Weekend Repair: USB Power Strip

2022-02-13 12:48 - Making

I had to do laundry, and I was out of funds so I had to trek to the basement to recharge my laundry card. While there, I passed the electronics recycling bin. I spotted a nifty looking two-outlet four-USB power strip. Sometimes people toss things that are perfectly working. This one was not.

The USB power strip while still open, just after replacing the fuse.

But it looked pretty nice, so I took the time to look into it. First I tried the USB ports, nothing. A little dot on the front looked like a status light, not lit. Then I tried the AC outlets: those also didn't work. At this point, it was time to open it up. There were two visible screws on the bottom, but that wasn't enough. There were two more screws, under two of the four rubber feet. Then some plastic clips holding the base on, and I was in. I found a much larger and more complicated circuit board to run the USB ports than I'd expect, and one smaller one.

The smaller board was directly connected to the AC input, one leg via the switch. Once I flipped it out, I found what not only looked clearly like a fuse but also was labeled "F1" on the board. And it was blown. I couldn't see what its original ratings were — this was a little glass fuse, the ratings are normally stamped on the metal ends. I ended up putting an 8 amp fuse in to replace it, from what I already had on hand. Which was a bare fuse, no leads like the original had. So I took some short wires, soldered it in, and covered everything in shrink wrap (like the original) to be safe. You'll have to look close at the picture to see it: it's at the bottom/right of the picture. A large black blob is the original shrink wrapped board. The smaller and closer black blob is the new shrink wrapped fuse, with little green wires leading back to the board.

Once I put the fuse in and closed it up: everything works fine! And of course, the status light is an awful bright blue thing. The hole for it is small enough, but tons of light leaks around the USB ports.

Repair by Damage

2021-10-12 15:57 - General

My "repaired" mouse.

I really like my Logitech MX Master mouse. It's just got one weird feature, a "gesture" button accessible by your thumb. It's wrapped in soft/flexible rubbery plastic. This tends, over time, to get stuck. This holds the gesture button down, and while the gesture button is held, the mouse behaves differently. It stops moving the cursor, so moving the mouse can do a different thing.

I've never wanted these other things (a replacement for Alt-Tab on Windows, at least). I have gotten the button stuck before. Then, I managed to pry a bit and get the plastic un-stuck, and the mouse worked again. More recently it happened again, and I couldn't. I took a look at a disassembly guide online, and I thought I might be able to pry this flexible plastic out of the way. Nope! I ended up breaking it. But this had the side effect of making the stuck-down plastic no longer exist, where it used to bump into the button. So technically, I repaired this mouse by damaging it. It's working again, so good enough for now!

Webcam Tripod Extension Mount

2021-09-09 18:08 - Making

My hastily-made extension arm to mount a webcam on a tripod, at a distance.

As mentioned earlier, I've been streaming my video game play online. To improve the stream, I've added a webcam to show my face. I've got a (probably?) unusual setup, in that I'm just sitting on my couch, looking at my TV, as I always have while video gaming. No good spot to put the camera. My first try just twist-tied the camera onto the tripod, then aggressively cropped that, to keep just the part that's my face. This moves the camera much closer to me while keeping the legs further away, because they need to be given the furniture layout!

It's a tiny piece of wood, drilled and tapped for quarter-twenty, to attach to the tripod. A matching hole is drilled in a bit of "angle iron" (aluminum, actually) I already had lying around. At the front is a 3D print I quickly threw together which (thankfully on the first try!) friction-fits around the angle and the camera's own mounting knob.

My streaming setup is pretty cobbled together, like this. Which is absolutely fine for now!

2021 Family Vacation

2021-08-23 20:33 - General

The whole family, end of vacation.

Last week I was on vacation. Four generations of my family: my nephews (3 and 9), my sister and I, our Mom, and her Mom. We went to Virginia Beach. I didn't take any pictures until this one at the end, because I know how to use the timer on my phone's camera.

We spent lots of time on the beach, and I got quite sunburned (then paid even more attention to sunscreen and time-in-sun). We went to an aquarium and spent some time on jetskis and ziplines, and tried to relax.

I'm a Streamer Now

2021-07-28 23:33 - Gaming

In addition to all the normal kind of video entertainment available online these days, it's become not unusual for video game players to broadcast or "stream" their gameplay online, for anyone out there to watch live.

In late 2018 I got into Magic: The Gathering, a trading card game (for lack of a better term). But it also, at that time, had a rather new official online computer game equivalent. In the computer version you could collect (most easily buy, with real world dollars) the same exact cards that you would (buy and) collect in the physical world. I started watching a video game streamer as a result at the time, as a way to better learn the surprisingly deep strategy of the game.

Afterwards I started slowly branching out to watch a little bit more. There's a lot of people streaming their game play, and lots of them are very entertaining and pleasant to watch. The pandemic escalated this for me: I don't want complete silence but I also don't really want to be playing music all the time either. I've been watching a lot of game streams in the background while working. It's always something to keep it from being quiet, and then it's a gentle and easy way to relax or fill otherwise dead time (i.e. waiting for something).

