2018-12-29

Greener Charging by Waiting for Off-Peak

So I've been thinking, so I've invented the following:

There is a most efficient time to use electricity, and that's when the least efficient power plants are not in operation.  Generally, that's overnight, when demand is low.  At that time, most of the lowest-efficiency power plants are off-line, and only the highest efficiency plants (those that run 24 hours a day) are in operation.

In my neck of the woods, I feel that's roughly 1 AM to 5 AM, but there is likely some variability to that based on the details of the local electricity supplier.

Given that situation, I figure that there is a best time of day to charge electronic devices, and that's generally very late at night.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to put a control (manually or with AI and/or algorithmic decision making) into battery charging devices so that the bulk of their charging is done during the "most efficient" hours.  This time-to-charge feature could use local knowledge of electricity generation, your personal calendar, and your historic usage at specific hours... or it could use "rules of thumb".

For example, let's say that you go to bed at 10 PM and wake up at 6 AM.  To be most efficient, your smartphone's charging system should start to seriously charge your phone from, say, 2 AM until 5 AM, when grid efficiency is at its highest.

Although waiting to charge up likely only saves a tiny amount of power, if you multiply it out by, say, 500 million smartphones, laptops, and tablets, the energy savings would be very significant.

Say each charger runs at 10 watts.  200 million chargers would be 2 Gigawatts.  Let's say off-peak power is 50% more efficient than otherwise, and that's a tremendous 1 Gigawatt savings.

My old A1342 MacBook - new model!

I've needed to do some Mac work lately, so I ended up migrating to an older Mac!

This is yet another A1342 MacBook, this time a "late 2009" model.  It's a "Frankenmac" that was partially disassembled when I picked up for free.

I'm posting about this Mac because it is VERY sad looking, yet totally usable.

First, the good:
  • 8 GB of RAM (upgraded from 2 GB)
  • 1 TB SSD drive (upgraded from 250 GB Hard drive)
  • Runs MacOS High Sierra just great
Note that the very cheapest MacBook you can buy new today with matching storage specs costs an incredible $2100... and by design can NEVER be upgraded.  OUCH!  Planned obsolescence in action!

Now, the ugly:
  • The LCD enclosure has stress cracks at the hinges (a common issue with these Macs).  It looks like some epoxy was used to prevent the cracks from getting worse.
  • The LCD is wonky, and temporarily freezes if moved the "wrong" way.  It isn't the cable.  I think it's a problem with the LCD's electronics located near the hinge.  I don't mind.
  • The LCD has a one-inch scratch on the glass.
  • There are two big "notches" on the top case by the trackpad, where a prior battery swelled up and pushed the trackpad through the top case (somewhat common).
  • Given the trackpad notches, some scotch tape holds the trackpad in place.
  • The bottom rubber has fallen off (a common issue that was an free repair at one time)
  • The large, structural "vent bracket" is missing, along with it's four screws, and so the bottom panel can't be screwed in place.
  • The bottom panel is taped on due to the missing vent bracket.
  • The DVD drive is dead, and the DVD's SATA cable is missing.
  • The Hard Drive retaining bracket is missing.
  • The installed battery is "normal", but has 1563 recharge cycles on it.
  • The MagSafe adapter works fine, but the cord's insulation near the MagSafe is failing.  Some Plasti-Dip is holding it on.
  • I need to adjust the trackpad via the adjustment screw, which I'll likely get to next week.
Wow!  But you know what?  This Mac still works great.  It holds all my content and is completely reliable.

2018-12-18

DIY Spin Cycling Shoe Cleat Screws

I have a pair of cycling / spin shoes with "clipless" SPD cleats, but the cleat screws were mangled due to lousy manufacturing.

My local shop charges $25 to install cleats.  I don't mind supporting the local shop, but that's ridiculous.  I'll support the local shop with my money when they use expertise and skill, but not for turning less than a handful of 45¢ screws.  And replacement generic screws on Amazon or eBay cost like $10!  Even that is insane.  So I decided that the fastener section of my local hardware store was the solution.

The Screws to Buy For SPD Cleats

The fastener industry is mature and professional.  They make fantastic products.  Cleat screws are absolutely nothing special. And the local hardware store more than likely carries what I need.

That said, it is important to get the right screw.  Using the wrong screw for the given application could cause trouble.

In general, in my experience, SPD cycling cleats use the following fastener:
  • Stainless steel metric machine screw
  • Diameter: M5
  • Length: 10 mm (1 cm) long
  • Drive: flat, with 4mm hex (allen) head
So I went to the hardware store and found these as a good substitute at 45¢ each:
  • Stainless steel metric machine screw
  • Diameter: M5
  • Length: 10 mm (1 cm) long
  • Head: flat, with 3mm hex head




Note that the only screw I could find at the local hardware store sports a 3mm allen head, whereas the bike industry uses a 4mm allen head.  There is one advantage to the 4mm head: a 4mm head isn't easily damaged by using the improperly-sized 5/32" hex wrench.  I don't care about that advantage because I'm not an idiot.

In my ideal world, all of these screws would be better off with with a Torx (star) T-25 head.  Torx screw heads wear far better than an easily-damaged hex screw head.  But the bike industry is very very slow to change, and my hardware store only had the screws I needed with a 3mm hex head, so that's what I bought.

With screws in hand, I coated their threads with a dot of blue "thread locker" to reduce the chance of the screws backing out from under the stresses of pedaling.  Thread lock is a simple but wonderful thing, and it should prevent the need from over-torquing (and thus ruining) screws.

Finally, I installed the screws into my shoes at roughly 15 pounds on my little 3mm hex wrench. Complete!

2018-12-14

iPhone Depreciation

I was going to buy a new iPhone for myself this year, but I got to thinking... how much does an iPhone depreciate over time?

I went to eBay and figured out how much the value of "yesteryear's" unlocked flagship iPhone with a basic memory upgrade falls over time.  For example, we know that a used, unlocked iPhone Z with xx GB of storage has a specific value on the open market.  I plotted the value of all the flagship phones out in order to visualize how much the value of an iPhone decays with time.

In short, and very roughly, a new phone's value falls by about a 33% after it's first year, and by about 25% more after it's second year.  After those first two years, phone depreciation seems to smooth out to a fairly steady 10% percent per year.

Chart 1: iPhone Depreciation Over Time


So the first two years of ownership are the most expensive.  The longer I can hold onto my current iPhone, the fewer "first + second year depreciation events" I'll have to pay for.  As expected, it pays to not upgrade until I really have to, and if I do upgrade, a used 2+ year old phone will often be the most economical choice.

Obviously, new phones do have new and perhaps important features.  And old phones eventually need new batteries.  And very old phones no longer receive security updates.  All of those variables will influence the personal value that a new phone could bring to me.


2018-11-30

Fixing a SodaStream Jet


My SodaStream Jet soda maker started to act all weird, spraying a mix of water and CO2 all about.  Bah, I really like my Soda, and I'd hate to waste the expensive CO2 and otherwise make a mess.

So here is how to disassemble a Soda Stream Jet to try to figure out what's wrong with it.

My goal:  fix it!  If it isn't fixable, a new SodaStream Jet is available from Amazon for about $25.

It's notable that the SodaStream jet is mostly a snapped-together device, with the main body acting as a frame to hold all the components in place.

Let's cut to the chase: Here is how to I  open and disassemble the SodaStream Jet.

SodaStream Jet Disassembly Guide

1. Remove the Carbonator

This should be obvious. The carbonator is a pressure vessel that is relatively heavy and could even be dangerous.  Therefore, I removed it removed it before starting.


2. Remove the black panel button

The starting point for disassembly is removing the big black panel lever.  This is the panel that everything hides behind.  Removing this panel is tricky, but it isn't impossible.  It took me about 10 seconds to fully remove it once I figured out how.

