Help Needed: No-Soldering ESP8266 IFTTT Button

We all love to see amazing hacks in their finished state and be dazzled by what our peers can do. But that’s just the summit of the hacker’s Everest. We all know that the real work is in getting there. user [stopsendingmejunk] is working on an ESP8266-based IFTTT Button based on a simple breakout board so that anyone could rebuild it without having to do any soldering, and he’s looking for collaboration.

[stopsendingmejunk]’s project takes off from this similar project on different hardware. The board he’s chosen to use is the EZSBC ESP8266-07 breakout, which should have everything he needs, including an on-board button. It should be an easy enough job, but he’s having trouble getting the thing to stay asleep until the button is pressed.

We’ve seen more than a few hacks of the Amazon Dash button, but aside from hacking for hacking’s sake, we’re also happy to see a ground-up open redesign. Besides, this looks like it’ll be a great introductory project, requiring little fiddling around. With a little help. The code is up here on GitHub. Anyone game?

32C3: So You Want to Build a Satellite?

[INCO] gave this extremely informative talk on building a CubeSat. CubeSats are small satellites that piggyback on the launches of larger satellites, and although getting a 10 cm3 brick into orbit is cheap, making it functional takes an amazing attention to detail and redundant design.

[INCO] somehow talks through the entire hour-long presentation at a tremendous speed, all the while remaining intelligible. At the end of the talk, you’ve got a good appreciation for the myriad pitfalls that go along with designing a satellite, and a lot of this material is relevant, although often in a simpler form, for high altitude balloon experiments.

satellite_2-shot0002CubeSats must be powered down during launch, with no radio emissions or anything else that might interfere with the rocket that’s carrying them. The satellites are then packed into a box with a spring, and you never see or hear from them again until the hatch is opened and they’re pushed out into space.

[INCO] said that 50% of CubeSats fail on deployment, and to avoid being one of the statistics, you need to thoroughly test your deployment mechanisms. Test after shaking, being heated and cooled, subject to low battery levels, and in a vacuum. Communication with the satellite is of course crucial, and [INCO] suggests sending out a beacon shortly after launch to help you locate the satellite at all.

satellite_2-shot0003Because your satellite is floating out in space, even tiny little forces can throw it off course. Examples include radiation pressure from the sun, and anything magnetic in your satellite that will create a torque with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field. And of course, the deployment itself may leave your satellite tumbling slightly, so you’re going to need to control your satellite’s attitude.

Power is of course crucial, and in space that means solar cells. Managing solar cells, charging lithium batteries, and smoothing out the power cycles as the satellite enters the earth’s shadow or tumbles around out of control in space. Frequent charging and discharging of the battery is tough on it, so you’ll want to keep your charge/discharge cycles under 20% of the battery’s nominal capacity.

mpv-shot0001In outer space, your satellite will be bombarded by heavy ions that can short-circuit the transistors inside any IC. Sometimes, these transistors get stuck shorted, and the only way to fix the latch-up condition is to kill power for a little bit. For that reason, you’ll want to include latch-up detectors in the power supply to reset the satellite automatically when this happens. But this means that your code needs to expect occasional unscheduled resets, which in turn means that you need to think about how to save state and re-synchronize your timing, etc.

In short, there are a ridiculous amount of details that you have to attend to and think through before building your own CubeSat. We’ve just scratched the surface of [INCO]’s advice, but if we had to put the talk in a Tweet, we’d write “test everything, and have a plan B whenever possible”. This is, after all, rocket science.

Messages From Hell: Human Signal Processing

Despite the title, there’s no religious content in this post. The Hell in question is the German inventor [Rudolph Hell]. Although he had an impressive career, what most people remember him for is the Hellschreiber–a device I often mention when I’m trying to illustrate engineering elegance. What’s a Hellschreiber? And why is it elegant?

The first question is easy to answer: the Hellschreiber is almost like a teletype machine. It sends printed messages over the radio, but it works differently than conventional teletype. That’s where the elegance comes into play. To understand how, though, you need a little background.

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Weightless IoT Hardware Virtually Unavailable

It has been over 2 years since we last mentioned the Weightless SIG and their claims of an IoT open standard chip with a 10 year battery life and 10km wireless range, all at a jaw dropping price of $2 per chip. There was a planned production run of the 3rd gen chips which I would suspect went to beta testers or didn’t make it into production since we didn’t hear anything else, for years.

