Fail of the Week: Tracking Meteors with Weather Radio

It’s not hard to detect meteors: go outside on a clear night in a dark place and you’re bound to see one eventually. But visible light detection is limiting, and knowing that meteors leave a trail of ions means radio detection is possible. That’s what’s behind this attempt to map meteor trails using broadcast signals, which so far hasn’t yielded great results.

Passing jet’s Doppler signature

The fact that meteor trails reflect radio signals is well-known; hams use “meteor bounce” to make long-distance contacts all the time. And using commercial FM broadcast signals to map meteor activity isn’t new, either — we’ve covered the “forward scattering” technique before. The technique requires tuning into a frequency used by a distant station but not a local one and waiting for a passing meteor to bounce the distant signal back to your SDR dongle. Capturing the waterfall display for later analysis should show characteristic patterns and give you an idea of where and when the meteor passed.

[Dave Venne] is an amateur astronomer who turns his eyes and ears to the heavens just to see what he can find. [Dave]’s problem is that the commercial FM band in the Minneapolis area that he calls home is crowded, to say the least. He hit upon the idea of using the National Weather Service weather radio broadcasts at around 160 MHz as a substitute. Sadly, all he managed to capture were passing airplanes with their characteristic Doppler shift; pretty cool in its own right, but not the desired result.

The comments in the RTL-SDR.com post on [Dave]’s attempt had a few ideas on where this went wrong and how to improve it, including the intriguing idea of using 60-meter ham band propagation beacons. Now it’s Hackaday’s turn: any ideas on how to fix [Dave]’s problem? Sound off in the comments below.

Fake Your ID Photos – the 3D Way

Photographs for identification purposes have strict requirements. Lighting, expression, and framing are all controlled to enable authorities to quickly and effectively use them to identify individuals reliably. But what if you created an entirely fake photograph from scratch? That’s exactly what [Raphael Fabre] set out to do.

With today’s 3D modelling tools, human faces can be created in extreme detail. Using these, [Raphael] set out to create a 3D model of himself, which was then used to render images simulating a passport photograph. Not content to end the project there, [Raphael] put his digital doppelgänger to the test – applying for a French identification card. He succeeded.

While the technology to create and render high-quality human faces has existed for a while, it’s impressive that [Raphael]’s work passed for genuine human. Obviously there’s something to be said for the likelihood of an overworked civil servant catching this sort of ruse, but the simple fact is, the images made it through the process, and [Raphael] has his ID. Theoretically, this leaves open the possibility of creating entirely fictitious characters and registering them as real citizens with the state, for all manner of nefarious purposes. If you do this, particularly on a grand scale, be sure to submit it to the tip line.

We’ve seen other concerning ID hacks before, such as this attempt at hacking RFIDs in Passport Cards.

Spice Up Your Shop with a VW Pickup Wall Decoration

Seeing a half car is always a disconcerting experience. Especially when that half car is about 14 feet up in the air. [PanasonicModelRC6015] — We’ll call him [RC6015] for short — has gone and mounted 1/2 (actually more like 1/4) of a VW Rabbit Caddy pickup MK1 up on his shop wall.

The caddy started life as a regular 1983 VW pickup. Unfortunately, the years had not been kind to it. The body panels were in good shape, but there were serious rust problems in the floors, strut towers, rockers, and control arm mounts. According to [RC6015], this is beyond “weld on few replacement panels”, though he’s been heavily questioned on it in his Reddit thread.

Cutting the truck down was easy – a reciprocating saw did most of the work. The VW has a unibody design, so there was still some frame there to hold things together. A 2×12 board then was then bolted from the front of the truck to the rear. This made everything stable and provided a solid mounting point. A second 2×12 was lag bolted to several studs on the wall. Then it was just a matter of lifting the truck into position and bolting the two boards together. We’re guessing the [RC6015]’s wall has solid wood studs. Don’t try hanging a 500 lb truck from the wall if you’ve only got thin metal studs behind your sheetrock.

Just in case you’re wondering, the Panasonic Model RC-6015 is a vintage flip display alarm clock, the same one Marty used in Back to the Future.

If a truck on the wall is a bit much for your shop, check out this wall mounted weather display.

Heathkit’s New RF Meter: Who is it for?

