Category Archives: electronics

Ergonomic stylus for Galaxy Note

I’ve been a big fan of tablet computers for years. I got a Lenovo Thinkpad 61xt back in 2007, and really tried to use it for all my note taking. Onenote was probably the best piece of software out of Microsoft in years, and I loved jotting down stuff in meetings, etc. Sadly, the computer was just a mite heavy, and the battery too small. So I eventually stopped using it, but always hoped for something to come along and live up to all that potential that the tablet always promised but never delivered.

A year ago, it was time to upgrade my cell phone and I decided to take a chance on the Galaxy Note 2. I couldn’t actually try one out anywhere, but I figured the big screen would be nice to read on. As I’d feared, there was nothing to do with the pen except for S-note (the Samsung software that came with it). That was about as useless as just writing with a Sharpie on the bottom of my shoe, so I left the pen in the Note and never touched it.

Along came Evernote, with the first app I found that made use of a pen in a meaningful way. With the handwriting release a couple of months ago, I pulled out the pen and started jotting. I was previously filling a 100 page pad  about every 2 months… now I haven’t used 10 pages in the last 4 months. And, I actually refer back to my notes more than I ever did because I can find them.

The downside, though, is that the S-pen sucks for writing. After a couple days of heavy meetings,  my hand was completely cramped up. I thought it was from my bike or something until I picked up the pen this morning and felt a shooting pain up my arm. Oops. During the meeting, I actually ordered some sort of S-pen holder on Amazon, but it won’t be here for another week or two. I needed a fix now.

Then I remembered the old Lenovo. I actually had a couple of extra styli for that which I’d gotten via warranty when the button broke. I pulled them out of an old bag and realized they worked great on the Galaxy Note. Now it was just a matter of making it a bit bigger to hold. I always carry around a Papermate PhD pen because they are comfy in the hand.
I pulled out an old one and tried to shove the stylus down the barrel. It was a bit big, so I headed to the garage to see what I could do.

Note: read this whole post before you follow anything I did. I describe a bunch of dumb shit that didn’t work. I would do it all differently if I were starting now. But, these pictures might help someone else trying to do something a bit different from me, so I include my mistakes.

First I tried to cut the outer case off the pen with a dremel… this works, except that if you even touch the little coil inside, you ruin the digitizer. Good thing I had  couple extra pens, right…

inside of waccom digitizer

Learning from the broken one, I tried again. This time, I cut just above the digitizer module.

digitizer cut


Then I was able to carefully slide the business end into the barrel of the PhD pen which worked beautifully. Then I tried writing with it, which didn’t work at all. Damn. I feared this might happen; the tip of the PhD pen is metal, and, as it turns out, the barrel is metal too. The digitizer gets power from the screen through the little inductive coil at the tip, so the metal shields it and stops it from working. I did a little more comparing and realized that the barrel of the PhD (the part under the rubber grip, seen on the picture below) is the same diameter as the Lenovo stylus.

What I finally ended up doing was just pulling the rubber grip off the PhD pen… the metal barrel slips into a plastic ring, and I yanked this out. The front part of the stylus (cut as seen in the picture) slides right into this, then I pulled the rubber grip back on. phd digitizerThis leaves
only the need for a nice looking tip. I opted to wrap it with electrical tape instead, which looks like ass, but works just fine.





Android garage door opener

When they handed me the key to my house, the seller’s agent mumbled something about bringing by a garage door opener. Now, he didn’t lie, he brought one by, it just had no real connection to the actuator installed on the ceiling. I tried to figure out how to make it work, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I mean, I don’t keep a car in the garage, and only a fool would waste all that prime space on a car anyway. So I don’t really go in and out of the garage that much. It is true that my wife has been riding the kids to school on bikes that live in the garage for a long time, and there was a certain amount of grumbling, but I just never got around to getting an opener. Actually, I looked at Home Depot and realized that I’d have to spend something like $40 for each opener I wanted, and that annoyed me, so I spent time surfing the interwebs looking for fancy arduino designs that would clean the garage while they weren’t opening the door. Then I started riding my bike every day and understood just what my wife had been bitching about. So I went back to the first thing I found on my internet search and just made it happen.

What I got was the GarageMate app from the Android store. Like I say, I’d found this early on, but then I went to find the appropriate parts, and figured I could find them cheaper and didn’t and then he stopped selling the kit on his website. But now I was on a mission, so I just went to Amazon and spent $30 on the Samsung HM1800 headset 

that will do the trick. An hour in the garage later, both my wife and I can open the door with a tap on our phone screen. Hot damn.

Ok, so why am I writing this at all? Frankly, Lou over at Garage Mate did all the hard work, and you should be sure to donate to him when you realize this awesomeness. But, there are a few things I learned through the process that I would have liked to know up front. Plus, I truly hate video instructions. A well written page is so much more useful.

One question I had: why do you need to use one of 2 different Samsung headset models that are no longer made? Here’s why: when the phone tries to connect with them, a dumb voice in the headset informs the listener that a phone is connecting. This would drive me bat shit crazy if I were wearing the think in my ear. But, on the plus side, it means that a connection event (to a previously paired phone) triggers noise on the speaker that GarageMate exploits to switch a transistor. This is the sauce that makes this work. Lou only recommends 2 headsets; undoubtedly others will work, but he’s got better stuff to do than test a million headsets to see if they bark in your ear when the phone tries to connect (but, critically, at no other time). Eventually, of course, Amazon will run out of these two models and then someone will have to figure it out.

Following the video from GarageMate

will get you up and running. A few things I did differently:
1) Getting the leg of the transistor to slide into the socket along with the USB plug was a pain. Instead, I just wrapped it against the base of the USB connector and soldered it in place. There was a little plug visible out of the socket anyway, so I still got a secure connection.
2) Don’t stress the precise value of the 30 ohm resistor. I happened to grab a 47 ohm, and it worked fine. I suspect that any value under a kohm would be OK.

Thanks GarageMate! Someday I’ll get fancy with something that tells me whether the door is up or down and does other fancy stuff, but it might be a while.