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Don't judge a book by its title
on April 1, 2012
Good coverage of test equipment
Good anecdotes that demonstrate basic methodology
Good basic techniques for fixing common consumer electronics
It won't tell you how to diagnose and fix everything electronic
I'm an engineer by training, and I tend to take words literally. So when I read the title of this book, then observed that rather than an encyclopedia volume 1, these 316 pages were the entire book, I was dubious, and doubly so when I read the back cover where it promises "Master the Art of Electronics Repair," and how to repair and extend the life of "all kinds" of solid-state devices. I have read electronics books for a few decades. When I noted the publisher, Tab, I said to myself, "uh-huh". Because if there are a few things I have learned about Tab Books in particular in my years of reading them, it is these:
1. They tend to over-sell their books in the title and abstract for the book
2. If the book features projects, the circuits are often not tested and sometimes can't work as presented
3. Except for the cover, the production quality is often substandard compared to other publishers
If I was the author of the book, I would not be comfortable writing a book that promised to teach you how to fix everything electronic and to make you a master in 316 pages, because it CAN'T BE DONE.
I wondered when I saw a picture on the cover of a computer hard drive with a magnification of the electronics, because when a hard drive fails, I think it's best to do your best to recover data from it, then you move to a new one that is less likely to fail again. But the author does have a technique he says may be able to save a failing drive. Hey, if it works, I'd still use it as a rescue for data from the failed drive... then I'd wipe it and throw it away.
But I'm NOT here to tell you the book is worthless, or that the author does not know what he is talking about. Neither is true.
The author clearly knows what he is talking about and speaks from experience. He does tell you about the essential tools of the trade - and other tools which you have heard of but may not be necessary except for specialized jobs. He goes into some detail on using them. I came to this book to learn more about oscilloscopes, and he does a reasonable job with them - 28 pages, almost 10% of the book!
Around 50 pages in, he gets into some basic trouble-shooting techniques, followed by diving into a couple of case studies that expose the reader to the process he follows, which is very much like a detective's work. There are no short-cuts: you have to understand the circuit so that you can trace it for clues, and from the clues you have to be able to think to figure it out. It's challenging work.
Obviously, it is useful to have a background in electronics. If you don't have that, he has a couple of chapters on components and circuits. It's brief; fortunately, there are lots of books dedicated to these subjects to learn a lot more, especially on subjects that apply to the kind of equipment you want to fix.
Chapter 14, at just over 50 pages, is tips and tricks for fixing specific products and technologies: switching power supplies (used in many products, and frequently a source of failure), audio amps and receivers, disc players and recorders, flat panel displays, hard drives, laptop computers, mp3 players, vcrs and camcorders, and video projectors. The problem is, that's just a few pages for each topic, and you could devote an entire book to each topic and not cover everything. This should be the meat of the book, but it's like the author ran out of time when he got here.
The topics in Chapter 14 should have been at least a 50 page chapter each to earn the book's ambitious title. Better still would be to omit Chapter 14 from this volume, then use this volume as the introduction to a series, and write a separate book on each of the topics of Chapter 14 and beyond. Do that, Tab, and I'll consider buying the set.
This book would have come closer to succeeding just by having a title like "using test equipment to diagnose common problems in consumer electronics," which is closer to what it covers: there are about as many pages discussing test equipment as there are on general diagnosis techniques and tips and techniques that apply to specific types of equipment. The author probably had a different title in mind, but Tab had an outdated book they wanted to update that had a similar title, so maybe they talked the author into a more ambitious title so it would sell better. Or at least, that's my theory.
Three stars ("It's OK") is not a bad review, but there is room for improvement. There are definitely parts that are useful to me. As it is, it will not tell you everything you know to fix everything electronic, or even close, but it may start you down that path. It is a good beginner's book.