Teardown Locates Fractal Antenna

[IMSAI Guy] tore apart a device with a wireless network card and decided to investigate what was under the metal can. You can see the video of his examination below. Overall, it was fairly unremarkable, but one thing that was interesting was its use of an antenna on the PCB that uses a fractal design.

You probably know fractals are “self-similar” in that they are patterns made of smaller identical patterns. The old joke is that the B. in Benoit B. Mandelbrot (the guy who coined the term fractal) stands for Benoit B. Mandelbrot. You can think of it as akin to recursion in software. Antennas made with fractal patterns have some unusual and useful properties.

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Dive Inside This Old Quartz Watch

In an age of smartwatches, an analog watch might seem a little old-fashioned. Whether it’s powered by springs or a battery, though, the machinery that spins those little hands is pretty fascinating. Trouble is, taking one apart usually doesn’t reveal too much about their tiny workings, unless you get up close and personal like with this microscopic tour of an analog watch.

This one might seem like a bit of a departure from [electronupdate]’s usual explorations of the dies within various chips, but fear not, for this watch has an electronic movement. The gross anatomy is simple: a battery, a coil for a tiny stepper motor, and the gears needed to rotate the hands. But the driver chip is where the action is. With some beautiful die shots, [electronupdate] walks us through the various areas of the chip – the oscillator, the 15-stage divider cascade that changes the 32.768 kHz signal to a 1 Hz pulse, and a remarkably tiny H-bridge for running the stepper. We found that last section particularly lovely, and always enjoy seeing the structures traced out. There are even some great tips about using GIMP for image processing. Check out the video after the break.

[electronupdate] knows his way around a die, and he’s a great silicon tour guide, whether it’s the guts of an SMT inductor or a Neopixel close-up. He’s also looking to improve his teardowns with a lapping machine, but there are a few problems with that one so far.

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Drifting Instrument Presents Opportunity to Learn about Crystal Oscillators

Sure, we all love fixing stuff, but there’s often a fine line between something that’s worth repairing and something that’s cheaper in the long run to just replace. That line gets blurred, though, when there’s something to be learned from a repair.

This wonky temperature-compensated crystal oscillator is a good example of leaning toward repair just for the opportunity to peek inside. [Kerry Wong] identified it as the problem behind a programmable frequency counter reading significantly low. A TCXO is supposed to output a fixed frequency signal that stays stable over a range of temperatures by using a temperature sensor to adjust a voltage-controlled oscillator that corrects for the crystal’s natural tendency to vary its frequency as it gets hotter or colder. But this TCXO was pretty old, and even the trimmer capacitor provided was no longer enough to nudge it back in range. [Kerry] did some Dremel surgery on the case and came to the conclusion that adding another trim cap between one of the crystal’s leads and ground would help. This gave him a much wider adjustment range and let him zero in on the correct 10-MHz setting. [Mr. Murphy] still runs the show, though – after he got the TCXO buttoned up with the new trimmer inaccessible, he found that the frequency was not quite right. But going from 2 kHz off to only 2 Hz is still pretty good.

Whether it’s the weird world of microwave electronics or building a whole-house battery bank, it’s always fun to watch [Kerry]’s videos, and we usually end up learning a thing or two.

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An Electromagnet Brings Harmony to this Waving Cat

We’ve noticed waving cats in restaurants and stores for years, but even the happy bobbing of their arm didn’t really catch our attention. Maybe [Josh] had seen a couple more than we have when it occurred to him to take one apart to see how they work. They are designed to run indoors from unreliable light sources and seem to bob along forever. How do the ubiquitous maneki-neko get endless mechanical motion from one tiny solar cell?

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the prevalence and cost of these devices, the answer is quite simple. The key interaction is between a permanent magnet mounted to the end of the waving arm/pendulum and a many-turn wire coil attached to the body. As the magnet swings over the coil, its movement induces a voltage. A small blob of analog circuitry reacts by running current through the coil. The end effect is that it “senses” the magnet passing by and gives it a little push to keep things moving. As long as there is light the circuit can keep pushing and the pendulum swings forever. If it happens to stop a jolt from the coil starts the pendulum swinging and the rest of the circuit takes over again. [Josh] points to a similar circuit with a very nice write up in an issue of Nuts and Volts for more detail.