I use a flat head screwdriver to unsnap the tabs on the bottom left and bottom right of the panel lever.

Looking at the bottom of the black panel, there are two tabs, one on the left and one on the right.  These tabs fully secure the panel in place.  The trick is to use a flat-head screwdriver under the plastic to gently lever the tabs out of the way.  Note in the pictures how I approach these tabs with my screwdriver.  I usually release the left side first, and then I release the right side.  Once both bottom tabs are released the entire black panel can be easily wiggled out off the machine.



 

3. Unsnap the filler assembly

The filler assembly is the first component under the black panel.  This assembly is the true heart of the Jet.  It includes the filler pipe, threads to hold the water bottle, a high pressure hose, and a couple of valves. 


To remove the filler assembly, there are two pivot posts that need to be released from the backside of the machine.  Again, using my trusty flat-head screwdriver, I release the right side and give a little tug on the assembly.  Once it's released on the right, I do the same on the left side.  The filler assembly is then released.


 4. Slide out the filler button assembly

There are two screws in the upper end of the machine that hold the fill button assembly in place.  This assembly moves pressurized CO2 from the carbonator and sends it into the filler assembly.

Here, I use a Phillips head driver to remove the two screws, allowing the filler button assembly to be withdrawn.

And now the major components are available for inspection, repair, or replacement.

 

The Problem with My SodaStream Jet

So on my SodaStream, it looks like a screw fell out of the filler assembly.

The filler assembly has to withstand full pressure of a new carbonator (maybe 2500+ PSI?), and so it needs all the screws in place.  Without the screws, high pressure CO2 leaks out of a gap the machine, making a mess.

The screws seem to be stainless steel, but they developed some rust.  After a little rust set in, it looks like this screw weakened enough to break under high pressure.

That means that there is another half-screw inside the hole, and no way to get a good bite.

After a little more inspection, its clear that two screws have rusted and broken.

Next Steps

Normal screw and the rusted half-screw.
It may be possible for me to drill out the old screws and use slightly bigger screws, but my bet is that such a modification will significantly weaken the overall strength of the high pressure filler assembly.  Therefore, I am keeping this SodaStream Jet for "spare parts", and buying a replacement on Amazon for about $25.

Greenest Electricity Use

Most all of us use electricity.  When is the best time to use it?

Many people get this wrong.  They mistakenly conclude that using electricity during daylight hours is the best time to use electricity because that is when solar panels are delivering the most pure, clean solar energy.  

That's a bad conclusion.

During the day is when high electrical loads result in the dirtiest and least efficient electricity plants coming on-line.

Why do power companies run these dirty and inefficient power plants?  Because of YOUR customer demand!  You can reduce this demand by minimizing your power use during the peak hours of 3 PM - 9 PM.

The greenest time to use electricity is when the fewest inefficient, dirty electrical generation plants are in operation.  By minimizing your electricity use during the day, the dirtier power plants will produce less power, reducing their negative impact. 

During low demand times (late night and weekends), only the most efficient plants operate.  And so that's the time to use electricity, such as running your dishwasher, using your self-cleaning oven (yuk), running your kiln, or charging your car.  During the late night hours, only the most efficient plants are operating, to the point where the power companies have to resort to storing excess power.

To be super green: perhaps a Sunday morning at 2-5 AM in June or September, during moderate weather, is likely the champion. 

Best Times and Worst Times for Electricity Use

The following table is a generalization, but it is likely correct for more than 99% of the year.

"Greenest" Times for Electricity Use
2 AM to 4AM

Better Times for Electricity Use
11 PM to 7 AM

Worse Times for Electricity Use
7 AM to 11 PM

"Least Green" Times for Electricity Use
3 PM to 9 PM

Some of my Strategies

Dishwasher
  • When: Schedule to run at roughly 4 AM - 5 AM.  Empty when I awake.
  • Do not use "dry" feature. 
  • Use quality detergent to make "heavy" cycle unnecessary.
  • Wash full loads only, but not overloaded.
  • Scrape dishes into compost bin, reducing debris going through washer.
  • Minimize washing by hand, a huge waste of water.
  • Avoid very hot days, due to heat exhaust that puts more load on air conditioning.
Laundry
  • When: Sundays, in the morning as soon as I wake up.
  • Use a quality detergent and cold water mode
  • Large loads only.  Any less-than-full-load amount of laundry has to wait a week. 
  • Avoid wet, humid days to greatly reduce dryer times.
  • Avoid extremely hot/cold days to reduce air exchange with outdoors.
Vehicle and Equipment Battery Charging
  • Charge equipment overnight.
  • Avoid late afternoons and evenings - the very worst time to gobble up electricity.

2018-10-31

Thoughts on Apple's new products in 2018 and 2019

Apple had a grand event in October 2018, and these are my take-aways:

Lightning is going away.

The newest iPads no longer have a Lightning connector.  Instead, the new iPads sport a standards-based USB-C connector.  Additionally, the new Apple Pencil no longer has a Lightning connector.

I suspect that no new Apple devices will have a lightning connector.

Goodbye, Lightning.  You were great in 2014, but USB-C made you redundant.

Mac Growth has Stopped ... by design.

Mac sales are more profitable than ever, but Apple has significantly slowed down the release of new Macs.  At one time models were updated every 8 months on average, but now Mac models are sold for several years without updates.  Furthermore, Apple has stopped selling machines built and priced for secondary school students.

Although Apple continues to be within the top five PC manufacturers, Mac sales are declining compared to the competition. And with fewer sales, fewer developers will be investing in Mac software production.

Engineering investment should be focused on Apple's most promising product lines, and that's not the Mac. At this point, Apple's strategy is to maximize Mac profits at the cost of its ecosystem.  Because the Mac ecosystem has no future.

Goodbye, Mac.  You were great in 2010, but iOS has made you a poor investment.




2018-10-02

My Dustbuster Screams like Hell

Once again it is Dustbuster repair time.  This time I needed to fix a very noisy Dustbuster motor.

I use my Dustbuster a lot  - at least three times per day - and so it is a good bet that my Dustbuster is used over 1000 times per year.  My Dustbuster likely has many times more usage than the average dustbuster.

Even though these little machines are quite affordable, when mine started to act a little wonky, I decided that it was to my advantage to fix it.  I don't want to buy a new one every couple years.  I want to maximize it's mileage.

The last time I had an issue, my Dustbuster's power switch became unreliable.  It was an easy fix with an inexpensive replacement part.  But this time the electric motor started to make an awful noise at startup.  I guess a few years of fine dust found its way into the motor bearings.

My goal is to see if it is possible/reasonable to lubricate the Dustbuster's bearings.  So here we go!

Re-lubricating a Dustbuster's motor bearings

Remove six screws to get to the motor.
The motor is within the white protruding part of the housing.


To open up the dustbuster's housing, I used the simple strategy found in my Dustbuster Power Switch Repair guide.

Once I opened the housing, I removed and unplugged the battery, and then I pulled out the motor/fan assembly.

With the assembly in hand, I lifted off the white motor housing by releasing two tabs on the side.   Removing this housing reveals the top of the motor.   I noticed some dirt and grime at the shaft, so I cleaning it up with some Q-Tips.

I did not gain direct access to the bottom of the motor, because it looks like the "fan" is permanently attached to the motor shaft.  Happily, there are some airflow slots that allow some access to the fan-side of the motor shaft. I wiped down this "bottom" bearing shaft with some Q-Tips.

Next I used a single drop of 3-in-1 oil on each side of the motor try to wash out the bearings.  Once the drop was in place, I'd spin the shaft slowly by hand, trying to work the oil into the hidden recesses of the bearing.

Finally, I lubed the shaft with a tiny bit of lithium grease. Again I tried to push the grease into the shaft bearing.

