Minibus Taxi Havoc

Again we hear this week about passengers been killed in a minibus. This time 9 schoolkids going to school, killed at a raiwlway intersection in Blackheath. Blackheath is notorious for these incidents, driver negligence been the 100% common factor. I hear on the news that the driver actually passed cars stopped at the boom to get over the lines, possibly to gain time. Clever move. The question remains – where do we stand right now? There is a huge outcry, a lot of thunder and lightning from the road traffic authorities for a week and then things go back to normal.  Of course we hear for the unmpteenth time that parents must be careful about whom the kids drive with. “Look at the driver’s credentials” they say.   Well, sorry folks, that is not going to cut it.. Continue reading “Minibus Taxi Havoc”

My Kingdon for a Horse!

So at present, until such time we get more visits we use this as a gap filler. Let me tell you about areas of concern in the spare parts industry and unfortunately how it is linked to your country of residence.

I was in Taiwan on business for a few months and was amazed at how many repair centers there were for motorcycles and scooters. Virtually every block has at least three. Because everyone drives one. I live in South Africa where scooters are becoming more and more popular – they are cheap and economical to commute with. A 200cc ”off roader” will set you back between 2000U$ to 3000U$. Now in bounces the issue. I know a lot of guys riding these bikes but very few can afford the servicing. In Cape Town for instance some commuters drive an average of 1000Km per month which is heavy going for a small capacity machine of 90cc to 200cc.  As we all know, motorcycles must be maintained daily – your personal safety depends on it. Yet most of these commuters cannot afford it. A guy I know could not afford a chain so when it came to the end of allowable adjustment (which was then past the safety gap) he removed a few links. Although he has good mechanical inclination and knew the dangers he could not afford a new chain. When he could afford a new chain he only purchased a chain, no sprockets. I asked him what it would cost for the chain and sprockets and I was overwhelmed when I heard the answer – 200U$. (for a 90cc) 1/10 of what he paid for the bike. So like the inkjet printers of today the dealers are treating chains and sprockets like consumables – “you want to buy a cheap bike I’ll make my profit off you somewhere else”. I am apalled by this but this is the nature of business. Motorcycle repair shops have enormous overheads. But also herein lies the problem – education. There are companies in Cape Town that can supply you with the same chain and sprockets for a fraction of this price because it’s their core business. These companies should advertise here. Chinese government should be looking at our infrastructure and have reputed dealers put into place – not fly by nights and scam artists. This is a developing nation and I’d like to see more two wheelers on the road, plus more education from the traffic authorities. I’d like to see complete small capacity engines been imported. I’d like to see the schooling system adapting training programs for the kids to ride motorcycles. I don’t see this because we are blinded by quick profits. This is what Parts-Ring is all about. Education and Direction.

dark_ages

In the electronics sector we have a huge problem – we are educated to believe that if something goes faulty we must dump. How are the landfills looking? But yet, local schoolkids are not trained in or show an interest in electronics. Google has the answers. I deal with a lot of young people every day and the thing that surprises me most is the arrogance abounding – read “ignorance with attitude”.  Much of what we learn nowadays is on the internet. This does not make us an engineer. I would like to see schools training kids in electronics. Why? Because there’s maths and science involved – what a better way to show kids safely how maths and science can be used to build electronic circuits. A wonderful way to show the practical aspects of these two subjects coming into play. When I compare Australia to South Africa its very evident which country has the better schooling in place. With maths and science we may have engineers. With more engineers we have more ideas. We look past throwaway items and look into recycable items. We try to make things work before throwing them away. If we have to throw away we know what is organic and what is not.  Many faulty items do not get repaired because there are no parts available. In South Africa we lack electronic shops that focus on beginners. How many times when I was a young student being scoffed at for asking for a part which the guy behind the counter knew would not work in the circuit I was building. How many times I knew the guy was wrong but didn’t argue because I lacked confidence or may have thought that I was in fact dumb. Most electronic engineers that I have spoken to over the years (the guys with a degree behind their name) are not arrogant people – they are smart, understanding and want to help. Again it comes down to advertising what you are best at – good engineers come at a price, like school teachers. This website is aimed at beginners, students, teachers and yes, engineers. We need more electronic shops that focus on beginners and hopefully make young minds active. Everyone these days wants to become a computer repairman. Believe me, it’s not as glitzy as you think.  But to make your computer do something through one of the I/O ports is glitzy. Then you deserve a pat on the back. Electronics can be a very cheap and educational hobby.

dark_ages_again

As we are all aware there has been a huge surge in the race to find alternative fuels. We have electric cars which are charged through our coal burning steam turbine driven alternators, we have hydrogen cells that can’t just be refueled anywhere and we have had attempts to make cars run on water. The cheapest and cleanest form of energy known to mankind is still nuclear so where does this leave us? We dabble with solar cells, wind and waves. We have brilliant scientists but lack scientists. We have brilliant engineers but lack engineers. With this in mind I often think of Shakespeare’s words of wisdom, “My Kingdom for a horse”. Are we looking at the root cause of our power problems, changing this intelligently so we always have a solution for future problems  or building on existing structures that are already so flimsy that an alternative fuel is not going to be a solution. I think we need to look at the population explosion. I think we need to look at how houses are been built currently without the option of various sources of power / energy been installed. I think we do need to look at our public transport systems. I think we need to look at why our children are been brought up to look for quick fixes and all things materialistic. Because right now I see ourselves heading for the dark ages again. “My kingdon for a horse”. 

