23 Feb. 2007
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Full Circle

A number of years ago - perhaps as many as 30, we had occasion to purchase a pair of Hewlett-Packard 3325A function generators.  We needed these for testing our equipment and they were special in three ways:

  • They were capable of a high-voltage output, important for testing equipment with a large dynamic range.

  • They were computer controllable.  Then, as now, I was keen on automating test procedures to get humans out of the loop and be able to make good records of the results.

  • They were manufactured by Hewlett-Packard, now Agilent, a company whose products I loved even though they were much too expensive.

One day I received an odd request from a friend.  She needed a recording of "touch-tone" (DTMF) phones dialing at uniform high speed, much as one would hear from an automatic dialer.  In those days, most dialers still used pulses rather than DTMF, and she had no way of making it herself.  Function generators and computer to the rescue!  I programmed the computer with the DTMF tone frequencies and the symbol and intersymbol periods and connected it to the 3325A function generators.  They, in turn, were connected to a "tape recorder" which is what was used in those days.  She got her tape, I had an hour-long interlude with my test equipment, and we all continued with our lives for the next few decades.

When suddenly...

I was reading a newsletter from Agilent, and in it was a request for users to supply "function generator success stories."  (I don't imagine anyone is surprised that I read documents that routinely request "success stories" about function generators, spectrum analyzers, and even, occasionally, power supplies.)  Of course the request was to enable Agilent to tout their new products to potential customers who, I suppose, would otherwise have no idea why they wanted function generators in the first place.  But the request for the stories didn't specify which model had to be used, so the long-obsolete 3325A qualified.  And, most importantly, there was an offer attached:  A free camera! 

Q:  Richard!  Why waste your time on this?  You already have your Kodak camera, your cellphone camera, your old camera, a couple of junk cameras, and I have it on good authority that your housemate has a camera, too!
A:  Did you notice the four-letter word preceding "camera" in the offer?
Q:  Oh.
A:  Exactly.  Pay attention.

I dutifully told the story about the touch-tone recording to Agilent who then lost my entry.  That was about a year ago, and I had pretty much forgotten about it.

When suddenly...

I was reading another item of Agilent literature and noticed that they were giving away what else? a free camera to one of every ten submitters of a survey we were requested to fill out.  Of course I entered!  And in the process, commented "Where's my free camera from the function generator story?"  I received a "We lost your entry - please resubmit" reply, and a few forms and releases later I had a nice HP Photosmart M517 digital camera* in my paws.
So here I was with a free camera.  I had to test it, of course.  Inspiration:  Why not take a picture of the HP 3325A function generator that started the whole thing?  I'm sure that will be at least as interesting as the T-shirt to my thousands of millireaders, right?  So, here it is!  Mind you, this one isn't just for audio.  It goes up the 21MHz, and can produce not only sine waves, but sawtooth and triangle, too!  And we have TWO of them!

So, full circle, I used the function generator to win a camera, which I used to photograph the function generator.  I'll have a real problem if I also win the camera associated with the survey.  I guess I'll have to use it to photograph the other cameras.

*I don't feel any great inspiration to commit a RIKLReviewTM of this HP camera.  It's better than the cell phone but not as good as the Kodak.  Nice user interface: I didn't even have to look at the manual!

NP:  "Lines on My Face" - Peter Frampton

Richard Factor

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