Ask Hackaday: How Hard Is It To Make A Bad Solder Joint?

When you learn to solder, you are warned about the pitfalls of creating a solder joint. Too much solder, too little solder, cold joints, dry joints, failing to “wet” the joint properly, a plethora of terms are explained  if you read one of the many online guides to soldering.

Unsurprisingly it can all seem rather daunting to a novice, especially if they are not used to the dexterity required to manipulate a tool on a very small-scale at a distance. And since the soldering iron likely to be in the hands of a beginner will not be one of the more accomplished models with fine temperature control and a good tip, it’s likely that they will experience most of those pitfalls early on in their soldering career.

As your soldering skills increase, you get the knack of making a good joint. Applying just the right amount of heat and supplying just enough solder becomes second nature, and though you still mess up from time to time you learn to spot your errors and how to rework and fix them. Your progression through the art becomes a series of plateaux, as you achieve each new task whose tiny size or complexity you previously thought rendered it impossible. Did you too recoil in horror before your first 0.1″ DIP IC, only to find it had been surprisingly easy once you’d completed it?

A few weeks ago we posted a Hackaday Fail of the Week, revolving around a soldering iron failure and confirmation bias leading to a lengthy reworking session when the real culprit was a missing set of jumpers. Mildly embarrassing and something over which a veil is best drawn, but its comments raised some interesting questions about bad solder joints. In the FoTW case I was worried I’d overheated the joints causing them to go bad, evaporating the flux and oxidising the solder. This was disputed by some commenters, but left me with some curiosity over bad solder joints. We all know roughly how solder joints go wrong, but how much of what we know is heresay? Perhaps it is time for a thorough investigation of what makes a good solder joint, and the best way to understand that would surely be to look at what makes a bad one.

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Ask Hackaday: Material Databases

With more and more previously industrial processes coming online in the home shop, people are finding that getting the information that was previously provided by the manufacturer of a hundred thousand dollar machine for their three hundred dollar Shenzen special is not easy.

Some early work from UFID shows how even different Slic3rs can change the expected material properties of a filament.
Some early work from UFID shows how even different Slic3rs can change the expected material properties of a filament.

A common example is this, a hacker purchased themselves a brand new 3D printer off amazon for a price too good to be true. After a week of tinkering with it, a small fire, and a few replacement parts later, they get it to work. After they’ve burned through, perhaps literally, the few hundred grams of filament that came with the printer at the setting recommended by the manufacturer, they do a small blanket order of the different filaments out there. Now comes the trouble, each printer is a little different and each filament has different properties. Most people find that the second spool of filament they feed into their printer doesn’t work at all. What’s the quickest way to get the right temperature, cooling, and feed settings for your printer configuration?

This isn’t a problem for the expensive machines. Epilog, a manufacturer of laser cutters, provides a grid of settings for each material you’re likely to cut, tuned to the different properties of each model of laser cutter they sell. Same goes for the expensive industrial 3D printers, each (very expensive) spool of material has the setting sitting in a chip in the casing. When the spool is slotted in the machine, it reads the settings and adjusts accordingly. All the work of tuning was done in a lab somewhere and the print is, theoretically, guaranteed.

Your Oshpark order would get delayed, your lulzbot support case would be dropped, teensies would ship late, and the Amp Hour would just be the EEVBlog Podcast if this bar burnt down, but it was a great event!
Your Oshpark order would get delayed, your Lulzbot support case would be dropped, Teensies would ship late, and the Amp Hour would just be the EEVBlog Podcast if this bar burnt down, but it was a great event!

While we were at the Bay Area Makerfaire 2016, we had a chance to talk to [Gauthier de Valensart] and buy him a beer at the Hackaday Meet-up. [Gauthier] is from Belgium where he is the founder of a start-up with one of those fancy new TLDs: The goal of is to create a database of 3D printer materials and link that up with a user’s 3D printer settings. The eventual goal being, much like the industrial printers, a user would be able to simply scan a barcode, or wave the spool over an RFID reader to input the needed settings into his slicing software or printer.

This sounded familiar to me, not the least because I had started work on it as an extension for when that was a larger focus in my life. In fact, I remember, while I was kicking the idea around to people at MRRF, that they kept telling me someone else was working on a similar project. I wanted to introduce [Gauthier] to the person who was working on the project back then. Since I was at a bar full of people in the industry, I sort of helplessly rotated in my spot trying to find someone who might remember. I spied [whosawhatsis], a common attendee of MRRF, and asked him. Okay, that was easy, [whosawhatsis] informed us that is was his project… introduction complete. Goes to show you what a good networking event buying a bunch of nerds beer can be.

