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CC Clarke

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About CC Clarke

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    Hartford, CT
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    Beer, Astrophotography, Astronomy, Electronics, Hiking, Unobtainable Women, Robotics, Cooking

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  1. Here's a piece of TI-99/4A unobtanium: a genuine factory repair tech power-up tested. It plugs into the I/O port like a standard speech synthesizer and once the console is powered up and displays a TI logo, you press the momentary contact switch on top and it tests out the majority of the machine along with a diagnostic command module in the GROM port. We used these to make sure they wouldn't get thrown back at us after being repaired. I used it for years when I fixed consoles after leaving TI. It's gathering dust in my old TI tool box.
  2. Your father was a wise man! I on the other hand, had to gain wisdom the old fashioned way - through my mistakes. That period in Lubbock was the bleakest in my life. There was nothing to look forward to career-wise there or with TI in general. There were a lot of really depressed people who relocated only to quickly regret the decision. I felt very bad for those I left behind when the axe fell in October of '83. The picture above of the part of the building with Fab Texas Entrance is located at the end of the North Site. You entered those doors to go right -to the employment office, or left - to the manufacturing areas. We placed our picture badges in a lit-up alcove with a camera facing down and a guard buzzed you in. The Spine, (the long hallway which connected all of the modules and looked like it went to infinity) was dark and spooky after module C on our shift. (If you read my previous post about getting "David from Brazil" fired, that was the quiet area I directed him to "await his prize." At the far end were the executive offices and they traveled back and forth in golf carts during the day shift. TI had an innovative feature; they used robots to drive down the spine and deposit mail in slots for each module. They used some form of camera vision and on occasion, some of the employees would pass by and smear peanut butter on the lenses, causing the machines to crash into things. In Incoming QC where I worked for the final three months, there were three of us upstairs in a cypher-locked room. One gal would control the robotic fork lifts that ran up and down the racks of products from outside vendors (components, keyboards, power supplies, etc.) and a pallet would be delivered for me to test a %. If they passed, the entire lot would be sent to whatever module needed them. While I was being trained by one of the swing shift techs shortly after arriving, the procedure we performed specified that the power supplies (black transformer blocks that connected to the console) had to be drop-tested from a height of 36 inches on all six sides with no visible damage like chips or cracks in the case. I read the procedure while he watched and proceeded to drop a transformer onto a piece a concrete flooring set aside as the designated testing area. After dropping it and picking it up a few times, he shook his head and said, "No, no, no. You're doing it all wrong. You've got 100 of these to test and you'll never finish this shift if you keep doing it like that." I looked at him blankly, re-read the procedure again and asked, "What am I missing here?" He walked over to the opened case of power supplies, grabbed ten by their cords and swung them over his head and then against the concrete six times. Wham! Wham! Wham! Pieces flew in all directions. "Looks like a failure to me" he stated with a straight face. "Pack them up and reject the entire lot." The lot consisted of ten thousand power supplies. . . This is just a taste of the utter stupidity I witnessed on a daily basis while employed there. Out in town, it wasn't much different. . . When I had finally witnessed enough of them to begin counting (I think I got to 78 before I left) I either saw the car crashes happen or came upon the still-smoking aftermath - usually at intersections. Standard rules of the road were either ignored or completely beyond the comprehension of the local drivers. I've never seen such carnage. The drivers here in CT are worse, they just know it and drive much more defensively. Sorry Florida, you folks come close but are #2 on my list of worst states to risk your life while behind the wheel.
