I just received an email from my chum, Aubrey Kagan, who currently hangs his hat in Canada. Born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Aubrey has forgotten more engineering than I’ll ever know.

The focus of Aubrey’s message was a picture of a bunch of switches and lights. The accompanying text started as follows: “My 18-month-old grandson is besotted with switches and door latches and taps (faucets).”

Sam’s Switches (Source: Aubrey Kagan)

Aubrey went on to say, “He insists on being allowed to control everything from lights to microwave ovens to the taps in the bathroom, so I decided to make him something with lots of switches. As you can see, I tried to make each switch different, just to see how quickly he figures it all out.”

He closed by saying, “It’s just as well that I put it in a sturdy box, because the second thing he did was stand on it (at which time he discovered that switches hurt your feet). So far, it’s been a great success; now I want to see if the interest lasts.”

What an awesome grandad! My first thought was that I would have loved to have something like this when I was a kid. This also reminded me of my recent column about my own grandfather, along with the quote by Robert Brault: “To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word boo.”

When I was 18, my little bro’ Andrew was only five years old. I remember making a control panel to keep him (well, both of us, really) amused. This was based on a sheet of pressed board, onto which I mounted a bunch of switches and small 6V incandescent bulbs.

I also had a small tape recorder, which I used to record things like, “The rocket is almost ready to launch to the moon” and “The captain of the rocket is Andrew James Maxfield” and “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Here we go!”

Andrew and I would set this up under the dining table, which we would cover with a bed sheet. Then we would sit there for hours playing the tape, flicking the switches, talking about what it would be like to be spacemen, and asking important questions as to the relative chances of (a) meeting aliens and (b) mom having ice cream in the freezer.

Unfortunately, the way my brain works is a bit like a chain of dominoes falling, because each thought triggers another. In this case, my next thought was of Jeff Smith, who built his son the most amazing Mission Control Desk.


The best thing is reading the comments to Jeff’s video, like the guy who said, “I’m 30 years old, but maybe Jeff could still adopt me and make me one as well?” And you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy who said, “I made my daughter a bed for her Barbies… now I feel like the world’s worst dad…”

I just watched the video again. Everything about it is awesome — the covered switches — the sound effects — I’m currently having to fight myself from creating a BOM and ordering everything from Digi-Key. I tell you, when my son Joseph has kids, he’d better clear an area in his house for the biggest, baddest control panel you ever did see (if the grandkids are lucky, I might even let them have a turn on it occasionally LOL). What say you? Could you be tempted to build something like this for your own kids or grandkids?