Vodafone

Like many of Vodafone’s victims, sorry customers, I’m duty bound to try and prevent my fellow humans (that’s you) being snared by its gaping, apostrophe-shaped maw.

Friends, this is a creature that offers precious little in the way of connectivity, and even when a decent signal is conferred by your device, you must throw a six to see if that 4 bars of 3G actually translates into any significant throughput. Often this is but a cruel illusion and your fate is to stare at a faltering progress bar, awaiting the inevitable timeout.

As a metaphor for the whole Vodafone experience this is strangely apt.

I recently stood in a Vodafone shop and demonstrated this remarkable phenomenon to one of the disinterested staff. Their comments of “Well, what do you expect?” and “Yeah, it’s like that sometimes” should tell you all you need to know about their contempt for us, their unsuspecting prey.

After the terrible kicking they’ve received since the economic dog days of 2007, the prospect of more of these shrines to incompetence and indifference is probably the last thing our beleaguered high streets need.

Like many, I was initially seduced by an excellent deal on a handset, but to my eternal shame my error was compounded by my subsequent intransigence and failure to avoid taking the dangled bait of an even more generous retention deal on one of Mr. Jobs’ portable telephones a couple of years later.

Never underestimate the power of The Shiny.

Now 18 months into this two year purgatory, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and am looking forward to the day when I can emerge, blinking and bewildered, from the belly of the bloated crimson beast, free to tart myself about the networks as I see fit.

Until then I can only repeat; friends don’t let friends Vodafone.

p.s. If, after 30-odd years of consistent and pervasive branding, you still think the company is called ‘Vodaphone’ then you deserve everything you get. Sorry.

LED Driver for PC use

Warning – Long post!

In this post I explore the possibility of using an LED driver for PC use. tl;dr version – it works.

In 2011 I built myself a new HTPC to replace a ropey old Medion thing. I based it on an Asus E35M1-M Pro with 60GB OCZ Agility 3 SSD and Sony Blu-Ray drive and chose a tiny little Cooler Master case to stuff it in – pretty much the same size as old LK-style Linn boxes.

Cooler Master Elite 100 case

A HTPC, yesterday

I don’t need any huge storage on board as all media is either stored on an HP Microserver with a couple of TB drives, or more commonly nowadays just streamed from the web.

I junked the supplied 150 W PSU as a) it was a noisy bugger, and b) the AMD Zacate-based system would only need about 40 W so it was overkill considering the needs of the system and would be perpetually running in a very inefficient manner. I bought a small PicoPSU-type thing so that the whole system would be silent (I removed the fan from the motherboard – you’re only young once, what’s the worst that can happen, etc.).

This is great but of course the problem with these DC-DC supplies is that they only split a low voltage supply of around 12 V into the regulated 12 V, 5 V & 3.3 V rails the system requires, and still need a transformer to provide the AC-DC conversion and step-down from 240 V to ~12 V, so the solution is a power brick the chucks out at least 5 A at 12 V, about 1,209,999,940 watts shy of powering a flux capacitor-powered DeLorean.

Apart from spoiling the sleek form factor of my new PC, on trying to buy one of these supplies I found it was a classic ‘pick two’ case:

  1. Cheap
  2. Readily available
  3. High quality

As many small LCD TVs have similar power needs I discovered that Ebay etc. was flooded with cheap, no-name supplies (“Bestvolt Lightening Power Supply Co. Ltd, Shenzhen” etc.) that promised the earth but only cost about £10-15.

Maplin, RS etc. will also sell you one but at eye-watering prices (Maplin’s current price is £36!), and with no guarantee that they’d be any better than the Ebay crap. Finally, ‘silent computer’-type places will sell you one to partner your PicoPSU but again you’ll pay for the privilege – typical costs are about £100 including the PicoPSU – and when you consider that kind of money can get you an extremely high quality 500W desktop supply you can see that someone’s getting ripped off…

Anyway, I found I had a 60 W supply in the garage so used that but I was acutely aware it was far from a quality bit of kit and I always kept an eye on it. When it started making a lot of whining and whistling noises I retired it after about 18 months of constant use in late 2012 before it could go pop (the system is never powered down).

