Dan's Data letters #38Publication date: 19-Mar-2003.
Last modified 18-Sep-2012.
I would appreciate your opinion on generic ink refills for inkjet printers. I know the printer companies suggest to only use their own branded expensive inks, but the generic ink suppliers say it is just profiteering by the printer companies. I work as a tech support agent and get asked by clients all the time about generic ink as opposed to branded versions, and I usually steer them away from home refill kits as they can often stuff up the cartridges. Generics seem like a good compromise however.
Printer companies certainly do make their money on ink; it has been said that Hewlett-Packard used to be an engineering company, but now they (or the bit of Compaq that they comprise, anyway) sell ink.
The printer/ink business model, at least in the consumer market, is the same as the razor/blades one, or the game console/games one; the hardware's sold at or below cost, and the consumables/software are where the profit comes from.
This explains why the printer companies are so enthusiastic about telling you that your printer will catch fire and your significant other will leave you if you use non-brand-name ink, or (horror!) refill cartridges yourself.
The cheapo ink sellers, conversely, tend to insist that there's nothing at all wrong with their stuff. But often also say that generic ink from other cheapo sellers will clog your print head and shoot your pet.
In truth, there's nothing inherently wrong with generic ink. Yes, some cheapo ink is rubbish, and will screw up your print head; printers whose print head is a separate thing apart from the cartridge may not be repairable if you use them with really bad ink. This problem is not as bad as it was, though, and for business and basic home printing I think you're pretty safe buying just about any generic ink, these days.
For home photo printing using a six-colour inkjet, generic ink may be fine, but if you've gone to the trouble of using colour calibration, you may find it's noticeably screwed up with non-brand-name ink. If you can get or create a colour profile for the generic ink, of course, that problem should be solved. Maybe the generic stuff will give you prints that fade unusually quickly, or develop a nasty colour cast, but brand name ink has been known to have such problems as well.
There are also super-premium inks, for people who want maximum fade resistance or a dedicated black and white ink-set or some other special feature. These can be more expensive than the brand name ink. And there are continuous ink feed systems for volume printing from consumer printers that are meant to take cartridges; I haven't looked at any of these, but the idea is that you spend a bit of money up front, install the big-bottles-and-tubes rig, and get a greatly reduced per-print cost. I can only presume that the ink sold by the makers of such systems isn't particularly clog-prone, or the whole idea would be broken.
I bought the "George" MP3-Player (128 MB). But my firmware seems to be very out of date. There's no UDF-Function (plug it into an 2000/XP PC without special drivers).
Do you know where I can get the update?
Sorry, no. SigmaTel doesn't provide this sort of support for players that use their chips; you have to deal with the OEM that made the player. Some of the "makers" of the "George" player seem to have firmware available, but from what other correspondents have told me, there's no point trying, at least not yet; none of the updates seem to be able to turn a non-Mass Storage George into a Mass Storage one.
I'm thinking about having a crack at "overclocking" a one watt Luxeon Star LED to see what it's capable of (in the short term anyway).
What I can't seem to find out from anyone is, can the LED be harmed simply by over-voltage and/or overcurrent, or is that irrelevant so long as the maximum die temperature (135 degrees Celsius, from memory) is not exceeded? (Which it won't be, with water cooling ;-).
If you keep the die cool, then the LED should indeed survive pretty much anything. That's how people made blue LEDs, before anybody'd created a real one; just put a red LED in liquid nitrogen, then wind the supply voltage way up.
But just backing the Star with a water block isn't necessarily going to do the job, because the heat path from die to metal backplate is not perfect. Drive the LED hard enough and it won't be able to move heat from the die to the cooler fast enough to save itself.
That said, though, you certainly can get rather more than the rated output from a "one watt" Luxeon Star by cooling it unusually well. A water block, or direct-contact water jacket, on the back of the module will do that. Three watts should be quite attainable without massively reducing the LED's life; four watts isn't out of the question.
It never ceases to amaze me how my electric toothbrush recharges its internal battery. It s a Braun 3D Excel toothbrush, and it recharges by being placed on top of a holder. The problem is, the contacts on both the toothbrush and charger are both plastic! As soon as I place the toothbrush onto the plastic holder though, the LED lights up to signal that it is charging. How on earth is the electricity required to recharge the battery passing through plastic?
It's an inductive charger.
Well, probably. Here's an alternative explanation.
I've been having a lot of fun with some old computer monitors that I've been using as sources of high voltage electricity. My "experiments" have left me with a few questions, though. I would be most thoroughly grateful if you could answer these:
1) I'm making use of the big, thick insulated cable that leads to a cap on the side of the tube, further forward than the deflection coils. What is this thing for anyway? I'm guessing that it's the anode component of the cathode ray tube, because when I utilize it for crazy special effects somewhere else, the screen goes dimmer, as opposed to shrinking horizontally or vertically. If my guess is correct, does this mean that the output is DC (how could an anode or cathode NOT be DC)? And is it actually around 29 kilovolts like it says on the box?
2) Can it kill me? If I were to stand on a plastic bucket while wearing rubber boots, and I was to grip the cable securely in one hand, would I be turned into a human torch, or would St Elmo's fire play harmlessly on the end of my fingers? What if I wasn't insulated, and came into momentary contact with 30kV at whatever amperage the thing runs at? (Don't worry, I'm not going to try the former even if you say it's safe.)
3) What should I be discharging it to? At the moment I'm just allowing it to discharge to another cable that's connected to the metal case around the monitor. However, I'm worried that if I do this anyone in my home could get a shock when they grab a grounded metal thing like a tap. Is there a better way? How about to the neutral mains line?