They got a pretty okay logo while they were at it.
They got a pretty okay logo while they were at it.

The project was called, “Universal Filament Identification System,” and it proposed to, “… eliminate the guess-work,” by, “…developing a method for tagging, tracking, and identifying filament for 3d printing in machine-readable formats…” The project appears to be mostly dead now and its domain is a placeholder. I think it suffered from the standard open source feature creep, but the idea is sound.

Which gets us to the questions. There are a lot of difficulties with creating such a system. The first being the data collection. Who should be responsible for measuring the filaments, the materials for laser cutting, or any other process that needs tuned settings? The ideal track, of course, would be for the manufacturers to hold themselves accountable and report on the settings for their filaments. However, many filament manufacturers rely on the ignorance of users to sell dodgy products, it’s only in the interest of a few top-quality ones to do so. If the users do so, then how will the information provided be vetted? You definitely don’t want someone’s ignorance about a faulty thermistor to encourage you to run PLA at 280C.

More and more difficulties arise. How should the information be transferred, etc. What properties should even be recorded? UFID was going as far as to use a color sensor to keep track of colors between batches from 3D printer manufacturers. In the end it’s about creating standards in a standard-less industry by using crowdsourcing. Either way, take a look at what [Gauthier]’s doing (and send him some feedback), read the backlogs of UFID, think about how annoying it was to get the right settings for a laser cutter the last time you used one, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Ask Hackaday: Is PLA Biodegradable?

The most popular plastic for 3D printers is PLA – polylactic acid – a plastic that’s either derived from corn starch, inedible plant detritus, or sugar cane, depending where in the world it was manufactured. Being derived from natural materials, PLA is marketed as being biodegradable. You don’t need to worry about low-poly Pokemon and other plastic trinkets filling landfills when you’re printing with PLA, all these plastic baubles will return to the Earth from whence it came.

3D printers have been around for a few years now, and now objects printed in PLA have been around the sun a few times. A few of these objects have been completely forgotten. How’s that claim of being biodegradable holding up? The results are mixed, and as always, more data is needed.

A few weeks ago, [LazyGecko] found one of his first experiments in 3D printing. In 2012, he was experimenting with tie dying PLA prints by putting his prints in a jar filled with water and blue dye. This jar was then placed in the back of his cupboard and quickly forgotten. 3.5 years later, [LazyGecko] remembered his experiment. Absolutely nothing happened, save for a little bit of blue dye turning the print a pastel baby blue. The print looks and feels exactly like the day it came off the printer.

[LazyGecko]’s blog post was noticed by [Bill Waters], and he has one datum that points to PLA being biodegradable. In 2015, [Bill] printed a filter basket for his fish tank. The first filter basket worked well, but made a small design change a week later, printed out another, and put the first print in storage. He now has two nearly identical prints, one in constant use in a biologically interesting environment, the other sitting on a shelf for a year.

[Bill]’s inadvertent experiment is very close to the best possible experimental design to make the case for PLA biodegradability. The 3D printed filter basket in constant use for a year suffered significant breakdown, and the honeycomb walls are starting to crumble. The ‘inert’ printed filter basket looks like it just came off the build plate.

If that’s not confusing enough, [Bill] also has another print that has spent a year in a fish tank. This end cap for a filter spray bar didn’t see any degradation, despite being underwater in a biologically active environment. The environment is a little different from a filter basket, though; an aquarium filter is designed to break down organics.

To answer the question, ‘is PLA biodegradable,’ the most accurate answer is, ‘maybe’. Three data points in uncontrolled environments isn’t enough to draw any conclusions. There are, undoubtedly, more forgotten 3D prints out there, and more data to back up the claim of PLA being biodegradable.

This is where you come in. Do you have some forgotten prints out there? Your input is needed, the fruits of your labors are evidence, your prints might be decaying and we want to know about it below.

An Interview With The CEO Of MakerBot

A few days ago, we posed a question to the Hackaday community. If you could ask the CEO of MakerBot a question, what would it be?

It’s an interesting proposition; there is no company serving the maker community – and those of us who refuse to call ourselves part of the maker community – more hated than MakerBot. They’ve patented ideas uploaded to Thingiverse. They’ve turned their back on the open hardware community they grew out of, They’re undercutting their own resellers, and by all accounts, they don’t know how to make a working extruder. MakerBot was the company that would show the world Open Hardware could be successful, but turned into a company that seemed to reject Open Hardware and Open Source more than any other.

Needless to say, the readers of Hackaday responded. Not with actual questions for the MakerBot CEO, mind you, but oh how you responded. This effort by MakerBot was likened to the hail Mary thrown by Radio Shack  a few years ago. We know how that turned out.