After spinning the shaft in both directions a bit, I was confident that the shaft was reasonably well lubricated.

And then I reassembled in the reverse of disassembly.

There is a lot of dust in the hidden recesses of a Dustbuster, which I managed to loosen when I opened it up.  Therefore, for my first power-on test, I took it outside where a huge plume of dust was exhausted.  Yuk!  But it was more quiet than I ever remembered.  !WIN!

I don't expect this repair to last long - I imagine that the bearing surfaces are worn beyond their useful life, and that my repair just masked the problem with lube that will quickly be pushed away.  But it's worth trying.   I'll update this as things change.

UPDATE, ONE MONTH AFTER FIX:

When I first lubricated the bearings, I thought I'd get a few more uses out of my Dustbuster before it reverted to it's old, noisy ways. Happily, I was WRONG!  My re-lubricated Dustmuster motor bearings are working out fabulously.  I have no complaints.

UPDATE, TWO MONTHS AFTER FIX

After two months of serious use, the bearing started to make noise again.  After some lube, the whole unit started to vibrate.  Yuk!  I figure the bearings are no longer round and that the shaft has become wobbly.  If I'm right, the motor is likely not repairable.

Bad bearings in this motor - it is beyond lubrication ☹️

Happily, I had an junked NiCad based version of the CHV1410 Dustbuster unit that I picked up at a tag sale.  After some inspection, the fan/motor assembly looked like a match.   I cut the old motor out of both units, and then soldered the "NiCad" motor into the "Lithium" Dustbuster wiring harness.  In terms of wiring, I am pretty certain I connected Red to Brown, and Blue to Black.  I reassembled and I'm back in action again.  She now works like a charm!


Replaced motor works like a charm!



2018-09-14

Jensen VX5228 CarPlay Installation in my Lexus ES300

I wanted to install a CarPlay compatible head unit into my good old Lexus ES330, but I didn't want to spend a lot of money.  So forget it, right?

Ha!  I bought the Jensen VX5228 on discount for under $180, and I haven't been more pleased.

The Jensen is a standard "Double DIN" sized head unit, which means that it can be adapted to fit into a whole lot of modern cars.  I have an older Lexus ES330, and so fitting it required a few extra Lexus-ish parts, but in the end it looks great and works like a champ.

Here's what I needed for my 2002-2006 Lexus ES300 or ES330:
The process was pretty simple:

Workbench Prep Work

On the workbench, I performed the following steps
  • Connect the TYTO-01 wire harness to the Jensen-provided wire harness. The TYTO-01 manual says what to do, but in short I connected yellow to yellow, blue to blue, red to red, etc.  This was the most time consuming step, taking me about 20 minutes, but it was very easy work,
  • Attached the new faceplate's black mounting brackets to the car play unit with four screws.
Now with the workbench part done, now it's time to go to the car with the parts.

Remove the factory radio

Before I start note that removing almost everything is a tool free process.  Lots of things are just snapped into place, and can be removed and reinstalled simply by using fingers.

To remove the radio, I did this:
  • Put the car in Neutral
  • Unsnap the shift cover and remove the wire connector from the cigarette lighter
  • Put the car in Park
  • Snap out the climate control system and lay it aside
  • Remove the four 10mm radio bolts and pull the radio out a ways
  • Disconnect radio connectors and hazard and clock connectors
  • Fully remove the now fully disconnected facroty radio.  Heavy, eh?  I saved it in case I ever want to reinstall it.
Initial Install and Test

Now that the old radio is out, it's time to start to install the new one. 
  • Attach the TYTO-01 wiring harness to the car's audio connector
  • While balancing the Jensen in one hand, plug the harness into the Jensen. Also plug in the FM antenna, microphone, and USB cable.  The AM antenna is not required and is not used.
  • Loosely place the radio in its home within the dashboard.  Check that the radio is working by powering it up.  Then power it down.
Finishing the Install
  • Route the cables properly behind the radio.  They will all fit.  I routed the USB cable to the center console.
  • Bolt the radio in place using those four bolts, making sure everything is reasonably well aligned.
  • Unsnap the vents, clock and hazard switch from the old faceplate.  Snap them into the new faceplate.
  • Plug the wires back into the clock and hazard switch.
  • Snap the new faceplate onto the dash.  If it doesn't fit perfectly, recheck that nothing is impeding it. Wiggle the radio a little if it's not aligned to the faceplate properly.
  • Test the radio, clock, hazard.
  • Snap in the climate control unit into place.
  • Reattach the cig lighter cable.
  • Snap the shifter faceplate back into place.
  • Done!

And that's all there is to it.  It seems like a lot of steps, but most steps takes a couple of seconds since most things just snap in and out of place.


Limitations

The only limitation I've run into is that the TYTO-01 adapter lacks fader adjustment.  Therefore, front and rear speaker levels are not independently adjustable.   As far as I can tell, front and rear speakers are set to be equal in volume.
 Future Projects

Microphone
 
I was lazy and placed the microphone on the dash as shown in the photos.  I think putting it near the rear view mirror would result in higher mic sound quality.  That's a project for a different time.

Backup Camera

I plan to add a back up camera later, but it requires routing a cable from the trunk to the front of the car.  So I'll do this once I feel like crawling around my car for a couple hours.   If you add a camera to your Lexus ES3xx, let me know so I can learn from your trunk-to-dash wire routing strategy!


Fix a Lightning Cable with Heat Shrink Tubing

We've all seen a Lightning cable that has started to fall apart.  They get used every day, and after enough tugs and yanks on your iPhone, they start to fray.

I've seen a lot of these, and so I've started to fix them before they break with heat shrink tube.  I get my heat shrink on Amazon, like this handy and inexpensive pack.  I like the of heat shrink without internal glue - it has higher flexibility and a smaller outside diameter once shrunk.

Heat Shrink Tubing on an Old, Frayed Lightning Cable

In the photo here, you'll see that I slid on a 1.25 inch length of heat shrink over the lighting connector, and then shrunk it into place.  I chose a diameter that just barely fits over the lightning connector.  In all, it took about 60 seconds to perform this repair.

Warning: the white plastic of the lightning cable has a pretty low melting point.  It seems to start to melt at about 125°C (or about 250°F), which is the same temperature that the tubing shrinks.  Therefore, strive to minimize the heat and time used to shrink the tubing.

Now the cord has a lot more strength at the point that sees the most stress, and you can't even begin to tell that the underlying cord was falling apart.  That doesn't mean that the repaired cord will last forever, but my bet is that it's life will extended many times over.

And there you have it.  Now go save the life of some Lightning Cables.




2018-08-16

Apple's long history of failures with the Entry Level MacBook

In 2006, Apple released the 13 inch white plastic MacBook.  It wasn't nearly as great looking as the MacBook Pro, but it had a decent CPU and had a lot of built-in capabilities not seen in many other entry level laptops.  It was nearly as powerful as the MacBook Pro, and was really only missing the rarely used FireWire port.

And then what happened???
2006: Plastic MacBook (A1181) is released.  Apple sells a ton of them.
2008: Surprise! A new Aluminum MacBook (A1278) appears.  Is plastic dead???
2008: Surprise!  Plastic MacBook continues (A1181), likely due to the price tag of the A1278.
2009: Surprise! That fancy Aluminum MacBook is renamed the "MacBook Pro" (A1278).
2009: Surprise! A new Plastic MacBook is released (A1342).  It is capable and affordable.
2009: The MacBook Air is released.  It is expensive and under-powered, but great looking.
2010: The MacBook Air gets more powerful and more affordable every year, and then...
2012: The plastic MacBook (A1342) is finally dropped.
2015: Surprise! A sleek MacBook is here, at 12 inches! But it is very expensive and under-powered.
2015: Surprise! The aged 13" MacBook Pro (2012 A1278) is pushed into the low-end.
2015: Surprise!  Apple kills off the affordable 11" MacBook Air.  Want light?  Get a MacBook.
2017: The aged 13" MacBook Pro (2012 A1278) is dropped.
2017: Surprise! A new low-end MacBook Pro (sans touchbar) is released.  Is this really for a Pro???
2018: Will Apple get its entry level Mac Notebook back in order?  It's been messed up for 10 years!


