August 2, 2015

Avocent Alterpath PM10 controlled by Arduino

A while back I had grabbed a very good deal off ebay for a used Avocent Alterpath PM10.

It is an ten port intelligent PDU with a serial port allowing on/off control and status for each of the ten outlets.  I had quite a bit of trouble getting the serial port working with a usb to 232 adaptor as the pinout is not really we defined and the device requires the hardware handshake lines to be connected before you get a response.  However after quite a few hours of trial and error I figured it out and got it working via usb.  Next I grabbed cheap max232 based RS232 to TTL adaptor off ebay for a few bucks and connected it to an Arduino to see if I could get it to control the PM10 as well in hope of then connecting it to my home automation system.

I ended up bypassing the db9 connector as the PM10 uses a rj45 connector.  The wiring is pretty simple, connect the RX/TX lines on the max232 board to pin 3 and 6, then ground to pin 4.  After that connect pin 2,7 and 8 together.  This is the magic that gets the hardware handshaking working as it loops it back on it self.  Without that the PM10 will not respond.  You should see a rx packet as soon as you connect the RJ45 as the device sees the hardware line connect and will send a login prompt.

RJ45 Pinout

1 (N/C)
2 (Connect to pin 7 & 8)
3 (T/X)
4 (Ground)
5 (N/C)
6 (RX)
7 (Connect to pin 2 & 8)
8 (Connect to pin 2 & 7)

With the pinout above I got basic serial communication working on the Arduino using the default software serial example.  With a bit of tweaking I created the following code to send and receive data from the PM10.  Sending a "on 1" or "off 1" will turn on or off outlet 1.  You can look at the instruction guide to see all the serial commands available.  This is a pretty basic example but with the  hard part figured out it will be easy to integrate into my home automation system with a bit of extra tweaking.

#include ;

SoftwareSerial mySerial(10, 11); // RX, TX

void setup()  
  // Open serial communications and wait for port to open:
  while (!Serial) {
    ; // wait for serial port to connect. Needed for Leonardo only


  // set the data rate for the SoftwareSerial port

void loop()
  if (mySerial.available()){;

  if (Serial.available()){
    char buf[100], obuf[500], i=0;

      buf[i] =;
      int val = sendPSULogin(buf,obuf,100);
      Serial.print("Login = ");

int sendPSULogin(char* cmd, char* obuf, char len){
    char buf[100], i=0;
      buf[i] =;
    if(strstr(buf, "User")){
        buf[i] =;
      if(strstr(buf, "pm>;")){
          while(mySerial.available() && i<len){
            obuf[i] =;
        return 1;
      } else {
        return -1; 
    } if(strstr(buf, "pm>")){
        while(mySerial.available() && i<len){
          obuf[i] =;
      return 0;
    } else {
      return -1; 
    return -1;

December 26, 2014

Airport Reciever Shareport on Synology

After compiling and getting Shareport up and running on my NAS, I ended up no using it heavily as it require manually starting due to the avahi server included with the Synology linux build not having the publish option avalable.

Luckly recently I was doing some research as my home AV setup had changed and someone has made a nice package that works well.  Originally the post here is covering setup but a person left a comment noting he had pre made packages available . I tried it out and it does work well.

April 24, 2014

Having a Synology diskstation is nice, but as they are now using FastCGI I have to remember to enable http files for php each time there is a DSM update.  Instead of having to look it up each time I am recording it. (From

1) edit /etc/httpd/sites-enabled-user/httpd-vhost.conf-user (or httpd-ssl-vhost.conf-user)
add the line AddHandler php5-fastcgi .php .php3 .php4 .php5 .phtml .html .htm .xml 

2) edit /etc/php/php-fpm.conf modify the line adding the extension U want security.limit_extensions = .php .php3 .php4 .php5 .phtml .xml

 3) edit /etc/php/php.ini short_open_tag = Off

 4)execute /usr/syno/sbin/synoservicecfg --restart httpd-user

October 1, 2013

DIY 2X4 CNC Version 1

I had been quite excited when I found out about CNC machines and did a lot of research on them.  After a while I started to look at the DIY reports about people making their own CNCs.  While not the best out there it seems like making a CNC for wood carving out of wood was possible.  I let the idea sit for quite a while but have finally bit the bullet and ordered parts for my first attempt.

