Archive for October, 2011

Steve Jobs and the Delicious Strawberry iMac

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

It’s always sad to see someone’s life cut short by disease, and no disease is more frightening than pancreatic cancer.

It is swift and inevitable.

For people of a certain age, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a constant light through our adult lives. We didn’t necessarily admire the guy; some, in fact, were pretty adamant in disliking him and his company . . . and its products, business model and manufacturing practices.

What he represented to my generation, however, was more the constant renewal and reinvention that living in the USA in the age of information was supposed to bring us.

Now that he’s gone, the horizon seems a lot more forbidding.

Part of Jobs’ legend is that he was a zen Buddhist. And at times like these, the zen story (“koan”) of the monk and the strawberry always comes to mind.

Though I always thought the iMac was a clever bit of packaging and marketing, I could never figure out why it came in “flavors”, and who could have possibly decided that “strawberry” should be one of those, I can’t even imagine.

Now that the tigers are getting closer and the mice are nearly gnawed all the way through the vine, now I think maybe whatever flavor a person likes . . . is whatever flavor a person likes.

So long Steve Jobs, and thanks for all of the iPods.

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.