No user Serviceable Parts Inside? The rise of the Fix-It Culture

[Source: 1950s Television]
My first job out of high school was in a TV shop. I was hired mainly for muscle; this was the early 1980s and we sold a lot of console TVs that always seemed to need to be delivered to the third floor of a walk up. But I also got to do repair work on TVs and stereos, and I loved it. Old TVs from the 60s and 70s would come in, with their pre-PCB construction and hand-wired chassis full of terminal strips and point to point wiring that must have been an absolute nightmare to manufacture. We’d replace dodgy caps, swap out tubes, clean the mechanical tuners, and sometimes put a new picture tube in  – always the diagnosis that customers dreaded the most, like being told they’d need a heart transplant. We kept those old sets alive, and our customers felt like they were protecting their investment in their magnificent Admiral or Magnavox console with the genuine – and very, very heavy – walnut cabinet.

I managed to learn a lot from my time as a TV repairman, and I got the bug for keeping things working well past the point which a reasonable person would recognize as the time to go shopping for a new one. Fixing stuff is where I really shine, and my house is full of epic (in my mind, at least) repairs that have saved the family tens of thousands of dollars over the years. Dishwasher making a funny noise? I’ll just pull it out to take a look. You say there’s a little shimmy in the front end when you brake? Pull the car into the garage and we’ll yank the wheels off. There’s basically nothing I won’t at least try to fix, and more often than not, I succeed.

I assumed that my fix-it bug made me part of a dying breed of cheapskates and skinflints, but it appears that I was wrong. The fix-it movement seems to be pretty healthy right now, fueled in part by the explosion in information that’s available to anyone with basic internet skills.

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Saving an Alarm System Remote and $100

[Simon] has been using his home alarm system for over six years now. The system originally came with a small RF remote control, but after years of use and abuse it was finally falling apart. After searching for replacement parts online, he found that his alarm system is the “old” model and remotes are no longer available for purchase. The new system had similar RF remotes, but supposedly they were not compatible. He decided to dig in and fix his remote himself.

He cracked open the remote’s case and found an 8-pin chip labeled HCS300. This chip handles all of the remote’s functions, including reading the buttons, flashing the LED, and providing encoded output to the 433MHz transmitter. The HCS300 also uses KeeLoq technology to protect the data transmission with a rolling code. [Simon] did some research online and found the thew new alarm system’s remotes also use the same KeeLoq technology. On a hunch, he went ahead and ordered two of the newer model remotes.

He tried pairing them up with his receiver but of course it couldn’t be that simple. After opening up the new remote he found that it also used the HCS300 chip. That was a good sign. The manufacturer states that each remote is programmed with a secret 64-bit manufacturer’s code. This acts as the encryption key, so [Simon] would have to somehow crack the key on his original chip and re-program the new chip with the old key. Or he could take the simpler path and swap chips.

A hot air gun made short work of the de-soldering and soon enough the chips were in place. Unfortunately, the chips have different pinouts, so [Simon] had to cut a few traces and fix them with jumper wire. With the case back together and the buttons in place, he gave it a test. It worked. Who needs to upgrade their entire alarm system when you can just hack the remote?

Find and Repair a 230kV 800Amp Oil-Filled Power Cable Feels Like Mission Impossible

How do you fix a shorted cable ? Not just any cable. An underground, 3-phase, 230kV, 800 amp per phase, 10 mile long one, carrying power from a power station to a distribution centre. It costs $13,000 per hour in downtime, counting 1989 money, and takes 8 months to fix. That’s almost $75 million. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power did this fix about 26 years ago on the cable going from the Scattergood Steam Plant in El Segundo to a distribution center near Bundy and S.M. Blvd. [Jamie Zawinski] posted details on his blog in 2002. [Jamie] a.k.a [jwz] may be familiar to many as one of the founders of Netscape and Mozilla.

To begin with, you need Liquid Nitrogen. Lots of it. As in truckloads. The cable is 16 inch diameter co-axial, filled with 100,000 gallons of oil dielectric pressurised to 200 psi. You can’t drain out all the oil for lots of very good reasons – time and cost being on top of the list. That’s where the LN2 comes in. They dig holes on both sides (20-30 feet each way) of the fault, wrap the pipe with giant blankets filled with all kind of tubes and wires, feed LN2 through the tubes, and *freeze* the oil. With the frozen oil acting as a plug, the faulty section is cut open, drained, the bad stuff removed, replaced, welded back together, topped off, and the plugs are thawed. To make sure the frozen plugs don’t blow out, the oil pressure is reduced to 80 psi during the repair process. They can’t lower it any further, again due to several compelling reasons. The cable was laid in 1972 and was designed to have a MTBF of 60 years.

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Frankensteined Cordless Drill Lives Again

With tools, especially cordless tools, you’re going to pay now or pay later. On one hand, you can spend a bunch of money up front and get a quality tool that will last a long time. The other option is purchasing a cheap cordless tool that won’t last long, having to replace it later and thus spending more money. With cheap cordless tools it is common for the battery to fail before the physical tool making that tool completely unusable. Sure, another battery could be purchased but sometimes they cost just as much as the tool and battery combo originally did. So what’s a cordless tool user to do?

