VR Spectrum Analyzer

At one point or another, we’ve probably all wished we had a VR headset that would allow us to fly around our designs. While not quite the same, thing, [manahiyo831] has something that might even be better: a VR spectrum analyzer. You can get an idea of what it looks like in the video below, although that is actually from an earlier version.

The video shows a remote PC using an RTL dongle to pick up signals. The newer version runs on the Quest 2 headset, so you can simply attach the dongle to the headset. Sure, you’d look like a space cadet with this on, but — honestly — if you are willing to be seen in the headset, it isn’t that much more hardware.

What we’d really like to see, though, is a directional antenna so you could see the signals in the direction you were looking. Now that would be something. As it is, this is undeniably cool, but we aren’t sure what its real utility is.

What other VR test gear would you like to see? A Tron-like logic analyzer? A function generator that lets you draw waveforms in the air? A headset oscilloscope? Or maybe just a giant workbench in VR?

A spectrum analyzer is a natural project for an SDR. Or things that have SDRs in them.

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Building Your Own 8088 XT Motherboard

There was a time when an XT-class motherboard — like the old IBM PC with an 8088 CPU — was a high-tech accomplishment. Now, something like that is easily within reach of the average hobby lab. [Homebrew8088] did it, and it looks surprisingly simple, especially compared to what passes for a motherboard these days.

The board will take an 8088 or one of the NEC chips and by default sports 512 K of RAM, a few ISA slots, a PC speaker, a USB hard drive, and a PS/2 keyboard connector. The board will fit in an ATX case. Not bad. You can see a video of the board below.

In fact, the channel has a lot of related videos and the main site has many interesting topics, like driving an 8088 or 8086 from a Raspberry Pi. The GitHub site has design files for KiCad along with a lot of other information. Some of this will be interesting even if you are just trying to repair an old motherboard or would like to design a new ISA card.

If you want to know why the PC used an 8088 instead of an 8086, we just covered that. What are you going to do with an old XT computer? How about IRC?

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Voyager 1 Talks Some Nonsense, But Is Still Working

The Voyager 1 interplanetary probe was launched in 1977 and has now reached interstellar space where it is the furthest-traveled man-made object. It’s hugely exceeded its original mission and continues to return valuable scientific data, but there’s an apparent fault which is leaving its controllers perplexed. Onboard is an attitude control system which keeps the craft’s antennas pointing at Earth, and while it evidently still works (as we’re still in touch with the probe) and other systems are fine, it’s started returning incomprehensible data. Apparently it’s developed a habit of reporting random data, or states the antenna can’t possibly be in.

That a 45 year old computer is still working at all is testament to the skills of its designers, and at 14.5 billion miles away a repair is impossible however much we’d be fascinated to know about the failure modes of old electronics in space.  It’s postulated that they might simply live with the fault if the system is still working, issue a software fix, or find some way to use one of the craft’s redundant systems to avoid the problem. Meanwhile we can rest easily in our beds, because we’re still a couple of centuries away from its return as a giant alien sentient machine.

We’ve featured the Voyager program a few times before here at Hackaday, not least when we took a close look at one of its instruments.

Thanks [Jon Woodcock] for the tip.

HP-200LX Runs Website Like It’s The 90s

The HP-200LX palmtop was a fascinating machine for its time, and [Terrence Vergauwen] proves that its time is not yet over, given that one is responsible for serving up the website for Palmtop Tube, a website and YouTube channel dedicated to vintage palmtops.

All by itself a HP-200LX doesn’t have quite what it takes to act as a modern web server, but it doesn’t take much to provide the missing pieces. A PCMCIA network adapter provides an Ethernet connection, and a NAS contains the website content while networking and web server software run locally. Steady power comes from a wall adapter, but two rechargeable AA cells in the 200LX itself act as a mini-UPS, providing backup power in case of outages.

The HP-200LX was a breakthrough product that came just at the right time, preceding other true palm top computers like the IBM PC 110. In the early 90s, it was unimaginable that one could have a fully functional MS-DOS based machine in one’s pocket, let alone one that could last weeks on a couple of AA cells. It didn’t have some proprietary OS and weird ports, and that kind of functionality is part of why, roughly 30 years later, one is able to competently serve up web traffic.

