CSI Electronica: Video Autopsy

No, officer, it was already dead when I got here.

We have you completely surrounded

We’ve now started the third decade of this century, and miniaturized electronics have taken over the world. Metaphorically, so far. Fortunately for anyone concerned about the rise of SkyNet, none of these electronics seems to have a lifespan longer than an average parakeet, or a small-ish domestic dog at most. The nuclear annihilation of inferior carbon-based lifeforms by a self-aware silicon-based AI will no doubt be delayed indefinitely when when the former forgets to schedule a restart of the latter following the automatic install of Feature Update 9483, resulting in a sudden reboot midway through the trajectory calculations.

Meanwhile, we live like goldfish in a sea of technology. Devices that were once among the simplest things on earth — light bulbs, for example — now have a design schematic on file in a Chinese factory and depend, by degree, on the same supply chains that also bring us televisions.  And then, because that isn’t trouble enough, somebody decides to add Bluetooth and WiFi integration.

The e-waste conundrum, and the long arm of the law

All things break, small cheap things often break faster, and repairability is often out of the question. When a commodity fails in regular use, it is usually more efficient to throw away and replace. Indeed, a repair isn’t even desirable in many cases. Nobody glues a broken drinking glass back together unless it’s a family heirloom, and there’s no point trying to fix a fried cell phone charger since the discount store up the block has a replacement available for $8. (Unless it’s a Genuine Apple charger, in which case there’s a mandatory sentencing enhancement.)

Meanwhile, many state or municipal jurisdictions are tightening the laws on e-waste disposal, which becomes downright interesting when, for example, that LED light bulb up and quits. The user may not even realize that the bulb falls under e-waste disposal laws. Can you, our loyal reader, be fined for throwing away that light bulb? Technically, yes, if your local e-waste laws are sufficiently rigid. In practice, unless you’re doing it regularly as a business, or perhaps dumping a truckload of fricasseed flatscreens into the local river in broad daylight, there will likely be no discovery or consequences. That being said, most communities have a location or two designated as suitable for hazardous waste disposal, and some big-box retailers offer in-store collection services for dead cell phones, light bulbs, and other small devices that the average household might need to lose in an average year.

As it happens, we have a different solution, referred to by some as the “reverse Johnny 5″(*): if it dies, disassemble.

(*) Nobody calls it that.

And now, our feature presentation

We had a few electronic failures recently around Chez Vienot, and they spanned a wide range: An older-style Apple iPad charger; a type-A/E27 LED light inside a full-glass bulb; and a GFCI power outlet. Two of these were merely inconvenient to lose. The third item was servicing our household refrigerator, which could have been catastrophic. Fortunately, we were around to discover it before anything spoiled.

Now, for your benefit and ours, we have started a camera while our resident M.E. dissects them, in hopes of revealing their darkest secrets. Join us, won’t you, as we launch into another exciting episode of…Workshop Quick Takes!

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Aaron Vienot

Engineer by day, hobbyist by night, occasional contributor, and full-time wise guy.

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anotherengineer
anotherengineer
6 months ago

Calming video, kind of like watching Bob Ross 🙂

SomeOtherGeek
SomeOtherGeek
6 months ago

Ah. the life of taking things apart… My dad used to get so frustrated with me for taking things apart when I was a kid, of course, most of them were still working.

Anyway, great video. The rules for e-waste in NY is a nightmare, so I just took things to the Home Depot and they helped with getting rid of it for me. They did batteries, light bulbs, paints, oils and electronics.

Sacratus
Sacratus
6 months ago

Technically we will start the second decade of this century next year, so you’ve probably jumped the gun a bit on the declaring it the third decade. xD

ludi
6 months ago
Reply to  Sacratus

Ah, but technically that’s not how the decades are counted. 2000-2009, 2010-2019, 2020-…

Sacratus
Sacratus
6 months ago
Reply to  ludi

If you’re speaking culturally then you would be correct, however, in a base 10 system all counting starts at 1 and ends at 10. So technically the third decade starts next year. There is no year “0”. Arthur C. Clarke named the book 2001, because, it was the first year of the new millennium.

ludi
6 months ago
Reply to  Sacratus

A “Base-10” system has ten digits, 0-9, to represent all numbers. I assume you refer to the fact that the Gregorian calendar doesn’t ascribe a year-0, and thus starts at 1? In any case, the the cultural use is the most common and communicates the most information to the most people, so that’s what I’m going to stick with 🙂

not@home
not@home
6 months ago

I am pretty sure that around here (Wisconsin) the building code for new construction is to have the refrigerator on its own dedicated circuit and it should not have a GFCI. That could be just common practice though, and not code. Some refrigerators have heat coils around the door seals to prevent ice buildup that would freeze the door shut. If the heat coils are on and the compressor kicks in, it could draw a considerable amount of current. GFCI’s do not like having a lot of current going through them, and they go bad frequently enough that I would… Read more »

ludi
6 months ago
Reply to  not@home

Tricky question. I’m not a certified electrician anywhere, and my home work is, as I understand it, permitted by my locale under the owner-occupier clause. I’m also not a registered professional engineer in Wisconsin, so take the following with those caveats in mind. Most US states including Wisconsin and Colorado (where I am) have now adopted the 2017 NEC: https://www.nema.org/Technical/FieldReps/Documents/NEC-Adoption-Map.pdf Editions since 2011 have been clarifying 210.8(A), “Dwelling Units,” and as of 2017 the GFCI requirement now covers all outlets in a kitchen serving a countertop AND any located within 1.8m/6ft of a sink bowl — see (A)(6) and (A)(7)… Read more »

Wirko
Wirko
6 months ago
Reply to  not@home

Electrical codes exist to protect us from electric shock, not from salmonella.
But protection devices can’t just “go up in smoke from time to time” (they’re supposed to protect from electrical fire, too).

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward
6 months ago

I like your vision of skynet.

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