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Monthly Archives: January 2009

Read this if you feel like most meetings are a waste of your time:


My wife reminds me that I have an old story about fixing things which serves as a cautionary tale for those who would, like me, go past the sticker that says “No user-serviceable parts inside.”

In early September 1990 we were waiting for the birth of our first child, and he was a week overdue.  We saw every movie we could, we hung out in sidewalk cafes, and we bought a Pentax point-and-shoot camera. It was the first film camera we had owned that did everything for you; having a baby seemed like a perfectly good excuse to get a new toy.  It was the camera we used to take all of his baby pictures, and we took a lot of baby pictures since he was our first baby.

In late October of 1994 we had that camera with us at a pre-school Halloween party and it was dropped while it was on and the camera lens was fully extended; it fell from table-top height to a linoleum-covered concrete floor.  It probably goes without saying that the fall broke the camera, but it was not smashed to bits, it sort of seemed to want to work, and I took it upon myself one afternoon to open it up and see if I could fix it.

The lens was stuck in the extended zoom position, and no attempt to dislodge it seemed to do any good, so my goal was to get to the motorized mechanism that did the work of moving the lens in and out, and I imagined that there was some piece of it that had been jarred out place by the impact and could be re-adjusted and functional again.  It made no sense to get it repaired, since it would have cost as much as getting a new camera.  I got out my set of tiny screw drivers and opened the camera up.  Just beyond the outer plastic outer case there was a noticeable sticker with black and yellow lettering warning “Caution: High Voltage.  No User Serviceable Parts Inside.” 

I thought, “Well, of course it should say that.  It has a self-contained flash circuit which requires the use of high voltage.”  Besides, I’m an engineer and I know what I’m doing.  The batteries had been removed at this point, and I assumed that the flash charging circuitry would not retain enough charge to shock me, and after all, what were the odds of touching the circuit board just at the right contact points?

I got a shock from that puppy that made me yelp and drop it on the floor. My wife yelled at me and tried to take the whole pile of parts away from me to put it in the trash.  I explained that the shock had been delivered by the flash unit, which obviously stored a bigger residual charge when not in use than I had expected.  I picked up the pieces, found the offending jam in the lens motor and went about the task of reassembling the camera’s guts while avoiding touching the circuit board completely.

Then I got shocked again.

This time, I dropped it only a couple of inches.  Expletives erupted from me.  This time, my wife laughed and left the room.

In the end, I did not shock myself again.  I was able to put everything back together, and the camera worked just fine.

And within a few years we switched to digital.