Attic Staircase Repair

I thought I might branch out a bit from the techno-babble and do a little home repair info on this post...

I live in a house that like many others has a wooden folding attic stair case. This is great as it gives me access to store junk away in the attic and it folds up almost unseen into the ceiling- but when they start acting funny they can become a real bitch. An attic staircase could also be considered a 'gadget' by some, so here we go...

My attic staircase was gradually making it impossible for to pull the stairs down without use of a step ladder and a pry bar. In a normal folding attic staircase, there are folding metal bars on either side that act as both as a hinge and a support for the assembly (the piano hinge at the end of the staircase does almost nothing for support- as I discovered when working on this project). In my situation, the rivet hinge on the left side of the assembly was wearing out and allowing the arms to distort and bend inwards to 'grab' the stairs before they could properly open:


Initially the weight of the stairs would cause them to fall free from between the arms with a good tug (and a loud noise), but after a few more months it had progressed to the point where I had to manually guide the staircase arms with a pry bar just to open the attic.

I finally gave up last weekend and decided to fix it.

The first thing I had to do was identify and remove the arm that is causing the problem. The left arm was the main culprit and this was obvious as it was pretty badly bent; additionally the hinge rivet on this side had a great deal of play. The right arm has a little play as well, but it doesn't seem to be causing any problems (yet).

I removed the spring tension from the left arm by removing the nut from the side of the staircase, partially closing the stairs and then pulling the arm off of the bolt:


Once the end of the arm was free, I pulled the staircase down, removed the spring at the top (it unhooks easily as there is no tension) and worked on removing the arm from the staircase framing.

NOTE: if you need to climb on the staircase at this point, be sure that you stand will all weight on the right side as there is nothing supporting the left side!

The hinge assembly is attached to the stairs by two rivets through a metal flange anchored into the 1/2" wood of the staircase framing. I removed these by grinding off the flaring with a 3/8" metal drill bit:


The back of this rivets are not secured, so I needed leverage from a pry bar to keep them from spinning while drilling out the exposed side.

When this was done I had the left stair arm in-hand. There were obvious bends in the metal so I used a bench vise to flatten these out.

I took the arm to Lowe's to see if they had a replacement, but no luck (maybe Home Depot carries such items?). Since this was not available, I used the arm as a sizing guide fro the replacement bolts I would need. I decided on 1/4" lag bolts to attach the frame and a 5/16" hex bolt to replace the upper hinge rivet.

Once back home, a 1/2" metal drill bit was sufficient to drill out the back-side of the rivet hinge- while being careful not to damage the metal plate or the arm while grinding off the end of the rivet.

Re-assembly was fairly easy (compared to removal):

Step 1: replace the rivet hinge

A 5/16" x 1-1/4" grade 8 fine thread hex bolt is used to replace the primary rivet hinge. I probably really don't need a grade 8 bolt (they are a bit harder metal than the standard grade 5 bolts) but it was only about $0.40 more than the standard- and I am all for overkill.

The bolt goes into the mounting plate and projects the thread end out for the arm to pivot on. I used a 5/16" lock washer and a few flat washers between the bolt head and the inside of the mounting flange. The washers are for spacing (1-1/4" is a bit too long- by design) and to push the head of the bolt into the wood- preventing it from turning once the lag bolts are installed (next step).

To allow the bolt to act as a hinge, I put additional 5/16" flat washers on either side of the arm and closed the assembly off with a 5/16" locknut. The locknut is very important as a normal nut will eventually loosen from the opening/closing of the stairs.


Step 2: Re-attach the arm to the staircase.

I drilled pilot holes and installed four 1/4" x 3" lag screws with flat washers to replace the rivets that were removed. Initially there were only two rivets holding the arm in place, but- as stated before- I am all for overkill with these kind of projects.

Depending on the material behind your staircase you may need longer bolts; in my house there is a 1-3/4" LVL beam to either side of the staircase and 3" is an ideal length:


Step 3: re-attach the spring

This part will require to people as it is practically impossible to re-attach the arm to the stairs with the stairs down.

