Saturday, July 4, 2009

Personal empowerment through skill acquisition (or how I fixed a Vtech Tote 'n Go)

Phew, what a poncy title! Well, that's me through and through :) But what I wanted to post about was how empowering learning something pretty simple like soldering has been for me.

The kids have been playing with various incarnations of Vtech laptops (ones that play 'learning' games to do with letters and numbers). Their first laptop, the Vtech Tote 'n Go, broke about 6 months ago, the speaker stopped working as did the mouse button. Normally, that'd mean landfill for this big bit of plastic, but, having learned a little bit of electronics, I took it apart to see if I could figure out what was wrong.

It turns out that the speaker wires had broken off and the small push button inside the mouse had broken completely. I got the speaker wire soldered back in place the same day, but the button fix had to wait a while. I was tempted to hack together some Frankenstein creation using the huge push buttons I bought ages ago, but decided against it (I'm sure the kids would have loved it though).

I recently found (see the solar power upgrade to the fireflies) and, as part of the initial order, I bought some small push buttons which were exact matches for the one in the kids laptop. So I took a second stab at fixing it. I couldn't successfully de-solder the original button, so I just clipped it off, trimmed the leads of the replacement and soldered it in place.

All very simple stuff. I left the laptop out somewhere I knew the kids would find it and the next morning I hear our youngest waking up our oldest by crying "Carys! Carys! Come see! Come see! The monkey laptop! It's working!". It was lovely.

The shocking part of this is that our friends have the same laptop and it's mouse button has stopped working as well. I'll fix that one too, but it must mean that loads of these things become landfill just because a single button breaks...


Anonymous said...

Apparently some of them make it to the thrift stores, as I've just bought two. One has a broken mouse button (I already fixed the wire that detected moving the mouse, but can't get past a stripped screw to help the button!) and the other has a broken speaker.

Glad to see other people are trying to fix them instead of trashing them!

Olymom said...

I have the same problem. All wires looked like they were in place so I think the push button has failed. To test this I clipped the wires that led to it and manually connected them but it still doesn't register/choose an activity. Could it still be the button circuit?