The CNC has four main parts, the software, the frame, the electronics and the spindle.  For software I used LinuxCNC.  For my frame I used v bearings and steel L brackets supported by 2x4 lumber.  This was driver by 1/2" threaded rod.  For electronics I grabbed a 3 axis kit from ebay (link here).  For the spindle I used my Proxxon rotary tool with 1/8" end mills.

The cost ended up being around $600, with half of that being the electronics package.  The v bearings were also quite expensive but I knew I could use them on other things if the CNC did not work out.  After a few weeks of cutting and putting things together I had a working CNC.

Now I knew starting out that I would either improve on this CNC or build a new one after getting some experience so I was not expecting the greatest accuracy or performance.  And my expectations were right.  While the cnc was ok in accuracy my linear rail setup was not the best.  Part of this stemmed from only having a few basic power tools and not being able to grind the rails smooth.  So the cuts on it tended to wiggle a bit as the gantry moved.  My choice of threaded rod gave it a lot of moving power, but the trade off was the speed was quite slow, close to 5 in/min which is quite slow.  I had no trouble with a small end mill but a full size router would likely have burning issues. 

 While far from perfect this CNC allowed me to do a few engraving projects that were small and worked well, as well as get used to using a CNC.  So after a year of poking at it I decided it was worth it to start looking as building a new CNC.

Looking back there are a few things that I would have done differently, the first is get better tools.  I was extremely limited in what building tools I had, (hand drill/jig saw/hack saw) so the frame and linear rails are very roughly built.  Now that does prove you can create a CNC with basic tools but the quality will suffer.  Second is making my gantry smaller.  I had some dreams of grandeur thinking I could have a CNC and 3D printer in one.  This is a bad idea and it will not work as CNCs are too slow.  A CNC really needs to have a gantry height that will just fit what you are working on, the taller it is the less stiffness you will have, which was a problem in this one.  Finally I would go with better linear rails.  I liked the v bearing idea as it is easy to extend if you need longer rails, but it just is not accurate and stable enough the way I did it.  I am thinking square tube embedded in a v channel in the wood would be a better approach, however I think i will go with SBR rail on my next design as I just do not think the tensioning on bearings is easy to work around.

The best thing about this whole project is that I was able to find good uses for a CNC and learn the software side as I used LinuxCNC with CAD software as well as some straight Gcode designing.  if you think you may want a CNC I would highly suggest going for a simple DIY version first, looking back a simple drawer slide version would have been cheaper and just as accurate if not better, but as you can reuse the electronics and motors a simple CNC will get you started and from there you can figure out if it is worth investing in a better CNC after that.

May 24, 2012

BattleTag Usb Protocol

Based on USB sniffing and lua comments, plus guessing on some things. Using commands appears to work to pair guns with a test application written in C using the hidapi library.

UBIConnect radioProtocolId = 1
UBIConnect classId = 1
Blaster radioProtocolId = 0x02 (ID 1) to 0x0A (ID 8)
Blaster classId = 1

Protocol seems to loosely follow [byte count] [receiver radioProtocolId] [command] for the first three bytes of each message, but only the command appears to always be consistent. It looks like 0xFF is used for the receiver radioProtocolId in cases where all devices should receive the message.

Connect to UBI Connect
Software sends request and the UBIConnect responds with a Device Descriptor (00 00 2D 6A 01 00 00 10 in my case) it looks like the last four bytes (01 00 00 10) should always be the same, whereas the first four bytes should be unique. Cannot confirm with only one UBI Connect, but blasters seems to be similar.