  3. Brett's experience mirrors mine in many ways. I was in the middle of a three-month cross-country motorcycle trip that summer, having just gotten out of the Navy. I was planning to return to Seattle at the end of the summer to start college. My best friend lived in Lubbock and asked me to be the Best Man at his wedding, so I worked it into my trip. While riding around Loop 289 with a girl he set me up with, I saw the plant and asked her what it was, "TI!" she yelled over the wind hitting our helmets. On a whim, I rode over the next day and filled out an employment application. To my utter surprise, I received a phone call the next morning urgently asking me to come in for an interview. I said I was on a motorcycle trip and didn't have any nice clothes, and was told not to worry about it. When I arrived, I met with an engineer sporting a cowboy hat and giant belt buckle. He smiled and said, "I read your resume and saw you were on submarines. Me too! You're hired!!" I replied, "Don't you think we should go inside and show me around first?" What I didn't know then was TI had a very difficult time attracting anyone to Lubbock. In the TI universe, it was considered Siberia. I ended up accepting the job and spent nine of the longest months of my life in Lubbock. I've never lived anywhere that the locals seemed to hate so much. One of the best-selling t-shirts had a picture of a automobile's rearview mirror with Lubbock's downtown skyline on it with the caption, "Happiness is Lubbock in Your Rearview mirror" a line from a Mac Davis song. Another popular poster was a hippie peeing on the base of the Lubbock city limits sign. It was by far the most boring place I've ever lived. (I spent the previous two years in the SF Bay area.) Working the entire time I lived there on the graveyard shift, the operation was total chaos. I had at least six supervisors in nine months. I spent my first three months at the North Site (shown above) three months at a renovated Levi Strauss building where a single assembly line was set up to keep up with demand, three nights at the Warranty Repair building, and the last three months back at the North Site working in incoming QC, which was a lot nicer than being a repair tech on the assembly lines, watching power-crazy supervisors screaming at the women (with lots of subsequent tears) for minor offenses like leaving staples in travelers (the paper sheets that traveled with the computers to document their progress during assembly, test and repair.) There was no formal training, we were assigned to sit with someone for a few days and that was it. On my first night, I asked where the schematics were. Not one tech knew - that was my first indication of how inefficient the manufacturing operation was. I ended up getting a set of drawings, taught myself how it worked and my repair numbers immediately jumped. We were supposed to fix 18 boards a night. --Most techs were doing four or five. A couple of weeks went by and we added forty techs one night - TI hired the entire graduating class from a technical trade school in Kentucky. We heard a rumor that someone on 1st shift had fixed 100 boards. That became my goal. The graveyard shift was thirty minutes shorter than the other two shifts I think. Before long, I was doing a hundred boards a shift, and the techs all started competing, which was kind of fun. The supervisor-of-the-week asked me to join him in opening a new assembly line across town as his Lead Tech, and offered me a ten cent raise. I took the offer immediately. Soon after, I convinced him let me use a conference room for two nights to teach the new techs how the machine worked, which made a big difference. After one session, a tech asked me, "How long have you been here?" When I told him, "Four months" his jaw hit the floor; he thought I had been there for years. I assured him he would be just as knowledgeable after repairing a few thousand of them. For reference, the standard wage for a tech at TI in 1982 was $8.09 an hour. We got extra pay for working "graves", which lofted it up to $8.33 and hour. Standard line workers made around $4.50 an hour, so we were considered "well-paid". There were multiple areas that boards dropped out of: Power-up Testing (PUT) --where the boards are connected to a power source and if they didn't power up with the TI Logo screen, they "Fell out" and we could walk over and pick up a plastic tub with about twenty boards in it to take back to our benches. Power-up testing was considered easy pickings because the majority of the problems were manufacturing-related and usually troubleshot with keen eyes, like chips inserted backwards, unclipped component leads, shorted leads, solder shorts from the wave soldering machine or a little harder to find: chips with a pin bent under the body not making contact with the pad. After PUT, bare boards made their way to a diagnostic tester where every port was connected and tested. Failures from there were a little harder to work on, but were a combination of manufacturing defects that didn't cause the board to lock up (joysticks, cassette circuits, I/O buffers, etc) or thermal problems that occurred soon after power-up. Then there