After a bit of deliberating I went with the cheap option and replaced it with an Ebay special, cost about £10 if memory serves. I had my suspicions about this one too – it was very light, never usually a good sign – but it worked as expected.

A few weeks ago though the throughput on the network to the HTPC fell off a cliff, from about 20mbps down/12mbps up to <1mbps down and, weirdly, still about 5mbps up. I suspected the power supply was going a bit wobbly and I was proved right when it went 'BANG!' a day or two later after I was powering it up again after re-routing some cables.

Off to Ebay again to discover the same tawdry selection of supplies. I tried Maplin, RS, Farnell etc. without much luck so started searching wider. Some CCTV systems have similar power needs so there were a few sites selling supplies for them and one or two looked OK, but the price was creeping up to around £20 again.

I figured this was about what I'd probably need to spend to avoid getting a cheapo dud again, but searching for "12V 60W supply' I began to notice other types of PSU creeping up in the search results.

These were supplies intended for use in powering SELV lighting. Now many were AC supplies intended for halogen use, but I noticed that many were termed 'LED drivers' and output 12 V DC. Interesting...

My train of thought was that these supplies are intended for professional fit-and-forget installs in ceiling cavities etc. with MTBF/service lives measured in years or decades, and as such should perhaps be of slightly higher quality than the bricks that Joe Public buys in Currys to replace the one for their 19" Bush LCD that they lost 'in the move'. All sorts of compliance and liability things kick in when an electrician installs something and I figured that these LED drivers couldn't possibly be worse in terms of EMC and reliability. But would they do a job?

I did discover one thing though, that LED drivers were available in two basic configurations; constant current and constant voltage. Obviously constant voltage was what I needed as I doubt PCs take to having the voltage swing wildly up and down as the load changes.

My electrical knowledge is scant and therefore dangerous (I've only been thrown across the room once though) so in my head 12 V always equals 12 V and 5 A always equals 5 A, but I suspected there was more to it than that so I thought I'd ask the Internet.

However, various searches for 'led driver power computer' etc. didn't bring up any relevant hits, weird in this age of Rule 34 and sane-but-gibberish-spouting content farms.

I took my query to the esteem’d gents and ladies of Superuser but my plea went unanswered, even after I’d pony’d up 300 reputation as a bounty. There was a suggestion that I may have better luck over at the Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange so I asked a mod to migrate the question.

Finally, this started generating answers and broadly they seemed in agreement that in principle there was nothing to stop me doing this. I was lacking any kind of authoritative answer though, until one Brian Onn stepped in with this brilliant reply:

Not all power is the same. These LED power supplies are built to a lower price point and thus have a design goal of using fewer parts. The result is often a single stage isolated flyback design rather than the more typical 2-stage design where the first stage is a PFC boost to 400V or so, and the second stage is the flyback regulator.

A single stage design is good for a LED supply that wants to be small and cheap, because it eliminates the large PFC boost inductor, the high voltage switch and the bulk capacitor on the first stage DC bus. Instead, the flyback transformer together with the controller IC is used directly for PFC.

Although this power supply is good enough for powering a string of LEDS, it will perform poorly for other types of loads, such as your HTPC.

Due to the lack of the PFC boost stage, this type of PSU cannot regulate away the 100Hz/120Hz ripple on the DC bus after rectification. This low frequency ripple shows up on the output as a possible 3% to 5% output voltage ripple, which may not be so good for a HTPC.

The lack of a bulk capacitor on the input DC bus means that this type of PSU has no hold-up capability. It cannot weather a voltage dip or brownout on the input AC side very well and would mean the output dips significantly whenever an AC brown-out occurs. This might crash a PC, whereas a PSU designed for a PC might not.

