Got A Cardboard Box? Get Into Food Smoking!

We appreciate a good kitchen hack, and we have always liked TV personality and chef [Alton Brown]’s McGuyver-ish approach to these things. So for anyone who hasn’t seen it, let’s take a moment to highlight how to make (and use) Alton Brown’s Cardboard Box Smoker.

[Alton] himself confesses that over the years it has remained his favorite smoker for a few good reasons. The price is certainly right, but there are a few other things that really stand out in the design. It’s easy to assemble and take down, needing very little storage space compared to a purpose-built smoker. It’s also trivial to monitor the temperature inside: just poke a thermometer probe through the side of the box. Finally, it’s a great way to get some additional use out of an old hot plate and cast iron pan. It’s the kind of thing one could put together from a garage sale and a visit to the dollar store.

The cardboard box is perfectly serviceable, but one may be tempted to kick it up a notch with some upgrades. In that case, check out this tech-upgraded flower pot smoker (also based on an Alton Brown design.)

Reusing and repurposing is a great way to experiment in the kitchen without needing to buy specialized equipment. Here’s another example: Kyoto-style cold brew coffee. It’s thick and rich and brings out different flavor profiles. Curious? Well, normally it requires a special kind of filter setup, but it can also be accomplished with cheesecloth, coffee filters, and a couple of cut-up soft drink bottles. Oh, and some rubber bands and chopsticks if things are too wobbly. Just do yourself a favor and use good quality coffee beans, or better yet, roast them yourself. Just trust us on this one.

Liquid Piston Engine Finally Works

The first video from [3DPrintedLife] attempting to make a liquid piston engine was… well… the operative word is attempting. The latest video, though, which you can see below gets it right, at least eventually.. He has a good explanation of the changes that made the design better. Turns out, one change that made a difference was to turn a key part of the engine inside out. You can see the video below.

The first version would quickly break during operation and while the first new version didn’t work very well, it did stay in one piece which is a definite improvement.

Continue reading “Liquid Piston Engine Finally Works”

Stratum 1 Grandmaster Time Server On A Budget

[Jeff Geerling] has been following the various open source time projects for some time now, and is finally able to demonstrate a working and affordable solution for nanoseconds-accurate timekeeping in your local lab. The possibility of a low-cost time server came about with the introduction of the Raspberry Pi CM4 compute module back in Oct 2020, whose Broadcom network chip (BCM54210PE) supports PTP (Precision Time Protocol, IEEE-1588) 1PPS output and hardware-based time stamping. Despite the CM4 data sheet specifying PTP support, it wasn’t available in the kernel. An issue was raised in Feb last year, and Raspberry Pi kernel support was finally released this month.

[Jeff] demonstrates how easy it is to get two CM4 modules to synchronize to within a few tens of nanoseconds in the video below the break. That alone can be very useful on many projects. But if you want really stable and absolute time, you need a stratum 1 external source. These time servers, called grandmasters in PTP nomenclature, have traditionally been specialized pieces of kit costing tens of thousands of dollars, using precision oscillators for stability and RF signals from stratum 0 devices like navigation satellites or terrestrial broadcast stations to get absolute time. But as Lasse Johnsen, who worked on the kernel updates remarks in the video:

In 2022 these purpose-built grandmaster clocks from the traditional vendors are about as relevant as the appliance web servers like the Raq and Qube were back in 1998.

It is now possible to build your own low-cost stratum 1 time server in your lab from open source projects. Two examples shown in the video. The Open Time Server project’s Timecard uses a GNSS satellite receiver and a Microchip MAC-SA5X Rubidium oscillator. If that’s overkill for your projects or budget, the Time4Pi CM4 hat is about to be release for under $200. If accurate time keeping is your thing, the technology is now within reach of the average home lab. You can also add PTP to a non-CM4 Raspberry Pi — check out the Real-Time HAT that we covered last year.

Continue reading “Stratum 1 Grandmaster Time Server On A Budget”

Collaborative Effort Gets Laser Galvos Talking G-Code

Everyone should know by now that we love to follow up on projects when they make progress. It’s great to be able to celebrate accomplishments and see how a project has changed over time. But it’s especially great to highlight a project that not only progresses, but also gives back a little to the community.

