Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

Quality hand soldering and circuit board repair: How-to manual sweats the small stuff

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

“Quality hand soldering and circuit board repair”, by H. (Ted) Smith, is a little book with a very self-explanatory title which the average electronics hobbyist could probably get something out of reading.

The book is short, which is good because it’s really not written in a way that lends itself to enjoyable reading. In fact the author seems to be yelling at the reader for most of its 150 or so pages.

Of course the intent of the book is to be an instruction manual for manufacturing businesses and not a handbook for the average hobbyist. So a lot of the book is taken up by technical descriptions of what solder joints should look like, particularly when those might be inspected under a microscope for quality control purposes in a volume production setting.

So why should someone waste the time reading a manual that was never meant to be read by hobbyists and is a bit of a strain to read in any case?

Because there are some important things to learn from “pros” that might help an amateur save time and frustration with the craft of soldering.

For example, the soldering technique described in this book seems very different from any other appearing in any tutorial I have ever read. Mr. Smith says that the solder should be put down first, then the iron put on the solder to melt it, and then the solder moved around the joint and allowed to wet over to the iron.

Every other description of the process I have ever read says put the iron down, in contact with the pad and the component lead and then bring the solder to the joint and wait for it to become molten.

I am still not entirely sure which method is “more correct”, but it is interesting that someone who makes his living doing this stuff has such a distinctly different technique from any other source. An amateur would be foolish not to at least take into account the differences and try them out to see what works best.

The book can also give insight to the proliferation of multi-layer PCB’s, surface-mount technologies and even the causes and cures for random ESD in your workshop.

One of the most interesting parts for me––as an obsessive salvager––was the discussion of the difficulties of desoldering particularly from modern, plated PCB’s. The nature of such boards requires heating the entire board and the use of vacuum pressure to desolder any components, else the item could rebond before it can be removed (called a “sweat” joint). As a result, I am now a lot less likely to try and acquire any salvage from such boards or even to try and get hold of them to begin with. That’s a timesaver as far as I am concerned.

It’s not Shakespeare in any sense (not even Forrest Mims really), but Smith’s book is worth the short reading time even if you are not the production manager for one of Nokia’s main suppliers.

“Making Things Move”: Tinkering Manual Takes a Wrong Turn

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Tinkering seems a natural concomitant with the growth of the Internet: there’s a lot of information being shared out on the web and it makes a person think they can do anything . . . with tools.

As the old saying goes, “where there’s smoke, there’s a publishing opportunity” . . . or something like that.

Making Things Move,” by Dustyn Roberts (McGraw-Hill, TAB book, 2011) is a newly-published, self-styled book for tinkerers––whom the cover refers to as, “inventors, hobbyists and artists”––which aims to be the latest to take advantage of that opportunity.

The book starts by claiming that it is not about educating the reader in the sense of formal instruction; mysteriously, a lengthy introduction to the formulae, concepts, and theory of mechanical movement is presented immediately thereafter, and the discussion concludes with a homework assignment in creativity.

Sounds like formal education to me.

People don’t come to books with toy robots on the cover seeking homework assignments, particularly when those are stated as “build a Rube Goldberg device”. That’s not much to go on.

And that pretty much sums up “Making Things Move”: not much.

The text throughout is supported, seemingly on every other page, by lots of illustrations, at least half of which are hand-drawn (the inside cover lists “Sean Comeaux” as “illustrator”).

It seemed that the idea was to keep those from being “schematics” and therefore intimidating (to the “artists” maybe?), but I think that anyone picking up the book would already be beyond being intimidated by standard schematic drawings. (We might be confused by them, or misled by them, but definitely not intimidated.)

The book also refers the reader (on all of the other, unillustrated pages) to web-pages and Internet resources, (probably because there is very little useful information offered by the book itself).

There are a few tidbits in this book––the treatment of motor control is usable and a decent introduction to the problem of attaching objects like wheels and gears to bare motor shafts––but there is certainly not enough here to warrant a cover price of US$30. (The standard joke would be, “wait for the movie”, but nowadays it costs about that much to go to a movie, eh.)

Which brings me to my main negative criticism of the book: it’s all been done before. The discussion of simple machines, for example, has been done, and much more clearly so, by this Navy manual from the last century.

The bio for the author of “Making Things Move” says that she has a lot of formal training and education in engineering. That’s good because the world can always another good engineer; at the same time though, the last thing the world needs is another bad book.

After all, bad writing is what we have bloggers for, no?

NerdKits: (H-)Arduino Light

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

NerdKits is a spartan turn on the whole Arduino phenomenon.

Since the Atmel microcontroller used by NerdKits is not soldered to a board (as is the case with Arduino) the NerdKits is more flexible in terms of design and learning, but harder to make a final product out of.

(“NerdKits” is not the best name for a product either.)

C programming in easy steps

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

C Programming In Easy Steps (3d ed), by Mike McGrath, can be a good intro to the language, but only, I think, if you have some experience with the basics of programming in general.

It is also a good book to keep around as a reference for the basics of the C language.

BSD Certification

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

If you like MOTD, then you might like to look into BSD certification.

1st MOTD

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Message of the Day

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