Pinpointing that exact moment of realisation might be tricky, but I'm willing to bet a lot of us found our way toward the dim glow of an old LED through Christmas periphery. Whether it was an electronics kit, a video game console, a home computer or a techno toy that you broke/took apart/fixed.
The Not So Great Gargon
At a guess, I'd say this was a gift that founds its way under my tree somewhere around 1980. My folks had already figured out that I like the more technical stuff. "Active" toys, rather than passive ones, if you see what I mean?
And they found this Action Man/GI Joe spin-off, that had pretty much nothing at all to do with that particular range. But the toy manufacturers of the day were in a heated rush to deliver techno-toys, and were clearly struggling for ideas. Hence, the great Gargon.
This was akin to a six-legged triceratops, that ate batteries a lot more avariciously than it ate people, as suggested by the loose back story included in the instruction booklet. But feed it with half a dozen D-sized batteries, and it set off walking with cheap motors and gears screaming a raw tune. The slightest bump or lump in the carpet and it was rendered immobile.
I may not be selling Gargon to you as yet, but at the time it was pretty damn cool. It had one extra feature, you see. Point the included infra-red remote control and press the button, and it magically stopped! And that was about it. Still, though. In the fledgling days of electronic toys, this was enough to ignite a spark of interest in a kid who also happened to own a screwdriver that fitted Gargon's underside.
Inside the Beast
Again, I'm guessing at the dates, but a one or two years on Gargon had been retired to the back of the cupboard, as is often the fate of such novelty toys.
Wondering whether to send it off to the jumble sale or simply to bin it, Gargon instead found himself dissected upon my desk. Being just a little older than when he'd arrived, I was finally able to articulate something that had bothered me about Gargon's operation.
Using the IR remote to stop him seemed backward. Admittedly, it did remind my Star Wars-addled mind of the restraining bolt applied to R2-D2 by the Jawas, but it effectively put a stop to play. TheGargon's chasing Action Man down, you press a button, and the problem is solved. Big deal. No wonder he wound up in the cupboard.
Plus, I've always leaned more toward empathy with super villains, rather than heroes, so it seemed like a simple tweak to his operation could give Gargon new life, and set him free; if he advanced when you pressed the remote, instead of stopping, you effectively had a city-destroying monster at your command. And who doesn't want one of those?
How to Make Your Enemies Into Your Friends
Now, I wish I could remember what stroke of electronics luck I enjoyed at that embryonic age, or if I even still had Gargon to once again put him under the forensics light. Alas, I have neither.
The circuit board, I do recall, was chip-less. This was still in the days when discreet components were the cheaper option, and in retrospect it's easy to see how simple the toy's operation was; from an electronics standpoint, that is. The IR receiver, positioned on Gargon's chest (the black square in the image above), was separate to the main PCB, as was the battery housing. Initially I recall succeeding in circumventing the IR component; Gargon ran all the time, regardless of how vigorously Action Man pressed the remote control.
After a day or two's continued, random tinkering in the Gargon 's guts, and I was amazed to find it was working in reverse. I can't say if this was blind luck, partial luck, or whether I'd figured out some unusual solution, but at the time that really didn't matter. I do recall a loud click as he stopped and started, implying, now, that a relay cut his movement on and off; an easy matter to reverse.
Switch Gargon on, and he now did nothing until you point the remote at him. He'd then set off moving, and instead of being an easily disabled creature looking to devour Action Man, it became his growling, gnashing ally!
Although I didn't realise it at the time, this was a catalytic event for me. The first of my many subsequent technologies of Christmas Past. Electronic toys and devices were no longer safe, and though few yielded such fortunate outcomes as The Now-Great Gargon (many failing to ever work again), this is undoubtedly where my lifelong interest in electronics was born. Possibly it could be traced back a little further to when I first played a video game on the Philips Videopac G7000 (the Magnavox Odyssey 2, across the pond), but I thankfully restrained myself from ever dismantling that beauty. Indeed, I still own it!
Can you trace your interest back to that defining moment when the spark of electronics enthusiasm ignited within you? Or was there one device, computer, toy or moment that made your Christmas into a technical treasure trove? Tell us all about your Technologies of Christmas Past in the comments below.