Sniff Your Local LoRa Packets

As the LoRa low-bandwidth networking technology in license-free spectrum has gained traction on the wave of IoT frenzy, LoRa networks have started to appear in all sorts of unexpected places. Sometimes they are open networks such as The Things Network, other times they are commercially available networks, and then, of course, there are entirely private LoRa installations.

If you are interested in using LoRa on a particular site, it’s an interesting exercise to find out what LoRa traffic already exists, and to that end [Joe Broxson] has put together a useful little device. Hardware wise it’s an Adafruit Cortex M0 Feather with onboard LoRa module, paired with a TFT FeatherWing for display, and software wise it scans a set of available frequencies and posts any packets it finds to the scrolling display. It also has the neat feature of logging packets in detail to an SD card for later analysis. The whole is enclosed in a 3D printed case from an Adafruit design and makes for a very attractive self-contained unit.

We’ve featured quite a few LoRa projects here, including this one with a Raspberry Pi Compute module in a remote display. Of more relevance in a LoRa testing sense though is this look at LoRa range testing.

Yes, Of Course Someone Shot the Eclipse on a Game Boy Camera

This one shouldn’t surprise us, but there is something particularly enjoyable about seeing the total eclipse of the Sun through a Game Boy camera.

The Game Boy got its camera accessory back in 1998 when CCD-based cameras with poor resolution were just becoming widely available to the public. This camera can capture 128×112 pixel images in the four value grey scale for which the handheld is so loved.

Having taken part in eclipse mania ourselves we can tell you that unless you did some serious research and prep for photographing the thing, this makes as much sense as pulling out your smartphone did. We posit that it certainly produced a more pleasing result.

[jhx] says this is more a weird halo effect of the shot than it is a quality image of totality. At this resolution, the moon-covered Sun should be very few pixels in size, right? But fidelity is for photographers, this is for hackers. Getting the digital image off of the Game Boy camera involved using an Interact Mega Memory cartridge on a Game Boy Pocket to transfer it over, then using a USB 64M cartridge to copy from the Mega Memory and ultimately to a computer.

Glamour shots ain’t easy, yo. But it is possible to read images directly off the Game Boy camera thanks to some reverse engineering work.

[via Kotaku]

Someone Finally Did It With A 555

[Jarunzel] needed a device that would automatically click the left button on a mouse at a pre-set interval. For regular Hackaday readers, this is an easy challenge. You could do it with an ATtiny85 using the VUSB library, a few resistors and diodes, and a bit of code that emulates a USB device that constantly sends mouse clicks over USB every few seconds. You could also do it with a Raspberry Pi Zero, using the USB gadget protocol. Now, this mouse-clicking gadget would be connected to the Internet (!), programmable with Node or whatever the kids are using these days, and would have some major blog cred. If you’re feeling adventurous, this mouse clicker gadget could be built with an STM32, Cypress PSoC, or whatever microcontroller you have in your magical bag of hacker tricks.

Then again, you could also do it with a 555 timer.

The reason [Jarunzel] couldn’t use any of the fancy hackertools for this build is because the system wouldn’t accept two mouse devices. No matter, because Maplin has a neat kit with a 555 timer and a relay. The relay is wired up across the microswitch in the mouse, and setting the values correctly makes the mouse click about once per second, with a click duration of about 100ms. Good enough.

With the kit built, wired into the mouse, a small app built to test the device, and a nice project box constructed, [Jarunzel] had exactly what he needed. There’s even a video of this mouse clicker in action. You can check out that riveting footage below.

Continue reading “Someone Finally Did It With A 555”

Fake Ram: Identifying a Counterfeit Chip

[Robert Baruch‏] had something strange on his hands. He had carefully decapped 74LS189 16×4 static RAM, only to find that it wasn’t a RAM at all. The silicon die inside the plastic package even had analog elements, which is not what one would expect to find in an SRAM. But what was it? A quick tweet brought in the cavalry, in the form of chip analysis expert [Ken Shirriff].

[Ken] immediately realized the part [Robert] had uncovered wasn’t a 74 series chip at all. The power and ground pins were in the wrong places. Even the transistors were small CMOS devices, where a 74 series part would use larger bipolar transistors. The most glaring difference between the mystery device and a real LS819 was the analog elements. The mystery chip had a resistor network, arranged as an R-2R ladder. This configuration is often used as a simple Digital to Analog Converter (DAC).

Further analysis of the part revealed that the DAC was driven by a mask ROM that was itself indexed using a linear feedback shift register. [Ken] used all this information to plot out the analog signal the chip would generate. It turned out to be a rather sorry looking sine wave.

