Oh gee I wonder

Me at the age of 10, watching the computing industry flourish and invite lots of opportunity and innovation: “Wow, this sounds like a fascinating place to work”

Me at the age of 18, watching the computing industry get cost-engineered, offshored, asset-stripped and shoved down a hole in the back of a former mattress factory in India: “Maybe I should use my skills in radio instead…”

Entire broadcasting products industry: *lazily runs out of ideas and switches entirely to mostly software-based products running on a cost-engineered offshore sourced PC for even the most basic and mission-critical systems*

Me at the age of 37: “man, I’m glad COVID-19 mitigation policies required me to be wearing a mask right now, as it just helpfully filtered out all the hot flying ammonia from an exploded Hong Kong fake capacitor”

 

Meet the old Chyron Mosaic. We have replacements to the old Chyron Mosaic racked up and ready to go, except that we were supposed to have Chyron’s assistance in turning up the systems but their support staff (who PREVIOUSLY worked from home all along, best I can tell) were furloughed months ago and have never been brought back to work.

click to read the helpful note I left on the machine

Yesterday it mysteriously dumped a drive in its RAID array, which apparently is not a new thing for it. It has a RAID with five Samsung 512 gig SSDs and one just simply… ceased to be. I pulled the failed drive apart and looked inside but didn’t see any obvious signs of parts being blown up.

today’s weather: blue

The objects below are a mic lavalier clip that simply isn’t strong enough to survive our extremely rigorous use (notably, nobody remembering to unclip it from their jacket before trying to put the mic away?)

Today it started freezing and locked up REALLY nicely to where I had to actually remove and reapply power to the box. Upon reconnecting the cord to the upper power supply, the machine powered up and all the fans came on. Upon reconnecting the lower one, it gave me a Capacitor Money Shot right in the face with the powerful stench of ammonia and metal oxides.

Somehow, though, after about five reboots, it lives just enough to be functional on air. What.

Why is everything on the SHITTIEST PCs imaginable? Sometimes I’m lucky when PC issues arise and it’s something as simple as the damn thing having overheated due to dust accumulation. This weather computer was lucky. One in our other studio just let out very expensive smoke that the vendor is balking at forcing back into it under warranty since the card that smoked went out of production before they even shipped the machine to us and its only replacement is several grand more expensive.

You may notice that in this video, as I take apart the weather computer, not a single thing inside it even remotely resembles industry standard PC parts, aside from the video cards. This Fiorina-Shenzhen (“HP”) workstation contains no standard replaceable parts, not even the cooling fans. They’re all molded into a giant plastic tray that costs several hundred dollars. Last time I had a fan failure on one of these, the tray things were still available. I have no idea if they still are.

The power supplies for the particular flavor of server chassis the Chyron Mosaic was built on are long out of availability and can’t even be opened for repair – they are spot welded shut. This was an “innovation” I first saw on Foxconn provided parts for “HP” servers.

I dunno, I’d just call up Thanos and surrender

Proof we live in the worst possible timeline:

For the uninitiated, FMUSER is the company behind the atrocious little CZH series FM transmitters that sometimes last for entire days out of the box and obliterate half the band in their vicinity.

Alexander Graham Bell’s Evil Quantum Entangled Cock Cage

Please forgive my unusual reaction, the stress of current events and a grueling work schedule have affected my state of mind a bit.

If I told you too much about this system it’d make your mind snap like an overstretched rubber band

Nobody who works here now was responsible for this all getting so fucked up, they just inherited its load-bearing zombie corpse.

who took my nice fluke anyway

5G, because I’m tired of trying to explain this to idiots

Because this is what a fucking obnoxious, inexorably growing, and irritatingly vocal segment of the population actually believe. Copied off “chemtrailplanet.com”. I’m not even making this shit up and my faith in humanity is waning. You may click this to view it full size but why bother.

Ok, for like the sixteenth time this week I’ll explain this – I’m getting tired of this shit. I’m putting this up here so I can just send the link to people fighting over it instead of repeating myself a zillion times.

Note: If you were sent this link, you have probably been a victim of fake news!!!

