Is Your Cat 6 Ethernet Cable Cat 6? Probably Not.

Though we’ve never used their cables, [Blue Jeans Cable] out of Seattle, WA sure does seem to take the black art of cable manufacture seriously. When they read the Cat 6 specification, they knew they couldn’t just keep building the cables the way they used to. So they did some research and purchased a Fluke certification tester for a measly 12,000 US dollars. While they were purchasing the device, they ran across an interesting tidbit in the fluke knowledge base. Fluke said that 80% of the consumer Cat 6 cables they tested didn’t begin to meet the Cat 6 specification.

This is the part where [Blue Jeans Cable] earns our respect; like good scientists, they set out to replicate Fluke’s results. Sure enough, 80% of the Cat 6 cables they tested from big box stores etc. failed the specification. More surprising, many of them didn’t even pass the Cat 5e specification. [Blue Jeans Cable] asserts that this is possible because the Ethernet cable specification is policed via the honor system, allowing manufacturers to be fairly brazen about what they label as Cat 6.

Exploding Multimeter Battle Royale

If you check out eBay, Amazon, or the other kinda-shady online retailers out there, you’ll quickly find you can buy a CAT III (600V) rated multimeter for under $50. If you think about it, this is incredible. There’s a lot of engineering that needs to go into a meter that is able to measure junction boxes, and factories in China are pushing these things out for an amazing price.

Over on the EEVBlog, these meters are being pushed to the limits. Last month, [joeqsmith] started a thread testing the theory that these cheap meters can handle extremely high voltages. A proper CAT III test requires a surge of electrons with a 6kV peak and a 2 ohm source. With a bunch of caps, bailing wire, JB Weld and zip ties, anyone can test if these meters are rated at what they say they are. Get a few people on the EEVBlog sending [joeqsmith] some cheapo meters, and you can have some real fun figuring out how these meters stack up.

The real experiments began with [joe smith]’s low energy surge generator, a beast of a machine that can be measured with an even beastlier high voltage scope probe. This is a machine that will send a voltage spike through anything to short out traces on poorly designed multimeters.

How did the cheapo meters fare? Not well, for the most part. There was, however, one exception: the Fluke 101. This is Fluke’s My First Multimeter, stuffed into a pocketable package. This meter is able to survive 12kV pulses when all but two of the other brands of meters would fail at 3kV.

What’s the secret to Fluke’s success? You only need to look at what the Fluke 101 can’t do. Fluke’s budget meter doesn’t measure current. If you ever look inside a meter, you’ll usually find two fuses, one for measuring Amps and the other for all the other functions on the scope. There’s quite a bit of engineering that goes into the current measurement of a meter, and when it goes wrong you have a bomb on your hands. Fluke engineers rather intelligently dropped current measurement from this budget meter, allowing them to save that much on their BOM.

There’s an impressive amount of data collected by [joeqsmith] and the other contributors in this thread, but don’t use this to decide on your next budget meter; This is more of an interesting discovery of how to make a product that meets specs: just cut out what can’t be done with the given budget.

Give your Multimeter a Wireless Remote Display

Multimeters are one of the key tools in a hardware hacker’s bench. For 90% of us, the meter leads are perfect for making measurements and looking over at the results. Sometimes you need a bit more distance though, and for that, [Ken Kaarvik] has created the Multimeter remote display. Remote displays are pretty handy when you want to measure something several feet away from your bench. They’re also great if you need to check something in an enclosed space, like a server rack or a refrigerator. Fluke actually sells multimeters with wireless displays, such as their model 233.

The key to this project is the FS9721 LP3 chip by Fortune Semiconductor. (PDF link) The FS9721 is essentially a system on chip (SOC) for multimeters. It contains a digital to analog to digital converter, an LCD driver, and a microcontroller. It also can send data out over a 2400 baud serial link. Two of [Ken’s] multimeters, the Digitek DT-4000ZC and a Fluke 17B, both have this chip. The Digitek has a 1/8″ plug for connecting to the outside world, while the Fluke requires some simple hardware mods to enable data output.

Since this was his entry for the Trinket EDC contest,  [Ken] connected the serial output of the FS9721 to an Adafruit Pro Trinket. The Trinket formats the data and sends it to an  nRF24L01+ 2.4GHz radio module. The receiving end has an identical radio, and another Pro Trinket. [Ken] actually built two wireless displays. One is a dual-boot Game Boy advance which has a really slick background on the color display. The other receiver utilizes a 128×64 OLED. The trinket, nRF24L01+ and display all fit neatly inside an Altoids tin.

Click past the break to see both wireless remote displays in action!

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Voltset Multimeters at World Maker Faire

Many tents at World Maker Faire were divided up into booths for companies and various projects. In one of these tents, we found the Voltset booth. [Tom, Ran, and Michael] were on hand to show off their device and answer any questions. Voltset is essentially a multimeter which uses your phone as a display. It connects to an Android phone via USB or an optional Bluetooth module.

Now we’d be a bit worried about the risk of damaging our phones with a voltmeter electrically connected via USB. However, many people have an old phone or retired tablet kicking around these days, which would be perfect for the Voltset. The Bluetooth module alleviates this problem, too – though it doesn’t fix the issue of what happens to the multimeter when someone decides to call.

