Sunday, January 31, 2016

Car repair (battery not charging)

I have an old beater of a minivan, a 2000 Ford Windstar. It's mainly sitting around these days, semi-retired. Last week it got driven and the battery light was on the whole time. I measured voltages and found that the charging system was not operating.

Here comes my mistake:
I got out the manual (Chilton's, not the best but it's what I have) and looked at the wiring diagram. Even though the manual theoretically covered 1995 to 2003, it showed wiring for only through 1998. I checked voltages assuming the diagram was close enough (there's the mistake), and determined that the alternator must have failed.  $190 later, new alternator installed (a very easy job), and voila, no improvement.

I did some googling and eventually found the CORRECT wiring diagram for a 2000, and found that the powertrain control module now has a hand in controlling the charging system. I pulled the cowl off to get to the module and right there in plain sight, the wire of the correct color was nicked and had, clearly over the course of many years, corroded all the way through. 

Luckily the wire in question was easily accessible on the outside of the bundle, so I was able to strip the ends and do a quick soldering job.

Some waterproof tape and 10 minutes of car re-assembly and everything is operational again. The $190 is my punishment for not being thorough in my research.  The new alternator is probably worth more than the car at this point.

Here are some keywords in case someone else has a similar problem and is Googling for the answer: Ford Windstar battery not charging even with new alternator/generator

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Headrest problem and solution

I have a new (2016) Ford Escape, and the headrest is too far forward for my wife.  I know it adjusts, even in the far back position it's pushing her head forward farther than she likes.

I tried flipping it around the other way but since it has a tipping adjustment, I didn't like this because it would flop backwards in a collision. I didn't think this was safe.

I found a headrest for an earlier model Escape (pre 2013) on eBay for $25. When installed backwards, it is perfect, coming up in a straight line from the seat back.  Since it's not adjustable, it is rigid in this configuration.

The post size and spacing is identical between the older Escapes and the new one.  When installed frontwards, the height adjustment works identically too. When installed backwards, neither the stock nor the replacement latches, except they're retained from coming all the way out.  But it works fine in the full down position so it's fine.

Stock headrest in full back position:

Used one installed backwards:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Slic3r config for CTC updated with Sailfish 7.6

Upgrading the CTC printer to Sailfish 7.6 is relatively straightforward.  It's covered well in this video on youtube:

After doing the upgrade I found that Slic3r output was printing way off to one side. I wasn't too baffled, since it did the same thing when I first got it and was using it with RepRap settings.

I tweaked the startup GCode to reset the home, and since I was messing with it anyway, I put (0,0) back in the front left of the printbed as I'm used to from RepRap rather than in the center.

The main key to it is that after homing - the CTC homes to MAX positions instead of RepRap's MIN positions, I use a G92 command to reset the current position to (270,150) (it's off the edge of the bed)

I've saved my config bundle and made it available on Pastebin here:

Before importing that, be sure to save your existing config off as your own bundle to preserve your current settings, you may not like everything I've done.

So how's the upgrade?
Meh. Certainly a little better. I don't know that print quality is any different. There is some mid-print control now. You can change temps and one or two other things mid print. But it's still a far cry from the awesomeness of Marlin on the RepRap.

The temperature control is still horrible. RepRap went to PID control a couple of years ago, it's unbelievable to me that Sailfish apparently still isn't using PID - the nozzle temps fly all over the place. I set 200, it flies up to 212 before coming back down, swings down to 193, crawls back up again.  With Marlin/PID, I set 200, it goes to 200 and stays within half a degree for an entire print.  Accurate temp control is very important for print quality

The CTC is still an acceptable printer for noodling around with. For dual-head it's a pretty good deal. However if I didn't need dual head (and I don't - 99% of the time) I'd go for one of the RepRap clones.  There are a bunch of i3 Reprap clones on eBay for < $300.

I'm OK with the CTC right now but I am not sure I'd buy one again. It's not a BAD deal for the price, but this firmware, it's not good.  Even the updated one is just less bad. My only problem with the i3 that I built was that the frame wasn't as sturdy as I'd wish. I should probably build a new printer around a new frame.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Using standard software with the CTC printer

I prefer to use Slic3r to generate the files to feed into my printers. My current printer is a CTC which unfortunately uses a clone of the Makerbot electronics, and as such doesn't use standard GCode files (and has other significant shortcomings which make it feel extremely primitive to someone used to Marlin).

Anyway, I've been using it for months now, and figured I should post my current setup - it's a bit changed from what I had before.  This is mostly a recap of what I've posted before.

In order to make Slic3r generate the right files, you need to do this:

  • Download the GCode to GPX conversion program at this page on Thingiverse.
  • Unzip that somewhere on your machine. In my example, I put it at d:\apps\gpx
  • Create a batch file somewhere (I put it in d:\apps\gpx along with the gpx.exe app) with the following line (changing the paths if that's not where you put your files).

d:\apps\gpx\gpx.exe -g -p -c d:\apps\gpx\CTC.ini %1 %1.x3g

  • Then create the "CTC.ini" file referred to in that line. I have posted mine on pastebin at the link below. You can just download it from there.  I've made changes since my original post, and it could probably still be tweaked. I think the speeds could be faster for instance, but I'm OK with them where they are.

  • Then in Slic3r, go to Print settings / Output options and enter the full path to the BAT file (again, I've used MY path below, change yours if necessary)

  • You'll also want to go to the "Printer Settings" tab, then under Custom G-code, put in the code from this page:

  • There's other good stuff on there.  You'll want to create a single left, single right and dual extrusion profile.
  • In Slic3r, in Printer Settings, set the print bed to 225x145mm, with the origin at 112x72.  The firmware puts the origin in the MIDDLE of the printbed, which is unlike all other printers I've seen and this really threw me for a while - it kept starting to print on the rear right corner of the print surface.

That should do it. Now when you hit "generate GCode" it will do so, then when it's done it will call GPX which will generate the "(filename.gcode).x3g" file alongside the gcode file. That's what you need to put in the SD card to print with the CTC printer.

Friday, January 1, 2016

TV wall bracket

I have the old family TV in the basement that I use when I don't feel like powering up the projector and turning out the lights and everything. It's just been sitting on a pile of boxes. I was going over to Harbor Freight to build a "go bag" of tools for working away from home, and noticed a TV wall bracket on sale for $18.

I picked one up and I like it.  It's rated to over 170 pounds. Seems completely fine to me if you don't need swivel.  It came with a good variety of hardware; screws of all the VESA standard sizes.  It's got some tilt adjustment and the metal is plenty thick and heavy, no sharp edges, well painted.  It has very forgiving bolt spacing, it should fit about anything, and the bracket is wide enough to span a 32" pair of studs, so even in my worst-case situation of a stud that's perfectly centered in my wall, I could still center the TV.

Here are some photos.