Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

So, the EU has a ‘Right to repair’ plan

After I made a post about people repairing stuff, I saw an article referring to an EU plan about a ‘Right to Repair’.

The most interesting part was not so much the plan, but that the writer was a realist…

But in truth, much of what is darkly referred to as “planned obsolescence” probably isn’t anything of the sort. Sometimes it’s just a side-effect of cut-throat consumer price wars, and the pressure to build things as cheaply as possible, which means cutting corners on durability. And sometimes it’s more to do with technology’s restless habit of overtaking itself.

‘Make do and mend’ is a good green motto for our wasteful times

I’ve long held that all the claims of whining ‘Consumer Rights’ campaigners that manufacturers deliberately build stuff to fail quickly, and force buyers to replace them are utter nonsense – and simply evidence of more useless campaigners and activists we could all do without.

A realist only has to look at the damage done, especially in recent years, where a major company has actually been found, by evidence, to have been running some sort of underhand scheme, to see that this is counterproductive.

They have reputations which those ‘campaigners and activists’ (and maybe competitors) are over-eager to destroy, so cannot really afford to do many of the silly things that they are supposed to.

Look at the cost of recalls when a component failure is found.

As noted by the writer above, the real problem manufacturers have is balancing the cost of making a reliable product  via mass-production, but keeping the price down.

Although it’s an old series now, I recommend tracking down “The Secret Life of Machines”, presented by Tim Hunkin, and made in the late 1970s and 1980s. It would be interesting to see a remake today, now that the microcontroller is so widely utilised, and so many analogue/mechanical systems have been displaced by digital systems. For example, the video cassette recorder is now gone, and digital video has replaced it completely.

I think it was the episode on washing machines, but even then he was moved to observe that while it was sad to see how cheaply some of them were manufactured, he also had to admire the engineering, as they were so much simpler than their predecessors from earlier years, yet lasted so much better.

In most cases, it’s probably true to say that many failures are down to owner/operator abuse, rather than failure of the parts or design.

There’s also the desire of many consumers to have the ‘Latest Shiny Thing’.

I’ve picked up many gadgets thrown out by people, left at the side of the road for the binmen to collect with the rest of their rubbish.

So far, I’ve brought home fully working televisions, videos, CD/DVD players, amplifiers, even bathroom scales, and items as small as USB chargers.

All clearly dumped because they were just yesterday’s model, and unwanted even though they were working.



Jan 11, 2019 Posted by | Civilian | | Leave a comment

Fix your own gadgets – good luck with that!

I was amused to see an article encouraged unskilled people to tackle repairs of their own gadgets.

Consumer campaigners are winning the battle for a “right to repair” – which could mean our electrical appliances last longer and are easier to mend.

But when your devices go wrong, how do you know whether there’s a ten-minute fix or if your appliance is destined for the scrapheap?

We asked some experts for their tips on the repairs you can do at home.

How to fix some of your own broken gadgets

For what it’s worth, I’ve never handed anything over for repair unless it’s something I’m legally obliged to have a qualified person tackle, or needs specialist tools I simply can’t afford to justify the cost to purchase.

I’d rather pay the cost of doing the work myself, even if it costs the same as going to a ‘Pro’, and even used one large repair to justify installing my own vehicle lift some years ago.

But the gadget story is more about electrical repairs, and while you can do a lot of simple jobs yourself, in recent years legislation has been introduced which has taken that away in many cases.

A few years ago I wanted to replace some blown heater elements – NOPE!

In the first case, and oven, there was simply no source of the glass enclosed elements, despite the oven being a major brand name.

In the second, I tried my usual electrical spares suppliers, only to be told that recent government legislation had outlawed the sale of open type of heater element I simply wanted to replace.

So, not only could I not buy a spare part, I couldn’t even buy a similar part and alter it to suit.

