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Archive for February, 2013


Samsung…out of tune..

There’s a large body of electronics providers in the world, but for some reason, I’ve never owned a Samsung product. I haven’t avoided them or anything like that, it’s just that they’ve never made anything that impressed me enough to buy it.

When our aging HP monochrome laser printer sputtered out it’s last page, it was time to start looking for a replacement. While HP used to be the company whose name was synonymous with “laser”, that, unfortunately, was a long time ago. The last few years to stay in business they’ve been churning out economical junk to stay alive in the market. So HP was out of the question (I seriously think they have a problem on their jet direct ethernet cards because those have failed more often than anything else).

As I ran through the usual quagmire of companies, Ricoh, Xerox, Lexmark, Brother I stopped looking at price and started to look at “pages per month” and “toner cart” capacity. Consumables are every bit as important as the printer. For example, if you take a 3,000 page toner cart, work in a fuser, then add in a drum, all at “X” number of copies, what used to be a reasonable cost suddenly doesn’t look so good any more.

Specifications are also “tricky” to read. For example, take the boast of many companies like “20,000 pages per month“. Sounds great. Until you read through the documents for the printer and then, it’s more like 1,000 “typical” usage. The “MAX” is 20,000.

Of course this changed when I watched a YouTube review that Samsung put out where they pitted their printer against, as it turned out, to some the exact same other printers on my short list. The printer was a SamSung SCX5639FR:

SCX 5639FR 01 4

The printer is rated to 80,000 pages per month (actual is 1,000 to 1,500 so where the 80K comes from I have no idea). Either way it’s still overkill for anything I’d ever need but the toner cart is rated for 10,000 pages for the high yield 5,000 for the normal cart. For cost, either of these cartridges is very close to the rest of the market.

Since this is an AIO (All in One) you get scanner, copier, printer, AND fax (does anyone still use fax?). On top of that this printer does accounting so you can have authorized users for this printer and you can track their printer usage. Again, not needed for what I wanted it for, but some might need this in a small office.

More features are scan to email, SMB, FTP, and flash thumb drive. Double sided ADF document scanner, 50 pages capacity. Relatively easy to set up on the network, 250 sheet tray, FAST (37ppm; first page up in 10 seconds), QUIET, 600 watts power consumption but goes back to low power state within 15 seconds.

Any problems with the printer and you can have it email you a report. For any or all of the problems it might encounter.

I picked up the printer from a local supplier for less than half of what it retails for. So another bonus.

And that, my readers is the end of the good news for the printer. While the printer is more than capable, the Samsung software is abysmal. A cesspool of settings you have access to, yet the manual is less than minimum (HTML that requires Explorer 6.1.1 for some insane reason; or PDF that’s worse) and a software install that’s probably one of worst install experiences I’ve ever waded through.

I installed the Mac software first. Five pieces of software get installed. No clue what any of them actually did, nor where they were put. I added an IP printer in the System Preferences and away I went. Printing but no clue how to scan anything. I didn’t install the Fax software. That went out with the last ice age. You need to run Apples “Capture” program to scan from the printer and the scan is a kludge at best. It does work, but it’s not intuitive at all.

Next up I tried installing the software on WinXP. No soap. The software flatly refused to acknowledge the printer at the network address I provided. The only way I could get anything to work was to install the software as if the printer was connected (which it was) and then add a printer and use the “have disk” option.

So like anyone who wanted to use ALL of the functions of the printer, I wanted more in-depth info on all of the SMB, FTP, EMAIL, Flash DRIVE for scanning. I then emailed Samsung and remarked that the “6.1.1 Explorer” to read the “manual” was ah…dumb.

Plus if you wanted to scan to email, you used the keypad like a cellphone when you’re texting to enter in the subject, and email address. Say, didn’t texting with 10 digits go out like the last decade. Nope, that’s Samsung innovation.

I hit the Samsung web site (.com not .ca; my bad apparently), use the CHAT option, got an agent immediately, asked my question, got told that because I wasn’t in the USA I needed to talk to someone from Canada. Polite buzz off.

Except the Canadian “chat” line was about as lively as RIM’s last stock option. Dead. Sorry, no chat today. Special. eMail or call us. I choose email.