Why get a Roomba and not some other Robot Vacuum Cleaner?

Roomba definitely has the biggest name in robots, but there are a lot of great looking competitors out there.  So why get a Roomba?

Because robot vacuum cleaners have a lot of moving parts.  And moving parts need to be maintained.

The beauty of Roomba and iRobot is that spare parts are readily and inexpensively available.  Sure, there are consumables available for every robot out there.  But new wheels and motors?  How about upgraded parts?  iRobot is unique in that there is the expectation that you can affordably keep an old Roomba going forever.  Everyone else?  Not so much.

My Roomba gets a lot of use, and it's 7 years old.  I've upgraded the entire cleaning head assembly - which includes the primary gearbox and brush motors and dust bin.  I've also repaired a failed power jack.  Other machines would likely already be disposed of.

But my Roomba keeps on going.  I suspect that it will last as long as I need it to.  And that's either with my death, or with the advent of fancy new cleaning technology.

2018-08-12

MacOS Time Machine, the best backup software in the business.

Time Machine is Apple's backup solution.  It's the best backup in the business, but it needs to be updated.

Time Machine is amazing because it is by far more effective than any other backup solution.  You attach a backup drive to your computer, and your Mac asks you if you want to back up.  Say yes, and the backup happens.

Time Machine does full disk backup.  It backs up periodically and automatically. You can step back in time to recover old versions of stuff.  It smartly ignores files that don't need to be backed up (like /tmp and /proc and whatever).  It automatically manages backup disks.  TimeMachine has configuration options, but they're simple and straightforward - perfect for anyone except perhaps the data center backup pro who has spent countless hours developing an optimal backup strategy.

The backup industry has not responded to Time Machine.  It focuses on "every feature under the sun", with countless options and capabilities.  But those products are so time consuming to administrate and maintain that only a tiny number of home users use them.

But Time Machine does not do off-site backup.  And so if your house suffers through a fire, flood, or theft, you still might lose everything.  Bummer.

I hope Apple amps up Time Machine so that Mac users can keep their backups on S3-class storage services. Throw in a few simple configuration options for S3, and Time Machine could help address the weak online backup world including companies like Mozy, CrashPlan, and Carbonite.

Running S3 storage services on my Mac

My primary backup service, CrashPlan, decided to drop home backup services to focus on other things.  So now I'm left with an old home IT problem: how to deal with backup.

I take care of a full fleet of family Macs that are scattered around.  Crashplan helped me make sure those Macs were backed up.  I liked CrashPlan because it was easy, automatic, and reliable.  Now I have to start all over again.

The biggest problem with backup is where to stick the copied data.  I'm a big fan of remote storage, in case of a fire, flood, or other disaster that impacts more than just the local hard drive.  So I'm going with S3-compatible storage services, which is an efficient way to move and store a lot of data remotely.

There are many S3 storage providers out there at a whole bunch of different price points.  At first I was planning to use a commercial provider, but I've decided to give it a shot using my own SE solution to save some money.  My own solution has a cost too, in hardware and electricity and effort spent.

My solution is to use minio, an S3-compatible server for Linux.  My Linux server has an attached 4 TB disk.  This server is located in a building about 100 miles away from any machine I want to back up.

In full disclosure, this "server" is a 2007 MacBook laptop with a broken display, located in a friend's basement.

I estimate that my own solution costs roughly $77 per year for up to 4 TB of storage:
- Annualized equipment costs (mostly for drives, 4 year life): $33
- Power costs (22w): $40
- Network costs: $0 additional

More on this solution in a subsequent post.

2018-07-15

EasyN WiFi Camera Firmware Upgrade

I wanted to upgrade the firmware of my EasyN WiFi camera.  I just like to keep my firmware up to date.  I am sure it is a security sieve no matter what firmware I have on it.

Of course, the EasyN web site is apparently dead.  EasyN was just a brand slapped on many devices.  So I went to another brand that looked like it once sold the same camera - Foscam.  And their lame, broken, and apparently deprecated web site seemed to offer firmware that might be compatible.

In general, these anonymously made cheap internet devices are an unholy mixture of cheap manufacturing and abysmal, dangerously insecure software with no promises of any kind of quality.  Still, they have been extraordinarily inexpensive. The manufacturers would sell a lot more cameras if they merely open-sourced the entire software side of it.  But I digress.

So Internet lore told me that I could jam the Foscam firmware on this thing, as long as the middle two numbers of the version number were the same.  So my version number of my EasyN was 4.37.2.43, and so as long as I found wifi cam firmware with a version number in the form of X.37.2.Y, where Y is greater than 43, I'd be upgrading.  Nice!  That same Internet myth said that the first digit was the vendor (with "4" being, apparently, EasyN, and "11" being Foscam).

I went to the Foscam web site and managed to find nothing, but a deeper digging through Google helped me find firmware called "11.37.2.65", which is evidently 22 versions newer than what I had on my camera.  And then I proceeded to follow the upgrade docs.

There are two firmware components: the system and the UI.  You update them independently.  So I followed the procedure and upgrade the system firmware first.  That seemed to work, but when I'm done it is clear that the old UI firmware doesn't work with the new system.  Hm.  So I get this "firmware error" message and I think I've just pretty much ruined the camera.  After all, I'm going to throw it out before going through any laborious process to de-brick it.

It turns out that the upgrade process is an unholy mess.   You can't mix and match the System and UI firmware or else you could brick things.  But there is no way to upgrade without a little mix and match.

Then I get the great idea that maybe I can get the UI firmware update page to reload.  After all, the camera is apparently booting and connecting to my WiFi network, so something is really working there.  And so then I manage to rediscover the UI update page in all it's mis-spelled glory:     http://192.168.x.x/maintance.htm

So I update the UI firmware, and get more errors: "NaN" and other weirdness appears on a sparse page.  Bummer.  But I am smart enough to wait, assuming that a firmware update it actually cranking away in the background.  And a few minutes later, the Foscam UI appears.  I guess I was right.

But then the camera still seems totally broken, with lots of errors and crashing of the UI.  So the final smart idea was to do a hard reset via that magic push button on the bottom of the camera.  After that, a newer and likely just as insecure and unstable UI appears, and my dangerous risky-cam is back in action, ready for network compromise.

And there you have it.  That's how you waste an hour updating a junky wifi cam with anonymously produced firmware.

2018-06-23

Shipping Service Quality

I buy a lot of computer parts to support my hobby of repairing computers.  I buy several hundred items a year, enough that I need to keep track of each order and shipment to ensure that it makes it to me.  Otherwise I forget.

Given the 100+ shipments this year, this is what I've found:
  • All items "lost in the mail" are due to bad US-based eBay seller practices.  Items get lost due to lousy label printing and poor label attachment.  These items have all eventually showed up, but it is definitely the seller's fault, and not the shippers.
  • For domestic shipping, USPS is the most reliable and predictable.  UPS Ground and FedEx Smartpost are very slow. FedEx Smartpost uses ground trucks to move items thousands of miles, and then they hand it to USPS for delivery.   I guess it is cheap.
  • Items from overseas (mostly China) normally makes it to me within 3 weeks, but it can be as quick as 7 days, or take as long as 8 weeks.  So I can't bank on timing when ordering items from China.
  • LaserShip is getting better.  They're still sloppy, but not as horrid as my previous experience with them.  I speculate that they have a lot of driver turn-over, which results in inexperienced delivery people.
  • USPS's "informed delivery" is pretty awesome.
  • Amazon's real-time delivery tracking is very awesome - when it's available.
 Other Thoughts: None!

