Friday, December 23, 2011

A Sticky Solution

Today I am going to tell you about one of my favorite things. It is amazing how useful this stuff is to have around. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it is better than duct tape! Without further ado, I give you:

3M brand, exterior grade, double-sided foam tape. 
It is sold by many auto parts stores in 15 ft. rolls for permanently mounting trim or molding on vehicles. It is also available on Amazon if you can't find it locally. It comes in your choice of 1/2" or 7/8" widths. I like having both sizes around. Otherwise, I find myself cutting the thicker one in half lengthwise at times. A roll usually costs somewhere between $11 and $15. 

This stuff is excellent any time you want to semi-permanently attach almost anything with a flat surface. I have never had it fail to hold things together, especially if the surfaces being attached are clean, dry, and free from oils. It can be removed with a bit of effort, but it does take some effort. Take care using it on surfaces that might be damaged if you later decide to pull them apart from one another (painted walls, wallpaper, etc. are probably weaker than the tape). 

I highly recommend this stuff. It gives you an instant bond without the cure time or mess of glue. It is surprising how many uses you will find once you have it around. If you are looking for a last minute Christmas gift for someone who likes to tinker, you could do worse. 

I feel like I need to throw in a disclaimer. I am not employed by 3M. I don't think I've ever met anyone who works at 3M. They aren't paying me; this is just my opinion of this product. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

EVO 3D Digitizer Install

Sorry for the long delay between this post and Part 1 / Part 2 of the broken EVO 3D digitizer saga. I was tempted to leave the story unfinished forever because of the comic below entitled "Wisdom of the Ancients:"

But I wouldn't do that to you.

A quick side note. If you don't read XKCD, you really should. It is one of the most consistently brilliant webcomics I have ever had the pleasure of reading. So when you are done here, go read and subscribe to the RSS. And be sure to read the mouseover text for each comic. You will not regret it.

Back to the phone. From this point forward, I have decided to be consistent on how I refer to the part I am replacing. The phrase "touch screen" is too ambiguous for my taste. There are two parts that make up the touch screen. The touch part is built onto the back of the glass face of the phone. This is the digitizer. The screen part is behind the digitizer and is just a normal LCD screen. If you crack the glass on your phone, but the picture still shows up ok, you broke the digitizer. If the picture is messed up, you broke the screen. I'm glad we had this little talk. I feel better now.

The digitizer I ordered arrived from Amazon. It has a plastic film on the face of the glass to protect it. However, the back side of the digitizer is not glass. It is plastic. Easily scratched plastic. This digitizer arrived with several scratches on the non-glass side. Not cool. It also does not come with replacement adhesive for holding it in place. The description says, "Adhesive is on the back of flex, just peel off and apply," but apparently this only refers to a small rectangle of adhesive on the cable, not the adhesive that holds the digitizer in place. 

I will continue with the replacement anyway for a couple reasons. First, it will prove whether this part is causing my problem or not. Second, even if there are some scratches, if it fixes the problem my phone will be usable again. Since I am suffering from a severe case of smartphone withdrawal, I will install this semi-defective part and leave an unflatteringly truthful review on Amazon.

I now have a replacement digitizer and a video on how to take apart most of the phone. I follow the video and begin the disassembly. It goes well. Soon I have a pile of tiny parts where there was once a phone. I reach the end of the video, but it leaves me with the digitizer and screen still firmly entrenched in the front part of the case. It gives some vague advice about using heat and prying everything apart like on other HTC phones, but that is not so helpful to someone who hasn't done this to other phones.

It does point me in the right direction though. Armed with their somewhat nebulous comment, I go back into research mode. The HTC EVO 4G looks similar to the 3D, and it has been on the market much longer. Maybe there is a better guide for removing the digitizer on that phone. It turns out that there is.

So. I now have a very good photo tutorial on how to remove a similar digitizer. The following photos are blatantly stolen from in case they decide to take down the tutorial. Links are provided giving them full credit, so hopefully they will not be too upset.

