Unless you've managed to live off the grid for the last five years, you know that the Mayan calendar has predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Ignoring all conventional wisdom, centuries of scientific knowledge and the fact that the Mayan community doesn't even believe it, I feel compelled to list key electronics things that everyone should see or do in this last year before the end of the world. Because, you know, just in case...
Here are the top ten things to look into or do in 2012 before the end of the world on December 21, 2012:
0b0000.0000: Build something open source. It's amazing what is available. Back in the heyday of hobby electronics, it was easy to find projects in magazines such as "Popular Electronics." You could get kits from Heathkit of RadioShack. But, for the most part, all of those things went away. With Open Source, you can build an almost unlimited variety of gadgets. What's more, you can taylor your build to your experience level. If you want to do it all, just get the files, fab your boards, buy your parts and solder it up. If you're less ambitious, buy a complete kit. If you're even more ambitious, mod the design and post it up for the community.
0b0000.0001: While you're out fiddling with Open Source, get ahold of a Beaglebone. It's Ti's second take on open source hardware. The original Beaglebard was and is a great way to get to know their OMAP processors, both in therms of programming it and in terms of designing a PCB for it. The Beaglebone is an easier to use, easier to expand, but not quite as powerful adjunct to the Beagleboard.
0b0000.0010: Try out some new CAD software. Sunstone released PCB123 version 4 in 2011 and Element14 released EagleCAD version 6. Check them out and see if they do what you need. Both are good economical ways to get into circuit design and layout. PCB123 doesn't cost anything initially. It sends your boards through Sunstone and they earn their rent that way. Eagle has a tiered pricing model, starting at a small non-commercial version for free and stepping up to a full-feature professional system.
0b0000.0011: Try out some newer technology. I'f you've always been intimidated by QFN or micro BGA packages, go ahead and give it a try. They're more difficult at first, but once you've got the tricks down, you get access to a slew of new components that only come out in those form factors. Check out some guidelines on QFN use.
0b0000.0100: Look at space pictures. There are a number of probes up running around our solar system these days, and one on the verge of leaving it. Hop on over the nasa.gov or space.com and see what's going on. There's a probe orbiting an asteroid, new ones off to Jupiter and Mars, one orbiting Mercury, some new space telescopes and more. There's just a lot going on out there right now. You can even leave your computer, go outside and look up at the sky for real.
0b0000.0101: Try and make something really, really small. For my part, I'm taking a little two-motor robot brain I've built and an trying to see just how small I can make it. You have to think differently when size is a prime consideration. Factors that didn't matter much suddenly become design critical. It might be an opportunity to freshen your brain up a bit (although, if the world is ending on 12-21-12, having a fresh brain may not be all that important).
0b0000.0110: Go back in time. Get a 2N2222 or 2N3907, or both. See if you remember how to build basic common base, common emitter and common collector amplifiers. No. Don't go to Wikipedia. Try to do it from memory. I'm sure you built all of them waaaay back in your school days. Next try to build some basic logic gates with transistors. After you've done that, see if you can build up a RSIC processor and a 512 Mbyte RAM block using only discrete transistors and passives. As your final assignment, use the computer system you built to calculate the first 100,000 prime numbers.
0b0000.0111: Take your most recent resume and replace all of the letters, spaces, tabs and line ends with their hex values. Submit it in that form for your dream job. Then sit back and wait for the hiring manager to bow down to your superior skills. Since the world is ending, it really won't matter that the first person to see the resume thought it was gibberish and round-filed it.
0b0000.1000: Introduce you kids (if you have them) to robots. Get them started down the technical path early; both boys and girls. And, if you have daughters, make sure they don't get discouraged by peer pressure or whatever pressure. If they are interested in a technical career, don't let the world around them pressure them out of it. If you don't have kids, build some robots yourself and introduce your pets to them. See who ends up chasing whom around the house.
0b0000.1001: Finally, ignore all of this. Come on. Really? The Mayans knew when the world would end? Even I don't know that. Although, there was that John Cusack movie. And I've read about it on the Internet and everyone knows that if you read it on the Internet, it must be true...
See you all on the other side