Connect the upper spring assembly to the top of the stairs (i.e. re-hook the spring onto the J-bolt on the end of the arm and go into the attic and have someone close the stairs behind you. They may need to use a step-ladder to lift and support the stairs as it will not want to stay closed with only 1/2 the spring tension it normally had.

While in the attic, re-connect the side of the arm to the bolt on the lower section of the stairs, tighten the nut down and you are done! (as long as your helper will oblige by pulling the stairs down so you can get out out of the attic).

Final assembly:


I keep a small ratchet set in the attic to check that the bolt isn't coming loose....


Home Security -over IP...

A few years ago while we  were in the process of renovating our current home, I took the initiative of learning a bit about alarm systems so I would be able to wire/install our current alarm.  At first it was a daunting task with little explanation to be found online; but after a while it became as easy as network cabling- and that is when the fun begins.

IMG_0085 IMG_0086

Initially I purchased a DSC Power 832 system from eBay as it is a reliable brand, lots of upgrade options and cost effective.  I wired up the 8 zones, did the basic programming and had an alarm company come in and enter in their dial-in information for monitoring.

There are tons of options for the DSC Power 832 system- such as the PC5108 hardwire zone expansion, the PC5132 wireless zone expansion, wireless PIRs/smoke alarm/window contacts, and wireless arm/disarm keys.

A few weeks ago I saw an application called 'DSC Alarm Monitor' on the G1 App Store and downloaded it out of curiosity.  From this program I learned that there are newer IP expansion modules for my system- such as the DSC TL-150- that can act as a virtual keypad: basically allowing me access to any entry/information that my wall-mounted keypad can do.  (There are also more advanced modules such as the TL250 and TL300 that will email alerts- but these cost at least twice as much as the TL-150)

Installation for the TL-150 took about 15 minutes; one CAT5 connected to my switch and four wires from the module to the KeyBus and it was done.  DSC thoughtfully included plastic stand-off holders that fit into strategically placed holes on the DSC cabinet- making it an almost tool-free install (save for the small screwdriver to tighten the terminals down on the wires).

I made a custom port-forward in my router, setup the G1 DSC Alarm Monitor and I am now able to arm my alarm from inside my car!  :o)

The G1 application also allows me to check the status of the zones (door last opened 7 minutes ago, etc) and receive notifications if the alarm is triggered.

Similar information is available from any web page via an integrated web server on the TL-150.



TiVo Upgrades

A while back I posted about the good deal I found for three TiVo units for $25- each with lifetime subscriptions ($300 value).  I finally decided that I am never going to use the units so I am fixing them up to sell on eBay (and one to a friend).

Much information on TiVo upgrades can be picked up in the 'TiVo Upgrade Center' on the Tivo Community Forum.  This page- along with the Hindsdale Hot-to Tivo Upgrade page- proved invaluable in performing the upgrades.

The Series 1 TiVo is a Philips HDR112; a first gen TiVo with a 14GB hard drive.  I used the windows version of WinMFS Beta 9.3 to backup the drive and then clone it to a larger (400GB) drive.  There wer some issues and I tried again with an 80GB and a 60GB IDE drive; the 60GB would boot up once but all other attempts ended with the 'Almost There.  Just a few minutes' screen (indicating an issue with the hard drive). 

After much searching (on UseNet, Warez sites and BitTorrent) I finally gave up and purchased a copy of 'InstantCake' from DVRUpgrade.  After downloading and burning the image to CD, I discovered the configuration is set use hard drives on the secondary IDE ports- which none of my motherboard have... Luckily I had an old Gateway D875PBZ system that I was repairing for a friend- which had dual IDE ports.  The upgrade took about 10 minutes and I was able to boot the HDR112 with no further issues. (the subsequent initial setup and updates took about 3 more hours via dial-up!)