[EngergySaver] had a set of DeWalt cordless tools with a bunch of working batteries. He also had a cheap drill where the battery had died. His bundle of tools included two flashlights, one of which the case physically broke in half, probably from a clumsy drop. Instead of tossing the broken flashlight pieces in the garbage, [EngergySaver] kept them around for a while. Then one day he had the idea of combining the base of the broken DeWalt flashlight with the top of the old battery-less drill. He had the parts so why not?

The battery pack was 18 volt and the cheap drill expected 16.8 volts. [EngergySaver] figured the voltages were close enough and decided not to worry about the difference during his hack. He started by disassembling both the drill and flashlight down to the bare plastic housings. He marked an appropriate place to splice the handles and made some cuts. After the wiring was spliced together and the tool casings reassembled, a piece of sheet metal was cut and bent around the handle at the joint between flashlight and drill. Hose clamps hold the sheet metal tight around the handles, keeping the new hybrid tool together. And although we’re not crazy about the sheet metal and hose clamp method, it seems to be working just fine. With a little work and ingenuity [EngergySaver] resurrected an old tool for our favorite price; $0.

Dewalt Radio Repair

We’re suckers for repair videos and this Dewalt worksite radio repair (YouTube Link) from Hackaday alum [Todd Harrison] is no exception. Like a detective story, we’re always trying to guess who did it.

In his first video [Todd] traced the issue down to a faulty 6 volt regulator which was pushing out 8 volts. He fixed that by hacking a LM317 into the circuit to replace the original non-adjustable part. That helped but after a few days the radio failed again. So here he traced out the voltages to find the second culprit. Along the way, we get to see some of the nicer features of his Fluke 87 and 289 meters. As well as puzzling over the some of the design decisions in the radios construction, before identifying the final issue.

We won’t spoil the surprise, but find out how Todd solves this riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma in the video below!

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ESP8266 ESP07 module DoA Fix

It seems the Far-East factories can’t churn out ESP8266 based modules fast enough to feed all the world’s hackers. Well, Pick-n-Place machines are human too, so it’s not too long before you end up with a messed up batch from a factory. [Tracker Johnny] found a bunch of ESP07 modules which had their resonator mounted the wrong way around, effectively making them DoA. The resonator mounting isn’t consistently wrong too – most have reported them 90 deg offset, while others had them 180 deg. off.

Unfortunately, you need some tools and skills to fix the error. The ESP07 modules have a metal shield which needs to be removed to access the resonator. This is best done using a hot air gun. With the cover removed, you need to de-solder the resonator, and put it back in the right orientation as shown in the pictures on [Tracker Johnny]’s blog. You can find other people reporting the same fault at this forum thread. Coming in the wake of the problem with magic smoke from ESP8266 based ESP01 modules we reported earlier, it seems obvious that quality comes at a cost.

Fixing a Toyota Camry Hybrid Battery for Under Ten Dollars

[scoodidabop] is the happy new owner of a pre-owned Toyota Camry hybrid. Well at least he was up until his dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree. He did some Google research to figure out what all of the warning lights meant, but all roads pointed to taking his car into the dealer. After some diagnostics, the Toyota dealer hit [scoodidabop] with some bad news. He needed a new battery for his car, and he was going to have to pay almost $4,500 for it. Unfortunately the car had passed the manufacturer’s mileage warranty, so he was going to have to pay for it out-of-pocket.

[scoodidabop] is an electrician, so he’s obviously no stranger to electrical circuits. He had previously read about faulty Prius batteries, and how a single cell could cause a problem with the whole battery. [scoodidabop] figured it was worth testing this theory on his own battery since replacing a single cell would be much less expensive than buying an entire battery.

He removed the battery from his car, taking extra care not to electrocute himself. The cells were connected together using copper strips, so these were first removed. Then [scoodidabop] tested each cell individually with a volt meter. Every cell read a voltage within the normal range. Next he hooked up each cell to a coil of copper magnet wire. This placed a temporary load on the cell and [scoodidabop] could check the voltage drop to ensure the cells were not bad. Still, every cell tested just fine. So what was the problem?

[scoodidabop] noticed that the copper strips connecting the cells together were very corroded. He thought that perhaps this could be causing the issue. Having nothing to lose, he soaked each and every strip in vinegar. He then wiped down each strip with some steel wool and placed them into a baking soda bath to neutralize the vinegar. After an hour of this, he reassembled the battery and re-installed it into his car.

It was the moment of truth. [scoodidabop] started up his car and waited for the barrage of warning lights. They never came. The car was running perfectly. It turned out that the corroded connectors were preventing the car from being able to draw enough current. Simply cleaning them off with under $10 worth of supplies fixed the whole problem. Hopefully others can learn from this and save some of their own hard-earned money.