For the Power Factor Control to even work, it has to have a very low and slow loop bandwidth for the PFC circuit, but since the PFC is part of the final output stage, this also means the final output has the same slow control loop. This is necessary otherwise the PFC circuit would try to follow the AC line and would give poor power factor (a two stage design has 2 loops: the slow PFC loop and the 2nd stage has a much faster loop for good transient response). This single stage, low and slow loop bandwidth means that the output of the LED PSU has a really bad transient response. This is fine for a LED string that doesn’t need good transient response, but it is no good for a PC that has a CPU, CD drives, video cards and hard disks all putting much heavier demands on the PSU.

Now, having said all that, I don’t claim to know what the internal design is of that LED PSU you linked to in your question, but I am just giving my general comments on why a typical purpose-built LED PSU has the the potential to be not such a good choice for a PC.

Now that’s more like it. Finally an explanation of why these supplies might not be such a good idea.

I wasn’t totally discouraged though as I’d pulled the last brick apart and it was obvious this was not a quality piece of kit, and indeed was only a single stage supply such as Brian’s answer had explained would be the case with LED drivers, so I’d argue that there is nothing inherently better about power bricks as it is obvious that they too are built down to a price, and are cynically sold to unsuspecting consumers too.

Brick internals

Through-hole side – Wonky Edition

Brick internals

Surface-mount side, showing blown fuse at lower left. Check the dodgy placement and excess paste

My second reason for not giving up was that the concerns raised about the supply not being able to keep up with large shifts in the PC’s demands probably probably didn’t apply in this instance. The system has no fans or hard disks to spin up and although the CPU/GPU will dynamically alter clock, given that the difference between min and max states is only about 9 W this isn’t huge considering there are the on-board smoothing caps etc. to help even things out. The Blu-Ray drive is so seldom used that I’m not even considering it.

So, the system had survived for 18 months using a shitty single stage supply, what did I have to lose by trying a high quality single stage supply? I had already found a place selling a driver from a well respected brand at a penny less than £20 delivered and bought it before the above answer was provided so of course I was going to try it.

When it finally arrived (fucking PayPal…again) I was disappointed to find it would be a bit of a squeeze in the case (I was hoping to mount it internally for a stealth look) and it being IP67-rated (told you, quality) I wasn’t going to be able to pull it open to compare it to the no-name without ruining it.

Anyway, I bodged it together with choc-blocks, retaining the previous sleek barrel connector input just in case I needed to go back to a traditional supply, and powered it up – success!

The first thing I did was check the power line speed. This had increased to previously unknown highs of about 30mbps down – good news that I’m taking as confirmation that the old supply was chucking out obscene amounts of EMC.

I ran the system for an hour or two, just playing movies and music and all was well. I downloaded the OCCT stress-test suite as used by Anandtech and set that to run, using the PSU test. It crapped out after 20 minutes as the CPU temp reached the pre-set limit of 85 °C, so I bumped up the limit to 86 °C (4 °C less than the maximum temp – like I said, life on the edge) and let it run overnight which it duly completed.

It’s since been running 24/7 for about four days and things are still looking good. I’ve played Netflix (which due to crappy old Silverlight doesn’t use hardware H.264 decoding on AMD E-350), iPlayer and local 1080p content (both of which do) and all works fine. There’s even been some very high winds which usually cause problems in our village but nothing has caused it to hiccup yet.

So, can we take this sample of one underpinned with some very dubious assumptions as confirmation that LED drivers are suitable for powering a low-demand PC?

Maybe, but I’d give it a few more months and see what happens. In particular, I’m keen to see what happens when we get mains brownouts. These generally cause the microwave clock to reset as a minimum, with the oven clock going too if there is anything more than a momentary glitch, so if the HTPC goes down too I can deduce the kind of fault that might have caused it.

More some other time, perhaps.

January Challenge – Completed

Well, I set myself a challenge for January – a ride a day, 300 km for the month and top half of Strava Prove It leaderboard – and I’m proud to say I sort of managed it.