Battery does NOT necessarily mean safe

I was amused to see this advice in the article

If you’re new to repairing electrical appliances, Ms Gunter advises steering clear of mains-powered devices.

“It’s a good idea to get started with battery-powered devices, which are much safer, as a way to get confidence,” she says.

In fact, I’d say you’re probably SAFER poking around mains-powered devices nowadays – provided, of course, you have unplugged and isolated them.

Reason being that many devices are now powered by rechargeable lithium-ion cells.

Obviously, I’m  not referring to the sort of goodies powered by AA, AAA, or PP3 batteries and similar zinc chloride or alkaline batteries.

However, mishandling of lithium cells can lead to the rapid onset of overheating and fire.

I have to add that this is NOT down to the wrongly stated danger of reactive lithium bursting into flames on contact with water – in fact there is only a tiny amount of lithium in such cells, and even that is in the form of an oxide, not pure lithium.

Lithium is not the danger.

The danger arises from the high energy density of the cells, which can deliver huge currents if shorted, be this by their leads, or some mishap which punctures the cell and shorts it internally. In such cases these cells can suffer thermal runaway, causing them to overheat and release flammable chemicals which form their electrolyte.

Such cells are normally equipped with battery management to look after charge/discharge, but it’s also easy for someone inexperienced to replace them with types missing such protection. And that would not be a ‘Good Thing’.

I know people well experienced in handling these cells who still keep an open metal bin next to their bench when working on anything containing them, especially if the cells are very high power/capacity and are charged, just in case.

However, I’m not intending to put anyone off, quite the opposite.

But the experts should update their advice.

We really do need to claim back our gadgets, avoid the mentality that has come to accept disposable technology, and seek advice for silly little repairs that can be easily ad cheaply achieved in many cases.

So long as the parts are available!

Even guys that know what they are doing can get it wrong, as in this example where batteries from a Tesla were repurposed for another vehicle – and they didn’t quite look after their battery management properly.

That first video actually led to a lot of misunderstanding.


The people behind it made a second video to clarify matters.

You should watch both.

Jan 9, 2019 Posted by | Civilian | | Leave a comment

Why let facts get in the way of a good People’s Palace scare?

Ever since news of problems with the Winter Gardens attached to the People’s Palace broke, and a certain local news site jumped with the story that the BOTH the Winter Gardens AND the People’s Palace would close indefinitely, it has continued to write stories using ‘Weasel Words’ to suggest the People’s Palace will join the Winter Gardens indefinite closure pending structural repairs (which need around £7 million), while noting in ‘small print’ that the People’s Palace closure will only be temporary, to allow the fire escapes to be altered. This change is needed since the present fire escapes depend on access through the Winter Gardens, so if that closes, then the People’s Palace would be obliged to close too.

However, although the ‘knee-jerk’ double closure story was headlined, and led to a silly petition being raised, when the final story was released by Glasgow City Council, the reality was that while BOTH would close at the end of 2018, the People’s Palace would only close until Easter, to allow modification to the fire escape, to allow the museum to remain open to visitors while access to the Winter Gardens was restricted.

I wonder if the writer is even aware of what they are doing?

It’s easy to do, and not fully realise the bias is there, simply through the choice of words, and positioning of material.

But I’m not supposed to be neutral.

Those in the public eye should be.

Worst – headline – ever.

Glasgow says goodbye to People’s Palace as fence marks closure for repairs

We’re NOT saying goodbye to the People’s Palace.

And, it’s NOT closing for repairs either.

It’s being closed temporarily for modification to the fire escapes, and some other access features. So, to steal someone else’s clever word play, ‘This is only au revoir, not goodbye’.

And it’s the Winter Gardens that are being closed, and not for repairs, as the £7 million has not been found yet.

Inaccuracy and bias in the media.

NEVER a good thing.

One might be tempted to suggest partaking of a little ‘Glasgow City Council Bashing’.

But nobody does that today.

Do they?

Do people even deserve to get into the Winter Gardens?

