate: Rock On, Forrest (and thanks for teaching me about 555 timers thirty years ago)!

    1. “He is not an ‘evolutionist’ (AKA the one and only shibboleth for rational productive thinking in the twenty-first century), therefore he shouldn’t be allowed around leds and coin cells, much less allowed to investigate weather phenomena without a police permit. (sigh) Haters will Hate: Rock On, Forrest (and thanks for teaching me about 555 timers thirty years ago)!”

      So that absolves any lie or manipulation he did, in the Pianka affair, for example?

      So he has done some citizen science… He is holier than us!!!

      1. Pianka is lying.

        His whole talk was loaded with outright overpopulation rhetoric and also additional implied over-pop rhetoric.

        Pianka, like the libertarians of the mid 19th century is a tool of the rich men, designed to make citizens hate themselves.

        Look into it if you dare have your own precious beliefs questioned. Malthus.

  8. Sorry, but isn’t that sketch of the LED in the diagram backwards? The “flat spot” denotes the cathode lead, but if the sketch is intended to show how to physically orient the LED, it has the “flat spot” next to the anode in the diagram…or am I just crazy?

    1. Dunno. I think there’s also a standard where the anode lead is slightly longer than the cathode.

      I always check LEDs with the diode setting on a DMM before installing. Faster than looking up on a datasheet. More sure than recalling standards. Maybe.

    2. I’m kind of curious about this, a transimpedance amplifier can sense current flowing in both directions as I understand it, so I’m not sure it matters as it would when using an LED to emit light (but I’d like to verify that assumption).

      1. Taking a second look at the diagram, I think the polarity does matter: if it is hooked up the other way around (ie anode tied to pins 2 and 6), it will be forward-biased by pin 6 and will emit (some) light. Probably not good for a light detector.

        1. Interesting, I see your point. Will have to try it out! Theoretically pin 2 is virtual ground but I guess that’s limited by the bandwidth of the opamp (and response time of the LED). Would be interesting to see how much of an effect the polarity has.

    3. Correct, the diagram is indeed wrong: the “flat spot” is on the cathode, in disagreement with what the diagram shows. It correctly shows the LED as a photodiode operating in reverse bias. So the diode symbol is correct, but the pretty little picture of the LED is wrong :)

  9. Mr. Mims got me started in electronics when I was in elementary school. I used to build the circuits from “Getting Started in Electronics” after my dad got the book from someone when he was training after he lost his job due to a factory closing. It didn’t change his life, but it changed mine!

  10. I love that HAD included an article about the great Forrest Mims. I have quite a collection of his books, and they have been more helpful than anything else in learning electronics.

    I am saddened by the terrible attitude of the various atheists posting replies stating that everything Forrest Mims did was bunk because he was a man of faith. Very sad indeed. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. But, atheists have always kept themselves intentionally ignorant anyway. Truth is like a coin, with science on one side and true religion on the other. Both are necessary. Yes, religious people make mistakes, we’re only human. So do scientists. So do atheists.

    No one has yet been able to scientifically disprove the existence of God, so I, for one, will always choose to believe. I see a beautifully designed universe with systems in perfect balance. Claiming that God doesn’t exist because we are beginning to understand the mechanisms of the universe is like claiming that a car’s designer doesn’t exist because you know how the car was built!

    1. “I am saddened by the terrible attitude of the various atheists posting replies stating that everything Forrest Mims did was bunk because he was a man of faith. Very sad indeed.”

      You are sad, very sad indeed, for no reason. Nobody said that everything Mims did was bunk.

      “But, atheists have always kept themselves intentionally ignorant anyway” You must be really strong to paint with a brush that big.

      1. Apparently you haven’t read through the comments.

        As for me being “really strong to paint with a brush that big”, I am simply sick of seeing people with faith in a higher power being thrown under the bus by atheists who all seem to have a chip on their shoulder and an agenda to disallow any kind of belief system other than theirs. Did I strike a little too close to home for your taste?

