New Life to Rock Candy Gamepad for PS3 | Another Repair

I am not one to just toss something when it is broken. I want to give every piece of equipment a shot at another life whenever possible. Somethings do have to go to the big recycler in the sky but not without some kind of fight at my end.

I couple years back when I thrusted myself into the foray of “modern” gaming, I purchased two of these “Rock Candy” Gamepads from a local retailer. This was for my first Steam Game purchase, River City Ransom: Underground. They worked quite well but having kids with passion bubbles very near the surface, gamepads have a tendency to go flying or falling from time to time.

After some time of play, one had a fall too many and the plastic broke that held the batteries in place on one controller. Within a week, the other decided it would no longer turn on. Both controllers were put away into storage, until yesterday.

My oldest son asked if they could be fixed and I suggested that we could take the board from one and put it in the body of the other. He said he wanted to do it. I supplied some tools, provided just a bit of guidance and my 8 year old took the screw driver to task. I guided him on disassembly and used a magnetic bowl to hold the screws so didn’t roll away.

When he started to put it together, he asked how to do it, to which I gave the proper fatherly advice, “just like taking it apart, but in reverse!” Surprisingly, that was enough. I just made sure that the Left and Right Bumpers PCBs was correctly placed. He knew what screws went where and placed everything just right.

I double checked the screws to ensure that they were all snugged up properly, popped in some batteries and we were off to the races. There is only just a bit of confusion now as the blue controller now goes to the green dongle.

In another proud moment, my boy turned to a SNES emulator and played Super Mario All-Stars. Those old games are still fun to play today, even for the youth, which is a testament to the fun-gineering of yeaster-year

Final Thoughts

Technology is certainly a fun thing to play with but it is so much more fun to pass on the joy of owning your technology to your kids. The amount of confidence my boy has earned through this exercise is worth far more than the cost of both of the controllers. I am hoping this sparks a flame for a passion for technology, not just in using but in creating and imagining new ways to use technology. I am quite sure that his abilities that will far surpass my own.

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Garmin Vivofit 2 Battery Replacement

A short time ago, my step tracker and watch went dead. It is a Vivofit 2 that is very plain and ordinary with no bells or whistles, as compared to other trackers. All this tracker does is time, date, steps, estimate of distance and calories burned. No heart rate or altimeter to tell you how many steps you’ve climbed, that said, this is also the first “smart” wearable that has lasted longer than 6 months. As far as watches go, this thing has lasted longer than any other.

garmin vivofit2-01-dead

This device, of which is primarily my watch, was supposed to last one year on two Lithium button cell batteries. It ended up lasting over two years which makes me start to believe that these button cell run times are all underestimated.

In preparation for this repair, I pulled out my card of CR2032 batteries thinking I could just pop in the batteries on hand. Once apart, however, an unpleasant surprise greated me beneath its dirty shell. I didn’t have the proper battery, the Vivofit 2 takes CR1632 batteries which are far more expensive. When I looked on the shelf of the store they turned out to be the most expensive batteries on the shelf at $4.99 each.

garmin vivofit2-02-opengarmin vivofit2-03-batteries

Before doing another thing with it, I cleaned the gasket and housing with rubbing alcohol because it was two years sitting on my arm and looked terribly gross. Popping out the batteries was easily accomplished with a flat-head screwdriver. Inserting the batteries, only required a bit of pressure to seat them properly. Four screws hold the body together. Upon putting the thing back together, the device immediately reactivated.

garmin vivofit2-04-fixed

I let it do its thing of synchronizing with my mobile and that was it, the job was done and I have my watch back.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see what voltage the old batteries were to know how much voltage was not enough voltage to power this wearable.

garmin vivofit2-05-old button cell voltage

5.327 volts was the magic number. Instead of just tossing the batteries into the recycling, I decided to hang onto them. Who knows when I might come up with a use.

Final Thoughts

The batteries were a bit more than I wanted to spend but replacing the batteries was still cheaper than a new tracker or even a decent watch. Since the thing is mostly a watch and I don’t need anything fancy, this will do just fine for now. The total cost of this repair was $10.58. Still far less expensive than $109 for a replacement from Garmin.

Truly, I think trackers are kind of dumb but I like the metrics it gives me and there is something fun with the dumbness… like the competitions with friends on steps. This thing is a fine watch and I don’t care about status symbols so until this thing has some catastrophic failure, I’m not likely to upgrade.

Oh, one last thing, I have also created a short video on this repair and edited it with Kdenlive. My first foray into doing video with Kdenlive and so far, I like it very much… once I figured out what I was doing. The machine I used, Dell Latitude E6440 running openSUSE Tumbleweed. I didn’t have a single crash or lockup of the software.

If you happen to like this, great, if you don’t, that’s great too. It was a fine learning experience that I enjoyed.