Init UBI Connect (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x01 0x00 0x01 0xFF)

Init UBI Connect Response (Host <- br="" ubiconnect="">(0x0A 0x00 0x12 0xFF 0x00 [8 Byte UBIConnect Device Descriptor])

Ack UBI Connect Response (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x0A 0x00 0x12 [1 Byte radioProtocolId] [1 Byte classId] [8 Byte UBIConnect Device Descriptor])

Request Connections (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x00 0x01 0x04 [1 Byte radioProtocolId] [1 Byte classId] [8 Byte UBIConnect Device Descriptor])

Request Response (Host <- br="" ubiconnect="">(0x04 0x01 0x04 [1 Byte radioProtocolId] [1 Byte classId] [8 Byte UBIConnect Device Descriptor])

Ping Loop?
Software sends this out several times, no response from the device is ever received, ignoring it does not seem to prevent blaster pairing.

Request Connections (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x00 0xFF 0x06 [1 Byte radioProtocolId] [1 Byte classId] [8 Byte UBIConnect Device Descriptor])

Request Connections (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x00 0xFF 0x86 [1 Byte radioProtocolId] [1 Byte classId] [8 Byte UBIConnect Device Descriptor])

Request Response (Host <- br="" ubiconnect="">(Unknown...)

Pair Blaster
When blaster is turned on UBIConnect asynchronously sends message 12 with blaster Device Descriptor. First four bytes are unique to blaster, second four bytes appear to be standard (02 00 00 20). 

Blaster Init (Host <- br="" ubiconnect="">(0x10 0x00 0x12 [8 Byte Blaster Device Descriptor] [8 Byte Blaster Device Descriptor])

Request polling halt (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x01 0x00 0x13 [1 Byte radioProtocolId] [1 Byte classId] [8 Byte UBIConnect Device Descriptor])

Blaster Received Response(Host -> UBIConnect) Blaster radioProtocolId = Gun number to be used + 1
(0x0A 0xFF 0x12 [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId] [1 Byte radioProtocolId] [1 Byte classId] [8 Byte Blaster Device Descriptor])

Blaster Init (Again!) (Host <- br="" ubiconnect="">(0x10 0x00 0x12 [8 Byte Blaster Device Descriptor] [8 Byte Blaster Device Descriptor])

Ack Blaster Already Recieved (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x0B 0xFF 0x12 [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId] [1 Byte radioProtocolId] [1 Byte classId] [8 Byte Blaster Device Descriptor])

Request Firmware Info (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x00 [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId] 0x04 [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId] [1 Byte radioProtocolId] [1 Byte classId] [8 Byte Blaster Device Descriptor])

Blaster Init (Again!) (Host <- br="" ubiconnect="">(0x00 [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId] 0x04 [3 Byte Version???] [8 Byte Blaster Device Descriptor])

Profile Info Request (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x05 [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId] 0x84 0x00 0x00 0x00 [8 Byte Blaster Device Descriptor])

Profile Info Request Response (Host <- br="" ubiconnect="">(0x35 0xFF 0x05 0x00 0x00 0x00 0x11 [1 Byte data size] [Profile Data])

Ping Message?
Software seems to send a ping message that should check for disconnection of blasters if no response if returned.
Ping (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x00 0xFF 0x05)

Ping (Host -> UBIConnect)
0x00 [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId] 0x05

Game Bytecode Upload
Gameplay information (lua bytecode?) is uploaded to the blasters before the game starts.

Each command appears to receive a mirror response from all paired blasters with the first byte adjusted for the message size and the second byte set to the corresponding [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId].

Unlock Memory Register (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x01 0xFF 0x86 0x00 0x00)

Prepare Memory Register (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x04 0xFF 0x81 0x00 0x00 0x40 0x00)

Prepare for Upload Register (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x06 0xFF 0x82 0x00 0x00 0x40 0x00 0x01 [bytecount])

Upload Bytecode (Host -> UBIConnect)
([byte count + 3] 0xFF 0x83 0x00 [Data])

Lock Memory Register (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x01 0xFF 0x86 0x00 0x01)

Check Vest Connections
Before match can start players need to connect vests to blasters (If Required for game).

