Hands On: AD409-Max Microscope

It used to be that only the most well-equipped home electronics lab had a microscope. However, with SMD parts getting smaller and smaller, some kind of microscope is almost a necessity.

Luckily, you can get USB microscopes for a song now. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can get even get microscopes that have little LCD screens. However, there are some problems with the cheaper end of these microscopes.

Many of them have small and wobbly stands that aren’t very practical. Some don’t leave you much room to get a soldering iron in between the lens and the part. Worse still, many cheap microscopes have trouble staying still when you have to push buttons or otherwise make adjustments to the device.

It seems like every time a new generation of microscopes aimed at the electronics market arrives on the scene, many of the earlier flaws get taken care of. That’s certainly the case with the Andonstar AD409-Max.

Continue reading “Hands On: AD409-Max Microscope”

A Primer On Optical Storage Data Preservation

Picking a storage medium for data preservation can be a conflicting time. Sure, they say optical storage tends to last, but it can’t be as straightforward as just burning everything onto Blu-Rays, right? Here’s a paper from Canadian Conservation Institute, teaching you the basics of using compact disks for data storage, it appears, without missing a single detail, and taking about ten minutes to read.

Here, you will learn about the different kinds of disks available and how their manufacturing-inherent qualities affect their preservation capabilities. Are dual-layer DVDs better than single-layer ones, or is it the opposite? How do CDs compare? And what about Blu-Ray disks? Wonder no more, here you will get answers to questions you didn’t known to ask. Data preservation is a game of numbers to preserve numbers, and this paper also outlines how to properly record, store, and test your disks to raise your chances.

Whether you’re only looking to delve into data preservation, or trying to improve your own policies, this looks like is a perfect document for you. After all, if you’re not aware of the best practices, you might end up having to digitize old floppies or even LaserDisks – not that those aren’t fun journeys to read about, of course, and we recommend it. Data preservation isn’t just about optical disks, of course – it’s a practice with a rich history.

Plasma Cutter On The Cheap Reviewed

If you have a well-equipped shop, it isn’t unusual to have a welder. Stick welders have become a commodity and even some that use shield gas are cheap if you don’t count buying the bottle of gas. But plasma cutters are still a bit pricey. Can you get one from China for under $300? Yes. Do you want one that cheap? [Metal Massacre Fab Shop] answers that question in the video below.

First impressions count, and having plasma misspelled on the unit (plasme) isn’t promising. The instructions were unclear, and some of the fittings didn’t make him happy, so he replaced them with some he had on hand. He also added some pipe tape to stop any leaking.

The first test was a piece of quarter-inch steel at 35 amps. The machine itself is rated to 50 amps. Sparks ensued, and with a little boost in amperage, it made a fair-looking cut. At 50 amps, it was time to try a thicker workpiece. It made the cut, although it wasn’t beautiful. The leaking regulator and the fact that he can’t run the compressor simultaneously as the cutter didn’t help.

From the look of it, for light duty, this would be workable with a little practice and maybe some new fittings. Unsurprisingly, it probably isn’t as capable as a professional unit. Still could be very handy to have.

It is possible to convert a welder into a plasma cutter. A handheld unit like this probably won’t benefit from a Sharpie.

Continue reading “Plasma Cutter On The Cheap Reviewed”

Review: The New Essential Guide To Electronics In Shenzhen

The city of Shenzhen in China holds a special fascination for the electronic hardware community, as the city and special economic zone established by the Chinese government at the start of the 1980s it has become probably one of the most important in the world for electronic manufacturing. If you’re in the business of producing electronic hardware you probably want to do that business there, and if you aren’t, you will certainly own things whose parts were made there. From the lowly hobbyist who buys a kit of parts on AliExpress through the project featured on Hackaday with a Shenzhen-made PCB, to the engineer bringing an electronic product to market, it’s a place which has whether we know it or not become part of our lives.

First, A Bit Of History

A picture of booths in a Shenzhen market
These are the markets we have been looking for. Credit: Naomi Wu.

At a superficial level it’s very easy to do business there, as a quick trawl through our favourite Chinese online retailers will show. But when you’ve graduated from buying stuff online and need to get down to the brass tacks of sourcing parts and arranging manufacture, it becomes impossible to do so without  being on the ground. At which point for an American or European without a word of Chinese even sourcing a resistor becomes an impossibly daunting task. To tackle this, back in 2016 the Chinese-American hardware hacker and author Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang produced a slim wire-bound volume, The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen. This book contained both a guide to the city’s legendary Huaquanbei electronics marts and a large section of point-to-translate guides for parts, values, and all the other Chinese phrases which a non-Chinese-speaker might need to get their work done in the city. It quickly became an essential tool for sourcing in Shenzhen, and more than one reader no doubt has a well-thumbed copy on their shelves.

