The Booths Of Hamvention

Hamvention was last weekend in Dayton, Ohio. Last weekend was also the Bay Area Maker Faire, and if you want tens of thousands of people who actually make stuff there’s really only one place to be. Bonus: you can also check out the US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB. The ‘Space’ hangar was closed, so that’ll be another trip next year.

The biggest draw for Hamvention is the swap meet. Every year, thousands of cars pull up, set up a few tables and tents, and hock their wares. Everything from radios from the 1920s to computers from the 1980s can be found at the swap meet. This post is not about the swap meet; I still have several hundred pictures to go through, organize, label, and upload. Instead, this post is about the booths of Hamvention. Everything imaginable could be found at Hamvention, from the usual ARRL folks, to the preppers selling expired MREs, and even a few heros of Open Hardware.


The elevation axis of a SatNOGS ground station
The elevation axis of a SatNOGS ground station

In 2014, Hackaday did something spectacular. We launched The Hackaday Prize, and gave everyone the opportunity to build Open Hardware with the chance to get paid for the same. The first grand prize winner of the Hackaday Prize was SatNOGS, a global network of satellite ground stations.

SatNOGS was founded after the realization that there are hundreds of cubesats and other amateur satellites being dumped into Low Earth Orbit. Most of these cubesats are from universities, with a few from high schools around the world. Getting data from these satellites requires a ground station, and if each cubesat only has one ground station, that satellite is only usable for a few minutes each day when it passes over home base.

SatNOGSSatNOGS is the solution to this problem. It’s a relatively simple device – just a few antennas mounted to a motorize platform, and connected to the Internet with a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone. By connecting antennas around the globe to the Internet, the SatNOGS team can schedule observations for each individual ground station. This means more data and better science for every amateur cubesat.

While most of the SatNOGS team is busy with the Libre Space Foundation, the not-for-profit founded with Hackaday Prize money, there was enough cash to send a few SatNOGS enthusiasts out to Hamvention. [Corey], aka KB9JHU, from Bloomington, Indiana and SatNOGS station number two brought the team out. He’s been running his station for a while, and there are a few takeaways from his experiences in operating a 3D printed, robotic antenna for a few years. Printing parts in PLA works, surprisingly. There really isn’t much degradation of the 3D printed gears. Weatherproofing is relatively easy, but bug-proofing is not. There was talk of bees before I phased out of the conversation after realizing I don’t know if I’m allergic to bees. There are more SatNOGS stations coming online, and there should be reasonable coverage over most population centers by the time the Libre Space Foundation puts their satellite into orbit.

SDR Wizardry From Colorado

Electronic wizard and SDR hipster [Michael Ossman] was at Hamvention, showing off the latest of his SDR goodies.

The PortaPack for the HackRF One
The PortaPack for the HackRF One

[Ossmann] is famous around these part for the HackRF One, a software defined radio that’s good from 1MHz to 6GHz. Everything you could ever want is in this band, and the HackRF One transmits, too. He and his buddies were showing off the PortaPack, a ‘shield’, for lack of a better term, for the HackRF One that allows for portable control of the SDR. It’s a display, an old iPod scroll wheel thingy, and a shell to protect everything.

Sometimes you don’t need a good SDR that goes all the way into GHz territory, and for that [Ossmann] has the YARD Stick One. It’s sub-1GHz, based on the IM-Me radio circuit. For the booth demo, the Great Scott Gadgets crew connected a bicycle pump to an MDF box with an acrylic lid. Pop in a tire pressure monitor, and you have an excellent demo for receiving sub-GHz wireless transmissions.

The SEC Has a Thing for Crowdfunding

Kickstarter is not a store. Indiegogo is not a store. No matter what crowdfunding platform you’re on, you’re not in a store. This is an undeniable truth, and no matter how angry you are about not being able to bring a cooler with a blender to the beach this summer, you did not buy this cool cooler, you were merely giving someone money to develop this cooler.

This reality may seem strange for the most vocal Internet commenters out there, leading them to the conclusion their pledge for a crowdfunding campaign was an investment. Surely there must be some guarantee in a single pledge, and if it’s not exchanging money for some consumer goods, it is exchanging money for a stake in a company. If that were true, backers of the Oculus Rift would have received several thousand dollars each, instead of a $600 VR headset.

Crowdfunding is not a store, and according to Kickstarter and Indiegogo, it is not an investment, either. Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s rules for “crowdfunded investing”, “Regulation Crowdfunding”, or “Title III Crowdfunding” kicked into gear. Is this the beginning of slack-jawed gawkers throwing their life savings into a pit of despair filled with idiotic consumer products that violate the laws of physics?

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Worldwide Educational Infrastructure

The future of education is STEM, and for the next generation to be fitter, happier, and more productive, classrooms around the world must start teaching programming, computer engineering, science, maths, and electronics to grade school students. In industrialized countries, this isn’t a problem: they have enough money for iPads, Chromebooks, and a fast Internet connection. For developing economies? That problem is a little harder to solve. Children in these countries go to school, but there are no racks of iPads, no computers, and even electricity isn’t a given. To solve this problem, [Eric] has created a portable classroom for his entry into this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Classrooms don’t need much, but the best education will invariably need computers and the Internet. Simply by the virtue of Wikipedia, a connection to the Internet multiplies the efforts of any teacher, and is perhaps the best investment anyone can make in the education of a child. This was the idea behind the One Laptop Per Child project a decade ago, but since then, ARM boards running Linux have become incredibly cheap, and we’re getting to a point where cheap Internet everywhere is a real possibility.

