[NTLK] Lady Newt - the final episodes

NewtonTalk newtontalk at pda-soft.de
Sun Feb 9 17:54:07 EST 2020

Since you explicitly asked for it, here are the remaining episodes of the
little-known series "Please, oh please don't leave me!", starring (blush)
yours truly. Most of you know what happened so far, but I'll add a short
summary of the earlier episodes just in case your memory's as poor as mine.

Episode I

Her Royal Highness, also known as Christian's Lady Newt, has ended up on
Frank's workbench because she's no longer willing to cooperate peacefully.
She's comatose and doesn't start up, regardless of what kind of reset Frank
treats her to. However, until recently she has been very reliable. Ever
since Frank sold her to Christian more than 13 years ago, she hasn't missed
a beat. So her owner, like far too many Newton owners out there, was more or
less convinced that since his little green friend had never acted up on him
in the past, it wasn't going to do so in the future. As a result, the most
recent backup available was... well... not all that recent.
Without any kind of technical documentation like e. g. a schematic diagram,
there's little in the way of systematic troubleshooting. However, an amazing
amount of defects are actually visible to the naked eye: Burnt components,
tiny tin balls left over from manufacturing and jammed between two closely
spaced pins of an integrated circuit, poor soldering, tiny copper traces
etched away by leaking batteries or other fluids that don't belong in a
Newton, you name it. So Frank scrutinisingly checks Lady Newt's mainboard
(henceforth referred to as MLB_1) under his microscope. He finds some stray
tin balls at places where stray tin balls shouldn't be, but none of them
creates a short, so removing them doesn't change a thing. Near the end of
this episode you can see Frank, being out of ideas, replacing the ROM board,
which doesn't fix things, either. Episode I ends with a close-up of a
tear-streaked Frank declaring MLB_1 officially dead. Followed, of course, by
the obvious cliffhanger: Frank straightening himself and slowly walking
towards the box labeled "2x00 mainboards".

Episode II

Frank has found a 2100 mainboard (from now on referred to as MLB_2) labeled
"Untested". He temporarily puts it into one of the Newtons from his
Frankenstein family and makes sure that it powers up OK. Then he puts it
into Lady Newt.  This gives him the opportunity to find out two annoying
issues: Her display shows a white vertical line, and her backlight is almost
nonexistent. So he takes Lady Newt apart again, replaces the LCD unit and
the backlight, and powers her up again. The audience is beginning to think
that the happy ending is near. Unfortunately, there's one issue left that
must be checked: Does any of the software Christian needs use a serial
number based on the unique Newton ID? If it does, it wouldn't be possible to
re-register the software. The Newton ID is hard-coded in an integrated
circuit on the mainboard, and said mainboard has just been replaced. So
Frank would need to transplant this chip from MLB_1 to MLB_2, which he'd
rather not do unless it can't be avoided. At the end of episode II Frank
sends a list of Christian's software to NewtonTalk, asking if any of it will
base its registration key on the Newton ID.

Episode III

It seems that Frank is lucky for a change. None of the software requires a
registration key based on the Newton ID, so Frank installs and registers all
of the software Christian has meanwhile dug out and sent him per E-Mail.
Frank has to deal with a couple of software-related obstacles during that
process, but before long everything seems to be ready for action. He then
runs Lady Newt through his usual thorough test sequence. When she has
successfully passed the last test, the audience begins to think that the
happy ending is near. Their hope is brutally shattered when Frank tries to
turn her off. She always turns back on immediately after being turned off.
Even when she's powering down on her own due to her sleep preference
setting, which is kind of spooky. The only way of getting rid of this
problem is a brainwipe. This is definitely not the expected behavior of a
healthy 2x00 mainboard. Episode III ends with a close-up of a tear-streaked
Frank declaring MLB_2 officially weird.

Episode IV

Frank starts a prize competition at NewtonTalk. Everyone who comes up with
the correct explanation for Lady Newt's weird behavior is promised a brand
spanking new 2x00 pen shipped at Frank's expense. As expected, replies are
scarce, so Frank needs to use the little brain he's equipped with to figure
out his own solution. Hours of meditation eventually yield a result based on
a miniscule amount of intelligence and a huge amount of luck. The problem is
caused by Lady Newt having been powerless for more than a minute. The
problem only occurs when Eckhart's 2010 operating system patch is installed.
MLB_2 will work just fine with Apple's original OS version, even if left
powerless for hours.
Frank briefly contemplates talking Christian into setting Lady Newt's date a
couple of decades back, thus removing the necessity of Eckhart's patch, but
decides that this, if accidentally made public, would damage his reputation.
Since damaged reputations are very hard to fix at Frank's age, episode IV
ends with a tear-streaked Frank, desperately shaking his head and flipping
the bird at MLB_2. Followed, of course, by the obvious cliffhanger: Frank
straightening himself and slowly walking towards the box labeled "2x00

