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Tech Forum

Solid-State Tube Replacement December 2017

I’m refurbishing a tube-type Hallicrafters shortwave receiver. I was planning on using a solid-state plug-in replacement for the rectifier tube; mostly because I can’t find the tube.

I’ve been told that a solid-state rectifier could result in higher voltage, and may blow the filter capacitors and run the tubes at a non-linear part of their operational curves. Can someone confirm or explain if this is a good idea or not?

Matthew Stiefel
Steelville, MO

AMP Clamp December 2017

Could someone explain in simple terms how an AMP clamp works? Does it have a transformer in it or Hall-effect sensors or similar?

Kevin Champion
Cleveland, OH

VGA To LCD December 2017

I would like to be able to drive a 4x20 line LCD with a VGA output from an old computer. Is there a simple interface to do this?

Evan Lee
Elizabethtown, IL

VAX VMS Emulation December 2017

Is there an emulator for a Digital Equipment Corporation’s VAX VMS 4.7 machine, either running on an SBC (Single Board Computer), or possibly an image that can run as a virtual machine in VMWare or something similar?

I want to create a four-node VAX cluster like the one I used to work on, and would love to see it sitting on my desk as a stack of Raspberry Pi boards.

Troy Thoele
Huntsville, TX

Troubleshooting Amp Problems November 2017

I picked up a CrownDC150a power amp at a garage sale. When I tested it on my bench, one side is rather distorted but then clears up once the amp warms up, making it hard to trace. Is this a common problem with these amps? Any troubleshooting tips are appreciated.

Rich Wortman
Kankakee, IL

Pump Torque Problem November 2017

I have a submersible well water pump motor that is suspended down-hole on about 100 ft of plastic pipe. Whenever the pump starts, it torques the pipe and I fear it may eventually cause leaks/breaks. Is there a way to soft-start this motor? It's a three-phase 3HP unit.

Mario Rivera
Buda, TX


Motor soft-starters have become so common that there is even a Wikipedia article about them. Just look in the catalog of the nearest industrial electric supply and buy the size you need.

Chip Veres
Miami, FL

Yes, 3 phase motors can be soft started and such start controllers are readily available.
Two companies that offer them:

There are many distributors that sell soft start controllers online, just do a search for “3 phase soft start” in your favorite search engine.

Erik von Seggern
Escondido, CA

The solution here is a devise called a torque arrestor. Google "well pump torque arrestor" for more information.

Bill van Dijk

I recommend a commercial soft-start 3-phase motor controller such as one in the ABB Softstarter family. You can look through a catalog and technical information here: DO NOT try to build one yourself. Experimenting with three-phase line power can lead to problems that cost more than a commercial controller. Another suggestion: Connect a stainless-steel line to your pump to make it easy to hoist. If you try to lift it via the pipe or the electrical cord the pump could separate and leave you in a hole, literally. (I have no connection with ABB.)

Jon Titus
Herriman, UT

Transformer Hum November 2017

I bought a 110V AC line isolation transformer to use with some old two-wire radios to see if I could reduce the AC hum in the audio. The audio is great, but now I’m bothered by the hum of the isolation transformer.

I read that it’s probably due to the transformer interacting with the metal enclosure. Should I remove the transformer from the metal enclosure and put it in a plastic one?

Thomas Hering
Savannah, GA


The transformer hum is due to loose steel laminations in the transformer core. The alternating magnetic field (60 Hz) sets up a vibration within the core that can also be considerably amplified by the enclosure, if the enclosure and transformer mounting happen to resonate.
Your enclosure material is not the actual problem. Try placing the transformer on rubber isolation cushions to isolate it from the chassis/enclosure. Rubber grommets work well for this. This may reduce the hum, however, this will not address the loose laminations within the transformer and it will still make some hum sound. I don’t think much can be done about that except replacing the transformer.

Escondido, CA

It could be the case, but it also could be the laminations in the transformer core itself rattling after warm-up. Remove it from the case and make a trial run with the bare transformer sitting on a insulated surface (plywood) to find out. Or wear headphones and ignore the noise.

Chip Veres
Miami, FL

Line-frequency transformers always hum because their core is made of laminated steel. Hum is more pronounced in inexpensive transformers where lower-grade steel is used and it is driven further into saturation on each alternating-current half-cycle. The hum that you’re experiencing is most likely acoustically coupled to the transformer enclosure into or onto which it is mounted.