were the harder problems that I liked most of all: Burn-in Test rejects. There were tens of thousands if computers on shelves in the Burn-In area. Each computer was loaded up with a diagnostic command module that looped endlessly for 48 or 72 hours, and were checked via a rotary switch from the video output connected to a monitor. These failures were 99% real-world hardware faults, so they were challenging to work on, but took longer because you had to disassemble/reassemble the cases. We used pneumatic screwdrivers hanging above our benches to speed the process up. I made some good friends there. The techs partied hard, and all were from somewhere else, struggling to accept life with the grim reality of Lubbock, which was isolated, hot, dry, flat, and exceedingly dull. Even the layout of the city was boring - numbers on one axis and letters for the other. 75% of the workforce were women, so I considered this a target-rich environment compared to submarine duty. We'd leave work at seven, and eat breakfast and end up completely hammered by 9 AM! The locals would watch us, utterly horrified - you have to remember Lubbock sits squarely in the Bible Belt. Unless you were going to college during the day, there wasn't much to do in Lubbock except visit Prairie Dog Town, drink, and wish you were somewhere, ANYWHERE else. Lubbock was a dry town then, so you had to drive outside the city limits to buy bottled hard liquor (beer was available in town) so all of the revenue went to the country - not the city. Weird. . . I remember waiting at a stop light one Sunday morning on my motorcycle when a woman pulled up next to me, rolled her window down and yelled "You should be in church!!!" I gave her a one-finger salute and sped off when the light changed. One night, (around Feb '83) we had an all-hands meeting and a sales rep displayed a linear sales chart that ascended off the right side of the slide. He said there was no way we could keep up with demand. What he didn't elaborate on was the fact that every two or three months, we dropped the price by $50 to compete with the Vic-20 (rather than the C-64 which was a closer match technically). Anyway, it didn't matter how many we sold if it was at a loss. He actually said, "We may lose money on the console, but we'll make it up in volume!" I mean, on what planet does that math add up? TI kept the GROM technology proprietary with the idea that they could make their profits selling the software which cost very little. Cartridges were going for an average of $40. If they had made the technology open source, more (and better) software might have been written, keeping the machine alive longer. We were paid so little that I couldn't afford a computer at that time. I watched the price drop from around $350 when I started in Aug '82 to about $150 when I left in May of '83. At one point we were handed employee satisfaction forms to fill out anonymously and I spent two hours detailing how inept the 99/4A operation was. I ended with, "I'm so disgusted, I'll be taking the first job I'm offered to leave this company." Just a few examples that come to mind: 1) The 3' x 3' camel-hair carpeting squares in the manufacturing modules were static generators. These had to be removed, which totally disrupted operations. ESD compliance was a huge issue. They gave us 1'x1' squares of aluminum foil to hand-carry boards around! 2) J. Fred. Bucy was the CEO and a Texas Tech (the local college) alumni. He came out to inspect the plant and the graveyard shift shut down one night to straighten the place up. The next night we were chastised for low production numbers! 3) I had one really good supervisor - he was a pilot who had just left the Air Force. He might have lasted a month before he quit in disgust. 4) I remember getting yelled at by a clueless supervisor for wearing my ESD strap around my ankle to keep my hands free of the spiraled cord that got in the way. Apparently he didn't know that my ankle was connected to the rest of my body at the same electrical potential. . . 5) We were constantly exhorted to crank up production (and repairs) ahead of the Christmas holiday season. In the beginning of December, a group of Texas Tech (remember J. Fred?) Electrical Engineering students (cheap labor) were brought in to "help" the techs with repairs to increase out numbers. There were two assigned to sit on either side of us. We spent more time explaining and less time fixing boards and as a result, our repair numbers dropped to record lows. We were yelled at for that too . . . Finally, on a Day of Days in early May of '83, Fate smiled and my phone rang. An HR person from the government asked me if I wanted a job repairing submarine weapons systems at the Trident Submarine Base in Bangor WA. (I had put in my paperwork before I left for my motorcycle trip a year before.) I accepted before she finished her sentence! Not only would I be leaving Lubbock, but I would be making more money doing something much less mundane. For comparison purposes, the starting wage for a WG-11 Electronic Mechanic then was 10.56 and hour, so it was quite a bump from TI - plus, no graveyard shift!!! That night, I floated into work and asked my