Further Reading

Vivofit 2 from Garmin.com

Garmin Vivofit 2 Battery Replacement on YouTube

Dell Latitude E6440

 

GB Boy Colour Repair

GB Boy Colour-10-Title.png

Last year’s Christmas present to my oldest boy (2017), started to misbehave in such a way that made playing it no longer enjoyable. This GB Boy Colour, a Game Boy Color clone, likely not made with the highest quality components started to have switch problems. It either wouldn’t turn on or turn on and immediately off, have continual reboots (is that what a Game Boy does, reboot?) or some other odd screen dimming, random lines flickering across and other peculiar behavior. This malfunctioning device was causing my boy serious frustration.

Old Tech Is Better Tech

GB Boy Colour-12.pngThese older Nintendo Game Boy games are great because they don’t require internet connection so there is no way I am being spied on and there isn’t any advertising. On top of it, these old games games are still fun many years later.

If you want to know more about the device itself just search “GB Boy Colour” and there are numerous reviews. What is particularly fantastic about this device is that it is a color screen with backlight and it not only has a bunch of built in games but it has the cartridge slot so that you can pop in those 25 + year old games and play them with an even better experience than you had in the early 90s. I wasn’t into the Game Boy when it came out but this particular unit is pretty great.

Disassembly

I turned this broken device into an education opportunity for my kids. They not only get to see the inside of this portable fun-box, they can also observe the process of soldering and the importance of taking care around tools, like the soldering iron. I consider it a huge win that I burn myself or my kids.

Easy OutTaking apart this device was a bigger headache than it should have been. The Nintendo specific screw heads could not be removed with the tool I purchased to remove it. I could have customized the tool to make it fit in the counterbore but since I don’t have a metal lathe (yet), I was not able to do so. I suppose I could have chucked it up in my drill and used a metal file or die grinder to grind it down but that seemed like far too much work. Instead, I decided to use an “easy-out” to remove the screws and replace the screws with standard cross-recess drive style.

GB Boy Colour-03-Screw Heads

Six screws is all that holds this case together. Pretty typical plastic screws you would see in devices of this type. Two of the screws are in the battery compartment which I didn’t immediately see.

GB Boy Colour-07-Back

Once the case is apart, there are three more screws that hold the main board to the front case.

GB Boy Colour-08-Separated.jpg

Once separated, you have to be careful not to let the screen dangle around and get beat up. That reveled the power switch soldered joints.

Repair

My inexperienced observation of the device reveled that the soldering of the switch was likely done too cold so there wasn’t a good bond between the board and the switch. The fix was rather easy, I was able to use my soldering iron to heat up and add a bit more solder. When I completed soldering the switch I also noticed that the switch itself was ever so slightly cracked. The metal contact was pulling away from the sliding action. I fixed this by applying a little glob of hot glue to properly support the bits to keep it from pulling apart.

GB Boy Colour-04-Switch

After reassembling this Game Boy Color Clone, I gave it a test run (read: played games instead of get work done), lost track of time for a bit until my boy insisted that he try it out himself.

GB Boy Colour-13-Super Mario Land.png

Final Thoughts

I was pretty fortunate that I was able to just re-flow the solder on this switch and beef up the walls with hot glue to hold it together. Using this as an educational opportunity with my kids made for some good family time. It brought about many questions about what the components do, how a soldering iron works and why it melts the solder. I not only helped them to understand electronics a little bit, it also created respect for the tools and the need for increased caution. From their perspective, the most important part was being able to play Super Mario Land and Ms Pacman again without the thing getting stuck in reboot cycles.

Further Reading

Nintendo Life Review of GB Boy Colour

NES SNES Security Bit Screw Driver on Amazon.com

Flashing Linksys E2000 Router with DD-WRT

No Network.png

When it comes to home networking, I have lost some “Geek Points” in the last few years. In general, I don’t find all the bits that go into networking all that interesting, I know the basics, have had my network doing what I want it to do and have basically neglected it for some time. If I need real help I will lean on my brother in-law to help me sort out the netmasks or routing tables or whatever else by which I am less excited. To the level I have come to understand I have gotten what I needed working so why think about it… That was until my router, already running DD-WRT, started to give me some problems.

Using Speedtest.net I was only getting 12 Mbps on the Wireless and around 70 Mbps on the wired Ethernet. This was becoming increasingly annoying as most of my work requires reliable internet connection so I started running CAT5 to each computer in my SuperCubicle plus one extra for a future project.

Productivity had been restored, so long as I was wired. Then one morning the wireless just stopped altogether. The wired Ethernet was still routing but the traffic on the wireless just stopped routing traffic all together.