The video leaves off at the point that corresponds to Step 20 on the EVO 4G teardown guide. This step has you start applying heat (but not too much heat) to the outside edge of the digitizer. The digitizer is held in place by adhesive. It is some form of very thin double-sided tape. Once you heat up an edge, you can start prying the digitizer from the front part of the case. The following few steps go through heating and prying each edge of the digitizer. At this point on the EVO 4G, you would be done. Remove the digitizer and stick the new one in place.

The EVO 3D is slightly different. Once you have battled the adhesive and removed your old digitizer, you will discover that the cable runs between the screen and the case. To get the cable out (and insert the new one) you have to remove the screen as well. This is not good news. In removing the digitizer on my phone, I destroyed it. The plastic film on the back side of the glass that does the actual sensing work was damaged along the top edge. This is no big deal, since I am replacing this part. However, now I have to remove the screen. My screen works fine. I have no replacement for it. I do not want to hurt it by removing it roughly.

Having no other choice, I continue with Step 33 on removing the screen. The screen is held on by two strips of adhesive, one on each of the long sides of the screen. (Left and Right when holding the phone normally - i.e. portrait, not landscape.) At this point, I get to apply heat directly to the LCD. This makes me a bit nervous, but I have come this far already. Going slowly, I apply heat and pry.. heat more and pry... and continue until it comes loose. Then I repeat for the other side. The only mistake I made was probably using too little heat to start with. Things went better with a little more heat.

I must note at this point that I am using a heat gun with pretty good temperature control. The lowest setting is 200F and that is what I used throughout. If you are using a heat gun without temperature control, I would worry more about damaging something. Just saying.

At this point, the screen is removed. It even looks to be undamaged. Now I get to re-assemble. Having no other option, I reused the old adhesive to hold both the screen and the new digitizer in place. I would not recommend reusing the adhesive for the digitizer. It attracts dust and lint like a magnet. Especially if you try to clean your fingerprints off of the screen. The fingerprints which you will inevitably get over everything as you try to pry things apart. Anything caught on the inner edge of the adhesive will show up around the outer edge of the display once it is all back together. You are much better off removing the old adhesive, cleaning everything up, and then applying new adhesive. Assembly is reverse of removal, but much easier. When putting it back together, there is no prying or heating.

Everything is back together. Now comes the moment of truth. Is it better? Is the problem solved, or did you break something going through this process?


Success! The screen is unharmed. Yay! The digitizer is responsive again. My phone works! Now to deal with the scratches... Which means getting another digitizer and repeating the entire process. At least this time I will have a better idea of what I am doing. Yay...  :-/

I feel that I must apologize for the lack of pictures in this post. My phone serves as my digital camera. I couldn't figure out a way to use it to take a picture of itself disassembled. I tried to describe what I encountered using words alone, but if it is terribly unclear, I refer you to the XKCD comic linked at the beginning of this post.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My New Radio

I bought a new radio for my car.

I went with the Alpine iDA-X305S digital media receiver. I chose it for a couple reasons. I was mostly looking for a device that works well with my iPod. Most of the time I prefer to listen to podcasts or to my own music library than to the local radio stations.

So, the main thing that helped me make the decision was that my friend Mike has an earlier version of this radio, and it works very well with his iPod or even just a USB thumb drive. I like the navigation. It is quick to load and responsive.

I ordered mine from Crutchfield. I had heard mostly good things about them. I like their website because it gives tons of detailed information and reviews of the products. Prices were reasonable, they included all the required accessories, and shipping was free. I am very happy with my experience so far. Now I get to learn about their tech support.

So, my new radio has a small problem. When I play podcasts, there is a glitch on the display.

(Please ignore the glare from the camera flash. Yes, I know that I was taking a picture of a backlit display and that the flash served absolutely no purpose except to obscure the otherwise clear image. But I don't feel like walking outside to re-take them. It's cold out there.)