2018-06-05

WWDC 2018 Keynote: The Good, The Sad, The Ugly

I watched the Keynote.

My overall rating:
  • iOS: A+ effort!
  • tvOS: D.  Very little new here.  Where is the out-of-the-box innovation?
  • Watch: B-.  It's good, despite killing off the 1st generation watch.
  • MacOS: F.  Clearly an afterthought, and kills off a bunch of good Macs too.
  • Other: F.  Absolutely nothing new in the decaying Apple ecosystem.

Here are my detailed thoughts

iOS 12

iOS 12 retains support for iPhone 5S.  This is important.  Instead of throwing these excellent devices into the Security Trash bin, iOS 12 lets the 5S remain in secure, active service for another year.   Furthermore, these devices are fully considered for performance improvements.

iOS 12 is a very bold move by Apple, and shows that iOS has taken on more "green" principles, and that it supports the ecosystem used by its customers.

Compare this to iOS 11, where Apple completely abandoned the relatively new and capable iPhone 5 and 5C, making them a dangerous security risk.

Good: Phone Addiction Tracking

The new features that help users track how much time they use with their device.  This is impressive.  A lot of people use their phones way too much - myself included.  This addresses that, even though most manufacturers would rather allow people to get hooked.

Sad: No Time Capsule Replacement

With the death of Time Capsule hardware, Apple should add Cloud-centric backup capabilities to TimeMachine so that it can work with S3, or BackBlaze, Mozy, or one of a dozen other modern Internet backup services.  Instead, MacOS users get a decaying backup ecosystem.  Clearly Apple just wants to sell more iCloud subscriptions instead of advancing MacOS backup services.   Sad.

Sad: tvOS updates.

Apple TV.  Still no new features that make it extraordinarily enticing.  It's just an amp'd up ROKU.  It's time for Apple to add WiFi router, Airport, Time Machine, and VPN capabilities to this impressive piece of hardware.  Instead, it remains a ROKU.  It sells only because of proprietary but pedestrian capabilities.

Sad: MacOS Mojave

The idea that Apple has to state that they still care about the Mac shows that they don't really care about the Mac.  MacOS and its Apps are quite static, with only minor improvements for exceedingly expensive hardware.

Ugly: MacOS Mojave Kills Millions of Macs

Mojave kills off millions of excellent Macs, sending them to the security waste bin:  Any Mac that was initially released before 2012 is going to go into the security waste bin in 2 years.  Apple could address this by committing to make security updates to High Sierra for the next 5 years, but Apple would rather push you to upgrade for security fears instead of encouraging you to dream of their new (overpriced, under-performing and inflexible) Mac hardware.  SJ, we Apple customers miss your product strategy.

Apple was clearly so utterly embarrassed by this Mac mass murder that they didn't mention it in the keynote at all.


2018-05-31

On Localism.

I spend tens of thousands of dollars a year.  I spend it on all sorts of things to live my life - on my house, my car, healthcare, food, clothing, energy, and so forth.

Much of the money I spend immediately goes away to some distant corporation - a quick glance at my credit card statement shows that 90%+ of my spending goes far, far away.  Sure, a portion of it might stay local.  But the majority of it certainly does not.

Instead, maybe its better to try to get more of my money to stick around town a little longer.
 Imagine spending $20,000 to buy a new car.  The vast majority of that money goes away to some international corporation owned primarily by foreign investors.  Instead, maybe it's better for me to give $1,000 to my local mechanic to fix my car.  Then he can spend that money on his family... local folks who need to live their life.

Imagine spending $2,500 a year on household energy.  Instead of giving 100% of that money to OPEC and its industrial partners, maybe it is much better for me to give a portion of it to the local guy who can make my house much more energy efficient.  Then he can spend that money on his family... local folks who need to live their life.

The same thing goes for food, insurance, and everything else: All things being equal, I've decided to spend my money locally. That means spending on local labor instead of new stuff made in some giant factory far way. That means spending at locally-owned businesses instead of the "national" businesses at the strip mall. 

I can't prevent my money from leaving the local economy.  But I can help get it to stick around a little bit longer.

Electricity Use Update - the Final Frontier.

I did it again.  I cut my lighting electric bill by yet another third.

Now I'm using a photocell to automatically switch lights on and off that used to be on 24x365.  This last move reduces my lighting bill by about 35%. 

It would seem that a photocell would save about 50% in lighting costs, as the average 24 hour period is about 50% daylight.  But it isn't that simple:  For safety reasons, I want the lights to come on before it gets dark, and I want the lights to turn off after it gets bright out side.  Furthermore, not every day is loaded with full sunshine.  After chugging through the numbers, I pessimistically calculate the my lights will be on about 65% of the time.

When I started this lighting efficiency effort, I was already considered efficient: I was using CFL bulbs in all my fixtures.  Yet I was still able to reduce my lighting costs by about 85%.

Further savings are going to be a significant challenge as I already use low-wattage LEDs, and they've been extremely reliable.  Considering that my current bulbs have been extremely reliable (zero failures), it is a good bet that I won't have a bulb failure over the next 5+ years.  Perhaps by then, more efficient bulbs will be available.

2018-05-26

K4221C Photo Cell Adjustment

I just replaced a K4221 Photocell with a new one.

The old photo cell failed in the "on" position, which is actually a great failure mode - I use the photocell to control indoor and outdoor lighting, and for safety reasons its important that it works.  So the lights being stuck "on" is a decent failure mode.

But the photocell was stuck on for, um, many years.  I didn't really notice that there was a photocell, and was just accepting that the lights were on 24x365.

Now with the photocell, my lights will be on roughly 16 hours a day. That saves a third off of my lighting bill.  In the scheme of things it will only save me a couple hundred bucks, but hey, rather I get it than OPEC.

My photocell has a tough job.  It is to turn on necessary indoor and outdoor lighting when it starts to get dark outside.  But the challenge is that the photocell is positioned so it receives a lot of artificial light from the urban street, and it is unreasonably complex for me to move it.

My goal is to get it to trigger the lights acceptably, and that means have it be "on" when it needs to be "on".

In the worst case, I can just disable it.  I can just leave the lights on 24x365 and be done with it.  And that might be the solution I go with.  But for now, I'll fiddle with it.

I oriented the sensor so it faces away from direct lights, in hope that will help.  I also used the metal shutter and some handy electrical tape in order to shield the sensor as much as possible.

The fortunate part of it all is that I can adjust the sensor from the ground.  There is no need for me to climb ladders or other nonsense.

I figure it will take a few weeks to get it just right.

2018-04-27

The Good and Bad of Apple.

This article is my roster of good and bad product moves by Apple.  I only mention things that I think are important. Feel free to let me know your opinion and I will consider it.

2018

  • [Bad] Apple has dropped its excellent "Airport" WiFi router line, and tells customers to buy other vendors' junk. Apple promotes the WiFi marketing gimmick called "mesh". The pundits that promote mesh are either profiteering, or idiots.
  • [Bad] Apple completely fails to make headway making the Apple TV an awesome, must-have device.  It is shackled by how Apple lets developers use the OS.  Instead it is sold as a glorified Homekit hub integrated with a $30 Roku.  Why the fuck doesn't Apple get the excellent Apple TV hardware to play an important role in home WiFi?  Idiocy.
  •  [Good] Apple updates the "entry level" iPad without increasing its price.  The new iPad even retains the useful "legacy" headphone port, which has really only evaporated from the iPhone line.

