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Doing a lot of electronics work, one of the most frequently used tools on the workbench is a multi-tester (Figure 1). For years, I relied on a little pocket-sized unit that did everything I needed. but within the past couple years invested on a more heavy-duty version that has a stand that flips out of the back to make it stand up on its own. That’s one of those little things that I’ve realized I can’t live without. Funny how that works.

The unit comes standard with two probes (Figure 2), and while the probes have pointy ends, they’re still too big for testing a breadboard (Figure 3) when I’m prototyping. Yeah, I can usually touch them to the leads of the components, but sometimes I just want to stick ’em in a hole and use two hands to FIDDLE with the components. This is where some of that crazy inventiveness comes in. There’s a problem, and I try to come up with a solution.

I had an old, dried up ballpoint pen lying around on the desk. I took out the ink tube, and sliced off two 1″-ish sections off the end. Then, I stripped about 3″ of 22AWG wire, fed it through the empty tube, folded one end over the end of the tube, down the side of the tube, then wrapped the bejeebers out of the end sticking out the opposite end of the tube (Figure 4). Then I trimmed the excess. wire, leaving about 1/2″ of wire sticking out the bottom of each tube (Figure 5). I slid these onto the ends of my probes, wire end down (Figure 6). It was a bit of a snug fit, ensuring good contact. Had it been loose, I would have just added more passes of wire through the tube  to narrow the usable diameter a little more…kind of like little shims. At any rate, the point is for the wire inside the tube to make contact along the length of the metal tip of the probe, and the end of the probe is just a wire that fits into the holes on a breadboard (Figure 7).


TIME: 15 minutes


Figure 1



Figure 2



Figure 3



Figure 4



Figure 5



Figure 6



Figure 7


I remember when the black and white TV that my parents bought in the 60s finally died. It was well into the 80s, and my first experience with color TV. The thought that a television I buy today will last 20 years boggles the mind (and don’t get me started on RoHS compliance). I get dead pixels and color shift on LCD monitors less than five years old. Are there ever repair shops out there? Usually it’s cheaper to replace your dead machine than it is to repair it.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Shhhh! Many dead machines can be brought back to life — in some shape or form — pretty easily. Repair manuals and instructions abound, from downloadable PDFs to step-by-step videos. Parts are available on eBay. There’s no reason not to at least try. If you can’t fix it? REPURPOSE IT! Strip it for parts! At the very least, snip off the cord and keep it in your junk drawer until the day you vacuum up a lamp cord. Swapping cords is one of the simplest tasks that anyone can do.

A little more practice and experience and LCD panels, motors, belts, connectors, circuit boards and plastic cases become the foundation of stuff that’s customized for how you want to use it. It’s not a tough job to add a USB port to the clock radio next to your bed so you can charge your phone. Most people with a modicum of eye-hand coordination and some basic tools could add  a headphone jack to said clock radio.

Go ahead. Open it up. See what’s inside. See what makes it tick. Figure out how to upgrade the tools in your life to make them more useful to you. You’ll probably void the warranty, but f*%& it. You’ve probably already gone past your 30 days already. And the worst case? You’ll just need to get a cheap replacement for the thing you’ve just killed–but you’ve probably learned something in the process, too. Consider it the cost of education.

Go ahead. Void your warranty. You’ve got my permission.