Choosing LED Bulbs

Although I’m keen on saving energy (hence the heating control project) I’ve never been much impressed with the various kinds of light bulbs that have come along purporting to be the energy-saving solution.

The first era was the compact fluorescent lamp:

cfl

There are loads of different types of these, as shown above. The earlier ones were straight (top left) and then there were various spiral designs. Although these clearly used a lot less power than old fashioned incandescent bulbs I didn’t like the colour of the light, and I particularly didn’t like the fact they took quite a few seconds to come on. Also of course you can’t use them with dimmer switches, and they don’t play well with the various home automation switches that I’ve been using.

More recently bulbs based on LEDs have been coming in. They have been around for a while but initially were quite expensive and couldn’t be used with dimmers. Also the colour of these was also a bit variable.

What has really prompted me to look at this properly has been the fact that it is increasingly difficult and more expensive to get hold of incandescent bulbs (around £1.50 each or more), and also the ones you get seem to last no time at all. I’m sure in the past they used to last for ages… but now seems only a few months at a time.

We have a lot of chandelier / candelabra light fittings, each of which uses at least 5 candle bulbs. These seem to be blowing all the time and not only does this lead to a dimly lit room it feels like it’s costing me a lot of money.

So I thought it was time finally to address the issue. It seems the market has moved on a lot since I last looked. I wasn’t keen on the ‘no name’ Chinese import brands and I also didn’t really like the ‘frosted’ look of the bulbs. Whilst you can find ‘filament’ style ones these are quite low wattage.

After a lot of digging around I finally found the Philips Master LED DiamondSpark:

There’s a lot to like about these – they are dimmable, they look good and in many ways resemble a real bulb (with the ‘DiamondSpark’ filament), and they weren’t very expensive. I got the 6W version from ledbulbs.co.uk whom I’d really recommend, and they were £4.50 each and actually cheaper because I bought a load of them plus had a discount code.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the results are really good – indistinguishable to my eyes from the candle bulbs they replaced, and the whole fitting now consumes less energy than a single one of the incandescent bulbs in it before. Also and just as importantly they work well with the Fibaro Z-Wave dimmers that I have scattered around. This is true for both the older v1 and new v2 versions, and I haven’t needed a dimmer bypass because the fittings have enough bulbs to be above the minimum load of 25W.

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So all in all I’m very impressed and am glad to have finally made the switch. I’m hoping it will save time and money, especially given the bulbs are rated at 25,000 hours each!

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Repairing a Miele Dishwasher

I’ve always been keen on buying quality stuff where I can because it tends to last much longer and give better results. This applies to white goods just as much as anything else. I have had bad experiences with buying cheap washing machines etc in the past and so I now buy the high quality although expensive German brands – Siemens, Miele etc. This has worked out well so far and I’ve had years of good service from them.

The dishwasher I have is a Miele G975 SC Plus which is now pretty old (I bought it about 10 years ago). It has worked pretty much flawlessly all that time although there is one recurrent problem. They use a fan system to dry the dishes (so-called ‘Turbothermic’) with a vent on the front. Sometimes instead of blowing out hot air the fan starts spitting out water which makes a racket and a terrible mess. The reason for this is that there is a hose between the fan unit and the drain which gets blocked up with bits of food. The solution is to strip down the door and clean everything out.

Removing the front panel is a fairly simple matter of removing all the screws from the inside of the door and then various others round the plastic front panel. You also need to pull off the plastic mode selector knob:

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Then you can get to the hoses and fan assembly (fan at top left in the picture below). You then have to unscrew and fold down the metal front panel which you can do without disconnecting any of the many wires.

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The fan itself can then be unplugged and removed. There is a trick to this – it is held in place not by screws but by a circular grille on the inside of the door. To release it you need to twist the grille and the fan drops out. Be careful doing this or it can drop out unexpectedly.

Then you can dismantle the fan completely and clean out all the muck and old food, as well as cleaning out all the hoses:

It is then a matter of putting it all back together again, and hopefully it will all now work properly. It seems to go for quite a number of years between needing doing again.

I love the fact that these machines are so easy to work on and in my view they are definitely worth the extra money up front.

