Going Ham Mobile On A Bicycle

It’s said that “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” so is attaching an amateur radio to a bike a formula for spoiling a nice ride?

Not according to [Wesley Pidhaychuk (VA5MUD)], a Canadian ham who tricked out his bike with a transceiver and all the accessories needed to work the HF bands while peddling along. The radio is a Yaesu FT-891, a workhorse mobile rig covering everything from the 160-meter band to 6 meters. [Wes] used some specialized brackets to mount the radio’s remote control head to the handlebars, along with an iPad for logging and a phone holder for streaming. The radio plus a LiFePO4 battery live in a bag on the parcel rack in back. The antenna is a Ham Stick mounted to a mirror bracket attached to the parcel rack; we’d have thought the relatively small bike frame would make a poor counterpoise for the antenna, but it seems to work fine — well enough for [Wes] to work some pretty long contacts while pedaling around Saskatoon, including hams in California and Iowa.

The prize contact, though, was with [WA7FLY], another mobile operator whose ride is even more unique: a 737 flying over Yuma, Arizona. We always knew commercial jets have HF rigs, but it never occurred to us that a pilot who’s also a ham might while away the autopilot hours working the bands from 30,000 feet. It makes sense, though; after all, if truckers do it, why not pilots?

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Open Source High Speed SiGe IC Production For Free!

We’ve covered the Tiny Tapeout project a few times on these pages, and while getting your digital IC design out there onto actual silicon for a low cost is super cool, it is still somewhat limited. Now, along comes the German FMD QNC project funding MPW (multi-project wafer) runs not in bog standard Silicon CMOS but Silicon-Germanium bipolar technology. And this is accessible to you and me, of course, provided you have the skills to design in this high-speed analog technology.

The design can be submitted via Github by cloning the IHP-Open-DesignLib repo, adding your design, and issuing a pull request. If your submission passes the correctness checks and is selected, it will be fabricated in-house by the IHP pilot line facility, which means it will take at least four months to complete.  However, there are a few restrictions. The design must be open source, DRC complete (obviously!) and below a somewhat limiting two square millimetres. Bonus points for selecting your project can be had for good documentation and a unique quality, i.e., they shouldn’t have too many similar designs in the project archive. Also, you don’t get to keep the silicon samples, but you may rent them for up to two years for evaluation. In fact, anybody can rent them.  Still, it’s a valuable service to trial a new technique or debug a design and a great way to learn and hone a craft that is difficult to get into by traditional means. Such projects would be an excellent source of verifiable CV experience points we reckon!

If you fancy getting your hands on your own silicon, but bipolar SiGe is a bit of a stretch, look no further than our guide to Tiny Tapeout. But don’t take our word for it—listen to the creator himself!

Exploded view of a mini PC built into a keyboard.

Keyboard Contains Entire Mini PC, Just BYOD

When we talk about keyboards that do it all, we usually mean either big ones with lots of keys and doodads like rotary encoders and displays, or small ones with lots of layers (and usually a few doodads, too). But this — this is something else entirely. Chinese PC maker Linglong have crammed an entire mini PC into a keyboard that’s small enough to fit in your back pocket. Oh, and it folds, too. All you need is a display.

Why do you need a display? Why not include one, if you’re going to wedge everything else in there? Well, the company envisions its users pairing it with a VR or AR glasses. But we can see use cases far beyond ownership of special spectacles, of course.

For instance, office work. Linglong says this key-puter (you read it here first) will last up to ten hours for light use, and nearly six hours for watching movies, but heavy use will have you down to four hours, which really isn’t that bad.

Spec-wise, it looks pretty good, with an AMD Ryzen 7 and either 16 or 32 GB of memory and a half- or full-terabyte hard drive. The whole thing is around 4 x 6″ (15 x 10cm), presumably in the folded orientation, and weighs less than two pounds (800 g). The projected cost is $400-500 depending on specs.

Unfortunately, this little key-puter isn’t available just yet. There are just 200 units available for Beta testing, and no, we don’t have one!

Main and thumbnail images via Linglong

A bunch of unpopulated PCB business cards with rad dead rat artwork.

2024 Business Card Challenge: A Very Annoying Business Card, Indeed

Usually the business card itself is the reminder to get in contact with whoever gave it to you. But this is Hackaday, after all. This solar-powered card reminds the recipient to send [Dead Rat Productions] an email by beeping about every two hours, although the gist of that email may simply be begging them to make it stop, provided they didn’t just toss the thing in the garbage.

