The Joys of Restoring a Grody Old Talking Scale

Technology Workshop
The Joys of Restoring a Grody Old Talking Scale

Years ago, when I was co-writing a book on TiVo hacking with Leo Laporte, I embarked on one of the most fascinating hardware explorations I have ever undertaken. I took apart a TiVo Series 1 and tried to figure out what each component did and how they all worked together. I loved every minute of it. OK, that’s not true. Some of it was very frustrating, but in the end, all of the effort was worth it and I learned a lot. That experience gave me a much greater understanding of consumer electronics manufacture and all of the components that go into it.

So, I was tickled to see Fran Blanche doing the same sort of teardown and restoration on a Weight Talker talking scale from the 1980s. The teardown was a bit nauseating as the bathroom scale had obviously seen heavy use (and you use your toes to press the scale’s rubber buttons).

YouTube player
YouTube player

In the course of the examination of the device, Fran sleuths her way into understanding how all of components worked using years of experience, deduction, and by doing Google searches on the chipsets. For a few unlisted chips, the brain pool on her YouTube channel filled in the blanks.

Over the course of these two videos, Fran learns how the machine works, what each of the components does, and some fascinating details of its previous life. The plastic-housed scale was nearly impossible to clean because she realized that it had been living in a bathroom regularly subjected to clouds of hair spray. It took lots of soaking, brushing, and scrubbing to finally get everything clean. There are also other interesting details. Like, the soldering on the PCB is absolutely horrible. The board sports a QC (Quality Control) sticker, but it was never signed by an inspector. Perhaps the most interesting discovery of all is that the electronic Weight Talker was basically a plastic cover over a regular analog scale with an optical encoder used to read the scale’s needle.

Doing this type of a teardown, or watching a two-part video about one, is more than an entertainingly nerdy (and this case, sometimes cringe-worthy) exercise. You really do learn a tremendous amount in this process. If nothing else, you learn the impressive powers of Google (and YT viewers) in scaring up datasheets and other info on obscure components

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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