Hacklet 19 – Ham Radio


Amateur, or ham radio operators have always been hackers. For much of the early 1900’s, buying a radio was expensive or impossible. Hams would build their own rigs, learning electronics and radio theory along the way. Time moves on, but hams keep hacking. Today we’re highlighting some of the best ham radio projects on Hackaday.io!


We start with [DainBramage1991] and his very practical RTL-SDR With Upconverter and Case. [DainBramage1991] fell in love with his low-cost RTL software defined radio dongle. He even added a Ham-It-Up upconverter to cover HF bands. The only problem was RF noise. the Realtek USB sticks tend to have little or no filtering, which means they are very susceptible to noise. [DainBramage1991] used the time-honored technique of insulating with copper clad board. Bits of PCB hold the RTL-SDR and upconverter in place. More PCB separates the two boards. Everything goes into a steel enclosure which keeps that unwanted RF at bay.

foxhunt-attenNext up is [Ryan Miller's aka KG7HZQ]‘s  ham radio fox hunt attenuator. Ham radio fox hunt’s don’t involve baying dogs or horses. In this case a fox hunt is a contest to find hidden low power transmitters. If you’ve never tried one, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. One of the challenges with a fox hunt is to find the direction to the transmitter when you’re very close. Even with directional antennas, reflections and swamped receivers make it hard to figure out just where the transmitter is. The solution is an attenuator, which simply reduces the signal to a more reasonable value. [Ryan] also used copper clad PCB for his circuit. Since the attenuator parts are soldered directly to the PCB, this is more of a Manhattan style design. Two ceramic 1k pots help him achieve his goal of near perfect linear attenuation. We’re betting this attenuator will help [Ryan] win some contests!

psdrWho says amateur radio won’t take you places? It may well be taking [Michael R Colton] to space! [Michael's] project PortableSDR is one of the five finalists in The Hackaday Prize. We covered Michael earlier in the contest. PortableSDR started as a ham radio project: a radio system which would be easy for hams to take with them on backpacking trips. It’s grown into so much more now, with software defined radio reception and transmission, vector network analysis, antenna analysis, GPS, and a host of other features. We seriously love how [Michael] optimized a small LCD for waterfall display, tuning, and bandpass filter adjustment.

e2ra[W5VO] is working on an Ethernet to Radio Adapter. Every foot of coax in a radio system loses signal. Connections are even worse. It can all add up to several dB loss. [W5VO] wants to put an SDR at the antenna feed-point. With the signal path minimized, more watts make it out when transmitting, and more signal gets back to the receiver when listening. The interface between the SDR and host computer will be all digital; Ethernet to be precise. [W5VO] isn’t the first person to do something like this, microwave systems have had the transmitter and LNB at the antenna for years. That doesn’t take away from [W5VO's] design at all  He’s been quiet for a while, but we’re hoping he continues on his design!

Where is everyone else? We’re a bit light on projects this week, but we have a good reason. There just aren’t enough ham radio projects on Hackaday.io! We’re hoping to change that though. Are you an amateur radio enthusiast? Document your project on the site. Get input from other hams and push the envelope! You might even find yourself on the Ham Radio List!

That’s all for this episode of The Hacklet. As always, QRX is next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io! 73’s!

Fail of the Week: [Chris] vs. The Gorn

bb cannon failThis week, [Chris] tips the scales but ultimately fails. He’s on the road, hacking through the Great White North and improvising from a poorly-lit echo chamber that happens to have a vise.

Knowing nothing about firearms (do you believe that?), he decided to build a BB cannon out of pure scrap. Several kinds of sparks fly, starting with a Hitachi drill-as-lathe and ending with a tiny cupcake sparkler. [Chris] proceeds to bore out some redi-rod by eyeballing it and offers helpful tips for course correction should you attempt same. Having centered the cavity, he drills out a tiny hole for a fuse.

His first fuse is of the crushed up match head paste variety. It burns kind of slowly and does not launch the BB. Naturally, Plan B is to make napalm glue to adhere Pyrodex pistol powder to paper. As you might imagine, it worked quite well. The wadding was singed, but still no joy. After packing her full of propellant, it still didn’t explode and merely burned out the blowhole. So, what gives? Insufficient barrel length? Should have used bamboo instead of redi-rod? Didn’t want it badly enough? Give us your fodder below.

