19 RTL-SDR Dongles Reviewed

Blogger [radioforeveryone] set out to look at 19 different RTL-SDR dongles for use in receiving ADS-B (that’s the system where airplanes determine their position and broadcast it). Not all of the 19 worked, but you can read the detailed review of the 14 that did.

Granted, you might not want to pick up ADS-B, but the relative performance of these inexpensive devices is still interesting. The tests used Raspberry PI 3s and a consistent antenna and preamp system. Since ADS-B is frequently sent, the tests were at least 20 hours in length. The only caveat: the tests were only done two at a time, so it is not fair to directly compare total results across days.

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Jenkins Given an Industrial Stack Light for Build Reporting

When working on software development in a team environment, it’s important to know the status of your build at all times. Jenkins can display build automation info on a screen but where’s the fun in that? A popular office project is to build some kind of visual display of a project’s status, and [dkt01] has done just that with this stack light build monitor.

In this day and age of online shopping, random bits of industrial hardware are just an eBay away, so it’s easy to find some cool lamps or indicators for any project. [dkt01] sourced a standard 24V stack light off the shelf. With its green, red, and yellow indicators, its perfect for showing the current status of their build server.

The project uses an Arduino Pro Micro combined with an ENC28J60 Ethernet adapter. We used to see that chip all the time but in 2017 it’s somewhat of a classic setup with the great unwashed masses largely migrating to the ESP8266. However, for the purposes of this project, it was perfect for connecting to the wired office network (after all, you want to know the status of your build and not of your WiFi). [dkt01] even managed to get a web configuration to work despite the relatively meager resources of the ATmega32u4.

The build is cleanly executed, with the microcontroller and Ethernet hardware tucked into a 3D printed base for the stack light’s enclosure. It’s far more likely to become a permanent office fixture if it’s a tidy build without wires hanging out everywhere so a custom PCB ties everything together neatly. In another nice touch, the stack lights flash on initialization to indicate if the DHCP lease was successful, which makes troubleshooting easier. There’s an overview of all different light combinations and meanings in the video after the break.

Overall it’s a solid build with some off-the-shelf components that serves a genuine purpose. For a similar project built on a smaller scale, check out the Indictron. For something bigger, show us how you’ve learned to output your server status on the city’s traffic lights. Ask first, though.
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Re-Engineering The Ford Model A Engine

Over the nearly a quarter century since the Web has been in existence, there have been various websites and projects in the field covered by Hackaday that have done the rounds and captured our attention for a while. Some have turned into major projects and products, others have collapsed spectacularly, while many have faded away and been forgotten.

It was one of those “I wonder what happened to… ” moments that prompted a search for just such a project that did the rounds a little at the start of this decade. Re-Engineering the Model A Engine is [Terry Burtz]’s project to take the Ford Model A engine from the 1920s and re-engineer it with the benefit of some upgrades to increase its longevity and reliability. The new engine would look identical to the original unit, but would feature modern metallurgy, a re-engineered crankshaft with up-to-date bearings, a pressurised lubrication system, and some cooling system modifications.

The web site has a fascinating technical description and history of the Model A engine, along with a detailed examination of the proposed upgrades. There is a long list of project updates, but sadly work stalled in 2015 due to difficulties finding an iron foundry that could cast the blocks at an affordable price. It’s a shame to see a promising project get so far and fall at this late hurdle, is it too much to hope that among the Hackaday readership there might be people in the foundry business who could advise? It’s quite likely that there would be a queue of Model A owners who would be extremely grateful.

If you think you’ve seen some veteran Ford action here before, you’d be right, but only to a point. Meanwhile where this is being written a similar project for a 1950s Standard Triumph engine would be most welcome.

DIY Wireless Sprinkler System? Don’t Mind If I Do.

What to do once you have a sprinkler system installed on your property: buy a sprinkler control system or make your own? The latter, obviously.

[danaman] was determined to hack together a cheap, IoT-enabled system but it wasn’t easy — taking the better part of a year to get working. Instead of starting right from scratch, he used the open-source Sustainable Irrigation Platform(SIP) control software — a Python sprinkler scheduler with some features [danman] was looking for(eg: it won’t activate if there’s rain in the forecast). Since he wasn’t running it with a Raspberry Pi as recommended, [danman] wrote a Python plugin that runs on his home server as a daemon which listens to TCP port 20000 for connections and then updates the relevant relays. Ok, software done; on to the relay controller box!

