A Comparison of Hacker Friendly SDRs

In the market for a software defined radio? [Taylor Killian] wrote a comprehensive comparison of several models that are within the price range of amateurs and hobbyists.

You can get started with SDR using a $20 TV tuner card, but there’s a lot of limitations. These cards only work as receivers, are limited to a small chunk of the radio spectrum, and have limited bandwidth and sample rates. The new SDRs on the market, including the bladeRF, HackRF, and USRP offerings are purpose built for SDR experimentation. You might want an SDR to set up a cellular base station at Burning Man, scan Police and Fire radio channels, or to track ships.

[Taylor] breaks down the various specifications of each radio, and discusses the components used in each SDR in depth. In the end, the choice depends on what you want to do and how much you’re willing to spend. This breakdown should help you choose a hacker friendly SDR.

Book Review: The Good Life Lab

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Stop whatever you’re doing and get this book. I’ve just finished reading it and I have to say that [Wendy] and [Mikey] could easily be the poster children for modern day hacking, and this book could be the manual for a life built on hacking.

When I visited [Wendy] and [Mikey] last year I was blown away.  Their little homestead was a veritable smorgasbord of hacks. Everywhere I looked, things were cobbled together, modified, repaired, and improved. There wasn’t a single piece of their lives that wasn’t somehow improved by their efforts to play an active role in their own living.

That sounds a bit cheesy I know. We all play an active role in our lives right? Sure. But what they have done is created a hacker’s homestead. My projects tend to live on my workbench, occasionally poking into my daily life, but they went were there was virtually nothing and hacked together everything they found they needed.  Their life is their workbench.

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Hands on with the super tiny arudino: FemtoDuino

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We originally heard about the FemtoDuino last year. It looked good enough and tiny enough, but we didn’t really have a need for it. Recently though, we started on a new project (which you can follow on the forums!) which required an easy modification to an existing circuit. Space and weight were quite important so we decided to pick up a couple femtoduinos at $25 each, and give them a try.

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The PICnDuino Review

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For those of you that can’t make a decision between buying an Arduino and a PIC processor, [Brad] has come up with a novel solution, the PICnDuino. We’ve featured him before with his [Retroball] project, but this time Brad has been full funded on Kickstarter, and is pre-selling boards for delivery in March.

[HAD], specifically I, was fortunate enough to be sent one of the boards to try out early. I’ve worked with an Arduino before, but never a PIC processor, so read on to see if it was actually as easy as the tutorial video (at the end of the article) would have you believe it is to get started. Continue reading “The PICnDuino Review”

Book Review: The Dangers of Computer Hacking

Years and years ago, someone gave me this book as a gift. [John Knittel], a co-author thought I might find it amusing. The book, titled The Dangers of Computer Hacking, is a grade school level breakdown of, well, computer hacking and the dangers thereof. At the time, I thought it was rather fun and amusing. Since then, it has sat on my shelf without much action.

Last weekend, however, my 8 year old son was building perfectly spaced shapes for his slinky (new plastic slinkies suck) and found this book. I snatched it up and read through it real quick. The realization came to me that though this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek(check the topics on the back cover), this book is actually a fantastic reference for the un-initiated.

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Book Review: Eight Amazing Engineering Stories

We’re big fans of [Bill Hammack], aka the Engineer Guy. His series of engineering videos dredge up pleasant memories of watching Mr. Wizard but spin to the adult science enthusiast. The most resent season (he calls it series #4) scratches the surface of the topics covered in his book Eight Amazing Engineering Stories, which was written with fellow authors [Patrick Ryan] and [Nick Ziech]. They provided us with a complimentary digital copy of the book to use for this review.

The conversational style found in the videos translates perfectly to the book, but as with comparing a novel to a movie, the written word allows for much more depth. For instance, we loved learning about how Apple uses anodization to dye the aluminum used for iPod cases. The same presentation style makes the topic easily understandable for anyone who took some chemistry and math in High School. But primers a sidebars offer an optional trip through the looking-glass, explaining the history behind the process, how it compares to natural materials, and what trade-offs are made in choosing this process.

Some of the other topics included are how CCD camera sensors, lead-acid batteries, mems accelerometers, and atomic clocks work. As the book progresses through all eight topics general concepts the complexity of the items being explained advances quickly. By the seventh story — which covers the magentron in a microwave oven — we’d bet the concepts challenge most readers’ cognition. But we still enjoyed every page. The book would make a great pool-side read. It would make a great graduation gift (too bad we missed that time of year) but keep it in mind for any science minded friends or relatives. You can see [Bill’s] own description of the book and all its formats in the clip after the break.

TLDR: Buy it or give it as a gift

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Video Review: STM32F0-Discovery board

The STM32 Discovery boards are nothing new, we’ve looked at them several times. But the newest sibling in the line might be just the thing to make the leap from your steadfast 8-bit projects. We got our hands on it and recorded a video review.

The STM32F0-Discovery gives you a programmer and ARM Cortex-M0 chip all on one convenient board. The top portion is the ST-Link V2 programmer, and includes jumpers and a programming header which let it easily program off-board chips.

The included microcontroller is an STM32F051R8T6 which includes 64kb of program memory and 8kb of RAM. Coming in at $1.80-3.77 in single units and in a hand-solderable LQFP package this raises an eyebrow for our future projects. It has an 8 MHz internal oscillator with 6x PLL which means you can run at 48 MHz without an external crystal (check out [Kenneth Finnegan’s] PLL primer if you don’t know what this is).

The only thing holding us back is the development environment. ST provides everything you need if you’re on Windows, but we want a Linux friendly solution. We know other Discovery boards have worked under Linux thanks to this project. This uses the same ST-LINK V2 so it should work as well. If you want one of your own head over the ST page to see if they’re still giving away samples. There should be a button labeled “Register for your FREE KIT”.