Episode V

Frank has found a 2100 mainboard (from now on referred to as MLB_3) labeled
"Powers up, otherwise untested". He temporarily puts it into one of the
Newtons from his Frankenstein family and makes sure that it still powers up
Then he fleetingly caresses Lady Newt, who's still equipped with MLB_2, and
backs her up to a card because he doesn't want to install and register
Christian's software again and again. Being paranoid, he engages the card's
write protect switch. Finally he replaces MLB_2 with MLB_3 and restores the
backup he just made.
The result is somewhat boring: Everything seems to be working OK on the
first attempt. Despite Eckhart's 2010 patch being installed, Lady Newt
powers off just fine every single time, regardless of the time she has been
without power. She has also passed Frank's thorough test sequence with
flying colors. The audience begins to think that the happy ending is near.
Episode V ends with Frank looking dreamily at his hot-air soldering station,
followed by no cliffhanger at all. The audience begins to wonder if this
stupid series is ever going to end.

Episode VI

Lady Newt is ready and eager to be sent back. But somehow Frank is reluctant
to take this step just yet. Quite obviously, Lady Newt and her owner have an
exceptionally good relationship. Last year Christian publicly confirmed at
NewtonTalk that he'd give her filet steak and caviar if she wanted it. Frank
is happy that she didn't take him up on that promise, since file steak and
caviar would have made troubleshooting much more difficult. However, the
mere offer speaks for itself. In one of his recent E-Mails Christian even
expressed his intention of treating Lady Newt to a romantic weekend to
welcome her back. Although she was still a bit under the weather when Frank
read that to her, he could have sworn he heard a faint, but happy sigh
coming from her speaker.

Of course it's cool to send a dead Newton in and get a working Newton back,
equipped with all the software you regularly use. But somehow this would be
as if your wife woke up from a coma, fully recovered bodily, but without any
knowledge about your common past. Admittedly this might be exactly what many
a partner secretly wishes for, but Frank is sure that it's different with
those two. So he's contemplating doing something he has never done before.
Something that might have never been done at all. Something that gives him
the creeps.

Episode VII

Lady Newt's long-term memory lives in two Flash RAM chips. Of course, these
chips might have been erased or even destroyed the moment MLB_1 died. But
maybe they haven't. There might be a fully functional brain slumbering in
MLB_1, harboring all the common memories of Christian and his little green
friend. Of course, ripping Lady Newt apart yet again isn't an option. Frank
is not going to compromise her current health. But if he can figure out a
way of transplanting the Flash RAM chips from MLB_1 to one of his
Frankenstein Newtons, he might be able to back Frankenstein up to a card and
restore said backup to Lady Newt. That way not only her programs would be
back, but all her data. For all intents and purposes she would be what she
was immediately prior to her untimely death. Given the fact that the
backlight is now much brighter, the display no longer has an annoying white
line and the bottom part of the case is no longer cracked, she'd be even
better than that.

However, the prospect of soldering these chips is terrifying. Really, really
terrifying. They come in a 56 lead TSOP pinout, meaning they have two rows
of 28 pins each that need to coexist peacefully in less than 14 millimeters.
Pins are but 0.15 millimeters wide and 0.3 millimeters away from their
neighbors. Even a slight tremble of your hand would appear like a severe
case of Parkinson at the magnification required for this kind of soldering.
So Frank decides to practice with organ donor boards before deciding to
attempt the real thing.

It being impossible to heat up 56 pins at the same time with a mere
soldering iron, Frank buys a tweezers soldering iron kit on eBay. The
description says that it'll allow him to easily heat up all the pins at the
same time and then, since it's basically a heated-up pair of tweezers, just
as easily lift the chip up. Unfortunately, things turn out to be much
different in the field. It takes ages to heat the chip up, and it is
impossible to lift it without bending at least half of the pins into
oblivion and shorting the rest out.

So next it's the hot air station's turn. This is when Frank comes across an
additional problem. Removing such a chip with a hot air station requires a
lot of heat to be present at the same time at every single pin. Ideally
you'd use a nozzle that's about as wide as the chip you want to remove. This
much heat, however, will also unsolder and often move many of the tiny
components nearby. This isn't much of a problem as long as it happens on the
organ donor board. Most likely you'll never want to get that board back to
full working conditions anyway, so it doesn't matter if components move or
disappear. All you want is get the chips off the board fast and without bent
pins, using as little heat as possible to make sure they won't die from
excessive heat. After practicing a bit, Frank successfully removes the Flash
RAM chips from MLB_1 and puts them in a safe place.  

The organ recipient board, however, is another cup of tea. You don't want
components to dislodge, disappear, or fly all over your board. After all,
you need to keep that board in full working condition. You can try wrapping
it in aluminum foil and cutting out the area around the chips, but you still
can't be 100% sure that everything you wanted to stay in place has actually
done so. So Frank decides on a different approach. He'll cut the pins, one
by one,  off the chip's body, remove the pin-less body, unsolder the pins
separately from their soldering pads by means of a very tiny soldering iron,
and finally remove the tin from the soldering pads with desoldering wick.

