How to Diagnose and Fix Everything Electronic

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Nor will we take more than a passing glance at cathode ray tube CRT, or picture tube — based TVs and monitors.

Troubleshooting bad circuits using ohms law.

Servicing CRT sets is rather dangerous, so please find a book devoted to them if you have an interest in, say, restoring antique TVs. Tape-based video recording continues to be used in some digital camcorders. VCRs, which are rapidly disappearing as high-definition TV HDTV obsoletes them, may be the only key to recovery of precious home movies yet to be transferred to digital media. Serious audio devotees treasure their analog tape recorders and turntables and will never replace them with CD or MP3 players. In fact, the best audiophile-grade stereo gear is pretty much all analog and will likely remain that way.

Even digital radio and TV receivers use analog stages to amplify and separate incoming signals before digital decoders extract the data. So, troubleshooting techniques specific to analog circuitry are far from antiquated; they continue to be relevant in our digital era. In this book, it is assumed that you have probably opened an electronic device at one time or another and checked a fuse.

And dive we will! Using other test equipment like digital voltmeters and ohmmeters is also crucial to effective repair. Environmental and economic factors, learning, fun, preserving rare and obsolete technology, potential profit. Must- haves, nice-to-haves, and expensive goodies to dream about.

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Analog and digital representation. Amplifiers, oscillators, frequency synthesizers and power supplies. Amplifier example. Switching power supply example. It will help hone your sleuthing skills with logic and a solid foundation in how things work, until you feel like an ace detective of electrons. E lectronics is a lifelong love affair. Once its mysteries and thrills get in your blood, they never leave you. I became fascinated with circuits and gadgets when I was about 5 years old, not long after I started playing the piano.

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There may have been something of a connection between the two interests—both involved inanimate objects springing to life by the guidance of my mind and hands. Building and repairing radios, amplifiers and record players always felt a little like playing God, or perhaps Dr. Pilot lights would glow, speakers would crackle with music and faraway voices, and motors would turn, spinning records that filled my room with Haydn, Berlioz and The Beatles.

It was quite a power trip okay, a little pun intended for a kid and kept me hankering for more such adventures. My progression from such intuitive tinkering to the understanding required for serious technician work at the employable level involved many years of hands-on learning, poking around and deducing which components did what, and tracing signals through radio stages by touching solder joints with a screwdriver while listening for the crackling it caused in the speaker. Later came meters, signal tracers and, finally, the eye-opening magic window of the oscilloscope.


Only one issue a month? What were they waiting for?? But now I know how a vidicon tube works! I was a tech in repair shops, I programmed computers, and I developed circuitry and software for several companies around Boston and New York, while building my own inventions and running a little mail-order company to sell them. All of those experiences integrated into the approach I will present in this book, which includes inductive and deductive reasoning, concepts of signal flow and device organization, taking measurements, practical skills and tips for successful repair, a little bit of art, and even a touch of whimsy here and there.

My hope is that this distillation of my own hard-won understanding will infect you with the love of circuits and their sometimes odd behaviors, and start you on the very enjoyable path of developing your skills at the wonderful, wacky world of electronic repair. So, warm up your soldering iron, wrap your fingers around the knobs of that oscilloscope and crank up the sweep rate, 'cause here we go! Repair: Why Do It? When I was a kid, there were radio and TV servicers in many neighborhoods.

If something broke, you dropped it off at your local electronics repair shop, which was as much a part of ordinary life as the corner automotive service garage. These days, those shops have all but disappeared as rising labor costs and device complexity have driven consumer electronics into the age of the disposable machine. When it stops working, you toss it out and get a new one.

So why fix something yourself? Sans the cost of labor, repair can be quite cost effective. Learning to repair things is a great hobby to which you can devote many fruitful hours. Why pay retail for new electronics when you can get great stuff cheap or even free?

Especially if you live in or near a city, resources like craigslist. Lots of broken gadgets are given away, since bringing them in for repair costs so much. Some of the broken items people nonchalantly discard are surprisingly valuable. Some older technologies were quite nice and have not been replaced by newer devices offering the same features, utility or quality. The continued zeal of analog audio devotees painstakingly tweaking their turntables offers a prime example of the enduring value of a technology no longer widely available.

The wastefulness of tossing out, say, a video projector with a single capacitor is staggering. Being a good tech is like being a doctor: everyone will come to you for advice and help.

See a Problem?

Is It Always Worth It? Luckily, in our silicon and copper realm, those destined for the hereafter can be recycled as parts. Because electrons and their energy flows are invisible, test equipment has been around almost as long as human awareness of electricity itself. The right test instruments and hand tools enable you to get inside a product without damaging it, find the trouble, change the bad parts and reassemble the case correctly and safely. Some of them are insanely expensive and only rarely useful. Others cost a lot less and find application in almost every circumstance.

One slip of the test probe can cause a momentary short that does damage worse than the problem you were trying to solve. One of the most important elements of effective, conscientious repairing is an appropriate workspace set up to make the task as easy and comfortable as possible, minimizing the likelihood of catastrophic error. First, consider your location. Opened electronic products and the equipment used to service them are not child-safe, and the last thing you or your kids need is an accident that could injure them. Pets, too, can wreak all kinds of havoc on disassembled machinery.

Cats love to climb on and play with things, particularly if those things are warm. The effects can range from lost screws and broken parts to dead cats! High Voltage! You just never know when the little angel sitting there so placidly will make a sudden leap at your project and turn it into op-art. Many of us have our workshops in the basement. This location is a mixed bag.

It keeps the somewhat messy business of repair out of your living space, but it has some drawbacks. If you live in a cooler clime, it can get mighty chilly down there in the wintertime! Worse, basements tend to be damp, which is bad for your test gear. Still, the basement may be your best bet. Just be sure to fire up your gear now and then to dry it out, and run a dehumidifier if humidity climbs above 70 percent or so. Use an electric heater in the winter; kerosene heaters designed for indoor operation still emit quite a bit of carbon dioxide that will build up in the unventilated spaces of most basements.

If you have the means, go for it. Get one with shelves and lots of power strips. A white Formica surface is nice too, because you can see dropped screws and such much more easily than with a darker, textured covering see Figure Also, carpeting can build up static electric charges lethal to circuitry.

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Carpeting on the ground around the bench has its pros and cons. If you do choose to have a carpeted floor, pick a light color and as shallow and tight a pile as possible. This is no place for a thick carpet with loose fibers. This is critical for safety! Most of those plates are not properly grounded, and a bad ground can get you killed in certain circumstances.

The current amperage requirement is not high for most service work.

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Also, this arrangement has the advantage that all ground points are at exactly the same voltage level, which helps prevent ground loops unwanted current between ground points. Again, be sure the strips are three-wire, grounded types. While it might seem obvious that the entire room should be brightly lit, that is not the most productive approach, as it can actually make it harder to see small details that need to be scrutinized and, therefore, brighter than their surroundings.

Average lighting in the room is adequate. What you need most is spot lighting, and the best solution is a fluorescent light on a swing arm, as shown in Figure Be aware, though, that many eco bulbs have a rather yellowish tint and also put out a fair amount of ultraviolet light, so using one close to your eyes may not be comfortable.

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  7. Plus, they operate at a high frequency and can emit significant short-range radio- frequency energy capable of interfering with some kinds of measurements or even the circuit under test. The old circular, bluish-white fluorescent lamp is still your best bet. The analog incarnation of this test device, recognizable by its big meter needle and multiple-stop selector knob, used to be called a VOM volt-ohm-milliammeter.

    The market positions have reversed, and VOMs have become the exotic technology, with a good one selling for considerably more than a digital. Hardware stores and RadioShack a. The expensive ones may have the ability to test various other parameters like capacitance and inductance, but mostly what they offer are much higher precision and accuracy.

    Precision and accuracy are two different things. Precision is the fineness to which a measurement is specified, and accuracy is how truthful the measurement is. So, for a DMM to specify that it measures voltages to three digits to the right of the decimal point, it has to have a basic accuracy of somewhere around a thousandth of a volt.

    Who on Earth would build an instrument that displayed meaningless numbers?