Hardware

Linksys E2000.png
Linksys E2000

Not a very complex network and would have been something great 8 years ago for a home network but today, the idiom “long in the tooth” would be an understatement. I have a DOCSIS 3 Modem, which is new and trouble free that is connected to a Linksys E2000 router running DD-WRT. Attached to that is a Linksys 16-port EZXS16W switch. From that switch there are about 10 ports used up.

 

Linksys EZXS16W
Linksys EZXS16W 16-Port Switch

In order to bring the wirless back up, I tried to adjust some of the settings and nothing seemed to save. It was like it was working and not working in the same stroke. Rebooting the router didn’t change anything, it was still in a kind of undead state. I was unsuccessful with everything I tried. I saw only one option, factory reset the router and upgrade the firmware.

Firmware Flashing Complications

Using the DD-WRT Router Database I searched for the Linksys E2000 and downloaded the latest “Mega” firmware. Based on my understanding and referencing the wiki page, I just needed to update the firmware with the latest “Mega”. I did the initial attempt at flashing the firmware with the Falkon browser, it didn’t take. I got the “Flash Failed” error. I did it again but disabling the Ad Blocker thinking that might have been the problem but it still didn’t work. I tried Firefox and the Konqueror browser. All failed.

I downloaded the “Big” version and tried it again but with no success. What finally worked was upgrading with the DD-WRT: Factory Flash dd-wrt.v24-37305_NEWD-2_K2.6_mini-e2000.bin (at the time of writing, November 2018).

This flash was successful a since I didn’t need any of those extended features, the Mini was plenty good for what I need to do with it, at least for the short term.

Features I use

I don’t have a whole lot of requirements for my router at this time. What is important to me are the following features less common in typical consumer wireless router / switch / firewall / gateways:

DNSMasq

DNSmasq is a local DNS server. It will resolve all host names known to the router from dhcp (dynamic and static) as well as forwarding and caching DNS entries from remote DNS servers. Local DNS enables DHCP clients on the LAN to resolve static and dynamic DHCP hostnames. This is especially important when communicating with computers through the terminal or doing SFTP transfers. Rather than typing out the IP address, I can just type the computer’s hostname.

DHCP Static Lease

I have a few devices on my network that it is important that the IP address doesn’t change, specifically my HP OfficeJet All-In-One printer and my server.

DHCP LAN Domain

I like to set a LAN domain, not really a necessity but I like to have one for fun and fashion.

Next Steps

My home network hardware is aging and needs several upgrades. I think I am going to start with a pfSense Box probably use some sort of older x86 machine with a couple NICs, use the current router as a Wireless Access Point then look at changing out my 16-port switch to some sort of Gigabit Switch with about the same number of ports. Judging by my cursory review of the setup and features, I will have to make a significant time investment.

Network Cable Nest.jpg

Final Thoughts

It is remarkable how quickly one’s morning priorities can change when the network becomes largely inoperable. It is also remarkable how quickly it seems like your network components age when you are not thinking about it.

This little “breakdown” has inspired me to begin making the changes to my network. Future blatherings to come from this as I make the upgrades and figure out what works best for my home network.

Further Reading

https://wiki.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Linksys_E2000

Linksys E2000 DD-WRT Wiki page

https://www.pfsense.org/

 

Lenovo ideapad 110S Repair | UEFI Partition Currupted

Lenovo 110S Title-broken

For several months, I was happily using my Lenovo ideapad 110S running openSUSE Tumbleweed. I have had few complaints about the device, other than a lack of RAM (but I knew that going into the purchase). One day the thing just stopped working; on boot up it left me a sad looking, blank screen. No combination of key presses did anything to change its state. All I could do was hold the power button down and forced off the laptop. No matter how many times I power cycled the machine, it was the same thing, no splash or error message, not a single bit of useful information. It was a busy time for me so I just put it away in a drawer thinking I’ll get back to it and maybe dissect it for it “secrets” or something… but I really just forgot about it.

Three Months Later

I was listening to some discussion about BIOS issues and how it is possible for it to become corrupt and require some sort of reset. My mind wondered from the conversation to that misbehaving Lenovo ideapad and I thought that maybe I was having some sort of BIOS or UEFI issue. I am not sure why I didn’t think of it sooner but I thought, is it posssible that the UEFI boot partition may have possibly been corrupted?

Using my previous blathering about installing Linux on this machine, I tried to hit F2 rapidly on startup to find that it initially didn’t get me into the BIOS. I tried it a few times, all with no success. Then I remembered that this has one of those silly keyboards that defaults to having the media keys as primary. I tried it again, this time, holding the Fn key down plus F2. The trick is, just keep tapping immediately as you turn the computer on. Once it displays a black screen it is too late.

When I was able to get into the BIOS. I reordered the boot sequence to look for my USB drive but that didn’t work. It still booted into the back screen. Going into the BIOS for the second time, I switched the Boot Mode to Legacy Support. It is still set to look for UEFI first but when that fails, look for a Legacy Bootable device. This change allowed me to boot from the USB Drive.

