Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Joy Of CD Player Resurrection

So the first job upon arriving home last night was to attempt some sort of repair on the CD Player of Non-Workingness, that the halls of Chateau Stevie would once again ring with the works of King Crimson, Yes, Fairport Convention, Segovia, David Bowie, John Renbourne, Stan Rogers, Show of Hands, The Beatles, Quantum Jump, Dave Brubeck, Django Reinhart, Joan Armatrading, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Rick Wakeman, The Electric Light Orchestra, Mecca Bodega, The Police, Mike Oldfield, Squeeze, Laurie Anderson, Roxy Music, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Led Zepplin, Paul Brady, Steve Harley (with and without the rebellious cockneys) and a host of others sitting in the rotating CD Storage Tower of CD Storage including whatever crap Mrs Stevie and her henchwoman-in-training, The Stevieling put on it while I'm not there.

I drove home in the rain to put me in the right frame of mind, and upon arriving at Chateau Stevie conducted a survey of how best to excise the unit from the cabinet.

Owners of modern stereos may not remember that in the good old days between the "entertainment center" and the "ghetto blaster" eras, one assembled one's stereo system out of components that stacked, usually inside a cabinet made expressly to house such stuff and that gave access to the top for the record transcription turntable unit, or "record player" in Dadspeke. By the time Mrs Stevie and I bought this one, the state of the art was such that one need no longer buy each unit from a different manufacturer, but could buy matching amplifier/tuner units, cassette decks, turntables and, later, CD players. Our stuff is all JVC and was bought during the late eighties, usually as "last year's model" to get a whopping discount on the price of ownership. The CD player doesn't exactly match the rest of the stack because it came a couple of case revisions after the rest. The display is the same colour, but the buttons are of a slightly different style. I digress.

Our stereo is housed on several shelves to the left of and in the same cabinet as our TV set. The arrangement of the carpet and the furniture means that the unit can only be swung away from the wall by any significant amount at the other end of the cabinet. Not only that, but the way the wires had been tucked up in the cabinet when the stereo was installed, along with the rather miserable cable lengths allotted by JVC to the various interconnecting bits meant that just removing the unit from the cabinet would be a job not unlike that of changing the clutch on a Leyland-era mini - a job in which one works in a space just wide enough for one's hands, in an area one cannot see and therefore must explore by feel.

I erected a small tray-table in front of the cabinet and managed by dint of this and by partially removing one shelf to get the CD player out of the cabinet and disconnected from the sound and s-bus cables1. The power connection was another matter and required the deployment of some class four swear words to get disengaged from the power tap on the tuner/amp.

Now I had the thing on a portable table it was a simple2 matter to remove the case top and disengage the fascia (which contains all the controls and the display and has to come off so you can get at various moving parts) and place it in front of the unit for testing. I would have disconnected it an many points during the evening's "fun" but the ribbon cable was firmly attached at the chassis board.

The mechanism is as I described yesterday. CD slides are pulled back into an elevator mechanism, which lowers the disc to the transport/playback assembly. Take a look back if you want a more detailed description. I can't face writing all that again. Even thinking about it all gives me the shakes.

I could still hear a whirling motor for a few seconds when the thing was powered up, but it wasn't the motor used to spin CDs. Interesting. I postulated that a gear had disengaged from a shaft somewhere allowing a servomotor to spin freely. Now many of these mechanisms involve worm gears as the first step in getting the motion from the motor to where it's needed, which would normally mandate against forcing anything by hand. The worm gears used in this unit, however, were of sufficiently steep pitch that there was little danger provided one was gentle. The motors would freewheel obligingly if a light touch was used.

I discovered that by manually retracting the slide hook I could provoke the elevator to hunt up and down. That was one servo mechanism that was nominally working then. The disc tray would open, albeit not promptly and not every time it was asked to, so in principle that servo was mechanically sound too. That left the one that worked the slide retracting hook. By dint of gently prying open the CD single play drawer and painstakingly searching inside the mechanism with a flashlight, I found what I suspected: a worm gear lying on the chassis floor and a nearby motor with nothing on its driveshaft.