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Ask Hackaday: What Are Invariant Representations?

book cover for on intelligence

Your job is to make a circuit that will illuminate a light bulb when it hears the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. So you breadboard a mic, op amp, your favorite microcontroller (and an ADC if needed) and get to work. You will sample the incoming data and compare it to a known template. When you get a match, you light the light. The first step is to make the template. But what to make the template of?

“Hey boss, what style of the song do you want to trigger the light? Is it children singing, piano, what?”

Your boss responds:

“I want the light to shine whenever any version of the song occurs. It could be singing, keyboard, guitar, any musical instrument or voice in any key. And I want it to work even if there’s a lot of ambient noise in the background.”

Uh oh. Your job just got a lot harder. Is it even possible? How do you make templates of every possible version of the song? Stumped, you talk to your friend about your dilemma over lunch, who just so happens to be [Jeff Hawkins] – a guy whose already put a great deal of thought into this very problem.

“Well, the brain solves your puzzle easily.” [Hawkins] says coolly. “Your brain can recall the memory of that song no matter if it’s vocal, instrumental in any key or pitch. And it can pick it out from a lot of noise.”

“Yea, but how does it do that though!” you ask. “The pattern’s of electrical signals entering the brain have to be completely different for different versions of the song, just like the patterns from my ADC. How does the brain store the countless number of templates required to ID the song?”

“Well…” [Hawkins] chuckles. “The brain does not store templates like that”. The brain only remembers the parts of the song that doesn’t change, or are invariant. The brain forms what we call invariant representations of real world data.”

Eureka! Your riddle has been solved. You need to construct an algorithm that stores only the parts of the song that doesn’t change. These parts will be the same in all versions – vocal or instrumental in any key. It will be these invariant, unchanging parts of the song that you will look for to trigger the light. But how do you implement this in silicon?

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Retrotechtacular: Core Competencies

logic diagram

As the dashing officer shown above will tell you, early data processing machines and ADP systems employed two types of magnetic cores for memory and other purposes. This 1961 U.S. Army training film is an introduction to the properties of ferrite cores, which are commonly made from nickel alloy and other magnetic materials. As this is only part one of a series, the metallic ribbon type of magnetic core is covered in some other segment we have yet to locate.

The use of magnetic cores for random access memory was built upon transformer theory and provided a rugged and low-power solution until the semiconductor came into vogue. Before that time, the humble ferrite core served many uses and did so very well. The Apollo Guidance Computer had erasable magnetic core memory, and much of its software was stored in core rope memory.

binary 1The film covers a lot of theory and does so clearly and concisely. It begins by explaining what a magnetic core is and why it’s used, and then moves on to describe how the cores are used to store bits and the method by which they can transfer information to other cores. Along the way, it provides background on bi-stable devices and provides explanation of magnetization behavior in terms of magnetizing force and flux density.

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Mooltipass Installation Process is Now Dead Simple

Mooltipass login process

In a few weeks the Hackaday community offline password keeper will reach a crowdfunding platform. This is a necessary step as only a high production volume will allow our $80 early bird perk target. We’ll therefore need you to spread the word.

Thanks to the Chromium development team, a few days ago the Mooltipass installation process became as simple as installing our app & extension. As you may remember, our device is enumerated as composite HID proprietary / HID standard keyboard. This makes it completely driverless for all operating systems and enables standalone operation as the Mooltipass can type logins and passwords selected through its user interface. Management communications are therefore done through the Mooltipass HID proprietary interface, which Chrome 38 now natively supports through its chrome.hid API. The simpler our installation process is, the more likely the final users will appreciate the fruit of our hard labor.

As our last post mentioned there’s still plenty of space for future contributors to implement new functionalities. Our future crowdfunding campaign will allow us to find javascript developers for the remaining app & extensions tasks and also implement other browsers support. Want to stay tuned of the Mooltipass launch date? Subscribe to our official Google Group!


Ask Hackaday: Who is Going to Build This Pneumatic Transmission Thing?


Disney research is doing what they do best, building really cool stuff for Disney and telling the rest of the world how cool they are. This time, it’s a very low friction fluid transmission device designed for animatronics.

