Bombing The Sky For The Sake Of Radio

If you are familiar with radio propagation you’ll know that radio waves do not naturally bend around the earth. Like light and indeed all electromagnetic radiation if they are given a free space they will travel in a straight line.

At very high frequencies this means that in normal circumstances once a receiver moves over the horizon from a transmitter that’s it, you’re out of range and there can be no communication. But at lower frequencies this is not the case. As you move through the lower end of the VHF into the HF (Short Wave) portion of the spectrum and below, the radio signal routinely travels far further than the horizon, and at the lower HF frequencies it starts to reach other continents, even as far as the other side of the world.

Of course, we haven’t changed the Laws Of Physics. Mr. Scott’s famous maxim still stands. Radio waves at these frequencies are being reflected, from ionised portions of the atmosphere and from the ground, sometimes in multiple “hops”. The science of this mechanism has been the subject of over a hundred years of exploration and will no doubt be for hundreds more, for the atmosphere is an unreliable boiling soup of gasses rather than a predictable mirror for your radio waves.

Radio amateurs have turned pushing the atmosphere to its limits into a fine art, but what if you would prefer to be able to rely on it? The US military has an interest in reliable HF communications as well as in evening out the effects of solar wind on the ionisation of the atmosphere, and has announced a research program involving bombing the upper atmosphere with plasma launched from cubesats. Metal ions will be created from both chemical reactions and by small explosions, and their results on the atmosphere will be studied.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the upper atmosphere has been ionised in military experiments. Both the USA and the USSR exploded nuclear weapons  at these altitudes before the cessation of atmospheric nuclear testing, and more recently have directed high power radio waves with the aim of ionising the upper atmosphere. You may have heard of the USA’s HAARP project in Alaska, but Russia’s Sura Ionospheric Heating Facility near Nizhniy Novgorod has been used for similar work. It remains to be seen whether these latest experiments will meet with success, but we’re sure they won’t be the last of their kind.

We’ve looked at radio propagation in the past with this handy primer, and we’ve also featured a military use of atmospheric reflection with over-the-horizon radar.

Fishbowl Starfish Prime upper atmosphere nuclear test image via Los Alamos National Laboratory. As an image created by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of their official duties this image is in the public domain.

Low Noise Floor Microphone

[Matt] likes to make videos (and he’s pretty good at it judging by the quality of his videos). But video isn’t much without audio. Handheld recorders with small built-in microphones have a fairly high noise floor so [Matt] has a Rode NT1-A — a pricey but very quiet microphone. However, for field work, it isn’t handy since it requires a power supply and preamp to go along with it.

low-noise-floor-binaural-microphoneAnother problem is that for stereo recording you need two and because they are quiet, they tend to pick up handling noise so you probably need to mount them on tripods. That’s all too much to carry around, especially on a hike. So [Matt] cannibalized two microphones. He repackaged them in a shock mount (made from a bird feeder and elastic), and added a battery pack and a custom preamp. The shock mount eliminates the handling noise and the custom PC boards mean you don’t have to carry a lot of extra gear.

The end result (see the video below) looks like someone made a purse out of a tribble, but it does sound good. If you hang on through most of the video (of fast forward to about 7:25), you can hear the microphones picking up thunderstorms, the ocean, the wind, and even [Matt’s] heartbeat.

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Filtering Noisy Data with an Arduino

One of the first frustrating situations a beginning microcontroller programmer will come across is the issue of debouncing switches. Microcontrollers are faster than switches, and the switch has yet to be built that can change state in zero time like they can on paper. This hurdle is easily overcome, but soon we are all faced with another issue: filtering noise from an analog signal. Luckily [Paul Martinsen] has put together a primer of three different ways to use an Arduino to filter signals.

The first (and fastest, simplest, etc.) way to filter an analog signal is to sample a bunch of times and then average all of the samples together. This will eliminate most outliers and chatter without losing much of the information. From there, the tutorial moves on to programming a running average to help increase the sample time (but consume much more memory). Finally, [Paul] takes a look at exponential filters, which are recursive, use less memory, and can be tweaked to respond to changes in different ways.