Voltset isn’t new; both the Voltset team and the similarly specced  Mooshimeter were also at World Maker Faire last year. In the interim, Voltset has had a very successful Kickstarter. The team is accepting pre-orders to be shipped after the Kickstarter backers are sent their rewards.

voltset-2[Tom] told us that the team is currently redesigning their hardware. The next generation prototype board with more protection can be seen in the far right of the top photo. He also mentioned that they’re shooting for 5 digits of accuracy, placing them on par with many bench scopes. We’re skeptical to say the least about 5 digits, but the team is definitely putting their all into this product. We’ll wait until the Kickstarter backers start getting their final devices to see if Voltset is everything it’s cracked up to be.

Pimp My Cutting Fluid Pot

oil pot

Think about the simple tools you use every day. From writing implements to wire spoolers, there is arguably nothing that deserves to be hot rodded more than the things you depend on and might even take for granted.

For mad machinist [Chris], one of those everyday tools is his cutting fluid pot. Of course he already had one. A heavy one. A manly one. But it wasn’t completely ideal, and it wasn’t plated with gold that he prospected, refined, and processed himself. More on that in a minute.

[Chris] had obtained some neodymium ring magnets a while back. He was playing around with them in his shop when he noticed that his cutting fluid applicator brush fit nicely through the center and, being metal, was contained nicely through the wonders of magnetism. It was then that he decided to build a cutting fluid pot that would keep his brush in place and remain upright. Better living through magnetism.

He drilled and chamfered the brush hole out of a #20 JIC hydraulic cap and used the matching plug for the base. In case your catalog is out of reach, those are a 1¼” pair. [Chris] bored tiny pockets in the base for tiny magnets. After bathing both parts in delicious brake cleaner, he adhered all the magnets with LOCTITE®.

Okay, so, he’s done, right? No. Of course not. It did not surprise us to learn that [Chris] is also a miner, and not the 8-bit kind that hates creepers. Over the last two years, he prospected, refined, and other gold-related verbs using equipment he made himself. Just make the jump and watch the video before we give it all away. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be compelled to watch his other videos.

Continue reading “Pimp My Cutting Fluid Pot”

Fluke Issues Statement Regarding Sparkfun’s Impounded Multimeters


Fluke just issued a response to the impounding of multimeters headed for market in the United States. Yesterday SparkFun posted their story about US Customs officials seizing a shipment of 2000 multimeters because of trademark issues. The gist of the response is that this situation sucks and they want to do what they can to lessen the pain for those involved. Fluke is providing SparkFun with a shipment of genuine Fluke DMMs which they can sell to recoup their losses, or to donate. Of course SparkFun is planning to donate the meters to the maker community.

Anyone with a clue will have already noticed the problem with this solution. The impounded shipment of 2k meters will still be destroyed… eh. The waste is visceral. But good for Fluke for trying to do something positive.

Before we sign off let’s touch on the trademark issue for just a moment. We can’t really blame Fluke too much for this. The legal crux of the matter is you either defend your trademark in every case, or you don’t defend it at all. In this case it was the border agents defending the filing, but for ease of understanding we’ll not go into that. On the other hand, speaking in general business terms, the way things are set up it is advantageous to acquire a trademark specification that is as broad as possible because it helps to discourage competitors from coming to market. So trademark is good when it keep hucksters from trying to rip off consumers. But it is bad if applied too broadly as a way of defending a company’s market share.

Where does Fluke come down in all of this? Who knows. There is literally no right answer and that’s why the discussion around yesterday’s post was full of emphatic arguments. A Fluke meter is a cream-of-the-crop device and they have the right (and obligation) to ensure that reputation is not sullied. SparkFun serves a market that probably can’t afford a Fluke at this time but may some day in the future. And this is the reason we can feel okay about this outcome.

[via Twitter]

Multimeters Without A Country: Fluke’s Broad Trademark Bans Yellow Multimeter Imports

Check out this SparkFun Digital Multimeter. Does it make your blood boil to see them ripping off Fluke by using the color yellow? From SparkFun’s side of the story that’s exactly what’s happened here. They have a shipment of 2000 of these things stuck in customs. The trademark being infringed upon can be found in their article. Fluke owns the trademark on multimeters with a dark face and yellow border. Great. This seems like a wonderful idea, right up there with Apple owning tablets that are shaped like a piece of paper.

Okay, so if you’re not crying big fat tears for Fluke being taken advantage of in this way let’s talk about more immediate issues than fixing trademark, patent, copyright, and all of the other screw-the-little-guy type of laws (not that SparkFun is necessarily the little guy but you know what we mean). The DMMs sitting in a warehouse are costing SparkFun $150 per day. We believe they have no option of choosing a warehouse with a lower cost as we must be talking a pallet or two, right? The only two options they do have are shipping them back to China where they were manufactured, or having them destroyed. The former will cost more in re-import tariffs than the cost of the product, and the latter comes with a $150/hour disposal fee and no metric on which to judge how long it would actually take. We hate seeing this kind of waste, but sure enough 2000 DMMs are headed for the shredder in a couple of days.

We know you already have your flaming sword in hand, but simmer down for just a second. Fluke makes great products, ask anyone. And companies the world over defend their trademarks. Hopefully there will soon be a positive response from Fluke on this one. If you would like to politely encourage them to do the right thing we found Fluke’s Facebook page URL in the SparkFun comments thread. Both are worth browsing.

[Thanks Chris via Reddit]