Check Vest connections (Host -> UBIConnect)
(0x00 0xFF 0xC1)

Check Vest connections Not Connected Response(Host <- br="" ubiconnect="">(0x00 [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId] 0xC1 0x00)

Check Vest connections Is Connected Response(Host <- br="" ubiconnect="">(0x00 [1 Byte Blaster radioProtocolId] 0xC1 0x01)

Start Game CountDown
In Progress

In Game Commands
In Progress

November 5, 2011

DIY Daft Punk Helmet

 For Halloween 2011 I was just about to give up on making something new and just go with an existing costume when I saw a gadget blog post for Volpin Studios Daft Punk Helmet, both the helmets Volpin has built are impressive but the Thomas one looked amazing to me when it was finished.  While I am not the biggest Daft Punk fan, I knew instantly this would not only be impressive to complete, but also be a lot of fun with the required electronic engineering.  With a final costume idea in mind and about 6 weeks of time before halloween I set off on another crazy DIY project.  In the end, while the helmet was not as perfect as others, the electronics made up for it and everyone who saw it give me the thumbs up. (See the build video at the bottom for more pictures)

Fist off I did a lot of research into how other people have made helmets.  Besides Volpin, tekparasite also had interesting build ideas and a lot of documentation.  Between them, many youtube videos and forums, I had more then enough information to plan out what I wanted to do.  Basically it boils down to three options for the helmet itself. There are high end solutions involving casting and molds, which have amazing results, but take too much time and would cost a lot.  Then there is the option to buy an existing mold, saving a lot of time, but still costing a lot.  Finally there is the cheap way of using cardboard and/or other helmets as a base.  I decided that my goal was to go with the cheap option and make the best helmet I could for around 50-60$, the end cost was closer to 75$ but I now have a lot of extra parts for future projects from buying things in bulk, so it was acceptable.

To get started I needed to get a helmet shape, to do this I searched for existing paper craft models I could use.  Luckily it was not hard to find one.  After getting the required programs to view and print the models, I had a pdf containing several pages of shapes to cut out.  I knew right away that the base size would not be large enough, so after creating a scale helmet and trying it on, I estimated that 110% scaling would cover the size I needed while not being too huge.

Next, I printed and cut out the pieces that I had rearranged and scaled in PhotoShop.  Then painstaking glued and re-cut them out of cardboard.  This gave me a sturdy base that I could build on without having to rely on fiber glass like most paper craft builders do.  I grabbed my glue gun and assembled the pieces and ended up with a base helmet that fit nicely but had room of the parts and pieces that would come later.  Because I skipped the ear pieces I cut two large round circles of cardboard and placed them inside the helmet to fill the empty spots.  Then using two soda cans I crafted the ears by bending cardboard in a ring.  Later soda can ends and plexiglass would cove the ends.

After crafting the helmet skeleton I took Bondo and smoothed out the cracks and blockly-ness of the paper craft base.  After letting it dry, I sanded for several hours with a rasp and various levels of sandpaper. Once that was round and smooth I repeatedly used a thick layer of white acrylic paint to further fill in spots, and then re-sanded.  Finally two coats of glossy black paint gave me the base helmet I needed to move on to the fun electrical parts.  (Time: two weeks of nights and weekends)

In between waiting for things to dry I created a set of gloves from black work groves and milk carton plastic.  This was covered by metal duct work tape and hot glued to the gloves.  I based the shapes off of Volpin's glove template and then adjusted it to fit a scanned trace of my hands.

Next came the part I was looking forward to.  I had already ordered 500 3mm red leds, 10 MAX7219CNG chips and other assorted leds and parts off of ebay before starting work on the helmet as I knew it would take 2-3 weeks to get them from China.  By the time I had the helmet ready everything had arrived.  I used my heat gun to bend a strip of plexiglass into shape and then carefully drilled 256 pairs (that is 512 individual holes!) using a 1/32 inch bit.  A rotery tool or drill press would have been nice, but a hand held drill got the job done without any accidents.  I used a paper template to mark each hole before drilling.  Then I trimmed and soldered each red led into vertical column, then after completing each column I would bend the annode and connect it to the previous led in the row.  This created groups of 64 leds, the cathode wires holding in the leds vertically and the annode wires holding the group together in rows.  After finishing each group of 64 I used some spare ribbon wire to build the connectors.

