Fail Of The Week: Flipped Cable Leads To Fried Radio

[Doug]’s newly-installed Yaesu FT-891 mobile transceiver failed to power up despite a careful installation, and it turns out to have ultimately been caused by a reversed cable. There’s a happy ending, however. Since the only real casualties were a blown resettable fuse and a badly-burned resistor that damaged the PCB, [Doug] was able to effect a repair. Things could have been worse, but they also could have been better. Damage could have been prevented entirely with some better design, which [Doug] explains during his analysis of what went wrong.

The destroyed SMT resistor and pads were easily replaced with a through-hole version, thanks to the schematics.

The main problem was that the generic RJ12 cable that [Doug] used to connect radio components had its connections reversed. This would not be a problem if it was used to connect a landline telephone to the wall, but it was a big problem when used to connect the radio components together. According to the radio schematics, the two center wires carry +13 V and GND, which meant that a reversed cable delivered power with reversed polarity; never an optimal outcome.

Once the reversed power arrived at the other end, [Doug] discovered something else. Diodes whose job would be to protect against reverse polarity were marked DO NOT INSTALL, probably to shave a few cents off the bill of materials. As a result, the full 13 V was soaked up by a 1/8 W surface mount resistor which smoldered and burned until a fuse eventually blew, but not before the resistor and pads were destroyed. Thankfully, things cleaned up well and after replacing the necessary parts and swapping for a correct cable, things powered up normally and the mobile radio was good to go.

Curious for a bit more details about mobile radio installations? Check out our own Dan Maloney’s rundown on installing a discontinued (but perfectly serviceable) Yaesu FT-8900R.

Tool Generates Interactive PCB Diagrams From KiCAD

Nearly everyone likes nice pinout diagrams, but the more pins and functions are involved, the more cluttered and less useful the diagram becomes. To address this, [Jan Mrázek] created Pinion, a tool to help generate interactive diagrams from KiCad design files.

The result is an interactive diagram that can be viewed in any web browser. Hovering over a pin or pad highlights those signals with a callout for the name, and clicking makes it stay highlighted for easier reference. Further information can be as detailed or as brief as needed.

Interestingly, Pinion isn’t a web service that relies on any kind of backend. The diagrams are static HTML and JavaScript only, easily included in web pages or embedded in GitHub documentation.

If you think Pinion looks a bit familiar, you’re probably remembering that we covered [Jan]’s much earlier PcbDraw tool, which turned KiCad board files into SVG renderings but had no ability to add labels or interactivity. Pinion is an evolution of that earlier idea, and its diagrams are able to act as both documentation and interactive reference, with no reliance on any kind of external service.

Interested? Pinion has a full tutorial and demo and a growing library of parts, so check it out.

See This Hybrid Approach To Folded 3D Printed Mechanisms

3D printers are quite common nowadays, but we’re still far from exhausting new ideas to try with them. [Angus] of [Maker’s Muse] recently got interested in 3D printing small mechanical assemblies that can be put together by folding them up, and also depend on folding linkages for the moving parts. (Video, embedded below.) The result would be lightweight, functional assemblies that would be simple to manufacture and require very few parts; but how to make the hinges themselves is the tricky part. As a proof-of-concept, [Angus] designed a clever steering linkage that could be printed flat and folded together, and shows his work on trying to make it happen.

[Angus] points out that that 3D-printed hinges have a lot of limitations that make then less than ideal for small and lightweight assemblies. Printing hinge pieces separately and assembling after the fact increases labor and part count, and print-in-place hinges tend to have loose tolerances. A living hinge made from a thin section of material that folds would be best for a lightweight assembly, but how well it works depends a lot of the material used and how it is made.

[Angus] tries many different things, and ultimately decided on a hybrid approach, combining laser cutting with 3D printing to create an assembly that consists of a laser-cut bottom layer with 3D printed parts on top of it to create a durable and lightweight device. He hasn’t quite sorted it all out, but the results show promise, and his video is a fantastic peek at just how much work and careful experimentation can go into trying something new.

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Hands-On Review: TCam-Mini WiFi Thermal Imager

A thermal camera is a tool I have been wanting to add to my workbench for quite a while, so when I learned about the tCam-Mini, a wireless thermal camera by Dan Julio, I placed an order. A thermal imager is a camera whose images represent temperatures, making it easy to see things like hot and cold spots, or read the temperature of any point within the camera’s view. The main (and most expensive) component of the tCam-Mini is the Lepton 3.5 sensor, which sits in a socket in the middle of the board. The sensor is sold separately, but the campaign made it available as an add-on.