Maybe they shouldn’t bother fixing the place, and just leave it closed.

Shocking suggestion!

But I have a reason for making it.

A while ago, I posted after seeing signs added to the plants asking visitors not to remove fruit (lemons).

Peoples Palace Lemons

Peoples Palace Lemons

I recently did a pre-closure shoot in the Winter Gardens, and there was a NEW plea dotted around the displays…

Click for bigger if you can’t read it.

Winter Garden Rock Sign

Winter Garden Rock Sign

Still, at least the sign is just asking them to keep off the rocks, rather than not to steal them, and use them as ‘half bricks’ to beat their mates about the head with, after the Buckfast kicks in.

Dec 20, 2018 Posted by | Civilian, council, photography | , , , , | Leave a comment

People’s Palace closure period dates announced

Provisional date have been announced for the closure period of the People’s Palace while work is carried out to alter the structure for its fire escape when access to the current exist is lost due to closure and loss of access to the Winter Gardens.

Now it has been announced that the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens will close respectively on December 30 and December 31.

In a letter which has gone out from Glasgow Life, museums have been informed of the date, and that the intended reopening will take place at Easter.

The letter states: “The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens will close on 30 Dec/31 December respectively due to the Winter Gardens building being categorised unsafe due to structure/glass issues.

“It is anticipated that the People’s Palace will reopen around Easter time (actual date cannot be confirmed until building work schedule approved) with the main changes being a new fire evacuation route within the palace as well as lift, public toilet access directly from palace.”

Here’s when the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens closes for repairs

The museum’s own web page notes…

The People’s Palace will then close at 5pm on 30 December 2018 and will remain closed for approximately 12 weeks to allow essential building works to be carried out as a result of the Winter Gardens closure. So don’t miss your opportunity to visit one of Glasgow’s favourite museums over the festive period ahead of this planned closure. We are due to re-open at Easter with some exciting refreshed displays for you to enjoy.

It’s just a pity the article had to refer to the misguided petition raised to “Save the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens for the City of Glasgow”.

James Watt silently oversees developments at the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens.

James Watt overlooks People's Palace and Winter Gardens

James Watt overlooks People’s Palace and Winter Gardens


People's Palace And Winter Gardens

People’s Palace And Winter Gardens


People's Palace Winter Gardens

People’s Palace Winter Gardens


People's Palace and Winter Gardens

People’s Palace and Winter Gardens

While it was a miracle to have the Doulton Fountain rescued and restored – I watched it decay for years and thought it would eventually leave the Green in skips, it is a bit of distraction when trying to get the best view of the People’s Palace façade from the raised area in front.

I really will have to try to remember and try for the closer in, but wider, shot at some point.

People's Palace and Doulton Fountain

People’s Palace and Doulton Fountain

Inside the Winter Gardens.

People's Palace Winter Gardens Interior

People’s Palace Winter Gardens Interior

Wider view of the problem – the glasshouse roof.

People's Palace Winter Gardens Interior Roof

People’s Palace Winter Gardens Interior Roof

I did try for some more detailed views, but the interior of the roof is fairly well obscured by the various nets installed in the past, to prevent any falling glass from attacking visitors.

People's Palace Winter Gardens Interior Roof

People’s Palace Winter Gardens Interior Roof

Dec 13, 2018 Posted by | Civilian, council, photography | , , , , | Leave a comment

£8 million approved to support private housing repairs

After yesterday’s wake-up call regarding the projected cost of billions for maintenance work on Glasgow’s tenements…

The council will work with partners, such as local housing associations and the Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (CHSCP), to deliver these schemes.

Almost £8 million funding is being allocated for the repair of private sector housing stock for disabled people in Glasgow.

Under the council’s Private Sector Housing Grant (PSHG) programme. funding will be allocated to disabled adaptations, statutory repairs, ‘missing share’ support, tackling issues with pre-1919 tenements, and in areas with private letting or property management concerns such as Calton, Govanhill and Priesthill.

