An Out-Of-This-World Opportunity; Become An ESA Astronaut

In the six decades or so of human space exploration, depending on whose definition you take, only 562 people have flown in to space. We haven’t quite reached the state of holidaying in space that science fiction once promised us even though the prospect of sub-orbital spaceflight for the exceedingly well-heeled is very close, so that cadre of astronauts remains an elite group whose entry is not for the average person. Some readers might have an opportunity to change that though, as the European Space Agency have announced a fresh round of astronaut recruitment that will open at the end of March.

Sadly for our American readers the successful applicants have to hail from ESA member states, but since that covers a swathe of European countries we’re guessing that a lot of you might have your long-held dreams of spaceflight revived by it. You can learn more at a press conference to be held on the 16th of February, and streamed via ESA Web TV. Meanwhile whoever is recruited will be likely not only to participate in missions to the ISS, but maybe also more ambitious planned missions such as those to the planned Lunar Gateway space station in Lunar orbit. If you think you’ve got the Euro version of The Right Stuff, you’ll have the 8 weeks from the end of March until the 28th of May to get your application in. Good Luck!

3D Printer Makes Ham Antenna Portable

You don’t normally think of a 3D printer as a necessity for an antenna project. However, if you are interested in making a handy portable antenna, you might want to melt some plastic. [N2MXX] has an end fed antenna winder design that also contains the necessary matching toroid. This would be just the thing to throw in your backpack for portable operation.

The end-fed configuration is handy for portability too, because you can easily secure one end and feed the other end. Compare that to a dipole where you have to feed a high point and secure both ends.

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Stay Focused With This Distraction Free Cyberdeck

While on the surface they might seem like little more than cosplay accessories, there are perfectly valid and practical reasons for building a custom cyberdeck. For one thing, a hand-built deck is going to be easier to upgrade and modify down the line. A bespoke rig can also be made to fit your exacting specifications, with each and every design choice made specifically to support your personal style and workflow.

For [Conrad Barski], that meant a computer that would stay out of his way and allow him to take notes and write code while keeping distractions to the absolute minimum. All he wanted in his dream machine was a nice mechanical keyboard, a widescreen display, and enough battery power to go mobile should the need arise. Anything else would be gilding the lily. For those who want to distill personal computing down to its simplest form, this build is really the high water mark.

[Conrad] is currently in the early stages of turning his Lisperati1000 into a kit others can build for themselves, so details are a bit sparse at the moment. But we do know there’s a Raspberry Pi Zero W, a Vortex Core 40% keyboard, and 4,400 mAh worth of battery power wrapped up in that slick 3D printed enclosure. Readers may recognize the 1920×480 ultra-wide LCD from the modernized TRS-80 Model 100 we covered recently, or perhaps the gorgeously reimagined retro terminals of [Oriol Ferrer MesiĆ ]. If you’ve got retro-futurism on the brain, this seems to be the display to beat.

Whether you want to explore vintage computing, stylishly take control of your custom race car, or cruise the airwaves with an integrated software defined radio, a completely custom portable computing device can make for an interesting alternative to another ho-hum laptop from the Big Box electronics store.

Reverse Engineering USB Protocols On A Function Generator

When working with test equipment such as oscilloscopes and function generators, it can be useful to take a screen capture. Historically this was done with Polaroid cameras that were bolted in place, but these days it can be done over a simple USB connection. [Majenko] didn’t like the Windows-only software that shipped with their Tenma 72-14110 function generator, however, and set about reverse engineering the USB protocol to create their own.

The hack was pulled off by running the original software in a Windows VM, while running Wireshark in the host Linux OS to capture the USB traffic. Once enough data had been captured, [Majenko] set about figuring out how the function generator formatted the screen data when sending it to the PC. Based on the fact that the data changed in length depending on what was on the display, it was surmised that the data was not raw, but compressed somehow. A hunch suggested it was probably some form of Run-Length Encoding, and this proved to be correct. With a little more digging and experimentation, [Majenko] was able to put together some code that netted a clear image from the device.

