Sunday, March 4, 2018

Practical Electronics, or how to destroy a customer's TV set

Brief History: After I graduated from High School (back in 1987, Jesus Christ!) I decided it would be good to take post-secondary education in Electronics. Now, that's where I met my good friend Winnipeg Cameraman at South Winnipeg Technical Center. But let's skip this, because my story begins 1 year after I graduated from SWTC and decided to go to Red River Community College in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They had a Domestic Electronics course - which was essentially consumer electronics repair (TV, VCR's, Camcorders, etc).

I had a few good teachers during that course. One of them, George, was a complete drunk who came in most of the time reeking of alcohol on his breath. The guy was from Czechoslovakia and a real hard ass. If you were late for class this asshole would mark you absent. It wasn't a huge deal, except that some of the people there were going to school under their Employment Insurance program: If you were absent from x many days of the class, you'd lose your financing.

The school was fairly well equipped with soldering and desoldering stations, digital multi-meters, and oscilloscopes. About halfway through the course we had the opportunity to fix customers TV sets and VCR's - provided they purchase the parts.

My first (and only) customer was a Russian dude who was friends with George. He brought in this European tv brand "Telefunken" which was basically a 26 inch CRT TV. It had the classic symptoms of a blown flyback transistor: No high voltage, fuse shorted, and dead high voltage.

Replacement of the transistor quickly replaced it. And I told the customer his TV set was ready to go, except during final soldering I made the horrible mistake of soldering while the TV was plugged in. Because of this, the moment my soldering iron touched the high voltage area (even though it was "OFF"), the soldering iron completed the ground circuit and I blew out the flyblack transformer.

The flyback transformer is a special electronic component that increases the DC voltage from several hundred volts to about 28,000 - 38,000 volts. This is required in order for electrons to be fired off into the phosphor coating on the CRT tube. These components are expensive, typically costing almost as much as the TV in some cases.

The customer was livid - understandably. George didn't really give a fuck, and by this time he was drinking between class breaks. The customer was escorted off the grounds of Red River Community College and that was my first and only chance to fix a customers issue with a soldering iron.

Some of the people I was schooling with were completely fucked: One was asleep for most of the training and promptly failed in the 3rd semester. Another was caught playing explicit pornography in the classroom on a customer's VCR. A few people were complete morons, incapable of soldering anything except a blunt of weed.

My favorite teacher was Mr. Miller, and he was an easy, laid-back guy. He raised the entire grade of our classroom one semester because many were on the verge of flunking. My grades went from B+ to A+ in that instant. Awesome. The digital electronics teacher was a very eccentric guy who taught me what part of the human brain is responsible for providing "directions" and used that to explain how digital logic works.

Sadly, all this electronic training didn't really help much, because back then the recession was in full swing. Many years later I still use my electronics knowledge and still do some hardware hacking every now and then. I've even ordered a soldering station to get back into re-working circuits in my spare time. I'd like to look into hybrid battery power and expand my knowledge on balancing battery charging and how to make a hybrid system for any car.

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