Classy Audio at a price

Classy Audio - the Gryphon Solo Monoblock

 Classy Audio – beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I recently had the pleasure of listening to a high end audio system costing 3000U$, NAD amp and Mission speakers.

Classy Audio - the Gryphon Solo Monoblock
Gryphon Antileon Solo Monoblock – source: Manuel María (Wiki)

When I left the showroom I felt that there was something lacking in the audio. Make no bones about it, the sound was incredible but it did not give me that tingly feeling which it should have if I was to part with 3000U$.  Paying out a few thousand more would not have done the trick either – I was looking for something different.

[GARD]

Classy Audio – money doesn’t always do it!

I don’t always think that money, lots of it, buys you the best in audio. Good audio is all around your own listening pleasure, not necessarily something which can obtained through the advertised high specification sheet in front of you. An audio amplifier, actually most types of amplifier should faithfully reproduce an output exactly the same as it’s input, the magnitude been the only difference. The best sounding system I ever heard was an Akai 30W+30W driving a set of Technics and playing Alanis Morisette. Or was it a home brewed EL84 15W+15W into Akai speakers playing Cat Stevens. Or maybe the 150W+150W commercial pro-audio MOSFET amplifier into Wharfedales and playing “Nutbush City Limits”?

[GARD]

The list goes on and on. One needs to listen to quite a few permutations of amplifiers, speakers, music and input sources before calling it a day. Rushing out to buy a system based on price is as dangerous as buying a car based on price.

Sounds like Yesteryear

Aiwa didn’t move like the proverbial mouse and his cheese and became a member of the Sony clan. Although Sony is one of the most remarkable electronic companies around I wonder if they are also not possibly facing a too stiff competition from the Koreans. Viewsonic badged Panasonic monitors started getting made in China and my own feeling was that the high end stuff started falling over. Chinese mass produced sound systems are not like yesteryear – very much like the Japanese taking over the auto market the Chinese are coming into their own. Some of their cheaper loudspeaker drivers are starting to compare to the high end drivers from the British in the 90s. I wouldn’t be surprised that in the next five years the Chinese systems are going to be better – leaving snob value where it belongs, in the toilet. We all know what Bob Carver was famous for. I think Aiwa was better than Sony and Technics was better than Panasonic. I hear Technics was the high end part to Panasonic. Or was this where the company actually really focussed on audio gear. Modern class D audio amplifiers cost a lot of money. Why? I think our friends in Asia are going to beat the demons in the west and start mass producing audio modules at a better price and no doubt better quality as well.

As most audiophiles will tell you – poor power supply, poor audio. This has always been an amplifiers inherent weakness. Keeping costs down is not difficult considering what bridged mode power IC amplifiers cost these days. You can build a 100W RMS amplifier without a power supply for under 20U$D. In comes the power supply and up goes the price. Many amplifiers are not built to continuously power ALL channels simultaneously – the mains transformer is under specification.  Quick rule of thumb Vcc squared / 8RL gives you the continuous power an amplifier can produce at say 1000Hz.  e.g. 50V DC rail and a 4 Ohm speaker = 2500 / 32 = 80W. The reality is that as the amplifier is driven, this DC voltage drops and so the possible power output drops as well. When the amplifier is driven hard a poorly designed power supply no longer supplies DC but modulated DC, modulated by the mains frequency. Please note that I am over simplifying this – but the fact remains – poor amplifier performance is often caused by the power supply. Big amplifiers need big transformers, big electrolytics and why not regulate the DC supply. Big RF transmitters use massive transformers and regulation. The last thing one wants in a transmitter are supply rails dropping under load – You’ll have the FCC round in a flash. The same applies to an audio amplifier, except it’s your ears that will complain. Mush, hum and loss of bass.  Unfortunately big transformers cost a lot of money. Many years back a well known Britsh audiophile (I think it was John Linsley Hood) ran an article in either ETI or Elektor where they take a cheap and nasty audio amplifier and beef up the supply. The end result was all in the spec. Better bass response, better tonal quality and more headroom. All with a regulated power supply. Guys wanting to experiment at home could always try this on a soon to be discarded audio setup. It is advisable to change the output transistors though – power outputs are considerably increased for a given drive level.

So anyone wanting to buy a new shelf system just for their listening pleasure maybe should be looking at their existing system and do some modifications. There’s lots of used amplifiers out there just waiting for a quick power supply upgrade.

Wish you luck!