Without further ado Frank grabs yet another untested mainboard from his box
and puts it in Frankenstein. After all, he needs to be dead sure that the
board will power up and write to at least one of the card slots after the
transplant. Frankenstein powers up just fine and willingly obliges to
produce a test backup. Frank begins attacking the pins with his scalpel.
Unfortunately, since the chips' height is less than a millimeter, he needs
to cut close to the board's surface. Had Frank taken that into account, he
might well have succeeded at the first try. But he has recently been exposed
to a momentary lapse of reason, so he does not only cut the pins, but also a
fair amount of the traces connected to the soldering pads. Which, of course,
is only visible after cutting the last pin and removing the now pin-less

Episode VIII

Surprisingly Frank, who usually follows Monty Python's excellent advice to
always look at the bright side of life, isn't angry that he has just killed
a perfectly healthy Newton 2100 mainboard. After all, you can never have too
many organ donor boards, can you? With a smile that almost looks genuine he
grabs another board labeled "Untested" from his box and puts it into

Capacitor C59 kindly waits until Frankenstein has powered up and the test
backup is in full swing. Then it explodes spectacularly, emitting smoke and
smell that only Watts and Volts can produce. Frank thanks his guardian angel
for making the developers at Apple place this component under the ROM board.
Had it been located elsewhere, it might have blown up into his face. Frank
opens all windows within reach although it's cold and windy outside, removes
the exploded capacitor and replaces it with that from the mainboard he
killed a moment ago. You can never have too many organ donor boards, can

Just to be on the safe side, Frank puts Frankenstein below a sturdy
cast-iron grill pan, plugs its AC adapter in a power outlet and lets
Frankenstein simmer for the next 30 minutes. Then he tries making his test
backup for the second time. This time it ends successfully. Frank cuts the
pins again, this time making sure the scalpel won't touch the board. He then
removes the pins separately from their pads just as planned, cleans the
solder pads using desoldering wick, and finally applies a generous amount of
expensive flux to both the pads and to the pins of the chips he has removed
from MLB_1. Then he aligns each chip on its pads, puts his index fingers on
it to keep it in place, and solders its top left and bottom right pins so
that it won't move while soldering the other 54 pins.

The latter turns out to be a tad on the difficult side because the diameter
of Frank's thinnest soldering tin is larger that the distance between two
pins. After removing the occasional bridge between adjacent pins, though,
each pin is soldered, cleaned with alcohol, and generally looking good. So,
quite satisfied with himself, Frank turns Frankenstein on. Unfortunately,
Frankenstein's way of saying hello is a flashing backlight, which is his
kind and considerate way of letting Frank know that he (Frank) didn't quite
succeed while messing with his (Frankenstein's) Flash memory.

Episode IX  

At this stage of a project you basically have two options. You can
reluctantly admit that you neither have the equipment nor the skills or the
balls to meet such a challenge successfully, and then proceed to your garden
to pull up weeds. The other option is clandestinely flipping the bird at the
mainboard, dreaming of a huge helping of decent single malt whisky, deciding
against it because you might still need to solder tiny pins and even tinier
wires under your microscope, and finally whip out your multimeter. Frank
decides for the latter.

112 measurements later he knows that every pin is securely connected to its
respective soldering pad. So the most likely reason for Frankenstein's
unruly welcome is a short between two adjacent pins. This gets confirmed
after another 108 measurements. One of the two chips has a short between pin
44, a data line, and pin 43, the positive supply voltage. Unfortunately,
this short isn't visible, so it must be below the chip. Since Frank isn't
all that eager to unsolder and resolder the chip a second time, he simply
unsolders pin 44, bends it up so that it no longer touches the soldering
pad, cuts the trace between the pad and a via, removes the via's solder
resist coating, and finally connects the bent-up pin and the via with a very
thin wire. Then he switches Frankenstein on again.

Episode X

Frankenstein powers up just fine. After a while he politely informs Frank
that his internal store's signature has been altered and that a hard reset
might correct the problem. Since that would be the worst mistake ever,
Frank, without further ado, makes the backup it took him so long to prepare.

The rest is history. Frank restores the backup to Lady Newt. Since he
doesn't want to snoop around in Christian's private data, he only checks the
owner info, which lives in the same chips as the private data. The owner
info shows Christians full name, so things must have worked out as planned.
This episode ends with Frank, carrying a tiny parcel, waiting at the post
office. When it's his turn, he seems reluctant to hand it over, but he
finally does. Then he takes out his Newton, opens Notes, and jots down the

Defying the impossible can be a lot of fun. Especially if you win.
(attributed to Frankfucius, anno 2020)

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