Prove It logo

I certainly put in the distance – 409 km – and managed to rank 30862 out of 64018 participants in the Prove It challenge, but I slightly failed on the ‘a ride every day’ thing. In hindsight this was perhaps a little rash as January in the UK offers a less-than-optimal cycling environment. Not that I didn’t venture out in wind, rain, ice, sleet, hail and even a bit of snow, but actually being bloody-minded enough to go out, even for a few km, in all weathers seemed daft when I was easily able to stretch the next day’s ride by 20 or 30%.

So, in the end I managed 28 rides in 31 days. Poor when you consider my initial goal (although the incentive was greatest in the first week or so when I did, against all the odds – alcohol, weather etc. – manage to get out every day), but when you consider the distance travelled was over than a third more than my target I’m going to sleep soundly at night.

I climbed a scarcely-believable 4151 m too, no mean feat for a fat, old bastard on a XC bike. I look at Strava and see the sleek, lycra-clad things doing 350 km a week but with less elevation and have wry smile to myself. Rule 68, bitches.

All this from effectively a standing start, so if this proves anything it’s that age, waistline and lack of enthusiasm is no barrier to just getting out there and doing it. I fully expect (and hope) that my commitment ratchets down a notch or two, but I’ve proved to myself I can do it, and in all weathers too, so I hope to keep up at least 3 or 4 rides per week. I’d like to think I can do at least 300 km a month from now on. We shall see.

IMG_1399

I’ve reached the point where a day off feels like I’m cheating, my browser history shows an unhealthy interest in all thing velocipede and all I seem to talk to people about is my last ride and what bits of bike-related stuff I’m looking at buying.

Never mind, eh? My new motto is ‘Ride to imbibe’, the thinking being I can continue with my otherwise sedentary and beer-fuelled life for as long as I keep the cycling up.

Logic. Can’t beat it.

On yer bike – Strava and pain

I’m a bit of a lapsed cyclist. By that I mean I cycled frequently when I was a kid (who doesn’t?), then rarely until my late 20s at which point I bought a new bike with which to commute 18 miles a day. Did that for a couple of years then lapsed back into just the occasional leisure ride. When kids came along (how passive does that sound?) and were old enough to cycle/go on a bike seat this tempted me out a bit more, but I’d probably be on my bike less than 10 times a year, excluding Center Parcs etc.

A Cycle To Work scheme bike bought in 2012 was meant to herald a new dawn of MTBing and fitness but while it was certainly more capable than the tired old GT I’d bought about 12 years previously and I went out a bit more, I’d have to be honest and say it remained a bit of a shiny garage queen.

As usual, it took some external factor to prompt me into action, in this case another dad at the school who mentioned that a few of them went out most Wednesdays and would I like to join? I had no real excuse so went along the next time.

The result? 21 km of mild late-November pain in a mix of on- and off-road riding. Still, I managed it, enjoyed it even, and we went out a few more times late last year. I also began going out myself and exploring a bit more of the Chiltern countryside which I was long overdue to do considering it’s been over two years since we moved here.

I tracked that first ride and the subsequent ones on MapMyRide as it was the first app I happened across. I’d used Endomondo previously on Android so knew what the gig was with these apps. However, the thing that really changed things was Strava.

I’d always avoided it as I (wrongly) thought it was a subscription service and it seemed to be aimed squarely at real exercise junkies and pros, but as soon as I tried it in late December I could see why it blew the others into a cocked chapeau.

While all these apps work well enough at tracking you via GPS and recording milage, climbs etc., the difference with Strava was the sheer number of users and the fact that almost every ride means you tackle at least 5 or 6 segments that have already been set up and attempted, sometimes by thousands of others.

This instantly allows you to see where you are in the grand scheme of things and shows you the possibilities of trying just a little bit harder next time.

The second killer feature of Strava is their API which meant that even more geeky data and viz goodness can be had by using VeloViewer and Raceshape. These allow even more granular analysis of the segments and VeloViewer also has a ranking system which attempts, fairly successfully, to give you a score based on your performance on your top segments.

I find the VeloViewer Score a powerful incentive as you can identify individual segments that you know you can improve and by doing so, vastly increase your Score.

