Hackaday Links: April 3, 2016

April Fool’s Day was last Friday, and the Internet was garbage for a day. Our April Fool’s prank was amazing, and in a single day garnered more views than the Raspberry Pi 3 launch announcement from a month prior. There just might be a market here for Apple. Here’s a short roundup of some of the best electronics April Fool’s posts:

This, surprisingly, was not an April Fool’s post. [Dave Jones] has been looking to upgrade his workspace for a few years now. He’s finally found a place. It’s the old Altium office in Sydney. [Dave] worked at Altium before spinning up the EEVblog, so this really is his old stomping grounds. It’s 4000 square meters (43,000 square feet), and exactly 3950 square meters larger than his current lab. What is he going to do with all that space? He’s looking for suggestions, but I would suggest an awesome model train layout. A [Dave Haynie]-style tour would also be acceptable.

Yesterday was the unofficial geekhack / deskthority / r/mechanicalkeyboards SoCal Mechanical Keyboard meetup at Datamancer in Montclair, CA. I was there, got a Control key to replace the Caps Lock key on my Novatouch, and took a lot of pictures.

It’s a presidential election year in the US, and that means millions of people are going to make America great again by polluting their front yard with campaign signs. These campaign signs are usually made out of coroplast, a material that looks like corrugated cardboard, but is made out of dead dinosaurs instead of dead trees. Coroplast is a very interesting material, and [uminded] tipped us off to some guy that makes mini speedboats in this rather uncommon material.

There are some things you just shouldn’t do. Combining octocopters with chainsaws, for example. You shouldn’t do it, but someone will anyway, and YouTube exists. Here’s an octocopter with a chainsaw.

Foxconn is buying Sharp. Sharp has a rather large portfolio of LEDs and optoelectronics, but this deal is mostly for Sharp’s large contract manufacturing business.

Fail of the Week: Dave Jones and the Case of the Terrible Tablet

Nothing spices up a quiet afternoon like the righteous indignance of an upset engineer, especially if that engineer is none other than [Dave Jones], on his EEVblog YouTube Channel. This week [Dave] has good reason to be upset. A viewer sent him what looked to be a nondescript 2010 era tablet from a company called Esinomed. From the outside it looked like a standard issue medical device. Opening up the back panel tells a completely different story though. This thing is quite possibly the worst hack job [Dave] (and we) have ever seen. This is obviously some kind of sales demo or trade show model. Even with that in mind, this thing is a fail.

wtf-solderThe tablet is based upon an off-the-shelf embedded PC motherboard and touchscreen controller. [Dave] took some offense at the hacked up USB connector on the touchscreen. We have to disagree with [Dave] a bit here, as the video seems to show that a standard mini-b connector wouldn’t have fit inside the tablet’s case. There’s no excuse for the USB cable shield draped over the bare touch controller board though. Things go downhill from there. The tablet’s power supply is best described as a bizarre mess. Rather than use a premade DC to DC converter, whoever built this spun their own switch mode power supply on a home etched board. The etching job looks good, but everything else, including the solder job, is beyond terrible. All the jumps and oddly placed components make it look like a random board from the junk bin was used to build this supply.

The story gets even worse with the batteries. The tablet has horribly hand soldered NiMH cells shoved here, there and everywhere. Most of the cells show split shrink wrap – a sure sign they have been overheated. It’s hard to tell from the video, but it appears as if a few cells have their top mounted vent holes covered with solder. That’s a great way to turn a simple rechargeable battery into a pipe bomb. Batteries can be safely hand soldered – Radio Controlled modelers did it for decades before LiPo cells took over.

We’ve all hacked projects together at the last minute; that’s one of the things we celebrate here on Hackaday. However, since this is a commercial medical device (with serial number 11 no less) we have to stamp this one as a fail.

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Hackaday Links: September 6, 2015

The MeArm is a cool little robot arm that can be controlled with just about any microcontroller. There’s a new version of it up on Thingiverse.

Here’s something to get kids interested in robotics: the GoBox is a robot kit with multiple ‘missions’ delivered monthly. The robot is based on the Raspberry Pi and Scratch – the Apple II and BASIC of today, I guess.

What happens when a popular electronics YouTuber completely debunks a product? Hundreds of dislikes appear on the YouTube videos he made. Hundreds of dislikes from Vietnam appeared on [Dave Jones]’ videos debunking the Batterizer. In fact, more people from Vietnam disliked the video than viewed it. Yes, weird YouTube dislike farms like this exist, and if you can do it on the Internet, you can also pay people to do it on the Internet.

The ESP8266 is slowly becoming a board that’s as easy to use as an Arduino. Now there’s a board that turns it into an Arduino.

The Vintage Computer Festival Midwest was last week,  and [chris537a] shot a video of all the cool stuff. [vikram4819] put an album up on imgur. Yes, someone was selling a Sparcbook for $300. I’m holding out for a PowerPC ThinkPad, though…

Washington DC area hackers, don’t forget to RSVP for the Hackaday Meetup on Saturday. Bring a hack to show off and spend the evening socializing with the Hackaday community. Check out the announcement post for more info.

Crowdfunding Follies: Debunking The Batteriser

It’s not on Kickstarter yet, but this product is already making its media debut, with features in all the tech blogs, an astonishing amount of print outlets, and spouted from the gaping maws of easily impressed rubes the world over. What is it? It’s the Batteriser, a tiny metal contraption that clips over AA, C, and D cells that reclaims the power trapped inside every dead battery. Yes, every dead battery you’ve ever thrown away still has up to 80% of its power remaining. Sounds like complete hogwash, right? That’s because it is.

