A recent simple battery change operation of a small multimeter (DT-182 or a clone of thereo) turned into a disassembly, when I heard a little rattling noise when shaken after I put in the new battery. I was curious if there was anything loose inside the box. Took some pictures of the inside of the multimeter, and added some notes to how things seem to work. I try to guess the origin of the design choices within hardware, in a way to learn a bit about hardware manufacturing.
The first thing I did is unscrew the PCB and see whether anything is between that and the front of the housing.
The things I noted here: the knob, the screw hole placement, and the LCD-PCB interface.
Now I understand a bit better how the knob works: the little metal brushes make contacts differently for different position of the knob, and the control electronics knows the required functionality based on reading those connections (specific shorts? specific resistances? that I forgot to check). The brushes are weird a bit too: one fell off and I tried to put pack but didn’t see how it could be attached. Turns out, that the slit in the middle is a bit narrower than a plastic edge underneath, and the brush sticks on to that (barely). When pressing agains the board, the triangle shape can flatten, and keep physical contact. There’s also a whole for the knob centre that is not screwed, but keeps the knob from wandering
The screw hole placement for the PCB is in a triangle shape around he knob. I think it’s a good way to keep things tight with the smallest number of screws.
The LCD interfacing is pretty weird. The display segments of the LCD are controlled through the big bunch of lines on the top of the board. That is touching a rubbery contact stack on the top of the LCD. I guess it’s rubbery because it needs to be able to compress easily. I wonder what’s the conductive material within that . There’s also a plastic bar that the PCB pushes down and which in turn pushes the display down, i.e. into its place of the exposure. I think it’s a quite cool way for easy assembly but holding things quite securely in place. The PCB slips into some slot on the top the enclosure, and pushed into place on the bottom (the metal tubes go into the plastic holes, and the electrodes into their respective slits).
Taking the knob off, it’s held in place by the balance of the PCB pushing down on its back, and a pair of ball bearings. There’s a spring under each of the bearings, which is within a plastic hole, while the ball is a bit larger than the whole, so it cannot be stuck inside of it. The positions of the knob are set by the holes in the plastic ring (on the left of the image. The balls are greased somewhat, quite sticky. Putting things back together was a bit tricky, not letting the balls fall out on one side, and the brushes to fall off on the other.
The PCB is secured to the front assembly with three screws. One of them also holds a buzzer in place and that screw is a bit longer – thus not all screws are the same in this gadget.
The backplane has a pair little grooves on the top which fit into the two hinges on the top of the frontplane (I really wonder what’s the proper name for those parts…). Other than that, two screws on the bottom secure the back. The battery is held in place with two plastic legs (between the screws of the backplane).
After the second try, I could put everything back and the multimeter seems to work.
Funny thing, when I shake it I can still hear the rattling noise. Now that I’ve seen the inside, looks like it’s the plastic piece that should help to hold the LCD down, so probably it’s smaller than in the other multimeters like this we have, or the PCB is not fastened as much as it is supposed to. Though I don’t like over-fastening metal screws in plastic threads – recipe for shredded threads.
It looks like Bitcoin is developing really fast these days, both on the usage and on the technical side. There are a lot of usability issues, and ideas for bitcoin services that look great on paper but don’t exist yet. Many of those ideas will be created with time, some of them though it’s better to go ahead and make as soon as possible, to let people use and see the advantages and disadvantages.
One of the most interesting ideas I’ve read so far is the creation of the Hierarchical Deterministic Wallet, or Bitcoin Improvement Proposal (BIP) 32. It is trying to solve the problem that currently the standard Bitcoin clients need generate independent new Bitcoin addresses to the user, and store a piece of secret in a wallet file for every Bitcoin address a person has. If that file is gone and not backed up, the person will lose access to those coins permanently.
Others tried to fix this too, like Armory and Electrum, two clients that can generate a whole chain of addresses, though have their own limitations that I don’t go into (though at the moment I’m using Electrum for most my coins).
BIP32 on the other hand can generate infinite number of new address from a master secret, and all of that arranged in a hierarchy that one can create well separated accounts and addresses very easily. One example is creating a separate wallet for each of the branches of a store, or for different websites a person is working on.
One practical problem with BIP32 was that I couldn’t find any wallet management software for it. Electrum has that in the works (I think for the 2.0 version) but they are not there yet. Had to make one myself to try it out.
I wanted to make something easy to use (as much as possible given the hairy details), secure, and powerful enough.
For security the keys entered in the page are never transmitted over the network; the created transactions can be checked independently by a 3rd party (can decode it with Blockchain.info); the single page can be saved
For power it can use both public keys for querying balance, and private keys for actually preparing transactions; it generates addresses automatically; it has everything needed for transactions within one page, with very little external dependency; have access to advanced functions if needed.
