Kenmore 158: Pulse Drive

A Circuit Cellar reader sent me a lengthy note describing his approach to slow-motion AC motor drives, designed for an already ancient truck mounted radar antenna back in 1972-ish, that prompted me to try it his way.

The general idea is to pulse the motor at full current for half a power line cycle with an SCR (rather than a triac) at a variable pulse repetition rate: the high current pulse ensures that the motor will start turning and the variable repetition frequency determines the average speed. As he puts it, the motor will give off a distinct tick at very low speeds and the maximum speed will depend on how the motor reacts to half-wave drive.

Note that this is not the chopped-current approach to speed control: the SCR always begins conducting at the first positive-going 0 V crossing after the command and continues until the motor current drops to zero. There are no sharp edges generating high-pitched acoustic noise and EMI: silence is golden.

The existing speed control circuitry limits the peak current and assumes that the motor trundles along more-or-less steadily. That won’t be the case when it’s coasting between discontinuous current pulses.

When I first looked at running the motor on DC, these measurements showed the expected relationship:

Kenmore Model 158 AC Motor on DC - Loaded and Unloaded RPM vs Voltage

Kenmore Model 158 AC Motor on DC – Loaded and Unloaded RPM vs Voltage

Later on, plotting RPM against current (50 mA/step starting at 550 mA):

Motor RPM vs Current Steps - Accelerating

Motor RPM vs Current Steps – Accelerating

Eyeballometrically, the slowest useful speed will be 2 stitch/s = 120 shaft RPM = 1300 motor RPM. At that speed, under minimal load, the motor runs on about 20 V and draws 550 mA. At that current, the 40 Ω winding drops 22 V, which we’ll define as “about 20 V” for this discussion, so the back EMF amounts to pretty nearly zilch.

That’s what you’d expect for the fraction of a second while the motor comes up to full speed, but in this case it never reaches full speed, so the motor current during the pulses will be limited only by the winding resistance. At the 200 V peak I’ve been using for the high-line condition, that’s about 5 A peak, although I’d expect 4 A to be more typical.

So, in order to make this work:

  • the optocoupler driving the base needs more current
  • the differential amp from the Hall effect sensor needs less gain

Given the ease with which I’ve pushed the hulking ET227 transistor out of its SOA, the motor definitely needs a flyback diode to direct the winding current away from the collector as the transistor shut off at the end of the pulse. Because it’s running from full-wave rectified AC, the winding current never drops to zero: there will definitely be enough current to wreck the transistor.

The firmware needs reworking to produce discrete pulses at a regular pace, rather than slowly adjusting the current over time, but that’s a simple matter of software…


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That’s Gotta Leave A Mark

An unused parking behind Yet Another Abandoned Commercial Building, out on Tucker Drive in Arlington, features this tableau:

Crunched tank truck - overview

Crunched tank truck – overview

A closer look:

Crunched tank truck - detail

Crunched tank truck – detail

Something snagged the tank while the truck backed up and ripped that seam open, while completely missing the side marker light in the lower right that sticks out beyond the edge of the tank.

The outer shell conceals maybe four inches of fibrous insulation around the inner tank, so it’s not like they were leaking toxic juice all over the scenery. In fact, the lettering on the rear of the tank says it once belonged to a water trucking company with an area code of 717, used for phones around the spot where I grew up in Pennsylvania. The trailer has no license plate, so it’s not going anywhere…


Dutchess Rail Trail: Timing Is Everything

The Thanksgiving Snowfall didn’t amount to much, but it did bring down a bunch of branches across the area. A few days later, as we rode along the DCRT on an errand, we admired the freshly sawed fallen trees and piles of brush by the side of the trail: evidently, a DC DPW crew had just cleared the trail.

Then we encountered this at Mile Marker 7.0:

DCRT - fallen tree

DCRT – fallen tree

As nearly as we can tell, that tree fell minutes before we arrived; the trunk snapped about five feet off the ground. There were bike tire tracks on the (wet!) trail directly below the trunk, but none stopped on one side and resumed on the other, so we were the first bikes on the scene.

We portaged the bikes, continued the mission, and called it in when we got to an information sign with the DPW contact number.

Timing is everything!


Eyeglass Temple Re-Repair

Unfortunately, the smooth interior of the temple spring pocket and the smooth exterior of the hinge plate didn’t provide enough mechanical lock for the epoxy; the pieces pulled apart after a week.