Nevertheless, questions were collected, The MakerBot CEO was interviewed by Lady Ada, and a summary compiled. You can check that interview, originally posted on the Adafruit blog, below.

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Ask Hackaday: What Can Save RadioShack?

The news for RadioShack is not good. The retail chain that we hackers hold near and dear to our hearts is in financial trouble, and could go under next year.  With just 64 million in cash on hand, it literally does not have enough capital to close the 1,100 stores it planned to in March of this year.

On May 27th, 2011, we asked you what RadioShack could do to cater to our community. They listened. Most of their retail stores now carry an assortment of Arduino shields, the under appreciated Parallax (why?), and even El Wire. Thanks to you. You made this happen.

Today, we are asking you again. But not for what RadioShack can do better. We’re asking what they can do to survive. To live. It makes no sense for RadioShack to compete in the brutal cell phone/tablet market, and makes every bit of sense for them take advantage of the rapidly growing hacker/builder/maker what-ever-you-want-to-call-us community. Let’s face it. We’re everywhere and our numbers are growing. From 3D printers to drones, the evidence is undeniable.

With 5,000 retail stores across the USA, they are in a perfect position to change their business model to a hacker friendly one. Imagine a RadioShack down the road  that stocked PICs, ARMs, Atmels, stepper motors, drivers, sensors, filament….like a Sparkfun retail store. Imagine the ability to just drive a few miles and buy whatever you needed. Would you pay a premium? Would you pay a little extra to have it now? I bet you would.

Now it’s time to speak up. Let your voices be heard. Let’s get the attention of the RadioShack board. You’ve done it before. It’s time to do it again. Hackers unite!


Ask Hackaday: Hacking lingo fails


Ah, CSI. What other television show could present digital forensics with such two-bit dialogue?

It’s time once again to put on your hacker hats – a red fedora, we guess – and tell us the worst hacker dialogue you’ve seen in movies or TV. We’ve seen a ton of shows and movies where writers and directors spend zero time doing any sort of research in whatever technology they’d like to show off in the story they’re trying to convey. Usually this results in lines like, “I’ll create a GUI interface using Visual Basic. See if I can track an IP address.” It’s technobabble at its best, and horribly misinformed at its worst.

We’re wondering what you, the readers of Hackaday, think are the worst examples of hacker lingo fails. Anything from, ‘Enhance!’ to the frightening real-life quote, “the Internet is not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

We’ll compile your suggestions in a later post, but I’m betting something from Star Trek: Voyager will make the #1 technobabble/hacking lingo fails. There’s just too much in that show that isn’t internally consistent and doesn’t pay any heed to the laws of (fictional) physics. Warp 10, I’m looking at you. Of course there was the wonderful Habbo reference in last week’s Doctor Who, but I’m betting that was intentional as [Moffat] seems pretty up to speed on the tropes and memes of the Interwebs.

About a month ago, we asked you for your take on the worst hacking scenes ever shown on TV or film. The results made for good viewing, albeit with a surprising absence of Lawnmower Man. Now we want some dialogue to go with these horrendous hacking scenes. So, what say you, Hackaday? What are the worst hacking lingo fails you’ve seen or heard? Please be specific about what movie/TV show you’re referencing. Last time some good stuff probably slipped by because people just said a few words without context assuming we’d know exactly what they were referring to.

Ask Hackaday: What movies have the best/worst hacking scenes


It’s time to do your best impression of [Comic Book Guy] as you make your case for trash or triumph in big screen hacking scenes. We watch a lot of movies, and it’s hard not to groan when the filmmakers cut corners by doing zero research into what using a computer actually looks like. But then once in a great while you have a team that does its due diligence and puts up a scene that makes sense to those of us in the know. So we’re wondering, what movies do you think have the best hacking scenes, and which ones are the worst offenders? Leave your opinion on the topic in the comments section.

We realize that you can come up with tons of poorly done ones, what we would really like to hear about is who did it right. We’ll get you started with a couple of examples. The image on the upper left is a scene from Tron: Legacy which we think did a fantastic job of portraying actual computer usage. You can read more about the huge amount of work that went into it in this article (via Reddit).

In the lower right is one of the most shady movies scenes that comes to mind. [Hugh Jackman] is compelled to do some ‘hacking’ by [John Travolta] in the movie Swordfish. The caption at the top of the screen is “COMPILER”, and who the heck knows what the rest of that is supposed to be?

On the hardware hacking side, it gets a little more difficult, we would LOVE some examples of hardware hacks or mods done right.