Fans of my life will recall the Great Aerolineas Argentinas Baggage Robbery of 2004. One of the victims of the thieving baggage handlers was a portable travel alarm clock. This was a small LCD display item, that served just the purpose I needed, so I had to hunt around for a bit to find a replacement, and eventually found this (honestly, must have taken about five minutes and $10 in WalMart).
This roughly worked, and spent most of the time living on my shelf in the living room, with brief trips to Canada, Japan nd parts of Europe. Last week it developed a fault. If you look at the picture in the link above you'll see that it has four settings: time set, alarm set, alarm on and alarm off. It should spend most of its time in the "Alarm off" mode, just displaying the time. But for some reason, although the switch was set to off, the alarm symbol on the display was on. No amount of fiddling with the switch, blowing on it, etc., would get the symobol off. I ignored it, but the next morning at the appointed time, the alarm started going off. I tried taking the battery our and other basic tricks, but to no avail: the clock was in permanent alartm mode.
So tonight I decided to have a go at fixing it. I am of course completely incompetent with electronics (that's hardware; I do software). I unscrewed the back 4 tiny screws, to find that the PCB was held on to the front with eight even tinier screws. Hopeing that this would not keep going in some infinite recursion, I took them off, and inspected the front of the PCB. I cleaned some dust off, wiggled the switch around and put the battery back in. The alarm indicator was still on, and the alarm still went off when the time came round. Should I just bin this and spend another $10 on a new alarm clock?
In what I can only describe as a stroke of genius, I saw a solution. Trailing from the back of the electronics was a pair of wire going into a mini speaker that made the alarm go off. I screwed the tinier screws back on, and checked that the thing still worked. Then, with the utmost of care, I pulled the wires out of the speaker. Now when the alarm "goes off", no sound can be heard. And that's what I wanted. Sure, it's now only a clock, instead of an alarm clock, and for some reason the "nighlight" feature that allows you to read the time in the dark no longer works, but I claim this as a concrete result. Besides, my cell phone and MP3 player and socks now all seem to have alarm clocks and lights built in as throwaway extra features.
So there you go. The message is in this era of disposable goods and it being cheaper to replace than repair, the well intentioned amateur can still take stuff apart and reassemble it with only slightly less functionality at the end than at the beginning. A triumph for the small consumer.