On Sunday I attended a three hour seminar on making solar engines. I was doing it to take as full advantage of my month of 3rd Ward pro membership, and to learn a little bit more about basic electronics. I have been coming at the circuit end of this from Arduino. The thing I liked most about this class was it was even more basic. We were making a small pager buzzer wiggle just with photons and circuitry, no software needed!
The guy who taught the class was really great. He had good metaphors and basically was able to help everyone through building their engine while explaining why each component was necessary for the set-up. The circuit diagram we followed was projected, and I didn't get a copy of it. Surprisingly, there was no url on the parts list. Most maker-y type industries plaster their warz with other way to contact/find community. The instructor said he would send some follow-up info to us, here's hoping more comes later.
I built the engine on a small breadboard, soldering a couple of the more tricky parts. When assembled I held it under a bright light, nothing. I put it back on the table and jiggled all the wires and then held it back up under the light, and it worked. It worked the rest of the time I was there. Switched out the capacitor a couple of times to feel the difference in torque and duration. All really neat-o stuff, I felt I was drinking from the fire hose of knowledge.
At the end of class I unplugged the solar panel and the small motor and brought the breadboard home pretty much assembled. I unpacked it on my workbench, plugged it back together, shined a light on it... and nothing. Jiggled all the wires, still nothing. Repeated this loop several times, then had to set it aside.
Here's the thing. With the circuits and the software I'm getting pretty good at knowing why theoretically they work. I'm getting ok at installing and running basic Arduino programs. I can follow a schematic and can tell difference between transistors. If I follow the instructions I can get stuff to work. But when it breaks I basically have two methods 1) restart everything or 2) jiggle all the wires in the order it says and try again. It's time to start working on my diagnostic skills. That of course means, more tools. If anyone is still looking for that perfect holiday gift, I may be in the market for a multimeter.