Teach Yourself Electronics!

Blog Post created by benz on Sep 15, 2016

Originally posted May 20, 2014

Self-instruction from the pre-Internet era stands the test of time

I already spend plenty of time on the Web, so a recent urge to refresh my knowledge of vacuum tubes took me back to the place where I first learned how they worked: a “TutorText” book.

Yes, a real book and not a Web page or a YouTube video, helpful though each may be.

Many years ago—maybe in middle school—a TutorText guided me through the basics of electronics, including an introduction to vacuum tubes. I had fond memories of the book and its unique approach and, not being in a hurry, I found a copy online at a used book store in Michigan. A week later I held in my hands the same title that had been on a shelf in our library so long ago. For once, something from my distant past was exactly as I remembered it!

The book was Introduction to Electronics by Hughes & Pipe, published in 1961.

The TutorText concept is simple, though implementing it so effectively must have been a lot of work. The book opens with basic subject information for the reader, followed by a multiple-choice question on that information. Each possible answer directs you to a different page. Correct answers lead to additional explanations and instruction, followed by the next multiple-choice question. Incorrect answers lead to pages where likely errors are explained and the reader may be—not so gently!—admonished to pay attention and try again.

Hughes and Pipe were not just fooling around. The text reveals an instructional attitude that’s a little more direct than what is in vogue today. For example, if you ignore the instructions and turn from page 1 to page 2 you are met with:

“You did not follow instructions. . .”

“Now there was no way you could have arrived at this page if you had followed instructions.”

I found the approach to be refreshing, and the wrong-answer pages to be the most interesting. Here’s one:

And here’s another:

The authors clearly worked hard to make the style personal and motivational—to the extent I almost fear a rap on my knuckles when I turn to the wrong page due to sloppy reasoning or inattention.

For me, the effect of digging back into this book is a joyful recharging of my energy for learning—and maybe that’s another useful lesson from the book. Sometimes learning can be enhanced by changing the method or the vehicle. If you’ve been mired in online articles and video clips, consider getting up out of your chair and bugging an expert. Or go find a book. Even an old one from 1961.

Introduction to Electronics is one of a number of TutorTexts. Others will teach you about the arithmetic of computers, introductory algebra, basic computer programming (c. 1962), how to use a slide rule, advanced bidding, and the meaning of modern poetry. They’re sometimes grouped under the heading of “gamebooks” and are available at used book stores, both online and brick-and-mortar.


If you’re interested in a more current—and challenging—topic, you could do worse than a book I had a small role in writing: LTE and the Evolution to 4G Wireless. None of its passages will leave you fearing a rap on the knuckles.