Recently, a company called nwave began producing dev-kits using the Weightless Technology which you can see in the banner image up top. Although the hardware exists it is a very small run and only available to members of the development team. If you happen to have been on the Weightless mailing list when the Weightless-N SDK was announced there was an offer to get a “free” development board to the first 100 development members. I use bunny ears on free because in order to become a member of the developer team you have to pay a yearly fee of £900. Don’t abrasively “pffffft” just yet, if you happened to be one first 100 there was an offer for developers that came up with a product and submitted it back for certification to get their £900 refunded to them. It’s not the best deal going, but the incentive to follow through with a product is an interesting take.

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Giving the C64 A WiFi Modem

If there’s any indication of the Commodore 64’s longevity, it’s the number of peripherals and add-ons that are still being designed and built. Right now, you can add an SD card to a C64, a technology that was introduced sixteen years after the release of the Commodore 64. Thanks to [Leif Bloomquist], you can also add WiFi to the most cherished of the home computers.

[Leif]’s WiFi modem for the C64 is made of two major components. The first is a Microview OLED display that allows the user to add SSIDs, passwords, and configure the network over USB. The second large module is the a Roving Networks ‘WiFly’ adapter. It’s a WiFi adapter that uses the familiar Xbee pinout, making this not just a WiFi adapter for the C64, but an adapter for just about every wireless networking protocol out there.

[Leif] introduced this WiFi modem for the C64 at the World of Commodore earlier this month in Toronto. There, it garnered a lot of attention from the Commodore aficionados and one was able to do a video review of the hardware. You can check out [Alterus] loading up a BBS over Wifi in the video below.

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Remote PC Power Control Thwarts Button Pushers

Pervasive connectivity is a mixed blessing at best, especially when it creates the expectation that we’ll always have access to everything we need. When what you need is on your work or home PC, there are plenty of options for remotely accessing files using your phone. But if your roomie or the cleaning crew powers the machine down, you’ve got a problem – unless you’ve got a way to remotely power the machine back up.

[Ahmad Khattab]’s hack required getting up close and personal with his PC’s motherboard. A Particle Photon steals power from the always-on 3.3 volt line of the vacant Trusted Platform Module connector on his machine. Outputs from the Photon are connected to the motherboard’s power switch connection and a smartphone app drives the outputs and turns the machine on and off. As [Ahmad] admits, there are plenty of ways to attack this problem, including Wake-on-LAN. But there’s something to be said for the hardware approach, especially when a Photon can be had for $20.

Astute readers will note that we recently covered a very similar project using a Particle Core. Be sure to check that one out for a little more detail on using Particle’s cloud, and for some ideas on powering the module if your motherboard lacks a TPM port. In the meantime, enjoy [Ahmad]’s video.

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Bouncing Radio Off of Airplanes

Amateur radio operators are always trying some new stunt or other. It’s like they’ve got something to prove. Take Aircraft scatter for instance: the idea is to extend your radio’s range by bouncing it directionally off of overhead airplanes.

Radio signals travel in straight lines, which is a bummer because the Earth (despite what you’ve heard) is round. Inevitably, if you want to talk to someone far enough away, they’re over a hill. We’ve covered various oddball propagation methods recently, so if you don’t know about moonbounce, you’ve got some background reading to do. But airplane scatter was new to us.

Actually pulling it off requires knowing where the airplanes are, of course. To do so, you could simply look up the aircraft in your target area on the web, using something like FlightRadar24, but where’s the fun in that? There’s also the possibility of tracking local aircraft yourself using RTL-SDR if you’re feeling hard core.

The rest is just details. Hams [Rex Moncur (VK7MO)] and [David Smith (VK3HZ)], for instance, got 10 GHz signals to skip off airplanes over 842 km (PDF). If you’re an old-school ham operator, you’re double-checking the “gigahertz”, but it’s not a mistake. It’s tremendously impressive that these guys got a link over such a long distance using only 10 watts — but note that they’re doing it with highly directive dishes, and telescopes to aim them.

Not to discourage you from trying this at home, but there are all sorts of difficulties that you’ll encounter when you do. Airplanes moving perpendicular to the path between sender and receiver will Doppler-shift the signal, and there’s still quite a chunk of atmosphere to get the signal through. Finally, although airplanes look pretty big when they’re on the ground, they’re actually tiny when they’re up in the sky at 35,000 ft and 500 miles away; you’re bouncing your signal off of a small target.

The good news? People like [W3SZ] are sharing their well-documented results, and at least it’s 20dB easier than bouncing signals off the moon!

Thanks [Martin] for the tip!