I had suspected something of the sort once I heard the free-running motor since one of the drawbacks of worm drives is that should the gear chain they are meshed with jam, say by having the linear mechanism it drives over-running its travel and bottoming out, the motor will, if it is turning in the right direction, cause the worm gear to climb off the drive shaft. If the motor is turning the other way it simply runs until the worm gear has worn away and won't grip the shaft any more. The dismounted gear was annoying, but not nearly as annoying as one that had self-destructed and forced a search for a replacement for the by-now obsolete original part would have been. I was, relatively speaking, in luck.

I tried a number of techniques to put the gear back on the spindle without dimantling the entire sub-assembly (something I was not keen to try since precision alignments were involved that I had grave doubts I could reproduce with the equipment in my workshop) but they all ended in swear words. I eventually had to remove the drive sub-assembly in order to get enough clearance to work, which involved disengaging a couple of dozen loose wires from snap connectors (JVC cheaped out on plugs to interconnect boards and components). This alone drove up the anxiety to Galactic Ultra Infarction levels. One dropped tool would result in jumbled wires and I'd never get them back in the right order again.

It took forever, but using a modified dental pick3 I eventually managed to persuade the gear end to go over the shaft, at which point I simply pushed gently on the CD slide retrieval hook while gripping the gear lightly with a haemostat and used the gear train to push the worm gear back into place in a reverse of the process that pulled it off in the first place.

I managed, after much cursing, to re-install the drive sub-assembly in the chassis, then had to remove it again because I couldn't reach to reconnect some of the wires. Reconnecting all the wires, I was then forced to work around them while trying to place screws deep into the chassis and get them in the proper holes to secure the player sub assembly in place, which required placing the screws using the haemostat. It was tedious with a capital Teed and I emphatically don't recommend the procedure to anyone.

I powered the unit on and ran a test.

It worked!

The CD loaded, slid into place and was properly positioned in the playing mechanism and spun up. Stopping it caused the CD to unload as it should. Result! I looked at the clock. It was almost 10 pm. I'd been struggling with the bloody thing for over two hours.

I put the case back together and spent several minutes trying to reconnect the power to the tap on the tuner/amp by feel before I was successful, then connected up the data and sound wires and replaced the unit on its shelf. Drawing breath I loaded In Reel Time4 and was rewarded with the opening strains of "Reynard the Fox". Mrs Stevie came running out.

"It's working? You fixed it?" She asked in amazement.

"Yes and yes" I answered, smugly

"Took you long enough" she sniffed, and returned to her internet friends.

  1. The units communicate with each other and the tuner by means of a rudimentary data network. This is so that when you press the CD button on the tuner, the other units such as the cassette deck, record turntable or radio shut down gracefully. It also enables one to box clever when making tapes, pausing the tape when the record ends and so forth. A really useful feature, long superseded
  2. Ha!
  3. Which had to be bent into a new shape using my trusty Leatherman pliers. All this bending eventually broke the point off the pick and it will have to have its point reground before I can use it for the modelling tasks I bought it for in the first place. It all makes work for the working man to do
  4. Fairport Convention

Returning Happiness At Chateau Stevie

There was cake.

I got home around 7 pm, with the weather clouding over and the humidity hovering somewhere between "unbearable" and "intolerable". My feet were cooking nicely and all I could think of was hopping in a shower to cool off prior to consuming the repast The Stevieling had promised to make for me. The house was in darkness, and I thought it possible that once again LIPA1 had made bad atmospheric conditions immeasurably worse by arranging a power cut so none of the fans in the house would work.

I trudged, sweat-drenched, into the front room and made for the kitchen, there to dump my briefcase before dashing to the lavatory to relieve my bladder, much swollen due to the two pints of water I had consumed in order to stave off dehydration on my commute home.

