Don’t Tempt the Demo Gods

Including a live technical demonstration as part of a presentation is a lot like walking a tightrope without a net. Which isn’t to say that we don’t do it — we just keep our fingers crossed and bring our lucky horseshoe. The demo gods have smote [Quinn] a mighty blow, in front of a class at Stanford, no less.


[Quinn]’s scratch-built computer, Veronica, failed to boot in front of a hall of eager students. When the pressure was off, in the comfort of her own lab, [Quinn] got to debugging. You should read her blog post if you’re at all interested in retrocomputing or troubleshooting of low-level hardware bugs. But if you just can’t spare the five minutes for a pleasant read, here’s a spoiler: watch out for flaky card-edge connectors. All’s well that ends well, with a game of pong.

We’ve been following Veronica from her very first clock cycles, so we’re happy to see her back on her feet again. Good job, [Quinn]!

From Trash To TV

In days gone by, when TVs had CRTs and still came in wooden cabinets, a dead TV in a dumpster was a common sight. Consumer grade electronic devices of the 1960s and ’70s were not entirely reliable, and the inside of a domestic TV set was not the place for them to be put under least stress. If you were electronic-savvy you could either harvest these sets as a source of free components, or with relative ease fix them for a free TV set.

With today’s LCDs, integrated electronics, and electronic waste regulations, the days of free electronics in every dumpster are largely behind us. Modern TVs are more reliable, and when they reach end-of-life we’re less likely to see them.

[Sidsingh] happened to find an LCD TV in a dumpster, and being curious as to whether he could fix it or salvage some components, cracked it open to take a look.

He found that somebody had already been into the set and that some components on the PSU and backlight boards showed evidence of magic smoke escaping, having been desoldered by the previous repairer. The signal board was intact though, a generic Chinese model based around a Mediatek MTK8227 SoC. Information was scarce on these boards, but some patient research yielded a schematic for a similar set.

Once he knew more about the circuit, he was able to identify the power lines and discovered that the 1.8v line to the SoC was faulty. This he traced to a switching regulator for which there was no equivalent in his junkbox, so he substituted a linear regulator to obtain the required voltage. The CFL backlight was then removed and replaced with LED strips, and as if by magic he had a working TV set.

This might seem a relatively mundane achievement on the scale of some of the projects we feature on these pages, but it is an important one. In these days of throwaway items it is still not impossible to repair dead electronic devices, indeed as [Sidsingh] found the power supply is most likely to be the culprit. If you score a dead LCD TV then don’t be afraid to crack it open yourself, you may be able to fix it.

As you might imagine, many repairs have made it onto Hackaday over the years. Of relevance to this one is this LCD that inexplicably worked when exposed to light, an LED backlight conversion, and this capacitor swap to return an LCD monitor to health.

1921 Ner-A-Car Motorcycle Reborn With Epic Parts Remanufacture

Most of the rusty parts you need to make a motorcycle.
Most of the rusty parts you need to make a motorcycle.

Nobody ever dismantles a working motorcycle.

About ten years ago [Andy Pugh] took possession of a large box of rusty parts that formed most of what had once been a 1921 Ner-a-Car motorcycle. They languished for several years, until in 2014 he was spurred into action and returned to the bike. What followed was a two-year odyssey of rebuilding, restoration, and parts remanufacture, and since [Andy] is an engineer par excellence and an active member of the LinuxCNC community his blog posts on the subject should be a fascinating read for any hardware hacker with an interest in metalwork.

The Ner-a-Car. By Museumsfotografierer (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Ner-a-Car. By Museumsfotografierer (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Ner-a-Car represents one of those eccentric dead-ends in automotive history. Designed in 1918 by an American, [Carl Neracher], its name is a play on both its designer and its construction and it is unique in that its design is closer to the cars of the era than that of a motorcycle. It has a car-style chassis, an in-line engine, and it was the first motorcycle to be produced with hub-centre steering. The rider sits on it rather than astride it, feet-forward, and the car-style chassis gives it a very low centre of gravity. They were manufactured in slightly different versions in both the USA and the UK, and [Andy]’s machine is an early example from the British production line. Not many Ner-a-Cars have survived and parts availability is non-existent, so his work has also had the unusual effect of satisfying a significant portion of world demand for the parts-bin of an entire marque.

Spinning up a headlight shell
Spinning up a headlight shell

It’s usual for the first link in a Hackaday article to be to a page that encompasses the whole project. In this case when there is so much to see and the build is spread across twelve blog posts and nearly two years the link is to [Andy]’s first post in which he describes the project, sets to work on the chassis, and discovers the bent steering arm that probably caused the bike’s dismantling. He’s listed the posts in the column on the right-hand side of the blog, so you can follow his progress through the entire build. The work involved in remanufacturing the parts is to an extremely high standard, from machining press tools to reproduce 1920s footboard pressings through manufacturing authentic 1920s headlight switchgear and metal-spinning new aluminium headlight shells.

[Andy]’s most recent Ner-a-Car post details his trip to France on the completed bike, and tales of roadside repairs of a suddenly-not-working machine that should be familiar to any owner of a vintage internal combustion engine. But considering that the bike spent many decades as a pile of not much more than scrap metal the fact that it is now capable of a trip to France is nothing short of amazing.