Electronic hackers and ham radio operators of a certain age have a soft spot for the Heathkit brand. Maybe that’s why we had a rush of nostalgia when we saw the Heathkit site had a new product. You may recall that Heathkit had gone the way of the dodo until a few years ago when the brand started to resurface. Their latest kit is a precision RF meter which is available on preorder.

Before there were websites and hacker spaces and all the modern push to “do it yourself,” Heathkit was teaching people electronics through kit building. Sure, they were known for ham radio and test equipment, but many people built stereos (hi-fi), TVs, radio control gear, computers, and even robots. All with manuals that are hard to imagine if you haven’t seen one. They were world-class.

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EV3DEV Lego Linux Updated

The ev3dev Linux distribution got an update this month. The distribution targets the Lego EV3 which is a CPU Lego provides to drive their Mindstorm robots. The new release includes the most recent kernel and updates from Debian 8.8. It also contains tools needed for some Wi-Fi dongles and other updates.

If you haven’t seen ev3dev before, it is quite simply Linux that boots on the EV3 hardware using an SD card. You don’t have to reflash the computer and if you want to return to stock, just take out the SD card. You can also use ev3dev on a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone, if you like. There’s a driver framework included for handling sensors, motors, and other items using the file system.

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Nominal Lumber Sizes Land Home Depot And Menards In Hot Water

Hard times indeed must have fallen upon the lawyers of the American mid-west, for news reaches us of a possible class-action lawsuit filed in Chicago that stretches the bounds of what people in more gainful employment might consider actionable. It seems our legal eagles have a concern over the insufficient dimensions of their wood, and this in turn has caused them to apply for a class action against Home Depot and Menards with respect to their use of so-called nominal sizing in the sale of lumber.

If you have ever bought commercial lumber you will no doubt understand where this is going. The sawmill takes a piece of green wood straight from the forest, and cuts it to a particular size. It is then seasoned, either left to dry out and mature in the open air or placed in a kiln to achieve the same effect at a more rapid pace. This renders it into the workable lumber you expect to use, but causes a shrinkage of the wood that since it depends on variables such as moisture can not be accurately quantified. Thus a piece of wood cut by the sawmill at 4 inches square could produce a piece of seasoned lumber somewhere near 3.5 inches square. It would thus be sold as having only a nominal size of 4 inches This has been the case as long as commercial lumber has been produced, we’d guess for something in the region of a couple of centuries, and is thus unlikely to be a surprise to anyone in the market for lumber.

So, back to the prospective lawsuit. Once the hoots of laughter from the entire lumber, building, and woodworking industries have died down, is their contention that a customer being sold a material of dimension 3.5 inches as 4 inches is being defrauded a valid one? We are not lawyers here at Hackaday, but we’d expect the long-established nature of nominal lumber sizing to present a tough obstacle to their claim, as well as the existence of other nominally sized products in the building industry such as rolled steel joists. Is it uncharitable of us to characterise the whole escapade as a frivolous fishing exercise with the sole purpose of securing cash payouts? Probably not, and we hope the judges in front of whom this is likely to land agree with us.

If you have any thoughts on this case, especially if you have a legal background, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Sawn lumber image: By Bureau of Land Management (Oregon_BLM_Forestry_10) [CC BY 2.0].

Getting Data Off Proprietary Glucometers Gets a Little Easier

Glucometers (which measure glucose levels in blood) are medical devices familiar to diabetics, and notorious for being proprietary. Gentoo Linux developer [Flameeyes] has some good news about his open source tool to read and export data from a growing variety of glucometers. For [Flameeyes], the process started four years ago when he needed to send his glucometer readings to his doctor and ended up writing his own tool. Previously it was for Linux only, but now has Windows support.

Glucometers use a variety of different data interfaces, and even similar glucometers from the same manufacturer can use different protocols. Getting the data is one thing, but more is needed. [Flameeyes] admits that the tool is still crude in many ways, lacking useful features such as HTML output. Visualization and analysis are missing as well. If you’re interested in seeing if you can help, head over to the GitHub repository for glucomerutils. Also needed are details on protocols used by different devices; [Flameeyes] has only been able to reverse-engineer the protocols of meters he owns.

Speaking of glucometers, there is a project for a Universal Glucometer which aims to be able to use test strips from any manufacturer without needing to purchase a different meter.

Thanks for the tip, [Stuart]!