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  • Michael Krakovskiy 10:31 pm on October 13, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Capacitor, Capacitor plague, capacitors, caps, , Dennis Zogbi, Dodge Caravan, electrolyte manufacturer, Electrolytic capacitor, , , gigabit, gigabit networks, high tech, hydrogen gas, , low end products, Netgear, North Carolina, off-brand dvd player, , print server, , , ReadyNAS NV, Scientist, storage solution, streaming media, streaming media server, , , , Time Capsule,   

    The Capacitor Plague 

    I woke up from a nap to a loud pop and a smell of burning plastic. The source turned out to be one of the most precious and important to me digital devices: a ReadyNAS NV+, a small silver box with over a terabyte of hard drives that store my backups, music, and photos.

    Network attached storage (NAS) is an engineering compromise. It’s a storage solution that lets you keep a bunch of drives in a self-contained device. It’s redundant: you can lose a drive (which is a statistical certainty) and not lose your data. There are also handy usb ports that let you connect usb drives and a button to run backup jobs onto these drives. It also serves as a print server, and in theory it can be used as a streaming media server. On the other hand it’s slow (gigabit networks are not fast enough when you need gigs of data fast), a complete nightmare to use with photo managers like Picasa, and an even worse nightmare if you want to use it as a Time Capsule.

    I’ve spent a lot of time babysitting my ReadyNAS NV+: changing the defective RAM that it shipped with, updating the buggy firmware, finding the right drives for it (some don’t have the right temperature sensors). Don’t get me started on what it took to make it work with Mac’s Time Machine.

    And after all that, the one box that was supposed to keep my precious digital archives safe was smoking. This was preceeded by a few days of weird performance issues and a couple of hangs. The power supply finally died a horrible death, and I realized that once again I was falling victim (or “mugu” as Nigerians say) to faulty capacitors.

    According to Wikipedia, the name of this phenomenon is “Capacitor Plague“. There is an epidemic of failure in electrolytic capacitors from certain shady manufacturers. Electrolytic capacitors are usually found in power supplies. They are little aluminum cylinders filled with special film and electrolytic liquid or gel. Power supplies get very hot, and the liquid part of the capacitors, the electrolyte, always wants to either dry up or explode. The formula for the electrolyte is very hard to get right.

    The rumor is that one or a few companies resorted to industrial espionage to steal electrolyte formulations. They weren’t entirely successful – they either got an incomplete formula or just plain Brawndo.

    Spectrum Online did some digging:

    “According to the source, a scientist stole the formula for an electrolyte from his employer in Japan and began using it himself at the Chinese branch of a Taiwanese electrolyte manufacturer. He or his colleagues then sold the formula to an electrolyte maker in Taiwan, which began producing it for Taiwanese and possibly other capacitor firms. Unfortunately, the formula as sold was incomplete.
    “It didn’t have the right additives,” says Dennis Zogbi, publisher of Passive Component Industry magazine (Cary, N.C.), which broke the story last fall. According to Zogbi’s sources, the capacitors made from the formula become unstable when charged, generating hydrogen gas, bursting, and letting the electrolyte leak onto the circuit board. Zogbi cites tests by Japanese manufacturers that indicate the capacitor’s lifetimes are half or less of the 4000 hours of continuous ripple current they are rated for.”

    Wastefulness of today’s society masks the problem: most people don’t perform autopsies on their dead $70 DVD players or $500 computers, they just use that as an excuse to buy the new hottness. The techies with (or without) spare time and soldering skills do the following: fill bulleten boards with tales of saving their devices by soldering in new capacitors; search for instructions on how to solder and purchase capacitors; and curse creatively after doing it for the 5th time.

    The unique thing about the capacitor plague is how easy it is to identify: the capacitors literally blow their tops, venting electrolyte through the special stress relief indentations. It’s also unique in that anybody with a soldering iron has a very good chance of fixing it: the caps are easy to locate and solder. In the age when most electronic components are of the “surface mount” type (the size of a sesame seed) or chips with dozens legs as fine as silk, soldering in a two legged capacitor is very refreshing.

    Here’s a nest of capacitors from my busted power supply: two in the left corner are clearly popped, the one on the right is probably ok:

    In the last couple of years the following devices that I own fell prey to faulty caps: a cheap off-brand dvd player, a speed control on my Dodge Caravan’s air conditioner, a Netgear network hub, a huge and expensive Air King window fan, and now, my ReadyNAS. The interesting thing is that the problem exists in both high end and low end products, as well as in high tech and low tech ones (I did not know there were electronic components in the window fan).

    I am out of warranty on my ReadyNAS because I bought it in May of 07. The following passage leads me to believe that the shitty capacitors are a problem that they are aware of and (maybe) fixed in newer releases of the hardware (they could not offer a 5 year warranty if they used the same capacitors – they’d just go broke).

    “Please be aware that ReadyNAS purchased prior to August 21, 2007 carries a one-year limited warranty. Extended warranty purchased for these ReadyNAS will be honored by NETGEAR. ReadyNAS NV+ and 1100 purchased August 21, 2007 and later have a 5-year limited warranty, and the ReadyNAS Duo has a 3-year warranty.”

    The brand name of the popped capacitors reads “Fuhjyyu”. It lead me to the an urban dictionary entry that says that Fuhjyyu is either

    “1) Chinese word for feces.

    or

    (2) Brand name of abysmal quality capacitors that are installed on logic boards, switching power supplies and various other electronic components.”

