Spring Cleaning with Bob Widlar

April 18, 2016 | 11:26
Yes it’s that time of the year again and there should be no reason to exclude your e-workplace from the positive action of a vacuum cleaner, some water and mild detergent, and perhaps the opening of a window (of the glazed variety) to let in some fresh air. And don’t forget to have an empty trash can within reach all the time. And eBay.

Spring comes with an urge to make a fresh start, sweep the floors, and frown upon all things grimy, messy, or disorganized. It’s sad but as electronics enthusiasts I guess we have to accept that our activities at the beloved workbench are considered by many outsiders as disorderly, or lacking in structure. That’s ignorance, mostly, as we are the driving forces behind the electronics revolution are-we-not? But leaning back from a really chaotic desk it’s too easy to reply “no creativity comes from orderliness” or compose a similar one-liner.  If you decide to apply spring cleaning to your hobby, you should do it for personal reasons only, and with a personal benefit to reap. Many such benefits are within easy reach, like… having more space for that new project, recovering precious components from nooks & crannies (and the vacuum cleaner), or making others happy with things you decide to part with.

I would also recommend Widlarizing devices. For many years I used the same components over and over again to build my experimental circuits, and do patches and repairs to “prove it can work”. Like the same TO-3 power transistor for almost all power supply issues I was faced with. Years later on a rainy afternoon I discovered that the device was 70% off the specified DC gain and had terrible leakage, which explained why more faults developed in my repair jobs. The same with many of my 1-watt resistors which measured well out of tolerance. I recommend to destruct with gusto, any component you have reason to believe is faulty, with the sole aim to prevent self-inflicted trouble  as well as time wasted by experts and kind souls on forums  responding to your “help it don’t work” call.

Robert (‘Bob’) Widlar (1937-1991), analog IC genius and as eccentric and inspiring as Bob Pease, should be our example in this respect. Widlarizing devices as part of your personal spring cleaning frenzy is simple. Bob Pease described it as “You take it [the crap component] over to the anvil part of the vice, and you beat on it with a hammer, until it is all crunched down to tiny little pieces, so small that you don’t even have to sweep it off the floor. It makes you feel better. And you know that that component will never vex you again. That’s not a joke, because sometimes if you have a bad pot or a bad capacitor, and you just set it aside, a few months later you find it slipped back into your new circuit and is wasting your time again. When you WIDLARIZE something, that is not going to happen. And the late Bob Widlar is the guy who showed me how to do it.”
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