Lenovo ideapad-01-BIOS.jpg

Using the latest openSUSE Tumbleweed snapshot, I performed the install, formatting UEFI ( /boot/efi ) and root ( / ) partitions. I figured, leave nothing to chance and just wipe the machine. The installation was uneventful and didn’t require any further intervention.

Now that I have the system back up and running, I can use it as my “go machine” once again. The 2 GB of RAM makes things a bit tight but maybe it is good for me to only have 5 or 6 tabs open at a time but as many terminal applications as I want.. It is unfortunate that I wasn’t smart enough to try this sooner as it would have been a better machine to take with me through the summer. The nice thing is, my drawer of electronic bits and bobs is slightly lighter. Thankfully, there is no need to make any effort to fill it with more junk as it seems to do that on its own.

Final Thoughts

I learned that just because a screen goes black on a computer and it becomes entirely unresponsive, doesn’t mean it is garbage. I wish I had thought of doing this to recover this laptop sooner, I would have been regularly using this machine. Not sure if this is a common problem or not but maybe, just maybe, this might somehow wind up helping someone else out with a similar issue.

Further Reading

openSUSE Linux on a Lenovo ideapad 110S Laptop

openSUSE Tumbleweed

openSUSE Tumbleweed installation media

Terminal Applications

 

Ceiling Fan Failure | Repair Instead of Replace

ICanFixIt

Not long ago, I had a ceiling fan stop spinning and start making an ever so slight buzzing noise. I thought maybe it was as a result of switching the rotation direction of the fan. Switching it back didn’t change anything either. I just shut off the fan motor to end the buzzing and pondered about how much I dread changing ceiling fans especially since the fan in the living room match this failed dining room fan. I really wanted to repair this Hampton Bay Ceiling fan rather than replace it.

Ceiling Fan Not Spinning-02

After doing a little Internet research, searching “repair ceiling fan”, I got a lot of cruft and useless information. Next I tried to narrow it down to “ceiling fan not spinning” and “replace ceiling fan motor” to only find more non-solutions. Then I stumbled upon this site that identified the capacitor as a possible cause of failure.

Then I did nothing about it until I was gifted a broken fan.

Donor Fan

I had no idea if this donor fan had a compatible capacitor not but it was worth a try. I started out by pulling apart the ceiling fan.

Ceiling Fan Dismantle.jpg

I removed the bulbs, shades then the three screws that hold the light kit in place. Upon removing the capacitor and it was very obvious that the capacitor had failed as it had very prominent bulging on two sides of it.

Bulging Capacitor.jpg

I took note that this is a 280V 4.5µF x 6µF x 5µF capacitor and decided to do some searching on the web for prices, because, I wasn’t sure how much such a thing would cost. I’m sure you can imagine my happy surprise when I discovered that the donor fan had the exact same capacitor my ceiling fan.

Donor Fan Capacitor

This was enough for me to commit fully the project. I removed the old capacitor, marked the switch side gray wire striped the wire ends to ready it for the donor capacitor. The rest of the wires were in the exact same configuration as the original so wiring this in was trivial.

Removing Dead Capacitor.jpg

I used 16-14 AWG Vinyl Insulated Butt Splice and prepared the capacitor to be installed in the ceiling fan. I tagged the gray leg that went to the switch on the donor and checked to see it was the same leg on the crippled unit.

Donor Capacitor Prepared.jpg

I realized that I wasn’t sure if the motor was damaged or not by the failed capacitor but there was no appreciable risk in trying. After crimping the capacitor into the fan, I flipped the switch and pulled the chain to have the desired result of spinning blades.

Ceiling Fan Spinning-01.jpg

I stopped, looked at my success and had a moment of smiling from ear to ear. As much as I liked this look of the light kit hanging down from the fan. I didn’t have any interest in bumping my head into it.

Ceiling Fan Spinning-02

Since the shades were off, I took this as an opportunity to hand wash the light shades, dust the blades and body to shine the thing up before completing its reassembly.

Final Thoughts

I get a lot of satisfaction out of fixing things. I call this project a great success. No money out of pocket and only just over an hour of time invested. How much money did I save? A 52-Inch, 5-blade fan of similar design is about $80 but to have matching fans, I would have had to buy two fans and spend the time removing and installing the new fans. Now, I get to keep my 6 year old fans going just a bit longer and I saved quite a bit of time too. Now, I just have to dispose of the remains of the donor fan in an ecologically sound manner.