    There’s also a post from a guy who implores ReadyNas to stop using those capacitors.

    Then there’s badcaps.net – a global capacitor gripefest that is too depressing to read.

    You can see a nice gallery of busted caps over here

    There are broader implications of this: coupled with the fragile lead free solder, leaky capacitors don’t only cause kajillions of dollars of damage, but will also make electronics of our era impossible to use in the near future. The aluminum in burnable cds and dvds are rotting too, destroying the record of our time.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 5:45 am on September 1, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Boris Akunin, Business card, , , , , metal business cards, metal cards, Pimp Programmer, , Scientist, , Walker Blue Lable   

    Here’s My Card 

    I want to have a personal business card. All the cool kids have one. The thing is, as you know from reading my blog, I am a bit eccentric. Just a plain ol’ boring business card won’t do.

    I ventured forth into the depth of Interweb to find out about fancy business cards. One of the more useful articles was found on Robert Scoble’s blog, of all places. He has some good pointers.

    Unfortunately I can’t do a card that will say “go and type in Michael into google and click 47234524th page of results”. It’s because I hope that you all will link to my blog and my pagerank will improve some day.

    Another famous type of a cool business card was popularized (or even probably invented) by JWZ: his cards often had a neat title – they varied from “Scientist” to “Hacker” to “Hacker Emeritus” to “Benevolent Dictator”. I am not cool enough to pull something like that off.

    The next though that came into my mind – titanium! There are companies that make metal business cards, and you can special order titanium.

    The problem with cards like that is that they are prohibitively expensive, and since I am not
    “King of All Pimps”, I simply can’t afford them.
    By evening, Itzler could be found at Cipriani, washing down plates of crushed lobster with yet another bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue label and making sure everyone got one of his signature titanium business cards engraved with NY Confidential’s singular motto: ROCKET FUEL FOR WINNERS.

    “Michael Krakovskiy – Pimp Programmer.” Hmm, that’s won’t work either. By the way, Jonny Walker Blue Lable sucks. Any decent single malt is much, much better.

    CD Rom business cards, while cool looking, are not that useful. Their unusual shape and thickness make them hard to keep, and nobody ever puts them in a cd rom. Ever. Well, almost.

    There’s another side effect of cards like this: they don’t work in and may break slot-loading cd rom drives, like those on some macs. I know this firsthand as one certain magazine ran a promotion with a small cd in one of the issues. I hear that it broke a few car cd players.

    The funniest type of cards that I could find is the chocolate one.

    These are wildly impractical, expensive and probably don’t taste good. And unlike cd rom and metal cards can’t even be used as deadly weapons.

    I even did some digging on Wikipedia. This Victorian card made me smile. I love the caption under the engraving.

    I also found amusing the entry screen for Boris Akunin’s works. It shows calling cards (similar but not the same thing as a business card) of two of his book characters separated by 100 years. You can clearly see the decline of the art of typography today :)

    Let me know if you have any ideas, as I seem to be stuck.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:17 am on July 31, 2005 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Aventurine, , chemical composition, Count Alois von Beckh Widmanstätten, , Gemstones, metal detector, Meteorites, Scientist, , truck driver, Widmanstätten pattern   

    Space Bling 

    If you are a constant reader of this journal, you might have noticed that I am highly interested in unobtanium — various exotic materials. This post will depart from my usual blabbering about titanium.

    Many years ago I got my first glimpse of aventurine – a form of quartz with suspended flecks of other minerals. The name itself sounded absolutely exotic and appropriate for a mineral that looks like a piece of solidified star field. It comes from Italian “a ventura” – meaning “by chance”. It refers to the fact that Italian glass makers learned to make glass that looks like aventurine by chance through mixing in flecks of copper. But in Russian “avantura” is a word that does not carry the same meaning. It can be best translated as “a risky and/or shady venture”.

    Aventurine is usually green or orange, and I am not sure if the black version that I like so much is really aventurine at all. Recently I came by an ad in Russian Forbes magazine for a very expensive watch made by Bernhard Lederer Universe called blu-Planet. It has an internal dial made of aventurine which the ad claimed was of meteoritic origin.

    My research shows that aventurine has a terrestrial origin, but while looking at meteorites I found a most interesting fact. It turns out that many metallic meteorites when polished and dipped in a dilute acid bath, show the most amazing patterns reminiscent of microchip’s silicone surface. These are called “Widmanstatten patterns” (after the name of a scientist who discovered them) and are a result of nickel and iron cores of asteroids slowly crystallizing for millions of years in the void of space.

    Pieces of space rock are desirable. Apollo space program brought back a limited amount of Moon specimens and it was waaay expensive. Then it turned out that some meteorites found on Earth have the same chemical composition. So basically, you can get pieces of asteroids, the Moon, Mars and hell knows what else without leaving the planet. In fact you don’t need to leave your chair — eBay has loads and loads of meteorites for sale.

    Space stones do not come cheap — they sell for about a dollar per gram, which is significantly more than the price of silver, and might go for much more than the price of gold. No wonder that a former truck driver from whose website I took these amazing photos of meteorites has been able to support his family through meteorite hunting. Overall, it looks to me like the cost effectiveness of a truck driver with an ATV and a metal detector is pretty good compared to the cost of our space program.


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