        1. I have read them. And you haven’t pointed out which one says that everything Mims did is bunk. André Esteves has been obnoxious, but I didn’t see where here says Mims work is bunk.

          This isn’t the appropriate forum for us to discuss your feelings of religious persecution.

          BTW, “being thrown under the bus” means that one supposed ally is sacrificing another to save themselves. I’m not sure how you are using it here.

    2. Get a grip – I see one dickhead speaking for himself and his intolerance, not ‘atheists’.

      There are several other self-professed atheists on the thread, and none of us have behaved like that guy.

    3. It’s impossible to disprove the existence of the gods of certain religions. It depends on their claims. The thing about truth requiring religion is completely not true. Truth is truth. It requires a testable hypothesis, and experimental proof. We figured that out a little while ago, a big win for philosophers.

      We know the reasons for so many things that were previously thought to be the work of gods. Now we know they’re not. The Sun isn’t really pulled by Ra in a chariot. That theory made sense before we knew about orbits and the Solar system. Bye bye, Ra!

      The systems of the Universe, those which ARE in balance, are that way because it’s the lowest-energy configuration. Thermodynamics. They run on simple laws, applied over a great big Universe full of things. We’ve deduced many of those laws. We know how stars and planets form, they don’t need moulding. There is no clock, there is no car. There’s just lots of natural phenomena. They’re very big, but they’re just matter and energy following simple rules.

      Did you ever try Conway’s Game of Life? Or other cellular automata? They’re a great way of seeing a whole cornucopia of objects and behaviours, some quite complex, brought about by the repeated application of simple rules. Emergent phenomena. Explains how complex things can come from a simple start. Very helpful thing to realise, so much about the Universe makes sense when you see chaos theory in front of you.

      We’re a long way into understanding how the body works, how cells work, the little tiny machines inside them, still running on simple principles of chemistry and physics. Quite a lot of simple principles, admittedly. But everything explainable. We’re even quite near making cells from scratch, the creation of life from inanimate matter. Ribosomes are the miracle there. We’ve already got custom DNA, printed out to order, implanted into lifeforms to give desired behaviour. No gods needed in the gene labs.

      Abiogenesis is a well-supported theory. The guy in the 1950s, whose name I never remember, formed amino acids from his tank of simple chemicals, with electrical discharge. We’ll probably never prove that’s where life came from, but it’s a damn good theory that fits the facts. And doesn’t require any supernatural assistance, just the laws and matter we already know were there.

      The problem many religious people in the modern day suffer from (and I love debating with missionaries in the street), is that they actually don’t KNOW that many of their “questions” have actually been answered! Only in the last few years and decades. It always shocks them when you can actually answer what they thought were rhetorical questions.

    4. “No one has yet been able to scientifically disprove the existence of God, so I, for one, will always choose to believe.”
      Since when is science damned to prove stuff it’s not supposed or able to dissect?
      Science – by nature – for example can’t look past the start of the universe nor past the edge of the universe.. ever.
      So why should it be able to disprove a deity?
      If you must believe in something to feel well and function normally, so be it.
      Just leave me alone and don’t make me live by your rules as I will not make you live by my rules.

  11. Radio Electronics did an article by him years ago.
    He wrote that while in Viet Nam he tested a solar seeking rocket.
    IIRC, it was a photo sensor in the the nose cone of the rocket and a hole drilled above the sensor.
    As the light drifted off the sensor a fin would deploy to rotate the rocket and would stow when the light hit the
    sensor again.
    I exchanged a couple of emails with him sometime during the mid 1990’s.

  12. The man’s radioshack books were my bible when I went through College as a technologist. For all the heavy weight texts I had on motor theory and radio propagation, his stuff was always at hand for a quick reference.

    Still highly impressed that all of those were done by hand too. If we had people like him in more fields, I think we’d be a hell of a lot further along then we are.