Repairing a Casiotone 101 synthesiser

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I am interested in sound engineering and technology, and I love all kinds of music tech although this far outstrips my musical ability. So I’m keen to take any opportunity to get hold of something interesting, even though this often involves working out what to do with it later. I have acquired a number of interesting items this way, some of which I have kept and some I sold on. I still have a Casio VL-Tone VL-1 and I also had a boxed Casio SK-1 although I did sell this one on.

I was at our local rubbish dump the other day, and out of the corner of my eye I saw someone with an obviously old and classic looking synthesiser in the back of the car which was clearly heading for the ‘electrical’ skip. It turned out that this had recently “gone bang” and had been left out in the rain for a few days. The owner was quite happy for me to take it off his hands. On closer examination I found that I had scored a Casiotone CT-101:

casio_ct101

I’ve found a few references to this online which are mostly fairly derogatory, and whilst I suppose this is nothing like a Fairlight or even a DX-7 it is still an interesting bit of history, and from a similar era. It dates back to 1981 and must be one of Casio’s first attempts at a professional grade musical instrument. You can see the legacy of the 1970s era ‘home organ’ with the large multi-coloured controls and woodgrain finish. However the sounds are beginning to make the transition from organs to a classic 1980s style synth.

First impressions on getting it home were positive – it’s really well built with a solid wooden case, metal panels and very chunky controls and jack sockets on the back. Unfortunately there is evidence of water damage – mostly to one of wooden end pieces which are chipboard and have absorbed a lot of water leading to swelling and cracking. This is a real shame because this is obviously recent and the rest of it is in good shape.

Given this history of it going bang I didn’t try plugging it but stripped it down to find the problem. The obvious place to start is the power supply, and I was hoping to find a fairly simply fault.

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The internal construction is again very well done and surprising simple. The wooden casing is very solid and the PCBs are slotted in to small guides with lots of discrete wiring. There is lots of room inside to work and it’s easy to find your way around. There are a lot of screws to remove at the back and underneath, and the keyboard itself plugs in via a ribbon cable which you can pull out gently from the PCB connector.

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A close look at the power supply PSU quickly revealed this:

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Most of it looks good but this component (labelled PME 265) has clearly failed. There were bits of it all over the inside of the case, and there was no sign of any other damage anywhere. The damage to the component made it quite hard to see exactly what it was, but after gathering together the broken bits and with a bit of searching around, I found it was a Rifa PME 265 0.02uF capacitor. I think these are used for smoothing / interference suppression in the mains supply.

This specific part is no longer made but a newer version (PME 271) is readily available on ebay. I was able to find a replacement (a PME271) for less than £3. I was surprised by the capacitance rating though, I’ve never seen them measured in Nf before:

rifa

The new part is almost identical in size and shape to the old one, and the manufacturer is the same. Replacing it was very easy, just a few screws to release the PCB and I was able to replace it in situ without removing any of the wires by twisting it around and resoldering it. This is the old and new part side by side. No prizes for guessing which is which!

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Then it was simply a matter of reassembling and testing.

Then comes the moment of truth… and success! No bangs or smoke, and it works perfectly. I absolutely love the chunky controls (orange and blue toggles and press buttons as seen on the photo above) and the sound is very reminiscent of the early 80s. Now need to think of something to do with it… although looks great in my ‘home studio’!

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Lots of new hardware!

After what has been quite a long wait since the original announcement, there is now finally a lot of new Texecom hardware and software released to go with the recent v4 firmware release.

The first of these is the ‘Texecom Connect’ app, which promises a significantly improved user experience over the former apps, which from my experience didn’t work well and were quite basic. The main problem with the app from my point of view is that it is for iOS only… and I don’t have any iOS devices at all. So until an Android version comes out I’m not going to be able to get any further with this.

