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Nuts & Volts Magazine (September 2017)

Conspiracy Theory

By Bryan Bergeron    View In Digital Edition  


After my last run, I found a clip-on LED light on a wall in a popular stretching area. Someone apparently discarded the light because the battery was dead. I changed the two mercury button cells and the light worked perfectly. This wasn’t the first time I’ve run across discarded running lights that simply needed fresh batteries.

The issue was the cost of replacement batteries versus the value of a new light with batteries. At my local drug store — where the button cells are sold in individual packages — a pair of cells comes in at about the price of a new light. Because I buy batteries in bulk, it was worth my time to replace the batteries and end up with a perfectly good blinker.

The average person, however, faced with the cost of new batteries, would have no motivation to open the case and change the batteries — much less examine the circuitry.

This is just one example of what I’ve noticed over the past few years, where devices manufactured in China undercut the component costs in the US so severely that it simply doesn’t pay to repair the device.

As a result, the retail component industry — especially the brick and mortar retail chains that serve the experimenter community — is a mere shell of its former self.

The RadioShack of my youth had walls filled with blister packs of transistors, capacitors, resistors, LEDs, and a host of ICs.

Today, I don’t even bother walking into a store and shop online instead. However, it’s one thing to shop online and another to hold a component in your hands and ponder the applications.

There’s also the issue of shipping charges and minimum purchase amounts when dealing with the major online parts suppliers.

If I were into conspiracy theories, I’d say that someone or some group has a grand plan to wipe out the retail electronic component industry in the US. In time, with everyone simply tossing their broken or exhausted gear in the trash, the body of knowledge and infrastructure of electronics repair and experimentation will disappear.

Why bother trying to repair something when you can have a brand new version for roughly the same price?

Conspiracy or not, the infrastructure for electronic experimentation is rapidly evaporating. Brick and mortar parts suppliers are scarce, and finding parts for existing devices is often frustrating.

So, how do we turn this trend around, and keep electronics as a hobby alive?

For my part, I’m into repurposing. I never throw anything out without first stripping any potentially useful components and adding them to my junk box.

You’d be surprised at the number of components you can recover from a couple stereos, DVD players, and computer systems.

If you have a solution to the current trend in electronics, please let me hear about it so I can share it with your fellow readers.  NV



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