No user Serviceable Parts Inside? The rise of the Fix-It Culture

pix-tv-repair-shop
[Source: 1950s Television]
My first job out of high school was in a TV shop. I was hired mainly for muscle; this was the early 1980s and we sold a lot of console TVs that always seemed to need to be delivered to the third floor of a walk up. But I also got to do repair work on TVs and stereos, and I loved it. Old TVs from the 60s and 70s would come in, with their pre-PCB construction and hand-wired chassis full of terminal strips and point to point wiring that must have been an absolute nightmare to manufacture. We’d replace dodgy caps, swap out tubes, clean the mechanical tuners, and sometimes put a new picture tube in  – always the diagnosis that customers dreaded the most, like being told they’d need a heart transplant. We kept those old sets alive, and our customers felt like they were protecting their investment in their magnificent Admiral or Magnavox console with the genuine – and very, very heavy – walnut cabinet.

I managed to learn a lot from my time as a TV repairman, and I got the bug for keeping things working well past the point which a reasonable person would recognize as the time to go shopping for a new one. Fixing stuff is where I really shine, and my house is full of epic (in my mind, at least) repairs that have saved the family tens of thousands of dollars over the years. Dishwasher making a funny noise? I’ll just pull it out to take a look. You say there’s a little shimmy in the front end when you brake? Pull the car into the garage and we’ll yank the wheels off. There’s basically nothing I won’t at least try to fix, and more often than not, I succeed.

I assumed that my fix-it bug made me part of a dying breed of cheapskates and skinflints, but it appears that I was wrong. The fix-it movement seems to be pretty healthy right now, fueled in part by the explosion in information that’s available to anyone with basic internet skills.

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Mechanical Watch Hacker Gets an Apple Watch

Mechanical watch enthusiasts see the Apple watch as a threat to the traditional gear train. It does not tick, requires frequent re-charging, and it’s certainly not the most attractive of watches. But it can direct you to the local coffee shop, allow you to communicate with friends anywhere in the world, get you onto an airplane after the most awkward of arm gestures, and keep you apprised of the latest NCAA basketball scores. Is the advent of the smart watch the end to the mechanical watch?
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Tearing Down The Apple Watch

The Apple Watch has been out for nearly a month now, but so far we haven’t seen a good look at the guts of this little metal bauble of electronic jewelry. Lucky for us that a company in China is hard at work poking around inside the Apple Watch and putting up a few incredible SEM images along the way (Google Translatrix).

This isn’t the first Apple Watch teardown that’s hit the intertubes – iFixit tore one apart with spudgers and tiny screwdrivers and found someone skilled in the ways of tiny parts could probably replace the battery in this watch. Shocking for an Apple product, really. iFixit also took a look at the watch with an x-ray, revealing a little bit of the high-level design of the Apple Watch, the Apple S1 computer on a chip, and how all the sensors inside this wearable work.

A side view of a 6-DOF IMU
A side view of a 6-DOF IMU

This teardown uses an incredible amount of very high-tech equipment to peer inside the Apple Watch. Because of this, it’s probably one of the best examples of showing how these tiny sensors actually work. With some very cool images, a 6-DOF IMU is revealed and the Knowles MEMS microphone is shown to be a relatively simple, if very small part.

Now the Apple S1, the tiny 26.15mm x 28.50mm computer on a chip, serves as the brains of the Apple Watch. It’s breathtakingly thin, only 1.16mm, but still handles all the processing in the device.

Even if you won’t be buying this electronic accessory, you’ve got to respect the amazing amount of engineering that went into this tiny metal bauble of semiconductors and sensors.

Upgrading A Microsoft Surface To A 1 TB SSD

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a neat little tablet, and with an i7 processor, a decent-resolution display, and running a full Windows 8.1 Pro, it’s the closest you’re going to get to a desktop in tablet format. Upgrading the Surface Pro 3, on the other hand, is nigh impossible. iFixit destroyed the display in their teardown, as did CNET. [Jorge] wanted to upgrade his Surface Pro 3 with a 1 TB SSD, and where there’s a will there’s a way. In this case, a very precise application of advanced Dremel technology.

Taking a Surface Pro 3 apart the traditional way with heat guns, spudgers, and a vast array of screwdrivers obviously wasn’t going to work. Instead, [Jorge] thought laterally; the mSSD is tucked away behind some plastic that is normally hidden by the small kickstand integrated into the Surface. If [Jorge] could cut a hole in the case to reveal the mSSD, the resulting patch hole would be completely invisible most of the time. And so enters the Dremel.

By taking some teardown pictures of the Surface Pro 3, printing them out to scale, and aligning them to the device he had in his hand, [Jorge] had a very, very good idea of where to make the incision. A Dremel with a carbide bit was brought out to cut into the metal, and after a few nerve-wracking minutes the SSD was exposed.

The only remaining task was to clone the old drive onto the new one, stuff it back in the Surface, and patch everything up. [Jorge] is using some cardboard and foam, but a sticker would do just as well. Remember, this mod is only visible when the Surface kickstand is deployed, so it doesn’t have to look spectacular.

Thanks [fridgefire] and [Neolker] for sending this in.