First off, before you even read what I’m going to say, please take a moment to educate yourself on how to spot fake news. Many of the convincing looking articles out there that are trying to convince people that there are health risks linked with 5G wireless technology, or worse yet, that it is somehow “powering” the COVID-19 viral pandemic, are literally just fake news being propagated via a variety of sources including Russian propaganda bots. (Why, I wonder? I… frankly don’t care.)

I also highly recommend checking the Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart which ranks media sources on both their reliability for factual reporting and their level/direction of bias. If the source doesn’t even appear on the chart OR appears way down at one end or the other of the bell curve, look elsewhere.

 

Pictured here: a very loud-ass fake sensationalist “news”-spewing walking anal sphincter that really needs to be plugged up with hydraulic cement.

5G wireless is not harmful. It is not harmful to people living, working, or playing near towers, using mobile phone handsets, or even to properly trained tower workers and technicians maintaining the base station equipment. (In fact, the physical supporting tower itself is the only significant risk, mostly from fall hazards.)

It is not using hazardous ionizing radiation which can cause cancer or other health problems. It is not using high RF power levels that can cause injury from heating or thermal burns to tissue. It is not generating strong magnetic fields. NOTHING.

IT IS CERTAINLY NOT CONTRIBUTING TO OR RELATED IN ANY WAY TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC,  YOU MORONS. If it was still supported in modern browers I’d pepper in the fucking <blink> tag to make sure you see this.

5G wireless is in most cases using the same radio frequency bands and low transmitter power levels that 4G, 3G, EV-DO, LTE, whatever currently in use, are using. The only odd exception is that T-Mobile’s implementation, in some areas, is going to also have some millimeter wave channels in use for base to mobile transmissions. Users will not be exposed to high RF field strengths unless they physically climb the tower and give the antenna a big hug. So, uh, don’t do that.

The handsets you’ll have will continue to transmit at 600 to 800 Mhz as always, at very low power levels as they do now. Consider the fact that a mobile phone handset has to run off a battery of limited size and actually, you know, run on that for a long period of time. In all cases I’ve seen, the mobile phone’s CPU and screen consume 2-10 times as much power as the radios.

I’ve seen the TMobile millimeter wave system compared to the military’s active denial system, but that’s a really shitty comparison as the ADS uses kilowatts of power focused by a huge truck mounted dish for truly crazy effective radiated power levels. Specifications on the device are hard to come by but a smaller version was specified in a WIRED article as sending 30,000 watts. From speaking with a TMobile technician about it, he told me that the transmitter power (I don’t recall if it was effective radiated power or transmitter power output) will be approximately 50 watts, HOWEVER, the path loss is HUGE at those frequencies, so once you’re just a few feet away from the antenna sectors, you’re back down within safe RF exposure limits. They pretty much expect to only use the millimeter wave stuff within a few outdoor urban areas where there’s a high density of subscribers who will use it. It will not pass through trees, walls, or windows at any usable level.

It’s all entirely harmless to everyone except for the deluded consumer who thinks it’ll actually give them more bandwidth. Nobody’s actually investing in improving the bandwidth and reliability of the fiberoptic networks behind all this shit, so it will continue to be garbage. It’ll just be garbage in a fancier can.

Please, do not listen to Russian propaganda bots and clickbait websites. Do not listen to Alex Jones / Infowars. Don’t go chasing chemtrails, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you used to.

Exsqueeze me? Baking powder?

Another day, another case of being thoroughly perplexed by RF Central gear—
When the mast goes up but the signal doesn’t go out, it’s time to investigate.

schwiiiiiiinnnngggg

The forward/reflect/12vdc return meter always seemed to show 00.0 if the PA was off… -1 if the PA was on, in any field.

TWO different bad amplifier units…. one was waiting on the shelf as a spare, one just came off the truck.

 

So what’s inside? I forgot to take a photo but if you remove the hex screws on the back it reveals a Stealth Microwave SM2025-44L, 25 watt linear amplifier for 2000-2500 megacycle DVB applications. Sadly. Stealth Microwave is long gone.

Interestingly the amp bricks are specified as having an internal output isolator. Nifty.

