The Simplest TS100 Upgrade Leads Down A Cable Testing Rabbit Hole

By now, I must have had my Miniware TS100 soldering iron for nearly three years. It redefined what could be expected from the decent end of the budget soldering iron spectrum when it came on the market, and it’s still the one to beat even after those years. Small, lightweight, powerful, and hackable, it has even spawned direct imitations.

If the TS100 has a fault, it comes not from the iron itself but from its cable. A high-grade iron will have an extra-flexible PVC or silicone cable, but the TS100 does not have a cable of its own. Instead it relies on whatever cable comes on its power supply, which is frequently a laptop unit built with portable computing rather than soldering in mind. So to use it is to be constantly battling against its noticable lack of flexibility, a minor worry but one that I find irksome. I determined to find a solution, making a DC extension cable more flexible than that on my power supply. Continue reading “The Simplest TS100 Upgrade Leads Down A Cable Testing Rabbit Hole”

Living At The Close Of The Multiway Era

After over a decade of laptop use, I made the move a couple of months ago back to a desktop computer. An ex-corporate compact PC and a large widescreen monitor on a stand, and alongside them a proper mouse and my trusty IBM Model M that has served me for decades. At a stroke, the ergonomics of my workspace changed for the better, as I no longer have to bend slightly to see the screen.

The previous desktop PC was from an earlier time. I think it had whatever the AMD competitor to a Pentium 4 was, and if I recall correctly, its 512 MB of memory was considered to be quite something. On the back it had an entirely different set of sockets to my new one, a brace of serial ports, a SCSI port, and a parallel printer port. Inside the case, its various drives were served by a set of ribbon cables. It even boasted a floppy drive. By contrast the cabling on its successor is a lot lighter, with much less bulky connectors. A few USB plugs and a network cable, and SATA for its disk drive. The days of bulky multiway interconnects are behind us, and probably most of us are heaving a sigh of relief. Continue reading “Living At The Close Of The Multiway Era”

Dirty Now Does Cables

PCB makers Dirty made a name for themselves in the prototype PCB biz, with a convenient web form and numerous options for PCB color, thickness, layers, silk screening, and so on. Now they’ve branched out into custom cabling with Dirty Cables.

You can design it yourself by dragging wires and connectors out of a sidebar and arranging them on a workspace, deciding which wire goes to what pin of the connector. Your choices for wires include various gauges and ribbon configurations. You choose a color (they have eleven) select connectors and drag those out too–choose from 17 cable-to-cable and cable-to-board connector families. We made a quick cable with four 32ga wires and two 16ga wires, with two different connectors on each side, with pricing updated realtime. If you want a sample pack of connectors, Dirty sells them for $10.

The downside to the service: there’s a minimum order of 100, though paying Shenzhen prices might make it worth your while. Just imagining crimping all of those connectors makes Hackaday’s hands hurt.

To get a sense of the diversity of connectors out there, read Elliot’s piece on the connector zoo that we published last year.

[thanks, Akiba]

Retrotechtacular: Submarine Cable Splicing Is Serious Business

Really. As this wonderfully narrated talkie picture from 1939 will attest, keeping even one drop of water from penetrating undersea cables is of the utmost importance.

How do they do it? Many, many layers of protection, including several of jute wrapping. The video centers on splicing a new cable to an existing one in the San Francisco Bay to bring the wonder of telephony to a man-made island created for the Golden Gate International Expo.

The narrator makes these men out to be heroes, and when you see how much lead they came into contact with, you’ll understand what he means. Each of the 1,056 individually insulated wires must be spliced by hand. After that comes a boiling out process in which petrolatum is poured over the splice to remove all moisture. Then, a lead sleeve is pulled over the connections. Molten lead is poured over the sleeve and smoothed out by hand.

At this point, the splice is tested. The sleeve is punctured and nitrogen gas is pumped in at 20psi.  Then comes the most important step: the entire sleeve is painted with soap suds.  Any gas that escapes will make telltale bubbles.

Once they are satisfied with the integrity of the sheath, they wrap the whole thing in what appears to be lead cables and pound them into submission. Surely that would be enough, don’t you think?  Nope.  They weld the cables all around and then apply two coats of tar-treated jute wrapping, which retards saltwater corrosion considerably.

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Submarine Cable Splicing Is Serious Business”

An Excellent Introduction To Transmission Lines

[Bertho] sent in a great tutorial on terminating transmission lines. If you’ve ever tried to send a high frequency signal a long way down a wire, you know the problems that can crop up due to electronic strangeness. Luckily [Bertho]’s tutorial explains just about everything, from where and when to terminate a cable and why signals get screwed up in long wires.

[Bertho] begins his lesson by taking two oscilloscopes and 20 m of CAT5 cable with the twisted pairs wired in series to make an 80 meter long transmission line. A ~100kHz square wave was sent down the cable after being displayed on the first oscilloscope, and picked up on the other end by the second oscilloscope. It’s a great way to show the changes in a signal over a long cable run, and how small changes in the circuit (just adding a simple resistor) can affect the signal coming out of a cable.

It’s a great post that demystifies the strange electrical gremlins that pop up when you’re running a length of wire. Great job, [Bertho].

The Integrated Desk


Since it happens to be the day after a nice holiday break, many of us are finding ourselves back in front of our desk once again. Perhaps some of you never left it the entire weekend. In any case, it seems fitting to take a look at a few interesting integrated desks we’ve come across lately. Follow through after the break to see our favorites.

Continue reading “The Integrated Desk”