Interesting Switch Autopsy

We put a lot of trust into some amazingly cheap components, sometimes that trust is very undeserved. Long gone are the days when every electronic component was a beautifully constructed precision lab instrument.  As [Rupert Hirst] shows, this can be a hard lesson to learn for even the biggest companies.

[Rupert]’s Nexus 5 was suffering from a well known reboot issue. He traced it to the phone’s power switch. It was always shorting to ground, even though it clicked like it was supposed to.

He desoldered the switch and pried the delicate sheet metal casing apart. Inside were four components. A soft membrane with a hard nub on the bottom, presumably engineered to give the switch that quality feeling. Next were two metal buckles that produced the click and made contact with the circuit board, which is the final component.

He noticed something odd and  busted out his USB microscope. The company had placed a blob of solder on the bottom buckle. We think this is because steel on copper contact would lead to premature failure of the substrate, especially with the high impact involved during each switching event.

The fault lay in the imprecise placement of the solder blob. If it had been perfectly in the middle, and likely many phones that never showed the issue had it there, the issue would have never shown up. Since it was off-center, the impact of each switching event slowly deposited thin layers of solder onto the copper and fiberglass. Finally it built up enough to completely short the switch.

Interestingly, this exact problem shows up across different phone manufacturers, somewhere there’s a switch company with a killer sales team out there.

Physical Kill Switch For Rogue Applications

Necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes frustration is as good a motivator. [Maciej] does a bunch of statistics in his day job using SPSS. silaczLike most complicated pieces of software, it can get hung, and the only way to stop it is to manually kill the running processes. Apparently, that happened one time too many for [Maciej].

He took matters into his own hands, repurposing a big red emergency-stop button for the task. It’s mounted on a jar, and the microcontroller inside is configured as a USB keyboard. When he mashes the button, it opens the “Run…” menu and types out taskkill spssengine.exe for him.

We can totally see the therapeutic value of such a device. Plus, in case SPSS is gobbling up his system memory and everything’s approaching standstill, the vital seconds saved by the microcontroller’s quick-typing fingers could be a lifesaver.


[glitch] had a cheap EPROM eraser with very few features. Actually, that might be giving it too much credit: it’s barely more than a UV light that turns on when it’s plugged in and turns off when it’s plugged out unplugged. Of course it would be nice to implement some safety features, so he decided he’d hook it up to a software-controlled power outlet.

Of course, controlling a relay that’s wired to mains is old hat around here, and in fact, we’ve covered [glitch]’s optoisolated mains switch already. He’s gone a little beyond the normal mains relay project with this one, though. Rather than use a microcontroller to run the relay, [glitch] wrote a simple Ruby script on his computer to turn the EPROM eraser on for the precise amount of time that is required to erase the memory.The Ruby script drives the relay control directly over a USB to serial adapter’s RTS handshake pin.

[glitch]’s hack reminds us that if you just need a quick couple bits of slow output, a USB-serial converter might be just the ticket. You could imagine driving everything from standard lamps to your 3D printer’s bed heater (provided you use similar hardware), but it’s especially helpful for [glitch] who claims to forget to turn off the eraser when it’s done its job, which leaves a potentially dangerous UV source just lying about. It’s always a good idea to add safety features to a dangerous piece of equipment!

Reverse Engineering how a USB Switch Switches

[Daniel] found himself with a need to connect a single USB device to two Linux servers. After searching around, he managed to find an inexpensive USB switch designed to do just that. He noticed that the product description mentioned nothing about Linux support, but he figured it couldn’t be that hard to make it work.

[Daniel] started by plugging the device into a Windows PC for testing. Windows detected the device and installed an HID driver automatically.  The next step was to install the control software on the Windows system. This provided [Daniel] with a tray icon and a “switch” function. Clicking this button disconnected the HID device from the Windows PC and connected the actual USB device on the other side of the USB switch. The second computer would now have access to the HID device instead.

[Daniel] fired up a program called SnoopyPro. This software is used to inspect USB traffic. [Daniel] noticed that a single message repeated itself until he pressed the “switch” button. At that time, a final message was sent and the HID device disconnected.

Now it was time to get cracking on Linux. [Daniel] hooked up the switch to a Linux system and configured a udev rule to ensure that it always showed up as /dev/usbswitch. He then wrote a python script to write the captured data to the usbswitch device. It was that simple. The device switched over as expected. So much for having no Linux support!

The In-Circuit SD Card Switch


For nearly every problem, it’s possible to engineer a solution, even if you’re dealing with an extraordinarily niche problem that might only apply to yourself. [Joel] wanted to be able to program the microSD card in his BeagleBone with a new bootloader or file system without removing the SD card from the target board. This is a peculiar requirement, and it’s highly doubtful a product or even a circuit exists for such a function. This meant [Joel] would need to roll his own board to accomplish the task.

The board is remarkably simple, housing a single microSD socket, two expansion headers for a microSD sniffer for a computer and an embedded board, an FTDI header, and a pair of 4-bit multiplexer/demultiplexers. The operation of the device is fairly straightforward: send a signal down the FTDI cable, and the board switches the onboard SD card from one device to another.

[Joel] has a video of his screen that shows him pulling off in-circuit SD card reading and writing. You can check that out below.

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DIY Pressure Plate Switch for your Haunted House

Pressure Plate

Yes, its Halloween time again and the hacks are going to be crawling out of the woodwork for the rest of the month. [Rich Osgood] is off to a good start promising one hack every week until Halloween. Judging from this first project, a DIY pressure plate switch, we think there’s going to be a common theme to follow. [Rich] constructs his pressure plate for almost no cost using cardboard, tinfoil and duct tape. It couldn’t be easier, so make lots of these if your haunting project requires pressure plate triggers to activate any spooks. Judging by the cardboard construction it’s likely they will fail after multiple uses, but you can switch one out quickly requiring only two hookup wires and a bit of tape.

Hopefully we aren’t stealing [Rich’s] thunder by recommending using Xbee wireless remote sensors to covertly monitor guests or trigger spooktacular scares.

We will be keeping an eye out for [Rich’s] follow-up Halloween hacks. Join us after the break to watch the tutorial video on making homemade pressure plates.

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Rotary phone museum exhibit

dial-telephone-museum-exhibit[David Burroughs] wrote in to share this dial telephone museum exhibit he built and we’re glad he did because we love interactive museum hacks. He mentions that it’s not really tied to the theme of the Roads and Rails Museum in which it’s installed. But when we think of railroad history we also think of telegraph. And that’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from telephones.

The display allows museum goers to play with the rotary dial on the phone. The box next two it contains a 10-position relay increment switch. So each pulse from the dial increments the switch. There’s a satisfying click, a moving arm, and different colored LEDs which highlight the inner workings. An Arduino board monitors the phone, displaying the dialed number on a seven segment display then incrementing the relay.

We figure the interesting part is to see that telephony used to use mechanical switching like this. But the video below includes a story about the kid who asked how you carried this phone around. This brings to mind the phrase “hang up the phone”, which doesn’t have the same literal meaning it used to.

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