It’s a useful guide for reverse engineering image data, one that could prove useful if you’re tackling a similar problem on other hardware. We’ve seen some great reverse engineering efforts over the years, on everything from old video hardware to the Sega Saturn. If you’ve been diving deep into the secrets of software or hardware yourself, be sure to drop us a line.

Some Tips For Monetizing Work In Open Source

Free and open-source software (FOSS) doesn’t have to be entirely separate from the concept of bringing in money, but the path to monetizing is maybe less clear than it could be. To help address this, [Drew DeVault] has shared some concise thoughts on different ways to monetize FOSS work and projects. [Drew] observes that monetizing one’s own projects is one approach, but that it is entirely possible, and less difficult, to make money by participating in open source work in a more general sense.

There are companies and organizations out there who may make their money otherwise, but are nevertheless involved in or reliant upon open source software for running their business. Such companies are a good starting point for anyone looking to work in FOSS, and [Drew] shares a clever tip for finding them: use git to clone the software repositories of large projects that are of interest to you, then run this command:

git log -n100000 --format="%ae" | cut -d@ -f2 | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr | less

This will extract the domain names from the last 100,000 commits to the repository in question; a good set of leads to companies and organizations that are invested enough in FOSS to contribute, and who may be willing to pay for such work.

There is also the option of monetizing one’s own projects, which [Drew] says is the more difficult approach. He shares tips on monetization options, but cautions that fundamentally one is building a business when going this route. One should therefore be prepared to face the attendant non-software-related problems in the process.

[Drew] runs SourceHut and works entirely in FOSS, but still makes time for fun hacks like using this old line printer to emulate the experience of working on a teletype, which is how it was done when terminal output went to paper, instead of a CRT monitor.

The Modding, Restoration, And Demise Of A $3M Analog Computer

How do you rapidly record the output from your three million dollar analog computer in the 1940s when the results are only available on analog meters? The team responsible for the Westinghouse 1947 AC Network Calculator at Georgia Tech was faced with just this problem and came up with a nifty solution — hack the control panel and wire in a special-purpose drafting table.

What Is It?

What is this beast of a computer? Machines of this type were developed during and after World War 2, and strictly speaking, belong in the category of scale models rather than true computers. Although these machines were very flexible, they were primarily designed to simulate power distribution grids. There is a lot of theory under the hood, but basically a real world, multi-phase distribution system would be scaled to single-phase at 400 Hz for modeling.

The engineers would “program” the machine by connecting together the appropriate circuit elements (like capacitors, inductors, transmission lines, generators, etc.) on big patch panels. Thus programmed, a 10 kW motor-generator located in the basement would be started up and the simulation was underway. Continue reading “The Modding, Restoration, And Demise Of A $3M Analog Computer”

3D Printed Butterfly Valve Helps Automate Fume Extraction

It’s not something we always think about, but there’s plenty of hazardous fumes in the average workshop that can be deleterious to human health. Whether its soldering, lasercutting, or 3D printing, all of these processes release nasty chemicals into the air that are best filtered for health reasons. To help build out a working filtration system, [Fab] needed some valves, so set about printing some of his own.

[Fab] went with a simple butterfly valve design, similar to the throttle valve in most gasoline-powered cars. The butterfly vane rotates to vary the flow, turned by a small SG90 servo. A Wemos D1 Mini is used to run a pair of the valves, which are paired with a Y-adapter to connect both a soldering station and 3D printer to the fume extraction system. As a nice touch, a WiFi-enabled outlet is hooked up to the soldering iron which notifies the D1 Mini when it’s switched on, flipping the valve open to automatically start fume extraction.

It’s a tidy system that will enable [Fab] to breath easy in the workshop for years to come. Files are available for those wishing to print a set of butterfly valves for themselves. We’ve seen some other smart fume extractors before, too. Video after the break.

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