That’s what we’re seeing with [Les Wright]’s continuing work with a second-hand laser engraver. It was only a few weeks ago that we featured his initial experiments with the eBay find, a powerful CO2 laser originally used for industrial marking applications. It originally looked like [Les] was going to have to settle for a nice teardown and harvesting a few parts, but the eleven-year-old tube and the marking head’s galvanometers actually turned out to be working just fine.

The current work, which is also featured in the video below, mainly concerns those galvos, specifically getting them working with G-code to turn the unit into a bit of an ad hoc laser engraver. Luckily, he stumbled upon the OPAL Open Galvo project on GitHub, which can turn G-code into the XY2-100 protocol used by his laser. While [Les] has nothing but praise for the software side of OPAL, he saw a hardware hole he could fill, and contributed his design for a PCB that hosts the Teensy the code runs on as well as the buffer and line driver needed to run the galvos and laser. The video shows the whole thing in use with simple designs on wood and acrylic, as well as interesting results on glass.

Of course, these were only tests — we’re sure [Les] would address the obvious safety concerns in a more complete engraver. But for now, we’ll just applaud the collaboration shown here and wait for more updates.

Continue reading “Collaborative Effort Gets Laser Galvos Talking G-Code”

A Simple Web-Based Wiring Harness Tool

When building electronic assemblies there is quite often the need to construct custom cables to hook things up. It’s all very well if you’re prototyping by hand, or just building one or two of a thing, but if you’re cranking them out using outside help, then you’re going to want to ensure that cable is described very accurately. [Christian Nimako-Boateng Jr.] presents for us the first version of wirely, a wiring harness tool. This is a web-based tool that allows one to describe the cable ends and connectivity between them, producing a handy graphic and exports to excel in a format that should be easy to follow.

Based around the wireviz Python library running on a flask-based backend, image data are sent to the web assembly front-end and rendered with OpenGL. Configuration files can be imported and exported as JSON, making it easily linkable to other tools if required. Helpfully, the tool also seems to support some kind of revision control, although we didn’t try that yet. The process is straightforward enough, one simply defines a few groups (these relate to individual PCBs or other floating items in the assembly) which each contain one or more connectors. First, the connectors are described with part numbers, and wire gauge data, before defining the list of connections (wires) showing which signal and physical pins are connected together. Nothing more complex than that yet. We think there is still some more functionality that the tool could manage, such as shielding and guarding details, twisted pair definitions and a few others, but for a first pass, wirely looks pretty handy.

If you want a more heavyweight option using IEC 60617 symbols for describing wiring harnesses, then look no farther than QElectroTech, and yes, we have covered wireviz before, just for those that want to cut out the middleman and describe their cables in Python directly.

Helping Secure Amateur Radio’s Digital Future

The average person’s perception of a ham radio operator, assuming they even know what that means, is more than likely some graybeard huddled over the knobs of a war-surplus transmitter in the wee small hours of the morning. It’s a mental image that, admittedly, isn’t entirely off the mark in some cases. But it’s also a gross over-simplification, and a generalization that isn’t doing the hobby any favors when it comes to bringing in new blood.

In reality, a modern ham’s toolkit includes a wide array of technologies that are about as far away from your grandfather’s kit-built rig as could be — and there’s exciting new protocols and tools on the horizon. To ensure a bright future for amateur radio, these technologies need to be nurtured the word needs to be spread about what they can do. Along the way, we’ll also need to push back against stereotypes that can hinder younger operators from signing on.

On the forefront of these efforts is Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC), a private foundation dedicated to supporting amateur radio and digital communication by providing grants to scholarships, educational programs, and promising open source technical projects. For this week’s Hack Chat, ARDC Executive Director Rosy Schechter (KJ7RYV) and Staff Lead John Hays (K7VE) dropped by to talk about the future of radio and digital communications.

Rosy kicked things off with a brief overview of ARDC’s fascinating history. The story starts in 1981, when Hank Magnuski had the incredible foresight to realize that amateur radio packet networks could benefit from having a dedicated block of IP addresses. In those early days, running out of addresses was all but unimaginable, so he had no trouble securing 16.7 million IPs for use by licensed amateur radio operators. This block of addresses, known as AMPRNet and then later 44Net, was administered by volunteers until ARDC was formed in 2011 and took over ownership. In 2019, the decision was made to sell off about four million of the remaining IP addresses — the proceeds of which went into an endowment that now funds the foundation’s grant programs.