Further Reading

Ceiling Fan Capacitors

Replace a Ceiling Fan Motor

Ceiling Fan Capacitor on Amazon

16-14 AWG Vinyl Insulated Butt Splice

Dell Latitude 15 3000, Laptop Screen Replacement

ICanFixIt

Recently, a coworker asked if I could repair their brand new laptop. I get a bit uncomfortable with repairing other people’s things because I worry that I am going to make things worse. All too often when I repair something for myself, it turns into a mess and takes longer to fix and more money than originally estimated. I help my coworker searched Ebay for a suitable replacement. She said she would order the part so long as I would fix it.

I agreed.

Fast forward a week and she, had the screen and asked me if I could install the new screen. In my lack of preparedness, I didn’t read up or search YouTube ahead of time on how to fix it. Luckily, I found this video which was very short and I could skip through to understand the steps.

This laptop is quite possibly the easiest screen repair I have ever done. The bezel removes just by puling it away.

Inspiron 15 3000-02.jpg

This will reveal the four screws needed to unfasten the screen from the lid. I placed the screen against the keyboard and disconnected the the tiny LVDS cable from the panel.

Inspiron 15 3000-04.jpgTo install, reverse the steps… 4 screws, not hard.

After turning it on, I found that I didn’t connect the cable firmly enough. It started out just fine but as it started to boot up, there appeared a vertical line then just this blank gray screen (yeah, not hard).

Inspiron 15 3000-06.jpg

Initially, I had that cold sweat where I was afraid I did something terribly wrong. Without panicking, I took the screen back apart and re-seated the connector, ensuring that it was firmly in place. This time tested that it was indeed functioning before installing the bezel.

Mission accomplished

Inspiron 15 3000-05.png

Lessons Learned

Be prepared before staring a fix-it project, especially for someone else. Have the proper tools and do the research ahead of time. Sure, this on-the-fly fix turned out fine but I have had laptop screen replacements be a giant pain and this could very well have become one. Also, pay close attention to the connector and ensure that it is seated properly and route any cables in the proper pathways in the screen assembly. That will make reassembly much easier

Final Thoughts

This computer is fairly nicely equipped for a basic machine. It has 4 GiB of RAM which is plenty for most users. I did observe that this thing is dreadfully slow in just about every measurable sense. Although brand new, it ran horribly slow. I know that Dell doesn’t just pump out garbage so my guess is it that this is a Windows problem. I will try to convince this coworker they need openSUSE installed. I am quite certain it would run much better.

Reference Links

Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Screen Repair video on YouTube

Dell Latitude 15 3000

Porter-Cable 18v Drill Repair | Forward/Reverse Button

Porter-Cable Drill-02-Disassembled.jpg

I bought into the 18v Porter-Cable cordless tool system in 2009 with the 4-tool Combination kit. It came with a drill, reciprocating saw, circular saw and a rather nice flashlight. I got these tools to conduct some renovations on rental property and they all worked very well. At that time, I was a HUGE Porter-Cable fan as they enabled me to add to this system more very useful 18v tools. As more tools were being released, more were going to be available for this system and I had a project for every one.

Many Happy [Porter-Cable] Years Later

When renovating house in 2014, I broke the Forward/Reverse Button while drilling a 4 inch hole for the purpose of routing a vent for a bathroom. In my late-night cramming to complete the project, I was obviously not at my peek, exhausted and not ensuring my drill remained coaxial to the hole I was drilling. While cutting the hole, the drill jerked, my thumb hit the Forward/Reverse Button, something snapped and the button moved back and forth freely with a limp rattle. I planned to fix it after my family vacation but it ended up just sitting… for a long time.

I brought the drill to work with the intent of taking advantage of the tools in the model shop to conduct the repair. Like so many other good intentions, they start well and just end up sitting, and it did until a coworker made a comment. “Hey Porter-Cable! I love Porter-Cable! Why is it sitting there?”

I had some time at that moment, waiting on feedback from an engineer to some design of a some part or system so I decided to investigate the true failure of the drill as I explain how the drill ended up at my desk.

Porter-Cable Drill-03-DisassembledThe drill was held together with 8, easily accessible, screws but there was some significant resistance at separating the two halves of the drill. After applying what I would consider an unreasonable amount of force, the drill exploded in my hands.

Porter-Cable Drill-01-Broken pin.jpg

There really isn’t much to a drill. It is basically a handle with a trigger designed around a motor and gear box.

Upon examining the Forward/Reverse Button, it was very apparent what exactly had failed: a very small pin that protruded from the component simply sheered off. It was no longer able to move the selector mechanism at the bottom of the motor assembly. I wasn’t sure what the best solution was for fixing the switch so I took the part and its broken bit to the model shop to consult one of the many individuals, all of which are more adept and providing an effective solution.