The series 2 were a bit easier as I had an InstantCake CD for Series 2 from an earlier upgrade.  This CD worked on both my TCD140060 and TCD240080 systems.   I upgraded the TCD140 to 400GB (giving up to 507 hours of recording time) and the other to 500GB (with up to 576 hours of recording time).

IMG_0064Series2_400GB_06 Series2_500GB_05


Mobile Test

This is a test post from A-Blogger on the T-Mobile G1...


Death of a DSL Modem

I am currently on my 3rd DSL modem in this house (well, many more if you count the ones Alcatel 1000 and the Netopia 2200H routers that were retired as they could not support the 6Mbps throuh-put).

My first modem was an Alcatel Speed Touch Home that I purchased off of eBay in January 2006.  This modem allowed me to use the full bandwidth of my 'Fast Access Extreme' DSL Line.


It worked reliably for about 2 years- until the Tornado hit Atlanta in March 2008.  The modem was not obviously damaged, but it could not keep a sync and kept dropping and reconnecting.  After talking to BellSouth support, they replaced it with a Motorola 2210 DSL modem:


This little guy seemed to be a bit zippier than the Speed Touch Home (probably just an illusion as it was new).  The first guy worked like a champ until late October when the roommate forgot to pay the electric bill.  After power was returned, it exhibited the same issues as the earlier Speed Touch Home; sync drops every 15-20 minutes.

After conversing with BellSouth they again determined it was my DSL modem and replaced it with a like Motorola 2210- which fixed the issue for another 3 months.

Last week we had another power outage that lasted long enough to drain the UPS that the DSL modem was attached to- and now I am having very similar issues...

I am starting to see an issue where a DSL modem cannot go through a deep discharge of a UPS system and function properly after power is returned.  This seems very strange as I thought UPS units were designed to protect the device rather than kill it.

I have dug out an old Netopia 3347WG router out of the attic and I am now using it for a DSL Modem with my D-Link DGL-4500 set to DHCP Ethernet mode instead of PPoE (which is now handled on the Netopia).  I am doing a double-NAT, but everything seems to be working for them moment...



Popcorn Hour A-100

This is a long overdue review that I meant to write shortly after I received the unit- which was back in August. 

The Poporn Hour A-100 is a network device that is networked media player- similar to AppleTV and Windows Media Extenders but not requiring a dedicated 'media server' (although it can connect to Windows Media, iTunes, and DNLA media servers).  It can connect to SMB and NFS shares and server up the media.

It supports a wide range of formats, including:

Video containers: Audio containers:
  • MPEG1/2/4 Elementary (M1V, M2V, M4V)
  • MPEG1/2 PS (M2P, MPG)
  • MPEG2 Transport Stream (TS, TP, TRP, M2T, M2TS, MTS)
  • VOB
  • Matroska (MKV)
  • MOV (H.264), MP4, RMP4
  • AAC, M4A
  • MPEG audio (MP1, MP2, MP3, MPA)
  • WAV
  • WMA

  • Video codecs:

    Audio codecs:
  • MPEG-1
  • MPEG-2
  • MPEG-4.2
  • WMV9HL
  • H.264
  • VC-1
  • WMA, WMA Pro
  • AAC
  • MP1, MP2, MP3
  • LPCM

  • Other

  • Audio pass through : DTS, AC3
  • Photo formats : JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF
  • Other formats:  ISO, IFO
  • Subtitle formats : SRT, SMI, SUB, SSA


    It is a fairly unassuming device- resembling some of the inexpensive hard drive cases I purchase from MicroCenter:


    On the back there is a plethora of video output options: Composite, S-Video, Component and HDMI (v1.1 spec on this model; v.1.3a on the A110 model)- and a 10/100 Ethernet and power connector:


    The system opens to accommodate a 3.5" PATA hard drive (the A-110 model supports SATA) for internal storage for movies/music/pictures:


    Additionally there are two USB ports to allow you to connect USB drives for media playback (including a DVD drive for non CSS DVD movies).