supervisor in Incoming QC how to give my two-week's notice. I'll never forget the puzzled look she gave me. "Why would you want to not work here? I've been in this job twenty years and no one has ever quit. I'll have to call HR tomorrow and find out what the process is." I told every one of my tech buddies slaving away in the production areas to start looking for a job, because there was no way TI could continue to sustain the kinds of losses we were having. Some nodded, other laughed at me. (All were laid off six months later.) Two weeks later, I watered the city limits sign with an ear-to-ear smile on my way out of town. The view of Lubbock receding in my rearview mirror only made that smile bigger. The positive thing I took away from that nightmare experience was I learned more electronics in six months than I did in six years in the Navy. My employment with the government for the following 15 years was extremely enjoyable and rewarding. CC
  4. I can still repair them and stock quite a few parts. (One of these days my wife will have me throw all of my 99/4A stuff out before we make our next move in a few years!) However, it would be cheaper just to buy a working used console online and swap out the defective motherboard or power supply. Someone contacted me last night and I gave him the same advice. I am always available to answer questions regarding the internal workings of the console (and most peripherals). CC
  5. LTA numbers specify when the injection-molded case was produced. Typically, they went from the plastics are to the assembly lines across the hallway pretty quick. For example, an LTA of 0583 meant the case was produced in the 5th week of 1983, which would be sometime in early February. Serial numbers were all over the place as noted. CC
  6. Extra console room between the case plastic and RF shield was provided for air circulation. CCC
  7. Always check power and timing first. You can use a logic probe to verify the clock signals, but an oscope with a freq counter is ideal. Before you get too far, pull the 2156, 2157, and sound chip out if socketed. (The home screen is contained in the 2155 GROM.) If a GROM or sound chip is bad, they can hold the bus down. After verifying the power and timing, (3 Mhz CPU clocks can be quickly checked on the clock chip, then four pins on the 9900 CPU) verify GROM select is on the GROM sockets, followed by READY on the CPU. Loss of READY will prevent power up, resulting in a "Dead", described above by the OP. If READY is missing or wrong, (Like GROM Select, it has a very noticeable signature on a scope.) First piggy-back then power up both ROMs, and if that doesn't work, replace them one at a time, followed by the 6810 scratchpad RAMs. CCC
  8. Hakko makes a good product, (I use their fume extractors) but I have yet to find a better soldering workstation than those produced by Metcal (later bought out by OK Industries.) If you know of a better one, I'd love to test one out. Working in the aerospace industry, this is all I see used at all the contractors sites I've visited when high-reliability, ESD-safe soldering is required. Note there are only two controls, a power switch on top and a selector switch between two outputs (for a solder hand piece and a solder extractor) on the front. No temperature controls are needed. The tip senses how much heat is required and the unit provides the power instantly. I've never burned a board, lifted an etch, or even measeled the laminate with one of these. I use one at home too. There's nothing cheap about these, but if you can find one in your budget, by all means grab one! Tips aren't cheap either, but last a long time. Metcals are the gold standard for professional solder stations. Pictured is a Metcal 500 series. CCC
  9. If memory serves me correctly, this problem came to light very early in the year (1983) when the transformers failed high pot testing (this is an extreme test where the secondary is intentionally shorted out and the primary (120vac) is left powered up. After about 45 minutes, (the exterior case would start to deform from the internal heat) the transformer would fry. I used to spend many nights doing this test, and they were very repeatable. US Underwriter's Laboratories had approved the transformer, but the Canadian (CSA I think it was called) Product Safety group flagged it as a potential problem if it wasn't grounded. The factory had to grind off the CSA stamp on the bottom of the transformers. (You can look at the bottom of one to see if it was affected by looking for the circular grinding marks.) I never heard of anyone getting zapped by their 99/4A, though I have repaired TI computers where you could feel a slight tingle when your wrist lightly brushed against the aluminum trim. Anyway, this was just another major public relations headache at a time when TI was reeling financially by trying to price-cut their 99/4A to compete with the lesser capable VIC 20 -instead of the comparable C-64, which coast more. I don't remember what it cost the company to recall all the outstanding transformers, but it wasn't cheap. Did it kill the 99/4A? No. But it did cast it in more of a negative light when it was under intense scrutiny to be profitable. J. Fred Bucey was a Lubbock native and CEO of the company then. He made the decision to pull the plug and left a lot of people unemployed in Lubbock during the fall of '83. I was lucky, and got out about six months before the axe fell. CC