The photo on the left is the radio playing an MP3. The one on the right is a podcast. The weird thing is that it only happens when I am playing podcasts, but it is consistent. With a podcast there is always the same white line that obscures the times at the bottom of the screen. Every time. (I don't know why I had to pause it to take the pictures, but it felt right at the time...)

MP3s? No problem.
Audio books? Just fine.
Podcasts? White line!
Podcast in a playlist? White line!
MP3? Still fine.
Podcast? Line! Grr...

So, on to the troubleshooting.
Maybe something is screwy with the background. There are options for 3 built in backgrounds (referred to as BGV in the options) or for adding your own. I tried a different built in one. Same problem. I downloaded one from the Alpine website, figured out how to copy it to the radio, and set it as the background. Same problem. It is not the background.

Maybe it is my iPod. Mine is a 5th generation iPod Video, though I have never played video on it. It always seemed like a silly feature on a device with that small of a screen, but I digress. I have had it for over three years, but it is updated to the latest version firmware. Regardless, it was easy enough to try Mike's much newer iPod Classic. Same problem. I tried playing a podcast from my iPod on Mike's very similar radio, and his screen does not have the problem. It is not the iPod.

Since I was unable to find anything about this issue on the internet, I am hopeful that the problem is with just this radio. Or that it is easily fixed. Either way, I will post with updates when I learn more.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We Can Rebuild Him

So. I broke my phone.
Now I get to repair him.

Step 1:  Troubleshooting and Research
The problem is poor touchscreen response. I first tried changing the simple things that could be affecting it, but I strongly doubted they were the problem.

I tried removing the screen protector. It hadn't ever caused a problem before, but it was worth trying. No such luck.

Then I did a factory reset. Maybe it was a software problem. Maybe it was just a coincidence that the problem began immediately after dropping the phone. Strike two.
On the plus side this gave me a chance to test out the MyBackup app. It restored all my applications, but I lost most of the settings and data. Overall, I am not impressed. I hear Titanium Backup is nice, but my phone is not rooted.

I was out of ideas at this point, but the internet will know what to do!

I found a video that shows how to take apart the phone. Yay!
It doesn't show removing the screen or removing the touchscreen (or digitizer, or whatever you want to call it). Boo!

I found video of people showing their touch screens misbehaving. That's interesting. Not particularly helpful, but interesting. I promptly installed a drawing app and made something similar to the following pretty picture. This is not the picture I made on the phone, it is a dramatic reenactment of the picture using Microsoft Paint. I hadn't yet figured out that it was easy to take a screen shot on my phone.
The red and green lines are for reference only. The blue lines are what it looks like when I draw an X on the top half of the screen and on the bottom half. The top half of the touchscreen works fine. The bottom does not. There are three "rows" where it only registers as if you were touching at the top or bottom of the row. And it jumps abruptly between the two. That's not good....

Ok.. So.. There is clearly something wrong with it. I can't be the first person with this problem. There must be dozens of people who have tried to replace the touch screen. Several places sell replacements for it. Most aren't nice enough to provide instructions, but at least you can buy the part. Someone must have blogged about it. Or mentioned it in a forum. With pictures... Right?

It turns out that they didn't. Or if they did, they are hiding from me. ... They're probably hiding from me.

So. I am doing it here. I am documenting the problem. And the cause. (Apparently phones don't like being dropped. Who'd have guessed?) And the solution. (I hope.) (How hard can it be?)

Stay tuned. I ordered the part from Amazon. This one to be specific.

$30 is not so bad. I think I paid half that for a screen protector. (I'm looking at you Zagg.) And the protector doesn't feel nearly as nice as the phone does without it. If this ends up being anything close to easy (easy being defined in this case as about an hour's worth of work) I don't think I will be using a screen protector again. I'd rather enjoy the device than degrade it by trying to protect it.