To build this portable classroom, [Eric] is relying on the Raspberry Pi. Yes, there are cheaper options, but the Pi is good enough. A connection to online resources is required, and for that [Eric] is turning to the Outernet. It’s a system that will broadcast educational material down from orbit, using ground stations made from cheap and portable KU band satellite dishes and cheap receivers.

When it comes to educational resources for very rural communities, the options are limited. With [Eric]’s project, the possibilities for educating students on the basics of living in the modern world become much easier, and makes for a great entry into this year’s Hackaday Prize.

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The Man Who Didn’t Invent The Personal Computer

[John Blankenbaker] did not invent the personal computer. Museums, computer historians, and authors have other realities in mind when they say [John]’s invention, the KENBAK-1, was the first electronic, commercially available computer that was not a kit, and available to the general population.

In a way, it’s almost to the KENBAK’s detriment that it is labelled the first personal computer. It was, after all, a computer from before the age of the microprocessor. It is possibly the simplest machine ever sold and an architecturally unique machine that has more in common with the ENIAC than any other machine built in the last thirty years..

The story of the creation of this ancient computer has never been told until now. [John], a surprisingly spry octogenarian, told the story of his career and the development of the first personal computer at the Vintage Computer Festival East last month. This is his story of not inventing the personal computer.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Sniffing Defibrillator Data

There’s a lot of implantable medical technology that is effectively a black box. Insulin pumps monitor blood sugar and deliver insulin, but you can’t exactly plug in a USB cable and download the data. Pacemakers and cardiac defibrillators are the same way. For these patients, data is usually transmitted to a base station, then sent over the Internet to help doctors make decisions. The patient never gets to see this data, but with a little work and a software defined radio, a team on is cracking the code to listen in on these implanted medical devices.

The team behind ICeeData was assembled at a Health Tech Hackathon held in Latvia last April. One of the team members has an implanted defibrillator keeping her ticker in shape, and brought along her implant’s base station. The implant communicates via 402-405MHz radio, a region of the spectrum that is easily accessible by a cheap RTL-SDR TV Tuner dongle.

Right now the plan is to intercept the communications between the implant and the base station, decode the packets, decipher the protocol, and understand what the data means. It’s a classic reverse engineering task that would be the same for any radio protocol, only with this ones, the transmissions are coming from inside a human.


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Hackaday Links: May 22, 2016

Lulzbot’s TAZ 6 has been released. Lulzbot’s printers consistently place in the top three of any 3D printing list, and the TAZ 6 will likely be no exception. [James Bruton] was one of the lucky ones who got a review unit, and first looks are promising. The TAZ 6 has the auto bed leveling found in the Lulzbot Mini, and a ‘power tower’ for all the electronics. There are completely unconfirmed rumors (or someone told me and I forgot who) that the power tower will be available separately at some point.

The most impressive circuit we’ve seen this week month year is the dis-integrated 6502. It’s a discrete 6502 CPU, about a square foot in size. It’s slow, but it works. RAM and ROM is easy to make embiggened, which means someone needs to build a dis-integrated 6522 VIA. Who’s game?

[Jeremy Cook] wanted to learn another CAD package, in this case Onshape. Onshape is the ‘first cloud-only CAD package’, which has one huge bonus – you can run it anywhere, on anything – and one huge minus – it’s in the cloud. He designed a bicycle cupholder.

Last week, several thousand Raspberry Pi Zeros shipped out to retailers in the US and UK. For a time, Pi Zeros were in stock in some online stores. Now? Not so much. Where did they all go? eBay, apparently. It’s called arbitrage, and it’s the only risk-free form of investment.

Remember those ‘bed of nails’ toys, that were basically two sheets of plastic, with hundreds of small pins able to make 3D impressions of your face and hands. No, there is no official name for these devices, but here’s a Kickstarter for a very clever application of these toys. You can use them to hold through hole parts while soldering. Brilliant.

You should not pay attention to 3D printers on Kickstarter. Repeat after me: you should not give money to 3D printers on Kickstarter. Here’s a 3D printer on Kickstarter, promising a 3D printer for $74. I own several hats, and will eat one if this ships by next year.

Remember It’s being reimplemented on

BeagleBone Green, Now Wireless

Over the past few years, the BeagleBone ecosystem has grown from the original BeagleBone White, followed two years later by the BeagleBone Black. The Black was the killer board of the BeagleBone family, and for a time wasn’t available anywhere at any price. TI has been kind to the SoC used in the BeagleBone, leading to last year’s release of the BeagleBone Green, The robotics-focused BeagleBone Blue, and the very recent announcement of a BeagleBone on a chip. All these boards have about the same capabilities, targeted towards different use cases; the BeagleBone on a Chip is a single module that can be dropped into an Eagle schematic. The BeagleBone Green is meant to be the low-cost that plays nicely with Seeed Studio’s Grove connectors. They’re all variations on a theme, and until now, wireless hasn’t been a built-in option.

This weekend at Maker Faire, Seeed Studio is showing off their latest edition of the BeagleBone Green. It’s the BeagleBone Green Wireless, and includes 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.1 LE.

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