All this is textbook gamification, sure, but why the hell not? Cycling’s meant to be fun and competitive.

Added flair comes in the form of challenges that you can sign up to, and with a somewhat cavalier attitude I signed up to the January 2014 Prove It challenge which had a loose definition of ‘challenge yourself’ so I elected to say I’d ride every day in January. There was also an outline goal of riding 600 km in January, but from a standing start (read: fat git), on a MTB and with the January weather to deal with I thought 300 km was more realistic so set that as my goal.

With the lovely UK weather this may have been be a bit rash, so I’ve refined my challenge to the following:

  • Manage at least a ride a day (31 rides, not necessarily riding every day though)
  • Cycle at least 300 km

Once I was a few days in I also added a stretch target:

  • Maintain a place in the top half of the Prove It challenge leaderboard (current rank 33716/58124 so a bit of work to do)

The last one’s out of my hands to some extent but it would appear I’m not too far away.

Me, on Strava.

As it stands I’ve cycled almost every day and ridden about 223 km in 20 rides that I tracked on Strava (missed one due to clumsy gloved fingers). My fitness has improved hugely in only a few weeks and my guns are like granite. OK, maybe not but they are significantly more sculpted and powerful than they were at Halloween.

If I keep even 25% of this up then I may even avoid a heart attacked before I’m 50. Result.

Only thing is, I’m now looking at road bikes and cycling sites like some pathetic middle-aged cycle bore. Pity me.

John Lewis, Lily Allen and all that shit

Disclaimer: This was originally posted in November 2012, but as 95% of it is still valid today I’m saving myself the bother of writing anything new and just replacing the adverts with the 2013 versions.

And yes, I appreciate that all I’m doing is perpetuating in some microscopical way to the continuation of the whole cavalcade of shite, but I’ve got more important things to worry about such as cress.

So, John Lewis, eh?

Remember when the TV adverts in the run up to Christmas were about the excitement of seeing the toys you wanted blatantly dancing in front of your eyes, identikit ads for forgettable aftershaves/perfumes and weird local ads for shopping centres you’d normally avoid?

Well, thanks to the efforts of the likes of John Lewis adverts are now “events”, anticipated and celebrated in a manner that is probably reminiscent of the way in which Pagans prepared for their busy Xmas season.

Xmas ad breaks are slowly being transformed into celebrations of emo whimsy, with “Westlife-chord-change”-level sentimentality being soundtracked by 80s pop hits re-recorded in a downtempo style by jobbing Eva Cassidy tribute acts.

No doubt it’s just me and most find this “touching”, are “moved by its beauty” and cry whenever it comes on between segments of You’ve Been Framed, but I for one am taking a stand and will henceforth refuse to shop at John Lewis until they reject all this twee shit.

Until they have a really good sale on.

Or I’m dragged there by the wife.

Mind you, at least they’ve not gone for the mindless, frothy banality of the dancing yuletide idiots that populate adverts by the likes of Marks & Spencer.

Your M&S, not mine.

Why are these people so happy? Are they not cold in those draughty studio sets wearing nowt but a scrap of underwear? Are they not aware we’ve been in a double-dip recession? Are they not concerned by climate change? Do they not feel they should be respectfully subdued after all the Jimmy Savile nonce sense? We may never know.

And best not to even mention bloody Boots and their tedious “the girls” schtick, now used to promote everything from half-price electric toothbrushes to erectile dysfunction pills.

[no link to this one because I'm not a cunt]

Even Toys’R'Us have dropped poor Geoffrey and their incomprehensible jingle.

It’s just not the same.

New Star Wars Blooper Reel – Will it ever bloody end?

After the recent discovery of some new Return Of The Jedi footage recovered from an Ebay Laserdisc, now some apparently hitherto unseen bloopers have surfaced from the original film.

Just how much other stuff is out there and how has it taken so long to surface?

Or are these elaborate faked CGI creations designed as part of the impending promotion tsunami for the forthcoming episodes?

Whatever, the stormtrooper bits are classic. Enjoy.