There are places in the world where time appears to move very slowly, but this Chinese city is not one of them. A book on Shenzhen written in 2016 is now significantly out of date, and to keep pace with its parts that have since chanced beyond recognition, an update has become necessary. In this endeavour the mantle has passed to the hardware hacker and Shenzhen native Naomi Wu, someone with many years experience in introducing the people, culture, and industries of her city to the world. Her updated volume, The New Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen has been the subject of a recent crowdfunding effort, and I was lucky enough to snag one. It’s a smart hardcover spiral-bound book with a red and gold cover, and it’s time to open it up and take a look. Continue reading “Review: The New Essential Guide To Electronics In Shenzhen”

EasyThreed K9: The Value In A €72 AliExpress FDM 3D Printer

The hot end of the EasyThreed K9 is actually pretty nifty. (Credit: [Thomas Sanladerer])
The hot end of the EasyThreed K9 is actually pretty nifty. (Credit: [Thomas Sanladerer])
Recently, [Thomas Sanladerer] bought an EasyThreed K9 off AliExpress for a mere €72, netting him an FDM printer with a 10 x 10 x 10 cm build volume. The build plate is unheated, with optional upgrade, and there is no display to interact with the device: just a big multi-function ‘play’ button and five smaller buttons that direct the print head to preset locations above the build plate to allow for build plate leveling using the knobs on each corner. There’s also a ‘home’ button on the back for homing the print head, which pretty much completes the user interface. As the printer comes in a rather small box, the first step is to assemble the parts into something resembling a 3D printer.

What follows is both a mixture of wonder and horror, as the plastic build quality is everything but convincing, while at the same time, the self-contained nature of each of the three axes of the cantilevered design makes for very easy assembly. The print head has a nifty flip-up cover for easy access to the hot end, which makes the best of the anemic 24-watt power supply for the entire printer. A cooling fan with an air duct even provides part cooling, making this print head a contender for the ‘cheap but not terrible’ category. You can check out his full video review below.

Continue reading “EasyThreed K9: The Value In A €72 AliExpress FDM 3D Printer”

Haiku OS: The Open Source BeOS You Can Daily Drive In 2024

Haiku is one of those open source operating systems that seem to be both exceedingly well-known while flying completely under the radar. Part of this is probably due to it being an open source version and continuation of the Be Operating System (BeOS). Despite its strong feature set in the 1990s, BeOS never got much love in the wider computer market. Nevertheless, it has a strong community that after twenty-two years of development has now reached a point where you can daily drive it, according to the [Action Retro] channel on YouTube.

One point where Haiku definitely scores points is with the super-fast installation and boot. [Action Retro] demonstrates this on real hardware, and we can confirm that it boots very fast in VirtualBox on a low-end Intel N100-based host system as well. With the recently introduced QtWebEngine-based Falkon browser (formerly known as QupZilla) even JavaScript-heavy sites like YouTube and retro Mac emulators work well. You can even get a Minecraft client for Haiku.

Although [Action Retro] notes that 3D acceleration is still a work-in-progress for Haiku, his 2014-era AMD system smoothly played back 1080p YouTube videos. Although not addressed in the video, Haiku is relatively easy to port existing software to, as it is POSIX-compatible. There is a relatively modern GCC 11.2 compiler in the Beta 4 release from 2022, backed up by solid API documentation. Who doesn’t want to take a poke at a modern take on the OS that nearly became MacOS?

Continue reading “Haiku OS: The Open Source BeOS You Can Daily Drive In 2024”

How Good Is The Cheapest Generator On Amazon?

Although an internal combustion engine-based generator isn’t exactly one of the most complicated contraptions, any time that you combine something that produces power with electrical devices, you generally like to know how safe it is. Even more so when it’s a $139 generator you got off Amazon, like the PowerSmart 1200 Watt (1000 continuous) that the [Silver Cymbal] took a gander at recently. They used an expensive professional power analyzer to look at more than just the basic waveform of the 120 VAC output to figure out what kind of devices you’d feel comfortable connecting to it.

Waveform analysis of the cheapest generator when under load. Looks better than with no load attached.

On the unit there is a single AC output, which a heater got attached to serve as a load during testing, but before that, the properties out of the output voltage were analyzed without any load. This showed a highly erratic waveform, as the generator clearly was unable to synchronize and produced a voltage within a wide range, immediately disqualifying it for connecting to sensitive electronics. Things got less dire once the load was hooked up and turned up to use up a big chunk of the available continuous power.

Although being far from a perfect sine wave, the output now looked much better, with all properties including the total harmonic distortion (THD) being just a hair over 20% and hitting just over 60 Hz on the frequency.

Definitely not a great result, but as a cheap unit to keep around for powering things like heaters and power tools that aren’t too fussy about how clean the power is, one could do a lot worse.

Continue reading “How Good Is The Cheapest Generator On Amazon?”