It took a few day, it it was too bad to get to a working prototype: it is hosted on http://webhdwallet.github.io/, but can be downloaded with all the code to makei it a stand-alone application.
I didn’t want to implement the BIP32 extended public/private keys generation because someone better than me already did it at BIP32.org, and it is also a good way to separate responsibilities. Two independent crooked website is much less likely than one, isn’t it?
The Bitcoin functions, including using the BIP32 keys, are delegated to the bitcoinjs library. Apparently there are a bunch of forks of the original one at various stage of advancement, and incompatible added features. I have chosen the fork one that looked the most active, by BitGo, to import into this project. So far so good, maybe will do some porting of features between the forks later.
The “standard” way of creating addresses from here is creating two chains: an external that the user is supposed to share with whoever wants to pay him or her, and an internal chain for change addresses (to eliminate address reuse as payments are sent). The site creates the bunch of these addresses starting from the 0th one (as computer programming so often start to count from 0).
All of these addresses are checked with the Blockchain.info JSON API whether they ever had any transactions. If they did, then check for the spendable coins, and generate some more addresses in the chain. This tries to reduce address reuse and ensure that all addresses used so far are checked. Of course, this is one of the weaknesses of BIP32 – one can never really be sure without a lot of computation or out-of-band communication whether all the addresses ever used with the key are accounted for.
If any spendable coins are found, then the user can create a new transaction. I didn’t put in too much effort into finding a good coin-selection algorithm, just start from the oldest one and add more to the input side of the transaction until there are enough to cover the desired outgoing amount. Apparently, though, that is a good way to do it, so fair enough.
If the extended public key is used, then the page only knows enough to create an unsigned transaction. This can be checked, and hopefully later I’ll be able to implement the feature of signing such transactions (with the same page) when being offline for security. If the private key is present, then a proper signed, spendable transaction is made, and ready to be submitted via the Blockchain.info Broadcast Transaction tool.
The receiving addresses have QR generation too. The chain addresses not, because they shouldn’t be used directly – this is just some opinionated programming.
The incoming BIP32 keys are generated as it is described in the help section of my page: choose a hard enough passphrase, and generate a child key as custom m/i’ child path (this should really be standard, by the way). It just means take the master key (m), and create the ith child in “private derivation” mode (hence the prime). Can see the original BIP32 page for some of the details.
This leaves you with an extended public key (something starting with xpub…) and an extended private key (xpriv…). Should keep the passphrase from the previous step as well, but definitely these two keys.
When one of these keys is plugged into the page, it starts to generate the appropriate keys for the two wallets, and the balance shows up. When any balance is found, a new transaction can be created, and sent off to the network with Blockchain.info.
To prove that I made this work before at least, the extended public key to generate the listed donation address of 17NWCFWo8EvFp7vtkbRH6ec3DEdxZhrhrd is xpub69i6TTB6JU2mwcQ7pKeDG8aAMnc2AZ2UdpuphoNak4nT4UTWYhkSGqpDgbGjHGbxYVK8jNF4eXMRk1aeGweLxiCWWB5EjKm3k6YMKoWN5VT (receiving address chain index 1) – go ahead, try it. Also used the page to create a small transaction – sending the from receiving address chain index 0, which also used the change chain index 0 address. When that worked, that was a relief. :)
There’s a lot to do about this project and related services to make it more usable and interesting, the Issue Tracker is bursting with ideas. Here are some with higher priorities:
really make it offline usable (which would remove a lot of security concern, probably). Will need to think much more about the internal implementation then, how’s the most user friendly to create new transaction if you cannot go online to get data (what and how to import between online and offline)
make a usage video
generate addresses in the receive/change chain at arbitrary indexes (could be useful)
add QR code reading to the input field, probably via jsqrcode.
implement storage of retrieved data so it’s more user friendly when on non-public computer
talk to the bitcoin network directly, either to get the input or to send the transaction. Some groundwork is laid down in a blogpost recently about using the raw Bitcoin protocol in Python.
implement my own server/API for Bitcoin/Litecoin/Dogecoin that can be used with BIP32 wallets, and probably Blockchain.info compatible. Currently there are no good service for such altcoins (even if it would be pretty straightforward I think), and for the Testnet (so not risking real value to try things out)
implement a Point-of-Sale app (I guess on Android), that uses an extended public key to generate receive addresses for incoming transactions (totally hold-up-safe, and crooked-employee-safe payment method)
implement a WordPress plugin that uses extended public key to generate per-post donation addresses (for the donations themselves, as well as analytics-via-payment)
Well, at least the first step is done. All source up on Github. Would love to hear from anyone who used it, and what do you think could be improved upon.