Each of the four groups had two connectors and which went to a separate MAX7219CNG soldered to a protoboard. Each board and headers where custom designed and hand soldered.  I could have ordered a custom PCBs, which would have shaved several days of work off, but that would have cost a lot more, so in an effort to keep the build costs down I did everything by hand.  There is a lot in information on using the 7219 chips with arduinos and the Led Matrix library does most of the hard work for you.  On the hardware end, basically they are chained together and require a resistor and two capacitors, beyond that it is just a matter of connecting the right pins to the right led row.  Once that was finished, I connected everything tested out a few patters and attached the array to the inside of the helmet.  Using some night shade car tint spray and another bent piece of plexiglass, I had the helmet all covered and almost finished.

The final parts where the ear and side lights.  Using a separate fifth MAX7219CNG, I created 4 led  protoboards (two for each side/ear), the side lights where directly connected back to the 7219 board and the ear lights had separate headers as they needed to be threaded through a slit in the cardboard.  I mounted the side lights and build a little reflective holder that would defuse the bright leds of the colored rows.  Next, I had to cut out and round some plexiglass by hand to match the ear shapes.  The ends of soda cans covered the plexiglass and ear leds.  Then I masked off each exposed plexiglass piece on the helmet with masking tape and gave the entire thing a final coat of  rustoleum metallic spray paint.  Once again I could have worked out some form of chroming as others have done, but chroming along would add $100+ to the build price.  The metallic paint actually looks quite good despite laking the complete mirror reflection, the only issue is that it needs light spray passes, takes several days to dry, and can still be dulled by touching even after dry.  I just used the ears to put on the helmet, which kept the dulling in one place and avoided touching the main body as much as possible.  The lights tend to distract people anyway so it is not much of a problem unless you plan to wear this all the time. (Time two weeks of nights and weekends)

The final touches where the power supply and the programing.  I used a pololu power regulator as it covers the amperage requirements and could be reused as a breadboard power supply.  For the power supply, 8 AA batteries supplied 12v  to the regulator and where still ok power wise after all the Halloween festivities where over.  Then I wired up an arduino to all of the MAX7219CNGs and also to a separate row of three buttons that I could use to switch patterns. The arduino sketch can be found here.  It was interesting as I figured out a nifty way to use a array of vertical 8 bit char and then bit shift them into rows based on an offset, this let me create a quick java program to visually create the patterns and then enter the numbers into the array.  A few patterns needed special handling code but most where covered.  I have to give tekparasite extra credit, as while I had a few animations in mind I was looking for extra example from the actual Daft Punk helmets, he had actual videos of many very creative choices, some of which I included in my build.  (See video below!)

The end result was everything I expected.  The helmet had a few cosmetic inperfections here and there, but looked fine over all and the light effects made sure no one noticed right away as everyone was too busy watching in surprise.  I also believe I get some partial bragging rights as unless someone has not posted their project, this is the first DIY helmet to include all four working light sections (front, both side parts and ears) and be on youtube/blog for others to use as a reference.  Both Volpin and tekparasite who have have impressive helmets (with actual crome finish) where missing one of the four in the end result videos that where posted.  Hopefully this will inspire others to not give up due to cost and make budget restricted but still functional helmets in the future.

August 15, 2011

DIY ADC to DVI converter

 A while back I was able to grab a 17 inch LCD Cinema Display from electronic surplus for 5$, while this sounds like an amazing deal, there was one extra issue that made this more fun than just being able to use it without some effort on my part.  Older Apple Cinema Displays use an ADC connector which while similar to the popular DVI, is only supported on a few older G4 towers and video cards.  Luckily I already have a working G4 mirror door with a graphics card that has the connector.  My original mod to fix the broken power supply prevents me from using the ADC connector due to lack of the extra 24v line, so with the help of my trusty heat gun, off went the connector for external use in this project to build an ADC to DVI adaptor.

