Hackaday Links: May 21, 2023

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The reports of the death of automotive AM radio may have been greatly exaggerated. Regular readers will recall us harping on the issue of automakers planning to exclude AM from the infotainment systems in their latest offerings, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense given the reach of AM radio and its importance in public emergencies. US lawmakers apparently agree with that position, having now introduced a bipartisan bill to require AM radios in cars. The “AM for Every Vehicle Act” will direct the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to draw up regulations requiring every vehicle operating on US highways to be able to receive AM broadcasts without additional fees or subscriptions. That last bit is clever, since it prevents automakers from charging monthly fees as they do for heated seats and other niceties. It’s just a bill now, of course, and stands about as much chance of becoming law as anything else that makes sense does, so we’re not holding our breath on this one. But at least someone recognizes that AM radio still has a valid use case.

We’ve also spent a bit of time recently dunking on SpaceX for their brief but spectacular Starship flight, which ended when the range safety officer decided enough was enough and detonated the mammoth rocket’s self-destruct charges over the Gulf of Mexico. The destruction wrought by the 33 Raptor engines on the launch pad was epic, with concrete and rebar scattered over a fair bit of the Boca Chica launch facility. But now it appears that debris from the rocket itself is making its way to shore. People have been finding scraps of Starship and inexplicably posting them online, which seems like a great way for SpaceX goons to come knocking on your door to take back your find. Which is nice and legal, apparently, since the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 says that space debris remains the property of the launch operator. But that begs the question: If the rocket that made the debris never made it to space, does the treaty still apply?

Speaking of almost making it to space, we ran into an article about strange sounds being detected in the stratosphere recently. The work comes from Sandia National Labs, where balloons carrying instrument platforms are sent aloft regularly to see — and hear — what’s going on up there. Up at around 50 km altitude, the balloon’s microphones picked up an infrasonic (below 20 Hz) signal of unknown origin. On some flights, the sound is heard repeating a few times every hour, which makes it all the more mysterious. But to us, the really interesting thing here is that the balloons are incredibly simple — just rolls of cheap plastic film from the hardware store, rolls of packing tape to stick the gores together, and powdered charcoal from a pyrotechnics supplier. The charcoal goes in the bag to turn the plastic black, the New Mexico sun heats the air inside, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a balloon up in the stratosphere. No hydrogen, no helium — sounds like a recipe for fun. Or, you know — getting into a lot of trouble.

And now a public service announcement: If you have an old Gmail account that you haven’t used in a while, you might want to check in on it before Google zaps it. The company announced that starting in December it’ll start deleting Gmail accounts that haven’t been logged into for two years or more. They’ll be sending out emails to let you know if your account is on the chopping block, and they’ll deactivate the account for 60 days before nuking it completely, so you should have plenty of heads-up to make sure you don’t lose anything. But then again, these things always seem to catch someone unawares, so better to be ahead of the curve if you can.

And finally, Hackaday superfriend Mark Hughes has been putting a lot of work into Project Boondock Echo, which aims at building a distributed store-and-forward system for remote radio communications. Mark says they’re at the point of pre-beta testing, where devices will be sent out to a couple of people for two weeks of testing. After they find some bugs and make the necessary fixes, they’ll do a limited run of 20 or so units that will go out to beta testers. If you’re interested in participating, head over to the project page and drop Mark a line. Licensed amateur radio operators only at this point, please.

14 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: May 21, 2023

    1. Well, you need a Gmail account if you want your new Android smart phone to do something besides stare back at you.
      (Yeah, I hate Google’s guts!)

    2. I created my kid a gmail account, tied to mine as recovery, so they could email family and friends. They were underaged so I lied on the birthday. They forgot I told them not to change their data, and they updated their birthday to the real birth year…. and the account got locked. There was no way to recover it. I would love to see an email saying it will be deleted at a certain point so we can snag it back again.

  1. The demand projections for Boondock Echo sound absurdly optimistic, and I can’t find any online updates for the last 7 months. I’m a ham radio operator and I’m having trouble seeing the application. If the server has access to the cloud in an emergency what’s the advantage over a cell phone?

    1. Hi David — we’ve been busy programming, and in the head-down environment of chasing bugs, adding features, etc. we’ve neglected to communicate. We’ll prioritize making some videos over the next few weeks/months that better describe the experience. I did post a brief update on the project page and we’ll add more.

      As far as the device goes — in it’s current iteration (based on the ESP32), it can record, transmit, play locally, and a few other things without out the internet. The internet is only required for the advanced features — denoising, transcription, translation, etc. In future iterations, we can use a more powerful MCU or even a SBC that allows those features to operate locally.

      I hear you saying you’re having trouble seeing an application for the way you use amateur radio. That’s okay, not every product is going to be right for every customer.

  2. @Dan Maloney said: “It’s just a bill now, of course, and stands about as much chance of becoming law as anything else that makes sense does, so we’re not holding our breath on this one.”

    That’s faith in America, circa 2023 for ya’. Said like a modern Patriot with eyes wide open!

  3. Doesn’t say how sensitive or selective the radio has to be. As bad as they have gotten, a dirty connection or a diode might suffice. I started hearing ignition noise in the 80’s from the other lane at stoplights on my AM car radio, and from their radio as well out the window.
    They have to justify all those highway info stations for those driving legacy cars.
    The only time reception gets good is when the grid is down, and the tornado is a dud.

  4. As a collector of antique radios, i don’t get it, aside from the highway signs there’s not a lot of AM left in general. We get one station where i live and it’s nothing a polite person would listen to. This is aside from the fact that I know about the AM band and doubt I’d think to check it in an emergency, there’s a whole generation now that barely know normal radios are a thing, I can’t tell you the last time I chose to listen to a normal radio, maybe when the power was out? How many people even own a battery powered radio, even though you’re supposed to for emergencies.

    1. I dunno. Many AM stations in Southern California, and some are decent. To to the wife’s and niece’s chagrin, do not listen to much else in my truck.

      Also listen to AM stations when I do cross-country ‘road’ trips in my trusty little Piper Tri-Pacer. Perversely, or ironically, my bird is loaded with last gen Garmin avionics.

      1. Oh golly, never again in a Piper, but i see your argument, and it’s not lost on me that it varies from place to place. With practically everything being an SDR these days it probably doesn’t even cost them any extra money to leave it in, we just have this bad habit of keeping things around much longer then we need to because “but sometimes”, even my console stereo has a Bluetooth adapter now, I can’t tell you the last time the knob made it past Phono or AUX to the FM or AM bands.

  5. You can pry my AM radio out of my car when auto manufacturers start putting in digital FM radios as “stock” instead of the Sirius/XM gear they do now. Yes, I do realize I can get an aftermarket digital FM-capable unit, but for me it is a matter of principle.

  6. As a ham operator who also indulges in the hobby of nighttime broadcast band DX,
    it would be a shame for AM to go away. We have a station out here that used to be KOMO News 1000.
    It’s now KNWN, same news format. Riding in the car as a child, I remember the 60hz buzz as you went under power lines, or how the station would fade if you went into a tunnel. I do believe the Lincoln Tunnel had that problem for decades. I don’t know what they did, but I understand you can now hear AM and FM even in the tunnel through the whole length. One station I do miss is the powerhouse MusicRadio 77 WABC.
    You could hear that one at night from Maine to Florida and as far west as Chicago.
    If they get rid of AM radio in cars, where’s the incentive to keep the broadcast stations operating?
    Most people in cars want to know about how bad traffic is and that’s their primary reason for listening to AM.

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