So where does the money go? The ARDC maintains a list of recipients, which provides for some interesting reading. The foundation has helped fund development of GNU Radio, supported the development of an open hardware CubeSat frame by the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT), and cut a check to the San Francisco Wireless Emergency Mesh to improve communications in wildfire-prone areas. They even provided $1.6 million towards the restoration of the MIT Radio Society’s radome and 18-foot dish.

Of all the recipients of ARDC grants, the M17 project garnered the most interest during the Chat. This community of open source developers and radio enthusiasts is developing a next-generation digital radio protocol for data and voice that’s unencumbered by patents and royalties. In their own words, M17 is focused on “radio hardware designs that can be copied and built by anyone, software that anyone has the freedom to modify and share to suit their own needs, and other open systems that respect your freedom to tinker.” They’re definitely our kind of folks — we first covered the project in 2020, and are keen to see it develop further.

John says the foundation has approximately $6 million each year they can dole out, and that while there’s certainly no shortage of worthwhile projects to support as it is, they’re always looking for new applicants. The instructions and guides for grant applications are still being refined, but there’s at least one hard requirement for any project that wants to be funded by the ARDC: it must be open source and available to the general amateur population.

Of course, all this new technology is moot if there’s nobody to use it. It’s no secret that getting young people interested in amateur radio has been a challenge, and frankly, it’s little surprise. When a teenager can already contact anyone on the planet using the smartphone in their pocket, getting a ham license doesn’t hold quite the same allure as it did to earlier generations.

Depending on how old you are, this might have been one of the most shocking moments in Stranger Things.

The end result is that awareness among youth is low. During the Chat, one participant recounted how he had to put Netflix’s Stranger Things on pause so he could explain to his teenage son how the characters in the 1980s set show were able to communicate across long distances using a homemade radio. Think about that for a minute — in a show about nightmarish creatures invading our world from an alternate dimension, the hardest thing for this young man to wrap his head around was the fact a group of teenagers would be able to keep in touch with each other without the Internet or phone lines to connect them.

So its no surprise that John says the ARDC is actively looking for programs which can help improve the demographics of amateur radio. The foundation is looking to not only bring younger people onboard, but also reach out to groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the hobby. As an example, he points to a grant awarded to the Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club (BARC) last year to bolster their youth engagement program. Funds went towards putting together a portable rig that would allow students to communicate with the International Space Station, and the development of hands-on workshops where teens will be able to launch, track, and recover payloads on a high altitude balloon. Let’s see them do that on their fancy new smartphone.

We want to not only thank Rosy Schechter and John Hays for taking part in this week’s Hack Chat, but everyone else at Amateur Radio Digital Communications for their efforts to support the present and future of amateur radio and digital communication.

The Hack Chat is a weekly online chat session hosted by leading experts from all corners of the hardware hacking universe. It’s a great way for hackers connect in a fun and informal way, but if you can’t make it live, these overview posts as well as the transcripts posted to make sure you don’t miss out.

Hackaday Podcast 177: Microscopes, Telescopes, Telephonoscopes, And A Keyboardoscope?

This week, Editor-in-Chief Elliot Williams and Assignments Editor Kristina Panos stood around talking like they weren’t thousands of miles apart. And we mean that literally: Kristina just got an up/down desk, and it turns out that Elliot’s had the exact same one for years.

Kristina’s phone is heavier than yours.

In between the hammerings on Kristina’s house (she’s getting new siding), we kick things off by drooling over the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope, and compare a few of them to the same shots from Hubble.

We managed to save a bit of saliva for all the seriously swell keyboards and not-keyboards we saw throughout the Odd Inputs and Peculiar Peripherals contest, all of which are winners in our book.

This week, we ask the tough questions, like why would someone who has never played guitar want to build one from scratch? We can only guess that the answer is simply, ‘because l can’. As lazy as that reasoning may sound, this build is anything but.

Later on, we’ll ogle an ocean of PS/2 keyboards and their new owner’s portable testing rig, complain about ASMR, and laugh about a giant nose that sneezes out sanitizer.

Direct download. And burn it to CD-RW!

Check out the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast 177: Microscopes, Telescopes, Telephonoscopes, And A Keyboardoscope?”