Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Repairing a HP41CX

Our cat is only trained on algebraic entry system. I don't otherwise know how to explain why he threw my vintage HP 41CX on the floor. Doesn't he look frustrated and confused by RPN entry? Unfortunately after a dive from the table onto the floor, my HP41CX wouldn't boot.

This wasn't the first repair I've done to it. I originally rescued it from my Dad who was going to contribute it to his township's unneeded electronics drive.

VINTAGE CALCULATOR GOING IN THE GARBAGE? Sweet Baby Jesus. I love old calculators! Probably because once upon a time I used to work for HP in the calculator lab. This shabby treatment of a highly prized relic would not do, even though it was dead.

After cleaning the corroded battery compartment from long drained and oozing batteries, the foil touching the battery tips was eaten through. I inserted a strategic bit of aluminum foil to bridge the worn down battery contacts fired up to life!

That was about a year ago, and she was a trusty old friend until the cat incident. My poor old HP41CX has been sitting around again for a while, dead to the world and patiently waiting for me to get up the nerve to crack it open and see what was wrong. In light of my recent success repairing a sea-soaked Z10, I decided to give it a go.

First, I looked at the HP Calculator Museum on disassembly and repair tips. I popped open the battery compartment, removed the rubber feet, unscrewed the back, and pulled it apart.

The thing I was most worried about was broken screw posts, which seems to be a common occurrence with this model. However, everything looked in order--no broken posts. All the other components were solidly attached. There was still a lot of corrosion on the interconnect left over from my first cleaning. I cleaned that thoroughly with rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip, and then slightly squeezed the interconnect flex strip. That compression was to bow the contact strip outwards more, allowing it to more solidly touch when I reassembled the unit.

I put it back together, and it worked first time, another TINY VICTORY!

Maybe I should start an electronics repair company! Okay, maybe not. But I'm still quite happy that I've saved two of my devices from the landfill. Just so it won't happen again, I'll start teaching the cat how to use RPN. Wish me luck.

Saving a drowned Z10

The BB Z10 for all its great features is not waterproof nor saltwater-proof. This probably won't be a surprise to you, but it might be if you forgot it was in your pocket when you took a dip in the ocean. You probably see where this is going, and it's not good.

Other lessons to learn if your electronics has taken a swim: wash it right away in distilled water (or at least fresh water from the tap), and don't try turning it on until absolutely positively dry. Otherwise, if you did try to dry it and turn it on without rinsing it, you might get one or two random boots with the camera's flash LED blasting on and off erratically followed by nothing at all. Completely and unretrievably dead. Yes, despite knowing better, I made that mistake too.

However, even if you do everything wrong like I did, you'll be happy to know that there's still a chance you can get your device back to life. I had nothing to lose from completely disassembling it, giving it a good clean, and putting back together. Either that, or spring for a new phone. So once we were back from our Costa Rica vacation, here's what I did.

1) Acquire a very tiny Torq screwdriver - T4. In Ottawa, very few places carry it, but one that does and is super helpful besides is Canada Computers and Electronics. They have the iCAN32 toolkit, a handy little driver kit that has the needed T4 and a ton of other cool electronics bits for a mere $9. Peanuts compared to a new phone.
(Lee Valley is the first place I thought to go, but they won't have what you need. Their electronics screwdriver kit doesn't have the T4 or smaller bits. And Ottawa Fastener Supply is super cool, but they won't have a T4 either.)

2) Disassemble the Z10 according to these youtube videos:

I referenced both, but I preferred the first. I didn't pull the screen (it wasn't necessary)--just popped off the case and extracted the motherboard.

3) Scrub out all visible corrosion with rubbing alcohol and a Q-Tip. Even though it was just in the sea for a minute or two, there was quite a bit of surface rust, salt, and copper oxide. Most of it was around the battery contacts and camera, but it was on some of the shielded chips too. I was able to get most of it off, but not all.

4) Bathe it in distilled water. I gave it about a 10 minute soak and gently agitated it (swished it back and forth) in a small bowl of distilled water to try to get any salt that may have been underneath the shielded chips to dissolve.

5) Gently shake it off, then pack it in a bowl of white rice overnight to extract any excess water.

6) Reassemble it and plug in the battery.

I had my fingers crossed and held my breath for the seemingly long time before the screen lit up, but... IT WORKED! I ran the BlackBerry Virtual Expert and I only had one casualty--the camera. While the "selfie" camera worked, the main front-facing camera was completely dead. It was probably giving itself a nice shorting out while it going berserk flashing on and off after I turned it on. Whoops. (Anybody have an otherwise dead or defunct Z10 that I can salvage the camera from?)  

Everything else worked perfectly! Especially rewarding as I never backed it up, so would have lost everything on the internal flash.

The moral of the story is even if you soak your phone in a conductive sea-water bath, and try to turn it on and it's dead, you may still be okay with a little work and a lot of luck. Don't lose heart!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Three things to love about the Z30

It's been a while since I've blogged, and those who are following my @truegryc Twitter or LinkedIn profiles know that I've now left QNX to start my own venture, CX3 Marketing. I'm sure I'll have lots to say about that, but the first thing I wanted to blog about was switching my phone.

