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Thursday, 06 December 2007 10:09

Knights of the Soldering Iron

ShrinkAge has just come upon a question in an online forum that we realise marks a sort of Mason-Dixon Line between those of us who are TechnoPlods, and the digital nobility - what we call TechnoPeers. We just came across that question in the online forum devoted to the Asus Eee PC at eeeuser.com. The question is this: "What size soldering iron?"

You can probably guess the implicit message behind this question. Yes, somebody wants to know the precise size of the soldering iron tip which one requires to begin tampering with the interior workings of the Eee PC.

We're not completely unfamiliar with soldering irons. We can remember employing one now and then when we were putting together PCs back in the 80s. But even the tiniest nerve ending in our system shrieks at the very thought of opening the Eee's case and applying a piece of heated metal to its circuitry.

Look at it this way. It wasn't easy to get hold of this thing. It took until approximately 1.30pm today, applying every bit of skullduggery we could muster, to track down a single Eee PC that had somehow escaped the clutches of who knows how many desperate would-be buyers at the Myer department store chain.

Apparently the poor little thing had spent the last few days hiding somewhere in the HighPoint shopping centre, and had possibly only been spotted when it slipped out for a quick Eee pee-pee. Immediately we learned of its existence, however, we zoomed out there on the Scarabeo 250 and begged the shopping assistant to take a $499 bite out of our credit card and hand it over, which, very generously, she did.

Returning to ShrinkAge Central, we set about commissioning our brand new love object. We can be quite brutal with BIOSes and drivers. We can take a claw hammer to a Registry. We're perfectly happy to do the basic hacking   that dramatically improves the Eee PC's interface. But when it comes to, say, wiring up a USB port  and switching voltages from 5v to 3.5v, we can feel our mouth starting to dry out.
It's therefore extremely daunting for us to discover that we have innocently joined up to a community of people with the instincts of Dr Frankenstein. You'll get the drift by taking a look at the messages being posted in the Hacks and Modifications section of eeeuser.com.

They've hardly had their precious little computers more than a matter of weeks, and they're attaching SD card readers, USB hubs, and Bluetooth adapters, they're building their own PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards if you must know) and discussing, with a terrifying insouciance, switching screens and WebCams and who knows what else.

This, it seems, is a necessary rite of passage for those of us who want to be fully paid-up members of the Shrink Age. Forget about manuals and that little line in the EULA (End User Licence Agreement) about voiding the warranty. Buy yourself a soldering iron!  What you need, apparently, is the 15W model from Radio Shack, which comes with a very fine tip. Or a nice temperature-controlled Weller. Gulp!


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