Hackaday Links: December 27, 2020

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We’re always pleased to see one of our community’s projects succeed, and we celebrate that success in whatever what it comes. But seeing a company launched to commercialize an idea that started as a Hackaday.io project and a Hackaday Prize entry is especially gratifying. So we were pleased as punch to see that MAKESafe Tools has managed to bring the idea of add-on machine tool braking to market. We’d love to add this to several tools in our shop. Honestly, of all the terrifying ways machine tools can slice, dice, and shred human flesh asunder, we always considered the lowly bench grinder fairly low-risk — and then we had a chance to “Shake Hands with Danger.”

Another great thing about the Hackaday community is the way we all try to keep each other up to speed on changes and news that affects even our smallest niches. Just last week Tom Nardi covered a project using the venerable TI eZ430-Chronos smartwatch as a makeshift medical alert bracelet for a family member. It’s a great application for the proto-smartwatch, but one eagle-eyed commenter helpfully pointed out that TI is shutting down their processors wiki in just a couple of weeks. The banner at the top of each page warns that the wiki is not read-only and that any files needed should be downloaded by January 15. Also helpfully, subsequent comments include instructions to download the entire wiki and a torrent link to the archive. It’s always sad to see a platform lose support, especially one that has gained a nice following, but it’s heartening to see the community pull together to continue to support each other like this.

We came across an interesting article this week that’s was a fascinating glimpse into how economic forces shape  and drive technological process, and vice versa. It turns out that some of the hottest real estate commodities these days are the plots of land occupied by AM radio stations serving metropolitan markets. It’s no secret that terrestrial radio in general, and AM radio in particular, are growing increasingly moribund, and the infrastructure needed to keep them on the air is getting harder and harder to justify. Chief among these are the large tracts of land devoted to antenna farms, which are often located in suburban and exurban areas near major cities. They’re tempting targets for developers looking to plunk down the physical infrastructure needed to support “New Economy” players like Amazon, which continue to build vast automated warehouses in areas that are handy to large customer bases. It’s a bit sad to watch a once mighty industry unravel and be sold off like this, but such is the nature of progress.

And finally, you may recall a Links article mention a few weeks back about a teardown of a super-sized IBM processor module. A quarter-million dollar relic of the 1990s, the huge System/390 module was an engineering masterpiece that met an unfortunate end at the hands of EEVblog’s Dave Jones. As a follow-up, Dave teamed up with fellow YouTuber CPU Galaxy to take a less-destructive tour of the module using X-ray analysis. The level of engineering needed for a 64-layer ceramic backplane is astonishing, and Dave’s play-by-play is pretty entertaining too. As a bonus, CPU Galaxy has some really interesting stuff; his place is basically a museum of vintage tech, and he just earned a new sub.

26 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: December 27, 2020

  1. I have to say I’m not sad to see the death of commercial AM radio. The audio quality is atrocious the majority of tuners commonly available are even worse – drifting all over the place.

    Possibly though a bigger problem with broadcast in general is typically bad program material which usually makes the poor quality audio a minor irritation.

    1. AM can still be used with digital broadcasting, and it can cover a much larger area than FM. But as for the programming being a total wasteland, well technology can’t fix stupidity.

    2. The young kids won’t build crystal radios if there aren’t AM stations anymore. I think it’s among the most amazing simple electronic projects and it does not even require a power source beside the radio waves, it’s almost magical.

    3. The sad bit is that with an increase in bandwidth (say 18 or 20khz) the quality can be perfectly fine for portable and car users.
      But most tuners are set for a RF bandwidth of between 9 and 12khz, which is very necessary in Europe at night, but in the US where 50kw is a big station (compared to 200-500kw for national stations in europe) you probably won’t have much interference from the ‘neighbors’.

      But indeed. Program material is what matters most. The last big dutch AM music stations (gone early 2010s) broadcasted the same 50 oldies every day, all day, except for 2 hours per day run by an actual DJ. So if there was a new listener, they’d quit listening after getting sick of that same shuffled playlist.
      After that, the reli creeps took over the national 300kw transmitters for another couple of years. But obviously no one listens to that.

      DRM digital radio on former AM frequencies has never gotten anywhere, and with the demise of broadcast in general, i can’t see it picking up either.

      Interestingly enough, i have never heard as much music on the medium wave as i do now. The dutch govt has made 100w medium wave broadcast licenses a set price (so no frequency auction anymore) which is affordable to many people. There are now 40ish new stations, mostly oldies or folk music. I can receive the ones within 20km from me very well. Many others are audible but not comfortably listenable.

  2. Not really regarding radio, NPR stations, it’s that boring concept of commercial radio. It happens that they all play classical music. In NYC that venue has passed to WQXR-FM, WNYC-FM had them move in, the two stations combined their efforts.

      1. AM was music. FM was a wasteland until “underground radio” took over moribund FM stations starting in 1967. Most radios were AM at the time, it was well into the seventies when you could expect to find am/fm radios. There was no FM radio in the house here until 1975 or so.

        AM moved to talk over time, as FM built up and most people had radios for FM.

  3. “The level of engineering needed for a 64-layer ceramic backplane is astonishing, and Dave’s play-by-play is pretty entertaining too. ”

    I imagine a lot of expertise has retired or deceased.

  4. We have 2 Radio Ranch potentials at the edge of town surrounded by other houses. One WBAA is the oldest in the state at 99 years the other 2 are worthless daytimers. All have FM translators now. WBAA should sell, it would buy some programming instead of lukewarm classical filler. Biggest school of music in the world is at IU but they play jazz and soul and top shelf classical. Purdue isn’t known for classical orchestra instead has the worlds largest drum on the football field and nothing but classical 24/7.

    I wonder how AM can colocate on one tower since the tower is the radiator and is tuned.

    1. Oddly enough most NPR stations who have an extra or two in the area, are associated with universities. And what do you mean by “lukewarm classical”? And what is “top shelf classical”? And it’s really a good thing that it is carrying “classical 24/7”.

  5. The alternative to FM and AM, DAB is crap.
    At least AM and FM degrade (relatively) gracefully in low reception areas.
    I used to love tuning in to AM stations. Part of the fun was getting the dial in just the right place to pick them up.
    When DAB degrades, it sounds like a frickin’ dalek having a coronary.
    The worst part of it is that DAB (at least here in the UK) uses MP2 (newer DAB+ uses AAC).
    And they shoehorn more and more stations in, compressing them further, reducing the quality so it’ll soon be worse than AM.
    I’ve seen bitrates as low as 32Kbps mono on some stations here. It sounds like s**t.
    The younger generation are used to listening to highly compressed music and can’t hear the difference.
    Oh well, that’s progress for you. They’ll kill off both AM and FM at some time in the not so distant future :(

      1. Video killed the radio star, In my mind and in my car, We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far.

        Then prompted by AM-FM created rumors that MTV was seeing it’s girlfriend, MTV was gunned down in the street by YouTube in 2007

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