After a few days, for support I got this back:

“We are sorry; we do not have complete information regarding SMB and FTP setups and also regarding the software key for the host name. We request you contact our phone support number at 1-800-SAMSUNG (1-800-726-7864) in this regards. They will be available from 8:30am – 12:00am midnight (EST). Customer support is available 7 days a week, 365 days of the year.

The Printer supports a USB Flash Drive on the USB port. However, the hard disk drive is not supported by the USB port on the printer. “

O.K.A.Y. If YOU don’t have the complete information for SMB and FTP setups and what’s required, it begs the question, “who does?”. LG? Ricoh? Brother? Xerox?

I happened across some RICOH documentation and it actually helped with setting up the Samsung. Apparently these guys who make these all in ones tend to clone everything from each other. Except Ricoh writes better documentation.

Thus I figured out, scanning to SMB, emailing a PDF scan (set up an address account in the printer it makes it way easier; you can have up to 50), and FTP. All on the Mac by the way.

Maybe Samsung doesn’t think anyone can read, or that their manuals are not worth writing, or worse; that their products are so easy to use you don’t need a manual.

The printer, I rate a solid 9 out of 10.

Samsung technical support and software, I’d rate a solid 2 out of 10. And only two because one, they responded, and two they did provide the answer to one question.

I also tried to update the printer firmware but the software still can’t identify the printer at the IP address I provided. Big surprise.

I’m convinced that Samsung is just plain stupid and doesn’t care a fig about their customers. I have their half baked attempt at an operating manual and a really lame tech support email to prove it. The next time I buy anything Samsung will be…ah… yep that’s right. Never. You shouldn’t reward stupid.


iPad Charging…

I have a super cool iPad application called Electronic Toolbox that contains just about every reference and calculation that any electronics hobbyist would ever need. I use it constantly when I’m working on the bench and naturally since the iPad is battery operated there are times when, the battery goes pufpt.

Unfortunately there’s no place on the bench to charge it. I’d have to scurry into the other room, grab the charger and cable, head back, plug it in and then reverse the process when I’m done for the day. I have a couple of bench supplies and previously I built a special 5VDC Arduino supply that comes out in a USB backplane.

Logic says that I just plug in the iPad cable to my USB backplane that I use to power the Arduinos for testing and presto. It charges and I can continue to use it. Except when I did that nothing happened. Sometimes that’s a good thing.

It appears that the 10Watt iPad charger is more than just a 2A 5VDC wall wart. We’d purchased these little gems for charging the iPads (Power2U from NewerTech):

Power2u animation

According to the document with it, you aren’t supposed to be able to charge two iPads at the same time. Or an iPad and pretty much anything else. Or as the Disclaimer puts it: “*To maintain factory-stated charging duration when charging two iPads or a combination of iPad and any other USB rechargeable device simultaneously, we recommend charging the iPad via the factory wall adapter.”

Now Carol and I have actually plugged in two iPads just to see what happens and they both charge, albeit slowly. But we don’t make a habit of this.

Any way, because of the Power 2U, I couldn’t see why the iPad wouldn’t charge with my 5V supply. After searching around on the net, I came across a number of people who;d either ripped the iPad adapter apart or had reverse engineered it. Apparently Apple detects some voltage on the data + and – lines and then draws accordingly.

Which lead me to this schematic:

Ipad 2 Charger

Although the resistors shown are supposed to allow a 2A charge rate, with a 60% charge on my iPad, I measured just over 1 amp. And that’s the best I got with any amount of fiddling. The voltages on the data pins are supposed to be +2 (pin 2) and +2.7 or +2.8 (pin 3).

When I measured our Power 2U outlets I found 2.0 and 2.75V on those data pins. So I’m guessing the charge rate is about an amp. Works fine over night any way.

I decided that I wanted to be able to adjust my voltage dividers so I used 10 turn trimmers instead of fixed resistors. I built the circuit on a piece of breadboard.

IMG 0374

On the bottom, one jumper and the rest are directly connected:

IMG 0375

With the USB cable (I repurposed one that came out of an APCC UPS power supply):

IMG 0376

I tested all kinds of settings from a low of 1.53V to 3.1V. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, the iPad draw was just about constantly the same ever time. So yes it was charging. At least part of the mission was accomplished.

