Monthly Archive for August, 2005

Leviton HCS10 X-10 switch repair

My front porch lights stopped working some time ago. Today I was able to narrow down the fault to the Leviton HCS10 X-10-controlled wall-switch. The relay in the switch was clicking, but no power was coming out on the blue lead.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to attempt to repair the module. They’re bloody expensive. Even if the repair failed, I’d still get to look around inside.

It should go without saying, but in this litigious world, it does not: doing this may burn down your house. Or it might electrocute you. It will definitely void your warranty. Do not do this if you are someone who doesn’t know a diode from an op-amp. You have been warned.

HCS10It was not easy getting the thing apart. Popping of the switch plate is easy, it’s just four plastic tabs. The rest of the job was very difficult, however. It appeared to be held together by eight screws, four on the front and four on the back. But turning the screws had no effect. I was able to turn them, but nothing came apart. In the end, out of sheer frustration, I just put a soldering iron onto the screw head, and melted it apart. BUT DO NOT DO THIS! There is a better way, which I discovered too late.

The trick, which would have saved me a lot of time had I realized it earlier, is that the screws are all reverse-threaded for some reason. Too keep people out, maybe? But then why use a standard Phillips head? A tamper-resistant or one-way screw might have worked better.

Anyway, inside the module there are two PC boards, mounted in a plastic frame, and connected together by a SIP header. I used my multimeter to probe around. I found that the blue controlled lead did have a good connection with the relay. But no connection from the black “hot” lead to the relay. I couldn’t see the PCB tracks that should have been carrying the power, they were apparently under the relay. I had to remove the relay to trace the connection back from there.

To remove the relay, it was necessary to separate the two PCBs. This required desoldering the SIP header that connects them. It was not easy, even with the help of a vacuum solder-sucker. They never get out all the solder. I had to keep pressure separating the boards (bending them, even), and then go back and forth with the soldering iron on the header pins. On each pass across the header, a little bit more pin comes out. With much patience, the boards come apart eventually.

Probably easier, if you have a spare SIP header of sufficient length, to just cut the old one with wire cutters and replace it later.

With the two PCBs apart, it is then possible to desolder the relay, which is much easier to desolder than the SIP header.

Broken trackWhen I removed the relay, what did I see under it? A broken trace!

That’s the track that carries power from the hot lead to the relay. No wonder no power was coming out.

I fixed the broken track by soldering a bridge of wire across the gap. Replaced the relay, reassembled the module PCBs in their frame, and tested again on my bench. Working!

Putting the entire module back together wasn’t entirely easy, because I had melted it apart. But I was able to melt it back together again. Would have been better, if I had known the screws were reverse threaded, but there it is. It seems reasonably solid, anyway.

Replaced the module in the wall, and now the porch lights work again.

Harmony 628 remote limitations

Certain aspects of the Harmony 628 (and, I suspect, other Harmony remotes) are starting to irritate me. What’s really stupid is how easily they could be fixed.

On the “Customize Buttons” pages, you can assign certain functions to the six buttons beside the LCD (three on each side). The functions can then (in theory) vary depending on the mode you’re in. This is great. I put a button to control the captioning display on my TV (my girlfriend likes to turn on subtitles, English is not her first language.) I also put on PgUp and PgDn buttons to use with the Rogers program guide on my digital terminal.

But, what really irritates me is that I can’t control which function is assigned to which button. PgUp and PgDn imply a particular positioning that one would expect… PgUp above PgDn. But I can’t get the remote to look like that no matter how I beg. It puts PgUp on the top right, and PgDn on the middle left. It’s stupid. The application has six slots for those buttons. All it has to do is program the buttons in the order I specified. How hard can that be?

And, another thing that bugs me: I tried to create a specially-customized “Watch TV” activity, specially designed to work with the Rogers Video-On-Demand service. Ie, Play, Stop, Rewind, etc should work. I wanted to start by just copying my existing “Watch TV” activity… but you can’t copy an activity, you have to start from scratch. So I did. But then, for some reason, when I changed the button assignments for the “Watch ROD” activity, they also changed for “Watch TV”. Sometimes the button assignments are independant for different activities (like, Watch a DVD seems to have independant button assignments), but other times they are shared. I’m not sure why.

And, why oh why does the backlight turn off 10 seconds after I turn it on, instead of 10 seconds after I stop using it? Always… ALWAYS, the backlight is turning off while I’m still using it. A constant irritation… but so easily fixed. Why won’t they fix it? I know I can’t be the only one who has ever complained about it.

Overall, I like the Harmony and the Harmony web-site… but even with my simple setup, I’m starting to feel it’s cramping my style. I know this nifty little gadget is capable of so much more.

Has anybody reverse-engineered this beast yet? Is there an open-source alternative firmware for the Harmony hardware that I could switch to?

DeWalt, and their stupid pricing

I have a DeWalt 12V cordless drill-driver, that I’ve been using for quite a few years now. I have two battery packs for it, but they are both just about dead. They barely hold any charge now.

I went to Home Depot today to buy a pair of replacement battery packs. $94 each. $180 for a pair. Preposterous. How preposterous? For $120, I could instead buy a brand new DeWalt 12V cordless drill, complete with hard plastic case, battery charger, and two battery packs. What is going on here?

So, I bought the new drill. Seems stupid, but there it is. I don’t need the new drill, don’t want the new drill, but I bought it anyway because of their lame-brained pricing. DeWalt could have made even more profit from me, if they were willing to sell me just a pair of batteries for marginally less than they ask for two batteries and a drill. Perhaps we could have split the difference on the cost of the new drill I didn’t want, a win-win scenario. But no. There’s fair and reasonable profit… and then there’s gouging… and then there’s gouging taken to an absurd and self-defeating extreme.

I was thinking better of my purchase, thought I might return it and instead buy a drill from somebody else. Somebody smarter. It is our moral duty as consumers to punish this kind of crap. But a quick look around the marketplace reveals that all the major power tool manufacturers are doing it.

Personally, I think this sort of thing should be illegal. It should be illegal to sell a watch battery for more than the cost of new watch (which includes a battery). It should be be illegal to sell an ink cartridge for more than the cost of a new inkjet printer. And it should be illegal to sell two cordless drill battery packs for more than the cost of a cordless drill, case, charger, and two batter packs.

With landfills filling up with useless packaging and unrepairable, unrecyclable, pollution-causing discarded electronics, with natural resources being depleted at an ever-increasing rate, with the government recommending a maximum safe consumption of freshwater fish (due to heavy metal pollutants), perpetrating this kind of shit just makes no sense at all. It should be illegal.