Transmitting Tee Vee From A Pi

Want to set up your own television station? This hack might help: [Jan Panteltje] has worked out how to turn a Raspberry Pi into a DVB-S transmitter. DVB-S is a TV transmission standard originally created for satellite broadcasts, but Hams also use it to send video on the amateur bands. What [Jan] did was to use software on the Pi to encode the video into the transport stream, which is then fed out to the home-made transmitter that modulates the data into a DVB-S signal. [Jan] has successfully tested the system with a direct connection, feeding the output of the transmitter into a DVB-S decoder card that could read the data and decode the video signal. To create a real broadcast signal, the next step would be to feed the output of the signal into an amplifier and larger transmitter that broadcast the signal.

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APRS Repeaters Get the Signal Out of Mammoth Cave

APRS Cave-Link uses the amateur radio’s Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) inside caves to get their position data (and other messages) out.

Imagine that you’re coordinating a large scale search-and-rescue mission in a cave. You need to know where all your groups are, and whether or not they’ve found anything. But how do they all communicate to the command center?

You’d guess radio, but you’d guess wrong. Radio doesn’t propagate well at all in a maze of twisty passages, all alike; rocks absorb radio waves, especially in the VHF/UHF range that’s best suited for most small radios. In the past, you’d run wire and transmit along it. This article runs through the options in detail. But adding miles of wire to your already heavy caving and climbing gear is a nuisance or worse.

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Swans, Pigs, and the CIA: An Unlikely Radio Story

Shortwave radio is boring, right? Maybe not. You never know what intrigue and excitement you might intercept. We recently covered secret number stations, and while no one knows for sure exactly what their purpose is, it is almost surely involving cloaks and daggers. However, there’s been some more obvious espionage radio, like Radio Swan.

The swan didn’t refer to the animal, but rather an island just off of Honduras that, until 1972, was disputed between Honduras and the United States. The island got its name–reportedly–because it was used as a base for a pirate named Swan in the 17th century. This island also had a long history of use by the United States government. The Department of Agriculture used it to quarantine imported beef and a variety of government departments had weather stations there.

You might wonder why the United States claimed a tiny island so far away from its shores. It turns out, it was all about guano. The Guano Islands Act of 1856 allowed the president to designate otherwise unclaimed territory as part of the United States for the purpose of collecting guano which, in addition to being bird excrement, is also important because it contains phosphates used in fertilizer and gunpowder. (Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.)

However, the most famous occupant of Swan Island was Radio Swan which broadcast on the AM radio band and shortwave. The station was owned by the Gibraltar Steamship Company with offices on Fifth Avenue in New York. Oddly, though, the company didn’t actually have any steamships. What it did have was some radio transmitters that had been used by Radio Free Europe and brought to the island by the United States Navy. Did I mention that the Gibraltar Steamship Company was actually a front for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)?

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The First Radio Sets: a Spark Gap and a Coherer

[Ashish] let us know about his experiments in recreating the earliest type of radio set: a spark-gap transmitter and iron-filings coherer. He goes through the historical development of the kit in great detail, so we’re just going to skip that part. Go read it yourself!

Instead, we’re going to tease you with the coolest part of the rig: the coherer. In [Ashish]’s build, it’s a piece of tubing with some iron filings between two bolts. When a sufficiently strong EM wave hits the filings, they stick together and bridge the gap between the bolts, allowing electricity to flow and light up an LED, for instance. You can see this in [Ashish]’s video below the break, along with kmore discussion of that coherer.

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TV Going the Distance: Propagation

It has to be hard to be a kid interested in radio these days. When I was a kid, there was a lot of interesting things on shortwave. There wasn’t any cable TV (at least, not where I lived) so it was easy to hack antennas and try to pull in weak TV and broadcast stations. The TV stations were especially interesting.

It was one thing for me to build a dish antenna to pick up Star Trek from a station just barely out of range. But sometimes you’d get some really distant TV station. The world’s record is the reception of a BBC TV station in Australia (a distance of 10,800 miles). That’s extreme, but even from my childhood home near New Orleans, I’ve personally picked up TV stations from as far away as New Mexico. Have you ever wondered how that’s possible?

Radio signals behave differently depending on their frequency. The TV frequencies used in the old analog signals were VHF signals (well, the channels between 2 and 13 in the United States, anyway). In general, those signals usually travel through the air, but don’t bounce off any part of the atmosphere. So if you aren’t in a line of sight with the transmitter, you can’t see the broadcast. The other problem is that local stations tend to drown out weak distant stations. A TV DXer (ham lingo for someone trying to hear distant signals) has to wait for local stations to go silent or listen on frequencies where there are no local stations.

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Pea-Whistle Steganography

Do you see the patterns everywhere around you? No? Look closer. Still no? Look again. OK, maybe there’s nothing there.

[Oona Räisänen] hears signals and then takes them apart. And even when there’s nothing there, she’s thinking “what if they were?” Case in point: could one hypothetically transmit coded information in the trilling of a referee’s whistle at the start of a soccer match?

acme-spektriTo you, the rapid pitch changes made by the little ball that’s inside a ref’s whistle sounds like “trilling” or “warbling” or something. To [Oona], it sounds like frequency-shift key (FSK) modulation. Could you make a non-random trilling, then, that would sound like a normal whistle?

Her perl script says yes. It takes the data you want to send, encodes it up as 100 baud FSK, smoothes it out, adds some noise and additional harmonics, and wraps it up in an audio file. There’s even a couple of sync bytes at the front, and then a byte for packet size. Standard pea-whistle protocol (PWP), naturally. If you listen really closely to the samples, you can tell which contains data, but it’s a really good match. Cool!

[Oona] has graced our pages before, naturally. From this beautiful infographic tracing out a dial-up modem handshake to her work reversing her local bus stop information signs or decoding this strange sound emitted by a news helicopter, She’s full of curiosity and good ideas — a hacker’s hacker. Her talk on the bus stop work is inspirational.. She’s one of our secret heroes!

Build an AM Radio Transmitter from a CPLD

[Alex Lao] has been playing around with the CPLD-like parts of a PSoC. Which is to say, he’s been implementing simple logic functions “in hardware” in software. And after getting started with the chip by getting accustomed to the different clock sources, he built a simple AM radio that transmits at 24 MHz.

The device that [Alex] is learning on is a Cypress PSoC 5LP, or more specifically their (cheap) prototyping kit for the part. The chip itself is an ARM microprocessor core with a CPLD and some analog tidbits onboard to make interfacing the micro with the outside world a lot easier. [Alex] doesn’t even mess around with the microprocessor, he’s interested in learning the CPLD side of things.

PRS-CircuitHe starts off with a 24 MHz carrier and a 1 kHz tone signal, and combines them with a logical AND function. When the tone is on, the carrier plays through; that’s AM radio at its most elemental. Everything is logic (square waves) so it’s a messy radio signal, but it’ll get the job done.

Adding a multiplexer up front allows [Alex] to play two tones over his “radio” station. Not bad for some simple logic, and a fantastic Hello World project for a CPLD. We can’t wait to see what [Alex] is up to next!

If you’re interested in getting your feet wet with either CPLDs in general or a CPLD + micro system like Cypress’s, the development kit that [Alex] is using looks like a cheap and painless way to start. (Relatively speaking — PSoCs are a step or two up a steep learning curve from the simpler 8-bit micros or an Arduino.) Hackaday’s own [Bil Herd] has a video on getting started with another member of the Cypres PSoC family, so you should also check that out.