So I put a stake in its heart:

Eyeglass temple - tapered pin

Eyeglass temple – tapered pin

That’s a tapered brass pin from the Box o’ Clock Parts, buttered up with a dab of epoxy, then shoved firmly into a 41 mil (#59) hole drilled through the pocket and the edge of the hinge plate.

Fast-forward overnight, apply a Dremel grinding bit, and it looks passable:

Eyeglass temple - ground tapered pin

Eyeglass temple – ground tapered pin

If that doesn’t hold, those glasses are gone.

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Iomega 500 GB NAS Drive for Helmet Camera Storage

I recently exhumed an Iomega 500 GB Home Network Hard Drive (model MDHD-500-N) from the Big Box o’ Drives, with the intent of dumping video files from the Sony HDR-AS30 helmet camera thereupon.

Remember Iomega of ZIP Drive fame? Seems EMC Borged ‘em a while back, collided with Lenovo, discarded all the old hardware support, and that’s the end of that story.

Exhuming the setup password from my backup stash wasn’t worth the effort, so I experimentally determined that holding the Reset switch closed while turning the drive on blows away the existing configuration. It woke up, asked for an IP address, got from the DHCP server (you can find that by checking the router’s tables), and popped up the administration console at as you’d expect.

The userid will always be admin, but you can change the password from admin to whatever you like; you may safely assume I have done somewhat better than what you see below.

Twiddling the configuration through the IOmega web-based console:

  • Device name: IOMEGA-500MB (for lack of anything more creative)
  • Group name: WHATSMYNET
  • Password: not-admin
  • Drag the date/time into the current millennium
  • Time Zone: GMT-5:00
  • Time Server:
  • Static IP: (suitable for my network)
  • Gateway & DNS as appropriate
  • Windows File Sharing enabled for the PUBLIC directory
  • FTP turned off
  • Sleep time: 10 minutes

Changing either the IP address or the password requires logging in again, of course.

I reformatted the drive, just to be sure.

Then, after a bit of Googling to remember how all this works…

A line in /etc/hosts (left over from the last time I did this) gives the new static IP address: nasty

Install the cifs-utils package to enable mounting the drive.

Create a mount point:

sudo mkdir /mnt/video

Create a file (/root/.nas-id) holding the super-secret credentials used to gain access to the drive:


Then restrict the file to the eyes of the root user:

sudo chmod 700 /root/.nas-id

It’s not clear that the username or domain really make any difference in this situation, but there they are.

Define where and how to mount the network drive with a new line at the bottom of /etc/fstab, which refers to the aforementioned super-secret credentials file:

//nasty/PUBLIC  /mnt/video      cifs    noauto,uid=ed,credentials=/root/.nas-id 0 0

Mounting it with my userid gives the shared directories & files proper permissions for me (and nobody else, not that anybody else around here cares).

So the manual mounting process looks like this:

sudo mount /mnt/video

Adding the user mount option would eliminate the sudo, but manual mounting won’t be necessary after a normal boot when the automagic startup script does the deed.

The drive must have the noauto attribute to prevent the upstart Pachinko machine from trying to mount the network drives before the network comes up. Actually mounting the drive at the proper time requires an additional line in /etc/init/local.conf:

description "Stuff that should be in /etc/rc.local"
author "Ed Nisley - KE4ZNU"

start on (local-filesystems and net-device-up IFACE=em1)
stop on shutdown

emits nfs-mounted


logger Starting local init...

logger Mounting NFS (and CIFS) filesystems
mount /mnt/bulkdata
mount /mnt/userfiles
mount /mnt/diskimages
mount /mnt/music
mount /mnt/video
initctl emit nfs-mounted
logger Ending local init

end script

The reason the drive wound up in the Big Box o’ Hard Drives was its lethargic transfer speed; copying a 4 GB video file from either the MicroSDXC card (via an SD adapter) or the previous 750 GB USB-attached hard drive to the IOmega NAS trundles along at a little over 6 MB/s. The camera stores 25 Mb/s = 3 MB/s of data in 1080p @ 60 fps, so figure 1/2 hour of copying per hour of riding. The USB drive can write data from the aforementioned MicroSDXC card at 18 MB/s, so the card and USB interface aren’t the limiting factors.

I’m not (generally) in a big hurry while copying files from the camera’s SD card, because that’s now automated:

thisdate=$(date --rfc-3339=date)
echo Date is [$thisdate]
# IOmega NASalready mounted as /mnt/video in fstab
mkdir /mnt/video/$thisdate
sudo mount -o uid=ed /dev/sdb1 /mnt/part
rsync -ahu --progress /mnt/part/MP_ROOT/100ANV01/ /mnt/video/$thisdate
if [ $? -eq 0 ] ; then
 rm /mnt/part/MP_ROOT/100ANV01/*
 sudo umount /mnt/part

I’ve been discarding the oldest month of videos as the USB hard drive fills up, which will happen a bit more often than before: the drive’s 466 GB can hold barely 35 hours of ride video.