  10. This basic tutorial should help with the pots: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-measure-resistance-of-a-Potentiometer/ The headphone jack pinouts are described here: http://www.electro-tech-online.com/attachments/stereo-headphones-plug-and-jack-png.30117/ CC
  11. As I dig through old posts, I found this one that asked about the differences in the QI and thought I might be able to shed a little light on it: As most readers know, the final version of the QI was TI's effort to reduce the cost as much as possible, both in materials, and labor. The 4A is an exceptionally-well built (from a manufacturing standpoint) machine, and cost more to produce than it's rivals, some of which were built overseas. With price reductions occurring and more looming during the summer of '82, every effort was made to economize the design to try to "tough out the market" and determine which competitors would fall during what were later dubbed, "The Home Computer Wars." From a historical perspective, it was very interesting to work as a grunt in the trenches, wondering how this would all play out. TI had done very well with their consumer products, (calculators, Speak and Spell, etc.) but got their butts handed to them with watches, --once they were produced by overseas competitors. I'm sure corporate pride came into play, but we all know the forces that converged to make the company throw in the towel later on. I have a very late model QI, produced in Oct '83, when TI exited the market. The plastics module next door to the production line module was downsizing, (they hired hundreds of low-paid summer interns, eager to get experience learning about plastics manufacturing before they returned to school) so that worked in the company's favor if they could reduce costs there as well. "The Beige" --as we called it, was not well-received (cosmetically) compared to the venerable, aluminum-clad 4A, which was called "The Classic" by us. QI Changes Include: 1. Elimination of the red power LED and two-piece black slider in favor of a colored (blue on mine) slider at the foot of the GROM port enclosure to toggle the power supply switch. ​2. Reduced parts count on the motherboard. The majority of the timing and control logic chips were consolidated in a single, custom 40-pin chip. This made troubleshooting a lot easier, since dead computers having timing-related faults required more labor to isolate. Of all the bad chips, the 26 & 27 ROMS were by far, responsible for most failures, but were easy to fix - usually by piggy-backing them with known good ROMS. 3. Elimination of bus bars, which varied in build quality. Some were paper-covered and others were laminated and more robust. Instead, power was distributed via blue bus wires. 4. Elimination of sockets (except for the VDP.) This was good for the bottom line, but made troubleshooting a little harder since the first step with a dead board (after verifying power and clocks) was to pull the GROMS and sound chip to free up the bus if it was being held down by one of them. Sockets, GROMS, the 9901, 9900, and VDP and connectors were hand-stuffed, which increased the chances for human error (bent pins, and chips inserted backwards.) Everyone got a kick out of finding a 64-pin 9900 installed the wrong way (rare, but it happened.) The laughing subsided when the time came to de-solder and put one back in. 5. Crap-tastic, cheap keyboards. By this time, Mitsumi was the most prevalent keyboard vendor (yeah, low bidder) and the reliability then was nearly as bad as now. The best keyboards always came from Alps. 6. A re-designed power supply with fewer components and increased heat-sinks for more efficient cooling. Heat is the sworn enemy of electronics, and this power supply ran cooler, plus it was easier to install without having an LED to position in the case. I'm sure the metal cladding contributed to the retained heat too. 7. One-piece shielding, which was hand-soldered to the board after it had passed power-up and diagnostics. This eliminated the two clips and dual-shell shield, along with the different-sized fasteners with retaining nuts to keep everything intact, saving labor. 8. Elimination of the I/O port door. The newer power supply with two pins (vice four) eliminated the ground wire. The fourth (cosmetic) pin was mainly for alignment. When you're building 10,000 machines per shift, all of these changes saved a lot of money! I hope this thirty-five year-old recollection answers the (new) question! CC