First off I started looking for other people that had done this before.  While there is not a lot of information beyond a few others that have succeeded, there is a retail converter from Apple, so it is possible.

 The pinouts are quite simple to folow as ADC shares a lot in common with DVI as they are both digital. ADC Pinout and DVI Pinout.  Basically you just need to strip the dvi cable to leave just enough wire to be usable and connect the data link 1 pins, plug and play pins and digital clock pins.  The for the most part com in pairs of three (+,-,gnd)  The link 2, analog and shielding is not needed.  I also found that grounding the hot plug was required for the display port to dvi adaptor I am using to detect the monitor.  Other video cards I tested with did not need this.  The DVI spec has more information on the correct use of the hot plug pin, however I just left it grounded as the ADC spec does not include this.

The final parts needed that are not included in the DVI spec are the power and usb connections.  The monitor itself has no power supply or plug, the ADC connector needs to supply this.  I had a spare dc plug connector, so I purchased a 24v power supply off of Amazon that could supply enough amps to meet the ADC spec.  Finally there is the USB connection.  The monitor has an internal usb hub built in, also it use the USB connection to pass information about the monitor.  Unless you have the power turned on, the monitor connected and it plugged into a usb port it will not display anything!  This freaked me out at first when I started testing my solder connections and though the monitor was dead when nothing appeared with just power and the DVI connecter plugged in.

If you see weird color pixels that get better by pinching the wires together than you will need shorter leads.  It took a few tries to get the wires short enough to prevent interference.  Eventually I got it right and low and behold after connecting everything I had a clear image on the monitor.

Oddly enough right after completing this project I received a tv that can function as an external monitor so this is not as needed anymore, but I always enjoy having a few classic apple products on display.

March 13, 2011

XBox 360 Dual Firmware Mod

After months of having a 360 that works except the Samsung dvd drive, I finally bought a spare dvd drive off of ebay and decided to try and transplant the firmware from my broken driver to the new one. While I am at it, I might as well make it dual boot between the good firmware and another hacked firmware for other obvious reasons.  Now you might be asking why go through all the trouble when you can just flash the new drive.  Well my old 360 dvd drive was quite dead, to the point that I literally ripped the plcc chip off of the board with full intention of doing a complete brain transplant!  Otherwise there was no easy or cheap way to get the drive firmware key.

The above picture was all the remained of the old board, the traces where ripped up by the epoxy that was placed quite evilly on, around and under the plcc chip.  I had removed this a few months ago and has it in a safe place, waiting to have the time to use it.  Now, if you are reading this planing to do the same, I give you a big warning, if you see blank epoxy on your board, give up now.  My replacement drive had clear epoxy that was nice and soft after heating with a heat run.  However the black on the original board only got brittle making it impossible to not break parts.

Next I went online looking up everything I could find on the firmware.  On the Samung drives, It is stored on a plcc chip next to the large hole in the board. Each chip has a unique key, so you need to have this before you can use any other drives. With my drive not talking to anything, transplanting the entire chip was my last resort.  Next I found it contained the steps to dual boot my old chip with the new drives one.  This way I did not need to try and remove the current plcc chip, which may destroy the board in the process.  However, it is quite a bit more work and on a whole different difficulty level.  Another warning, do not try to attempt a dual firmware setup unless you have a good soldering iron with temperature control and a very steady hand.  It is easy to get solder everywhere!

I started out with thin ethernet wire to connect the two chips. I connected all of the top lead first but quickly found it was too thick and needed to use the tiny individual strands from twisted christmas tree light wire.  Then it was easy to use long strands and connect the bottom lead first and then stretch and line it up with the top lead.  After each pair of pins where all attached correctly on a side I would trim the extra wire.

This was very delicate work, and preparing the leads was not easy, more then once I needed to carefully clean up a bridged solder connection between leads or wires.  Also it was important to completely tin each strand before trying to connect it, otherwise it would not stick.  The above picture shows how small each wire needed to be, with a penny for reference. These pictures where shown with a magnifying glass.

