The Most Traveled Security Screwdriver, A Hacker’s Tale

Nespresso is a variant of disposable single serve coffee pods with an extensive, expensive, and proprietary accessory line. After selling inconvenient bits of his soul for convenience and, admittedly, fairly tasty shots of coffee, [Chriss Lott] was predictably betrayed by his Nespresso Jura coffee machine. 

Rather than simply exchange more local currency for a replacement revenue guarantee for the Nestle conglomerate, he did what any self-respecting hacker would do and tried to fix it himself. Unfortunately he quickly found their cunningly oval shaped security screws to be more trouble than his time was worth. He listed his remaining coffee pods for free on craigslist and decided to toss the machine in the planned obsolescence receptacle which comes standard in any civilized home.

This is where our story would end were it not for the kindness of a fellow hacker. [Dave H] was browsing through craigslist when he spotted the sad tale. However, possessing a different skillset from [Chris], [Dave] had solved the particular oval shaped conundrum with a security screwdriver hand made from an old bolt. He answered his fellow hacker’s vaguely ardent plea and mailed the converted bolt over to [Chris]’s house.

With the proper tool in hand, [Chris] quickly discovered that all that was standing between him and his convenient coffee was a bit of schmoo between the cost cutting membrane switch and its mating pad on the circuit board. With the practically free repair complete, the machine happily vibrated back to life and produced coffee as if its planned obsolescence wasn’t for another few years. We assume a Nestle engineer was thrown into the pit on principle for this loss (they, of course, are evil enough to have a pit).

We’re not sure how the story proliferated through the internet, but we do know that it was inspirational to many convenient caffeine deprived hackers with similar problems. [Chris] found himself the hub in a network of circumnavigating security screw circumventing hackers.

[Dave]’s hacked bolt was the first to go on an adventure resulting in the repair of many machines before the postmen lost it under a cart, standard procedure. A replacement was purchased from an eBay seller for a hefty $40 american dollars and took up the journey where it left off. Others sent in guides on making the tool for those unwilling to wait for one to be shipped. In fact, even the maker of the $40 dollar tool weighed in on the issue. Apparently he was unaware that the consumer and commercial Nespresso machines used the same tools. A hacker himself, he ran a listing of the custom tool at a quarter of the price for the home repairman and another for the commercial appliance at the higher price.

The whole page is an entertaining read, for a certain kind of person, about appliance repair, reverse engineering, and camaraderie. Happily, the hub is still alive. If you find yourself with an oval screw which needs turning, get in touch with [Chris] and a strange community’s kindness will have a nomadic security bit crossing nations your way soon.

Repairing 14 Tektronix TLA5202 Logic Analyzers

[Matthew D’Asaro] was recently entrusted with an entire classroom fleet of fourteen broken Tektronix TLA5202 logic analyzers — a pile of equipment that once was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. His task: Fixing them. He fixed them all, and on the way documented a number of common failure points in these old but still great devices.

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Refurbishing Six Commodore 64s in Parallel

[Drygol] found himself with six Commodore 64’s in various states of disrepair. Because batch work is often more efficient, he detailed the process of restoring all of them in parallel in this one-, two-, three-part series.

The first step was to whiten the cases. Old cases turn yellow from the degradation of the fire retardant additives in the plastic. The proven method to fix this is with a paste called Retr0bright. [Drygol] used hair bleaching paste which is very similar. The cases came out nicely whitened from their treatment.

Next he repaired the keyboard PCB and whitened the keys as well. Drinking was involved, but it all came out okay. The circuit boards were cleaned and inspected. There were a few corroded spots, broken chips, and bad solder joints to be repaired. A few common mods were also installed.

In the final part of the series two of the C64s have SD cards installed into them. A few interesting fixes were done to repair broken plastics. Lastly the two worst cases were painted. In the end [Drygol] found himself with six perfectly working and attractive C64s. Who know’s what he’ll do with them, but we all know that was not the point.

Parent To The Power Wheels Rescue

If the [realjohnnybravo] is the one from the show, it appears he finally managed to get a girlfriend, marry her, and produce at least one son. As the old schoolyard rhyme goes, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes filling the whole *!$&# backyard with brightly colored plastic garbage. One of these items, a Power Wheels quad bike,  suffered a blow from planned obsolescence leaving behind a traumatized child. [realjohnnybravo] decided to fix it.

