$2700 eBay Bet Pays off for this 14 GHz Spectrum Analyzer Repair

The eBay addiction starts small. One night you’re buying $3 buck-boost converters and cheap Chinese USB power packs. The next thing you know you’re spending thousands on dead instruments with no documentation. You’ve got the skills though, and if your bet that you can diagnose and repair a 14 GHz real-time spectrum analyzer is right, you’ll be putting a snazzy instrument on the bench for a fraction of the original $50,000 it cost.

Make some popcorn and get cozy before settling in to watch [Shahriar]’s video below, because it clocks in at just over an hour. But it’s pretty entertaining, and just seeing how Tektronix built the RSA 6114A spectrum analyzer is worth the time. Things are different when you’re piping microwave signals around the chassis of a beast such a this, the interior of which is densely packed with pluggable modules. Tek factory service would no doubt perform a simple module swap to get this machine running again, but [Shahriar] wasn’t having any of that on his $2,700 eBay find. After isolating the problem to the local-oscillator generator module, [Shahriar] takes us on a tour of where the signals go and what they do. We won’t reveal the eventual culprit, but suffice it to say that after a little SMD rework, [Shahriar] has a very fancy new instrument for the shop.

If this repair gives you the itch to get working on microwave circuits, maybe it’s time to build that backyard synthetic aperture radar set you’ve always wanted.

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Steve Collins: When Things Go Wrong In Space

[Steve Collins] is a regular around Hackaday. He’s brought homebrew LIDARs to our regular meetups, he’s given a talk on a lifetime’s worth of hacking, and he is the owner of the most immaculate Hackaday t-shirt we’ve ever seen.

For the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference,  [Steve] took a break from his day job of driving spacecraft around the Solar System. As you can imagine, NASA plans on things going wrong. How do you plan for that? [Steve] answers all your questions by telling you what happens when things go wrong in space.

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Repairing Flex Circuits By Accident

A while ago, [drygol] was asked to repair a few old Amiga keyboards. The key switches worked fine, but in the past decade or two, the flexible PCB ribbon connector has been mistreated, and was in an unworkable, nonfunctional state. The fragile traces underneath the green epoxy coating were giving way, but [drygol] found a few cool ways to repair these flex cables.

The end of this keyboard cable was beyond repair, but the Commodore engineers were gracious enough to leave a bit of slack in this keyboard connector. After cutting off the most damaged section, [drygol] had a strip of plastic, a few copper traces, and a green coating that had to be removed. The first attempt to remove this green covering used methanol, but that didn’t work. The next chemical attempt was with an epoxy solvent that contained nasty chemicals. This was applied to the end of the flex cable, with the remainder of the cable masked off by Kapton. It worked remarkably well.

In removing the Kapton masking tape, [drygol] discovered this green film sticks better to Kapton than it does to copper and plastic. A mechanical solution was found, allowing these keyboard cables to be easily repaired.

Of course, this was only half of the problems with these flexible circuits. Over the years, a few cracks appeared in the traces. To repair these broken traces, [drygol] turned to silver glue and a few laminations of Kapton to make this keyboard cable whole again. It worked, and the ancient keyboard was returned to service. Great work, and a fantastic observation for anyone with one of these keyboards sitting around: just grab a roll of Kapton to repair these circuits. It can’t get any easier than that.

Replacing a Failed Ebook Reader Battery

Resurrecting a beloved piece of tech can be a trying process when fighting through the mild heartbreak — doubly so if the product has been discontinued. When their old Sony PRS-T1 e-book reader refused to charge after leaving it on their dashboard during a hot day, [Andrea Gangemi] decided to leverage a little techno-necromancy and hack together a fix.

[Gangemi] found the problem to be a battery failure, but there was nary a replacement to be found. An old Motorola mobile phone battery ended up fitting the purpose nicely. Cracking open the e-book reader, de-soldering the old battery and — after deciphering which pins were which — installing the new one was simply done with a fine, high temperature soldering iron tip and Kapton tape to avoid short-circuiting. But hold on — the new battery wouldn’t charge, and the reader displayed a message saying that the battery was over heating; irony, thou art cruel.

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Home-made Adjustable Knife Jig

When sharpening a knife, it is critical to have the knife at the right angle. A knife jig handles this for you, letting you focus on getting the edge right. You could just buy one, but where’s the fun in that? [origamimavin] decided to make his own adjustable knife jig using bits he bought from the hardware store for $27, and which you might have in your junk pile. Fortunately for us, he’s written up the process in excellent detail, explaining the how and why of each step.

He used a couple of tools that you might not have lying around (a bandsaw and a belt sander), but these could be easily replaced with their manual cousins, or your local hackerspace will doubtless provide you access to them. Either way, it’s a simple build which could help your knives keep their clean, sharp edge for years to come.

Restoring The Groundbreaking Xerox Alto

The Xerox Alto was a minicomputer that had a lot of firsts to its name: first GUI, first Ethernet connection, and first computer to use a laser printer. This is the computer that inspired Steve Jobs to build the Lisa. And this was built all back in 1973! So when [Ken Shirriff] and a team of other old-computer aficionados got their hands on one, you know they’d get to work.

[Ken]’s blog describes the start of what’s sure to be a long journey. It mostly describes the Alto system and locates its place in computer history, but there are some interesting sidelines as well — like how [Alan Kay] also basically outlined all of the functionality of the modern laptop / tablet along the way to the Alto; it was supposed to be an interim Dynabook.

Work on this grandfather-of-modern-computers is just getting started, and [Ken] and crew are dusting off the power supplies and cataloguing memory boards. You can be sure that we’ll follow along with this restoration project, and keep you informed.

Smartphone Hack For Adding Magnet Power Dock

Here’s a neat hack for making a magnetic charging mount for a cell phone. We know what you’re thinking, but this is definitely not a traditional contactless charging system. Those use magnets but in a different way. This hack involves putting a couple of magnets onto the case of the cell phone, and a couple more on a charging base. You then wire these magnets into the power inputs of the USB port, and a USB cable onto the base, so putting the phone on the base magnets completes the circuit. The magnets themselves become the charging contacts.

It’s a neat idea, but makes us wonder what this will do to the compass sensor in your phone or your credit cards if they are nearby. With these caveats, it is a neat hack, and could be easily adapted. Want to make a vertical cell phone mount, or a way to attach (and charge) your cell phone to the fridge? This can be easily adapted for that.

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