  12. I'm on vacation and the wife's at work, so I have time to burn on stuff like this. This isn't all-inclusive, but it's close. It took me years to buy all of these tools, but the savings in time and results I get when using them are worth it. Electronic Workbench Tools The majority of these items are sourced from Techni-Tool, but it pays (or saves) to shop around. Many of these tools cost more than what you’ll find at hobby stores, but as a craftsman, I don’t mind paying more for a set of tools that will last forever (or years under heavy use.) Your mileage may vary. At work, cost is irrelevant, but at home, I tend to buy the highest quality for the best value. The first tool to invest in is the most important one on your bench -a good quality of comfortable safety glasses. The rest of these tools are of little use if you’re blind. http://www.techni-tool.com/147SF142 If you’ve ever seen what solder splatter does to an eyeball, (or the flying cut end of a wire or component) believe me, it isn’t pretty. I cannot emphasize the use of safety glasses strongly enough. Sermon over. Wire Strippers: Mechanical (Good) For 22-10 gauge: http://www.techni-tool.com/618PL1117 These should satisfy most needs. You might want to go a little smaller -depending on your projects, to #28. Thermal (Best) These are the preferred method to avoid nicking or marring conductors when wire stripping. Pricey, but after using all manner of thermal strippers, I prefer these from Teledyne: http://www.techni-tool.com/768ST026 These (American Beauty) strippers are really good too, and have the added benefit of compatibility with tips for resistance soldering tweezers, which are the best tool to work on solder cup connectors: https://americanbeautytools.com/Thermal-Strippers/164 Much too expensive for home use, but like I said, really nice and prevent damage to connector body inserts. Acid Brush: Buy in bulk and save. These are used to remove flux (and pretty much anything else) from PCBs and wire joints- http://www.techni-tool.com/872SO014EA Old Pro tip: Use scissors to cut them at a 45 degree angle 1/4 “ from the metal handle for best results. You get the handy combination of hard and soft bristles in one brush! Menda Pump Dispenser: This is the industry standard for IPA (isopropyl alcohol for you normal people following along) storage on your bench - http://www.techni-tool.com/548CH7353 Handy! Obligatory Memorable Bad Story: At TI, I observed the 99/4 repair tech at the bench next to me dipping his soldering iron tip in his Menda dispenser to clean it off, rather than the wet sponge on his solder station. I casually mentioned that IPA was kind of flammable and he pretty much blew me off. Okay . . . A few nights later, I heard a commotion and glanced over at his bench which was pretty much totally on fire. Not only had he ignited the IPA on the top of dispenser, but he panicked and knocked it over (the top wasn't on tight) and spilled IPA all over the place. A couple hundred of my fellow employees got a (real) fire drill out of it. He was later fired for stalking women in the (confined) burn-in racks with his pants around his ankles. Just another never-a-dull moment @ TI night! Hand Tools: Diagonal Cutters: There are lots of types of cutters, but the diagonals are good for general purpose use. Wiha, Sandvic, and Lindstrom hand Tools are hard to beat. If you spend $$$ for any one hand tool, buy decent cutters. These last a long time (but aren’t meant for large gauge wire!) http://www.techni-tool.com/844PL164http://www.techni-tool.com/844PL164 Tweezers: Fine and coarse, you always need tweezers. This is a Swiss-made set that works great and is cheaper than other same-quality sets: http://www.techni-tool.com/758TW546 Be warned: If you drop them on the floor, their most likely ruined! In this case, Swiss=precision. Wire Forming Pliers: Anytime you work with wire or discrete components, you’ll need to bend leads. Avoid any tools with serrated edges which leave tooling marks on the components or deformation in conductor insulation. These are the right tools to do it properly: Duckbill (or Flat-nosed) Pliers: This is a good quality, less expensive set: http://www.techni-tool.com/352PL2842 Round-nosed Pliers: These get more use than duckbill pliers, but can get expensive; this set is relatively inexpensive: http://www.techni-tool.com/352PL2843 These Lindstom’s are pricey, but I love them: http://www.techni-tool.com/844PL759 Other Tools: Multi-Meter: This is an indispensable tool I use constantly, so I will pay more for the best. Almost any meter is better than none at all. I’ve relied on the Fluke 77 series for more than twenty-five years and can say without reservation, these things can take a beating. The battery seems to last forever. http://www.techni-tool.com/374ME774 Optivisor: Another tool I use constantly around the house or at my bench. There are lots of similar magnifiers out there, but after trying most of them, this is my favorite: http://www.techni-tool.com/298IN072 Great for removing splinters (see Swiss tweezers above) and things of that nature. Let there be light: No Optivisor is complete without the Quasar LED attachment: https://www.amazon.com/Quasar-Led-Lighting-System-Optivisors/dp/B0058ECQ46/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=ll1&tag=atariage&linkId=71c498ca5213318381e42a2d88e4c18f Solder Stations: The self-adjusting (no temp controls!) Metcal solder stations are expensive and worth every penny. Tips are expensive too, so I recommend buy both used. Here’s one of their least expensive: http://www.techni-tool.com/551SO1195 You'll sneer with