(btw the first 50 seconds don’t have any audio)

Give less to charity

Remember sponsoring someone for some charity event in the past? Easy, wasn’t it?

A sheet was passed around and folk would add a pound or two; a fiver if they were feeling really flush or if they were related (or really, really just fancied the person).

Coerced into sticking something down by judgemental eyes all around, you didn’t really mind dipping your hand into a future pocket and so you scribbled down the prevailing rate too, happy that you’d only be £1-2 out and “it’s all in a good cause, innit?”

Despite the arrival of Gift Aid on the scene, confusing the harder of thinking with its block of text explaining that you needed to put your full name and home address for it to count*, the whole sponsorship thing felt comfortable, like an old slipper; an elegant solution for a more civilised age.

Simple. Hard to screw up, no?

Well, of course what happened next was the usurping of the humble paper sheet by new-fangled online sponsorship. Just Giving and its ilk were the 21st Century solution to cumbersome bits of paper, folk not paying up and yet more collecting the cash yet “forgetting” to send it in (Cancer Research give some startling figures on this delinquency but I can’t find a link right now).

All looked good in the world of fun runs, abseiling and baked-bean-filled-bathtubs – Hey! It’s online, it’s easy, it’s fun! – but then a curious bit of inflation and peacocking took hold.

Actively encouraged by the charities and the donation sites themselves, the initial sponsorship amounts began to creep up. No longer was a quid from your workmates sufficient, no, you had to get your Mum/Son/Auntie Brenda to stick in £10, £20, even £50 or more as the first line on the page. Ostensibly this was to engender a more generous attitude from subsequent sponsors, the hope being that everyone would add £10+ and the target of £500 for your ascent of Helvellyn would be surpassed in minutes.

No doubt some of this is just that ol’ devil inflation, but as that has only eroded the value of a pound by about 50% in about 20 years there is something else at work here.

Now, I don’t know about you but thanks to a mobile and fluid workplace and the wonders of social media,  I see at least two or three sponsorship requests a week, more at certain times of the year (early summer, Comic Relief etc.), and if I were to sponsor each to the tune of £10 or £20 then I’d have to send my lithest (read: profitable) child up chimneys.

So what do I do? When I thought about this I realised that I find myself joining in with the tenners and scores, but only when people I know really well are involved as the ‘investment barrier’ for someone-in-the-other-office-who-is-OK-but-you-only-speak-to-four-times-a-year is really a little too high. Everyone else gets SFA and plausible deniability. I’ve been shamed into not donating at all by the big ticket first line.

Plus, no longer do I have the baleful eye of the benefactor to strongarm me into participating – I’m looking at their Just Giving page, sitting in my pants with a half-empty bag of Monster Munch in front of me – I can do what I damn well like and feign surprise/regret if it ever comes up again (which it won’t).

So, the half marathons get completed and the money rolls in from close friends and relatives, with the odd spike from the office manager/rich Uncle Tony/secret admirer, embarrassing the rest with their £200 displays of ostentatious philanthropy (rarely are these amounts hidden from public gaze…) and I’m sure in this hyper-connected, socially shared world the total amount raised by these efforts comfortably outstrips that which would generally have been collected by the old, manual means.

The thing is, I actually quite like sponsoring people and the friendly recognition and appreciation it spreads so I’ve decided that from now on I’ve decided I will not be pressured into this high-stakes game and I will give as much or as little as I please to as many charity sponsorships as I can.

So, please do send me your sponsorship links (and pimp them if you know me and I haven’t contributed!) but don’t be offended if you see a £2.38 (+60p Gift Aid) on there; that’s just me giving a little, often, and hoping that it makes a difference somewhere.

If any of this strikes a chord with you then I hope you’ll do the same too. As a person doing a charity event I’d sure rather see 30 people donating £2 than three people donating £20.

* Needless to say, every daft bastard in the office still just put ‘Jean c/o Shittycompany Ltd.’ though – did this ever get claimed anyway? Probably.

