A good place

A Good Place: Mr. Carlson’s electronics YouTube makes every problem seem manageable

It takes 47 minutes to fix an oscillope, but we know how to do it, and that even hard problems eventually get solved.

A good place

A Good Place: Mr. Carlson’s electronics YouTube makes every problem seem manageable

It takes 47 minutes to fix an oscillope, but we know how to do it, and that even hard problems eventually get solved.
A good place

A Good Place: Mr. Carlson’s electronics YouTube makes every problem seem manageable

It takes 47 minutes to fix an oscillope, but we know how to do it, and that even hard problems eventually get solved.

The internet is too much,
but this place is just right.

As a video and assignment editor for the past seven years, I'm often required to stay up late into the night, waiting for a video encode to finish or for an expected bit of news to come out. Other times, I'm working well into the early morning hours trying to solve a hardware problem, code a tool in a language I don't quite understand, or mentally sort through a dicey personal situation simply because it’s the only time of day I know I won’t be interrupted by news breaking.

In any case, I still end up getting to bed even later than I’d planned thanks to Paul Carlson, the guy I invite to share my lonely office with me.

Carlson's series of videos on his "Mr. Carlson's Lab" YouTube page invite viewers into one absolutely bonkers laboratory of vintage electronic and testing equipment, each narrated by the disturbingly pleasant Canadian whose elaborate and intricate demonstrations of how to repair, say, a 75-year-old oscilloscope somehow manage to be absolutely mesmerizing.

Carlson’s YouTube page is a dazzling array of videos; it’s difficult to choose one that illustrates just how addictive his lessons on electronics are, but my favorite thus far is his 2017 demonstration of an ancient AM radio transmitter (which, of course, he has restored to full functionality).

Mr. Carson demonstrates an old AM radio transmitter.

“Mr. Carlson” calmly walks us through every single component of the transmitter, describing its purpose and (more importantly) how that component works. From potentiometers to ammeters to vacuum tubes, over the course of 40 minutes we learn exactly how this vintage beast took audio and turned it into radio waves; Carlson even takes us inside the transmitter itself, while it's turned on, to illustrate the glowing rectifiers. I spent a lifetime not understanding (and not particularly caring) how vacuum tubes work. Thanks to Mr. Carlson's Lab, I now possess this (entirely useless) knowledge.

No reasonable person would care so much about antiquated, obsolete hardware. But no reasonable person would take on the time-consuming, often frivolous projects that creep into my late-night working hours, either, so I find in Paul Carlson a twinned spirit. And as I watch him slowly disassemble a complex, and seriously broken, piece of equipment — and then methodically repair and reassemble it — it makes any relationship conflict or personal struggle seem so small, simple, and easily resolved by comparison.

But it’s not just his illustrations of vintage equipment that make Mr. Carlson my late-night office buddy. Carlson is perhaps most noted for his obsessive attention to detail in repairing equipment that presumably has no reason to exist this century, but is regardless treated as a precious and valuable prize once introduced to "the Lab."

Earlier this year Carlson pulled a transformer from a malfunctioning oscilloscope in order to repair it. I am telling you that this is a 47-minute video on the internet of a man fixing a small electronic component. In 2018. It does not sound compelling. It is very compelling!

It’s compelling because Carlson goes to great lengths to explain the electronic theory behind what he's doing, and he has several self-built tools to illustrate it: in this case, the transformer houses a leaky capacitor confirmed by Carlson's homemade leakage tester (the operation of which he also describes at length). Unfortunately, the capacitor in question is potted inside the transformer, in a block of tar. Carlson's solution? Hacking an old toaster oven into a tar-melting depotter that frees the components from their black grave and makes the final repair possible.

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