I’m Dave Ek, the shopkeeper here at the Ek’s Files. My dork-like tendencies emerged at an early age. Luckily, I grew up in an era where product liability lawsuits and homeland security concerns had not yet stripped all of the fun out of things like chemistry sets. My parents foolishly bought me a pretty cool chemistry set, and I set up my lab in some unused space under the stairs in the basement (I still can’t believe they let me have the alcohol burner!). Periodically I’d have to trek down to the local druggist to get some new chemicals or test tubes. Somehow I managed to not blow up myself or the house, although my lab was threatened with eviction a few times after I stunk up the basement with noxious fumes.
Soon my experimentation expanded into the realm of electricity and magnetism, probably precipitated by my older brother showing me how to build a telegraph out of a tin can, some wire, a block of wood, and a few nails. Pretty soon I was winding my own electromagnetic coils, lighting light bulbs, and experimenting with burglar alarms, often using an old model train transformer to power my experiments. Soon I had collected an odd assortment of electrical gadgets to play with. Somehow I managed to avoid electrocution.
Speaking of electrocution, about this time one of my uncles gave me an old Knight Kit Ocean Hopper shortwave receiver kit that he’d built. I had great fun with that–it had a little door on the top that you opened to swap plug-in coils if you wanted to change shortwave bands. It was a regen receiver, so tuning the thing was a real trick. I also used to get occasional electric shocks from its metal front panel. But that didn’t stop me from spending hours being fascinated by the foreign language broadcasts I could tune in. And I desperately wanted to become a ham radio operator, but without money or an elmer (mentor) I didn’t know how to get started.
As I look back, one of the biggest contributors to my scientific curiosity had to have been the catalogs from Edmund Scientific. Much different than they are now, those catalogs were filled with chemistry lab supplies and equipment, optics, telescopes, microscopes, and all manner of doodads that would peak my interests. It may have served as my first exposure to computers, too. In fact, my first computer–a mechanical gadget called the Digi-Comp–came from the Edmund catalog.
My first exposure to a real computer was in junior high. Our school had joined the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, which at that time meant we could use an old teletype machine to connect (via acoustic modem) to a UNIVAC 1110 mainframe and play around with BASIC programming. (You’re of the same era if you recognize this Snoopy calendar.) A buddy and I used to list the existing programs so we’d have examples of how to write BASIC code.
It was clear at this point that my career would be technically-oriented, and by the time I finished with college courses I had a bachelor’s degree in physics and a masters in nuclear engineering. I always gravitated toward jobs that involved computing, though–at first it was nuclear modeling and simulation, but gradually it became more general software engineering. After a stint in the Air Force (as a nuclear research officer, and then later a physics instructor at the Academy), I found a job with a large defense contractor, where I’m an engineer and software developer.
I’ve held an amateur radio license (current call sign NKØE) since 1997. Ham radio has been a wonderful vehicle for learning about practical electronics, and I’ve built much of my own ham radio gear (albeit mostly from kits). I’ve also designed a couple of microcontroller circuits (like my digital setting circles, for example) and pursued a number of other projects in the interest of general dorkery. I also enjoy getting out for hikes and camping in the Colorado wilderness, often combining those activities with ham radio.
My latest pursuit is to learn how to play guitar. I studied with a great teacher for a couple of years and now I’m continuing on my own, but I haven’t yet figured out how to combine my guitar playing with ham radio…
My last name, Ek, is fairly unique and a sure-fire conversation starter. My father tells me that the name “Ek” comes from Sweden and means “oak” in Swedish. Occasionally I get emails from folks who want to know if I’m the David Ek they knew when they were growing up, or in the Army, or whatever. So far I’ve not been the David Ek they’ve been looking for, so evidently there are a few of us out there. Leave a comment below if you’re wondering whether I’m the David Ek that you’re looking for. Or go check out my Facebook profile.
I hope you enjoy the site. Feel free to leave a comment if you see something interesting.