Cascade LNAs and Filters for Radioastronomy with an SDR

It may not be the radio station with all the hits and the best afternoon drive show, but 1420.4058 MHz is the most popular frequency in the universe. That’s the electromagnetic spectral line of hydrogen, and it’s the always on the air. But studying the H-line is a non-trivial task unless you know how to cascade low-noise amplifiers and filters to use an SDR for radio astronomy.

Because the universe is mostly made of hydrogen, H-line emissions are abundant, and their distribution can tell us a lot about the structure of galaxies. The 21-cm emission line is so characteristic and so prevalent that we used it as a unit of measurement on the plaques aboard the Pioneer probes as well as in the instructions for playing back the Voyager recordings. But listening in on 21-cm here on Earth requires a special setup, which [Adam (9A4QV)] describes in a detailed paper on the subject (PDF). [Adam] analyzes multiple configurations of LNAs and filters, both of which he sells, to determine the optimum front-end for 21-cm work. His analysis is a good primer on LNAs and explains why the front-end gear needs to be as close to the antenna as possible. Using his LNAs and filters and an SDR dongle, a reasonable 21-cm rig can be had for about $200 or so, less the antenna. He promises a follow-up paper on homebrew 21-cm antennas; we’ll be looking forward to that.

Not keen on the music of the spheres and prefer to listen to our own spacecraft instead? Then read up on the Deep Space Network and how you can snoop in.

Be the Firebender You Want to See in the World

Always wanted to be a citizen of Fire Nation? Here’s one way to ace the citizenship exam: punch-activated flaming kung fu gauntlets of doom.

As with all the many, many, many flamethrower projects we’ve featured before, we’ve got to say this is just as bad an idea as they are and that you should not build any of them. That said, [Sufficiently Advanced]’s wrist-mounted, dual-wielding flamethrowers are pretty cool. Fueled by butane and containing enough of the right parts for even a minimally talented prosecutor to make federal bomb-making charges stick, the gauntlets each have an Arduino and accelerometer to analyze your punches. Wimpy punch, no flame — only awesome kung fu moves are rewarded with a puff of butane ignited by an arc lighter. The video below shows a few close calls that should scare off the hairy-knuckled among us; adding a simple metal heat shield might help mitigate potential singeing.

Firebending gloves not enough to satisfy your inner pyromaniac? We understand completely.

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Fishing for AirPods with Magnets

Note to self: if you’re going to hack at 4 in the morning, have a plan to deal with the inevitable foul ups. Like being able to whip up an impromptu electromagnetic crane to retrieve an AirPod dropped out a window.

Apartment dweller [Tyler Efird]’s tale of woe began with a wee-hours 3D print in need of sanding. Leaning out his third-story window to blow off some dust, he knocked one AirPod free and gravity did the rest. With little light to search by and a flight to catch, the wayward AirPod sat at the bottom of a 10-foot shaft below his window, keeping company with a squad of spiders for two weeks. Unwilling to fork over $69 and wait a month and a half for a replacement, [Tyler] set about building a recovery device. A little magnet wire wound onto a bolt, a trashed 100-foot long Ethernet cable, and a DC bench supply were all he needed to eventually fish up the AirPod. And no spiders were harmed in the making of this hack.

Need to lift something a little heavier than an AirPod? A beefy microwave oven transformer electromagnet might be the thing for you. And confused about how magnets even work in the first place? Check out our primer on magnetism.

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Stealing Joules From An Aluminium-Air Battery

While batteries are cheap and readily obtainable today, sometimes it’s still fun to mess around with their less-common manifestations. Experimenting with a few configurations, Hackaday.io user [will.stevens] has assembled an aluminium-air battery and combined it with a joule thief to light an LED.

To build the air battery, soak an activated charcoal puck — from a water filter, for example — in salt-saturated water while you cut the base off an aluminium can. A circle of tissue paper — also saturated with the salt water — is pressed between the bare charcoal disk and the can, taking care not to rip the paper, and topped off with a penny and a bit of wire. Once clamped together, the reaction is able to power an LED via a simple joule thief.

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Play with a Papercraft Electronics Activity Book

As conductive ink becomes readily available and in greater varieties, we’re starting to see some intriguing applications. [Marion Pinaffo] and [Raphaël Pluviange] created a book of papercraft projects that employ silver-based ink for making a circuit’s wires, carbon-based ink for resistance, as well as color-changing ink. Electronics components’ leads are slipped into slits cut into the paper, connected to conductive-ink traces.

[Marion] and [Raphaël] use 555s, ATtiny85s, watch batteries, and other hardware to make each activity or project unique. A number of projects use a rolling ball bearing to make beeps in a piezo speaker. They also created beautifully designed pages to go with the electronics.

It looks like a fun way for neophytes to play around with electronics, and once the paper part is kaput, the user would be left with the hardware. Imagine one of those beginners googling to find the pinout of the Tiny85 or discovering the Stepped Tone Generator and makes one with the 555.

If you like this project you’ll appreciate the working papercraft organ and papercraft resistor calculator we previously published.

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Maywa Denki’s Nonsense Machines

We just spent a few hours trying to figure out Japanese techno-performance-art-toy company [Maywa Denki]. As self-described “parallel-world electricians”, the small art collective turns out strange electro-mechanical instruments, creates bellows-powered “singing” sculptures, and puts on concerts/demos/lectures. And if you desperately need an extension cord in the shape of a fish skeleton, [Maywa Denki] has you covered. Writing about art is like dancing about economics, so first we’ll just drop a few of our favorites and let you decide.

On the serious art front are “nonsense machines” like SeaMoonsII and Wahha Go Go. The most iconic performance piece is probably the Pachi-Moku, a set of finger-snap-activated wooden gongs mounted on anime-style wings. And then there are “toys” like Mr. Knocky and the Otamatone, here demonstrated playing some DEVO.

There’s a lot going on here. The blue suits of the assembly-line worker, the back story as a small-electronics “company”, and the whole art-as-commodity routine is a put into contrast with the mad-inventor schtick make sense both as a reaction against conformist, corporatist postwar Japanese culture or as a postmodern hat-tip to the realities of the modern art scene. But mostly, what comes across is the feeling that [Novmichi Tosa], the “president” of [Maywa Denki] just loves to make crazy gizmos.

How else do you explain the gas-powered, chomping mouth-full-of-knives, Poodle’s Head?

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Measuring Air Flow with Ultrasonic Sensors

Measuring air flow in an HVAC duct can be a tricky business. Paddle wheel and turbine flow meters introduce not only resistance but maintenance issue due to accumulated dust and debris. Being able to measure ducted airflow cheaply and non-intrusively, like with this ultrasonic flow meter, could be a big deal for DIY projects and the trades in general.

The principle behind the sensor [ItMightBeWorse] is working on is nothing new. He discovered a paper from 2015 that describes the method that measures the change in time-of-flight of an ultrasonic pulse across a moving stream of air in a duct. It’s another one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” things that makes perfect sense in theory, but takes some engineering to turn into a functional sensor. [ItMightBeWorse] is using readily available HC-SR04 sensor boards and has already done a proof-of-concept build. He’s getting real numbers back and getting close to a sensor that will go into an HVAC automation project. The video below shows his progress to date and hints at a follow-up video with more results soon.

Here’s wishing [ItMightBeWorse] the best of luck with his build. But if things go sideways, he might look to our post-mortem of a failed magnetic flow meter for inspiration.

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