self-righteousness at lesser stations for the rest of your life if you get one of these. Le crème of le crop. My favorite (for a single outlet control) is the MX-500. Small, mighty, perfect. Kester is the goto name in solder: .062” http://www.techni-tool.com/488SO061 .025” http://www.techni-tool.com/488SO144 Heat Gun: If you use heat shrink tubing, (and who doesn't?!) you need a heat gun to shrink it properly (never a match or lighter!) Weller’s heat gun is light and compact, and actually a pretty good buy. http://www.techni-tool.com/812PR010 I’ve used this model for 25 years. Old Pro Tip: The switch has three settings, OFF, Heat, and just air. Always set it to air after using the heat setting to gently cool the heating coils, which prolongs the life of the tool. As long as you’re interested in a heat gun, you’ll need . . . heat shrink! Here’s the best: (polyolefin from 3M; my preferred color is clear so I can spot broken joints) http://www.techni-tool.com/105PR577 Anything 3M makes always does what it says it will. This heat shrink is no exception. Solder Wick: http://www.techni-tool.com/237SO225 This has rosin flux (and multiple sizes) to quickly remove flux. I know some people use the old-style one-handed vacuum pumps, but they can be more trouble than they’re worth. If you do a lot of component removal, (especially ICs) invest in a real de-soldering station. Metcal is one vendor. Static Safety. If you work with IC’s and many PCBs, ESD is a concern, especially in low humidity environments. You’ll need a mat: http://www.techni-tool.com/105ST6427 A wrist strap: http://www.techni-tool.com/WWG22C690 and of course, you’ll need to connect the mat to a suitable ground. Here’s an affordable kit with everything: http://www.techni-tool.com/758ST017 ​These are my preferred tool to lap splice or attach wires to pots, etc. The tool can be taken apart and laid into a wire bundle when needed: http://www.techni-tool.com/711IE015 I always wrap tape around the serrated edge of the roach clips to prevent deforming wire insulation. Optional Tools: Chemtronics Flux-Off: This does a great job (better than IPA) but costs more. The result is a PCB that’s hospital-grade clean with little scrubbing: http://www.techni-tool.com/237CH5301 Solder Fume Extractor: You can hold your breath while solder fumes are rising towards your nostrils or use one of these instead: http://www.techni-tool.com/606PR8115 Prices are all over the map on fume extractors, so this is a good-quality alternative to those costing over $1000. ​Solder Holder: I have one for each different diameter roll of solder on my bench: http://www.techni-tool.com/812SO001 Stereo Microscope: When you want to do the best job possible, nothing beats this for close-up work. Even your smallest movement is magnified, so one of these makes you extra careful. I finally found one I could afford (a Bausch and Lomb on eBay) after two years of searching. Here's what they look like: http://www.techni-tool.com/516IN714 Fiber-Optic Light: In the old days, we had to walk through two feet of snow (backwards!) to get to work. When we arrived, we were forced to toil under a pair of incandescent lamps that cooked the tops of your hands after a few hours. Now, there are fiber lights on flexible stalks, and all the heat is contained in a separate housing.http://www.techni-tool.com/560IN301 Bulbs are expensive! Super-pointy test leads: Standard test leads are usually too big for ICs and hard-to reach areas. These probe tips are replaceable, and sharp enough to pierce insulation (I hate doing that, but sometimes you've gotta do what you gotta do.) http://www.techni-tool.com/458TE6275 Electronic Surplus Stores: Many large towns have one of these places. You can save a fortune if you know what you're looking for. (Especially with good quality, Teflon insulated wire.) Here's one I like to haunt when I'm in the Orlando area: http://www.skycraftsurplus.com/ Okay, I'm out of things for you to buy. Start small and work your way up. The hand tools and a good solder station should be your first priority. And oh yeah, please don't forget the safety glasses!! Happy soldering, CC
  13. Before I forget what you mentioned in your post regarding flux. . . The purpose of flux when soldering (not time travel, ie: flux capacitors) is to remove contaminants and promote proper wetting (coverage) of the solder joint, yielding a smooth, shiny surface. Contaminants (from the operator's hands, on the solder, and components being joined) are supposed to join in suspension with the flux and rise to the top of the joint when heated, allowing easy removal after the joint cools. The longer you wait to remove flux, the harder it is to do so. Inspection of the joint requires being able to see the joint, so all flux residue needs to be removed for thorough visual inspection. This is another reason you don't want solder "blobs" for joints; you can't tell what is actually joined, if the through hole is properly filled, (voids can form) or components are physically damaged. The (newer) IPC standards which I certify and teach to are a combination of the multiple workmanship standards that have existed for decades within DoD, NASA, and private