A video overview of the machine and how it all works is in the video embedded below. And if you’re more interested in what an HP-200LX looks like on the inside? This video is all about taking apart and repairing a 200LX.

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A Receive Antenna Switcher With An Espressif Brain

It’s not uncommon for a radio enthusiast to have multiple antennas for the same radio, so as you might expect it’s also entirely usual to have a bunch of coaxial cables dangling down for fumbling around the back of the rig to swap over.  If that describes your radio experience than you might be interested in the antenna switcher built by [g3gg0], which uses solid-state RF switches controlled by an ESP32 module.

At its heart is the MXD8625C RF switch, a tiny device designed for cellular phone applications that delivers only a fraction of a dB insertion loss and somehow negates the need for any blocking capacitors. It’s controlled by a GPIO line, and he’s hooked up a brace of them to allow the distribution of three antennas to a couple of radios with the handy option of switching in a preamplifier if required. Of even more interest we note that the device is suitable for transmitter switching too, with a maximum 36.5 dBm throughput that we calculate to be about 4.5 W. This board is fairly obviously for receive use, but perhaps the chip is of interest to anyone considering a transceiver project. Meanwhile the software is a relatively simple web-based control linking on-screen controls to GPIOs.

If you are interested in solid state RF switches, it’s always worth remembering that at lower frequencies they can be very simple indeed.

One Solution, Many Problems

You might think you’re lucky when one of your problems has multiple solutions, and you get to pick and choose, but you’re even luckier when one solution has many problems! This week I stumbled on an old solution in a new place. The project was a fantastic old MIDI guitar build, the Tryndelka by [Aleksandr Goltsov]. And the old solution? Switch matrix diodes.

You see, [Aleksandr] is making an electric guitar where the strings are pulled up to a certain voltage and then make contact with metal frets. Each fret is cut into six pieces, so that the strings can be read out individually, and the microcontroller scans each string in succession to test if it’s pressed down or not. Done, right? Wrong! The problem comes when two or more strings are pressed at once — the electrical path from the string you want will travel through the closed switch on a string that you’re not scanning. The solution is a ton of diodes.

I learned this problem the hard way in wiring up a MAME cabinet, at about 3 A.M. the night before we were going to bring it to Shmoocon. We finally got the whole USB/button code working, so we played some celebratory rounds of Street Fighter. We eventually noticed that hitting one button, or even moving the joystick in a particular direction, would block some of the other buttons from working, or change their function entirely. Quick Internet search later, and we were hand soldering 64 diodes until dawn. Good times!

But the fact that switch matrices need diodes, and exactly why, is forevermore burned in my brain. It’s fun to see it pop up in all sorts of contexts, from DIY keyboards to MIDI guitars, to Charliplexing. (It’s the “D” in LED!) It’s one of the classics — a solution to many problems.

TurtleAuth DIY Security Token Gets (Re)designed For Durable, Everyday Use

[Samuel]’s first foray into making DIY hardware authentication tokens was a great success, but he soon realized that a device intended for everyday carry and use has a few different problems to solve, compared to a PCB that lives and works on a workbench. This led to TurtleAuth 2.1, redesigned for everyday use and lucky for us all, he goes into detail on all the challenges and solutions he faced.

When we covered the original TurtleAuth DIY security token, everything worked fantastically. However, the PCB layout had a few issues that became apparent after a year or so of daily use. Rather than 3D print an enclosure and call it done, [Samuel] decided to try a different idea and craft an enclosure from the PCB layers themselves.

The three-layered PCB sandwich keeps components sealed away and protected, while also providing a nice big touch-sensitive pad on the top, flanked by status LEDs. Space was a real constraint, and required a PCB redesign as well as moving to 0402 sized components, but in the end he made it work. As for being able to see the LEDs while not having any component exposed? No problem there; [Samuel] simply filled in the holes over the status LEDs with some hot glue, creating a cheap, effective, and highly durable diffuser that also sealed away the internals.

Making enclosures from PCB material can really hit the spot, and there’s no need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to doing so. Our own [Voja Antonic] laid out everything one needs to know about how to build functional and beautiful enclosures in this way.