Porter-Cable Drill-05-Fixed selector switch.jpg

The model maker I took it to, looked at the parts and said that the first course of action he would try would be to use an industrial strength version of Loctite with an accelerator. The two parts allowed me to layer and harden some more of the glue around the base for added strength. I was a bit skeptical but the model maker assured me that the rapid-prototypes that are made in sections are held together quite successfully with this adhesive. Worst case, it doesn’t hold up and I try something else so there was nothing to lose.

Reassembly

While reassembling the drill, I discovered what was causing the resistance to disassembly. A little RF theft prevention tag stuck on the inside of the base of the drill.

Porter-Cable Drill-04-RF ID Tag

I am fascinated by the placement of the RF theft prevention tag. I would like to see how they actually stuck that in that location on the assembly line. I imagine it was placed after the halves of the drill were fascinated together… but how?

The only real challenge to assembly of this drill was this black wire that seemed to be oddly short, compared to the other wires. It required some extra persuasion to get the wire in a place that would not pinch it when fastening the halves together. I couldn’t see how the wire was routed from the factory as the drill sort of spilled into pieces when I was forcing it apart.

Porter-Cable Drill-06-Reassembly.jpg

Assembled and Put To Work

I employed the drill this weekend and it works fantastically, once again. I am glad to have two functioning drills again among the rest of my 18v cordless, Porter-Cable tools. Even though this isn’t powered by one of those new, fancy brushless motors, it has the torque to do the job, every time.

Porter-Cable Drill-07-complete.jpg

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, after purchasing every 18v Porter-Cable tool, they decided to abandon the 18v platform in favor of this new 20v MAX platform. It annoys me because “20v” is technically 18v so there is no additional power gained. My 18v tools are now an abandoned platform which is quite irritating after investing all that I did in the platform. My batteries are fading and I am not prepared to replace all these tools as that would be a poor economic decision. I also do not want two different battery systems. It is unfortunate that there isn’t an upgrade path to the 20v MAX line from the 18v tools, such as battery adapters or something to encourage me to start buying the newer line of tools. So now, I am at a decision point. I either need to buy some new or refurbished batteries or possibly replace the cells in my battery packs. I have projects that do require some new tools but do I go with Porter-Cable or do I abandon the brand just as they abandoned me with the 18v line?

What’s the Linux connection? There isn’t. This is just tech I use to get other, non Linux-y, things done.

References

Porter-Cable

Pro Tool Reviews 20v vs 18v

3D Printed 20v Battery to 18v Porter-Cable Tool Adapter

Wii Console Repair and Homebrew Hack

Wii_console_Hack.png

The Nintendo Wii, in my belief, was the best video game console ever created. It was a very popular family-unifying gaming counsel. Instead of the typical behavior of the gaming system monopolizing a single person’s time, this brought family together much like you would have on family game night. A vehicle of interaction. The Wii moved game night from from the dining room table into the living room.

I have had a Wii since… I think 2009 or 2010 and at some point in time the Optical Drive stopped reading discs. The machine was relegated to streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime videos only, but that changed recently as I wanted to crack open those dusty Wii game cases once again.

After doing some research I found that there are two types of drives that can be used in the Wii; One that is Wii discs only and the other that does Wii and GameCube discs. The latter being more expensive but regardless, I purchased a drive that was GameCube compatible of approximately $20 on eBay.

I have yet to play a GameCube game on the Wii but I plan to give one a spin, eventually.

If you would like to repair your Wii, see this video, it worked very well for me. Lots of little steps but nothing complex. To put it back together, just reverse the steps. My advice on taking it apart is to take a piece of tape, place it sticky side up and use that as a kind of timeline for screws you remove so when you go in reverse you don’t grab the wrong screw.

The only real issues I had with the disassembly / assembly process were screws in precarious places.

DSC06582.JPG

And ensuring that the rubber grommet for the DVD drive was properly assembled onto the chassis. Rubber has a way of doing what it wants which isn’t always what you want.

Wii Repair-03.jpg

Once the machine was back together, it was working just as expected but since Nintendo has abandoned this piece of hardware, it was time to make some improvements to it.

Expanding the Capabilities

Since I do like the Wii very much, it makes me a bit sad about it’s state of abandonment but that is the way of things. I set out to expand the capabilities beyond what Nintendo envisioned so that I can do more with this machine. Very clever people have made it easy to add homebrew software to the Wii through what is call the Homebrew Channel.

The first step was to do a non-hardware modification. Using LetterBomb to enable the Homebrew requires only an SD Card and some way of transferring data to it. In my case, a Linux Laptop. Once you extract the contents and put it on the SD Card as outlined here, put it back in the Wii. There you will have a new message in the Message system on the Wii. Upon opening the LetterBomb in Messages, the system will drop down to a console and run a script that will add the Homebrew capabilities. It’s pretty simple and it sets the system up without any further user intervention.