This is the first rebuild of a vintage bike from a box of rusty parts we’ve featured here – indeed it could almost be a retrotechtacular piece in its detailed look at 1920s bike design. These pages have however seen many motorcycle related  hacks over the years. We particularly like this from-scratch engine build and this gas-turbine bike, but it is the emergency motorcycle build in the desert from a Citroën 2CV car that has us most impressed. Please, ride safe, and keep them coming!

Fail Of The Week: Always Check The Fuse

[Tomas] at Umeå Hackerspace in Sweden had some broken audio equipment, including a Sharp CD player/amplifier. What went wrong when he tried to fix it is a fail story from which we can all learn.

The device worked – for about a second after being turned on, before turning itself off. That’s a hopeful sign, time to start debugging. He took the small-signal and logic boards out of the circuit, leaving only power supply and amplifier, and applied the juice.

Magic blue smoke ensued, coming from the amplifier. Lacking a suitable replacement part, that was it for the Sharp.

On closer inspection it emerged that the previous owner had bypassed the power supply fuse with a piece of copper wire, Evidently they had found the fuse to be blowing too often and instead of trying to fix the problem simply shot the messenger.

We have all probably done it at some time or other. In the absence of a replacement fuse we may have guestimated the number of single strands required to take the current, or used a thin strip of foil wrapped around the fuse body. And we’ll all have laughed at that meme about using a spanner or a live round as a fuse.

So if there’s a moral to this story, it’s to always assume that everyone else is as capable as you are of doing such a dodgy fix, and to always check the fuse.

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which celebrates failure as a learning tool. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your own failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

Tearing Down an IP Camera

So you bring home a shiny new gadget. You plug it into your network, turn it on, and it does… well, whatever it wants. Hopefully, it does what you expect and no more, but there is no guarantee: it could be sending your network traffic to the NSA, MI5 or just the highest bidder. [Jelmer] decided to find out what a new IP camera did, and how easy it was to find out by taking a good poke around inside.

In his write-up of this teardown, he describes how he used Wireshark to see who the camera was talking to over the Interwebs, and how he was able to get root access to the device itself (spoilers: the root password was 1234546). He did this by using the serial interface of the Ralink RT3050 that is the brains of the camera to get in, which provided a nice console when he asked politely. A bit of poking around found the password file, which was all too easily decrypted with John the ripper.

This is basic stuff, but if you’ve never opened up an embedded Linux device and gotten root on it, you absolutely should. And now you’ve got a nicely written lesson in how to do it. Go poke around inside the things you own!

SATA Cable Replaces DC Motor Brushes as Macgyver Looks On

[dmalhar] was digging around in his bins for motors and found one with missing brushes. Being resourceful (and not able to find another motor), he managed to tear apart a SATA cable and form the pins into brushes with just the right amount of spring. Yes, this looks like a cheap motor, but in the moment of necessity availability wins, and this hack is truly commendable. If he had used a paperclip, MacGyver would have been proud, but the SATA cable pins make us proud.

Normally the brushes of DC motors are made with a graphite or some other material which provides a small amount of resistance so that when the motor is spinning the brushes will provide a gradual shift of current from one commutator to the next. Also, the softness of the carbon makes the brush wear down instead of the commutator, and in large motors the brushes are replaceable. In cheap motors the engineers design the brush material around the expected lifetime of the product. In [dmalhar’s] case, the motor just got its lifetime extended by a while.

Repairing a Sony Dream Machine

Have you ever fancied a gadget but been put off by what seems like an excessive price? [leadacid44] did just that back in 2009, in his case the gadget in question was a Sony Dream Machine ICF-CL75iP. It’s an alarm clock radio, albeit a very fancy one featuring an iPod dock, SD card slot, and an electronic photo frame. Back then it was just too expensive, but in 2016 [leadacid44] spotted one on an auction site for pennies, and so snapped it up.

Of course, with something cheap there is so often a catch. In the case of this Dream Machine, it would not keep time — something pretty important in a clock. But rather than throw it on the “Hack later” pile, [leadacid44] decided to investigate, and turned up a surprising culprit. The glue Sony had used to secure the timing crystal in 2009 had become conductive with age, causing the oscillator to stop oscillating. A simple fix involving a bit of glue removal and a touch of resoldering, and the clock was back with us.

This was a very simple repair when the problem was diagnosed, but it tells us something about electronic product design, and about quality control. Sony have spent a very long time building a reputation for quality manufacture, and it is likely the Dream Machine was built with their full attention to detail. It is highly unlikely that the Sony engineers chose their crystal glue in the knowledge it would break down, after all the company is likely to make far more money selling a new TV or phone to a satisfied alarm clock owner than it is by selling them a new alarm clock. Instead it tells us that even Sony with a legendary attention to quality control can be caught out by unexpected component failures, and that as engineers we should always expect the unexpected.

So [leadacid44] has a new alarm clock, and presumably now always wakes up on time. It’s interesting to look at the Dream Machine from another perspective, to compare what was hot in 2009 with what you might see now. The Apple Dock connector for instance, or the full-size SD card. Both of which are now becoming historical curiosities, even though this device is not much more than six years old.

Over the years we’ve featured a lot of clocks, and even the odd clock radio. But this isn’t really about clock radios, and with that out of the way we’ve certainly featured a few Sony hacks.