Want to see how evenly a 3D printer’s heat bed is warming up, or check whether a hot plate is actually reflowing PCBs at the optimal temperature? How about just seeing how weird your pets would look if you had heat vision instead of normal eyes? A thermal imager like the tCam-mini is the tool for that, but it’s important to understand exactly how the tCam-mini works. While it may look like a webcam, it does not work like one.

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Vintage Monochromator Makes Monochromatic Light, Mechanically

A monochromator is an optical instrument that permits only a narrow selection of wavelengths to be transmitted from a source, and the particular model [Doug] obtained renders visual light monochromatic by way of a mechanically-adjusted system of mirrors and diffraction gratings that allows only the selected wavelength to pass. The big dial is how the operator selects the desired wavelength, and is labeled in ‘mu’ (or milli-micro), but [Doug] helpfully points out the more modern term for that is nanometers.

LCD monitor viewed through a monochromator set to pass red wavelength only, showing that images remain intact.

How does it work? Light enters the device via an opening at the base, and only the selected wavelength exits from the top. The dial’s range is from 450 nm to 640 nm (representing violet-blue to red), which [Doug] demonstrates by shining a white LED flashlight into the unit and showing how only green, red, or blue will exit from the top depending on the setting of the dial.

An interesting side note is that with this particular device, images can be rendered monochromatic but otherwise remain intact. [Doug] demonstrates this by viewing a small section of his LCD monitor through the device, as shown in the photo he managed to capture.

It’s an interesting piece of vintage equipment that shows what is possible with passive optical components and a clever mechanical design. These devices are therefore entirely manually-operated tools (at least until someone sticks a stepper motor to the adjustment dial to create an automated scanner, that is.)

How The Flipper Zero Hacker Multitool Gets Made And Tested

Flipper Zero is an open-source multitool for hackers, and [Pavel] recently shared details on what goes into the production and testing of these devices. Each unit contains four separate PCBs, and in high-volume production it is inevitable that some boards are faulty in some way. Not all faults are identical — some are not even obvious —  but they all must be dealt with before they end up in a finished product.

One of several custom test jigs for Flipper Zero. Faults in high volume production are inevitable, and detecting them early is best.

Designing a process to effectively detect and deal with faults is a serious undertaking, one the Flipper Zero team addressed by designing a separate test station for each of the separate PCBs, allowing detection of defects as early as possible. Each board gets fitted into a custom test jig, then is subjected to an automated barrage of tests to ensure everything is as expected before being given the green light. A final test station gives a check to completed assemblies, and every test is logged into a database.

It may seem tempting to skip testing the individual boards and instead just do a single comprehensive test on finished units, but when dealing with production errors, it’s important to detect issues as early in the workflow as possible. The later a problem is detected, the more difficult and expensive it is to address. The worst possible outcome is to put a defective unit into a customer’s hands, where a issue is found only after all of the time and cost of assembly and shipping has already been spent. Another reason to detect issues early is that some faults become more difficult to address the later they are discovered. For example, a dim LED or poor antenna performance is much harder to troubleshoot when detected in a completely assembled unit, because the fault could be anywhere.

[Pavel] provides plenty of pictures and details about the production of Flipper Zero, and it’s nice to see how the project is progressing since its hyper-successful crowdfunding campaign.

Live Energy Monitor Helps Plan Power-Hungry Appliance Use

There are a lot of good reasons to have a better understanding of one’s household power use, and that is especially true for those that do their own solar power collection. For example, [Frederick] determined that it would be more efficient to use large appliances (like a dishwasher or washing machine) when there was excess solar power available, but the challenge was in accessing the right data in a convenient way. His Raspberry Pi-based live energy monitor was the solution, because it uses an LED matrix to display live energy data that can be consulted at a glance.

Interestingly, this project isn’t about hacking the power meter. What this project is really about is conveniently accessing that data when and where it is best needed. [Frederick] has a digital power and gas meter with the ability to accept a small wireless dongle. That dongle allows a mobile phone app to monitor power usage, including whether power is being taken from or exported to the grid.

Since [Frederick] didn’t want to have to constantly consult his mobile phone, a Raspberry Pi using a Pimoroni Unicorn HAT HD acts as a glanceable display. His Python script polls the power meter directly over WiFi, then creates a live display of power usage: one LED for every 250 W of power, with the top half of the display being power used, and the bottom half representing power exported to the grid. Now the decision of when to turn on which appliances for maximum efficiency is much easier, not by automating the appliances themselves, but simply by displaying data where it needs to be seen. (This kind of thing, incidentally, is exactly the idea behind the Rethink Displays challenge of the 2021 Hackaday Prize.)

As for those of us without a digital power meter that makes it easy for residents to access power data? It turns out there is no reason a power meter’s wireless service interface can’t be sniffed with RTL-SDR.