Around 65 per cent of homes in Glasgow are in private ownership, and this stock has the highest level of disrepair in the city. Examples of this repair can be found across in Glasgow, but specific locations where concentrations are higher include Govanhill, Strathbungo, Ibrox/Cessnock, East Pollokshields and Haghill/Dennistoun.

One of these is the investment in pre-1919 tenement stock has helped prevent their decline and in some cases prevent demolition – preventative maintenance will in the long-term reduce costs for this vital part of the city’s stock, with an estimated 70,000 pre-1919 flats in Glasgow.

Another is the provision of grants for essential adaptation works to the meet the needs of disabled people. The council also provides funding for the Care and Repair service for disabled owners and those aged 65 and and over, offering advice and organising repairs on the owners’ behalf.

The ‘Missing Share’ programme supports owners where they are in the majority and wish to carry out common repairs or maintenance. The council will underwrite the costs of the minority who are unwilling or unable to pay their share of costs. These owners are pursued for full recovery of costs when work is completed – with the vast majority of minority owners paying.

Council approves almost £8million to support private housing repairs in Glasgow

This will hopefully stimulate the good property owners, and help them with initiatives, while clamping down on the those who are dragging their feet, or just ‘rogue’.

Councillor Kenny McLean, City Convener for Neighbourhoods, Housing and Public Realm at Glasgow City Council, said: “While the responsibility for maintenance of homes lies with the owner, we will – where appropriate – support some of the costs for this work when they take responsibility for the repair works. Our support for homeowners comes in a variety of forms, from disabled adaptations to helping groups of owners come together to make necessary repairs, and this is work that makes the neighbourhoods of Glasgow better places to live.”



Dec 1, 2018 Posted by | Civilian, council | , , | Leave a comment

Not millions, but BILLIONS said to be needed to repair Glasgow’s tenements

I almost included this item in this earlier post:

Glasgow’s million pound problems – after the 2014 Commonwealth Games handout

But I thought it would be better to keep it separate, lest the difference between the references to millions and BILLIONS was lost by having the two together.

Billions may be needed to fix Glasgow’s crumbling tenements after it was revealed that thousands of closes are in ‘critical disrepair’.

A shocking new report has estimated that around 46,600 tenement flats, which were built before 1919, have been deemed dangerous and need structural, weather-tightening and restoration work.

Many of those buildings are thought to require more than £500,000 worth of work to bring them up to scratch.

That could mean the final repair cost may stretch to as much as £2.9bn across the city.

The council has around 70,000 tenements in total which were built prior to 1919.

Govanhill, Ibrox, Cessnock, East Pollokshields, Strathbungo, Haghill and Dennistoun have all been identified as areas with pre-1919 houses in “poor condition”.

In the last 40 years funding for repairs to the old tenements has come from the Scottish Government’s private sector housing grant, with around £6m annually having been allocated in recent years.

Council chiefs have admitted that the number of tenement properties having to be evacuated or requiring emergency stabilisation work is rising.

The local authority has blamed lack of appetite from private landlords, affordability issues and poor forward planning for the state of the city’s tenements.

He revealed that one tenement in the southside, which now sits vacant after being deemed too dangerous to live in, has a repair bill of more than £700,000.

Another in the south side has also been deemed too dangerous and the cost to repair it is more than £800,000.

Over the next 12 months the council will carry out condition surveys of around 500 pre-1919 tenement properties across the city.

‘Billions needed’ to fix Glasgow’s crumbling tenement blocks

The usual response will NOT be acceptable

I don’t seem to have seen any follow-up articles to this story, but I can’t see it being ignored.

I expect, at some point, to see the usual army of council-bashers appear, and provide their normal knee-jerk reaction, kicking the Glasgow City Council, and producing a list of reasons blaming it as the cause of this issue.

