Soltec HM-102S: unboxing a 30 year old multimeter

Graham Green had a stall at Make Change yesterday. Graham’s the former manager of Active Surplus, the much-missed Toronto surplus emporium. He had some military-surplus multimeters that hadn’t seen daylight since I was in school. That’s a while back: this (unfortunately) was #1 the week I left school. So I bought one of Graham’s meters just to see what was inside …

Neatly packed in mil-spec cardboard with a date code of 7/86. There’s a fair chance that Papa Don’t Preach was on the radio somewhere when this was sealed …
Inside the box, the meter’s sealed in a pouch. Mil-spec doesn’t allow anything to rattle about, after all. Unlike some surplus stuff, this looks 99.999% mouse-piss free
Under the meter was this battery pouch, which exhibited the qualities of both “crunchy” and “squishy”. Neither of these are things I look for in a battery, so these weren’t going in the meter
Battery pack dated January 1986. This isn’t going to be good.
Daylight — for the first time in 31 years! On first glance, everything looks okay, but three decades of phenolic off-gassing was much in evidence — pew!
Despite the hermetic seal, the elastic band had rotted to dry pasta consistency. Note expired band ichor on the manual cover
The test leads are still bright, shiny and very pliable. I suspect they might be silicone-encased, as PVC of this age has a habit of turning brittle (ask me about my late lamented Konix Navigators)
The meter. unpacked. A clear (if small) dial, complete with mirror scale to reduce parallax error in reading. Hidden under the frosted cover is a small “Made in Korea” mark
Handy-dandy fold-out carrying handle that also doubles as a stand
Inside the case, ancient tooling marks. The plastic is thick and seems fairly robust. The captive mounting screw was a nice touch
A very analogue meter. Lots and lots of 1% tolerance resistors on the main board, plus a great big thumbwheel potentiometer for zero adjustment. The foam battery pad up top was as good as new
Up and running: no auto-off battery saving mode here! The test lead jacks didn’t have the shrouding we’d expect these days, so you won’t be able to use newer probes without modifying them
Things I Don’t Miss from Analogue Meters, #1: setting the 0 Ω point. Expect fiddliness and drift.
The test subjects: a 3.6 V Li/SOCl₂ ½-AA NVRAM battery (new: tests at 3.68 V on an Agilent U1242B meter), a 7.5 kΩ ± 5% resistor (tests at 7.52 kΩ) and a 39 kΩ ± 10% resistor (tests at 41.3kΩ)
Battery test: the Soltec reports 3.8 V, or within 5% of expected. This is where I really miss auto ranging
Not so good is the 7.5 kΩ resistor: the Soltec reads just under 6 kΩ. Blame faulty zero setting from me, as it really is fiddly and I just set this up quickly.
The 39 kΩ resistor (which is really more like 41 kΩ) indicated 34 kΩ on the Soltec. Again, my dodgy zero set is most likely to blame, but reading this little log scale isn’t the easiest

Would I recommend the Soltec as a general purpose meter? Not really. There are more capable multimeters available for about the same price, and you don’t need to go as far as the unbelievably expensive Agilent DMM I use (or even the strictly ornamental analogue ex-Forces Bach-Simpson 635 multimeter that graces/clutters my workbench). It would need a video to show where analogue meters excel: in showing changing values and getting a rough idea of the limits. It would make a great battery tester, or — if coupled with a micro-controller with PWM or DAC ouput — part of a demo rig. If nothing else, it’s a great way to learn how to appreciate modern test gear and all it does for us.

I’m probably going to regret this, but here’s a scan of the Soltec HM-102s manual:

PDF link under image. I say I regret doing this, ‘cos every cheapo ebay seller of these things is now likely to download this and splat their own horrid watermarks over it, making the file huge and ugly. But the market’s gonna market, and I wouldn’t want to make a free manual inaccessible with DRM. By contrast, my watermark’s quite tasteful and doesn’t interfere with readability in any way …
Postscript: you think I’d just throw away that expired battery pack without peeking inside? If so, allow me to call you Wrongo McWrongison of that erroneous ilk! The ‘Hipower Super’ cells weren’t looking so super: the leaked electrolyte had dried into a gritty, stinky layer. I couldn’t even find the terminals on the 9 V battery to try and test it, so grotty was the corrosion. Amazingly, the slightly-less-nasty AA cell at the front tested at 1.52 V, almost as good as it could have been in the mid-80s. Doesn’t mean it’s not going in the HHW bin with the others, though.

Beater Bikes: review (and requiem?)

I’ve heard people complain (still) that “… a good bike shouldn’t cost more than $100”. When I heard the news that Dave Chant was closing up  Beater Bikes and liquidating his remaining stock of bikes for $100 each, I thought I’d give it a try.

Through no fault of Dave’s, Beater Bikes never quite got the traction in Canada they should have done. I blame the outdated tariff on imported cheap bikes; Canada no longer has a domestic industry to protect (someone, please prove me wrong). We still have the tariff to shore up those long-gone jobs at CCM/Supercycle, though, so importing bikes into Canada was too expensive a proposition.

The bike still cost me a bike more than $100, though: $100, plus $120 shipping, plus $58 UPS brokerage ‘tax’ (grar), so a total of $278. Still cheaper than almost anything you can get from Canadian Tire, and as the original retail was around $450, still decent.

beater bikes, beat-up boxSo here’s the box it came in; beaten up and retaped, sure, but with an appropriate logo. Inside, apart from a few loose parts, there was this:

how it's packedAlthough well wrapped, the bike had been dropped at one point, and there was a colossal ding on the back mudguard that stopped the wheel turning. I managed to flatten it out enough that the wheel ran free, but it’s still visible under the carrier.

After a couple of hours of fiddling and tightening, I ended up with this handsome steed:

assembled!The basket is an old Wald I had lying around, attached with enough Ty-Raps to add a significant cost to the bike. The only bits missing were most of the screws to mount the rear reflector. One screw plus duct tape did the job.

Ashtabula crank, nifty propstandThe bike has a particularly nice kickstand. Coupled with the steering stabilizer, it’s a bike that’ll lean against a wall without falling in a heap. It’s also my first bike with a one-piece/Ashtabula crank, which is more a matter of where I grew up — only BMXs had them in the UK.

It’s quite a handsome bike, despite the Beater concept of a bike that won’t get noticed or stolen. It’s very basic, but solid. I don’t know how long the chainstay-mounted Beater Bikes nameplate will last on mine (it came partially unglued on my first ride) so maybe the bike will be an anoymous beater sooner than expected.

beater at the moviesIt rides well, though I have to say that riding a bike with only a coaster brake is a little off-putting.  I haven’t mixed with real traffic on it, and our shed has developed a bruise from where I shot up the driveway, completely forgot how to stop, and collided with the shed. Only pride hurt.

Starting with a coaster brake is also weird, as you can’t haul the pedals back to a good starting place. I’m resolutely right-footed, and I’ve had several nopenopenope start offs from junctions. Until I heard about the rolling the bike backwards trick, I was pretty stuck.

bikeshadowCompared to my cushy and sprung Batavus, the Beater has a harsher ride. Its low gear is higher than I’m used to, so I start off slowly. I’d definitely agree with Velouria‘s assessment that it needs a front brake. I’m much slower without one.

It is, however, a very decent bike for the money I paid. I hope that Dave got something positive from his foray into bike sales, as it’s a fine concept, and better executed than flops like the Kronan. The one thing it does do far better than any of my other bikes? The Sturmey-Archer rear hub still makes that lazy tic tic tac tac noise in top gear, which can only be the sound of summer freedom on the open road.