Try to isolate the mechanical coupling — e.g., use rubber grommets around the mounting hardware.

Peter Goodwin
Rockport, MA

Variable DC Motor Control November 2017

I’d like to have continuous variable control of the motor in my bench vibrator/polisher. It has a DC (not AC!) motor that is rated at 90 VDC with a power supply that delivers 10 amps. I prefer to build something myself. Anyone have some design tips, or better yet, a schematic?

Robert Browning
Boston, MA

Should I Switch? October 2017

I’m torn between using 3.3 and 5.0 volt components on my microcontroller projects. Many people seem to be moving to 3.3V, but components don’t seem to be as readily available as 5.0V components.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Tony Sigler
New Brunswick, NJ


Why switch when you can easily “translate” or convert 3.3V logic signals to 5V logic signals, and vice versa? Sparkfun electronics sells small boards with level-conversion devices ready to go. I prefer Texas Instruments SN74LVC4245 24-pin small-outline IC (SOIC) devices because they can translate eight signals independent of each other.

You’ll need two of these ICs, one for 3.3V to 5V logic, and another for 5V to 3.3V logic. You can mount these SMT ICs on Schmartboard SOIC-to-DIP adapters. Other suppliers offer similar products but I find the Schmartboard adapters easiest to solder.

Jon Titus
Herriman, UT

In my view, that is not really an up front issue. If I want to build a logic circuit, I have an idea of what I want it to do. Than I start looking for the required parts, making a list of what parts would work, and some of the basic specs such as its operating voltage, cost, footprint, availability, etc.

Sometimes most of the required parts are only available in 3.3V, and the decision is made. Sometimes they are available in 3.3 and 5V, but the 3.3V version is some difficult package I can’t solder. Sometimes I can’t find all required parts in the same voltage, and I end up implementing a logic level shifter, usually simple to build with 2 transistors and a couple of resistors.

Point I’m trying to make is that the decision to go with 3.3 or 5V is usually dictated by the design, not a starting point.

Bill van Dijk
Ottawa, Canada

Camera Security October 2017

My roommate keeps a piece of masking tape over the lens of the camera on his laptop. I think he’s paranoid; he says he’s being safe. I’d love opinions about which one of us is right.

Neil Nelson
Elkhart, IN


Laptops, by virtue of their portability, are far more likely to be infected by malware than other computers. Cafes with "free" wireless are perfect networks for dark-side hackers. Once they get their "kung fu" into the system, they essentially own it. Also, remember that the NSA has the manufacturers bake in the ability to turn on the microphone of a cellular phone, even while it's turned off. The government doesn't deny this. That's why almost all of the batteries are now glued into smartphones - removing the battery would prevent it. We would be naive to assume it's significantly different for webcams. Think of the tape is a low-tech low-priced protection method of last resort. We should all do the same.

Roger Sudol
West Orange

He is. The camera can be disabled under the operating system since it uses a software driver to convert the signals into data. Just have him search for that driver file (visit the help page of the O/S provider) and rename it, move it, or delete it (ignore any O/S attempts to replace the driver). If he sells the laptop, a new O/S install will revive the camera driver.

Raymond Ramirez

I hate to say it, but your roommate is right.

As someone who builds gaming computers for a living, I can tell you that any computer that is connected to the internet, can be subjected to some sort of unauthorized access. That’s why we have things like Anti-Virus, Firewalls and other protective programs.

With that being said, your camera can very well be accessed from the outside. Your roommates tape solution is common and works effectively to keep unwanted eyes from seeing what you’re doing. However, you should know that if someone has access to your camera, they have access to your hard drives as well!

You can make it harder for someone to access your Network by having a WPK Passcode instead of a WEP Passcode on your router, and setting up a secondary computer as a stand-alone firewall.

Hopefully I have answered your camera question.

Robert Nelson
Hurricane, UT

As they say, “Just because you a paranoid, doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.”

Actually, like your roommate, I also keep tape over my camera when I don’t intend on using it. I’m not actually as worried about someone hacking into it as I am about accidentally turning it on without knowing. It could be really embarrassing to find out later that your cam was on and someone was watching via Skype or something similar without you knowing.

Having someone hack into the cam is certainly possible. But user error is probably more likely. Either way, why not be safe and blind the camera when not needed.

Ray Matthews
Freeport, IL

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