projects

Modifying a Flip Video UltraHD to Add Charging Capabilities

The Cisco Flip Video UltraHD is a very basic 720p video recording device. It has a screen, a few buttons, and USB and HDMI ports. Not very much going on. Record, play back, copy to computer. However, these devices were discontinued, so my friend and I bought two to share at $29 a piece. I was very keen on using them together for 3D video.

To prepare for this weekend’s 2nd annual Ottawa Pinball Expo, I was making sure all my camera gear’s batteries were charged. The Flip UltraHD takes 2 AA batteries, which is generally enough to allow you to completely fill the camera’s 1 hour internal memory.

I noticed that there was a rechargeable battery pack you could buy for the Flips. It charges when the camera is plugged in to a USB port. This battery pack is really just two AA NiMH rechargeable batteries wrapped together, with a little tab that pushes on a switch to tell the camera that the pack is installed, and not regular AAs. When I realized this, I figured I could modify the Flips to work with my own AA NiMHs, and charge when connected to my computer.

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Friday, September 7th, 2012 electronics, projects 7 Comments

Restoring a Bally Medusa

I’ve talked about electronic maintenance on our pinball machines before, including some fairly serious refurbishing. One type of restoration my father and I were hesitant to try was cosmetic, since we aren’t exactly artistic.

Well, we did it anyway! Read on for a full, detailed account of our journey restoring a Bally Medusa.

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Saturday, August 25th, 2012 pinball, projects 5 Comments

Refurbishing a Brother DCP-120C Inkjet Printer

About a month ago my neighbour gave me an old Brother DCP-120C printer/scanner. The auto-document feeder was what caught my eye at first, but after I looked more closely, the type of ink cartridges it used made me very happy with this gift: they are simply little tanks of ink, with no head, meaning they are very easy to refill and should last a long time. What’s more, it only cost $7 for a full set at 123inkcartridges.ca.

However, after ordering the new cartridges and trying to print, I encountered some problems: nothing came out, except for trace amounts of colour – no black, and it certainly was not printing properly.

This is the inherent design flaw of these printers: they have a fixed print head, that is part of the printer. Unlike HPs and Canons (to name a few), the print head isn’t part of the cartridge. This means that if the printer is left sitting for long, and the ink clogs the head, the whole thing needs to be disassembled and either cleaned, or the head replaced.

Print head on an HP cartridge – replaced whenever you
buy a new cartridge.

Being the do-it-yourselfer I am, I decided I would tackle the task of refurbishing this printer.

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Tuesday, July 10th, 2012 electronics, projects 5 Comments

Final Project – Final Writeup

After yesterday’s exam, I have completed the Electronic Technologies program at Heritage College! Although final marks are not yet posted, graduation is certain, and I can pretty much call myself a Technologist (except not officially).

The biggest part of this third and final year was the final project. I’ve made a few posts in the past about it (video, menu, schematics), and the original plan was to make separate blog posts for each step of the process. However, time constraints, and the sheer volume of material, makes it easier if I just provide this summative post.

This post will be divided down into two main sections: hardware and software. I will try to explain with detail while keeping it short, and cover some of the key elements and choices involved in making this project.

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Final Project – Walkthrough

After two semesters, I can finally present my complete, ~fully functional, Final Project.

A good project is never finished, and I do indeed have other features and fixes I would like to implement in the future.

Check out the video below to see it in action!

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Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 electronics, final project, projects, school No Comments

QR Magic

QR codes are starting to take over in marketing. Businesses see potential in a small, unobtrusive combination of squares, unreadable by humans. There is a factor of curiosity, not knowing what message is contained within the QR code, that might compel people to scan them.

But I don’t think it works.

I have yet to scan a QR code I’ve seen in public. Why? I’m just not interested. A lot of us have become used to ignoring ads on websites and TV, and posters and newspaper ads get similar treatment.

So, if the code has all this wasted potential, what else can you do with them? Why not make it unique?

 

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Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 life, projects No Comments

Modifying Bluetooth Headphones

Backstory

For Christmas, I asked my sister for a pair of Bluetooth headphones. I had wanted a pair for a while, but the biggest concern I had was quality, but hand in hand with that is price. I read many reviews about headsets in the $50-$80 range, and many of them complained of sound dropping, artifacting, tinny sound, empty bass. This was the highest I was willing to pay for BT headphones, and even at that, I wanted excellent quality for that price. Then I came across these:

These Nexxtech “Soaring” Bluetooth headphones were on sale for $19.99 at the time. I thought, “hey, these have the same kind of reviews as the $60 units. Since they are more affordable, and would be a great gift idea, I’ll try them out.” So, when Christmas came, these were the headphones I got.