But I suggest a moment’s thought before accepting their standard vitriol, and a review of the problem, and who contributed to it.

I happen to have personal experience of tenement repair dealings some years ago, and it cost me tens of thousands of pounds, directly and indirectly.

I inherited a tenement flat, probably then worth around £20 k in the east end.

Didn’t need, so it was to be sold.

Guess what?

UNSELLABLE (or at leat no buyer would get a mortgage) as it needed serious structural repairs – a survey showed one wall facing the street to have a bulge.

Being a tenement, the repair needed consent and money from ALL the tenants sharing the wall, which included shop owners on the ground floor.

The shop owners (and I can’t make a racist comment here, but we didn’t ‘look’ like ‘their people’) told us to ‘Go take a running jump’ as they had no interest in talking to us, in the repair, or contributing, as the bulge did not affect their business, and fixing it would not make them any money, or bring them any benefits.

The other flats were owned by the local housing association, whose only interest was to get ‘us’ out of the building so they could add the flat to their portfolio. They also had no interest in contributing to the repair.

And their tenants didn’t want to know, since they were just renting their flats.

Total stalemate for decades!

There was no compulsion since the building was not unsafe, just unmortgageable.

We were, of course, invited to pay for the work ourselves, rather than paying just our share, we were welcome to pay for everyone else’s.

We eventually lost the flat for a few thousand, because we had managed to get the council tax suspended, but the collector was getting fed up, and looked as if the suspension would not only end, but the unpaid tax would fall due as well. And as I said, this went on not for years, but decades.

The reason I illustrate this point in some detail is merely to demonstrate that while the council may be at the top of tree in some respects, it is NOT responsible for the detailed day-to-day handling of tenements, but does come into the headlines when others land problems in its lap.

And the parties who are REALLY responsible sneak off into the shadows with a ‘Not my problem mate’ smirk.

I’ve also read one or two histories of our tenements, and would point out there were just as many ‘cowboy builders’ around in 1900 as there are today.

While the sandstone facades may seem superior, I’ve read it was not uncommon to find that the brickwork behind it is shoddy, and that some were found to be packed out with newspaper and cardboard during the demolitions carried out in the 1960s and 1970s.

This sort of stuff simply can’t be seen from the outside, but can explain why some tenements are falling apart today, and in such bad condition.

This issue needs to be addressed responsibly, by those who have had a hand in it over the years.

NOT by simply kicking the council as if it was the ONLY party involved.

Glasgow Tenement

Glasgow Tenement (now demolished)

Nov 30, 2018 Posted by | Civilian, council, photography | , | Leave a comment

Oops – Tidal weir repair cost creeps up, but will bring more safety too

I mentioned how the cost of repairs to the failed tidal weir were set to need a bit of dig to find the anticipated cost of some £6 million.

The cost is expected to rise to £7 million to ensure full functionality is restored, that all the repairs to the banks and access is restored, and that the system will not be able to fail in a similar way in future.

Of course, there’s always someone who’s not happy – either the Council is not spending ENOUGH money on a project, or is spending TOO MUCH!

But Jim Kavanagh insisted a cheaper option should have been sought.

He said: “I’m acutely aware how technology moves on and the council are looking for the modern-day gadgets that tick all the boxes.

“The mechanical system that was fitted 120 years ago proved adequate.

“The money we’ve allocated should be used to look at other options in times of austerity. If the people in the street have to face cuts, the council has to look at a fit for purpose system.”

New life-saving equipment installed on River Clyde as part of £7m tidal weir project

I love Jim’s observation “The mechanical system that was fitted 120 years ago proved adequate.

I wonder where the damaged banks and jammed gate came from if the old system ‘proved adequate‘?

Ah well…

Damned if you do – damned if you don’t.

Maybe the Council should take the £6 million back, and use it to fix the Winter Gardens and People’s Palace. Maybe that would keep some people happier.


There’s better news regarding safety around the river.