    Once you connect the device to a TV and power it up, you are presented with a fairly basic media screen:


    The included IR remote is used to navigate around:

    Clicking on one of the icons to the right (Movies, Music, Pictures, Play lists) brings up a folder browser for the media source you are connected to (in this scenario, I am connected to a 'videos' share on my sever named 'Jupiter'):


    Drilling down a level shows the actual files (in this case, videos):


    One small disappointment is that there are no alternate views- so there is not a 'thumbnail' view or similar.

    Video playback is awesome; it plays almost everything I have thrown at it- especially MKV files!  It does not officially support DiVX (due to licensing considerations) but it does support XViD- so chances are it will play most DiVX files.  I had three situations where a movie would not play:

    • WMV-HD with a 5.1 audio track; video play correctly but without audio
    • Two DivX files (out of a few hundred that I have tried) would not play properly
    • QuickTime MOV files are very jumpy during playback.

    The video playback has found me abandoning my Window MCE system and my PS3 for video playback; this unit will play 99% of the videos I have with no problem.

    The music playback works, but the menu interface is very, very crude- almost to the point of being unusable. 

    Photo viewing is about the same; it works, but it would be easier to view it on another systems.

    Unencrypted DVD playback is supported (CSS is not supported) via USB attached DVD Drive, VOB/IFO files or ISO files (local HD or network share).


    On the left side of the screen there are options for Media Sources, Web Services and Setup.  After adding network shares in the 'Setup' screen, they will appear on this screen and can be selected as the source that can be accessed from the main menu (for Music, Movies, Pictures, Playlists). 

    Changing between the sources can take 50 sec - 1 minute.  One big limitation (in my eyes) is that you are limited to a total of six network SMB/CIF shares. 

    The second option brings you to the 'Web Services' menu.  From here you can open the Media Service Portal (or MSP), which is a collection of 'channels' comprised of various web audio/video/photo/rss applications and fees such as YouTube, Yahoo Weather, Flickr, Pocasts, Traffic Reports, etc.  Not all 'channels' work that well, and when they do the performance is fairly sluggish.  I haven't spent much time in this since the first day I received the Popcorn Hour.

    The MSP Community is essentially a 'What's New' page with various items related to the MSP.  You can also listen to the top podcasts from Podcast Alley (if it will work) or view Apple movie trailers.  It appears to be a community forum that has not really caught on as of yet.

    The Torrent option is only available if you have a hard drive installed into the Popcorn hour.  It is basically a BitTorrent client that runs on the Popcorn Hour unit and downloads to the internal HD.  (haven't used this yet).

    The last option is SayaTV witch is a pseudo IP-TV service- featuring shows ranging from a webcam facing a beach in China to concert footage in France to news broadcasts (and even some infomercial channels)


    Under Setup there are several screens:





    Note: NMT Applications is only available if a hard drive is installed in the unit.  This option allows the Popcorn hour to also function as a media sever for UPnP devices.




    Little issues that this unit is subject to includes:

    LED Lights- there is no separation between the indicators and the IR receiver- giving a display of this:


    With the addition of a few pieces of split heat-shrink tubing I was able to resolve this:



    (I went back and replaced the heat-shrink with a mold I made out of play-dough.)

    HDMI reset issues:

    Occasionally the HDMI will 're-negotiate' during movie playback, causing as screen of static for a few seconds before the picture returns.  This also occurs when leaving the menu and starting up a video.  Occasionally this would get 'stuck' and require a reboot of the unit. (I believe is is fixed with the HDMI 1.3a on the newer A110).

    To fix this I reverted to Component cables; now I rarely have to reboot.

    All-in-all the unit is a fantastic video player; I am considering purchasing another for my roommate (or maybe buying an A110 and giving her my A100).  It does not excel with music or pictures, but these both appear to be add-ons to make the device cover a wider range of media;  The SMP8635 processor is basically a video decoder that has been made to do other things.

    If you are  a fan of the old XBMC and you have been struggling to find something that can replace that seamless video experience you can finally stop searching for the right Audio/Video codec combination for Vista- the Popcorn Hour will satisfy all your video playback needs!