"SUPRISE!" screamed a choir of sonic assassins comprising of the ringleader and master of ambushes, Mrs Stevie, the until-now dear to my heart Stevieling, The MrsStevieDad and MrsStevieMom, Bil the Elder and his partner in crime, Ms Bil the Elder. I let out a manly shriek, incidentally breaking two crystal wine glasses at the back of the crap storage closet that masquerades as our china cabinet, leapt the customary two feet in the air and span round to face my ambushers. Everyone laughed. Once my heart had returned to what I understand is called "sinus rhythm"and ceased trying to make it's own cowardly escape by way of my rib cage I joined in. A merry jape indeed and not only was my urgent need for the toilet completely forgotten, it was now unnecessary. Thank Azathoth I was wearing dark trousers.

We repaired to the gazebo in the garden, a sort of frame tent with anti-mosquito netting walls, where Mrs Stevie had set up a table and would server a meal of barbecued steak, asparagus, spuds, corn on the cob and I don't know what-all else. It was delicious, and only slightly marred by the heavens opening and delivering several gallons of wet into the ground on which everything stood.

I should explain about the Gazebo. We used to have a very elaborate one with fancy details in the steel corner pieces. We placed it on an area of grass under some shade trees2. It was great fun to use for dining at night, and The Stevieling used it to study in most nights. Unfortunately, it caught a strong wind during the early fall and hung itself over our back yard fence, badly bending a couple of the struts. I repaired them and we used it again the next year. That year I was less dilligent about removing the large picnic table from it after use each day and that killed all the grass that formed the floor. Then the tent part ripped and last year I didn't bother with the thing. This year, Mrs Stevie wanted a new one, so I re-sodded the grass area on the site (my plan to deck the area having foundered on the rocks of financial reality) and we acquired and erected a new gazebo on the site. The grass did well, and we opened the whole affair for business on July 4th, when we had a barbecue.

It rained all day.

I had planned for this contingency by adding a twenty-foot by ten-foot tent to the construction, but the land slopes downward at Gazebo point and some lightweight bogs and swamps formed in there. I didn't know since I was galley-slave for the day and didn't get to sit down until the late afternoon. Then we had a July 6th barbecue and the weather did the same. Two days of trampling, dark and wet, in which it wasn't possible to remove the table and let in some light, has pretty much killed the new grass. It is all very tiresome.

Anyway, we all had a very nice dinner and things weren't too bad until an impromptu monsoon chose to visit us. In no time at all we had to abandon Gazebo and return to the stifling environs of Chateau Stevie, where Mrs Stevie announced she had coffeeand cake waiting. I let everyone bolt, but I had to move the table out because the ground was so soft now it would actually start sinking into the lawn if I didn't, so I got much soaked before I could seek refuge from the rain. It was pitch dark by now, but fortunately the lightning playing around the sky provided enough illumination for me to finish the task. I reflected that at least I was finally getting the shower I so desperately wanted and needeed.

I joined the others and attempted to lighten the mood with some music. This was a mistake, and things began an inexorable slide into fiasco and recrimination from that point.

On Saturday I had come into the house in the afternoon to discover that someone had turned on the stereo, and that it had been cooking itself for hours. The glass door to the stack was hot to the touch and there was no where for the heat to go since the ambient temperature was Swelter Factor 9 and had been all day. I let out a yelp and grabbed the X103 remote I use to control the various appliances in that room, and cut the power. This was also a mistake, because I wasn't aware that Mrs Stevie had been listening to a book on disc and had paused the CD player rather than stopping it.

For those who have never seen the inside of a rack-mount CD player, I will explain. Our unit, a JVC player of 1987 vintage, has a single play drawer and a six-disc magazine. The magazine has six slots containing slides which hold the discs. The single play drawer also has a slide, though you could be forgiven for not knowing that since it looks like part of the drawer when it's open.