[Dave Jones] put together a great video on the how comes and why nots of the Batteriser, and while doing so gives a great tutorial for debunking a product, heavily inspired by [Carl Sagan]’s Baloney Detection Kit. The real  debunking starts by verifying any assumptions, and the biggest fault of the Batteriser campaign is claiming 80% of a battery’s power is unused. Lucky for us, [Dave] has tons of tools and graphs to demonstrate this is not the case.

To verify the assumption that battery-powered devices will brown out after using only 20% of a battery’s available power, [Dave] does the most logical thing and looks at the data sheets for a battery. After using 20% of available power, these datasheets claim these batteries should be around 1.3V. Do devices brown out at 1.3V? Hook it up to a programmable power supply and find out.

It turns out every battery-powered device [Dave] could find worked perfectly until around 1.1V. Yes, that’s only 0.3V difference from 1.4V claimed by the patent for the Batteriser, but because of the battery discharge curve, that means 80% of the power in a normal device is already being used up. The premise of the Batteriser is invalid, and [Dave] demonstrates it’s a complete scam.

If a through debunking of the Batteriser’s claims wasn’t enough, [Dave] goes on to explain how it may actually be dangerous. The positive terminal of a battery is also the metal can, while the negative terminal is just a tiny nib of metal seperated from the rest of the battery by a gasket. Since the Batteriser is made of metal and serves as the ground for the boost converter circuit, it’s very, very close to shorting through the branding and logo emblazoned on a mylar wrapping each battery is shrouded with. One tiny nick in this insulator, and you have a direct short across the battery. That’s going to turn to heat, and there’s a lot of energy in a D cell; a failure mode for the Batteriser is a fire. That’s just terrible product design.

Video below.

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How To Reverse Engineer A PCB

For [Peter]’s entry for the 2015 Hackaday Prize, he’s attempting to improve the standard industrial process to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Why? Fertilizers. He’s come up with an interesting technique that uses acoustic transducers in a pressure vessel, and to power that transducer, he’s turned to the greatest scrap heap in the world: eBay. He found a cheap ultrasonic power supply, but didn’t know offhand if it would work with his experiments. That’s alright; it’s a great opportunity to demo some basic reverse engineering skills.

A few months ago, [Dave Jones] posted a great video where he reverse engineers the front end of the new Rigol Zed. The basic technique is to make a photocopy, get some transparency sheets, grab a meter, and go to town. [Peter]’s technique is similar, only he’s using digital image manipulation, Photoshop, and a meter.

The process begins by taking pictures of both sides of the board, resizing them, flipping one side, and making an image with several layers. The traces on the bottom of the board were flooded and filled with the paint bucket tool, and components and traces carefully annotated.

With some effort, [Peter] was able to create a schematic of his board. He doesn’t know if this power supply will work with his experiments; there’s still some question of what some components actually do. Still, it’s a good effort, a great learning opportunity, and another log in [Peter]’s entry to The Hackaday Prize

EEVblog Tears into the White Van Speaker Scam

[Dave Jones] shows us just how bad audio equipment can get with his white van speaker scam teardown (YouTube link). Hackaday Prize judge [Dave] has some great educational videos on his EEVblog YouTube channel, but we can’t get enough of his rants – especially when he’s ranting about cheap electronics. Check out his world’s “cheapest” camcorder teardown for a classic example

This week [Dave] is tearing down some white van speaker scam A/V equipment. The White Van Speaker Scam (WVSS) is an international hustle which has been around for decades. A pair of guys in a white van stop you in a parking lot, gas station, or other public area. They tell you they’ve got some brand new A/V equipment in the back of their van that they’ll give you for a “great deal”. The speakers are always in fancy packaging, and have a name that sounds like it could be some sort of high-end audiophile brand worth thousands.

Needless to say anyone who buys this equipment finds they’ve been duped and are now the proud owner of some equipment which only sounds good when hitting the bottom of a dumpster. Coincidentally, a dumpster is exactly where [Dave] found his WVSS equipment.

The case of his “Marc Vincent” surround sound system turned out to be nothing more than thin chipboard hot glued together. The electronics were of such shoddy quality that few words describe them – though [Dave] is always ready to improvise. From the ultra cheap subwoofer driver to the 1990’s era vacuum fluorescent display, everything was built down to the lowest cost while still looking nice from the outside. Even the ground wire was just tack soldered to the frame. We especially liked the three vacuum tubes that weren’t even soldered in. The leads were bent over to hold them onto a PCB, while a blue LED lit the tube from below.

Click past the break to see what [Dave] found inside his “3D Optics” projector.

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Judge Spotlight: Dave Jones

judge-spotlight-dave-jones

This week’s Judge Spotlight features [Dave Jones] who posted a video reponse to our slate of questions. If you’ve spent much time around here chances are you know of [Dave] quite well. He is the man behind the EEVblog and also hosts The Amp Hour podcast along with [Chris Gammell].

It’s great to pick [Dave’s] brain a bit. He’s seen a lot during his career, with insights on professional engineering from the point of view of job seeker, employer, job interviewer, and more. His time with the EEVblog and Amp Hour have furthered his experience with looks inside of all manner of equipment, adventures in crowd funding, and interactions with a multitude of hardware start-ups. Check out his video, as well as a list of the questions with timestamps, after the jump.

We’re sure you know by now, he’s judging The Hackaday Prize which will award a trip to space and hundreds of other prizes for showing off your connected device built using Open Design.

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