  13. Just pulled his “Getting Started in Electronics” RS book off the shelf. One of the best circuits was the “High Voltage Power Supply”. A battery, two transistors, a cap, resistor and a transformer and the irresistible warning on the primary leads “CAUTION: do not touch! T1 may HUM in use!” I think that one resulted in an after school detention in middle school…

  14. I used to admire him, but the sad fact is he is now a climate change denier and he uses his reputation as a man of science to help spread the lies and distortions of those who wish to confuse the public about climate change.

  15. For everyone arguing over Forest Mims, creationism and evolution, let me put it this way:

    Situation explained by evolutionists:
    Forrest Mims was indoctrinated in a creationist environment and didn’t have the strong scientific education to set him straight. We know better.

    Situation explained by creationists:
    Most scientists are indoctrinated in a evolutionist environment and didn’t have the strong religious education to set them straight. We know better.

    On such entrenched issues, people believe what they want to believe. Rational? No, but everybody does it.

    1. No, science is the rational one. This isn’t like football teams, where both sides are essentially the same and it’s an arbitrary choice. If people wanna believe religions, fine, but keep it in your temple. Bringing your religion into other people’s lives is not cool. Denying science is just as stupid as when Jenna Jameson does it for vaccines. Religion doesn’t get you a special exemption from rationality.

      The situations aren’t equivalent. To think so is like the “teach the controversy” shit. It’s important that fact is separated from unfounded belief, and that everybody knows that.

      1. I think you mean Jenny McCarthy. Or maybe Jenna Jameson has been saying the same thing, but I don’t know that lots of housewives would listen to her for *cough* career reasons.

    2. One side excuses the behavior of one man, the other side generalizes and accuses every scientist who doesn’t agree with them; at least in your example. If you were trying to make them seem equal, it needs more work.

    1. Other than speaking to Mr. Lancaster on the phone once (to purchase some Dev Kits he had for sale),
      reading his articles in Radio-Electronics, and Electronics Now. he used to post irregularly to sci.electronics.*
      on USENET. But while sci.electronics was a USENET _community_, his posts did not contribute to discussions, other than “how can I make a buck out of this?”.

  16. none of this contentiousness matters… he was instrumental (pun intended) in influencing a lot of makers/hackers to take up electronics. The world, regardless of his beliefs, is a little different now because of his influence. Electronics don’t care about anybody’s beliefs … pro or con.

  17. I came here to comment about the LED being backwards (drawn led on the left). I see that some smart people have caught that. Regarding his beliefs, he can believe whatever he wants, as long as he is producing some useful scientific result. I’m worried about the people pushing their own beliefs on others, often by force. This lead us to many wars and injustices in the past. Believe whatever you want – and let me keep my beliefs.

  18. I believe that Hackaday commenters are a great bunch with real skills and knowledge about technology and their comments in those fields are entertaining, informative and useful. On most other subjects they are as wacky as me and my neighbour.
    Don’t take yourselves too seriously folks!

  19. Very cool to be featured on As for the commenters who don’t understand why I reject Darwinian evolution, they will better understand the rudimentary nature of the evolution-is-all-there-is hypothesis simply by viewing the fundamental facts about information theory presented so effectively here:

    Meanwhile, no matter your views, let’s all keep on hacking–while, of course, avoiding the Darwinian temptation to insert random bits of code into our programs or by smoking our circuits by poking random connections into our solderless breadboards.

  20. Random code sometimes helps.
    I once managed to “fix” a problem which later turned out to be a counterfeit FTDI chip inserting arbitrary code in the first 2 bytes of my micro, simply by adding the line XORWF in the first instruction.
    It worked well enough, the LED flickering Xmas card ran perfectly on my system though had to modify my code a bit to have it work properly on others.

  21. I am so glad to see a small tribute to to a person whose books have been on my shelves for 40 years. I am even happier to see such an explosion in the collected remarks. Save this page, review it after a while, such a “tempest in a teapot.” Best of all, a video link from F Mims himself. I would call that a fulfilling Hack-a-Day day. Can anyone take themselves completely seriously, and also post to a website named Hack-a-Day? I’ll remain skeptical ;-)

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