The other major part inside the amp brick is a bias tee that splits 12vdc power sent up the coax out to run the fan and the amplifier.

And now, it gets… horrifying.

I found a datasheet on the SM2025-44L and it’s specified as taking a mighty 8.5 amperes. I mean, at least it isn’t gonna arc furnace anything, but the voltage drop CANNOT be nontrivial anymore.

This has to get to it on the coax. The coax from the indoor unit in the truck to the outdoor amplifier unit is not a short sweet little run. See the big black coil up the mast in the first pic? There’s probably at least 45 feet of coax in there, plus another dozen at least to land it from the feedthrough in the roof to the IDU in the rack.

WHY DID THIS EVER WORK AT ALL? Or does it? I don’t….. I can’t even——- No——— I need to go home and collapse in bed and place the kitteh on top of me and stop trying to think for this week. DONE. I’m so done. What the hell.

The forgotten slobbery use case

Shown here is a Dexter Thoroughbred 600 washing machine I pissed off. And how did I piss it off, you may ask? I left a penny in my pocket.

The newer Dexter machines appear to not have this same issue, but these older ones (looks like it’s from the 90s?) do.

A lip behind the door edge is just the right size that a penny can fall into the space between it and the rotating basket, and get wedged in the rubber gasket, causing the machine to urinate.

A quarter just kinda sits there.

The offending lip (tub edge?) and basket edge. The rounded edge is what the door gasket seals against. The rubber ring seen at the bottom is just where the front cover of the machine meets the tub and is there to fill a gap and prevent the whole thing shaking and banging.

And the penny doesn’t exactly come out unscathed from the ordeal.

Stuff like this is a good example of why, when you test a design, you must consider some unusual use cases. This could have been prevented if someone had just noticed that the spacing of this assembly easily allowed small flat objects to get sucked in and jammed there.

And maybe Grass Valley Group could come up with a newsroom video archival and playout system that doesn’t toss its cookies every time the moon is in a certain phase, but that’s clearly asking too much. *Growls in frustrated engineer*

The Sad Tale of the Honda Civic Gen 7 “Value Package”

So here’s the tale of the Civic VP “Value Package”.
 
Some of this is based on personal observations, speculation, and experience with working on one, so as with an EPA efficiency estimate… Your Mileage May Vary
 
For the 2000 model year, the Civic Generation 7 made its way to market with the new D17* series engines, a 1.7 liter engine that was of course significantly larger than the 1.6 that was in the gen 6. The nice old double wishbone suspension went away to make room for it, getting replaced instead by a pair of cheap, fragile little Macpherson struts (they did NOT like Miami roads one bit and tended to get fucked up, though aftermarket replacements WERE tough enough to deal.)
 
The D17 came in a couple variants. It had a mad high compression ratio (almost good enough to be a diesel!) and allowed for operation in a lean-burn mode which was pretty awesome for increasing fuel economy and not requiring as many hoops to be jumped through to meet and exceed 50-state emissions standards. This, unfortunately, brought about one of the major challenges in practice….

I’ve always been pretty fond of Honda’s engineering. Toyotas are a definite go-to for freaking indestructible little cars that just keep going for over a decade… or TWO, if they’re not used in areas where the roads are salted, but there are a few places you can tell some corners were cut to keep the vehicle on budget. It’ll be like certain elements of the interior feel cheap and nasty, because they used all the budget on the chassis and powertrain. Honda has a certain sort of fit and finish to everything that’s a cut above, but this also pushes up the price of their vehicles a bit.
In previous versions of the Civic, there were a couple of common trim lines. There was the EX which was usually the lower trim and had a smaller engine size, the DX which had the larger engine but fewer interior features, and the SI which had the larger engine, variable valve timing, and all the power accessories and stuff. The corresponding Acura models were pretty much a fancier SI.

