Gas station without pumps

2021 January 9

One week into new quarter

We’re one week into the new quarter (10% of the way through!) and the course is going ok. Most of the students have finished the first-week lab, which consists of installing a lot of software and soldering headers onto a Teensy LC board.

The software they had to install was

Of course, each piece of software has its own installation idiosyncracies, different on Windows, macos, and Linux.  Some people even bumped into some problems because of running old versions of macos or Python (which were luckily cleared by upgrading to slightly newer versions).

The soldering was a bigger problem, because many students plugged in their cheap irons and left them on for a long time without tinning the tips.  The result was a sufficient build-up of corrosion that that they could not then tin the tips—even using a copper ChoreBoy scrubber to clean the tips didn’t help in some cases. In the in-person labs, I often spent most of the first week labs cleaning soldering iron tips that students had managed to mess up, but I can’t do that online.  This was not such a problem last quarter, as most of the students knew how to care for soldering irons from the first half of the course, but it may be a bigger problem this quarter, as most of the students have never touched a soldering iron before.  Some of the ones who are living here in town may be contacting the lab staff to see if they can get access to tip tinner or get some help cleaning their irons.  Those further away may be buying tip tinner on their own—I had not included it in kits, because I nad not expected so many to need it and it costs $8 apiece.

Grading is going fairly well.  My grading team and I have had two Zoom meetings so far (for Homeworks 1 and 2) and I graded Quiz 1 by myself, so we are keeping up with the grading.  He have Homework 3 and Prelab 2a (there is no Prelab 1) both due Monday morning, and we’ll try getting them graded Monday night.  We’re having to do most of our grading in the evening, because one of the graders is living in China, 15 time zones away, and none of us in California is an early morning person.

In other news, I’ve finally finished clearing the blackberries and ivy from behind the garage (a project I started about 2 years ago).  I’ll probably find some more when I cut back the kiwi vine (an annual winter project, in addition to frequent minor pruning during the summer).  I think I either need to get some female kiwi vines and an arbor for them or uproot the male kiwi.  There is really not much point to having just a male kiwi intent on taking over a big chunk of the yard.

There are still a lot of blackberry roots out there that will sprout new vines.  I’ll try uprooting them where I have access (not where they are coming through the cracks in the concrete), but I’ll probably have to do a monthly sweep of the yard to remove blackberries for the rest of my life in this house.

2013 September 17

Broken soldering iron

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:51
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I’ve previously recommended that students get a cheap soldering station like the one I have, and even recommended that the School of Engineering buy a dozen or so for use in the applied circuits lab.

My son recently found out why they are cheap: the ferrule that holds the tip in is not firmly mounted—it just has a friction fit, and after a while it comes loose and the tip falls out:

The soldering iron after the tip has come out.

The soldering iron after the tip has come out.

broken-soldering-iron-detail

A closeup of the ferrule and handle. Pushing it back in and recrimping the tube to hold it tighter seems to have no effect.  One of the reviewers on Amazon recommended supergluing the ferrule in (that’s what they did when theirs failed).

It looks like I’ll be buying a new soldering iron soon. I’m undecided between getting a hot-air rework station with a soldering iron, or separate tools for the hot-air rework and for regular soldering. A combined tool is cheaper and takes less bench space, but I don’t often need the hot air, so a smaller soldering iron would be more convenient most of the time. Also, the cheap hot-air rework stations that include a vacuum pickup tool don’t usually have a soldering iron as well, though for $160 I can get an Aoyue 968A+ that does.

If I get a new soldering iron, do I get another cheap one ($25) and regard it as disposable, or do I get a high-quality digital Weller iron  for $145, or the intermediate Weller analog unit for $90?

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