Sunday, February 12, 2012

Attacking the Soldering Demon

Attacking the Soldering Demon
By Bobby Neal Winters
I may have mentioned in an earlier post that I have demons which have kept me from pursuing the world of electronics: the Demon of Lack-of-Self-Confidence; the Demon of Fear-of-Loss-Money.
Chief among my demons up until now has been the Soldering Demon.  I ran into this demon while trying to put together a kit for an RF-modulator for an ELF computer.  I had never soldered before, but I figured I would try.  The directions which came with the kit were as encouraging as they were racist and sexist: “These parts are usually assembled by teenage Mexican girls.”
I kid you not.
It turns out that the teenage Mexican girls out did me.  Instead of an RF-modulator I created a one-and-a-half by two-inch rectangle of lead or tin or what-the-hell-ever.  Money was tight in those days growing up, so this failure carried a huge load of guilt.
Time rolled forward and a tried to fight the demon by getting electronic kits for my older daughters.  The oldest one was game.  She could handle hot glue like a pro, and I figured it was just a small step from there to soldering.
We tried a telephone kit.  I figured that since she wanted a phone in her room that this would be an incentive.  We got started, but we couldn’t follow through.
The problem is that there is actually something to be learned.  There is a certain amount of patience, a certain amount of hand-eye coordination, and a certain amount of skill that only practice can bring.
Roll time forward again.
As a part of my continuing Zombie Apocalypse Crystal Radio quest, I came upon directions for a Three-Penny Radio. This takes the crystal radio one or two steps further by introducing amplification. The problem is that it required a bit of soldering, but this was turned into a virtue by making the soldering simple.
We did this late yesterday afternoon.  We’d put together a solar cell kit earlier and this had gone well.  I thought we could start on the Three-Penny Radio by just doing part of it, but Lydia wanted to push on.  This was a mistake because I hadn’t had a chance to look over the directions.  [The directions on the site are complete, but they’ve not been idiot-proofed as we shall see.]
We soldered it all together, stuck the earpiece in our ears, and nada. Nothing. Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence done for real.  It was then that Lydia exercised an amount of discretion that I didn’t have until just a few years ago.
“Let’s fix this later, Dad.”
So we put it away.
Went to bed last night, church this morning, ate lunch, and took a nap.
When I woke up, Lydia was gone.
I went to the table and compared what we’d done to the picture in the instructions.  The two were different.  
I then did what you do when you solder something incorrectly.  I un-soldered it and re-soldered it.  I put the battery in it, put the earpiece in my ear, and heard the beautiful sound of static.  With a little tuning, this was replaced by music.
I rock.
I am now waiting for Lydia to get back to receive her assessment.

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