Posted on October 12th, 2012 No comments
I’ve owned an Etymotics ER6i in-ear headset for several years now and have been very satisfied with it. I use it for motorcycling, bicycling, mowing the lawn, and any other activity where ambient noise would otherwise drown out the audio from a standard set of earbuds.
Recently the left earphone began cutting out. By wiggling the wires near the plug I determined that the problem was near or inside the plug. I briefly contemplated purchasing a replacement headset, but then I recalled how much they cost, and it was close to $100.
There were a few resources on the web that showed how to fix a bad connection inside the etymotics earbuds, but I found nothing about how to replace the plug, so I decided to write up my experience here.
I already had a solder-on 3.5 mm plug in my parts bin and, although it was a 4-conductor plug, I figured it would work fine with my iPhone, since it uses a 4-conductor jack to mate with the Apple headsets with integral microphone. I just wouldn’t need to solder anything to the microphone ring. If I didn’t already have a plug, I would have used a 3-conductor stereo 1/8″ (3.5 mm) plug, which is available at RadioShack for a few dollars.
The ER6i cords are independent, but I didn’t know what to expect when I cut them off and stripped them. If I had to deal with coaxial braid, that was going to be a pain, but upon cutting the plug off and stripping the wires, I was pleased to find that each cord contained a pair of conductors, both made with fine stranded wire. Each cord had one wire that was color coded along with a bare copper wire carrying the ground. Upon some testing, I found that the red and green wire carried the right and left channels, respectively.
The green and red stranded wires are coated with an insulating material much like magnet wire that’s so thin you can see through it so even though the colored wires looked metallic and like they would be conductive, they were not. You need to tin the colored wire with a small solder blob to simultaneously burn off the insulating material and make a point where you can solder to. I was worried that the red/green wires would touch each other or the ground wire and short, but they won’t short as long as you don’t tin too much of the insulating material.
This is what the wires looked like before I soldered them into the plug. The bare copper wires from each cord are twisted together and will be soldered to the ground lug.
You need to use an ohmmeter to confirm which solder tabs are connected to the rings and tip of the plug prior to connecting each wire with a small amount of solder. I found it best to put a small amount of solder on the wires and on the solder tabs on the plug first and then just bring the wire and lug together and touch it with a very sharp-tipped soldering iron.
It was great to have a working set of earbuds again and if it ever breaks, I won’t hesitate to repair it again.
Posted on June 12th, 2012 1 comment
In the past few months I’ve run into a number of people who have experienced problems with their laptops running hot. I had an HP/Compaq nx6110 laptop sitting in a drawer that I recalled had been exhibiting the same issue. I wanted to loan it to my nephew to use during a visit and I thought I’d take the opportunity to put in a new battery and check to see the if I could find the root cause of the overheating issue.
I had checked a number of sites on the web that talked about overheating issues with laptops, but none of them talked about the potential for the fan/heatsink assembly to collect dust and block the airflow through the heatsink. If you think about it, most laptops operate like a vacuum cleaner in that they suck air up through a hole in the bottom of the case and blow it out the side. The air must flow through a radiator with fins that can collect lint, dust, pet hair and anything else that it might find in ample quantities when the laptop is placed on a carpet, blanket, or your lap. So the odds are pretty good that if you’ve had your laptop for any length of time, dust has accumulated inside and has negatively affected the heatsink’s ability to remove heat from the CPU.
In preparation for removing the fan from the laptop, I downloaded a PDF of HP nx6110 service manual from the HP website. You can do a Google search for your laptop’s model and the words, ‘service manual’ to see if the manufacturer makes the service manual available online. You may notice that removing the fan seems to require all kinds of parts to be taken off the laptop since they seem to cover everything else first, but in my case, it only involved removing the keyboard, which turned out to be quite easy.
The steps were:
1. Remove battery and the cover for the memory (1 Phillips screw).
2. Remove 2 T8 Torx screws exposed after the memory cover is removed. These screws hold in the keyboard.
3. Slide four latches on the keyboard downward to release the keyboard.
4. Remove the fan (2 Phillips screws).
Although I removed the fan and keyboard cables, I found out later that I really didn’t need to do this to get at the heatsink, you can simply lay them over as long as you’re careful not to move them and put strain on the cables.
I’ve attached some images of the fan and heatsink below. Click on any image for a higher resolution version of it.
As you can see from the picture above, the fan is exposed once the keyboard is removed. It doesn’t appear to be too dirty, but the dust is hidden between the fan and the heatsink.
Now that the fan has been removed, you can see that there is a lot of dust that has accumulated on the heatsink. You can use a brush to remove the dust and then blow it out with compressed air.
The dust that had accumulated on the heatsink caused the air to be blocked and so the air that does get through is very hot since a smaller portion of the heatsink is being used to remove the heat. It can also increase the velocity of the air because it’s forced through a smaller restriction. Eventually, however, if it’s not cleaned, the heatsink will no longer be able to do its job at all and the computer could shut down due to overheating.
Once the heatsink was cleaned, the air that exited the vent was much cooler, and the fan didn’t need to work as hard to keep the CPU cool (around 45 °C). In doing some research, I found that the BIOS was using various CPU temperature thresholds to determine when to turn the fan on and when to increase its speed. In my case, the BIOS was original and it was turning the fan on at 40 °C, and so I decided to see if any improvements were possible by updating the BIOS. Sure enough, a newer BIOS available from HP’s website had raised this limit to 45 °C which turned out to be much better, since that is the temperature where the CPU tends to stabilize when it’s at idle and so the fan stays off unless you’re doing something that causes the CPU to become busy.