2017

  • [Bad] The iPhone X is released at $1000+. It's impossible for Apple to excuse the price point, despite their feeble attempts. The iPhone 4 was an even bigger step up from the iPhone 3GS, yet Apple managed to control its pricing.  I am not going to buy an iPhone X.
  • [Good] Apple updates the software of the long-discontinued Apple TV v3 with Amazon Prime support.
  • [Bad] The new MacBook Pro was delivered with another proprietary SSD, as if the industry standard PCI.e interface wasn't "good enough".  If it wasn't good enough, why doesn't Apple develop a new industry standard like they did for USB-C, nano SIM, Firewire, etc?  And on some MBPs, Apple resorts to soldering in some SSDs to prevent device upgrades.
  • [Good] The replacement for the iPad Air 2 is a better, and significantly more affordable iPad. The pundits that complain about it are idiots.
  • [Bad]  Apple stops releasing security patches for iOS 10 - the version of iOS that is required for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5C. Some of these devices were sold as new less than 3 years old. Customers of these products can no longer securely use them.  Shameful.
  • [Good] The Apple Watch product line is clearly becoming more compelling.
  • [Bad] The iPod line is completely abandoned - the shuffle and the nano are dead.  Customers are advised to use an iPhone or Watch with bluetooth during their workouts - which, of course, costs at least 5x more than the iPod Shuffle.   Instead, many people go to eBay to buy used iPods.

2016

  • [Bad] Apple states during the 2016 October Special Event that the MacBook Air is basically not a great machine, yet Apple fails to improve the MBA in any important way.  Apple offers the low-end MacBook Pro, at a 30% premium, as an alternative. WTF?
  • [Bad] With the release of the new MacBook Pros, it is clear that Apple is eliminating their use of the excellent MagSafe connector.  Apple fails to provide any compelling alternative.  Happily, MagSafe continues to be used on the MacBook Air, but only because Apple *never* updates the MacBook Air.
  • [Bad] For the first time in 4 years, Apple releases an operating system, Sierra, that refuses to be installed on Macs that Apple no longer wants to support - despite the fact that there are literally zero technical reasons why Sierra can't work with the older hardware.  Apple couldn't even be bothered to fake a technology excuse.  Thuggish behavior: buy new hardware or risk your security.
  • [Bad] The iPhone 7 loses the headphone port for no particular reason other than "it's legacy", with comparisons to the Mac's elimination of the DVD drive, Floppy drive, and dial-up modem. The difference is that those legacy devices were bulky, unreliable, poor performing, rarely used, and long displaced by other technology. Now we get a dongle and need to balance using a headset and charging.  Very dumb "form over function".  No matter how Apple spins it, it is not a bold or logical move except if you want to sell bluetooth headsets.

Notes below:

No notes yet!

2018-04-17

How I Upgraded the 'hard drive' storage of a MacBook Air

My friend was low on space on his MacBook Air, and he was always complaining about it.

This is how I upgraded his MacBook Air from 128 GB of internal storage to 500 GB.

Upgraded SSD Drive in my MacBook Air

The MacBook in question is a 2012 MacBook Air, the small 11 inch model.  It is a great laptop, and at the time of purchase he thought he'd only need 128 GB of storage.  Then he had a baby, and the number of baby pictures grew and grew.  Soon he was out of space.

Apple normally wants you to buy a new laptop in this situation, or sign up to a special iCloud subscription.  But there is a solution!

Stuff needed for the upgrade:

There are some basic items I needed to upgrade this MacBook Air.  Fortunately these items are inexpensive!  A tech-oriented person might even have a few in their cabinet already, but if not, then no big deal.

M.2 SATA style SSD.
The heart of this upgrade is a new SSD.  But only a few SSDs will fit in a 2012 MacBook Air.

For this project, I ended up buying this Western Digital 500 GB M.2 drive for about $125.  It is a SATA SSD drive with an M.2 form factor, and it is thin, since components are only on one side of the card.  These are "musts" for a MacBook Air upgrade


"M.2" to "2012 MBA SSD" adapter (required)
This is the magic adapter, and its absolutely necessary to perform this upgrade.  It allows a standard M.2 SATA drive to plug into the MacBook Air.  They are available from Amazon for about $12, as seen here.

Proper screw drivers 

For this project, I needed a proper set of screw drivers.  Unlike many pundits, I think this is a good idea that Apple uses special screw heads, as they discourage those that only buy tools from Home Depot from getting ahead of themselves.

In particular, I needed two special drivers: A P5 Pentalobe driver for removing the screws on the bottom of the MacBook Air, plus a Torx T5 driver for removing the SSD.

Pros will use the right screwdrivers.  Conversely, idiots will use the wrong drivers to mangle the screwheads and leave themselves with an embarrassing nightmare.  I like this screwdriver kit: http://amzn.to/2uVMQYC

Drive Adapters

It's nice to be able to move your data from your old drive to your new drive.  These adapters are very affordable and very useful.  They aren't absolutely required, but I think most upgraders will want them in order to easily migrate data from their old drive to their new drive.

"2012 MBA SSD" to "standard SATA" adapter (recommended)
Once you pull out your old SSD from your MacBook Air, it won't natively fit into anything else except another MacBook Air.  This adapter makes an exception to that rule.  It allows you to take a "loose" MBA SSD and plug it into a standard SATA interface.  These are available from Amazon for about $12, as seen here.

"M.2 SATA" to "standard SATA" adapter (recommended)
If you buy a standard M.2 SATA SSD, you might want to externally connect it to your Mac.  This adapter takes the M.2/NGFF interface and converts it into a standard SATA interface.  About $12 on Amazon.

"standard SATA" to USB adapter (recommended)
Most laptops don't have a readily-available SATA port, so most external drives plug into the USB port.  This adapter allows you to plug a SATA drive, like the above adapters, into a USB port.  About $8 on Amazon, and is extremely useful even outside this project.



My Upgrade Process, in pictures

My first step is to migrate data off my MacBook Air.  I do this first, before opening up the Mac.


Step 1: Copy Data to the New SSD

New SSD in the "M.2 to SATA" adapter, which is plugged into the SATA to USB adapter.

Plugged the new SSD into the Mac and migrated data to new drive (see "Migration")

Step 2: Prepare new SSD for use in the Mac
Now I install the M.2 SSD into its adapter, and gently screw it into place with the single screw.

Step 3: Install the SSD into the MacBook Air
Now I remove the back

Back cover off.

Unplug battery
There is the original SSD.  Removing the Torx screw helps free it.
The empty slot, ready for a new drive
The new drive, in its Adapter, in the MBA!
The new drive, in its Adapter, in the MBA!  Now we put everything back together.
Step 4: Dealing with the removed SSD
Now the old SSD goes into its adapter, to be repurposed or sold


Step 5: Finishing Up

Now that the new SSD is installed, I power up, test, and configure:
  1. Power on the Mac. Booting will take longer than normal as it searches for the old drive.
  2. Go into Disk Utility and validate new storage.
  3. Go into System Preferences, and choose Startup Disk.  Choose the new drive and reboot.  This will speed up boot times.
  4. Go into terminal.  Type "sudo trimforce enable".  This will enable TRIM, which will speed up the SSD.
  5. Test test test.  Use the new drive for a week or so before unloading or erasing the old SSD.

Conclusion

 This upgrade was much easier than I initially imagined.  With the right parts and tools on hand, the upgrade took me about 15 minutes.  The data migration took another 20 minutes.  And now I have 380 GB of additional free storage.

2018-03-25

Sodastream Carbonator Leakage, Usage, and Weight

I went to buy a SodaStream "Carbonator" CO2 cylinder from my local hardware store.  The dealer pulled a new Carbonator out of the box and noticed it was lighter than usual.  So he put the new Carbonator in the "empty" pile and sold me a different one.

Weighing a SodaStream Carbonator - for both Science and Consumer Protection.
The dealer told me that sometimes the carbonators leak after they leave the SodaStream filling facility.  That means there could be an opportunity for customers like me to get ripped off!