When a disc is inserted in the unit and the drawer closed (or magazine inserted) the disc simply sits in the slide and the slide sits where it was put. When the "play" button is pressed, an elevator is positioned behind the slide, either one of the magazine slots or the single-play drawer, and a hook extends and withdraws the slide (with its disc load) inside the elevator. Once the slide is inside the elevator, the whole assembly descends to the transport mechanism, which spins up the disc and contains the laser transcription head.

It is all very interesting to see and always induces colly-wobbles of no mean magnitude in your humble scribe when he contemplates the shear number of micro-switches, elaborate gear trains and electric servo motors needed to pull it all off. Not only is there the obvious motor/reduction gear/rack and pinion affair necessary to just open and close the drawer, there is another to pull out the slides and a motor/reduction gear/spiral rack and pinion arrangement needed to drive the elevator. That doesn't include the simple solenoid that ejects the magazine, which only has about four moving parts and is therefore a model of mechanical brevity where this CD player is concerned.

Back to the party.

When I powered up the CD player, the display showed gibberish. It said it was playing a disk, but that there was no playable surface under the head (it said it in different terms, but I'm an old hand at interpreting Hi-Fi displays and translating to real world conditions and I'll spare you the blow-by-blow account of the display, which would require several diagrams copyrighted by JVC and yet more of this interminable drool). I ejected the single play tray, which wouldn't eject at first, then coughed up the disc Mrs Stevie had paused so many days ago, which had a gratifying amount of filth on it, being a public library disc. I loaded In Reel Time, a fake live album by Fairport Convention that is always popular, turned the volume way down and pressed play. I was rewarded by the sound of a fast spinning motor and no music to speak of.

Five minutes of fiddling did nothing but persuade me that the CD player was now hors de combat and drive my temper a little south of bad. Mrs Stevie denied all knowledge of course, then fessed up to pausing her disc "to take a phone call" on Saturday. I slipped into being lightly livid. It is one of my bugbears that the women in my house treat our technology as both indispensable and indestructible. They treat it like it was Lego or Playmobil and look completely surprised when these delicate precision instruments respond by falling apart. Mrs Stevie would have none of it though. She wanted to serve the cake and was not going to put up with any nonsense just because the CD player wasn't working. I loaded the disc into the DVD player and grumpily went to do the candle thing.

Though I wasn't in the mood for cake any more, I was considerably cheered when Mrs Stevie unboxed it only to find that the icing had sloughed off the cake and formed a puddle around the base. This was a temperature-related infrastructure failure that anyone could understand. The cake now sported upon its upper surface a sort of Dali-esque message of felicitous wishes me-ward, distorted beyond anyone's ability to extract the original sentiment, bare sponge-cake sides and a stylish crater of buttery goodness gluing it all to the box it came in. To this, Mrs Stevie added two or three handfulls of decorative candles, which she lit. The heat from these was so intense I was forced to improvise a Red Adair-like shield from aluminum foil and the lid of the cake box in order to blow them out in the time-honoured tradition of spreading one's respiratory infections to all who wish one well. Even so I lost a half-inch of hair (already in short supply) and both eyebrows to the blaze before it was extinguished.

At the height of the recriminations my sister called to gloat that she was still almost three years younger than me. Apparently, this is a source of yearly amazement to her. I conveyed my traditional wish that her house wastepipe be struck by lightning while she was bathing and she hung up so my mum and dad could have a turn. I don't remember the details of their call other than that they still loved me and would continue to do so no matter what I did. I thanked them for that and they went back to whatever they do when they are out of sight of sane people.

Eventually everyone went home and left me to wonder how I was going to resurrect a dead stereo. I'm not sure, what with the preponderance of mp3-based music currently fooling those who either don't care about music quality or who can't hear it no matter how Hi the Fi, that affordable rack-mount CD players are still available. I got blindsided by the overnight disappearance of the LP in 19874 so I take nothing for granted any more.

But there was cake.