I have a friend with an HP laptop dv6 model and it had an overheating problem that was so severe that it would reach 90 °C and shut itself down whenever she used it for more than 15 minutes. After searching through forums for many weeks she finally came across a thread that suggested updating the video driver and the BIOS to fix an overheating issue. That turned out to be the fix in her case. Now her computer runs very cool. So make sure you’re running all the latest updates from the manufacturer.
If you clean your heatsink and your overheating problems persist, you may want to check and see if there are any processes that are keeping the CPU busy all the time. Any time the CPU utilization goes up, the fan will come on at a higher speed. You can use Windows built-in Task Manager to do monitor CPU utilization by pressing CTL-ALT-DEL keys simultaneously. A better solution than Task Manager for examining CPU utilization is the Process Explorer which is free for downloading from Microsoft. I also downloaded a free utility to monitor the CPU temperature called Core Temp. I found that I had multiple virus scanners running (you only need one of these) and some other processes I didn’t need, so I removed the software responsible for running these processes.
I found that although Core Temp was helpful, it sometimes interfered with the BIOS in reading the temperature of the CPU. A better program for measuring CPU temperature on this model of laptop was Speedfan.
If taking your computer apart sounds frightening to you, or if you have a laptop where absolutely everything must be removed to get to the heatsink, then another option is to use a can of compressed air that you can buy at any office store and blow air backward through the fan’s vent. Feel for which direction the fan blows and determine where it’s exhausting the warm air. Then shut down the computer and aim the straw into the exhaust vents and if you see dust coming out through the intake vents, then you’re making progress. When dust collects on the heatsink, it continues to attract more dust like a log jam in a river. Blowing the air backward through the vent can clear this log jam.
Posted on May 21st, 2012 1 comment
A few months ago, my friend Don showed me a picture he had of himself as a young boy along with his younger sister and older brother. Don will turn 80 this year and it appears he was about 5 in the photo, so it was about 75 years old. The photo had some damage from creases, missing areas, and a few dark spots and he wanted to get it restored but didn’t want to let go of the original since it was irreplaceable. He had an photo scanner sitting next to his computer, so I scanned in the original and emailed it to Jay Yozviak at Photography by Jay, who is the premier photographer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I figured he’d know of a reliable service where the photo could be sent and restored to remove the defects it had accumulated over its 75 year life. You can see an image of the original photo here (you can click on images for higher resolutions versions of them):
I know that Jay is very capable with PhotoShop but didn’t realize that he also does photo restoration as part of his photography business. In a few days, Jay had restored the image and sent back the results. My friend was extremely pleased with how it turned out. As you can see below, the defects are gone.
He also made up a framed version of the image in black-and-white:
If you’d like to get a quote on getting your irreplaceable photos restored to their original condition, you can contact Jay at:
Photography by JAY
284 Dennison Street
Swoyersville, PA 18704
If you’re curious how photo restoration is done, here’s a time-lapsed video of someone doing it on YouTube. The video is only a few minutes, but it shows about 6 hours of work:
Posted on June 26th, 2011 2 comments
We got a set of 4 Panasonic DECT-6 wireless phones (Models KX-TGA931T) a few years ago and they worked beautifully at first. But after a while, the phones began to exhibit an annoying behavior when we attempted to answer a ringing phone where it would display a message that it lost its connection to the base after a single ring, making it impossible to pick up the call. The other phones continued to ring normally. Sometimes repeatedly pressing on the ‘Talk’ key would get it to answer the call, but it became are real annoyance because it always seemed to happen to the phone that was the closest to answer.
Upon searching the Internet, I found many people complaining about the same issue. I read through a number of forums and found that although it was a rather common problem, there was not a consistent sure-fire solution. One solution suggested unplugging the power to the base unit temporarily, but that didn’t fix the issue, at least in my case. Even the Panasonic website was of no help despite having numerous complaints of the problem in its reviews. I had tried replacing the batteries in one of the phones, but even the one with fresh batteries would still misbehave. However, I had used a cheap set of NiMH batteries from Harbor Freight that were a few years old, and so maybe I exchanged one bad set of batteries for another. The amount of talk time available when the phone worked didn’t seem to indicate the batteries were worn out. Sometimes one of the handsets would not charge fully, and it would be warm to the touch when taken out of the cradle. But then later, it appeared to charge to full capacity according to the battery icon.
Eventually, I grew so tired of the problem that I ordered fresh batteries for all 4 phones. I got them from Batteries America, by ordering the high capacity Sanyo AAA NiMH batteries (P/N HR-4U-1000). I’ve had good luck dealing with Batteries America, especially for things like rechargeable batteries for older ham radio and aviation hand held transceivers. They also carry custom rechargeable batteries for equipment that is no longer available even from the original manufacturer of the product.
I am happy to report that by changing all of the batteries, the problem has gone away. Better yet, the new batteries have 50% more capacity than the original Panasonic 650 mah batteries and will last many hours between charges.
These phones have this difficulty when one or both of the batteries wear out, which all rechargeable batteries tend to do after a year or two of use. It’s not unusual for a new rechargeable battery to be weak if it had been on the shelf too long prior to using it so make sure to purchase your batteries from a reliable source only when you need them. The charging circuitry in the phone is not effective at notifying the user of weak batteries. If you experience this issue, I’d recommend getting a new set of high quality NiMH batteries for all of the phones and keeping track of when you replace them, because when they wear out, the phone will not give you any clue about what’s wrong other than this inexplicable problem where its connection to the base becomes flaky along with contradictory evidence that would seem to indicate that the batteries are not the issue.
[UPDATE: 2013-01-20] I just wanted to follow up to say that after nearly two years of using the Sanyo batteries, we still have not experienced a single ‘cannot find base’ issue. So I’m even more confident that this issue was battery-related and compounded by the phone’s battery charge status to properly identify the problem.