The SodaStream cylinders I buy claim to have a net product weight of 410 grams - and that means that a full Soda Stream Carbonator should weigh at least 410 grams more than an empty Carbonator.

Here are the typical gross and empty weights of SodaStream Carbonators I've found:

"410g Net" SodaStream Carbonator Weight
Full: 1155 grams
Empty: 724 grams
Contents: 431 grams

Here are my actual measurements of the Carbonators I've purchased, measured using my handy postage scale.
  • Carbonator1, empty: 688 grams
  • Carbonator2, empty: 690 grams
  • Carbonator3 2018-03-xx: full: 1114 g, empty: 686 g, net CO2: 428 g, days: Unk.
  • Carbonator4 2018-04-25: full: 1192 g, empty: 762 g, net CO2: 430 g, days: 18
  • Carbonator5 2018-05-13: full: 1126 g, empty: 686 g, net CO2 440 g, days: 17
  • Carbonator6 2018-05-30: full: 1180 g, empty: 762 g, net CO2 418 g, days: 21
  • Carbonator7 2018-06-20: full: 1164 g, empty: TBD g, net CO2 g, days: TBD.
  • Carbonator8 2018-07-??: full: TBD g, empty: TBD g, net CO2 g, days: TBD.
  • more coming as I use my SodaStream!

2018-02-23

LanceJ's A1342 MacBook Advisor



I repair A1342 MacBooks, and so I know them quite well.  They can be wonderful machines, even in 2018.  Here is my advice for the diagnosis and repair of the A1342 series of machines.


Brief Overview

The A1342 is the only polycarbonate Unibody MacBook.  There are two revisions: late 2009, and mid-2010.  These revisions have interchangeable parts.   The only significant difference is the CPU clock speed.  The machine's general design (and performance) is very similar to the 2010 MacBook Pro. A1342 manufacturing was discontinued in early 2012.

No-Start / Totally Dead Machine

This is almost always due to liquid ingress through the keyboard.  Often times water will kill the keyboard, but everything else will be just fine.  The best way to check it out is to remove the back cover and try to start the machine by briefly shorting the jumper pads with a pair of steel tweezers.  When shorted for about 1 second, the fan should spin up and the machine should boot as normal.

The startup jumper pads vary by logic board version, but there are two small square solder pads near the keyboard connector.

Jumper Pads, used for starting without a working keyboard


Jumper Pads, on a later logic board

Unexpected sleeping

Do not stack two A1342 MacBooks on top of one another when in use - you'll cause them to go to sleep.  The sleep magnet on the lid will trigger the sensor on the other laptop.  The sleep sensor is located next to the headphone port.

Reliability issues / Crashing / Kernel Panics

Assuming it isn't software, crashing or poor reliability problems is very likely due to bad memory.

Note that these MacBooks only like PC3-1066 (aka 8500) memory.  If you have faster memory installed, you'll very likely have severe reliability problems.

Whenever changing or replacing RAM, I use a memtest86 boot USB stick to do a full memory test.  It takes about 3.5 hours to test 4 GB of RAM.  8 GB of RAM will take about 7 hours to test, and 2 GB of RAM will take about one hour and 45 minutes.  Note that some fraudulent vendors mis-label their RAM products, so just because it says "8500" doesn't mean it is.

Alternatively, you can use a "full test" through Apple Diagnostics (option-D at boot for 2010 models, or with boot media for 2009 models).  This is OK, but not as effective as Memtest86.
 

Keyboard Electronics

  • The power key is part of the keyboard. 
  • The keyboard is very sensitive to water ingress.
  • A water-damaged keyboard may detect no key presses, some key presses, or chaotic key press behavior.
  • If the keyboard is water damaged, or if the keyboard cable is damaged, the easiest repair (but not the only repair) is to replace the top case.
    • I have never been able to repair water-damaged keyboard electronics.
  • Other keyboard failure modes:
    • It is easy to mistakenly dislodge the keyboard cable when changing the battery.  If you have a no-start condition, or bizarre keyboard function, check the cable - maybe the cable is askew or has been dislodged.
    • The keyboard will not properly work without a working trackpad.  I'm not sure why.  If your keyboard seems weird, check the trackpad. 

Keyboard Keycaps

  • There were at least two different US keyboards made for these machines. They use different keycaps
  • Electronically and from the user's perspective, these US keyboards look identical.
  • The primary (important) difference between these two US keyboards is the keycap scissor attachment mechanism. 
    • The scissors, keycaps, and underlying key attachment deck are different. 
    • I call the two different keyboards "hook" and "hole", as that's the primary difference of how the scissors attach - via little metal hooks or little metal holes.
    • Replacement keycaps may not fit if you don't know the key attachment style you have and what keys/scissors you're buying.
  • I'm not sure when the change took place, or if it was due to different suppliers.
  • The arrow keys are not the same size as the function keys :-(
  • I don't know much about non-US keyboards, but obviously they use a different top case.

Keyboard Replacement while Retaining the Top Case

  • The A1342 keyboard electronics were not designed to be separated from the top case.  So it is a lot of work to replace the keyboard of a top case.  It is easiest to simply replace the entire top case assembly, which includes the keyboard electronics and the top case.
  • Some people do want to retain their top case but replace its keyboard.  I do not bother to do this unless the top case and the plastic keyboard backplate are in top-notch condition.
  • The keyboard can be removed from the top case by:
    • Removing the plastic keyboard backplate from the top case.  This involves carefully breaking the very strong epoxy bonds around the entire perimeter of plastic keyboard backplate.
    • Removing the keyboard by shearing off the 60 or so plastic posts that connect the keyboard with the top case.  This is easily done with a sharp x-acto blade.
  • Replacement A1342 keyboards are available.
    • A real A1342 keyboard is white, and has the power button cable that goes from the eject key to the right, and then up.  The holes on the keyboard deck are large enough for the plastic posts.
    • A fake A1342 keyboard has a power cable that goes up from the eject key, and then right.   Also, the holes on the keyboard deck are smaller, as they are sized for screws and not plastic mounting posts.
      • Note that these "fake" A1342 keyboards are actually 13" MacBook Pro keyboards with white keycaps.
      • I advise that one doesn't pay any premium for a fake A1342 keyboard.  Save some money and just get a black MBP keyboard instead.
    • The 13 inch MacBook Pro keyboard does fit, both electronically and physically.  These are generally much less expensive than keyboards sold specifically for the A1342.  My primary A1342 has a MBP keyboard.  Like the "fake A1342" keyboards:
      • The power button routing is different
      • The attachment holes are smaller
      • The A1342 does not support a backlight.
  • Since the A1342 uses a lot of epoxy and plastic to fasten the keyboard to the top case, a retrofit will have to recreate that.  But don't be too sloppy - misplaced epoxy can impede reassembly.

Scissor type A is attached by hooks
Scissor type B is attached by holes
Battery
  • Failing batteries that are beginning to swell should be removed immediately to prevent permanent damage to the top case, trackpad, or other components. 
  • It is easy to mistakenly dislodge, distort, or tear the keyboard cable when changing the battery. Take care.
  • Some aftermarket batteries have a very long power cord that impedes installation.  Sometimes theses "stupidly long" wires can be carefully pushed back into the battery housing.
  • If the keyboard or power button doesn't work after a battery change, check and/or reseat the keyboard cable.
  • Operating without a battery can impact performance.  I noticed this with High Sierra on a late-2009.   I speculate the same behavior exists on the mid-2010.

Trackpad

  • The keyboard will not work properly without a working trackpad installed.
  • An unreliable trackpad should be replaced.  I don't know why they sometimes go bad, perhaps water damage?

