Curiosity killed the camera

Earlier today a co-worker sent a link to a pictorial of a camera being disassembled, the point being how fantastically complicated it is compared to the device we make. It reminded me of this story:

A couple of years ago, the hardware guru at work, Sue, let me sit at her workbench and use her tools to try to repair my Canon Powershot digital camera, a midrange point-and-shoot model. On powerup, a tiny servomotor was supposed to telescope the lens barrel out of the camera body (just as hundreds of models do). Mine had stopped operating smoothly. The barrel, or the protective shutter in front of the lens, would get stuck halfway through an open or close cycle. I’d already gotten an estimate on a professional repair that was prohibitively long and expensive. Might as well give it a try myself and, at worst, buy a new camera.

I thought that by disassembling it as far as the lens barrel, I might be able to dislodge any grit or whatever was blocking its smooth operation, provided it wasn’t actually an electrical problem in the servo or anything else. I took out the batteries, then started removing screws and laying them carefully on the workbench in a way that might allow me to remember how they were all supposed to be put back together. But I was only able to remove tiny bits of camera at a time. Dozens of removed parts later it still looked pretty much like a camera. It was like the dance of the seven veils.

Before long there were so many screws and bits of camera shell and buttons and retainer rings and spacers on the workbench that it was clear it would never all go back together. But I pressed on anyway out of stubbornness and curiosity. Until the camera blew up in my hands.

Yes, I had forgotten about the giant capacitor that powers the flash. It discharged painfully into my fingertips with a loud BANG, a tiny shower of sparks, and of course the magic blue smoke. And that was the end of that. Now a little pissed, I spent another minute or two manhandling the (now slightly charred) camera just to get a glimpse inside the lens barrel by any means necessary. When I finally ripped it apart enough, there appeared to be nothing obvious I could have done anyway to fix it. I swept all the pieces into the trash as the phrase, “No user-serviceable parts” repeated over and over in my head.

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