Mexican Highschoolers Launch 30 High Altitude Balloons

No matter whether you call them “picosatellites” or “high altitude balloons” or “spaceblimps”, launching your own electronics package into the air, collecting some high-altitude photos and data, and then picking the thing back up is a lot of fun. It’s also educational and inspirational. We’re guessing that 264 students from 30 high schools in Aguascalientes Mexico have new background screens on their laptops today thanks to the CatSat program (translated here by robots, and there’s also a video to check out below).

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Creepy Wireless Stalking Made Easy

In a slight twist on the august pursuit of warwalking, [Mehdi] took a Raspberry Pi armed with a GPS, WiFi, and a Bluetooth sniffer around Bordeaux with him for six months and logged all the data he could find. The result isn’t entirely surprising, but it’s still a little bit creepy.

If your WiFi sends out probe requests for its home access points, [Mehdi] logged it. If your Bluetooth devices leak information about what they are, [Mehdi] logged it. In the end, he got nearly 30,000 WiFis logged, including 120,000 probes. Each reading is timestamped and geolocated, and [Mehdi] presents a few of the results from querying the resulting database.

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Repurpose a Classroom Clicker for Great Justice

If you’ve been in a university class of a certain size, with a professor who wants to get live feedback from the students, you’ve probably been forced to buy a Turning Point “clicker”. Aside from the ridiculousness of making students pay for their professor’s instructional aides (do the make you pay extra for the chalk too?!?!) these clickers are a gauntlet thrown down to any right-minded hacker because they supposedly contain secrets.

[Nick] had one of these gadgets, and hopped right up on the shoulders of giants to turn it into a remote control that interfaces with his computer and drives a synthesizer, so he can work through the chord changes by clicking. His two references, to [Travis Goodspeed]’s nRF promiscuity hack and to [Taylor Killian]’s Arduino library for the clickers are a testament to why we need both reverse engineers doing the hard work and people who’ll wrap up the hard work in an easy-to-use library.

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Start Your Path to Becoming an Antenna Guru

We’ve known a few people over the years that have some secret insight into antennas. To most of us, though, it is somewhat of a black art (which explains all the quasi-science antennas made out of improbable elements you can find on the web). There was a time when only the hams and the RF nerds cared about antennas, but these days wireless is everywhere: cell phones, WiFi, Bluetooth, and even RF remote controls all live and die based on their antennas.

You can find a lot of high-powered math discussions about antennas full of Maxwell’s equations, spherical integration and other high-power calculus, and lots of arcane diagrams. [Mark Hughes] recently posted a two-part introduction to antennas that has less math and more animated images, which is fine with us (when you are done with the first part, check out part two). He’s also included a video which you can find below.

The first part is fairly simple with a discussion of history and electromagnetics. However, it also talks about superposition, reflection, and standing wave ratio. Part two, though, goes into radiation patterns and gain. Overall, it is a great gateway to a relatively arcane art.

We’ve talked about Smith charts before, which are probably the next logical step for the apprentice antenna wizard. We also covered PCB antenna design.

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ZX81 Connects to the Network

 

[Victor Trucco] makes us wish we spoke Portuguese. He’s done a lot of retrocomputing projects including connecting a ZX81 to the Internet to load programs. The project uses — what else — an ESP8266 to get the WiFi communications. You can see a video below if you want to exercise your high school Portuguese.

It is somewhat ironic that the ZX81’s CPU is kept busy driving the video, reading the keyboard, and running about just over 3 MHz which doesn’t even translate into 3 MIPS on that processor. Meanwhile, the “servant” ESP8266 has a 32-bit Tensilica CPU running at 80 MHz. Times have changed.

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Building A LoRa PHY With SDR

The Internet of Things is terrible when it’s your toaster. The real fun happens when you have hundreds or thousands of sensors sending data back to a base station every day. That requires low power, and that means LPWAN, the Low Power Wide Area Network.

There are a lot of options for LPWAN, but few are a perfect fit. LoRa is one of the rare exceptions, offering years of operation on a single AA cell, and range measured in miles. Layers two and three of LoRa are available as public documentation, but until now layer one has been patented and proprietary. At the GNU Radio Conference, [Matt Knight] gave a talk on reverse engineering the LoRa PHY with a software defined radio. Now, LoRa is open to everyone, and anyone can decode the chirps transmitted from these tiny, low power devices.

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Slow 3.5″ Raspberry Pi LCD Hacked to 40 MHz with ESP8266

As microcontrollers become more and more common, we see more ways to get a lot of performance out of one chip. A great example of this was the ESP8266 which was originally seen as a cheap WiFi card but has since blossomed into its own dev platform thanks to the horsepower hidden within. To that end, [Martin] is trying to push the now-ubiquitous WiFi chip even further by rolling out his own LCD driver for it from scratch.

The display of choice is the KeDei LCD 3.5″ module which was originally intended for use with a Raspberry Pi. [Martin] points out that this display isn’t optimized for speed, but after everything is said and done he has its clock line running at 40 MHz. To get this kind of speeds from the LCD, he depopulates the first shift register and adds his own fast-propagation circuit to establish a more-traditional serial addressing mode. With use of a WLCD driver that [Martin] also wrote, it is now relatively easy to draw on the screen very quickly with an ESP module. Check it out in the video below.

If you’re looking for your own tiny, cheap, fast display, this is one cool way to do it but we would suggest spinning a carrier board for both the ESP and the added circuitry. We’re looking forward to future projects which puts devices like these inside of really tiny magic mirrors, or uses them in other places where a small graphical display would be handy.

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