Around 2000, the auto industry met a very strange set of circumstances. The market had dramatically fragmented in two different directions, with the domestic Big Three (Ford, Chrysler, General Motors) investing ENTIRELY in large sport futility vehicles, whereas overseas brands such as Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Suzuki*, Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and a host of others I’m probably forgetting about off the top of my head, were remaining loyal to their longtime customers and their preferences for smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles. The sales and pricing tactics behind the large SUVs were all messed up too – the vehicles were mostly being leased instead of sold outright, which brought in a lot of extra money to the automakers’ financing divisions in interest and fees, but also had the unfortunate effect of encouraging the automakers to once again start pumping out disposa-cars that were made to last up to 80,000 miles or 6 years then become unserviceable scrap metal.

So, there are some possible reasons as to why Honda may have been seeking to reduce the price of their 2001 model year vehicles (which would have been spec’d out and designed in 2000 and prior years). I suspect one of them may have been the dot-com crash, but who knows.

So, at first glance, a Civic VP seemed pretty normal for a lower trim line car. It had a pretty basic interior with cloth seats, a cheaper audio system, manual crank windows, no power accessories to speak of other than power steering (which was perplexing as it was by no means actually needed!), and used the D17A1 engine which didn’t have VTEC variable valve timing. That seems perfectly reasonable. It also made use of the D17’s lean burn capability to save on fuel, and could go damn near forever on one full 12 gallon tank, when it was working right.

The key is, when it was working right.

Now, to allow this to make sense to those not already intimately familiar with the systems to the point of them having caused headaches, here’s a little introduction to closed-loop electronic fuel injection.

Diagram from buyautoparts.com

The stoichiometric ratio by mass of gasoline to air needed to allow for complete, optimal combustion, is 14.7:1. For sake of simplicity, let’s assume that your gasoline were pure octane (C8H18) – the stoichiometric equation would be 2 C8H18 + 25 O2 → 16 CO2 + 18 H2O.
If you add too much fuel, you get unburned hydrocarbons and very nasty exhaust. You can, however, allow the gasoline to be the limiting reagent by adding more air to some extent and it works fine, although if you go too far, preignition becomes a problem (engine knock). The engine will usually be allowed to run rich during hard acceleration to avoid knock, with some “scavenging” possible downstream and in the catalytic converter.

Almost all modern automobile engines use electronic fuel injection. This system uses software or even analog electronics (in very old variants like early Bosch Jetronic) to precisely meter out fuel to each cylinder in a manner that keeps it at 14.7:1. The feedback loop relies on the signal from an oxygen sensor in the exhaust stream to measure the amount of oxygen remaining after combustion has taken place.

The sensors are of one of two designs. Earlier designs are a “narrow band” type where the output cycles from a higher voltage to a lower one quickly as the oxygen concentration crosses a certain threshold which closely corresponds to the system running at an optimal ratio. The software reacts to this “bang-bang” output by adjusting a short term fuel trim value up and down repeatedly to keep it right at the threshold. If you are using an OBD2 interface on a vehicle compatible with this, you can monitor the short term fuel trim value while the engine runs and see it, as well as the oxygen sensor voltage (in most cases) cycling up and down. Normally the cycling should be fairly tame, but wild cycling of like 10% indicates a problem, usually the damn pricey knuckle-buster ass sensor… 😉

If you are using an OBD2 scanner (and not watching the display while driving, I hope!) on a vehicle with a narrowband sensor, you will also observe that the system cycles from closed-loop to open-loop mode during hard acceleration. This is normal and is a limitation of the narrowband system. It simply isn’t capable of being used while the software has called for richer conditions to avoid engine knock. Once you let off the gas a bit, it will resume closed-loop operation.

These narrowband sensors are usually pretty much identical, except… on this stupid Civic VP.

More and more vehicles in current production have gotten away from the limitations of the narrow-band sensor by switching to wideband sensors. These output an analog voltage level without a sharp transition and can be used to monitor and maintain oxygen levels corresponding to ratios other than 14.7:1. Now you can have full closed loop control during hard acceleration AND the system can pretty much call for and maintain any ratio it wants, including anything from 10:1 while you’re flooring it up a freeway entrance to prolonged lean-burn operation while cruising at highway speeds.