[Paul] discusses all of the perks and downsides of each method and provides examples for each as well. It’s worth checking out, whether you’re a seasoned veteran who might glean some nuance or you’re a beginner who hasn’t even encountered this problem yet. And if you’re still working on debouncing a digital input, we have you covered there, too.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Real Life XEyes

There’s a lot of tech that goes into animatronics, cosplay, and costumes. For their Hackaday Prize entry, [Dasaki] and [Dylan] are taking the eyes in a costume or Halloween prop to the next level with animatronic eyes that look where the wearer of this crazy confabulation is looking. It’s XEyes in real life, and it promises to be a part of some very, very cool costumes.

The mechanics of this system are actually pretty simple — it’s just a few servos joined together to make a pair of robotic eyes move up and down, and left to right. This entire mechanism is mounted on a frame, to which is attached a very small camera pointed directly at the user’s (real) eye. The software is where things get fun. That’s a basic eye-tracking setup, with IR light illuminating the pupil, and a compute unit that can calculate where the user is looking.

For the software, [Dasaki] and [Dylan] have collected a bunch of links, but right now the best solutions are the OpenMV and the Eye of Horus project from last year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s a great project, and a really fun entry for the Automation portion of this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Weather-aware Shoe Rack Helps You Get Ready for the Day

If you’re anything like us, your complete shoe collection consists of a pair of work boots and a pair of ratty sneakers that need to wait until the next household haz-mat day to be retired. But some people have a thing for shoes, and knowing which pair is suitable for the weather on any given day is such a bother. And that’s the rationale behind this Raspberry Pi-driven weather-enabled shoe rack.

The rack itself is [zealen]’s first woodworking project, and for a serious shoeaholic it’s probably too small by an order of magnitude. But for proof of principle it does just fine. The rack holds six pairs, each with an LED to light it up. A PIR sensor on the top triggers the Raspberry Pi to light up a particular pair based on the weather, which we assume is scraped off the web somehow. [zealen] admits that the fit and finish leave a bit to be desired, but for a first Rasp Pi project, it’s pretty accomplished. There’s plenty of room for improvement, of course – RFID tags in the shoes to allow them to be placed anywhere in the rack springs to mind.

[via r/raspberry_pi]

Working in Peace With an Off-Grid Office Shed

Finding a good work space at home isn’t a trivial task, especially when you’ve got a wife and kid. A lot of us use a spare bedroom, basement, or garage as a space to work on our hobbies (or jobs). But, the lack of true separation from the home can make getting real work done difficult. For many of us, we need to have the mental distance between our living space and our working space in order to actually get stuff done.

This is the problem [Syonyk] had — he needed a quiet place to work that was separated from the rest of his house. To accomplish this, he used a Tuff Shed and set it up to run off-grid. The reason for going off-grid wasn’t purely environmental, it was actually more practical than trying to run power lines from the house. Because of the geology where he lives, burying power lines wasn’t financially feasible.

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Amazing Carbon Foam Doesn’t Take Much Bread

A lot of people knew the Space Shuttle had ceramic tiles to protect its nose from reentry heat. That’s mostly because the tiles fell off a lot and each one was a unique shape, so it got a lot of press coverage. However, you didn’t hear as much about the parts of the orbiter that got really hot: the forward part of the wings and the tip of the nose. For those, NASA used an exotic material called RCC or reinforced carbon-carbon. Other uses include missile nose cones and Formula One brakes. A similar material, carbon fiber-reinforced silicon carbide appears in some high-end car brakes. These materials can take high temperatures, easily.

[AvE] wanted to make some carbon foam for experiments. It does take a little bread, though. Not money, but literal bread. To create the foam, he burns bread slices in a chamber full of argon. The stuff has some amazing properties.

In the video below, you can see the foam protecting a thermocouple from a torch flame and even holding melting aluminum. Not bad for a few pieces of bread.

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