WTF Are Ground Loops?

These magical creatures crop up out of nowhere and fry your electronics or annoy your ear holes. Understanding them will doubtless save you money and hassle. The ground loop in a nutshell is what happens when two separate devices (A and B) are connected to ground separately, and then also connected to each other through some kind of communication cable with a ground, creating a loop. This provides two separate paths to ground (B can go through its own connection to ground or it can go through the ground of the cable to A and then to A’s ground), and means that current may start flowing in unanticipated ways. This is particularly noticeable in analog AV setups, where the result is audio hum or visible bars in a picture, but is also sometimes the cause of unexplained equipment failures. Continue reading “WTF Are Ground Loops?”

Das Fix

There was a time when the desktop peripherals such as your keyboard and mouse were expensive items that you hung on to and cared for. But several decades of PC commoditization and ever-cheaper manufacturing have rendered each of them to an almost throwaway level, they are so cheap that when one breaks you can simply reach for another without thought.

This is not to say that there is no longer a space for a more costly specialist keyboard. You’ll find enthusiasts still clinging to their treasured vintage IBM Model Ms and Model Fs, or typing on a range of competing high end ‘boards. You might say that a cheap keyboard is pretty high quality these days, but for some people only the feel of a quality switch will do.

[Mac2612] was given a particularly nice example of this class of peripheral, a Das Keyboard 4C complete with trademark missing key decals. There was a snag though, it has suffered a spill at some time in its life, and would issue random keypresses which rendered it useless. His marathon investigation and repair of the fault makes for an interesting read, and gives us some insight into why these keyboards cost the extra money.

“To my dismay, I quickly realized that this was probably an unnecessary endeavor…”

At first it seemed as though corrosion on the board might be the issue, so he gave it a clean with IPA. All to no avail, and so began a succession of further dismantlings and cleanups which culminated in the desoldering of all the key switches. This lengthy task shows us in detail the construction of a high-end ‘board, but sadly it didn’t reveal the fault, and phantom keypresses kept appearing.

Following the board traces back to the microcontroller, he eventually found that moisture had corroded the end of a 10K surface mount resistor, leaving it with a resistance in the MOhms. Since it was a pulldown for one of the keyboard rows, he’d found the source of the problem. Having spent a long time fault-finding a board with an SMD part with a mechanical failure, we feel his pain.

Replacing the SMD parts and reassembly gave him a rather sweet keyboard, albeit for a lot of work.

This is the first Das Keyboard teardown we’ve brought you, but not the first keyboard hack. There are the people remanufacturing the Model F, for example, or the most minimalist keyboard possible.

[Thanks Graham Heath, via /r/MechanicalKeyboards]

Walter Is The Slickest Retro-Futuristic Robot Arm

[Jochen Alt] is on a roll. We just covered his ball-balancing robot, Paul, only to find his phenomenal six-DOF robot arm in full retro style. Its name is “Walter” and it’s done up in DDR style (the former East Germany), in painted, 3D-printed plastic. The full design and build documents are an absolutely amazing resource if you’re into robot arm or legs.

In particular, the sections on trajectory planning and kinematics are fantastic. If you’re interested in robot motion planning by Bezier curves, you know where to go. (We’ve always wanted a Bezier-curve 3D printer slicer, but that’s another story.) The construction is also top-notch here, and the attention to detail that went into this arm is phenomenal. It’s all done with stepper motors and geared belts, which allow each of Walter’s joints to be driven by a motor that’s one joint further upstream than would be the case if it were designed with servos. [Jochen] even went so far as to expose the belt in some places to show off the gearing. Walter is worth checking out.

Even if you’ll never build such a fancy robot arm, you should read through the docs just to appreciate all of the thought and work that went into this very refined and simple-from-the-outside design. If you’d like to start out on the simple side of the spectrum, check out these robot arms made of office supplies or a desk lamp. Once you’re ready for your second arm project this short list, some of which [Jochen] mention in his writeup, should get you up and grasping. And do check out his balancing bot, Paul.