TexecomConnect

There is more info about the app (and the rest of the range) here

The other and more interesting products from my perspective are the Texecom Connect hardware interfaces. The most important is the Texecom Connect SmartCom:

smartcom

I’ve not quite got my head around this yet, but it appears to be provide quite a wide range of capabilities including an ethernet interface (so the same as the COMIP) but also provides an interface with an upcoming range of home automation products. I’m not sure if it interfaces with any other standards (ZWave etc) but it is using Ricochet protocols to communicate with the ‘SmartPlug’ (see below). I’ve been quite impressed with Ricochet for the sensors etc, and this is quite an ambitious move to take hold of the burgeoning home automation market.

smartplug

The ‘SmartPlug’ as seen above is exactly as the name implies. This is a good start although from my own experiences of HA you really want something which can be ‘stealth’ installed and not lose the manual control. So for a table light it’s all very well switching it through the Texecom app but you also want to be able to switch it by hand. However, the idea of integrating HA with alarm sensors hasn’t been done very much and especially not by mainstream security companies.

What is also good news is that the pricing is a lot more sensible than before, with the SmartCom available for about £75 (from Alert Electrical among others):

smartcomsale

Overall I think these are very interesting developments and it’s great to see Texecom developing their products and expanding their functionality. I’m still really interested in being able to use the whole range as part of a bigger HA system and I would love to be able to surface the sensor data into Fhem. I am sure this is possible and I have got some documentation but I will need brush up my programming skills quite significantly first!

I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out, and maybe at some point I will get some of it in to play with.

Finally… v4.00 is here!

After over a year of waiting the day has finally come, and Texecom have released v4.00 of their firmware for all Premier Elite panels.

The highlights listed on the main website include a number of interesting items, being a new API for integration with other systems, support for the home automation products which Texecom themselves are going to produce and some more technical changes including improved network speed. There is also support for the ‘SmartCOM’ combination device which is not out yet but will apparently combine an expander with wifi and ethernet interface.

One specific item which is interesting is that all new panels will have a unique ID generated in the factory, and anyone with an older panel who upgrades will have an ID generated and written to the panel by Wintex after upgrading.

There is a detailed guide to the changes available here.

I now need to dust off the firmware upgrade board and get cracking! I will post my experiences. I’m looking forward to seeing the new hardware range which will go with this and also to see what can be done with the new API and integration capabilities.

Repairing a Spirit Folio SX rack mixer

I’ve written before about my interest in sound equipment and engineering, which mostly relates to work at my church. As part of this I do general maintenance on the equipment and where possible do repairs to keep it all working. Given the cost of pro-audio gear this is generally cost-effective and also it’s satisfying to keep stuff working rather than buying new.

We have a mobile rig and part of this is a fairly old Spirit Folio SX rack mounted mixer. The one we have at the moment looks like this:

Soundcraft Folio SX labricox images

It’s not quite the same as ours has rack ears but the principle is the same. One of the main problems with these is the power connector, which because it is a rack mount is on the underside of the desk. It is a small proprietary plastic connector which looks like this:

It’s small, flimsy and easily broken. There are three pins because the power supply is a little unusual, being 2 17V AC lines with a 0V in the middle. I’m not entirely sure why it needs this, possibly something to do with the phantom power (which is 48V) used to power stage boxes and certain types of microphone.

When I was given the desk to look at the power was flickering on and off and it was immediately obvious that the power plug was loose in the socket, wobbling around all over the place. There was a small catch on the top of it and when I tried to move it it broke off in my hand. So the first step was to replace the power connection.

A lot of other people out there seem to have had very similar problems and there are a lot of people on various forums complaining about the same thing. There are a number of ideas, including removing the connector altogether and wiring the power supply straight in as a captive lead. Other people have used various types of XLR connector. We have loads of these lying around, but I thought it was better to avoid using these in case someone accidentally plugged a microphone into the power supply!

I finally settled on a locking 3 pin microphone connector, as seen on aircraft and various amateur radio equipment (another interest for another post).

To make it a neat job I decided to bolt a suitable socket to the bottom of the desk in place of the existing one. The connectors themselves are easily available on ebay:

connectors

The socket needs a 15mm hole which is too big for regular drill bits (the largest I have is 13mm) so I needed a suitable hole saw. Once again there was a wide choice on ebay and I found this for the bargain price of £2.79:

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Great service as usual from ebay traders and they were delivered quickly. The hole saw is from a Chinese manufacturer but I was impressed with the quality of it.

The bottom of the desk is a steel panel held on by a load of screws but fortunately there is quite a lot of space between the panel and the circuit board underneath. There is plenty of space to fit the new socket and connect the wires up without it fouling the board underneath.