Kenmore 158: Relay Transient Simulation

After having blown two ET227 transistors, I fiddled with some SPICE models to explore the ahem problem space. This seems to be the simplest model with all the relevant details:

Motor Transient - no NTC - schematic

Motor Transient – no NTC – schematic

A step change in the voltage source simulates the relay clicking closed with the AC line at a peak. R4 might resemble the total wiring resistance, but is more of a placeholder.

I measured 1 nF from each motor wire to the motor shell, so I assume a similar value from wire to wire across the winding. I can’t measure that, because, as far as my capacitance meters are concerned, the 40 Ω motor winding looks exactly like a resistor. R1 and L1 model the winding / commutator, but on the time scale we’re interested in, that branch remains an open circuit.

There’s no transistor model even faintly resembling a hulking ET227, so a current controlled current source must suffice. The 0 V VIB “source” in the base lead measures the base current for the CCCS labeled ET227, which applies a gain of 10 to that value and pulls that current from the collector node. R2 is the internal base-emitter resistor built into the ET227.

C2 is the 6 nF (!) collector-base capacitance I measured at zero DC bias on a good ET227. That’s much more than you’ll find on any normal transistor and I’m basically assuming it’s vaguely related to the Miller capacitance of small-signal fame. C3 is a similar collector-emitter capacitor; I can’t tell what’s going on under the hood without a whole lot of measurement equipment I don’t have.

So, without further ado:

Simple Transient Model - current pulse

Simple Transient Model – current pulse

Whenever you see a simulation result like that, grab your hat in both hands and hunker down; the breeze from the handwaving will blow you right off your seat.

The key unknown: the rise time of the voltage step as the relay contacts snap closed. Old-school mercury-wetted relay contacts have rise times in the low tens of picoseconds. Figuring dry high-power contacts might be 100 times slower gives a 1 ns rise time that I can’t defend very strongly; it seems to be in the right ballpark. The green trace shows the input voltage ramping to 180 V in 1 ns, which is pretty much an irresistible force.

The motor shunt capacitance forms a voltage divider with the parallel base and collector capacitors, so the collector voltage shouldn’t exceed 180 * (1/(1+3)) = 45 V. In fact, the blue trace shows the collector voltage remains very low, on the order of 10 V, during the whole pulse.

The red trace shows the collector current hitting 150 A during the entire input ramp, which is exactly what you’d expect from the basic capacitor equation: I = C dv/dt. The current depends entirely on the absurdly fast 180 V / 1 ns rate: if the relay rise time is actually smaller, the current gets absurdly higher.

The ET227 datasheet remains mute on things like junction capacitance, damage done by nanosecond-scale high-current pulses, and the like.

Absolutely none of those numbers have even one significant figure of accuracy, but I think the overall conclusion that I’m blowing junctions based on transient startup currents through the collector holds water.

Adding four of those NTC power thermistors seems in order. This picture also shows the snubber hanging from the back of the ET227, but I eventually took that off because the simulations show it’s not doing anything useful and it does resonate with the 120 Hz halfwave supply:

HV Interface - snubber and thermistors

HV Interface – snubber and thermistors

The thermistors get comfortably warm after a few minutes and settle out around 1 Ω apiece. Adding 4 Ω to the simulation reduces the current to 30 A during a 1 ns ramp, which number obviously depends on all the assumptions mentioned above.

I’ve been running it like that for a few hours of start-stop operation and the ET227 lives on, so maybe I can declare victory.


Taylor 1478 Kitchen Thermometer: New Probe

The replacement probe has a woven metal jacket that’s allegedly more rugged than the original plastic, but I think the main difference comes from the additional strain relief at the end of the probe:

Kitchen thermometer - new probe

Kitchen thermometer – new probe

That still looks abrupt to me, so I wrapped a silicone tape snippet around the joint:

Kitchen thermometer - new strain relief

Kitchen thermometer – new strain relief

Probably not food-safe, definitely butt-ugly, but I don’t want to replace the probe again for a long time.

FWIW, although the probe description says it’s compatible with Taylor 1970N thermometers and doesn’t mention the 1478 we have, the 2.5 mm plug fits (no suprise there) and the display shows appropriate temperatures; it seems no less accurate than the original probe.


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