Continue reading “DIY Wireless Sprinkler System? Don’t Mind If I Do.”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Vibhear

Hearing impairment, either partial or total, is a serious problem afflicting a large number of people. Almost 5% of the global population has some form of hearing disorder. For those affected by this disability from birth, it further impacts the development of language and speech abilities. In recent years, cochlear implants are increasingly being used to address this problem. These implants consist of two parts – the receiver and electrode array are implanted under the skin near the ear (with the electrode array terminating inside the Cochlea), while the microphone, electronics, transmitter and power source are attached on the outside. Often, the external unit has to be removed – for example, when the person needs to sleep. This is particularly so in the case of young children. The external unit is fairly large compared to their head and causes discomfort during sleep. And parents are worried that the expensive device could get damaged when the child is sleeping. This leads to the alarming situation where the child is asleep and has no audio sensory inputs being received from the surroundings. Not only can they not hear morning alarms, but also cannot react when there is an emergency situation such as a smoke alarm going off.

[Srdjan Pavlovic] came across this problem first hand when he visited his friend and learned about their six-year-old son with hearing loss since birth. The parents said their child will not be disturbed by loud noises at night since the external unit of his cochlear implant is removed each night. [Srdjan] then started work on building the Vibhear – an assistive hearing device to be used when the main hearing aid is removed or not working. It is a low-cost arm-band that provides a vibratory signal in response to high ambient noises.

The main components are a microphone, amplifier, microcontroller and vibration motor powered by a LiPo battery through a boost converter/charger. An RTC module allows setting up daily wake up alarms. It’s currently prototyped around the Arduino, but the next iteration will use a specialized DSP which can be programmed to perform signal processing operations on input sound. This will allow identification of specific sounds such as car horns, barking dogs, smoke alarms or emergency sirens.

[Srdjan] is in the process of choosing components for his next iteration, so if you have any recommendations to help him choose the microcontroller, power supply controller or other parts, do let him know via comments below.

In-Band Signaling: Dual-Tone Multifrequency Dialing

One late night many decades ago, I chanced upon a technical description of the Touch-Tone system. The book I was reading had an explanation of how each key on a telephone sends a combination of two tones down the wire, and what’s more, it listed the seven audio frequencies needed for the standard 12-key dial pad. I gazed over at my Commodore 64, and inspiration hit — if I can use two of the C64’s three audio channels to generate the dual tones, I bet I can dial the phone! I sprang out of bed and started pecking out a Basic program, and in the wee hours I finally had it generating the recognizable Touch-Tones of my girlfriend’s phone number. I held the mouthpiece of my phone handset up to the speaker of my monitor, started the program, and put the receiver to my ear to hear her phone ringing! Her parents were none too impressed with my accomplishment since it came at 4:00 AM, but I was pretty jazzed about it.

Since that fateful night I’ve always wondered about how the Touch-Tone system worked, and in delving into the topic I discovered that it’s part of a much broader field of control technology called in-band signaling, or the use of audible or sub-audible signals to control an audio or video transmission. It’s pretty interesting stuff, even when it’s not used to inadvertently prank call someone in the middle of the night. Continue reading “In-Band Signaling: Dual-Tone Multifrequency Dialing”

Bye Bye Solaris, it seems.

For readers of A Certain Age, this may bring a tear to the eye. Reports have been circulating of the decision by Oracle to lay off a significant portion of the staff behind its Solaris operating system and SPARC processors, and that move spells the inevitable impending demise of those products. They bore the signature of Sun Microsystems, the late lamented workstation and software company swallowed up by the database giant in 2009.

So why might we here at Hackaday be reaching for our hankies over a proprietary UNIX flavour and a high-end microprocessor, neither of which are likely to be found on many of the benches of our readers in 2017? To answer that it’s more appropriate to journey back to the late 1980s or early 1990s, when the most powerful and expensive home computers money could buy were still connected to a domestic TV set as a monitor.

If you received a technical education at a university level during that period the chances are that you would have fairly soon found yourself sitting in a lab full of workstations, desktop computers unbelievably powerful by the standards of the day. With very high resolution graphics, X-windows GUIs over UNIX, and mice that weren’t just used for a novelty paint package, these machines bore some resemblance to what we take for granted today, but at a time when an expensive PC still came with DOS. There were several major players in the workstation market, but Sun were the ones that seemed to have the university market cracked.

You never forget your first love, and therefore there will be a lot of people who will never quite shake that association with a Sun workstation being a very fast desktop computer indeed. Their mantra at the time was “The network is the computer”, and it is the memory of a significant part of a year’s EE students trolling each other by playing sound samples remotely on each other’s SPARCStations on that network that is replaying in the mind of your scribe as this is being written.

A Raspberry Pi with a Raspbian desktop probably outperforms one of those 1980s SPARCStations in every possible way, but that is hardly the point and serves only to demonstrate technological progress. It feels as though something important died today, even if it may be a little difficult to remember what it was when sat in front of a multi-core x86 powerhouse with a fully open-source 64-bit POSIX-compliant operating system running upon it.

Unsurprisingly we’ve featured no hardware hacks with such high-end computing. If you’d like to investigate some Sun Microsystems hardware though, take a look at the Centre for Computing History’s collection.