This is a Hack.

MacBook Pro Power Adapter

This is a Hack. This is a Hacked thing. This thing was Hacked.

Hacking is an art form that uses something in a way in which it was not originally intended. This highly creative activity can be highly technical, simply clever, or both. Hackers bask in the glory of building it instead of buying it, repairing it rather than trashing it, and raiding their junk bins for new projects every time they can steal a few moments away. [1]

I decided to clean my MacBook Pro power adapter cable, which was good because it was filthy, but bad because in the process of (gently) wiping it, I somehow destroyed it. I didn’t realize until I was at work a few hours and noticed it wasn’t charging my computer.

I was down to 30% battery which would not last the day, and no one else at work has the same power adapter (Damn you, Apple!) I contemplated running to the Apple Store during lunch to get a new one, but instead decided that since it didn’t work, I had nothing to lose, so I cracked it open.

Oh wait, before I cracked it open I verified that no power was getting to the connector. I grabbed a multimeter first, got nothing, and then cracked it open. (Luckily the MagSafe Wikipedia page has some useful info.)

Cracking things open is sometimes the most dangerous part of hacking. I occasionally stab my own hand with a screwdriver. (It didn’t happen this time.) With the power adapter opened I saw two wires (black and white) leading to the thin round cable.

I checked the voltage on the black and white wires and got about 6 volts, which is way under what it should be according to the MagSafe info… but I figured that was due to there being no load, and that was correct, as verified by a note at the bottom of the MagSafe Wikipedia page.

I ended up chopping about 6 inches off the thin round cable and stripped the ends, then slid on some heat shrink, soldered things together, shrunk the heat shrink, and it all worked fine again. I had my power adapter back.

I fixed a broken thing rather that buying a new thing. I also managed to fix it in much less time that it would have taken to get a replacement. #HACK

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as some amazing feat that will be celebrated by hackers everywhere, but it’s just one more reminder that if something is broken, you may have nothing to lose by trying to fix it. I mean, you could make it more broken but if it doesn’t work to begin with, there’s a chance you can revive it and get on with your day.

Keep on Hacking!


DIY Power Strip?

Power Strip

This is my current power strip situation… Things are tight, tighter than I’d like, and there’s a lot of power strip being wasted. There are three wall warts, and one of them is horizontal while two are vertical. Originally all three were vertical, but I switched one out because there just wasn’t room due to wall warts often take up two outlets because of their width. (I’ve also got a height issue since this is going in a cabinet.)

Power Strips

There are many options for power strips. Sometimes the outlets are vertical, sometimes they are horizontal, or a combination of the two, or some weird twisting rotating thing. For a custom thing, like three wall warts, often the existing solutions aren’t very good. (Especially when space is limited.)

Power Connector

I mentioned that in an ideal world I could just design my own power strip, and then a friend of mine said “Hey, just get these and make your own case!” And then I thought, “Hmmm, maybe that’s not a bad idea!”

But I’m still trying to figure out if it is a bad idea. I don’t know that I could build a surge suppressing power strip for less than the cost of buying one, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Could I design and build something that would be a better fit for what I need. Now, if I were to build a power strip and stick it into a museum exhibit and then ship the exhibit to someone, would that be a bad idea? Maybe… I can see a customer looking at it and questioning the professionalism (and safety) of it. Would a 3D printed power strip pass muster? It seems some power strips are made from ABS, but they typically say “ABS Fire Retardant Plastic Casing”, which may not be the same as 3D printer filament. This could all go terribly wrong, right?

What are your thoughts on a DIY power strip?


Belkin Conserve Socket

Belkin Conserve Socket

I felt guilty leaving my iPad charger plugged in all the time, especially since it’s a 10 watt charger, which is twice the wattage of an iPhone charger. You usually have two options: leave it plugged in all the time (wasteful) or unplug it when not in use (annoying.)

The third option is something like the Belkin Conserve Socket, which is a plugin device with a slide switch for how many hours it should be “on” set to either 1/2 hour, 3 hours, or 6 hours. This is great for the iPad since you can guesstimate how much charging you’ll need for it. If I go to sleep and the iPad is at 10%, I’ll set it to 6 hours. If it’s at 80% I’ll do a 1/2 hour. You get the idea…

I may get another one of these, because I tend to plug in my cordless drill battery charger and leave it charging for more than a day, which seems wasteful. This would limit the charge to 6 hours. Belkin also has an energy use monitor called the Conserve Insight, which would help figure out what devices are using the most power.

Besides the device being a bit large, my only complaint is that if you want to turn it off manually (instead of letting it turn off by itself) you need to unplug it. The button on the top is only an on button, not an off button. A minor annoyance, but if you expect the button to turn it off, be ready when all it does is make the green light on the top brighter while you hold it down. (Oh, one more small annoyance. The device is held together with screws that require a triangle-shaped bit. For 98% of the people who use this, it won’t matter, but for makers/hackers who want to crack it open, it’s a bit annoying.)

Ultimately, the Belkin Conserve is a good thing, but wouldn’t it be great if a device like the iPad could communicate with its charger to tell it when to turn off? It’s all Apple hardware, so I’d think engineering a charger that knows when it’s done charging (based on communicating with the iPad via the USB cable) would be a good thing. Apple could add one more “green” feather to its environmental cap.

P.S. Amazon has the Belkin Conserve Socket for less than $10.


Uninterruptable Power Supply

Last weekend one of my uninterruptable power supplies started beeping. It stopped after a few hours, but I wondered if maybe I needed to replace the battery or something. (One of them is just 2 years old, the other is 7+ years old!)

Well, we just lost power, and they both seemed to hold up well for the few minutes of blackout. Whew… The home linux server now says: uptime 211 days, 13 hours, 57 minutes

Of course Emma was playing Animal Crossing and lost some data. Hmmm, maybe we need a UPS for the GameCube.