Fallen Radiosonde Reborn as Active L-band Antenna

If your hobby is chasing radiosondes across vast stretches of open country, and if you get good enough at it, you’ll eventually end up with a collection of the telemetry packages that once went up on weather balloons to record the conditions aloft. Once you’ve torn one or two down though, the novelty must wear off, which is where this radiosonde conversion to an active L-band antenna comes from.

As it happens, we recently discussed the details of radiosondes, so if you need a primer on these devices, check that out. But as Australian ham [Mark (VK5QI)] explains, radiosondes are a suite of weather instruments crammed into a lightweight package with a GPS receiver and a small transmitter. Lofted beneath a weather balloon into the stratosphere, a radiosonde transmits a wealth of data back to the ground before returning on a parachute after the balloon bursts. [Mark] had his eyes on the nice quadrifilar helical antenna used by the Vaisla R92 radiosonde’s GPS receiver, with the aim of repurposing them. He had a lot of components to remove while still retaining the low-noise amplifier (LNA), but in the end managed to get a working antenna with 40 dB gain in the L-band, and with the help of an RTL-SDR dongle he picked up solid signals from Iridium satellites.

Want to score your own radiosonde to play with? First, you have to know how to listen in so you can find them. Or, you know – there’s always eBay.

[via RTL-SDR.com]

Bark Back IoT Pet Monitor

Does your pet get distressed when you’re not home? Or, perhaps their good behaviour slips when you’re not around and they cause a ruckus for the neighbours. Well, [jenfoxbot] has just such a dog, so she built a ‘bark back’ IoT pet monitor to keep an eye on him while she’s out.

The brains and backbone of the pet monitor is the ever-popular Raspberry Pi 3. A Sparkfun MEMS microphone breakout board listens for any unruly behaviour, with an MCP3002 analog to digital converter chip reading the mic input. Some trial-and-error coding allowed her to set a noise threshold that — once exceeded — will trigger an audio file, shushing her dog. It also logs events and uploads any status updates to a CloudMQTT server to be monitored while away from home. Her Imgur build album can be found here, and the GitHub project page is here if you want to build your own!

Check out the demo video after the break, that was probably confusing for her good dog, Marley.

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Power Your Guitar Pedals With Drill Batteries

Guitar pedals are a great way to experiment with the sound of your instrument. However, they require electricity, and when you’re using more than a couple, it can get messy. Some will run on batteries, while others are thirstier for more current and will only work with a plugback. There are a great many solutions out there, but most people with more than a few pedals to power will end up going to some kind of mains powered solution. [Don] is here to show us that it’s not the only way.

Mains power is great for some things, but where pedals are concerned, it’s not always perfect. There are issues with noise, both from cheap power supplies and poorly designed pedals, and it means you’re always hunting for a power socket, which is limiting for buskers.

[Don] realised that the common drill battery is a compact source of clean, DC power, and decided to use that to power his rig. By slapping together a drill battery with a pre-assembled buck converter and a 3D printed adapter, he was able to build a portable power supply for his pedals. Thanks to the fact that the vast majority of pedals use 9V DC with the same input jack design, it’s a cinch to wire up. With an appropriately sized buck converter, a drill battery could supply even a hefty pedalboard for a significant period of time.

Overall, it’s a great hack that solves a problem faced by many performing musicians. We’ve seen our fair share of guitar pedals around Hackaday – perhaps you’d like to see how one makes it from concept to production?

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ATtiny Chip Abused in RFID Application

One of Atmel’s smallest microcontrollers, the ATtiny, is among the most inexpensive and reliable chips around for small applications. It’s also one of the most popular. If you don’t need more than a few inputs or outputs, there’s nothing better. As a show of its ability to thrive under adverse conditions, [Trammell Hudson] was able to shoehorn an ATtiny into an RFID circuit in a way that tests the limits of the chip design.