We’ve covered [Josh]’s toy teardowns before and always find this category of device particularly interesting. Toys and gadgets like the maneki-neko are often governed by razor-thin profit margins and as such must satisfy an extremely challenging intersection of product constraints, combining simple design and fabrication with just enough reliability to not be a complete disappointment.

For more, watch [Josh] describe his method in person after the break, or try flashing his code to an Arduino and make a waving cat of your own.

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Restoring A 1930s Oscilloscope – Without Supplying Power

We’ve all done it: after happening across a vintage piece of equipment and bounding to the test bench, eager to see if it works, it gets plugged in, the power switch flipped, but… nothing. [Mr Carlson] explains why this is such a bad idea, and accompanies it with more key knowledge for a successful restoration – this time revitalising a tiny oscilloscope from the 1930s.

Resisting the temptation to immediately power on old equipment is often essential to any hope of seeing it work again. [Mr Carlson] explains why you should ensure any degraded components are fixed or replaced before flipping the switch, knowing that a shorted/leaking capacitor is more than likely to damage other components if power is applied.

The oscilloscope he is restoring is a beautiful find. Originally used by radio operators to monitor the audio they were transmitting, it features a one inch CRT and tube rectification, in a tight form factor.

[Mr Carlson] uses his capacitor leakage tester to determine if the main filter capacitor needs replacing – it does, no surprises there – as well as confirming the presence of capacitors potted into the power transformer itself. These have the potential to not only derail the restoration, but also cause a safety hazard through leakage to the chassis.

After replacing and rewiring everything that’s relevant, the scope is hooked up to an isolation transformer, and it works first time – showing the value of a full investigation before power-up. [Mr Carlson] quips, “It really doesn’t have a choice; when it’s on this bench, it’s going to work again”, a quote which will no doubt resonate with Hackaday readers.

[Mr Carlson] promises to integrate the scope into a new piece of test equipment in the near future, but in the meantime you can read about his soldering station VFD mod, or his walk-in AM radio transmitter.

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Scrapped Motors Don’t Care About Direction

Spinners built into games of chance like roulette or tabletop board games stop on a random number after being given a good spin. There is no trick, but they eventually rest because of friction, no matter how hard your siblings wind up for a game-winning turn. What if the spinning continued forever and there was no programming because there was no controller? [Ludic Science] shows us his method of making a perpetual spinner with nothing fancier than a scrapped hard disk drive motor and a transformer. His video can also be seen below the break.

Fair warning: this involves mains power. The brushless motor inside a hard disk drive relies on three-phase current of varying frequencies, but the power coming off a single transformer is going to be single-phase AC at fifty or sixty Hz. This simplifies things considerably, but we lose the self-starting ability of the motor and direction control, but we call those features in our perpetual spinner. With two missing phases, our brushless motor limps along in whatever direction we initiate, but the circuit couldn’t be much more straightforward.

This is just the latest skill on a scrapped HDD motor’s résumé (CV). They will run with a 9V battery, or work backwards and become an encoder. If you want to use it more like the manufacturer’s intent, consider this controller.

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Fake Omron Relays are Worth What You Pay For Them

We love taking a look at fake components and [BigClive] has put together something really special in this category. When he saw he could buy suspiciously cheap Omron relays on eBay, he knew something must be fishy so he put in an order.

Some of the fakes he received are even marked Omrch instead of Omron, and your ear can detect the counterfeits by the varying sounds they make during operation. But of course [Clive’s] investigation goes much deeper than that. He started driving the relays to their rated voltages and taking temperatures with a FLIR camera.

The results were not surprising. At lower voltages the relays seemed to do okay, but closer to the maximums it’s obvious the components in the fakes are not rated for enough power to work. You can even see some charring of a resistor and its plastic holder from having too much power for the component’s rating. [Clive] actually replaced the errant resistor with a higher value resistor that reduces the current consumption and power dissipated.

He was also suspicious of the metal content of the contacts. You may think that doesn’t matter, but actually, the composition of relay contacts is critical to making reliable relay circuits. Depending on how much current flows and if the switching is dry (that is, made without current flowing) or not dictates use of different material.

The conclusion was that these relays might work for light duty projects, but for commercial projects or operating near the edge of the ratings, you want to give these a pass. If you do need a lot of low-power relays on the cheap — to compute a square root, or to build the whole computer — [Clive’s] process of testing and characterizing these fakes may come in handy for you.

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