Logic Board

  • A late-2009 logic board will fit in a mid-2010 case, and vice-versa.
    • All the parts between a late 2009 and mid-2010 are interchangeable.  The only notable difference is the speed of the logic board.
  • Logic boards are most likely to be damaged via water ingress or connector damage (poor disassembly)
  • The fan is normally robust.  I have never seen a fan failure.
  • On a newly acquired A1342, I usually remove the logic board and remove all the dust and other junk that ends up in there.

DVD Drive

  • DVD drives almost always fail due to foreign matter being put in the slot.
  • Carefully opening the DVD drive (via tape and screws) and removing the debris almost always addresses a non-working DVD drive. 
  • I rarely see a DVD drive with a failure caused by something other than removable foreign matter.

Hard Drive

  • Almost any 2.5 inch SATA drive will fit into these Macs
  • Many of the drives supplied by the factory are 1.5Gb SATA I.  An upgrade to a 3.0 Gb SATA II drive will help with performance.  Note that the A1342 not have 6.0 Gb capability - installing a SATA III drive will normally result in SATA II performance.
  • A SATA II or III hard drive, or an SSD will greatly improve performance.
  • The drive cushioning mechanism changed over time, but it's a very minor change. 
  • APFS-partitioned disks will not boot in a machine that doesn't have modern firmware.  Instead, the "?"-Folder will appear.  Use a modern OS installer (High Sierra) to install the latest firmware.

Display

  • The display panel has no glass overlay, so scratches on the display are "permanent".
  • Opening the display's case to replace the LCD is a huge pain. 
    • Be very clean so you can "reuse" the adhesive
    • All that black tape around the LCD is to prevent backlight bleed.  It should be replaced.
  • The display panel is common with some similar-vintage 13 inch MacBook Pros.
  • Cracks in the plastic housing near the hinges are common.  I try to arrest these cracks with epoxy.
  • The external display port will not turn on until after the OS has booted.  Therefore, operating an A1342 without a working display will require a MacOS boot device.
    • Is there firmware way around this?  I feel there may be. 
  • It may (or may not) be reasonably possible to replace the white bezel with a MBP glass.  I want to research this.  Has anyone tried?

MagSafe Board

These rarely fail, but they can.  When they do fail, I think it is due to a knockoff charger sending lousy voltages to the Mac, resulting in a burning out the board, its contacts, and/or melting the top case.
  • First, make sure you're using a known-good 60 watt or 85 watt genuine MagSafe adapter.  
  • If that doesn't work, clean the A1342's MagSafe connector.
  • If that still doesn't work, the easy fix is to simply replace the MagSafe board, which requires removing the logic board.

Bottom Case

  • Yes, the rubber has been known to fail.
  • Apple no longer services this problem.
  • Reattaching the rubber is not a reasonable possibility
  • Alternatives involving removing the rubber from its aluminum backing:
    • stick some adhesive feet on the bottom aluminum
    • glue upholstery cloth to the bottom aluminum
    • apply a rubber paint to the bottom aluminum
  • Another more costly solution is to buy a new bottom case.
  • Not using the aluminum bottom is stupid and will result in logic board damage.

MacOS

  • It is possible to install and run High Sierra on A1342 machines with 2 GB of RAM, but it's really too little RAM to do anything of substance.  Therefore, I recommend at least 4 GB of RAM.
  • The High Sierra installer may induce a firmware update (for APFS boot)

Performance

Here are my standard steps for performance:
  • Ensure you have a battery installed.  A missing or defunct battery will negatively impact performance. 
  • Install 8 GB of 8500 RAM (2 x 4 GB).  However, 4 GB should be fine.
  • Install a name-brand SSD
  • Reset PRAM/NVRAM/SMC
  • Do a fresh OS install.  I use High Sierra
  • Enable TRIM in the OS

 Other

If you have any tips, suggestions, corrections, or clarifications, please comment and I'll add them here.

2018-02-22

Dustbuster Switch Repair

My Dustbuster vacuum - a CHV-1410, gets a lot of use.  We use it several times per day, every day.  It is a workhorse.

Sadly, it was becoming unreliable.  It would be fully charged, and I'd hit the switch and maybe it would begin to start and then stop, or it would lurch and stop - or maybe it would do nothing.
My CHV-1410 had a broken switch
At first I thought it was the battery, but then I found that by carefully wiggling the switch I was sometimes able to get the vacuum to work.  All that on-off action over the months made the switch unreliable.

Instead of throwing away the otherwise perfectly good vacuum, I decided to replace the worn switch.
 

The one part needed: A $5 Switch

I am happy to report that the specific switches used in the Dustbuster are commodity items that are manufactured by many firms and can be purchased on-line for under $5.

The original switch in the NiCad version of my Dust Buster

There seems to be two types of switches used, based on the charging mechanism:
  • For the Lithium models (CHV-1410L), I notice that there are only two conductors are attached to the switch: one for "common" and one for "normally open (NO).
  • For the non-Lithium model (CHV-1410), three conductors are used: one for "common", one for "normally open (NO), and one for "normally closed" (NC).
Here is a link to the switch that I considered to be a good match for both applications.  Just with the Lithium model, I wouldn't attach a wire to the NC terminal of the switch.   For the NiCad model, all three conductors would be used.

Tools Needed

The tools I needed to replace the switch were extremely basic.
Don't have these things?  Buy them.  They are essential repair tools, and should last for decades (mine are at least 40 years old). 

The Repair Procedure

WARNING: Before beginning, note that operating the vacuum with the housing off will, in the best case, make a huge and disgusting dust cloud.  Also, it is possible to hurt yourself. 

This is what I did to repair my Dustbuster in about 30 minutes:
  1. Remove the vacuum bin from the Dustbuster.
  2. Remove the 6 screws from the Dustbuster shell (Yay, they're all the same size)
  3. Pry apart the dustbuster housing using fingers.  It takes some wiggling, but not much force.
  4. Temporarily unplug the battery pack to prevent accidentally starting vacuum.
  5. Pull the switch out of its socket
  6. On the Lithium version, I needed to cut the welded leads of the old switch.  On the non-Lithium version, it used regular spade connectors that required no soldering.  Yay!
  7. Solder the leads to the new switch, or push on the wires.
  8. Put the switch back into its socket
  9. Plug the battery pack back in
  10. Test by pressing the microswitch button.  Beware of exposed motor and conductors... and dust!
  11. Reassemble shell.  This is a bit tricky.  Patience!  But if you get it right, it slides together without any bending or significant force.  Make sure you aren't trapping a wire.
  12. Test again.
  13. Throw old switch into electronics recycling bucket stored in basement.
CHV1410 Housing Screw Locations
There's the battery connector.  I'll need to disconnect the battery.

The battery back has been temporarily unplugged and removed for easier and safer working
Here's the original switch, that has become unreliable with use.
The replacement switch (foreground) looks nearly identical to the original (background)

A "dry fit" of the new switch.  It fits perfectly!

The old switch has two red leads welded onto the switch.  I snipped them off and stripped them.
The red wires have been soldered to the terminals of the new switch.

The new switch is ready, and has been placed into its little cubby.

Everything is back in place now, except for the white plastic switch control plate

The switch control plate is back in place.  Now it's just  a matter of putting on the shell and screwing it in place.

Results

It took me about 30 minutes to perform this repair.  The dustbuster now works great, and there was no need for an expensive battery pack or other parts.  Furthermore, there was no "hacking": The replacement switch is a perfect match, and the machine looks and operates the same as it did when new.

My advice to Black + Decker engineering: Rethink the switch!  These switches should be good for 100,000+ cycles, but mine very likely didn't exceed 2000 cycles.  Either your design is putting too much stress on the switch, or the switch that you're buying doesn't meet the duty of the application.  Happily, the switch failure appears to be "fail-safe" - my switch failed in the open (off) position.  That's likely a lot better than the switch failing in the closed (running) position.

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