The RFID circuit only uses two of the ATtiny’s pins and neither of which is the ground or power pin. The ATtiny is equipped with protective diodes on its input pins, and if you apply an AC waveform to the input pins, the chip is able to use the leakage current to power itself. Once that little hurdle is crossed, the ATtiny can do the rest of its job handling the RFID circuitry.

This project takes a deep dive into the internals of the ATtiny. If you’ve ever wondered what was going on inside of everyone’s favorite tiny microcontroller, or if you’re looking for an RFID circuit that keeps parts counts to an absolute minimum, this is the project for you.  The ATtiny is more than just a rugged, well-designed chip, though. It’s capable of a lot more than such a small chip should be able to.

Thanks to [adnidor] for the tip!

Let’s Talk Intel, Meltdown, and Spectre

This week we’ve seen a tsunami of news stories about a vulnerability in Intel processors. We’re certain that by now you’ve heard of (and are maybe tired of hearing about) Meltdown and Spectre. However, as a Hackaday reader, you are likely the person who others turn to when they need to get the gist of news like this. Since this has bubbled up in watered-down versions to the highest levels of mass media, let’s take a look at what Meltdown and Spectre are, and also see what’s happening in the other two rings of this three-ring circus.

Meltdown and Spectre in a Nutshell

These two attacks are similar. Meltdown is specific to Intel processors and kernel fixes (basically workarounds implemented by operating systems) will result in a 5%-30% speed penalty depending on how the CPU is being used. Spectre is not limited to Intel, but also affects AMD and ARM processors and kernel fixes are not expected to come with a speed penalty.

Friend of Hackaday and security researcher extraordinaire Joe Fitz has written a superb layman’s explanation of these types of attacks. His use of the term “layman” may be a little more high level than normal — this is something you need to read.

The attack exploits something called branch prediction. To boost speed, these processors keep a cache of past branch behavior in memory and use that to predict future branching operations. Branch predictors load data into memory before checking to see if you have permissions to access that data. Obviously you don’t, so that memory will not be made available for you to read. The exploit uses a clever guessing game to look at other files also returned by the predictor to which you do have access. If you’re clever enough, you can reconstruct the restricted data by iterating on this trick many many times.

For the most comprehensive info, you can read the PDF whitepapers on Meltdown and Spectre.

Update: Check Alan Hightower’s explanation of the Meltdown exploit left as a comment below. Quite good for helping deliver better understanding of how this works.

Frustration from Kernel Developers

These vulnerabilities are in silicon — they can’t be easily fixed with a microcode update which is how CPU manufacturers usually workaround silicon errata (although this appears to be an architectural flaw and not errata per se). An Intel “fix” would amount to a product recall. They’ve already said they won’t be doing a recall, but how would that work anyway? What’s the lead time on spinning up the fabs to replace all the Intel chips in use — yikes!

So the fixes fall on the operating systems at the kernel level. Intel should be (and probably is behind the scenes) bowing down to the kernel developers who are saving their bacon. It is understandably frustrating to have to spend time and resources patching these vulnerabilities, which displaces planned feature updates and improvements. Linus Torvalds has been throwing shade at Intel — anecdotal evidence of this frustration:

“I think somebody inside of Intel needs to really take a long hard look at their CPU’s, and actually admit that they have issues instead of writing PR blurbs that say that everything works as designed.”

That’s the tamest part of his message posted on the Linux Kernel Mailing List.

Stock Sales Kerfuffle is Just a Distraction

The first thing I did on hearing about these vulnerabilities on Tuesday was to check Intel’s stock price and I was surprised it hadn’t fallen much. In fact, peak to peak it’s only seen about an 8% drop this week and has recovered some from that low.

Of course, it came out that back in November Intel’s CEO Bryan Krzanich sold off his Intel stock to the tune of $24 Million, bringing him down to his contractual minimum of shares. He likely knew about Meltdown when arranging that sale. Resist the urge to flame on this decision. Whether it’s legal or not, hating on this guy is just a distraction.

