The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation

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day one : learning to solder, courtesy of youtube
children of dune - leto 1
My first practical soldering experiences; so far, nothing has been lit on fire.

I will say this; most of the people posting amateur how-to-solder-and-not-die are really good about a.) camera angles and b.) narration.

Tinning Wires: A Retrospective

As it turns out, the thing I thought would be most difficult--tinning wires--was disturbingly easy. This may not have been true if I hadn't taken a moment to a.) review the basic laws of thermodynamics and b.) remember that my hands may be steady, but I only have two, and to pull this off until I have better coordination, four would be required.

So that's why this came in handy; soldering iron holder, sponge holder, magnifying glass, and alligator clips to hold wires in place for tinning.

First I watched this: tinning a stripped wire (youtube link). That seemed simple enough.

While the soldering iron was heating, I found my solder and my solder wick, for solder removal. The solder itself came coiled like a spring in a small convenient plastic tube with the solder wire pulled out a hole in the top. . I like this. It makes my life easier.

Finding an old usb cord, I cut and stripped it--that was fairly easy--then attached it to the alligator clip on the insulated part of the cord and the exposed wires about two inches from the clip. I wiped the soldering iron against the damp sponge, touched it to the solder to tin it, then set the iron under the exposed wires and put the tip of the solder itself against the top of the wires. I waited for magic.

Here's what casual observation didn't really show me; solder doesn't do much before suddenly, it's all Terminator 2 melting metal. It's very fast, and it makes a bead, and it cools pretty much at a blink, and it goes everywhere fast. After the wires were coated, I pulled back and verified my results.

I had tinned wires.

This is possibly the easiest thing I have ever done.

Motherboard Practice: Okay, I See Why People Were Wary About Me Doing This Shit

So far, I've basically practiced soldering random wires to random bits of metal on my old practice motherboard and then removing the wires. I understand the theory, and I can get to a certain point, but after that, coordinating events becomes a problem. I can solder a wire to a connector, desolder it from a connector, and even not light anything on fire.

Removing items already on the board, however, is tricky, and part of this is I need to see someone--live--doing it while I follow along. Mostly, I think seeing the entire process straight through--add usb port, remove usb port, or add something, remove something not a wire--would make it easier in a medium I can watch from all angles. Luckily, my middle sister was trained in soldering, so she volunteered to show me what it looks like.

The other problem, though this will be a matter of simple practice, is the process of removing solder. The heating of the solder I can do; watching it melt, sure. Getting it removed is an act of coordination with the solder wick sucking up the solder but not cooling down so fast that it is soldered to the board. You would be shocked to know this is not nearly as easy as it looks. OR how many time I soldered my solder wick to the motherboard and stared at it resentfully.

I am thinking the desoldering pump is in my future. Using lengths of copper wire is rather inconvenient.

I'm also seeing that I need more tips than this, potentially a much finer one and a flat one. I actually have multiple tips that came with my butane soldering iron that I'm not using; I wonder if I can use them on the Belkin one?

So Far

Accomplished: tinning a wire.
Accomplished: understanding the theory of pinout.
Accomplished: understanding the theory of pinout in pci-e.
Accomplished: understanding the theory of northbridge, southbridge, and finding them on a motherboard (this was weirdly less intuitive than it should have been; I finally put a diagram of it beside a motherboard and turned it until I could line everything up. I knew their functions, but for the life of me, I could not see it in RL until like, today).
In Progress: understanding the difference between USB pinouts in sets of four, five, eight, ten, and sixteen.
In Progress: understanding the practical aspects of USB A, B, male, and female.
In Progress: understanding in practice pinout when it's not terribly obvious in USB.
In Progress: can solder and desolder wires from motherboard.
In Progress: diagramming the motherboard. I can now almost read a circuit board, provided they use only IEEE standard designations; surprisingly, there are several wild cards. I need that damn IEEE standards book.
Not Yet: solder and desolder other objects to motherboard.
Not Even Close: reading chipset traces.

I think I'm making the learning process harder than it needs to be by not starting at the right place. I'm going about this backwards, but honestly, I'm not even sure where to start. And the people I'd usually ask IRL are either a.) the type to tell me not to worry my little head about it and get a professional to do it, b.) not understand my questions or why I want them answered, or c.) (most irritating) willing to teach in a limited sense what he thinks I should know, not what I'm actually asking for, and find the entire thing hilarious and make sure I know it's totally a waste of time. I'll solder my fingers to the board before asking again; it's just not worth that level of irritation. If I want to be condescended to for this, I can go online and get it without that special, personal touch.

(One guy I know is awesome about answering questions, V's husband, but he's getting his PhD in computer science; I'm not asking Batman to help me read a motherboard. He's one of the only guys I ever met who is willing to sit down and try to help for as long as I need and tends to assume if I want to do something, obviously I can do it; however, while my computer science language is okay, my engineering and mechanical language is not, and until I know how to word my questions, we have multiple communication breakdowns. And again, Batman. You save Batman for like, complicated stuff. He is interested in my progress, though.)

Weirdly, they're all guys. I'm sure it's a total coincidence.

On schedule for tonight: Child's laptop is hanging in the Windows welcome screen. After running memory diagnostics, it's failing. So tonight I'm observing Child take apart his laptop and remove the hard drive, at which time I'll put it in an enclosure and hook it to my laptop so I can verify the diagnostics and copy it if possible. I'm hoping it's something simple, but adding a new hard drive to next month's budget list just in case. I am so not looking forward to reinstalling everything.

Also resisting Frye's DIY extravaganza; I do not need to build a desktop. The computers per capita in the house is getting a little surreal.

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Ok, a really dumb question: so you can solder. And what's that do? Is that how computer boards are built? Are you basically teaching yourself to build a computer board from scratch?

When I was doing tech theater back in the late 80s, we used to solder wires that had shorted in audio cables. I expect the wires were much larger than what you're dealing with, and there was all the elbow room in the world. I seem to recall using something like the desoldering pump you linked to, and it was quite useful. Good luck with your hardware experiments!

I have used a solder pump (we called it a "solder sucker") and LOVED it. You may have to make one or two additional tries at getting all the solder off the board, but it's so much faster and easier than the wick crap. At least, I found it to be so.

I would help, but all of my experience is with soldering with FIRE, which I think is not helpful with plastic motherboards...

From this rather girlish-ly tech-inept reader, that sounds like admirable progress already! \o/

I'm not asking Batman to help me read a motherboard.

Ahaha, that cracked me up. :D So the plan is to either learn to do it by your own or else learn by trial and error and study the language until you can ask Batman? XD

Can I just say that when my (all girl-) secondary school made everyone make a simple electronic toy one term when we were 12, I spent the entire term making and remaking the circuit board over and over again, while everyone else succeeded on the first or second try and went on to the fun stuff. I'm not particularly klutzy, I think, I just couldn't get the hang of soldering. (That split-second change from why-is-nothing-happening to oh-my-god-solder-everywhere; the smell of burning plastic; it's all coming back to me.) All this is to say I am very respectful of soldering as a skill and wish you success in mastering it.

This brings back memories of Engineering class (which was also mostly guys). We had the little mirror things with the alligator clips too, however they usually were not very helpful. Now that I think about it, I don't actually remember what we were soldering, but I remember the soldering. Kinda similar to those wood burner things you use to draw on wood. Very fun :) Good luck with deciphering the motherboard.

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