Cheap cuts – Another example of fake goods on Amazon

I’ve eschewed Amazon for many reasons, among them their lax policing of counterfeit goods, and practice of comingling stock from different sellers. Most of my online shopping happens on eBay, where I can typically evade the grifters by avoiding listings with stock photos and canned descriptions. But, occasionally I still fall victim to a drop shipper operating there and receive goods from Amazon’s tainted pool. In this case, I was attempting to find legitimate Philips Norelco HQ8 replacement shaver heads for my old AT880 electric razor, and instead ended up with junk…

I ordered a set off eBay from a seller that seemed above board, but shortly received a parcel from Amazon. I opened it and found a reasonable facsimile of the Philips retail packaging. Inside that, a set of superficially legitimate looking replacement heads. Unfortunately I quickly found the resemblance to the real thing was only skin deep.

I didn’t keep the external packaging from the knockoff set, but the impostor box didn’t set off a ton of alarm bells. The only apparent red flag I recall was a dubious looking ‘PHILIPS’ sticker seal on one end whose muddied font compared to the real trademark aroused suspicion.

As for the blades, in side by side comparison some key differences make themselves apparent. At left, we have a brand new replacement set of Philips Norelco SH50 heads, the successor part number replacing the discontinued HQ8. Middle is a set of well used original HQ8 heads. Lastly at right is the counterfeit set.

The two genuine sets are similar, with nine blades, while the fake has fifteen. Looking at the way the metal halves are joined, we can see that the real blades are secured with a small rivet, while the fake has metal tabs that are bent over to hold the halves together. The plastic drive shafts are also different, with the real ones having three protrusions along their circumference that lock into notches in the metal blade carrier plate (the notches are missing on the fakes as well). We also see the shape of the plastic drive shafts is different, with the counterfeits having a lobed shape where the real ones are round.

Finally, looking at the blade assemblies from the side, we see another significant difference. The genuine blades are actually three pieces, with a copper colored thin metal piece sandwiched between the two outer halves that curves up and presents an additional edge. The counterfeits lack this entirely, and simply have the tines coming off of the one half ground to a comparatively crude finish. This difference probably explains the bulk of the performance gap between the real and counterfeit items.

Poking around sites dealing in bulk direct from China products like Aliexpress I found a host of similar knock off blades being sold under a variety of brand names and with varying center logo stickers. Common to most is the count of blades, and the missing middle layer of the blade assembly that should provide the additional finer edge. Construction varies otherwise from offering to offering, with none of them providing anything that matches the real deal.

Unfortunately, there’s little recourse here given the time that has passed since the transaction, and not much of a way to avoid this kind of counterfeit good on many online shopping platforms. For this sort of heavily counterfeited item the best bet is probably to go with a reputable brick and mortar retailer whose supply chain can be trusted to a greater degree, and where in person inspection of the product is possible prior to purchase.

Hopefully this will help people stay alert to the fakes on the market, and if not avoid them, at least know when they’ve been had.

Walk Like An Egyptian – Takasago “Egyptian Madness” slot machine

Grabbed a slice of Las Vegas’ past today. One Takasago, AKA TDC, model PSL-005 stepper driven computerised slot machine. I’ve read these were common in the airport and certain casinos at one time before the rise of IGT and Bally/Williams in the market. It showed up on Craigslist, described as non-working, and cheap enough to be worth the gamble to me…

The seller saw a lot of interest, but was honest enough to run their sale first come first served without striking up a bidding war, and I happened to have been the first person to respond the night the ad went up. I picked it up the next day (paid a bit more than asking since I appreciate a straight shooter on Craigslist…). After wrangling the beast out of the van and onto a cart (I forgot how big these things are… They look pretty small in their normal casino context, but they’re actually pretty big, use a lot of metal parts, and weigh a few hundred pounds) I set to work diagnosing what was going on.

Applying power, I saw cabinet fluorescent lamps come on, but no sign of life from any of the computer controlled modules. The reel assembly was loose and the main board was floating on its mounting rails, so someone had opened this thing up before. I reseated everything and tried again, with the same result…

Unfortunately, there is precious little information on these machines on the Internet, so I started digging in. Pulling out the module with the credit meters and and reset switches presented me with a tray with a switching power supply and some bridge rectifiers attached. Tracing out the outputs from the switcher let me know which of the front panel connections provided logic power to the rest of the machine, and gave me points to test with a multimeter to verify voltages. When I put the probes to the logic power pins, I got a big zero… So, that was the first issue uncovered.

The power supply installed in the machine is similar to what’s used in a lot of arcade games, but provides -12V which is a bit unusual. The only new power supply I had on hand only output +5V, -5V, and +12V, but I traced things out and to me it looked like the -12V output was only used by the electromechanical counting units. So I installed my new power supply, left the -12V lead off, and powered things up… And the machine came up and worked just fine!