industry. Each can specify any exceptions in-house, but the IPC standards are becoming more and more prevalent. Once you're certified, the cert stays with you - not the company or organization you work for a period of two years. Trainers and students alike have to re-certify to remain current. Personally, the IPC standards are much more relaxed than the standards to which I was originally trained, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It required expending a lot of time to get the joints "perfect" and by perfect I mean they had to stand up to many requirements that aren't always realistic. The good thing is the requirements are more standardized, so most companies are singing to the same sheet of music. Written testing (as opposed to practical performance testing which I grade) is conducted via computer with IPC regional centers because . . . The Chinese (who are required to exhibit the same workmanship standards in their exported products as specified in contractual requirements) began copying IPC docs (and tests) to prove organizational certification, rather than comply with regional training center --like we have to do in the US. (Presently, the Chinese don't innovate - they imitate.) IPC is a money-making organization, so to protect their turf, so to speak, IPC went to online testing, minimizing fraudulent credentials. This has the bonus of legitimizing the Chinese training market for them. Smart, eh? You can purchase their training guides on their website, along with lots of other useful documents. (But none are cheap.) http://www.ipc.org/ContentPage.aspx?pageid=Standards---for those who may be curious. While I'm on my soapbox . . . I'll put together a list of good tools that will make any electronics bench useful and post back. CC
  14. I also added some tips in your other post in the 99/4 HW/SW Development section a few min ago that may be of help to anyone looking to increase their solder skills. As for color-blindness, some QA departments require testing for this to certify solderers. Bad story: I worked on a job with a guy who mixed some critical chemicals (in color-coded containers) into some very expensive flight-level hardware. During subsequent operation, we had a catastrophic failure. A team was called (independent of us) in to investigate and compile a report. It turned out the wrong chemicals were loaded into the wrong tanks, resulting in the "problem." The guy who load them turned out to be color-blind and had been hiding it from us. That little (preventable) mistake cost a couple of million bucks and of course, he was removed from his position. When you're working on (the really) expensive hardware, mistakes are bound to happen, no matter how many checks are made. As long as you own up to it, nobody gets pissed if it's caught early, before damage occurs. No one is immune, including yours truly. I always tell this story to new people who have never worked on high-rel hardware before: Once, I found a tiny (.08") screw on the floor that looked like it came from one of my devices that had been installed in a higher level assembly and passed testing. (This was a billion dollar piece of hardware when assembled.) When I brought it to the attention of the boss, he shrugged it off and said (and I quote) . . . "Ain't nothing in this pig held together by one fastener!" To which I replied, "Yes there is, and it's located in the hardware I installed. If I'm wrong, we lose time. If I'm right, and we don't verify it, we could lose everything, and kick ourselves in the ass for eternity for not checking." After a moment, he let out a long exhale and said to everyone assembled, "Open it up!" I felt about one inch tall because a lot of people had to undo a lot of work to check this. Hours later, they accessed the space and sure enough, there was no fastener installed. We called a quick meeting and I was definitely in the limelight. I felt horrible. The Lead Engineer said, "Sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest. This tiny screw could have meant the difference between success or failure. Never hesitate to call attention to detail, even if it means making yourself look bad in the process. I will never get upset for preventing failure. Knowingly hide something and if I find out, you're gone. Credibility is what makes everything work, and without it, we can't put faith or trust in what we build." Everybody who stayed up all night to discover my error, shook my hand and congratulated me - this was the opposite reaction I expected. Nobody was mad. That experience drove home an important lesson about never taking anything for granted where workmanship is concerned, that I apply to every project I work on, big or small, cheap or expensive. Credibility that takes years to acquire can be destroyed in a second. You can bet that verification of my mistake was added to the procedure. In the High-Rel world, many changes to procedures exist because of lessons learned - sometimes the hard way. So if you're soldering and suspect a problem, check it up-front, before you proceed. The extra time to verify any questionable workmanship is always worth it. CC
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