March 22, 2009

TIP: Re-Use Tie Wraps From Kids Toys

Manufacturer's seem to love creating waste when packaging kids toys. I suppose it is all done in the name of marketing, but have you seen the amount of effort put into making the toys visible in the packaging?

Among the methods used to make removing toys from their boxes completely impossible are plastic coated tie wraps. Some of these can be fairly long and are of a pretty decent quality (at least compared to garbage or bread twist ties.

The most obvious use for these twist ties is in holding things together like extra cable and rope. A less obvious use is to use them as a wire jumper on a prototyping breadboard. Not all of these twist ties are of the right gauge wire. The ones that are, however, can be cut to the necessary length and stripped of a quarter inch of plastic at each end to create free jumpers.

I am sure there are plenty of other uses out there waiting to be found. Anywhere you need a flexible, fairly strong wire these can fill the bill.

March 14, 2009

REPAIR: Canon Digital Camera CCD Flaw/Free Service

In October, our digital camera (Canon A80) stopped working. The pictures all had red strips through them and were completely unusable.

I didn't figure there was much hope for fixing it myself, so we went ahead and bought a new Canon A590IS. Before getting rid of the broken camera, I figured it was worth a shot trying to find a repair.

After a few minutes of Googling, I came across this site: Do It Yourself Digital Camera Repair. Which references the exact problem I was having and takes you to Canon's repair site. Gotta love the power of Google search!

According to Canon the problem is:
It has been confirmed that the connecting parts of the internal wiring of the CCD used in affected products may become disconnected, especially if the affected products are stored or used in high-temperature and high-humidity environments. If this occurs, the signal is not output from the CCD normally in Shooting Mode, which may cause a distorted image or the absence of an image. This malfunction can be confirmed on the LCD monitor screen during shooting. The same malfunction also appears on the recorded image.

I called the customer service number and set up the repair. The gentleman I talked to was very helpful, more so than most any customer service line I have called. He actually wanted to help instead of being annoyed that I was bothering him with my call. Definitely a refreshing call.

After a few days I received an e-mail with a pre-paid UPS mailer to print out. I sent it on it's way and within a couple weeks had a snail mail letter saying the repair would be done for free and to expect the camera back in a week or two.

Unfortunately three weeks passed and nothing came. I looked up the reference number on the letter and come to find out it had been mailed out a couple weeks prior, but to the wrong address. I looked up the UPS tracking records and they had sent it back to Canon. So I called the actual repair location expecting them to say we have no idea where it would be. Again I was pleasantly surprised by another customer service representative who was able to help me quickly and efficiently.

I do have to note however that even after correcting the address, UPS still had to call me to verify the correct destination. A bit annoying, but I'll let it slide.

The camera works as good as new! I am quite happy to have it back since I have the dedicated underwater case which I had no idea what to do with. My father in law had the same issue at the same time with his camera (Also an A80). I forwarded the information about the repair and am happy to report he also was able to get his camera fixed. His came back in about 2 to 3 weeks time.

Models Canon will fix as part of this 're-call': A60, A70, A75, A300, A310, S230, SD100, SD110, A40(*), A80(*), A85(*), A95(*), S1 IS(*), S60(*), S200(*), S330(*), S400(*), S410(*), S500(*)

March 8, 2009

TIP: Use "Dead" AA Batteries in Wall Clocks

When your AA powered gadget runs out of power, do you toss the batteries without thinking?

Many times those batteries still have plenty of power, just not for the device they were removed from. Wall clocks that use a single AA battery can run off a "dead" battery for 6 months or more.

The time will depend on how much voltage the battery can still provide. Which in turn is dependent upon how sensitive the original device was to voltage. The lower the voltage the device accepts, the more run down the batteries will be, and the shorter the time they will power the clock.

Even though I use mostly rechargeable batteries, there are still several applications where good old alkalines make the most sense. As a result, I have a stockpile of half used AA's in an old peanut butter jar just waiting to be used up in a clock.

So give those AA's a second life. It'll mean a few more battery changes, but you'll get the full life out of your AA's.

March 4, 2009

TIP: No excuse not to use rechargeable batteries

Alkaline batteries, specifically the AA size, enable all sorts of electronic gadgets. Many modern gadgets, however, go through AA's so quickly that it quickly becomes costly to keep the devices powered up.

The original rechargeable batteries were NiCAD or nickel-cadmium chemistry. They worked, and still have their uses in battery packs for cordless telephones and portable power tools, but as AA's, they are a little limited in today's gadgets. The capacity of these older chemistry batteries just can't keep up with modern demands. in addition, they suffer from a detrimental memory effect which can lead to a permanent reduction in the battery's capacity.

NiMH batteries took care of the memory issues and represented a significant improvement in capacity as measured by the milliampere-hour (mAh) rating. Instead of the sub 1000 mAh ratings for Ni-Cad AA's, ratings in the mid-2000's are common place and go as high as 2900 mAh (please be careful of manufacturer's ratings, some have a tendency to let's just say, round up, this is especially true of cheap no-name batteries).

The NiMH chemistry is not perfect, however. The batteries suffer from significant self-discharge and while they are often claimed to have long lives, they do seem to fall short of the claims if used 'hard' (ie high current draw applications).

Today, there is a second generation of NiMH batteries referred to as "low discharge". As one might presume, this newer chemistry addresses the self-discharge issue that plagues the standard NiMH. Nothing is free in life, however, and at least for now these batteries are of lower capacity than the high end standard NiMH. Most of these newer batteries fall in the 2000-2100 mAh capacity range.

Unfortunately, the industry has not come up with a good marketing term to discriminate between regular and low discharge NiMH batteries. The most common method of separation is the use of the term "pre-charged" somewhere on the low discharge battery package. Because of the low discharge properties, manufacturers are able to ship the batteries already charged and ready to insert into your electronics.

So if you haven't already, give rechargeables a try, there's something for everyone! I recommend high capacity standard NiMH for high current draw applications to maximize battery life. For low current draw applications, the low discharge version is the best choice.