Ask Hackaday: Is Amazon Echo the Future of Home Automation?

Unless you’ve been living under a case of 1 farad capacitors, you’ve heard of the Amazon Echo. Roughly the size of two cans of beans, the Echo packs quite a punch for such a small package. It’s powered by a Texas Instrument DM3725 processor riding on 256 megs of RAM and 4 gigs of SanDisk iNAND ultra flash memory. Qualcomm Atheros takes care of the WiFi and Bluetooth, and various TI chips take care of the audio codecs and amplifiers.

What’s unique about Echo is its amazing voice recognition. While the “brains” of the Echo exist somewhere on the Internets, the hardware for this circuitry is straight forward. Seven, yes seven microphones are positioned around the top of the device. They feed into four Texas Instrument 92dB SNR low-power stereo ADCs. The hardware and software make for a very capable voice recognition that works from anywhere in the room. For the output sound, two speakers are utilized – a woofer and a tweeter. They’re both powered via a TI 15 watts class D amplifier. Check out this full tear down for more details of the hardware.

circuit board

Now that we have a good idea of the hardware, we have to accept the bad news that this is a closed source device. While we’ve seen other hacks where people poll the to-do list through the unofficial API, it still leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, the wake word, or the word which signals the Echo to start listening to commands, is either “Alexa” or “Amazon”. There is no other way to change this, even though it should be easily doable in the software. It should be obvious that people will want to call it “Computer” or “Jarvis”. But do not fret my hacker friends, for I have good news!

It appears that Amazon sees (or had seen all along) that home automation is the future of the Echo. They now officially support Philips Hue and Belkin WeMo gadgets. The Belkin WeMo, which is no stranger to the hacker’s workbench, has a good handle on home automation already, making the ability to control things in your house with the Echo tantalizingly close. See the video below where I test it out. Now, if you’re not excited yet, you haven’t heard of the WeMo Maker, a device which they claim will let you “Control nearly any low-voltage electronics device“. While the WeMo Maker is not supported as of yet, it surely will be in the near future.

We know it sucks that all of this is closed source. But it sure is cool! So here’s the question: Is the Echo the future of home automation? Sure, it has its obvious flaws, and one would think home automation is not exactly Amazon’s most direct business model (they just want you to buy stuff). However, it works very well as a home automation core. Possibility better than anything out there right now – both closed and open source.

Do you think Amazon would ever open the door to letting the Echo run open source modules which allow the community to add control of just about any wireless devices? Do you think that doing so would crown Amazon the king of home automation in the years to come?

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Reflowing an Entire MacBook Pro

[Sterling]’s MacBook Pro has a propensity to heat up at times. Some of this overheating is due to to what he uses his Mac for – gaming and making music. A larger part of this overheating is that this laptop is a consumer electronics device – it’s going to die sooner or later. One day in March, this laptop bit the bullet, and that’s where this story gets interesting.

Before the MacBook died, [Sterling] was logging temps between 80 and 90ºC, with a maximum of 102º. The simple fixes, compressed air, a laptop stand, and running the fans full blast all the time didn’t help. When the laptop died, [Sterling] was pretty sure some solder joints came loose. Sending the logic board off to a place that specializes in reflowing would take weeks. A more drastic plan of attack was necessary.

[Sterling] disconnected all the wires, connectors, and heat sinks and preheated his oven to 340º F. The logic board was placed on a cookie tray and stuffed into the oven for seven long minutes. Thermal paste was reapplied, heat sinks reinstalled, connectors connected, and the machine booted. It worked great for about eight months with temperatures averaging around 60 or 70º C.

Two weeks ago, the laptop died again. This time it was reflowed with a heat gun and ran for about an hour. The third attempt was the cookie sheet again, only this time [Sterling] added something. Speed holes. Or vents, or whatever else you want to call them.

Now there’s a noticeably increased airflow in the Mac, much better than before. Average temps are back down to 40 or 50º C, lower than they were with just a reflow. The jury is still out if this new addition can go the distance, but with any luck, this mod might make it through 2015.

Thanks [Doug] for the tip.

Fixing Ghost Touch In The OnePlus One

The OnePlus One is the flagship phone killer for 2014, available only by invite, and thus extremely cool. So far it’s a limited production run and there will, of course, be problems with the first few thousand units. When [vantt1] got his One, he noticed a few issues with the touch screen. Some touches wouldn’t be registered, typing was unpredictable, and generally, the touchscreen was unusable. [vantt] had seen this before, though, so with a complete teardown and a quick fix he was able to turn this phone into something great.

[vantt] realized the symptoms of a crappy touchscreen were extremely similar to an iPad mini that had recently had its digitizer replace. From the Foxconn plant, the digitizer in the iPad mini is well insulated from the aluminium enclosure. When the screen and digitizer are replaced, the cable connecting it to the rest of the iPad can come in contact with the case. This leads to the same symptoms – missed touches, and unpredictable typing.

Figuring the same cure will fix the same symptoms, [vantt] tore apart his OnePlus One and carefully taped off the digitizer flex cable. Reassembling the phone, everything worked beautifully, and without any extra screws in the reassembly process. You can’t do better than that.