Meanwhile it has been revealed that a petition for better safety equipment on the banks of the Clyde is being looked upon favourably.

Duncan Speirs and his wife Margaret, from Balornock, launched the petition after the death of their son Christopher, 28, in January 2016.

He slipped on the banks of the river after a night out and despite attempts by police officers to save him, he drowned.

In response to that petition, Glasgow City Council officer Andy Waddell said: “What’s been in development for last month is an action plan which commits to six actions including the attachment of ropes to lifelines and improved signage.”

That work is expected to coincide with the tidal weir project.

Clyde Tidal Weir From West

Clyde Tidal Weir

Oct 21, 2018 Posted by | Civilian, council, photography | , | Leave a comment

Glasgow will have to dig deep for weir repairs

Although I was unable to take a look at the damage to Glasgow’s tidal weir before a repair was carried out, or go for a look at the damage to the banks of the River Clyde, I did eventually manage to get along for a look later.

That was just over a year ago.

It was so long until I could look at the area of the damaged banks, I thought they would have been fixed, but they weren’t, just made safe and fenced off.

Clyde Riverbank Collapse Kings Bridge

Clyde Riverbank Collapse Kings Bridge

The worst damage took place along a 170metre stretch at Adelphi Street on the south bank, which affecting an area of some 1,700 square metres. A further 95 metres at Waterside Street, and another 50 metre section near the bridge at Carstairs Street in Dalmarnock also suffered damage.

River Clyde Tidal Weir Subsidence Adelphi Street

River Clyde Tidal Weir Subsidence Adelphi Street

The pics are here and here.

While the weir looks fine from the outside…

Clyde tidal weir at night

Clyde tidal weir at night

It seems all is not well beneath, and there are still those damaged riverbanks.

Consultants have reported to the council, and it seems repairs to the banks plus updating the weir’s creaky old hardware and control system are unlikely to leave any change from at least £6 million.

While it was the north gate that failed (open), the south and middle gates of the weir operate normally, so the upstream river level can be maintained.

£2 million has already been set aside by the council for repair and upgrading of the tidal weir. This work is expected to be completed by November 2019. The north gate has to be repaired, and have its rollers replaced. Damage has also been noted to the masonry piers.

The weir’s control system is not only old, but also past the end of its service life. It has been there since… 1901!

Tidal Weir Centenary Plaque

Tidal Weir Centenary Plaque

This is on the small building on the south bank, which also seems to be where the current controls and hardware live, given the warning signs and security fitted. There is a less involved matching structure on the opposite, north, bank.

A smart system using sensors is being investigated, which would allow gate levels to not only automatically adjust to changing river and tidal conditions, but also provide continuous monitoring of the weir, and trigger alarms in the event of fault or failure.

Oct 6, 2018 Posted by | Civilian, council, photography, Transport | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why my new kettle NEVER worked properly

A long, long time ago (years) I picked up what was then a new type of Russell Hobbs jug kettle at a clearance sale. As a new gimmick, these were vastly overpriced at the time, so I wouldn’t have been buying otherwise.

The novel feature was a flat element in the base, meaning there was no sign of the element if you looked inside, unlike a normal kettle, where the element was always obvious inside the body.

It was just a spare, so was only used a handful of times, but shoved in a box as it was unreliable, and would not turn on reliably.

I needed another kettle recently, so dug it out, but found it was completely useless, and would not turn on at all.

Since it had not even been used a dozen time, I wanted to know why.

I had suspected the base, this being a ‘cordless’ type, but when I dismantled this, and the base of the kettle, the connectors were found to be perfect, with no faults.

This only left the ‘boil switch’, mounted at the top of the jug handle, so more dismantling was needed.

But it was worth the effort, as the ‘boil switch’ was the culprit.

This pic shows the state of the moving contact of the switch, which has been overheated due to arcing, softening the metal, and rendering the switch useless. All the surrounding metal is blackened/discoloured from the heat. Bear in mind, this switch saw less than a dozen uses in its life to this point.