He made frequent mention of how one could go to a store and purchase replacement gears for the toy. Perhaps it’s a German thing. Regardless, he shows experience with internet comments by justifying his adventure in gear manufacturing with, paraphrased, “I’m having fun and learning so back off you pedantic jerks.”

Resin casting is great, and is often overlooked vs 3D printing. He purchased some hardware store RTV silicone and some slow-cure resin. The faster cure resin would get too hot with this much volume and potentially burn.

Materials procured he took apart both gearboxes from the machine. He first made a silicone mold of the broken parts (from the good copies out of the working gearbox) and removed the master. Without a vacuum or pressure casting chamber, the molds came out a little rough and bubbly, but it’s nothing some work with a carpet knife can’t fix. For big gears like this it hardly matters. Next he poured the two part resin into the molds and waited.

After some finishing with regular woodworking tools the parts fit right into the voids in the defective gearbox. His son can once again happily whir around the lawn, until the batteries die anyway.

Fixing a Broken Bandsaw with a Custom Steel Part

When a large bandsaw broke down due to a cast iron part snapping in two, [Amr] took the opportunity to record the entire process of designing and creating a solid steel replacement for the broken part using a (non-CNC) mill and lathe.

For those of us unfamiliar with the process a machinist would go through to accomplish such a thing, the video is extremely educational; it can be sobering both to see how much design work happens before anything gets powered up, and just how much time and work goes into cutting and shaping some steel into what at first glance looks like a relatively uncomplicated part.

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Fixing A Complicated Scrollwheel

[Thomas] loves his Logitech MX Master mouse, which has a pretty elaborate scroll-wheel mechanism. Perhaps too elaborate; it broke on him after a week of use, just when he was getting used to the feature. So what did he do? Took it apart and fixed it, naturally. And as a bonus, we get a guided tour of the interesting mechanism. Check out his video below to watch it in action.

The weighted scroll wheel switches between two different modes, one with a detent like you’re probably used to, and one where the wheel is allowed to spin freely for long-distance travel. And to do this, it’s actually got a little motor inside that rotates a cam and throws a lever into the side of the scroll wheel for the detent mode, and pulls the lever out of the way for free spins. It must also have some logic inside that detects how quickly the scroller is spun because it re-engages as soon as the scroll wheel stops.

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Classic Amplifier Reborn With Modern Transistors

Someone brought a dead Marantz amplifier to [Lansing]’s attention, a rather nice model from the 1980s with one channel entirely dead and the other very quiet. His account of its repair is straightforward, but provides some insights should you find yourself with a similar item on your bench.

Opening up the box, he was presented with 35 years of accumulated dust. It’s the annoying side of cracking open classic kit, we all have our dusty horror stories. His first task was routine: to replace all the unit’s capacitors. The mains voltage in France has gone up by 10 volts from 220V to 230V as part of EU harmonization in the years since the amp was built, so he used capacitors with an appropriately higher rating to compensate. We might have waited until the rest of the amp was proven fixed before splashing the cash on caps, but maybe we’re more thrifty.

The quiet channel fix turned out to be from a muting circuit designed to keep the amp quiet during the turn-on phase and suppress that annoying “thump”. A dead transistor replaced, and all was well. The dead channel though had a whole slew of dead transistors in it, which turned the problem from one of repair to one of transistor equivalence. Quite a few of the 1980s parts were no longer available, so modern replacements had to be found.

It is tempting to think of particularly all small-signal transistors as functionally equivalent. You will get away with this in logic and switching circuits in which the device is either On or Off and never in between, but in an audio amplifier like the Marantz things are not so simple. A lot of effort will have been made by the designers to calculate resistances for the current passing through them to deliver the right DC bias points without sending the circuit into wild oscillation. An important part of that calculation comes from the current gain of the transistors involved. [Lansing] had to carefully select his transistors for equivalence, though it some cases he had to do a bit of creative lead-bending to fit a different pin-out.

So, all dead transistors replaced with appropriate equivalents, and the amp was reborn. Success, and very much worth the effort!

We’ve covered a lot of amplifiers here in the past. Some were dead, like this little amp with blown capacitors or this smokin’ subwoofer. Others are more esoteric, like this ion wind 1KV tube creation.