In any vehicle made after 1997, EPA standards require two oxygen sensors, upstream and downstream of the catalytic converter. The downstream sensor’s purpose is to allow a diagnostic cycle to run as you’re driving to ensure that the catalytic converter is actually working. In a lot of vehicles, that’s all it does. In some really oddball systems, it is actually used as part of the air/fuel ratio regulation. Guess who did this—–

Enter the horrible, godawful engine management system of the Civic VP. In the process of lowering the bill of materials cost for the car, Honda undoubtedly approached their usual systems manufacturer, the automotive parts giant Nippondenso, with a specification, and were not pleased with the cost estimate, so they got creative and turned instead to Keihin Corporation for the system. Keihin is best known for their motorcycle components and fuel injection systems, and I feel like they got in a bit over their head on this project as it would have been unlike anything they’d worked on before. I’ve never heard of a motorcycle with a lean-burn feature, at least not from that time period.

For whatever twisted reason, Keihin did not use a wideband oxygen sensor, even though those were available at the time and were already being used in some passenger car and SUV applications… notably to help the Big Three’s SUVs meet California emissions standards by allowing weird air-fuel ratios. Barely.

NGK, a big manufacturer of spark plugs and ignition components, also makes oxygen sensor elements. As I recall, the three big manufacturers of them are Bosch, NGK, and Nippondenso, with their parts being used by pretty much everyone. In some cases the sensors are even successfully interchangeable! This was the case on my old 1995 Civic; it really didn’t care whose “universal” heated oxygen sensor you put in as long as you wired it in the right pinout. It’d just come right up and enter closed loop operation. Of course, that engine management system was wonderfully primitive… few variables, no EGR valve, no variable valve timing. It was hilariously simple. Well, Keihin found out that NGK could manufacture narrowband oxygen sensors with a higher oxygen concentration threshold than you’d get from a 14.7:1 ratio. Great! Now they can keep the lean-burn mode right on target! Oh wait, the custom narrow-band sensor costs $600. Eh, that’s ok, we saved so much money!

…… I have absolutely no idea how they were getting the 14.7:1 ratio off this system. It seemed like it had to be derived from the downstream sensor SOMEHOW, but how was never clear, nor was I ever able to make it work like this ever again once The Product Lifecycle Endenining happened.

“Product Lifecycle” might as well be a four letter swear word stronger than “fuck”**, by the way. Since the late 1990s to early 2000s or so when the freaking beancounters took over everything, when an electronics manufacturer introduces a product, its entire future has been planned out in advance. It will be manufactured for only so many years, then it will enter “lifetime buy” status wherein production will continue to order for a certain window of time, but then it’s closed to new orders and the device will never be manufactured again. If you’re lucky, the device may be licensed out to another manufacturer for second-source production, but even then, most of those manufacturers also put it on a fixed lifecycle. It probably increases profit margins by some piddling tiny amount for the companies who employ this system, but in the end, it creates tons of extra costs for the manufacturers of equipment using these parts, and for the end users trying to keep their stuff in service. I should add, it also scares me a little when I see that Dell EMC servers contain a component that they named the “Lifecycle Controller”. I don’t know what this does. I don’t want to know what this does.

So, it seems that Honda really dropped the ball hard here. On the earlier Generation 6, 5, and prior Civics, they really didn’t care whose narrowband sensor you put in them, so it probably wasn’t a big deal sourcing parts – if Nippondenso couldn’t deliver them that month, they could go to NGK, or Bosch, it didn’t matter much at all. With the Keihin system built to support lean-burn on the D17A1, it became a unique, critical part, that nobody else made, and it was expensive….. and they didn’t bother to secure a long lifecycle or a large quantity of extra sensors. Once the sensors reached end of life, the fun began.

While the cars were still in production and new vehicles were still in the sales channel, the sensors ran out. They were originally $650 each through the dealerships while they were available, but after that, the cars all became almost impossible to drive. Once in a blue moon, someone would come across new old stock sensors in a parts warehouse somewhere, but those all dried up quick, and the usual Chinese dumpshit houses flooded the market with supposedly compatible sensors that weren’t. In most cases, they still retained the original $650 price tag, though. The last time I checked, there was no option to keep these cars in service once the sensor failed, but in most cases, they stayed in operation by sheer luck by virtue of being low enough in mileage to have not worn out the sensor.