The mystery part didn’t look like any function generator or audio chip of the era. [Ken] had to think about what sort of commodity part would use lookup tables to generate an audio waveform. The answer was as close as his telephone — a DTMF “touch tone” generator, specifically a knockoff of a Mostek MK5085.

Most investigators would have stopped there. Not [Ken] though. He delved into the construction and function of the DTMF generator. You can find the full analysis on his site. This isn’t [Ken’s] first rodeo with decapped chips. He’s previously examined the Intel 8008 and presented a talk on silicon reverse engineering at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference. [Robert] has also shown us how to pop the top of classic ceramic integrated circuits.

 

Hackaday Prize Entry: Staircane, a Walker That Takes the Stairs

[Jim]’s aunt has lived in the same house for the last 50 years. She loves it there, and she wants to stay as long as possible. There’s a big problem, though. The house has several staircases, and they are all beginning to disagree with her. Enter Staircane, [Jim]’s elegant solution that adds extendable legs to any standard walker.

Most of the time, walkers serve their purpose quite well. But once you encounter uneven ground or a staircase, they show their limitations. The idea behind Staircane is a simple one: quickly extend the back or front legs of a walker depending on the situation, and do so in unison. Staircane uses one button for each set of legs. Pushing the button engages a thin cable, much like the brake cable on a bicycle. The cable pulls a release trigger, unlocking the notched extensions. When the legs are sufficiently extended, the user simply releases the button to lock them in place. Once on flat ground, the user pushes the button again while pressing down on the walker to even out the leg lengths. Check out the video after the break to see the 3D-printed prototype.

Staircane is a semi-finalist in our Wheels, Wings, and Walkers challenge, which ended a few weeks ago. Did you know that you can enter your project into more than one challenge? Since this project falls squarely into assistive technologies territory, we hope that [Jim] and his team submit Staircane to our Assistive Technologies challenge before the deadline on September 4th. We don’t have many entries so far, so if  you’re thinking about entering, give in to temptation!

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Staircane, a Walker That Takes the Stairs”

How Peptides Are Made

What does body building, anti-aging cream and Bleomycin (a cancer drug) have in common? Peptides of course! Peptides are large molecules that are vital to life. If you were to take a protein and break it into smaller pieces, each piece would be called a peptide. Just like proteins, peptides are made of amino acids linked together in a chain-like structure. Whenever you ingest a protein, your body breaks it down to its individual amino acids. It then puts those amino acids back together in a different order to make whatever peptide or protein your body needs. Insulin, for instance, is a peptide that is 51 amino acids long. Your body synthesizes insulin from the amino acids it gets from the proteins you eat.

Peptides and small proteins can be synthesized in a lab as well. Peptide synthesis is a huge market in the pharmaceutical and skin care industry. They’re also used, somewhat shadily, as a steroid substitute by serious athletes and body builders. In this article, we’re going to go over the basic steps of how to join amino acids together to make a peptide. The chemistry of peptide synthesis is complex and well beyond the scope of this article. But the basic steps of making a peptide are not as difficult as you might think. Join me after the break to gain a basic understanding of how peptides are synthesized in labs across the world, and to establish a good footing should you ever wish to delve deeper and make peptides on your own.

Continue reading “How Peptides Are Made”

ESP8266 Based Internet Radio Receiver is Packed with Features

Have a beautiful antique radio that’s beyond repair? This ESP8266 based Internet radio by [Edzelf] would be an excellent starting point to get it running again, as an alternative to a Raspberry-Pi based design. The basic premise is straightforward: an ESP8266 handles the connection to an Internet radio station of your choice, and a VS1053 codec module decodes the stream to produce an audio signal (which will require some form of amplification afterwards).

Besides the excellent documentation (PDF warning), where this firmware really shines is the sheer number of features that have been added. It includes a web interface that allows you to select an arbitrary station as well as cycle through presets, adjust volume, bass, and treble.

 

If you prefer physical controls, it supports buttons and dials. If you’re in the mood for something more Internet of Things, it can be controlled by the MQTT protocol as well. It even supports a color TFT screen by default, although this reduces the number of pins that can be used for button input.

The firmware also supports playing arbitrary .mp3 files hosted on a server. Given the low parts count and the wealth of options for controlling the device, we could see this device making its way into doorbells, practical jokes, and small museum exhibits.

To see it in action, check out the video below:

[Thanks JeeCee]

Continue reading “ESP8266 Based Internet Radio Receiver is Packed with Features”