After that following the rest of the guide was easy, I found some spare 10K resistors and attached them to pin 4 and 15 as the guide shows.  This may differ from what others need to do, as I later needed to switch it to pin 5, as 4 caused the driver to make the 360 show a E65 error. Luckily I was persistent and kept poking otherwise I would have just assumed the drive was dead due to some error on my part.  So you may need to play with pins to get it to work on different drives.

After that I closed up the drive and connected it to the 360.  The drive boots up and reads disks, the old firmware reading games, and the new firmware without the correct key only shows everything as a dvd.  Next I need to get the drive key, but that is for another day.

December 19, 2010

X-TRONIC 4000 Digital Hot Air Rework & Soldering Station

A little while ago I purchased an X-TRONIC 4000 off ebay to upgrade from my simple craft soldering iron.  Now that I have use it a few times I can properly review it.  First off, after doing my initial research there are far better soldering stations you can purchase, however they will be far more expensive. I was not willing to pay $250+, so I was limited to the this and the Aoyue 906 which did not include as much and was a little more expensive. So with that in mind, for a hobbyist who is looking for something better than your cheap plug in iron, the X-TRONIC 4000 is not a bad choice.  It also includes a very good warranty, and while still being manufactured in China at least it is held up to some level of ISO standards and is sold by a US based company. I was able to grab one for a little over a hundred dollars, so it is not so cheap that you would expect it will break in a few uses.  Plus the included backup heating elements prolong that even further.

The hot air gun works as expected, and was pleasantly quiet.  At worst I was expecting a fish tank pump.  At high air flow, which was way too much for circuit work, you could hear the light hum.  Yet at a normal air flow settings it was rather quiet, at the lowest it was whisper quiet.  I had no problem removing a surface mount chip off an old test board with some careful blowing and medium heat.  I expect any future part removal will now be done with hot air, as it make it very simple, or possible in the case of surface mounted chips which cannot be easily removed with an iron.  I also used it to heat some epoxy for removal and that worked as well.  With the three different air tips that are included, you will be set for basic use, though it does not beat a specialty nozzle for even heating.

The hot air gun is nice, but the main feature is the iron.  After using a craft iron for even delicate work getting a serious one is amazing to use. The soldering iron heats up in about 30 seconds, which is so much faster than the three to five minutes my craft iron would take. Also using the lcd read out and the control dial, the temp is more or less kept constant.  It is important to note that the temp displayed vs what is always applied still depended on the surface area in use . The ten included tips range from tiny to very thick.  For small leads, the small tips worked well, however for a lot of normal use you will need to use a thicker tip which keeps the temp far more even.  I understand this is not so much a flaw, as it is something normal with any iron of this level and power draw.  The included stand is nothing to brag about but it does keep the iron handy and away from burnable objects.  The cleaning sponge is thin and pointless, I will be replacing it with a brass sponge eventually, until then I will stick with a damp paper towel.  In short, this will be the start of many "why did I not do this earlier" life moments.

Overall if you are looking at getting a hot air gun and nice soldering iron this should work for you.  If you do not need the hot air then there are more actuate irons you can get for the same price.

December 14, 2010

Converting an PIR outdoor light circuit for 12v

Being lazy I did not want to turn on and off my circuit tree on my desk at work, so I was just leaving it off.  However, with the Christmas season upon us, people started to bug me about not leaving it on, so I decided to get creative and convert a PIR circuit from an old outdoor motion activated spotlight to run on a safer 12v and control the tree on my desk.

First off, after eagerly prying the circuit from the lamp I quickly realizes that it did not use a transformer like I was expecting.  Most newer lights I looked at did.  So I went out looking for a datasheet on the PIR controller ic, but the one used here is either too old, or is just unlisted. This was not going to be as easy as I was expecting it to be.