The sound track is pretty minimal, just some beeps and boops typical of the era. The onboard diagnostics are pretty robust, with a lot of self test routines and audit value recording that are very reminiscent of the arcade stuff of the same vintage. There are some notes about networking machines for progressive jackpot payouts in the manuals I’ve found, and I believe I have the extra board installed required for this but I haven’t investigated yet.

After getting the new power supply installed I messed around with it for a while and it promptly stopped being able to count coin hopper output, so I’m not out of the woods yet! Need to order some new locks, too, but even after spending a little money on parts it’ll end up being a solid deal on a rather rare machine.

Danger Zone – Williams F-14 Tomcat playfield swap

I checked off another project that’s been a long time in coming with this one. This particular F-14 Tomcat is another of the machines I grew up around at my parents’ shop in Anchorage. I always wanted to get it working but didn’t have the skills, or enough information to build them, back then. As I got into working on these machines in earnest after my move to Portland, it became another project that followed me down here to join Sorcerer and 300.

Even then, it sat for quite some time. Like most of the production run for this title, it suffered from extensive damage due to playfield inserts lifting out of place. It also had mylar installed over many areas of the playfield when new, which had now been pulled up by the rising inserts and taken up art with it. The pictures below are the state I found it in after over a decade in storage.

While the playfield was rough, the machine had been stored dry. It also didn’t look to have all that many plays on it before it had been laid up in storage. The boards were pretty clean, with no battery leakage, and all of the playfield mechanisms were pretty fresh looking, if dusty.

Some time after I took possession of the machine, Buthamburg (AKA Perfect Playfields) announced they would be doing a run of reproduction playfields for F-14 on Pinside. I got myself on the waiting list and after a few months a package from Germany arrived at my office.

Several months of procrastination later (I’d claim it was to let the clearcoat cure, but I’d be lying) I cracked things open and got the old playfield and new laid out side by side.

Disassembly was pretty straightforward. I took pictures of everything I could think to and still ended up with missing information. Next time I plan to take a few slow pan videos over the entire thing to get a more complete documentation of part placement and wire routing. The full gallery of pre-disassembly pictures can be found below (right click and open in new tab to view full resolution).

It took a while but I eventually got everything swapped over… While I kept the original incandescent flashers, I swapped all of the smaller bulbs over to warm white frosted non-ghosting LEDs from pinballbulbs.com, with a couple colored ones for the spots where an incandescent bulb would have had a color gel sleeve over it. I’ve been very satisfied with the results, though I’ve heard sunlight spectrum LEDs offer an even closer look to the original incandescent glow and plan to try them out on my next shop out.

A few things I did to ease the process and improve the end result were:

  • Tracing brackets of each assembly before removal to record their orientation
  • Replacing wood screw posts with machine screw posts mounted to new T-nuts from the underside for high impact areas, where possible
  • Didn’t trust the dimpling on the new playfield. While it was close, each of these machines is hand assembled, and it came down to using my eyes on the top of the playfield while making adjustments to get the proper fit for many of the mechanisms
  • Acquired some new drill bits and a nice set of pin vises for doing holes in the top of the playfield for things like wire guides

There were only two major issues I encountered after re-assembly.

The first was due to my decision to re-install the factory ground braid for several segments of the lighting. I picked up an electric staple gun to re-install it on the new playfield and found it did not have enough strength to drive the staples into the hard plywood. Worse than that though, was I ended up not being careful enough with the staples holding in the lamp sockets, and ended up with a few cases where a staple leg created a short to the barrel of the socket, resulting in blown GI fuses.

After that experience I wouldn’t re-use the braid again, nor use staples to install the sockets. Instead the next swap will include switching to the piggy back grounding with insulated wire used in other areas of the machine. Were I doing a detailed restoration where using factory style braid was non-optional, I’d find a pneumatic staple gun to do the job with less frustration. Regardless of the fasteners used, I’ll also be careful to continuity test a bit more extensively prior to first power up.

The second issue was a mysterious and very consistent air ball problem on ball launch. When you’d plunge a ball it would come flying out of the shooter lane and smack the glass much of the time, and even if it got going up the ramp would often not have enough velocity to make the orbit and enter play. I initially thought this was a wireform ramp alignment issue, and spent too long chasing that red herring… Ultimately though, it ended up being a problem of the alignment of the plunger assembly itself.

You can see in the above picture the outline of the assembly’s placement with the original playfield, and just how far I had to move it over to get the plunger centered with the lane of the new playfield. Following that adjustment, my air ball problems went away entirely.

It’s now half a year, several thousand plays, and a visit to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo later, and so far the machine has played beautifully and largely problem free after the initial shakedown period. Besides the issues noted above all I’ve had to deal with has been an occasional playfield element connection broken due to fatigue. I have seen the development of the dimpling due to ball impacts that is common to new clear coated playfields. I won’t be worrying about it too much as the game plays quite smoothly and I haven’t seen any actual finish loss, only what I’d consider normal wear, but it’s worth noting for those it bothers.

You can view the rest of the post-swap pictures of the machine below (right click and open in new tab to view full resolution). A thread full of others’ experiences with swapping in this particular run of reproduction playfields can also be found on Pinside here.