As if to underline the already bleeding obvious, today my desk clutter hit the point of self-destruction when I exitted my chair and pulled the headphone cord with me. It snapped at the plug. Worse would have been to break the actual jack in the laptop (or maybe drag the laptop off the desk). It wasn't a happy moment though.
I was undaunted. Radio Shack sold me a new plug, I scoffed at the assistant when he apologized that the only one he had required soldering, and set it aside at home for later.
Later, I snipped off the broken plug and explored it a little. There's 3 wires in there - red, orange (uncoated?) and green. It was just possible to determine which had gone where, and the new plug was similar in form. Some fiddly work later, I had all 3 wires hooked into their little holes and ready for soldering. The paint/laquer seemed to be all that was insulting the wires (from each other), and I scraped some of that off. I started to sweat when the solder wouldnt take. The gold plated terminals loved it - the wire didnt. I dont think the result would get me a diploma anywhere, but after some more scuffing it took. Not quite in that nice flowing way where the wire sucks the solder onto it. But good enough.
I screwed the thing back together, and held my breath as I fired up iTunes and plugged the headphones back in. Sods Law (or Murphy's Law in these parts) holds sway always at these moments: If It Can Go Wrong It Will. When did you ever lurch over-confidently into any project not really knowing what the hell you were doing and pull it off first time? Especially when there's expensive equipment at stake. So I was pleasantly surprised when I got audio. My little grin got wider when I listened hard to a cd and discovered no hiss, no crackle or fuzz. A happy moment.
Then and only then did it occur to me to Google. First hit: How to Replace a Headphone Plug. Always RTFM - preferably before - but if its already worked you get the added bonus that it will actually make sense, and maybe pick up a couple of tips for next time.