Tubes were an unnecessary and destructive sidetrack
Random afterthought to real coherers.
Thinking again about those submini tubes while using the breadboard for experimentation led to a historical oddity.
Tubes were probably an unnecessary sidetrack in the overall development of electronics, making experimentation unnecessarily hard for a few decades.
If the path of coherers and catwhiskers had been extended, it would have led quickly to transistors. The Lodge liquid coherer
was a solid-state diode. Some early experimenters with catwhisker-style detectors developed the triode transistor but didn't pursue it.
Tubes made experimentation hard because they needed high plate voltage, which in turn required special precautions. When you're fiddling with 1.5 to 18 Volts, you can plug and unplug stuff and screw around to your heart's content, without stopping your heart or starting a fire. When you're working with 250 Volts, extreme caution is needed.
The HV could have been avoided if the original Audion had led directly to those submini tubes. Subminis easily live in the same breadboard world as transistors and ICs, with 1.5 V filament and 18 V plate. DeForest's original Audion operated in this range.
The Brits had subminis in the '30s, but America stuck with the big HV tubes until '48. By that time the transistor was already underway and the tube era was fading.
Plain old size is another factor in experimentation, but it's more of a balanced factor. The components in 1920 were much larger than now, requiring bigger workbenches and more woodworking and metalworking tools. If I had been working with those components, I couldn't keep my electronics stuff inside one desk. I'd need a separate workroom or an outside ham shack. But larger components are easier to handle and repair, and easier to see, so there are advantages both ways. Safety is a purely one-way variable.
Labels: Alternate universe, Lodge, Morsenet of Things