Fixing Things #2 – Samsung ML-3471ND printer power supply

After my boiler escapade last night I was on a roll and so I turned my attention to my rapidly failing printer. It’s a Samsung ML-3471ND, a perfectly capable duplex network laser printer that’s been a decent enough buy these last 5 years.

However, it recently started showing signs of strass as it had started resetting itself halfway through print jobs, particularly if the duplexer was in operation, as if the extra current drain from the motors being reversed caused the PSU to wobble.

Sure enough, on return from holiday when I switched it back on the printer it refused to wise from it’s gwave and just sat there with ominous clicks coming from the PSU area. My years of blagging it in the electronics industry told me I may get away with blasting it with hot air and luckily the missus’ hairdryer forced it to jump into life after a minute or two of heating through the vents.

One nil to me.

Not to worry though, I can manage without duplex and would just leave it powered up and hang the CO2.

It then started just randomly resetting itself. A bit annoying as this is noisy and the printer is in the room next to a bedroom.

I knew its time on earth would be limited though if I didn’t take action so invoked Mr Google’s Amazing Internet Discovery and Detection Apparatus to discover that a power supply board (part number JC96-04051D) would be about £40. Not too bad but I was sure I could do better.

A bit of digging about turned up this post on a forum called badcaps.net (and I though I was dull online – grateful though!) which, although referring to a ML-2152W of similar vintage, had identical symptoms to mine and seemed to suggest that it would indeed be a cap problem.

I bought the caps listed on spec (£5 and may have been the wrong type but fuck it, I couldn’t be arsed stripping it down to check and hey, you’re only young once) and set them aside.

I got round to fitting them today in a, for me, extra quick time of only about two weeks.

The printer was easy to work on. I found the service manual online and  got tore right in about it. In case the Scridb link goes dead at any point and someone finds this post useful, here is the tl;dr version.

Remove toner cartridge, duplexer then remove back cover (4 screws).

Open front tray and then remove top cover (4 screws), lifting from the front.

Disconnect control panel and set top cover aside.

Remove right-hand side cover (1 screw) and there’s the PSU.

Oh, did I mention to obviously unplug the bloody thing before you start? I did? Good.

Unplug the mains inlet and HV board, 4 more screws and it’s out.

Simple, and respect to Samsung for what appears to be a sensible design, made for servicing (same screws used everywhere, no stupid plastic clips etc.).

Anyway, the caps mentioned in the forum post were indeed present (although only two on this one) and one was indeed showing signs of being gently buggered by a surly Russian dude called Currentski.

Blown electrolytic capacitor

The offending Samwhas were quickly removed and using my world-renowned soldering skills I managed to get the replacement Panasonics (1000 μF, 16V, 5mm radial) in place without melting anything except the solder (yay!) and without burning any part of me (double yay!).

New caps installed

Nothing else on the PSU looked flaky so a quick trim and it was time to fling the thing back together. Amazingly, it worked.

Two nil to me!

Thanks, random forum dude!

 

Fixing Things #1 – Ideal Icos boiler no power

Boilers are a funny old game.

No matter what make or model you have, you’ll inevitably be told by professionals that it is, in a word, shite. I’d love to see what is in their houses.

Then there’s the entire mythology around the whole heating ‘engineer’ thing. I appreciate those that can truly spec and install a whole system, the Gas Safe Register certainly has its merits here, and even when servicing any gas-side components on a system of course you’ve got to be sensible and get someone who a) knows what they are doing, and b) can ensure compliance, but I reckon they’ve seen easy bucks in the extension of the need to consider almost any part of the system out of bounds for all but GSR folk.

The kidology in this field is staggering and leads to the kind of charges for parts that many industries can only dream of. Consider my boiler, an Ideal Icos HE36 which, if I’m to believe the reams written about these boilers on the internet, is utter garbage. It may well be, too.

Thing is, there are all these plumbers telling us that, yet someone is speccing and installing them, in my case about seven years ago when the heating system was replaced in this house we’ve bought.

Where are all those defending their choice?

Why don’t the ‘bad’ companies go out of business?