Cooked Contact

Cooked Contact

The next pic shows the same contact in place.

The contact is in the enhanced section of the pic, at top right.

The contact arm should be straight, not bent as seen here, and the black L-shaped lever should push the contacts open when the kettle boils. But, as can be seen here, the overheating cause the straight contact arm to lose its strength, soften, and just bend, rendering it useless. It just stayed where it was when the L-shaped lever moved away from it, so the contacts did not close and provide power to the element.

Failed Thermal Switch

Failed Thermal Switch

I’m guessing either the contacts were set too close together in the factory, so arced excessively due to lack of clearance, or, moisture was trapped between them when the kettle boiled and water vapour got into the switch, bridged the contacts, and again led to arcing and overheating.

It would be nice to drop a replacement part in, and have the kettle working, but the various ‘safety’ regulations seem to have made the supply of such parts virtually non-existent, so I’m not even going to waste time trying.

I’ll just alter the wiring, and have a plain cordless kettle that needs to be operated manually.

Jul 23, 2018 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , , | Leave a comment

USB PCB sockets are a bad design

While the idea behind the USB connector may have been fine (if we selectively forget the major error made when they didn’t make it a reversible connector from the very beginning), the same generous comment cannot be applied to the mechanical design of most PCB mounted USB sockets. I think I have had to repair (or sometime scrap stuff) because of mechanical failures of these simple components.

The fundamental problem, which I lie firmly on the door of the manufacturers, is simply a lack of strength in the fixing of the plastic inserts (carrying the contacts) inside the metal shell. While that metal shell is pretty robust, and has metal tabs that both locate it on the PCB and are soldered in to secure them, the same is not true of the plastic insert which the connections rely on.

This has two tiny, and weak, plastic features which locate it inside the metal shell, and locate it on the PCB.

The first is a pair of shallow holes which locate sprung tabs formed on the sides of the metal shell. While these appear to be secure, being sprung (just bent metal tabs), they can be overcome easily, either by deliberate force if dismantling intentionally, or unintentionally, by the much greater force applied if something hits the connector, or the device it is in happens to fall and land on it. I’ve seen this happen with a drop of only 10 cm.

The second is a pair of tiny locating ‘pins’, part of the plastic insert and extending from its underside, and which locate in a matching pair of holes in the PCB. These are barely a millimetre in diameter or height, so have little strength, and the aforementioned bump can break/shear them off in an instant.

Losing these mechanical ‘fixing’ means the insert with the contacts is held in place by nothing more than the four tiny solder connection of the USB socket – and they are so small and weak they offer no resistance, and shear off in sympathy with the two plastic ‘pins’.


I recently found ANOTHER failure mode for PCB mounted USB sockets.

An external hard disk with a USB connector had become increasingly intermittent over time, and then gave up altogether, failing to even appear as a drive when plugged in.

When I checked the USB lead, and plugged it in, shall we say ‘firmly’, all resistance disappeared, and when I looked at the socket, all I saw was an empty hole! The insert had fallen inside the case, and was rattling around the interior.

On opening the case, this was what I found – an empty metal USB PCB socket shell.

But, it was also obvious the four connector leads had not sheared, but simply separate as the soldering had failed – and this was why the drive had been failing intermittently for ages.

USB Problem

USB Problem

After retrieving the USB insert, it slid back into place and showed what had been happening with the (failing) solder connections.

USB Problem

USB Problem

For once, an easy and cheap repair – a drop of glue, and rerunning the solder on the PCB connections was all that was needed.

But WAIT! (There’s more).

Gloria’s crap caps

While I was in the guts of this external drive, I spotted a problem with some of the electrolytic capacitors.

It’s not as evident in the pic as was to the eye, but the black capacitors have failed, and are swelling and leaking. You can see some dried crust on the cap second from the right.