Wii Media Center

There is no point in having the Homebrew Channel without homebrew software. My first task was to add the capability to Watch DVDs. A feature that Nintendo, irritatingly, decided not to include. To install the Wii Media Center follow this link:

http://www.wiimc.org/documentation/

I chose the New install of the WiiMC and simultaneously installed the WiiMC Channel 2.0. I downloaded the files to my Wii project folder on my computer and extracted the Zips.

Since I am using KDE Plasma, I extracted the zips as such using the Dolphin File Manager:

  • Right-click > Extract > Extract Archive Here, Autodetect Subfolder
  • That created a folder called apps and two subfolders: wiimc and wiimc-channel-installer
  • Copy the extracted folders into the apps folder on the SD Card used for the Wii.

On the Wii, Open the Homebrew Channel run the applications you just copied over. Just that simple.

WiiMC Start Pic

Now, I am able to play DVDs, seemingly without any issues. I have played a few DVDs, yes, I still buy DVDs. So far, I have only noticed one DVD with an issue. When I popped in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, I did get some herky-jerky playback, I am assuming due to the encryption used on the disc.

I can now play media files directly from a USB Drive or SD Card but it has proven itself to be a bit touch-and-go. Some files played very well and others not so well. I will have to investigate further about which files played better than others. At this point, I don’t know if it is the file format or the resolution of the video.

Next Steps

I intend on expanding my Wii’s capabilities into more of a retro gaming console. I have purchased a few games from the Wii Store back in the day but as of today, the selection has become very limited they have already stopped accepting payment for more credits on the Wii Shop Channel. The only solution I see is fit, going forward, is using the Homebrew Application method of adding emulators and games. I have been told that the Wii makes a great retro gaming station and I plan to follow up on that portion of my exploration of the Wii Homebrew Applications.

Final Thoughts

Looking at the dates of many of the Homebrew software titles, it looks like much of it is not being maintained or at least hasn’t been updated in several years. My guess is that the Wii is falling out of popularity, even for the homebrew scene. It is unfortunate because I believe to still be a very capable entertainment platform. I do hope that Netflix continues to support the Wii as a platform for streaming as I know Amazon Prime is planning to discontinue their service sometime in 2018. Very soon all that will be left to use on the Wii will be the original optical media titles and the large array of Homebrew software. As it goes with technology, this too has been superseded by the new and shiny so this fine piece of hardware is slowly being abandoned.

External References

Disassemble Wii YouTube Video

LetterBomb Homebrew Exploit

WiiMC Documentation

HP TouchPad in 2018

HP_TouchPad_Title.png

I purchased two HP TouchPads a few years ago when they were fairly inexpensive. I wanted a larger tablet that wasn’t built cheaply. They worked great for a while but started to act up. I used them less and less until they just stopped working all together. I put them on a shelf and forgot about the for quite a while.

A buddy of mine who is still seemingly a huge fan of the HP TouchPad diagnosed that one had a main board and battery failure while the other just a battery failure. I put them back on the shelf and that is where they sat, once again. He followed up with me wondering if I bought a battery yet (keeping me accountable) to which I did not. He told me he had an extra battery and dropped it off along with the needed tools to disassemble and make the repair.

HP_TouchPad-01The guide I looked at made it seem like it would be easy to take the tablet apart, just work your way along the sides, as described and carefully separate the two halves. What seemed to be missing from the article was that you have to shim the screen from the backing to keep it from clipping itself back shut again.

Once the tablet was apart, I disconnected the halves and started the process of removing more pieces until I could get the battery out. I only ended up taking out 3 of the internal components.

Upon removing the HP_TouchPad-02.jpgUSB board, I noticed that one of the wires for the little vibrator motor had somehow broken free from the board. A fine explanation for why this unit didn’t have haptic feedback. Thankfully, my soldiering skills were adequate enough to correct the issue.

HP_TouchPad-04

There were only 4 screws retained the battery and it should be noted that once the screws have been removed, the battery will not come out easily as it is also adhered to the device. Very careful and slow removal of the battery was warranted as I learned my lesson about removing a lithium polymer battery years ago on another project. I didn’t want to rupture the sells and have a little fire or at least lots of heat and smoke.

Once I freed the battery from the case, I noticed that I could take a shortcut and remove the battery without disassembling all of the components as outlined in the guide. I freed the battery from it’s compartment, set it aside, took the new battery and using a flat tipped screwdriver, was able to insert the connector of the new battery into the board and fasten it to the tablet body.  I effectively skipped the last 15 steps of the guide I used and reassembled it.

Success… but it didn’t turn on.

I figured that the thing needed to be charged so I let it charge overnight. It still didn’t turn on and I felt obligated to let my buddy know that this TouchPad is dead and asked if he wanted the battery back. Then, he asked if I did the hard reboot, hold power and volume down for 30 seconds.

