Wednesday, March 16, 2011

00482 Day 19, the Guide

As a result of the problems I'm having with building a pre-amp for my microphone (so that i can lay down some funky soundtracks to upcome film releases that I have yet to pen), I'm going to release a piece of writing that was conceived when I was constructing electronic die and which I just managed to finish today (actually its 2am - oops). It seemed appropriate considering my present frame of mind. Anyhoo, here you go:

Hi there and welcome to the first in what promises to be a long and possibly even endless journal of failure centered around the field of electronics.

In the coming weeks and months I hope to guide you through a series of projects which will help you to discover how to design and construct massively disappointing failures.

We'll be looking at the parts you can buy (but never fully understand), how best to maim them and finally how to keep them in a box until you finally manage to resign yourself to the truth that you have broken them beyond repair so that you can finally consign them to the trash. We'll also be working on developing a greater depth of sadness and incomprehension, so that you can more easily reach those frustrating and depressing intellectual cul-de-sacs.

Let’s start with a pretty good example of a project that will initially raise your hopes of producing a fully functioning toy, before dashing them to pieces as the realisation of your abject failure finally dawns.

The Electronic Dice.

If done properly, the dice project should address the major issue of using components unnecessarily and in the wrong place, so that they end up burned out and leave you both despondent and frustrated.

To mentally prepare yourself for this project you should begin by imagining yourself to be capable and intelligent. Don't forget to look forwards to the successful completion of the electronic dice. In this way you'll be able to maximise the sadness it will inevitably bring you.

OK, let’s go.

1. Assemble the components and tools you'll need.

At this point it would be best if you understand as little as possible about the components you buy, that way you can really mess things up while at the same time never really understanding what exactly has gone wrong. This last technique will add real depth to your fail.

You’ll want:

  • LEDs – around twenty. You only need seven, but the number is immaterial as they will all have blown by the time you are finished.
  • Around twenty mid-priced microcontrollers - pick a kind you like the look of.
  • Loads of resistors - that desktop’s not going to cover itself in ruined bits.
  • Wire – anything will do as long as it’s too thick.
  • Capacitors – you won’t need them here, but you’ll buy loads of them anyway.
  • A power source - batteries are always good as long as they are either duds, or of a voltage that is waaaay to high. To be safe always go for a transformer, this should provide you with an endless supply of power so you can overload all your fledgling circuits without having to nip out to the shops when you realise all your PP3s don’t work.
  • You’ll want a soldering iron. They come in many shapes and powers, but don’t worry, just go mid-range, they’ll all successfully burn you and help flip your angry switch.
  • Programming bits and bobs – again, don’t concern yourself about the details here, just get a starter pack. There’s a whole load of stuff you can buy, but seeing as the physical electronics side is going to go wrong, you can guarantee that the code side of things will be several degrees of impossible for you.
  • Wire cutters and desoldering pumps will come in useful here so it’s probably best forget them, that way you can berate yourself for being stupid while searching the house for something else which will fall woefully short of doing the same job.

2. Building your circuit.

Don't prototype your circuit on a breadboard (unless you're using a real breadboard where you cut bread, in which case, carry on).

I’d go into more detail here, but it really isn’t necessary. If you’re using instructions, skip the early pages, imagining that your expertise will guide you through the first stage so that you can concentrate on the really complicated stuff that you “feel” you understand, but actually don’t comprehend at all.

Now, just steel yourself to the task at hand and get on with it. You will need all your powers of concentration and tenacity if you are to create something that truly doesn’t work.

3. Testing your circuit.

Now comes the moment of truth. You should have managed to go through the entire construction process without an inkling of whether this is going to work, basing all your hopes around the grand finale where you flip the switch and everything runs perfectly. If all has gone according to plan you should now be excited and filled with expectation.

Turn it on!


Anything at all?



Probe around with your multimeter until your head is so full of figures that you confuse current with both voltage and resistance.

Go back to step 2, taking bits out and adding bits back in. Now would be a good time to use a lot of wire.

Having completed all the steps you should have a tangled mess of solder, wire and parts all ready for the bin, while you yourself should be adequately devoid of all hope and motivation.

Some more general points about nurturing failure.

There are several key areas that you should be aware of so that you can snuff out even the vaguest possibility of accidental success:

  • Reach for the stars. Only great aspirations reap the poorest results - pick a project that goes beyond your abilities by several degrees of magnitude. That way you can screw things up and have no idea how badly things went wrong. Chances are you will never know how far away from success you really were. Rest assured, it will have been a very long way.
  • Over spec everything and make sure that you don't really understand what any of the numbers mean. It can be really helpful to pick parts which have at least three sets of figures associated with their specification, that way if you manage to understand something of the first two numbers, there's a very good chance that the third will elude you and break up the critical path to succeeding.
  • Try to overcomplicate things wildly and if something goes wrong in the construction of your thing, rather than taking a thoughtful step back, just plough forwards. This will almost certainly put a monumental spanner in the works.

And here’s some extra tips:

You might think that while you're getting down on messing things up, you should ditch the books. Keep the books. Keep them and browse longingly through their pages as a reminder of how close you are to their world, but yet how far. They will show you things of great wonder. Hope will burn brightly within you and leave you ready to tackle anything. Badly.

Swearing will usually help to drive you further into despair, but use it sparingly, as too much frustration will probably bring a premature end to the project and ideally we want to draw it out as long as possible. If you are tired or hung-over this can also help you make some really quality mistakes.

So there we go! Now it’s time to crawl off and lick your tasty new wounds. The painful memory of your failure will slowly fade and with a bit of luck you’ll feel ready to give the whole scene another try in around a month or two. And when you finally get round to doing it all over again, don’t worry about sudden breakthroughs, if you follow this guide and your instincts, you’ll always manage to f*** things up.

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