They had to come out and be replaced.

Glorias Caps

Glorias Caps

If you’re a tech of any sort, then it’s a fair bet you’re well acquainted with the worldwide capacitor scam that has taken place over the years.

For anyone not aware, then there are various accounts of how the big manufacturers were taken for millions (billions?) by individuals able to set up operations to manufacture rubbish electrolytic capacitors and sell them to companies manufacturing things like PCs and laptops in the boom years, when they were using components as fast as they could be shipped.

Companies such as Dell carried the can for this. Although they were not at fault, they ended up paying to replace computers that failed thanks to these substandard components.

In one account I read back then, it seems one chap stole the design for capacitors being made by his employer, ran off and somehow managed to start a factory producing the same capacitors – but obviously with no R&D costs.

Unfortunately, while he may have been a good thief, and able to raise capital, he wasn’t so hot on the technical side.

The design he stole was either incomplete, or he couldn’t understand the detail.

While the caps he manufactured and sold worked fine for a while, they would inevitably fail in service (like Gloria’s above), and while he was insulated from the end-user, it was (and still is, as this has become a widespread problem) companies such as Dell that sold faulty goods, and had to compensate their customers.

There’s more about this online, on web sites such as

Others can be found that , look at the actual fraud itself, and the people behind it, such as the nice chap I just mentioned.

Jul 3, 2018 Posted by | photography | , , , | Leave a comment

A little optoelectronic surprise

I don’t usually get a surprise while I’m dismantling electronics, but have to admit to raising an eyebrow as I cracked open the remote control for my ‘vintage’ home cinema unit.

Little more than a (very) expensive pile of junk now, it only works with old video systems, and has no HDMI options – still, since I’ve managed to avoid wasting any money along that road, that doesn’t really matter. I really just use the box for all the amplifiers it contains. Along with its active sub, it can bounce stuff off shelves.

But there’s been a problem for some years – despite coming with a remote control that looks more like a passenger jet flight computer (anybody with a phobia about buttons runs screaming from my house if they see it), two or three of the most useful buttons stopped working reliably after a period of storage, then recently decided to ignore any pushes at all.

I did try to get inside once (problem is usually just contamination), but the enclosure refused to open even after removing the screws.

But patience runs out, and the dead buttons meant it was time to fix it, or break it. Fortunately, a little more force, and it popped open this time.

But I stopped for a moment when I saw this array of optoelectronic devices revealed – usually there’s only one (or two for luxury items) device to be seen.

 Opto Surprise Remote Control

Opto Surprise Remote Control

The two CLEAR LEDs are the usual IR (infra-red) transmitters for the remote control.

One red LED confirms a button press – these should be a LEGAL REQUIREMENT! There’s nothing worse than pushing a button on a remote control with NO LED and not knowing if the lack of response it due it being dead, or something more serious.

The black item in the centre reveals this is a ‘Learning Remote’, and is a photodiode (IR receiver). This means this remote can be programmed to replace others simply by pointing them at it, receiving/learning the code they transmit, and assigning that to a button.

The other red LED is used only for that programming function – it flashes to confirm receipt of the transmitted code from the other remote, and signal that programming has been completed. (I doubt the idea caught on – it was hard to remember anything other than a few basic ‘trained’ buttons).

As for the fix this all started with?

I’ve no idea what got inside the handset, or even how (since there is no trace of the contamination elsewhere), but there was an almost hard, sticky, clear residue on one corner of the keypad/PCB. This was preventing a few of the button contacts from making.

It wouldn’t wipe off, or dissolve in water – until left to soak overnight.

Strange – It’s a mystery as I don’t recall anything being spilled on this one, and there was no evidence of a spill anyway. I’ve ‘fixed’ enough remotes that enjoyed tea/coffee/juice baths to know what they look like, either fresh, or left for months.



Dec 7, 2017 Posted by | photography | , , , | Leave a comment

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