First step was to remove the old socket which simply pulled out, and cutting the wires. Then I offered up the socket roughly to where I wanted and made sure that there was space to connect it up. Drilling the hole with the new cutter was pretty easy – I drilled a pilot hole first, and then used the cutter with a block of wood underneath. It did a great job and cut straight through leaving a very clean hole.

The new socket bolts through from the bottom with the supplied nut and washer. Then it is a matter of soldering the wires on to the connector. As above the power supply has two 17V AC rails and a ground connection. I traced these out using a meter and wired the plug and socket to match. The only problem was that the cable on the plug end was a bit thin for the cable clamp  so I had to bulk it up a bit with some insulating tape.

 

I also found that if I turned the panel around I could cover up the hole than the old power socket was in, which finished the job off nicely. After reassembling it, the power is now rock solid and various other odd problems have resolved.

You could use pretty much any connector to do this but this one was good because it was cheap and the locking mechanism made it very unlikely to fall out. I’d definitely recommend this as a modification as the original connector is a poor design and I’m not surprised that others have had problems with it.

Repairing a Roboquad

I’ve always been interested in robots, and in recent years some of the stuff available as toys has been really interesting. One of the main players is Wowwee who have over the years produced loads of interesting stuff, perhaps most famously the Robosapien which has been through several versions over the years. However they have done others too. I bought a Roboquad off ebay a few years ago:

 

Roboquad

This is a very clever design which uses only four motors (one per leg) to move around using crab-style walk. The head and neck is also articulated, and it has light & IR sensors in the eyes. There are loads of programming options and for a toy it’s quite advanced.

It’s been put away for a few years, and when I got it out again I found that because I’d used cheap batteries in the remote control (never a good idea) they had leaked acid everywhere and completely rotted through the springs and contacts completely destroying the battery compartment. To make matters worse when I put batteries in the robot itself it was completely dead and didn’t power up.

So before throwing it out I decided to investigate further. Unfortunately given that this is now quite old a lot of the info about them is hidden away in old forums but I was able to find a basic disassembly guide.

You have to start by turning it over and removing all the screws in sight, including one in each corner which is hidden under the leg. Once you done this you can separate the top and bottom, but you need to be careful to unplug the cables which connect the sensors from the head to the main board.

Given that it was completely dead, I did a few tests to make sure that the voltage from the battery was getting through, which it was and there was nothing else obviously wrong. So the next step was to unplug all the connectors in sight and get the board itself out. You need to be quite careful doing this as there are lot of them and some of them are quite stiff, but with a bit of gentle pressure you can get them all out.

I had a good look at the board when out and there wasn’t anything obviously wrong with it. However what I have learned by now is that the most likely point of failure with modern electronics is the large discrete components like electrolytic capacitors. So I desoldered and removed the largest ones and replaced them with some new ones.

I wasn’t optimistic, but to my great surprise once I had reassembled it the robot now worked fine! It’s possible that it wasn’t the capacitors, and it might have simply been the act of disassembly and reseating all the connectors but either way I was pleased.

The next step was to fix the remote control. Whilst the battery springs were completely destroyed by the battery acid, the actual contacts themselves were OK. So I tried jamming the batteries in with some coils of unused solder as impromptu springs. This worked up to a point but it wasn’t reliable and I gave up. The only thing to do was replace the battery holder completely.

The remote uses 3 AAA batteries, and fortunately a suitable holder is easy to find on ebay and other sources:

Image result for 3x aaa battery holder

Then it was a matter of fitting it. The original remote had the battery holder moulded out of the plastic the back was made out of. It originally looked like this:

So what I had to do was break out the trusty Dremel and use it with a cutting wheel to remove the whole compartment. This turned out to be quite a job because the plastic was surprisingly thick in places. However eventually I was left with this:

The battery holder just fits through the hole, and the battery cover holds in in place perfectly. Having resoldered the wires I now have a working remote as well.

So all in all a good result – both robot and remote repaired and working for total expenditure of a few pounds. Hopefully this may help other in the same situation as I found it quite difficult to find much useful info given the age of these toys.