From testing a few toy robotic arms, we can say without a doubt that servos and motors are not the way to go if you’re designing robots and animatronics that need lifelike motion. To fix this, a few researchers at Disney Pittsburgh have turned to pneumatics and hydraulics, where one joint is controlled by two sets of pistons. It’s extremely similar to the pneumatic LEGO, but more precise and much more lifelike.

The system uses a pair of cylinders on each joint of a robot. Disney is using a rolling diaphragm to seal the working fluid in its tubes and cylinders. This is an extremely low-friction device without any shakiness or jitters found with simple o-ring pneumatics and hydraulics.

The system is backdriveable, meaning one robotic arm can control another, and the other way around. Since we’re dealing with hydraulics, the cylinders (and robotic/animatronic devices) don’t need to be the same size; a small device could easily control a larger copy of itself, and vice versa.

The devices are fairly simple, with gears, toothed belts, and bits of plastic between them. The only unique part of these robots is the rolling diaphragm, and we have no idea where to source this. It looks like it would be great for some robotics or an Iron Man-esque mech suit, but being able to source the components will be a challenge.

You can check out the videos of these devices below, and if you have any idea on how to build your own, leave a note in the comments.

[Read more...]

Hacklet 18 – Tick Tock, it’s Time for Clocks


In three words, Hackers love clocks. Not only do we think that digital watches are still a pretty neat idea, we love all manner of timepieces. This episode of The Hacklet focuses on the clock projects we’ve found over on Hackaday.io.

xkcdHardwareWe start with [rawe] and [tabascoeye], who both put the famous XKCD “now” clock into hardware. [tabascoeye] used a stepper motor in his xkcd world clock. [rawe] didn’t have any steppers handy, so he grabbed a cheap wall clock from Ikea for his xkcd.com/now clock in hardware. The now clock needs a 24 hour movement. Ikea only sells 12 hour movements, so [rawe] hacked in a 555 and some logic to divide the clock’s crystal by two. He’s currently using an EEVblog uCurrent to verify his modified clockwork consumes about half a milliwatt.

touchscreenclockNext up is [Craig Bonsignore] and his Touchscreen Alarm Clock. [Craig] got sick of store-bought alarm clocks, so he built his own. Then he modified it, added a few features, and kept building! The current incarnation of the clock has a pretty novel interface: a touchscreen over a bicolor LED matrix. The rest of the clock consists of an Arduino, an Adafruit Wave shield, and a Macetech Chronodot. [Craig] is currently mashing up these open source designs and building a single Arduino shield for his clock.

irisledclock[Warren Janssens] took the minimalist route with The Iris Clock. Iris is a ring of WS2812 RGB LEDs. The LEDs are mounted behind a wall colored piece of wood in such a way that you can only see their glow on the clock frame and the wall beyond it. This helps a with the eye searing effect WS2812s can have when viewed directly – even when dimmed with PWM. The code is mainly C with some AVR assembly thrown in to control the LEDs. [Warren] has given Iris 8 different time modes, from hour/minute/second to percentage of day with sunrise and sunset markers. With so many modes, the only hard part is knowing how to read the time Iris is displaying!

stargate[David Hopkins] also built a ring clock. His Stargate LED Clock not only tells time, but is a great replica of the Stargate from the TV series. [David] used four Adafruit WS2812 Neopixel segments to build a full 60 RGB LED ring. The Stargate runs on an Arduino nano with a real-time clock chip to keep accurate time. A photoresistor allows the Stargate to automatically dim at night. With some slick programming [David] added everything from a visual hourly “chime” to a smooth fade from LED to LED.

bendulum[dehne1] gives us something completely different with The Bendulum Clock. A bendulum is [dehne1's] own creation consisting of an inverted pendulum built without a pivot. The inverted pendulum swings by bending along its length. In [dehne1's] design, the bendulum is made out of a spring steel strip rescued from a car windshield wiper. The Bendulum doesn’t have a mechanical escapement, but an electromagnet sensed and driven by an Arduino. The amazing part of this project is that  [dehne1] isn’t using a real-time clock chip. The standard 8MHz Arduino resonator is calibrated over various temperatures, then used to calibrate the bendulum itself. The result is a clock that can be accurate within 1 minute each day. [dehne1] mounted his clock inside a custom wood case. We think it looks great, and want one for Hackaday HQ!

We’ve used enough clock ticks for this episode of The Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Still want more? Check out our Timepiece List!


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