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
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
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
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
So, how do we turn this trend
around, and keep electronics as a
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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6 September 2017