I've had a BlackBerry Z30 for the last few months, and I loved it. Problem is that it was a prototype device--I got it by volunteering as a beta tester--and as a prototype, I couldn't keep it after leaving QNX. QNX did however let me keep my Z10, so this last weekend I made the process of downgrading back to the Z10.

Don't get me wrong: I still love the Z10. I used to have a personal iPhone and a work BlackBerry. When I got a Z10 as a new work phone, I realized that I preferred it to the iPhone, and I dropped the two-phone-juggling act. But I really miss my Z30. Why? The Z30 runs the same BB10 OS and isn't that much different is it?  No--I'm not going through complete withdrawal. Just a little bit! Here are my top three Z30 features that I'm sad to be without.

1) The screen. Yes, this one is obvious from the specs, since the Z30 has a bigger 5" screen than the Z10's 4.2". It's not that much bigger when you lay the phones on top of each other, but it's enough that typing now seems more cramped than I'm used to. The Z30 has a Super AMOLED that's brighter and has more contrast. Overall, just a lot nicer to look at when you're spending a lot of time looking at the screen.

2) The radio. This is not at all obvious, since you probably wouldn't know the Z30 had a FM radio. But with the latest OS release, they added radio support to the Music player. I listen to music on my phone a lot while working, while biking/jogging, and while driving. And having a radio built in lets me switch to CBC when I'm bored of the 32GB of music on my SD card.  I had been testing that release for a while, and I loved the radio feature. Unfortunately, the Z10 doesn't have a radio in the hardware, so I'm back to listening to radio in the car only.

3) The battery. You know how everyone has a ritual about plugging their phone at night to start the day topped up? I had gotten lazy with the Z30, because it would last two days on a charge--easy. The Z10 can't do that. End of day, and it's whimpering about needing some juice. I don't know the milliamp difference between the two batteries, but it was hugely noticeable when I switched back because I had to go back to my nightly plugging habits.

Maybe if my new company is successful, I'll spring for a Z30. Or maybe there will be something even better by then. Heck, maybe I'll even consider the painful process of switching families. But for now, I'm back to my trusty old Z10.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ablative Air

I've been working nights and weekends on creating a game for the BlackBerry Z10, and it's finally done! It's called Ablative Air, and the objective is to destroy orbital debris before it destroys the ISS.

Completely unintentionally my game posted the same week that Gravity the movie started showing. The plot of Gravity is pretty much the theme of my game. I promise, I didn't know about Gravity before I started development. In fact, I heard about it the first day my app was up for sale. I am pretty sure that the producers of Gravity didn't know about me, either. Everybody is jumping on the orbital debris bandwagon these days.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, "to ablate" is to destroy through vapourization. Like what happens to meteors superheated by the atmosphere.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Who's got the best HTML5 score?

Take a look for yourself.  485 + 11 bonus points.

Is it Chrome? Nope. Android devices? Them neither. Safari? Hardly. Microsoft? Uh--no.

It's the browser on the BlackBerry Z10. Yep, that's right--a mobile phone with a more compatible browser than any other desktop or phone or tablet out there.

It's a continual race, so we probably won't be on the top long. But it's pretty exciting to be in such rarefied air right now, so I'll just enjoy it while I can.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Driving with the Invisible Man

A little more than a week ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Professor Alberto Broggi of Vislab and of University of Parma, Italy.  Dr. Broggi and I talked about autonomous cars and what they're doing to advance that field--all extremely interesting stuff. I got to see one of the famous orange vans that they took on an autonomous driving tour from Parma to Shanghai.

The best part though, was when he offered to take me for a drive in their current test vehicle. Of course, I jumped at the chance!  Here's a short video of a piece of the experience. To set the stage, we headed out on this test run: the prof and I in the rear seat, and one of his grad students in the driver's seat. We were following a lead vehicle driven by another student. The "driver" wasn't driving, but monitoring the system, and I could see that he wasn't using the steering wheel, brake or gas. Impressive!

What really made an impact was when we stopped. Professor Broggi's student got out, walked over to the lead vehicle, hopped in, and they took off. He had set our car to follow the lead car, and we drove off in a leisurely pursuit of the lead vehicle.  With nobody in the front seat.


It was a rush! It was an amazingly strange feeling, watching the car take us down the road, adjusting speed up and down smoothly, moving over from the shoulder to avoid pedestrians on the side of the road, and "observing" the traffic laws. Quite a unique experience, to be sure.

An experience I'm sure will be experienced by many people sooner than we think.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Art Of The Possible, and why it drives me nuts

There are lots of phrases people misuse, and plenty deep is the corporate lingo cesspool. Art of the Possible is my latest favourite. It actually means something akin to "compromised effort", in that you're achieving what's barely possible, instead of something which should be an aspiration. For example, "Politics is the art of the possible" quoted from Otto Von Bismarck. I'm pretty sure he wasn't saying that politics is a wonder-world of delight.

However, I've seen it (and heard it) many times when trying to evoke some grand vision or a construction where anything is imaginable. Technology people seem especially prone to this--maybe because "possible" for an engineer is a much broader space. It always makes me cringe. For me it not only sounds like grandstanding, but it makes me immediately think of exactly the opposite of what the speaker was intending. It makes me think that the speaker is talking about something that barely works!

If I ever send you a link to this little old blog post of mine, it just means you've triggered my Art of the Possible abuse alarm.