4) Is it bad for the transformer inside the monitor to allow the high voltage line to spark to ground, as long as it's not discharging directly onto the circuit board of the monitor or something silly like that (I destroyed a previous monitor like this)?
5) There is a crazy smell about the place when I set it up to do impressive corona effects. I take it this is ozone. What precautions should I be taking, if any?
I've noticed that I can charge myself up with static electricity by connecting the high voltage line to one end of a wooden spoon while I grip the other end of the spoon for a few seconds. When I touch someone/something, the discharges are quite painful. Quite nifty on small children.
As you already know but as I'm telling you anyway, you can end up dead, dead, dead by doing this. Fooling around with CRTs with the lid off is less dangerous than playing with microwave ovens in similar fashion, but that's not saying much.
If you know what you're doing then it's quite safe - TV repair is not one of the world's most dangerous professions - but since you're asking me these questions, I think it's fair to assume that you don't quite know what you're doing, yet.
TV repair people regularly give themselves little belts from live parts of CRTs, but they use isolation transformers between the CRT and the mains, which remove the CRT from the normal mains circuit, so current from it can't flow to any old earth. If you don't do that, then you really are asking for trouble.
The high-voltage supply isn't actually that dangerous, mainly because its current capacity is small. But if you're playing with the high voltage, you sure as hell can also find yourself unexpectedly playing with the mains too.
Step one: Read the safety hints here.
Step two: What you're playing with isn't the whole monitor, per se, but actually the flyback transformer, which is what generates the high voltage. There's a good starter page on flyback transformers here.
The big thick cable you're using is the return wire for all of the electrons that've been flung from the cathode at the back towards the screen. There's a good diagram here that'll explain the basic CRT components.
If you make Rookie TV Repair Man Mistake #1, removing the wire from the side of the tube and sticking your finger in the hole, you will be the return path for whatever electrons are waiting there. This can be a quite exciting experience if the flyback cap has not been discharged, though not it's not very dangerous by itself. It's the fact that the shock can induce you to punch yourself in the head while dropping a 60-pound CRT on your feet that makes it risky.
And yes, it's actually 29 kilovolts.
You can access CRT high voltage (with miserable current capacity) perfectly safely from the outside, using nothing but a sheet of aluminium foil; check this out.
As far as transformer damage goes, flyback transformers are quite robust, but I still wouldn't be playing tricks like this on a monitor I was planning to use later.
Don't be too worried about ozone, either. Ozone can and will cause lung damage, but it's not instant screaming death on a stick like, say, methylmercury. Conveniently, ozone is one of those chemicals that starts doing you harm at about the same concentration where you start noticing its smell. Just fiddle around somewhere that's got reasonable ventilation and you should be fine.
Ozone is so reactive that it won't hang around in the air, anyway; a fan blowing it away from you and down the hall will probably be enough protection, provided you're not doing this stuff all day, every day.
Dan, I thought you would like to hear about this device from a company called Epro2000. How can it improve your fuel economy if it doesn't come in contact with your fuel?
On their site, they say "It is a MATCHED PAIR of tuned custom sealed Neodymium Super inductors that generate a frequency resonance between its two faces"
I think we have heard something like this before. From Harmonic Energy Products. Who wants to bet they know each other?
I haven't heard that company name before (maybe they're connected with Harmonic, but I think it's a coincidence; various sites seem to have the same content on them, like this one that uncle-raping spammers keep trying to make me visit), but magnetic fuel treatment widgets aren't new, and neither is the palaver being used to sell this one.
If they're using the same boilerplate text as the Inset Fuel Stabilizer people, then it's not unreasonable to presume that they're selling the same thing, or at least the same alleged technology (the Fuel Saver Pro is a simple strap-on device, not an in-line thing like the Inset).
It should be noted that despite the claim all over the Fuel Saver Pro site that "A certified U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laboratory recently completed tests on the new Fuel Saver. The results were astounding!", blah blah blah, the EPA explicitly "does not approve, certify, endorse or register these products", as they say in the PDF document here. There's an index of a bunch of EPA statements about gadgets and additives of this type here; find a PDF document on the Inset Fuel Stabilizer here. Abstract: "It doesn't do dick", just like every other fuel saver they've ever tested (PDF).
There's no actual mention of the Fuel Saver Pro on the EPA site, of course, because the EPA never went anywhere near it. It was, the hucksters selling it tell us, just tested by some un-named but allegedly EPA "certified" laboratory, whose very existence we have to take on faith. Plus, they say, there's also approval from Master Service (which the Fuel Saver people are proud to describe as a division of Ford, without pointing out that it's their Mexican service branch; apparently the effects are less noticeable north of the border...), and there's also an alleged mention in a US trade export magazine, though good luck finding out what, if anything, they said.
And that's it for supporting evidence. For a device that's supposed to substantially reduce emissions, and give you a more than 25% improvement in fuel economy.
The Fuel Saver test results page, by the way, shows carbon dioxide emissions increasing in the alleged Master Service tests, but simply flips the sign and calls it a decrease. Classy.
In conclusion: Don't you all go dying of surprise, or anything, but this thing would appear to me to be a bunch of horse feathers.
Ah, it takes you back, doesn't it? My fellow Australians may recall the widely celebrated Brock Energy Polarizer (described with similar florid nonsense, but now actually worth something), mention of which today is apparently a good way to immediately end an interview with Peter Brock.
(The FTC site does mention the Fuel Saver Pro, by the way. It mentions it here. It's not what you'd call a glowing recommendation. Well, unless "The Federal Trade Commission has asked a U.S. district court judge to shut down an operation that used illegal spam to make deceptive claims about an 'automotive fuel saver' that doesn’t save fuel" counts as a glowing recommendation where you live.)