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[techbooks] REVIEW: "How Electronic Things Work", Robert Goodman

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKHWETWK.RVW 990515 How Electronic Things Work , Robert Goodman, 1999, 0-07-024630-0, U$24.95 %A Robert Goodman %C 300 Water Street, Whitby, Ontario
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 1999
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      BKHWETWK.RVW 990515

      "How Electronic Things Work", Robert Goodman, 1999, 0-07-024630-0,
      %A Robert Goodman
      %C 300 Water Street, Whitby, Ontario L1N 9B6
      %D 1999
      %G 0-07-024630-0
      %I McGraw-Hill Ryerson/Osborne
      %O U$24.95 905-430-5000 800-565-5758 fax: 905-430-5020
      %P 393 p.
      %T "How Electronic Things Work: And What to Do When They Don't"

      In the preface, Goodman states that the text is intended for the
      general consumer with little or no electronics background. The
      promotion of the book emphasizes the ability to save money on
      maintenance and repair costs. To be blunt, I don't believe this book
      can be written. A biased opinion, to be sure, but one that I have
      formed over years of experience with all manner of things electronic.
      In the first place, electronic things work in an enormous variety of
      ways. Certainly the basic discrete components are the same, but the
      numbers of components can easily reach hundreds or thousands in the
      complex electrical devices on which the book concentrates. In
      addition, any number of service "technicians" do not actually know how
      the devices they service really do work. What they do know is that on
      machine A part B fails quite often, and the characteristic symptom of
      this failure is C. This is why it is often dangerous to allow
      electrical engineers near your faltering equipment: they *do* know how
      things work, but don't necessarily know the frequency of repair rates
      for part B on machine A. Another factor is that many failures in
      electronic objects are actually due to mechanical faults, with special
      needs in terms of repair. A final point is that, in an attempt to
      ensure that components cannot be damaged, many are now designed in
      such a way that they cannot be fixed, either.

      Chapter one does not relieve me of any of these concerns. The
      explanations are not simple, they are simplistic. In fact, the brief
      descriptions of discrete components and the like signally fail to
      teach what these items are and do. The illustrations and figures are
      appalling. I am thoroughly familiar with books that do not use
      figures effectively, but I don't believe I have ever come across a
      work which relies so heavily on pictures, uses so many, labels them so
      poorly, and, in the end, conveys so little useful information. The
      author suggests some testing tool circuits as projects, but the simple
      diagrams would be completely incomprehensible to those who were not
      already fairly heavily involved with electronic hobby work. (They
      make very little sense to me, and I've seen more than a few circuit
      diagrams in my life.) (The projects also require many items that you
      might not find in the usual home repair toolkit, such as an
      oscilloscope.) A cartoon of "Piher mini pots" is not very
      informative, particularly since neither "piher" nor "pots" are
      defined, or even mentioned, in either the text, the index, or the
      disjointed glossary.

      And so it goes. Chapter two, on radios, seems to be more of an ad for
      Bose than anything else. I showed the diagram of an "FM dipole
      antenna you can make" to a technical colleague, and his immediate
      reaction was "what is that?" Would anyone with "little or no
      electronics background" know how to check the B+ voltage on a
      capacitor? Or ensure that they did not arc it to ground? Or properly
      adjust the head penetration depth on a cassette deck (with no more
      instruction than that)? Would they know how to check broken flex
      cable trace leads on a CD player circuit board (chapter three)? Check
      the vertical oscillator and output transistors and/or IC stages on a
      TV (chapter four)? Check and replace any broken parts on the idler
      tire of your VCR (chapter five)? Admittedly, some of the material is
      not quite so arcane. Chapter six, on satellite TV dishes, only
      recommends those adjustments that can be made from the system menu
      accessible to the user. And, after telling us how to take a camcorder
      apart (which might be easier than getting it all together) chapter
      seven doesn't actually recommend any action you can't take from the
      outside. But chapter eight seems to think we can check (or even find)
      the ring detection circuit on a telephone answering machine. In
      comparison, chapter nine's review of computers is comically brief,
      with very little to suggest in the way of repair tips. Printer and
      fax problems and solutions, in chapter ten, focus on paper jams.

      There are some magazine level "explanations" of how some of the
      technology, such as CDs and FM radio, work. Generally speaking, these
      discourses fail to impart any real understanding that would lead to an
      ability to fix something that wasn't working. In fact, most of the
      material in the book simply provides vocabulary, without anything in
      the way of conceptual background.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKHWETWK.RVW 990515

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      (Anything in Latin sounds profound.)
      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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