This was trouble some as every PIR ic has different pinouts, and some use a first/second amp other do not.  So I went back to the basics and traced out the circuit with my multimeter and carefully sketched out the paths so I could better see what was going on.  The first thing that stood out was the four large diodes which are clearly a rectifier, to convert ac to dc.  After this, it passes through the biggest resister (blue tube) I have ever seen, which drops the voltage down to around 13v for the relay which is switched by a transistor.  From there it is dropped further to 8v and smoothed out by a capacitor for the rest of the circuit. Which is odd as an ic usually takes 5v max, but as it was unlisted I only have the trace readings to go on, so I will assume it was built to handle a larger voltage.

After figuring out this much, it was not hard to see where I would need to apply 12v to have the circuit work exactly the same but at a far safer voltage.  So after removing a small resister to break the original +120v (black) path, I now had an isolated PIR circuit and a separate circuit switched by the relay.  Right now the relay will only deal with 9v, but this leaves it open to once again control higher voltages, for potential use at Halloween.

You can see the final result below.

I am quite happy that my digital/analog circuit skills have not gotten too rusty with all the programing I tend to focus on.

November 16, 2010

Google Voice app on iPod Touch

Today I was pleased to see that Google had released an official Google Voice app, as the GVMobile+ ones from Cydia where somewhat broken.  What I was not happy with was the device not supported message that I got when trying to sync. Apparently this is only for the iPhone... Well that would not last long.  Below are the steps you need to take to get the app working on a jail broken iPod Touch.

  1. Download the ipa from the iTunes store.
  2. Change the .ipa to .zip and extract the Google Voice folder.
  3. Open and find the payload folder and grab the
  4. Drop the into the /Applications folder on the ipod via sftp.
  5. Respring
Interestingly enough the application works great on an iPod Touch, it just will not install via itunes.  I was looking through the ipa plist, but have not quite figured out what setting causes the restriction. Ideally removing the restriction and repacking the ipa would be best, but as I have it working, I will leave that up to someone with a bit more interest.

EDIT: Now that the official iPod version is out, this is no longer needed, unless you want the iPhone version.

October 16, 2010

Apple LaserWriter 12/640 setup with OS X

Owning an old networked Apple LaserWriter LS 12/640 is cool, especially as found I can use the waste toner I clean from another printer to fuel this one.  While the result is not amazing print quality, it works well for the occasional print job at home.  The big problem is that setting up the printer is no longer supported in OS X, yet there is some unix and window hackery that will do the trick, the problem was getting them all to work from my Macbook Pro and not having to drag a PC into the mix.

First off you need to setup an IP for the printer, which by default has an IP of and a subnet of  Normally back in the OS 8/9 days you would use the printer utility over appletalk.  Sadly(?) apple talk has been removed as of 10.6.  So time to delve into some unix to fix the issue.

Chapter 4 in the manual for the 12/640 covers setting of the printer for unix. Basically this breaks down into adding an entry to the host file (/etc/hosts) for the printer name and ip address of your choice for the printer.  Then get the mac address for the printer, which is listed on the configuration page it will print out each time it is turned on when in config mode, e.g. little switch on back out, not in.  Then use the following arp command in the terminal "arp    -s    printer_IP_name     printer_Ethernet_address" followed by "ping printer_IP_name".  This will create a link to the printer despite an IP address not being configured.  Use this temporary link to telnet into the printer using the IP address you chose and finish up setting final network settings using the text menu system.

Next you will need to finish setting the other printer configuration items.  However they are missing from the telnet menu.  To gain access to these additional setting, such as turning off config page printing on powerup, you need to grab a copy of the Windows Laserwriter Utility.  This can be run on a pc, through a virtual machine or by using Crossover Mac to simply run it in OS X.  I used Crossover, installed the utility and it connected automatically the first time I ran it.  You can tell the setting have been changed as the printer will be sent a job for each command and then print a wasteful page that confirms each change.  After that the printer will be all set up and ready to be added to your printer list.  The 12/640 driver is pre installed in 10.6, but must be chosen manually.

Once again I am recycling old tech for current use.  Plus it is a pice of Apple history, is your made by Apple, for most that would be a no.