Having bare boards laying around on the bench is a good start to having problems, I put the circuit inside a mini Hammond case:

IMG 0377

The finished circuit plugs between my USB power outlet and the iPad:

IMG 0378

Works like a peach. But I’m slightly mystified as to why I can only get the iPad to draw 1 amp from my power supply. After reading a few others tests and outcomes, it seems that the iPad charger does something “special” to get that 2 amp fast charge, where as all the after market chargers seem to fall into that 1 amp range.

Despite pleas from others, I’ve no found anyone who can answer the why. So I’ll just have to be content with knowing that I can charge the iPad on the bench. For now anyway…



The newly acquired LED matrix shield from eBay has proven to be a lot of fun and at the same time, a great learning experience.

The shield is designed to be used in a daisy chain fashion so I decided to make a “scrolling” display for SuperBowl. After all, it’s great sport to heckle your friends with a scrolling display…

I daisy chained the out’s to the in’s and then the five pins to the Arduino. Of course I had no way to mount the displays so I used…yep. A clamp. Because I could.

IMG 0315

I programmed up a message (which is a lot of dits and dahs) and got it working on an UNO. It took about 10 seconds to realize I wanted more. I went looking for an alphabet and found one that I could modify during the building stage thereby leaving the original alphabet array intact. This is largely because I rotated my LED matrix shields to join them.

At this point I could program in a new “sentence” and after a reboot it would display. Another 10 seconds passed. I wanted more.

I added an ethernet board, made a static IP, turned the ethernet board into a web server. The idea being that I could log on to my “sign”, enter in a string, build the new display and scroll it.

Major kafuffle. The Arduino ethernet shield (Wiznet W5100) wants to use pins 10,11,12 and 4 for the SD card. While the SD card wasn’t required any way, I changed the code for the LED matrix to use SPI on pins 5,6,7 and crossed my fingers. Dang. It worked. I tried other pins but ended up leaving it with those because both boards worked together. Yep. That’s a good thing.

After all the debugging, I finally got it going again. This time 30 seconds passed. I wanted more.

I changed the code in the ethernet start up so it used DHCP and added the project name “Announce-R-Duino” after which it appends the IP it got with DHCP so you know how to talk to it. Using port(81) allows me to use with a wireless bridge. So a simple will get me to the web server.

IMG 0342

The Announce-R_Duino was parked on top of the entertainment center and my kid brother was having a gas with it. Typing in all manner of running comments. And then, presto, it stopped responding..oh no!

Seems that I’d stretched the UNO’s SRAM memory limit a bit too much (and I use strings instead of “char”; so shoot me, I know what works easiest for my brain). In a matter of minutes I had programmed an ArduinoMEGA, swapped the wires over and away we went.

Later, I tested out the “free” memory and with an UNO, to put it bluntly, taint none left. On the MEGA I have 5 or 6K to spare. And it runs just as good on the MEGA so…that’s where it’s going to stay.

My original web sever allowed you to type in commands to control the display. On, Off, Brightness and then it occurred to me I might as well use a web form and let the Arduino figure it out. So I did. Much easier to use and see all the extra commands, of which there aren’t many.


The two files I use, the main program I wrote, the alphabet I found someplace can be downloaded from this LINK.

The LEDControl library can be downloaded from the site.

The code I wrote, builds from the web input, and it uses a single space of kerning. There’s some lower case descenders that I coded in as well. Of course with only one “pixel” of drop they look a little funny but… Almost all the symbols and punctuation are available as well.

I have found that with four shields connected, I didn’t need any “delay()” to slow the scroll speed down. Matter of fact running flat out is just about the right speed for reading it. I tested it with and without ethernet and it’s about 15% faster without ethernet. Something else I noticed is that if I didn’t “rotate” the display counter clockwise 90 degrees, it would display faster. But of course you can’t bump all the displays together if you don’t.

I have a second set of 4 displays coming and another 4 that I won’t have to rotate. I’ll be testing those with my code to see if it’s my code, the nature of the Max7219’s or just slow electrons…

The assembly language bit reverse I found in the Arduino forums so credit should go to the author of that cool snippet, and I’m sorry I don’t remember who that was. I had no idea one could write inline assembler with an Arduino. I wrote Z80 machine code for 14 years so I’m looking forward to getting my own feet wet with some AT code.

I have the Announce-R-Duino in my shop now so if the wife wants me, she connects to it with her iPad and sends me a “text”. Yep. We are nerds.

For the alphabet this what I use with PROGMEM: