Friday, July 11, 2014

Old Fuddy Duddy

One thing I have always taken for granted is the ability to take broken things apart and put them back together again working, something stemming from my childhood borderline obsessional habit of finding out how things work. Over the years this skill has come in remarkably useful, mending everything from vacuum cleaners to washing machines, computers to portable radios. To help I started a spares box many, many years ago that now contains everything from Cat-5 cables to Jack plugs and weirdly aerial connection boxes even though I don't remember ever plying my trade as a television aerial installer and a myriad of power supplies. The picture above is taken from my spares box, as you can see it's pretty full.

The problem is that items are becoming increasingly difficult to fix. Not because they are more technical in many cases but because they are becoming more willing to force you to throw it away rather than attempt a repair. I noticed this happening way back in the late eighties during the computer boom. A popular computer at the time came with a power supply that resembled a cream housebrick. It hummed and was prone to failing if it overheated, it used to be such a common occurances that the computer store I worked at carried a large amount of replacement ones for purchase until of course we took it to bits. Inside tucked away in one corner was a second fuse and it was this that was prone to blowing. Once this was found out then all they had to carry was a supply of fuses to fix the problem.

Sales of the replacement power supplies went down and it became increasingly rare to have to replace the whole thing, I can only assume that many people found the same solution because the computer manufacturer changed the power supply. It was just as unreliable only this time the inside casing was encased in pitch, a black solid substance rendering repair impossible, if the fuse blew it was a £29 replacement. It was the first time I had come across such repair sabotage but alas it's almost routine with today's electrical goods.

This morning I had to use my spares box to replace a jack plug in a faulty wireless transmitter that we use to broadcast wireless music to the studio. It's only a cheap £30 thing but to throw it away for the cost of a 50p Jack plug replacement is silly. Out came the box and a suitable plug found, I started to strip away the faulty jack plug casing, always a crap task as they are tightly secured moulded plastic. Inside there should be two or three wires, one for the centre of the jack plug (white) , the second (red) for the outside and the third (lots of fiddly copper strands) if there is one to earth it all.

Nothing. Nothing that is apart from a small tube of pitch, the wretched hard black stuff which was encasing all the wires. It was this that had cracked and caused the fault but it was also this that was placed in there to stop a repair and as the manufacturer would explain it was there to stop exactly this type of fault happening in the first place. Both fault and solution and now a problem for a repair. It took me a good ten minutes of carefully clipping and poking to remove enough to expose the wires, a couple of bits of solder and it was repaired.

Now for such an easy repair I can imagine most people would throw it away and replace it especially if they tried and came across the pitch seal and it's this that manufacturers rely on. Remember the power supply from earlier? Well earlier last week I had a speaker system stop working, it had its own power supply so the first thing I checked was the fuse in the plug. It was fine, tracing the route of the power I dismantled the entry point and found a fuse had blown. I had a replacement, it was exactly the same fuse in the same position with the same vulnerabilities from all those years ago with the computer power supply, it seems that nothing much had changed only this time not many people had cottoned on to replacing the internal fuse as most people wouldn't be aware of it hence no pitch seal.

So if anyone is looking for a ZX-81 Reset switch, an Eight Pin Din socket, a dual coaxial splitter or would like their eight track player repairing I'm your man. In the meantime I will be in the studio listening to my 1971 crystal set radio through a single white earpiece I repaired in 1979. Tonight I might even watch a video, Mary Poppins on Betamax anyone?

Just drop me a Telex and I'll get back to you straight away.


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