Friday, 27 November 2009

Avocets and Constantan

As one gets older, you have to keep pace with the modern age (well at work anyway), but I have noticed that at a certain point, you start to take interest in old things.

By that, I mean articles from the earlier years of your life.

When young, its quite common to always be pitching at the latest fashion or the latest technology and to dismiss anything from yesteryear.

At a turning point in your life (and you never know exactly when this is), you suddenly start becoming attracted to "old stuff".

When I was 16, I went to radio college to learn about electronics.

For our practical work, we used a black box mystically called an "AVO".

The size of a small birthday cake and heavy enough to give somebody concussion when swung, the AVO was our constant companion and saved us from electrocution.

It's purpose was to measure Volts, Amps, Resistance and so on and it was the "Bees Knees" when it came to fault-finding. It was our shining knight in Bakelite.

30 years on, I still have one.

Its not the one I used at college - that never belonged to me at the time, but the one I have, is very similar. 

They were made in the UK by a British company called AVO Ltd and the Avocet bird was their company trademark.

Just reading the wording of the manual takes you back to the language of the empire.

It has been superceded by modern technology in all respects except class.

If you just want a meter which gives you fast accurate meter readings, then it would be far better to buy a new digital unit - I use several in my everday work.

However, the AVO is an antique and what's more, its an antique that can still be used.

In the same way that you see the guy driving to work in a restored 1970's MGB or a Morris Minor, its possible to get pleasure from using an antique.

There is a simple pleasure in using something that doesn't have PCB's and has CAM switches which make satisfying noises when moved (not electronic beeps).

Anything which uses Constantan and Alcomax in its consistency has just got to be fun.

Electronics in the AVO age was schoolboy physics.

Now its the work of the devil - you can't repair anything in the field anymore.

Unfortunately, I like collecting old electronics.

Recently, I nearly bought an RT144 "Sailor" VHF which is another favourite of mine.
Luckily, common sense, a lack of workshop space and the fact that the boat already has a Sailor RT2048 VHF prevailed.

At sea, one of my more modern ships had a Scopex dual channel 10MHz oscilloscope. I understood that.

Now, looking at the latest ones, they do far too much and are far too complicated for what I need.

I think I will get one, as they are very useful for a wide range of fault finding, but I will either get an old one from Ebay or buy one of the new handheld types.

I've obviously passed my turning point, but at least I can embrace the new with enthusiasm and an open mind, whilst still savouring the simple pleasures of the past.

To be locked into one or the other has got to be limiting and blinkered - surely its better to be balanced and have a foot in each camp ??


  1. you have brought back memories with this AVO I used them for years however I have blown a few of them up in my early days however I now use a Fluke intrument wich is good enough for my porposes also I like the pics of the ships and equipment again the grey matter can remember wot a life!!!!!!!! Im ex P&O GCD Good onya Regards Paul

  2. Thanks for the comment. I think I have got my hands on an old Sailor VHF. More in a later post.


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