  1. The Long Island Power Authority, the source of electricity for the poor bastards who live under their evil dominion
  2. One of which was the incorrigible niusance that I half cut down two episodes or so ago
  3. A way of using your house wiring as a control network for your lights, radio, anything that plusg in. I can operate a number of living room things from a single wireless remote control
  4. Which is why we bought the CD player in the first place - you literally couldn't buy an LP any more in Deer Park or its neighbouring towns. I went out to get a record and ended up having to buy a CD player. It took weeks to get over the shock

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


This morning I was surprised out of a sound sleep by Mrs Stevie.

I was a bit muggy and feather-brained as it was a very-much needed sleep indeed, but I still managed to get into a respectable defensive posture in three seconds or so, rolling myself in the mattress so as to present nil areas of vulnerability to the vile haridan's fiendish attack modes while warning her off with my trademark falsetto warshriek. From inside my stifling antiballistic posturepedic carapace I could just see she had brought in reinforcements - The Stevieling.

This gave me pause. Mrs Stevie is in an almost constant state of strife with The Stevieling. It simply wasn't possible for them to form an alliance to do me harm, since they would never be able to shelve their own deep-seated differences long enough to co-ordinate maneuvers vis-a-vis my good self.

Which was why I actually complied with the demand to "stop being stupid, unroll and pay attention, idiot!"

Mrs Stevie handed me a glass of orange juice, which I naturally viewed with deep suspicion. I sniffed it, but didn't expect to detect the odour of bitter almonds since Mrs Stevie is far too sophisticated to introduce smelly pollutants into my food or drink. No odour. I thought for a minute but the only poison that was odourless that I could remember with any clarity was Iocaine powder, which has the singular property that it doesn't exist outside of the film The Princess Bride. Oh, I knew there were real odourless poisons, I just couldn't remember them.

"What's this?" I asked, stalling for time.

"Orange juice!" said The Stevieling. "We brought it for you as a treat."

I sipped thoughtfully on the juice as I formulated my witty response. Did the child think I was foolish enough to drink juice I hadn't witnessed being poured? I brooded silently, then handed Mrs Stevie the empty glass, still not sure how I would handle the situation.

"This is for you" said The Stevieling and handed me a bag containing a new Risk game for my collection. What on earth was going on?

Mrs Stevie then handed me an envelope that proved to contain a greeting card and three tickets to the last-but-one concert the reformed Police will perform, at Jones Beach.

What the hell was going on? Perhaps Mrs Stevie had done something she was apologising for, but that would be unheard of. Not the doing, the apologising. The Stevieling then insisted I come to the computer to watch an animation she had written staring an anime version of myself, which I did and which was charming and startling seeing as no-one showed her how to use the particularly twisty version of Flash I own. I never mastered it myself.

As the credits rolled it became obvious what the whole affair was about. I had quite forgotten.

I hope there will be cake.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Poles Apart

Well, not so much, really.

You, dear readers 1, probably assumed I'd forgotten to tell you when the men from the telephone company took down the badly cracked pole leaving me with only one. Maybe you thought that the results of the pole-guying fiasco I had prophesied had not come to pass and that I was quietly letting the story fade away from your collective memories.

You will be happy to know that the badly damaged pole is still standing outside, next to the "good" pole, which seems to be being undermined by hydraulic run-off. The "good" pole has, as predicted, adopted an alarming lean due to the guy wire being not in line with the pole-to-ground-cleat tether. Fortunately, the broken pole, still holding up cable TV wires 2, has been secured to the "good" pole by a couple of loops of old rope someone had in the truck.

It's good here, innit?

  1. Three, at last count
  2. I have no doubt the CTV crews, which use spiky shoes and a rope sling to climb the poles, took one look at the splintered foot of the old 3 pole and said "No bleeping way!"
  3. A relative term, said pole having been in place a mere 18 months after replacing the pole knocked in two by another stupid kid in a car who thought you could just sit there and the car would drive itself like they do on TV