I had planned for a while to try replacing the custom narrowband sensor with a wideband sensor and an Arduino board set up to just keep reading its output voltage and simulate the output of the custom narrowband, but the specifications on where this thing were to have been set were not available anywhere. In addition, this was complicated by the fact that the quite active community of hackers and performance tuners who had worked out and documented just about everything on the earlier Honda ECMs couldn’t figure out anything about the Keihin one other than how to delete the RFID immobilizer daughterboard that required expensive keys. It was apparent from the behavior of this ECM and what it provided via OBD2 PIDs that it did not have an analog to digital converter on the pin that read the sensor – more like just a logic input and a Schmitt trigger, if even that.

Oops.

Even though measuring the exact output voltage from a narrowband oxygen sensor is not useful for determining the oxygen concentration beyond whether you’re above or below the transition point, it is vital for diagnostic purposes. For one thing, a common trick is used in which a resistive voltage divider is connected to the output pin. This applies a sentinel voltage to it through a high resistance, which the software looks for. The sensor only works once it’s heated to a high temperature (250 degrees C or so…?) and behaves like an open circuit otherwise. If the sentinel voltage is present after startup, this indicates the sensor is not ready for use and the system will need to remain open loop until it warms up more. A timer is started at this point, and if the sensor doesn’t come up after a sane and reasonable warmup period, it sets a fault code for oxygen sensor open circuit, falls back to open loop, and lights the check engine light. Cracking of the sensor element is a common failure mode.

There are also failure codes for slow response, or a voltage level that’s just totally out of whack, each with a potentially useful and descriptive fault code to let you know whether it could be an issue at the sensor or the wiring harness (+12 shorted to sensor output, or sensor output shorted to vehicle ground? Well Excuse Me, Princess)

The only PID present from this system was “Equivalency Ratio”. The software would not provide this value when it was running open loop. In fact, it seemed to have no real sanity checking whatsoever, though it would exhibit a pair of strange reactions to the sensor being incorrect or even absent.

The first thing it’d do is, if you had JUST cleared the fault codes, it would run open loop for one drive cycle, and would have a pending fault code for oxygen sensor no response (or something like that). It was driveable, but fuel efficiency was terrible as to be expected, with stinky rich exhaust. I remember driving it like this from Orlando to Miami once, a distance of about 240 miles, and having to stop for gas with it almost empty after about 200. The 18 mpg or so it turned in would make sense for a big SUV, but not for that car.
The second thing it’d do, after this first drive cycle, would be to turn on the Check Engine light. Makes sense, right? However… it would begin trying to use the incorrect reading from the sensor as well, and would do some Very Bad Things. For one, if you were cruising at a low engine load at about 40 mph, it would try to activate the lean-burn mode, using the output of the sensor to tune it in, and would begin running so rich it’d actually flood itself while already running, leading to a great volley of nonstop misfires. Once this started, you could break out of it by manually downshifting, but you could not accelerate at all unless you did. If you did drive it around normally, only possible by using the D2 and D3 settings on the transmission, it would turn in an impressive (for the wrong reasons!) 8 miles per gallon. I can’t even imagine what the air/fuel ratio was when it did this, but it was definitely so rich as to entirely prevent proper combustion. Fault codes would be set both for “system too lean” and “system too rich” – it was horribly confused! It pretty much had to remain married permanently to a scan tool so you could reset the ECM EVERY TIME YOU STARTED THE CAR to get back into that open-loop state. Strangely, there was a slight difference if you were to leave the downstream sensor unplugged or not – as I recall the engine would entirely stop after a minute if you had the downstream unplugged, but it’d keep running with it present, suggesting that at least something was happening with its reading. The downstream sensor, by the way, DID have analog to digital conversion and you could read its output voltage.

I won’t get into the goofy ass story here of what finally happened to the car, other than that I was glad when it finally left service for good.

* When have you ever seen any MARKETING for Suzuki? Nice vehicles, but it’s like nobody’s ever heard of them.
** just in case the count of times I say “fuck” on this site was getting critically low or something