I used them a few times, but it wasn’t until college resumed that they were getting more usage. I found they were fairly comfortable to wear (as long as you have hair that covers your ears), and that the sound quality was actually exceptional. Not as in, “I can tell it is Bluetooth but I don’t mind.” I mean, it sounded as close to wired headphones as it could get. My friends were equally impressed.

Unfortunately, clarity does not mean frequency response. The bass lacked punch, dubstep did not tickle my eardrums like other headphones. It suffered from Generic Driver Syndrome – standard, run of the mill, $10 headphone speakers.

Time for a solution…

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Saturday, February 4th, 2012 electronics, music, projects 10 Comments

Final Project – Menu System!

Over the winter break I didn’t do any work on my third year project, though I told myself I should. So, when the semester began, I was at the same stage as before the break:

  • Real-Time Clock functional
  • Relay triggering functional
  • Changeable target temperature with buttons
  • Status display on LCD

A menu system is completely necessary for a thermostat of this complexity; options to change backlight colour, configure the time, modify schedule, and others, can only be practically configured through a menu.

This was the result of an hour or two of work:

Look past the break to also see a video demo of the menu interface!

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Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 electronics, final project, projects, school, software 2 Comments

Uninterruptible Power Supply

Being a very technology-inclined person, electricity has an important role in much of my daily life. Many of my tools require it (I include computers in this category) and, when the power goes out, it is the absence of server noise that alerts me, not that of light. The best way to keep these devices running is with a UPS (see previous post on the subject).

Network

Above is the “defender of the Internet” – this UPS keeps the modem, router, gigabit switch (and in passing, my amplifier) powered in the event of a power outage.

This UPS was $15 at a thrift store, is rated for 350VA (so… 275W?), and originally came with a 7Ah battery. Naturally, the battery was toast. I instead ran some wire from the terminals to a 12Ah battery from a broken car booster pack. Yes, I simply wrapped the wire around the terminal.

I haven’t tested the life span, however I once left it unplugged, with my amplifier playing music, for 30 minutes without failure. Boredom led me to plug it back in. I expect it should last several hours powering only the network.

Server

The server has 8 hard drives, and consumes a fair amount of electricity (more than the small UPS can provide). Because of this, a much larger UPS is needed. While browsing Kijiji one day, it occurred to me that I’ve never checked there for a UPS before. It was a good thing I did this time:

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Monday, January 9th, 2012 electronics, projects 3 Comments

Charging Non-Rechargeable Alkaline Batteries

I’ve always been a fan of rechargeable batteries because batteries, as a one-time-use product, simply don’t make sense. The ability to recharge the same batteries, hundreds of times, means less waste and more value for money. A downside to NiMH and NiCad batteries is that they output a lower voltage: 1.2V instead of the 1.5V provided by alkaline batteries, which can result in some devices displaying incorrect battery levels or shutting down too soon.

Another major downside is price, and shady marketing. Several years ago a 4 pack of rechargeable NiMH AAs, at 2500mAh, would cost about $12. It was a premium over alkaline batteries, but it was great value considering the many additional uses. However, these days I can’t seem to find the same type and capacity of batteries for under $17 at retail stores. Those batteries that are under $17 often do not have their capacity marked anywhere on the packaging or themselves. After some research, I discovered that these [brand withheld] batteries are only 1200mAh – less than half the standard for NiMH AAs.

It is unfortunate that a product that was once so economical and convenient was turned into nothing more than a cash grab. “Save the environment” slogans leading consumers to buy products at marked up prices. Supply and demand fails in this system. But I digress.

At the beginning of the semester, I turned on my calculator to find the “low battery” nag screen, followed by an immediate shut down. They were depleted. Being curious, and a little cheap, I decided to act upon an article I had read years ago. The article describes how, with patience and constant attention (if you wish to avoid acid explosions), you can recharge “non-rechargeable” alkaline batteries.

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Monday, December 26th, 2011 electronics, projects 4 Comments