Now I get to wait for the part to arrive. Waiting is fun. ... And now I wish that I had paid for better shipping. It's hard to argue with free, but I want it now! Sometimes it is annoying being frugal.

(Follow this link for Part 3 of the story.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Today I Broke My Phone

I am the proud owner of an HTC EVO 3D. It is the first smart phone I've ever had. I really like it. You might even say that I have grown accustomed to it.

I take 3D pictures occasionally, and they are fun to play with, but the main reason I bought this phone is because it does everything I would want a smart phone to do, and it does it well. Fast. Dual core. Lots of memory. Pretty screen. Potentially customize-able. All things that make the gadget loving geek inside of me very happy.

I didn't realize exactly how much I liked it until I dropped it.

It was in a rather minimal case when I dropped it. I am still rather happy with the case. It is slim and offers some protection for the cameras. It was this case to be precise:
It even had a screen protector on it. But that wasn't enough to protect the little guy.

I dropped it from about waist height onto a linoleum or vinyl tile floor. It landed flat on the screen of the phone.

As far as damage goes, there is nothing visually wrong with it. The screen is not damaged. The glass is not cracked. No bits or pieces went flying off. The damage is much more frustrating than that.

There are now three "rows" on the touch screen that no longer register touch. One of these three rows lines up with the keyboard, so there is now about 1/3 of the alphabet that I can no longer type without rotating the screen to landscape mode. Another of the rows overlaps the bottom row of the dots on the unlock screen, making it incredibly difficult to enter the pattern to unlock the phone. (I promptly disabled that security feature once I finally unlocked it.)

So. Without the ability to type or gesture effectively, I am almost back where I was originally. I have a phone that is good at making phone calls, but not much else. This does not make me happy.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, doesn't that phone have a 1 year warranty? And didn't it come out less than a year ago? That's an interesting point. I have not rooted my phone. I have done nothing to void the warranty. But the damage is not a manufacturing defect. It is not a design flaw. It is my fault. I dropped it. I broke it.

Sometimes personal responsibility is a bitch.

I will fix it. (Follow the link for Part 2.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My First Minion

min·ion  [min-yuh n]   -noun
a servile follower or subordinate of a person in power.
Everyone wants power and minions, whether they know it or not. This has been true for a very long time. It has caused many problems throughout history when taken too far. Luckily, there are better options today.

My first minion was a rescue. Once, he had served a purpose and had a home, but now he was all but abandoned in a pile of semi-obsolete parts in a dimly-lit back room. (I do not know the actual lighting condition of the room in which he was stored, but I feel this description sets the proper mood for the story.) A good friend of mine, whom we shall refer to as Chris, recognized his potential and entrusted him to my care, knowing I would find a use for him.

I named him Blue.

Blue is a simple thing. Outdated, but still useful. Originally he was part of a control system in a water plant where his job was probably to open/close a valve and report back the valve position. He has digital inputs and outputs and an event timer which can come in handy. He communicates with a computer with ASCII commands, through a serial connection. (I said he was a bit dated..)

It took me quite a while before I came up with a project that needed him. It wasn't until I started home brewing beer. I decided to build a stir plate to help with one of the steps for growing healthy yeast. It was giving me some trouble, and I needed a tachometer, a way to measure RPM, to troubleshoot the stir plate. More on that later...

I set up Blue with a breadboard, standard power connection for use with an old computer power supply, RS-485 to RS-232 serial converter, and serial to USB converter. I then spent several frustrating days trying to talk to him.

Unbeknownst to me, someone had rewired the RS-485 to RS-232 converter. My best guess is that they had an overall installation that was wired backward, so the easiest fix was to cut traces on the circuit board, and jumper things around. They had swapped the two data pins. (Thanks, Chris...) After frustrating days working with outdated software, I opened the case and discovered this. A few minutes with a soldering iron, and he finally started responding.

With this small success and the minor project that followed, I was hooked. I would definitely need more minions.