Monthly Archives: November 2006

I Didn’t Learn SH*T in my EE Classes, Part II

OK OK so I slept on it and had further thoughts on this. Technology has made products a helluva lot more complex but they work better, and they’re smaller and use less power, etc. etc. In the recent past, you could actually work on your own car because everything was mechanical; now you need a laptop to read the diagnostics and you end up replacing the whole unit because there is a microcontroller in there that you can’t just replace by itself. It’s easier to replace the whole thing.
Sometimes I think that technology has made us stupider. When I was a kid, my dad and I created crystal radios from scratch and they would actually work. Today, create a XM radio from scratch? Pretty tough. Even basic stuff like soap – in the old days, settlers in the West would make soap from leftover grease and fat. They’d put it all in a big tub and stir it with some other ingredients (which I have forgotten) and it would eventually thicken into soap. Now you just go to the supermarket and buy it.
Ever read apocalyptic science fiction like Lucifer’s Hammer by Jerry Pournelle or Dies the Fire, The Protector’s War, or The Meeting at Corvallis by S. M. Stirling? Some major event happens like a meteor hits earth or nuclear war, or technology is wiped out. Humans need to survive, so all the stuff you get in modern civilization is quickly being hoarded and used up and nobody is replacing it, because factories are destroyed. Pretty soon, people are back to making the basic stuff all over again.
It’s a little scary sometimes and makes you wonder what would happen in a world where you’d really have to go back to all the SH*T you learned in EE class and rebuild some of that from scratch…

I Didn’t Learn SH*T in my EE Classes

Today I’m in NYC and I arrive to a busted microwave. Actually I didn’t discover it was broken; a buddy of mine stayed at my place a few weeks back and found it was busted – well he put these soy burgers in there and they probably overloaded it hahah. (Just kidding.)
Anyways, you can’t live in NYC without a microwave. In the city of takeout/delivery, how can you not reheat something instantly?
So I call the handyman guy in my building and he comes over to take a look. He says to me that all you gotta do is take out the circuit board and re-solder everything on it. He says that sometimes over time, cooking oil can cause the soldered joints to become non-conductive since the microwave sits over the range. He proceeds to unscrew the board and takes it away.
A few minutes later, he comes back with the fixed board. He reinstalls it and then turns it on and, WOW, it works. UNBELIEVABLE.
It reminds me of my dad. Once he gets me to come over because his big screen TV is busted. He gets me to go behind the TV and unscrew the back and take out the circuit board. I give him the circuit board and he looks at it for a minute and then points to a transformer (one of 100 components on this board) and says, “I think this is broken. We need to replace this.” I look at him in wonder. How the f*ck did he know that was broken? He goes upstairs and finds a spare transformer (oh a random spare transformer upstairs in his bedroom…) and comes back down. He hands it to me and tells me to unsolder the old one and put in the new one.
My skills do include soldering so I whip out my handy dandy soldering iron and replace it pronto, but all the while wondering “WTF this can’t be the problem…?” I take the circuit board and put it back into the TV. I replace the back panel and plug it in, and IT WORKS.
I think about when my father learned electronics. Back then, electronics were simpler. Radios and stuff were just easier to put together and fix and none of these integrated circuits. Lots of big tubes and transformers and things that you didn’t need a microscope to see. You learned their theory, and how they worked together, and you could pretty much build a radio from scratch.
Look at me. I went through many electrical engineering classes in college and I can’t fix crap. What a waste of an education. I pay all this money to learn the same stuff that my dad learns and I can’t do anything with it. Can’t fix a TV or a microwave. I AM WORTHLESS.