HP_TouchPad-06-Boot Loader.jpg

I did just that and immediately it went to the ClockworkMod boot loader menu. I selected the CyanogenMod image already installed on this TouchPad and I was very pleased to see that it was fully functional.

Since I wasn’t going to leave this with a 2 year old version of Android on it, I began my search for an updated ROM. There are several options out there and some of the newer versions of Android seem to have Bluetooth or camera issues. I didn’t want to have any hardware issues so I ended up going with this version here. Everything works but it is an older version of Android with security patch updates.

Another requirement I made is that I wanted to ensure that there were no Google Services on this tablet as I didn’t want to weigh it down with all the data scraping and mining services. All I want from this tablet is to do causal web browsing, reading ebook and PDF documents so there is no need to install the Gapps package. I also wanted to see how useful a simple de-Googled tablet would be.

F-Droid-siteSince I did want to have access to applications on this device, I installed F-Droid. F-Droid is similar to the Play Store, an available catalog of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) Android applications. Most of the applications I want to run are available there and anything else it is possible for me to sideload or install using Yalp.

The applications I installed:

  • KDE Connect
  • Telegram
  • Syncthing
  • Fennec F-Droid, a Mozilla based web browser
  • Barcode Scanner
  • Book Reader
  • Yalp, allows you to download apps directly from Google Play Store as apk files.

Installed Using Yalp:

  • Discord
  • ASTRO File Manager

HP_TouchPad-05-apps

Modifications to improve my usage experience

I turned off the KDE Connect Telegram Notification. Not because I don’t like Telegram but because I don’t want multiple notifications on my Desktop Linux machine for the same message.

To do so, withing the KDE Connect Application on the paired device Menu > Plugin settings > Notification sync configure button, scrolled down to Telegram and uncheck it.

HP_TouchPad-07

Next, I made the KDE Connect Keyboard an input option by going into System Settings > Language & Input and checked KDE Connect Remote Keyboard

HP_TouchPad-08-Input

I set up a folder on the Tablet called Sync and using Syncthing have it tied to two of my openSUSE desktop Linux machines. It is an easy and efficient drag and drop method of putting files on the tablet instead of using KDE Connect. I figure, more options are better than fewer options for sharing data.

HP_TouchPad-10-syncthing.png

Using Dolphin in KDE Plasma to drag and drop files right on the HP TouchPad file system is such a fantastic feature. This, combined with having a folder that I can use to sync between all my systems and a shared clipboard gives me the truly practical form of desktop/mobile convergence.

HP_TouchPad-11-file manager

What I like

HP_TouchPad-09The size of this tablet is perfect for how I intend on using it. I can check things, look up things, and use it for accessing references in either PDF, ebook or my favorite resource, the openSUSE Wiki. To copy and paste from the tablet is made super easy, thanks to KDE Conenct. Copy on the tablet, paste on the Desktop. This tablet has such a nice weight and feel about and the protective folio-style case is great. I have all the functions and features I need to do what I set out with this 2011 built tablet. Sure, it is old and well past a tablet end of life but it is fast, very snappy and responsive.

What I Don’t Like

I have an outdated version of Android but with the security patches back-ported though, I do like the dark look of the older Android UI, so lets call this point a wash. The downside is, it doesn’t allow for certain newer KDE Connect features as noted here by one of the developers.

I also may have done something to disconnect the internal speakers as I don’t hear sound unless I plug into the headphone jack or Bluetooth speaker. I am not really using this for multimedia and the workaround is satisfactory.

I am not a fan of the rear facing only camera on the tablet. It also distorts the image during the “live view” but the picture itself has the proper aspect ratio. Unless if I want too take some awkward selfies, I don’t see this as a terrible issue.

Final Thoughts

I am very glad to have a working HP TouchPad once again. Is it indeed limited but I am not using it like a brand new tablet, I am using it closer to how a tablet was used 7 years ago. I am also not using this tablet like I would a proper computer as that would require a keyboard and mouse and once I have added those items, I may as well use a laptop. This fantastic little device does just what I want it to do, superbly.

Using KDE Connect and Syncthing, I can have the proper mobile/desktop convergence with my openSUSE Linux desktops in a highly practical manner anywhere I go, without the need for a third party service.

I am not sure what I will do with the other tablet now. This one is just so great, I might have to get the other one working just to keep in my cubicle. Would I recommend this tablet to someone else? For most people, probably not, unless they like to noodle around with technology.  Was it worth taking the time to fix it? Also, probably not but the satisfaction for me out of making this older yet perfectly usable hardware functional once again makes it more than worth the time and effort.

Further Reading, useful links and such

I Fix It Guide for the HP TouchPad

Tenderloin Android ROM I have installed on my HP Touchpad

openSUSE Wiki

KDE Connect Developer Nico’s Blog Post

KDE Connect Community Site