What’s more interesting to me is this: Intel is too big to fail. What are we all going to do, stop using Intel and start using something else? You can’t just pull the chip and put a new one in, in the case of desktop computers you need a new motherboard plus all the supporting stuff like memory. For servers, laptops, and mobile devices you need to replace the entire piece of equipment. Intel has a huge market share, and silicon has a long production cycle. Branch prediction has been commonplace in consumer CPUs going back to 1995 when the Pentium Pro brought it to the x86 architecture. This is a piece of the foundation that will be yanked out and replaced with new designs that provide the same speed benefits without the same risks — but that will take time to make it into the real world.

CPUs are infrastructure and this is the loudest bell to date tolling to signal how important their design is to society. It’s time to take a hard look at what open silicon design would bring to the table. You can’t say this would have been prevented with Open design. You can say that the path to new processors without these issues would be a shorter one if there were more than two companies producing all of the world’s processors — both of which have been affected by these vulnerabilities.

Teaching Alexa to 3D Print

Sometimes a gadget like Alexa or Google Home is a solution looking for a problem. Then the problem you’ve been looking for hits you square in the face. I’ve confessed before that I have an oscilloscope problem. I also have a microcontroller development board habit. It appears now I have too many 3D printers. I recently finished building my latest one, an Anet A8 I picked up on Black Friday. While calibrating it, I found myself juggling a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and trying to operate the thing all at one time. I realized I had to come up with a better way.

I don’t know if it qualifies as an addiction yet, but I also have an Alexa in every room (although I call it “Computer” because I’m a Star Trek fan) and a Google Home device almost everywhere. Why can’t I get one of these assistants to operate my printer for me? What are assistants for, after all, other than telling Dad jokes?

You’d think adding voice control to a 3D printer would a bit difficult. With the right tools, it is actually pretty easy. Luckily those tools aren’t anything special… if you want a set up like mine, where Alexa controls your 3D printer, read on.

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Automatic Dust Collection for the Whole Shop

If you’ve got a woodworking area, or even if you’ve just got something that really churns out dust like a belt sander or table saw, there’s an excellent chance you hate sawdust with a passion. It gets all over your clothes, jams up everything mechanical, and as a fun little bonus can be explosive if not handled properly. Thankfully newer tools tend to come with their own dust collection bags (back in the old days, you weren’t really a man unless you were coughing up wood fibers), but if you’ve got a half a dozen tools with half a dozen different dust bags you’ve got to empty, that can get pretty annoying.

Especially if you take woodworking as seriously as [Brad Wright] does. Over on his YouTube channel [DIY Builds], he quickly runs through the construction of a whole-shop dust collection system with some very neat features. Not everyone needs a system this intricate, but the tips and tricks he shows off during the build are great and can certainly be adapted to less grandiose setups.

Dust collection connector with closeable gate
One of the scratch-built gates.

[Brad] goes into a bit more detail in this gallery, revealing that the heart of the build is a Harbor Freight dust collection system that he modified into a cyclone separator. Big chunks fall down into the 55 gallon bucket, and what’s left gets blown out of the shop via a louvered vent through an exterior wall. An intricate system of 4 inch PVC pipe is then used to connect up each individual machine’s dust collection port. Even individual hand sanders get into the act via a three way manifold. His table saw lacked a dust port, so he enclosed the motor with a piece of plywood and made his own.

One of the most interesting aspects of the build is the scratch-built blast gates. These are essentially valves which open and close the different sections of the PVC where they mate to the individual stations. This prevents the dust collection system from wasting suction by trying to pull from all the stations at once when only one is in use at any given time. [Brad] even wired up the blast gates with switches that will turn the dust collection system on when the gate is open, and off when it’s closed.

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered the lengths people will go to rid their shop of dust. Cyclone dust separators are an especially popular build, using everything from sheet metal to 3D printed parts.

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