I'd heard of the phenomenon years before, and always idly thought it would be a fun thing to do. Since I started watching more, I started thinking about it yet more. About nine months ago I truly started acting on the impulse, acquiring the hardware to let me record (and/or live stream) my video game play.

But it was easy to come up with excuses. I want to use my powerful desktop CPU to do the real time video encoding, but I can't see the TV when I'm sitting in front of it. I want a good microphone to talk into, and a camera to show my face. (Not all streamers show their face, but in my limited experience, the better ones definitely do.) I want good lighting for that, I want so many little things. For those nine months I kept delaying and not making progress.

On this past Sunday, the 25th, I finally put it all behind me. Gave up on the face cam for now, got a cheap but effective headset for a good-enough microphone that's easy to put near my mouth (for decent quality audio without excess noise). Decided to use my laptop to run the stream. Good enough for now!

I've already hit my first milestone, on my fourth day streaming (and only for an hour or two each day), my first viewer showed up and even chatted with me! Sadly right at the end of the time I had, but it's still fun and exciting! I'll have to keep streaming and see where this goes.

Sofa Handle Repair

2021-05-30 15:33 - General

About ten years ago I bought a recliner sofa. Early on, I tried to vary where I sat, to not wear out one part more than another. That didn't last, though. I'm a creature of habit. These days I'm always sitting in the left position, with a side table in reach. This afternoon I reached down to pull the handle that releases the recliner and snap it came off in my hand.

The (maybe) repaired recliner handle.

The first thing I did was swap the handles, they're symmetrical. Then I did my best to repair the broken one. Some CA glue held it together at first, but I've seen plenty of weaker-than-new CA glue repairs, so then I tried sinking some staple-gun staples through the plastic across the break, ideally stronger than the glue. (By heating the staple with a soldering iron, melting the plastic to make a hole.) I re-installed it in the less-used side. My first check quickly revealed some scary cracking noises, so I've left it for now.

Battery Holder

2021-05-05 20:15 - Making

A 3D printed battery holder I designed and made.

I love rechargeable batteries. Much cheaper over time, and more convenient: it's pretty easy to keep a few charged and ready, and thus never need to worry about running out or getting more. For a while I had two little plastic buckets (old takeout containers!) to hold charged and used batteries each. But that's still a bit messy, and doesn't allow for even rotation.

It's pretty easy to buy battery holders, but the ones I could find are bulky (almost all including lots of C and D cell slots I don't need) and surprisingly expensive for a little chunk of plastic. So I made my own chunk of plastic! It's just a little box with some circular holes, of the right size to fit AAA and AA cells. I can put them + side up to signal that they're charged, and build a left-to-right kind of plan to make sure I'm always picking up the oldest one to use next, and putting the used ones back in at the "end of the line".

Lights for 3D Printer

2021-04-14 21:44 - Making

I've wanted extra lighting on my 3D printer for a while, but only a little. A while back I replaced the broken extruder(s). The old ones had fans built in, but they always seemed pointless: they were mounted on the outside of the extruder, so they couldn't even cool the stepper effectively. And they were incompatible with the new extruders so they came off.

LED light strips installed on the bottom of the top layer of my 3D printer.

This left extra unused power connectors exactly where I planned on installing lights. Today I finally took the time to put some LEDs from the strip I already had in place, using that connector. They provide decent illumination, but reveal how unreliable the 12v rail is: I can now see as the heaters kick in, because they cause an immediate dip in the brightness of these LEDs. I'll need to try adding capacitor(s), at least.

Mini Tesla Coil Kit

2021-02-10 21:12 - Making

The kit as it arrived.

Stuck at home so much, my habits have shifted a bit. I haven't made much of anything in quite a while. I dropped a whole three dollars (shipped!) on a little mini tesla coil kit just to shake things up a bit. Here's how it arrived, no instructions at all, which worried me at first. But there's very few parts, and it's actually almost impossible to get them wrong. Turns out they're tiny, but the markings right on the board disambiguate everything.

Weird parts: it came with two resistors and two LEDs — and the description called this out specifically — but there's only one place to put each, same for the little capacitors: comes with two but only one spot to put one in. It came with four little feet, but there's only three spots to put them. The component nearest the middle of this shot is a neon lamp, which doesn't connect to anything at all!

The assembled mini tesla coil.

It only took a little while to assemble. Here it is in operation, hooked up to my bench power supply so I could vary, limit, and monitor the power it consumed. It claimed to need 9 to 12 volts, and it works across that range and below. It doesn't actually do very much, but it does cause quite an electric field to be established. As a result, the little neon lamp it comes with will illuminate when it's nearby and the coil is powered on. But not connected at all! Spooky!

To rather dimly illuminate this small bulb, it consumes around six watts. And the little heat sink gets quite hot!