Archive for May, 2017

Sun Ray 270 to pi/monitor conversion

May 27, 2017

original glory

Sun Microsystems used to be one of the makers of very pretty hardware (if you like the color purple), but that era is no more.  Sun rays in particular are cool though.  The ability to move your desktop with your smart card to any terminal you want is awesome and really, the hardware is really well built.  Also, Oracle sucks.  Combine these two and you have no new hardware or support for a modern ecosystem of sun terminals.  I have tried and failed multiple times to get sun ray servers working and I give up.  I decided to make a decent tiny little thinclient/monitor out of my only LCD sun ray.

custom wiring

The first thought was to just have a pi contained inside it, but it became obvious that I was going to break out other ports from the generic LCD controller.  Doing that and not having HDMI would be annoying, so I added an HDMI switch to the deal.  This did not add much complexity, but it gave me more buttons to put on the front panel.  I decided to use the audio jack holes for the power button to the LCD controller and the input switch button for the hdmi switch, leaving one free to house an RGB LED that could represent which of the three inputs was active.  The power LED for the LCD controller went where the original one did, and the IR receiver went in the corner of the smart card hole.

NEVER trust the silkscreen of the button functions on cheap controllers

It turns out the bulkhead mount HDMI cables I bought have almost the same spacing for screw holes as the VGA ports the sun ray originally had.  I cut and mangled most of the case to fit the new contents and decided to mount as much of it to the LCD as possible so the clamshell could be opened for service.  I also added the 2 composite ports out the original serial port holes as they fit snugly there.

first constraint

The backlight driver went in first, it couldn’t move very far but I put it as far out as I could to leave room for the rest.  Then went the insulating layer (cardboard) and the LCD controller.  With that in and the video cable routed the PI and power supply for it went in easily.  The only hard one was the HDMI switch as it had ports out all four sides and there wasn’t enough space to glue it down anywhere.  After some fiddling it all fit, but I had to add a power switch for the PI because it didn’t like to come up if powered on with the monitor.  This power switch went in the SIM card port that this had for some unknown reason.

all laid out and shimmed with corrugated dead tree

This HDMI switch is actually really cool.  You can only switch between inputs that have signal, and it auto-switches when one comes online.  I’d recommend it for being cheap and useful.

sandwiched between insulating cardboard

This is now 100% more useful to me, it’s a wireless linux box that’s got a built in monitor for working on my single board computers.  I can download and write images right from the second input of the monitor.  If I had decided to spend more time at it I would have lined up the original ports with the USB, ethernet, and other jacks so it looked more stock.  I could have tried harder to get internal sound working on it.  I could have broken out the pi’s gpio to the slot where the smart card went.  This was already a dubiously useful mod for me, and while all those things would have been cool, I really wouldn’t have found them much more useful.


All of the pictures of this build are here.


AMC Eagle radiator cap

May 25, 2017

So, when I went to pick up my ’57 Chevy 210 I got phantom-of-the-opera’d because I opened the radiator cap while it was really hot.  Despite how I love telling this story to explain that when I do something I know is super dangerous I always do it with my non-dominant hand, leg, eye, etc… I originally wanted a pressure gauge, but it looks like the automotive community settled on temperature gauges instead of pressure.  That’s ok, especially because there are red, yellow, and green zones which means I may eventually get to use the phrase “The red line’s about to blow!”.

Look how safe this makes me, it’s almost idiot proof

The first one I ordered was cheaper and blue which I liked because I decided to go with the blue valve cover but that one had two problems: it was too small (apparently motorcycle radiators are smaller), and it was too high pressure.  I didn’t feel like going out that night to check the pressure on the cap so I researched it online and came up with 13PSI.  Turns out the one on my car is 7PSI, probably because it’s old and worn and someone was trying to stem leaks by limiting the pressure.  I don’t really want to fix leaks either, so I’ll leave it at 7 for now.  The one I got is actually quite nice, so I’m not too broken-hearted over using the other one as a thermometer.

That’s it, small upgrade but I’m billing this one as a safety feature too, considering I’m an idiot.  The home page for this project is here, it has a link to the album of pictures.

Amateur car wiring fail

May 23, 2017

This one’s not me.  This is the exact reason not to use certain tape when repairing electronics that will be serviced in the future.  I found duct tape around a ground crimp on my New Car and it had degraded to a sticky mess.  Please don’t do this.  I know electrical tape degrades as well, and the older tape is basically fabric and tar.  The preferred use is heat shrink, or heat shrink with built in hot glue but that is sometimes not convenient as you need forethought to put it in before crimping/soldering and I don’t have that.  This is really a reminder to NOT USE DUCK TAPE FOR THIS.



AMC Eagle Headlight Mod (LEDs part one)

May 23, 2017

When driving this thing home I was really bothered by how terrible the headlights were.  I could see a couple feet in front of me and that was it, whenever you go to pick up a new car and drive it home make sure to leave three hours earlier than you expect (and even then, it’ll get delayed so you have to drive home in the dark).  I’m declaring this upgrade a safety modification to compensate for the fact that I’m putting off rebuilding the carburetor.

