Hackaday Prize Entry: Feral Cats Phone Home With Das Katzetelegraf

Feral cats are a huge problem in some areas. Roaming freely in cities and in rural settings and reproducing with reckless abandon, colonies of feral cats can exhibit nuisance behavior that often results in unpleasant measures being taken to control their population. More humane programs, such as trap-neuter-return (TNR), seek to safely trap cats, give them basic vaccinations and neuter them, and either return them to their colony or, for a lucky few, ready them for adoption. Such programs are proving successful, but are not without issues. Enter Das Katzetelegraf.

You don’t need to understand a lick of German to figure out exactly what Das Katzetelegraf does from its name. Consisting of an Arduino, a GSM module, and a simple magnetic reed switch attached to the door of a humane cat trap, Das Katzetelegraf sends a text message to a TNR program volunteer when a cat has been trapped. Instead of waiting in the trap for the TNR workers to make daily rounds, the cats are quickly retrieved and the trap is reset for the next cycle. This reduces the time the cat spends in the trap, stressed and without access to food or water, and improves the animal’s outcome. As a bonus, each trap’s throughput is increased, so more animals can be cycled through the TNR program.

TNR can really help reduce feral cat populations, and Das Katzetelegraf can make them even more effective. But if you just have a stray cat pooping up your garden, a Raspberry Pi cat-deterring sprinkler might be a better choice.

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Transfer Data Via YouTube

The original steganography technique dates back to 440 BC (according to Wikipedia) when a Greek wrote secret messages on a piece of wood, covered it in wax, and then wrote innocent text on the wax. The term, in general, means hiding a message in something that looks harmless. The LVDO project (and a recent Windows fork) says it is steganography, but we aren’t quite sure it meets the definition. What it does is converts data into a video that you can transfer like any other video. A receiver that knows what LVDO parameters you used to create the video can extract the data (although, apparently, the reproduction is not always completely error-free).

The reason we aren’t sure if this really counts as steganography is that–judging from the example YouTube video (which is not encoded)–the output video looks like snow. It uses a discrete cosine transform to produce patterns. If you are the secret police, you might not know what the message says, but you certainly know it must be something. We’d be more interested in something that encodes data in funny cat videos, for example.

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Hackaday Links: August 23, 2015

Dutch security conference! It’s called hardwear.io, it’ll be in The Hague during the last week of September, and they have the CTO of Silent Circle/Blackphone giving the keynote.

Baltimore’s awesome despite what the majority of the population says, and they have a few hackerspaces. One of them has an Indiegogo going right now to save the space. Want a tour of the space? Here you go.

[Fran Blanche] made it on to the Amp Hour. Included in this episode are discussions about the boutique guitar pedal market and the realities of discarded technology that took us to the moon.

Speaking of electronics podcasts, SolderSmoke is 10 years old now.

TARDIS-shaped guitars are nothing new, but [Gary] from the LVL1 hackerspace in Louisville, KY is making an acoustic one. The neck is, of course, taken from another guitar but the entire TARDIS-shaped body is custom-made. Now do resonance calculations on something that’s bigger on the inside.

Think German-made means German quality? [AvE], [Chris], or whatever we call him did a teardown of a Festool Track Saw. It’s a thousand dollar tool that will start to stink in a few years and has bearings that don’t make any sense.

Love 8-bit? There’s a Kickstarter from 8-bit generation for a documentary about the love, loss, resurrection and continuation of old computers. Dozens of very interesting interviews including one from our own [Bil Herd]

Fight Frost With An Internet Of Things Fridge Alarm

It has been incredibly humid around these parts over the last week, and there seems to be something about these dog days that makes you leave the fridge or freezer door open by mistake. [pnjensen] found this happening all too often to the family chill chest, with the predictable accretion of frost on the coils as the water vapor condensed out of the entrained humid air and froze. The WiFi-enabled fridge alarm he built to fight this is a pretty neat hack with lots of potential for expansion.

Based on a Sparkfun ESP8266 Thing and home-brew door sensors built from copper tape, the alarm is rigged to sound after 120 seconds of the door being open. From the description it seems like the on-board buzzer provides a periodic reminder pip while the door is open before going into constant alarm and sending an SMS message or email; that’s a nice touch, and having the local alarm in addition to the text or email is good practice. As a bonus, [pjensen] also gets a log of each opening and closing of the fridge and freezer. As for expansion, the I2C header is just waiting for more sensors to be added, and the built-in LiPo charger would provide redundancy in a power failure.

If frost buildup is less a problem for you than midnight snack runs causing another kind of buildup, you might want to check out this willpower-enhancing IoT fridge alarm.

Make Your Own Remote Control LED Light

Want to control the colors in your home? Sure, you could just buy a Philips Hue bulb, but where’s the hacking fun in that? [Dario] agrees: he has written a tutorial on building an Arduino-controlled RGB light system that plugs into a standard light socket.

[Dario] is using a bulb from Automethion in Italy, an Arduino, and an ESP8266 shield that sends signals to the bulb. The Arduino and shield are running the Souliss framework that provides smart home features and runs on a number of platforms, so it is a good open platform for creating your own smart home apps, and would be easy to expand. We have also seen a few other projects that use the ESP8266 to control an RGB strip, but this is the first one that uses a bulb that plugs into a standard light socket.

At the moment, Automethion is the only company selling this light, but I hope that others will sell similar products soon.

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Connecting Your Car To The Internet

Internet of Things? What about the Internet of Cars? It’s actually rather surprising how slow the auto industry is in developing all new vehicles to be connected to the net from the get go. Well if you can’t wait, you can always hack. [John Reimers] shows us how to use an Electric Imp combined with OBD-II to remotely monitor your vehicle.

Using the ever venerable OBD-II port on your vehicle (think USB for cars if you’re not familiar), you can pull all kinds of information off of your vehicle’s engine. Fuel economy, temperatures, load, timing, error codes, etc. There are many devices out there to do this for you, from auxiliary gauges like the ScanGauge II, to bluetooth OBD-II dongles which can send the data to your phone. Or you can build your own.

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Metal 3D Printing With Your Printer

Over in Italy, [Robotfactory] has a new setup called CopperFace that they claim allows you to essentially electroplate 3D printed objects with a metal coating using copper, nickel, silver, or gold.

We’ve talked about electroplating on plastic before, but that technique required mixing graphite and acetone. The CopperFace kit uses a conductive graphite spray and claims it deposits about 1 micron of plating on the object every two minutes.

We couldn’t help but wonder if the graphite spray is just the normal stuff used for lubricant. While the CopperFace’s electroplating tech seems pretty standard (copper sulfate and copper/phosphorus electrodes), we also wondered if some of the simpler copper acetate process we’ve covered before might be workable.

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