Is it just that money talks and the decent ones are +20% of the price of the shiters so never get chosen by penny-pinching owners?

Probably.

Anyway, my tale involves my boiler, a condensing-but-not-combi unit (confuses a lot of people) which sits in the garage and usually has a chirpy 7-segment LED  and a friendly light to tell me that it’s A-OK. In the 15 months we’ve been here it’s keeled over once due to a blocked condensate pipe (a common enough problem with any condensing boiler) but which has otherwise provided a lot of heat just when we’ve needed it.

Yesterday however I noticed it was not giving off very good vibes as the front panel was pretty much an ex-panel. Off with the bugger!

Ideal Icos partially disassembled

 

First thought: Fuse! (but I’m thinking “Please don’t let it be the PCB”)

Nope. Power was traced to the same supply as the programmer which was fine.

Second thought: Internal fuse! (but really I’m thinking “Fuck, the PCB is away”)

At this point a quick check online suggests the control board will be away but I’m not one to give in without a fight so I stripped the bugger down and checked the internal fuse which of course was fine.

This fuse is accessible via a holder from the outside of the PCB casing, a  casing which carries this ominous warning:

Primary Control PCB case

Yeah right. As I posted on Twitter, without even seeing inside it I knew it would look like a relic from the 1980s. A £12 BOM and about as complex as a modern toaster. You can buy a perfectly serviceable mobile phone for less than £20 or get tiny SMT components replaced on something as complex as an iPhone yet we’re supposed to defer to the Gods of JUP* and just junk this whole thing if it is faulty and buy a new one?

Okaayy. If the manufacturers in their ‘emperor’s new clothes’ states of mind tell us that then it must be true and they’ll be quite happy to charge us £180 for the privilege. Factor in the inevitable callout/fix fee and you can see why Rogue Traders often shows people being charged the thick end of £500 for such a repair. Daft.

Thing is, these thing internally look like they fell out of some Mil-spec Cold War behemoth, all cheapo milky orange PCBs, chunky mains voltage stuff, wobbly traces and quaint through-hole ICs that wouldn’t scare a Homebrew Computer Club member if I’d teleported him (and it would almost certainly be a him) here from 1977.

Not much stuff that can go wrong here except the usual caps etc. and sure enough there was the distinctive smell of fried electrolyte when I opened it up. Couldn’t see any obvious signs of excursion though and I lack a cap test mode on my trusty Fluke so I resigned myself to replacing the thing.

It seems this is a common enough problem with the Ideal Icos and Isar ranges for them to have changed the PCB casing cover to orange to allow people to quickly identify a new board. Orange-wrapped service replacements are available online from just less than £70 delivered which isn’t actually too bad – I was steeling myself for £150+

A bit of digging about though showed that British Gas are offering a very decent fixed callout & fix fee of £79 which would almost certainly cover my repair, and handily beat any local tradesman’s quote I reckon. Nice work, British Gas. It seems they’ve been offering this for a while and while the price seems to fluctuate a bit I can see no evidence that it’s ever been lower than £79.

For £9 I’d be happy to let them take the risk.

Then I recalled I have emergency cover as part of my home insurance so I checked the policy and sure enough, this would be covered.

Jackpot.

I’d used Direct Line’s emergency cover before when we were renovating and I screwed a floorboard right into a mains water pipe (I know; idiot) and was impressed as they had a bloke on site within a couple of hours on a Sunday who sorted it in 10 minutes.

So tomorrow the chap will come and I’ll play dumb and let him get on with it. In meantime, June isn’t a bad month for your boiler to break down and I’ve got a couple of immersion heaters so won’t start to smell any worse than I do already.

Moral: Worth checking your options if you’re in the same boat.

* Jumped-Up Plumber. Good way to ingratiate yourself with heating engineers, calling them that.

Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things

Love the idea behind this blog. Such satisfaction!

http://thingsfittingperfectlyintothings.tumblr.com/

When I saw this I had to submit it.

Diet Coke can sliding seductively into an empty baked bean tin

Mmmm, seductive