The first thing I did was but all the parts:

3 stainless 2″ #8 phillips pan head sheet metal screws (Frentz and sons hardware store)

12 stainless 1.5″ #8 phillips pan head sheet metal screws (Frentz and sons hardware store)

Headlight harness (Ebay)

Headlights (Amazon)

Turn signals (Amazon)

Under-hood light (Amazon)

Epoxy primer (Amazon)

Dielectric grease (Amazon)

That’s the first lie, I didn’t buy all this first, but one bit at a time.  First I bought the headlights and some relays with pre-built connectors and pigtails.  Then I decided that I didn’t feel like wiring up all that myself and bought the kit (I’ll use the relays somewhere else).  I picked up a pile of each type of light I thought I’d need, I tried counting them but after losing count in the manual several times I just guessed and figured I’d either order more or use 12v LED lights somewhere else eventually.  The dielectric grease I ordered but picked up a tube at the auto parts store in the mean time and the primer I had from a previous endeavor in putting a bunch of effort into un-needed repairs.

torn down

To start I removed the headlight bezels, grill, headlights, turn signals, turn signal bulbs, the plastic cable control clips along the trim piece under the grill, and trimmed back the wire that runs to the un-used connectors (the middle bulbs and the driver’s side outside one).  To get the relays mounted I also removed the battery.  The Relays got sheet metal screwed to the plate just forward of the battery which is non-ideal, but that’s the length harness I had.  I sunk a sheet metal screw, fender washer, and two star washers to ground the passenger’s side bulbs.  I grounded the driver’s side bulbs to the screw that attaches the driver’s side quarter panel to the trim panel under the grill.

this was totally mandatory

Behind the grill was really oily and dirty, I cleaned it as best I could and even removed, sandblasted, and epoxy coated the two brackets that hold the grill up.  They were rusty, never again.  The screws I meticulously cleaned with denatured alcohol and a brass brush and re-used them because I couldn’t find stainless replacements locally.

as was this

I didn’t buy replacements for the screws that held the headlights in, but I did get ones for the trim (those got mangled coming out.  The #8 screws I bought had heads that were slightly too big, they worked, but if there were ones with slightly smaller heads than normal they would be perfect.  Of course they’re stainless, always buy stainless whenever possible.  I cleaned the turn signal housings meticulously because if I take it off the car and it’s annoying to handle, it should be easier the next time I take it off.  The wire got routed with sheet metal screws and plastic brackets that zip ties go through (so they’re re-usable).  The loom on the new harness was not split loom, but continuous so I couldn’t wrap the old harness in it unfortunately, but that’ll come another day.

Ah! my eyes!

I tried to get off the side marker lenses but I didn’t know where to pry so that I wouldn’t break it, that’ll come next.  The whole project took about three days of afternoons to do it meticulously.  I think I’ll call this a success, the outer bulbs have a dim mode (they all do, but the center ones aren’t wired for it) that only lights up the bottom of the three rows of LEDs and the center LED on the middle row, I’m not certain about the mods I’ve heard about that use diodes to change which bulbs fire on dim, I don’t know if I’ll need that or really why I’d do it.  The turn signals don’t work, but I have electronic flashers coming in right now that will hopefully fix that.  The under-hood light really could use a diffuser.  Right now the mosquitoes are out and I’m done for the day.

This was daylight-ish, the white balance just went nuts

The home page for this project is here, it has a link to the album of pictures.

TI-58 Calculator battery upgrade

May 15, 2017

After a weekend at Minicon I came back with plenty of goodies thanks to the trusting nature of Amtrak (look for a CDV-715 post coming up) and one of the smallest was this TI Programmable 58 calculator.


I love old bubble display calculators, thermostats, stopwatches, whatever I can get my hands on.


This repair seemed pretty simple, replace the old Ni-Cd batteries with new ones.  The challenging part was someone already did this once before.

you’ve had some cowboys in here…

The batteries were a snug fit, the power tabs snapped, and I ran out of patience.  The original TI charger for this was rated to put out ~3v although after the bridge rectifier easily identified was somewhere around 6V DC-ish.

looks like a rectifier, that can go

I decided that that’s close enough to 5 for 1977 and injected my new power source there.  My selection was based on what I had lying around which turned out to be a micro-usb lithium charger/boost converter that put out 5 volts and a lithium battery out of an old ipod external battery pack from radioshack long ago (I bought it before the advent of common charger/boost converters for single lithium cells).

all kapton’d up

Put together and with some kapton to hold it in place and a dremel to hollow out the case I successfully added usb rechargability to this old calculator.  I will admit that it is now incompatible with some of the add-ons, but I’m not terribly concerned as I intend to use it just as a pocket calculator.  All pictures (including others not in this post) are here.

useful once again