What Are Those Hieroglyphics on Your Laptop Charger?

Look on the back of your laptop charger and you’ll find a mess of symbols and numbers. We’d bet you’ve looked at them before and gleaned little or no understanding from what they’re telling you.

These symbols are as complicated as the label on the tag of your shirt that have never taught you anything about doing laundry. They’re the marks of standardization and bureaucracy, and dozens of countries basking in the glow of money made from issuing certificates.

The switching power supply is the foundation of many household electronics — obviously not just laptops — and thus they’re a necessity worldwide. If you can make a power supply that’s certified in most countries, your market is enormous and you only have to make a single device, possibly with an interchangeable AC cord for different plug types. And of course, symbols that have meaning in just about any jurisdiction.

In short, these symbols tell you everything important about your power supply. Here’s what they mean.

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Amazon Echo Dot Upgraded to Retro Futuristic Look

It takes a surprising amount of planning and work if you want something to look old. [vemeT5ak] wanted the Echo Dot sitting on his desk to fit a different aesthetic motivated by a 1940s Canadian radio. Armed with Solidworks, a Tormach CNC, and some woodworking tools at Sector67 hackerspace, he built a retro-futuristic case for the Amazon Alexa-enabled gadget. Future and past meet thanks to the design and material appearance of the metal grille and base molding wrapping the wood radio case. The finishing touch is of course the ring of blue light which still shines through from the Echo itself.

A short USB extension cable connects the Echo Dot to the back of the enclosure, and the cavernous inside plus ample holes provide a nice rich sound.

It took about 15 hours of modeling, scaling, and tweaking in Solidworks with an interesting design specification in mind: single-bit operation. This single-bit is not in the electrical sense, but refers to the CNC milling operation. All pieces are cut with a 1/4″ end mill, without any tool changes. Metal pieces were milled from 6061 aluminum and the hickory case (with burgundy stain) was mostly cut on a table saw, but the holes were CNC machined.

What looks like an otherwise perfect build has a single flaw that eats up [vemeT5ak]’s soul; the Echo Dot has a draft angle that wasn’t considered during modeling, and the hole is ever so slightly too wide, meaning it didn’t press fit perfectly flush. Fortunately it’s not noticeable behind the metal grill, and unless you knew (please help keep his dirty little secret), you would think everything turned out perfectly.

It turns out building a case for the Echo Dot is challenging for a few reasons; the rubbery material on the bottom doesn’t allow anything to stick to it, and the sides are smooth and featureless with a taper that makes it difficult to lock it in. Many cases resort to clipping over the top to hold it in place. Others install it into a fish or a furby.

Yellowing: the Plastic Equivalent of a Sunburn

Your fancy white electronic brick of consumer electronics started off white, but after some time it yellowed and became brittle. This shouldn’t have happened; plastic is supposed to last forever. It turns out that plastic enclosures are vulnerable to the same things as skin, and the effects are similar. When they are stared at by the sun, the damage is done even though it might not be visible to you for quite some time.

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Fail of The Week — Accidental Demagnetization

There’s a trick in the world of plastic enclosures. The threaded insert is a small cylinder of metal with threads on the inside and a rough edge on the outside. To make a plastic part with a hole for securely connecting bolts that can be repeatedly screwed without destroying the plastic, you take the threaded insert and press it (usually with the help of a soldering iron to heat the insert)  into a hole that’s slightly smaller than the insert. The heat melts the plastic a little bit and allows for the insert to go inside. Then when it cools the insert is snugly inside the plastic, and you can attach circuit boards or other plastic parts using a bolt without stripping the screw or the insert. We’ve seen Hackaday’s [Joshua Vasquez] installing threaded inserts with an iron, as well as in a few other projects.

This trick is neat. And I’ve now proven that it does not work with neodymium magnets.

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Active Discussion About Passive Components

People talk about active and passive components like they are two distinct classes of electronic parts. When sourcing components on a BOM, you have the passives, which are the little things that are cheaper than a dime a dozen, and then the rest that make up the bulk of the cost. Diodes and transistors definitely fall into the cheap little things category, but aren’t necessarily passive components, so what IS the difference?

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LEGO-compatible Electronics Kits Everywhere!

Within the last few years, a lot of companies have started with the aim to disrupt the educational electronics industry using their LEGO-compatible sets. Now they’re ubiquitous, and fighting each other for their slice of space in your child’s box of bricks. What’s going on here?

Raison D’Être

The main reason for LEGO-compatibility is familiarity. Parents and children get LEGO. They have used it. They already have a bunch. When it comes to leveling up and learning about electronics, it makes sense to do that by adding on to a thing they already know and understand, and it means they can continue to play with and get more use from their existing sets. The parent choosing between something that’s LEGO-compatible and a completely separate ecosystem like littleBits (or Capsela) sees having to set aside all the LEGO and buy all new plastic parts and learn the new ecosystem, which is a significant re-investment. littleBits eventually caught on and started offering adapter plates, and that fact demonstrates how much demand there is to stick with the studs.

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PID Controlled Charcoal BBQ – Put an Arduino on it!

At Maker Faire Milwaukee this past weekend, [basement tech]  was showing off his latest build, a PID controlled charcoal grill. While it hasn’t QUITE been tested yet with real food, it does work in theory.

PID (a feedback loop with some fancy math used to adjust the input to get a consistent output) controlled cooking is commonly used for sous vide, where one heats up a water bath to a controlled temperature to cook food in plastic bags. Maintaining water temperature is fairly easy. Controlling a charcoal barbecue is much more difficult. [basement tech] accomplishes this with controlled venting and fans. With the charcoal hot and the lid on, there are two ways to control temperature; venting to let hot air out, and blowing air on the coals to make them hotter. A thermocouple sensor stuck through the grill gives the reading of the air inside, and an Arduino nearby reads that and adjusts the vents and fans accordingly.

The video goes into extensive detail on the project, and describes some of the challenges he had along the way, such as preventing the electronics and servos from melting.

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