The full-on, working version of the card is not intended for everyone — mostly serious-looking A-list types that ooze wealth. Most of [Dead Rat Productions]’ pub mates will get an unpopulated version, which could be a fun afternoon for the right kind of recipient, of course.

That person would need a Seeed Studio Xiao SAMD21, a solar panel, plus some other components, like an energy-harvesting chip to keep the battery topped up. Of note, there is a coin cell holder that requires prying with a screwdriver to get the battery out, so there’s really no escaping the beeping without some work on their part. We rather like the artwork on this one, especially the fact that the coin cell sits inside the rat’s stomach. That’s a nice touch.

Hack All The Things, Get All The Schematics

When I was growing up, about 4 or 5 years old, I had an unorthodox favourite type of reading material: service manuals for my dad’s audio equipment. This got to the point that I kept asking my parents for more service manuals, and it became a running joke in our family for a bit. Since then, I’ve spent time repairing tech and laptops in particular as a way of earning money, hanging out at a flea market in the tech section, then spending tons of time at our hackerspace. Nowadays, I’m active in online hacker groups, and I have built series of projects closely interlinked with modern-day consumer-facing tech.

Twenty three years later, is it a wonder I have a soft spot in my heart for schematics? You might not realize this if you’re only upcoming in the hardware hacking scene, but device schematics, whichever way you get them, are a goldmine of information you can use to supercharge your projects, whether you’re hacking on the schematic-ed device itself or not. What’s funny is, not every company wants their schematics to be published, but it’s ultimately helpful for the company in question, anyway.

If you think it’s just about repair – it’s that, sure, but there’s also a number of other things you might’ve never imagined you can do. Still, repair is the most popular one.
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[Usagi Electric’s] Bendix G15 Gets DC Power

[Usagi Electric] is breathtakingly close to having his Bendix G15 vacuum tube computer up and running. This week he is joined by a new friend, [Lloyd] who is restoring a G15 as well. [Lloyd] used to repair the Bendix Computers back in the 1970s, so he’s privy to lots of practical knowledge you can’t find in the manuals.

The goal this week was to apply DC power to the G15.  The AC power spins the fans and makes the tubes start glowing. But DC makes the magic happen.  That’s when the boot sequencers start running, sending data to the drum, testing various parts of the machine, and finally, loading software from the paper tape reader.

Since this was a computer from the 1950’s, powering up DC might work, or could let the magic smoke out.  The only way to find out was to push the big green “Reset” button.

The first attempt was stymied by a blown fuse. The second attempt resulted in real live blinkenlights. The data and status lights on the Bendix lit up for the first time in decades. The only thing missing was the sound of the tape drive.  A bit of digging proved that the problem wasn’t in the computer, but in the typewriter user console. The typewriter is supposed to connect the SA line to the -20 volt DC rail. That wasn’t happening though. Since that expected voltage wasn’t present on the SA line at the Bendinx, the boot process halted.

Unfortunately, the typewriter has “somebody’s been here before” syndrome – in addition to age, there are a number of odd modifications.  It’s going to take [Usagi] a bit of time to dig into it and figure out what’s wrong.

The good news is that the computer is using its massive spinning drum drive. [Usagi] was able to verify this with the test panel inside the machine. One button will write a pulse to the drum, and another will erase it. Manipulating these buttons, [Usagi] could see the results on an oscilloscope.  This may sound simple – but just getting to this point means an incredibly complex chain of tube, relay, and mechanical logic has to work.  Bravo [Dave] and [Lloyd]!

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The Flash Memory Lifespan Question: Why QLC May Be NAND Flash’s Swan Song

The late 1990s saw the widespread introduction of solid-state storage based around NAND Flash. Ranging from memory cards for portable devices to storage for desktops and laptops, the data storage future was prophesied to rid us of the shackles of magnetic storage that had held us down until then. As solid-state drives (SSDs) took off in the consumer market, there were those who confidently knew that before long everyone would be using SSDs and hard-disk drives (HDDs) would be relegated to the dust bin of history as the price per gigabyte and general performance of SSDs would just be too competitive.

Fast-forward a number of years, and we are now in a timeline where people are modifying SSDs to have less storage space, just so that their performance and lifespan are less terrible. The reason for this is that by now NAND Flash has hit a number of limits that prevent it from further scaling density-wise, mostly in terms of its feature size. Workarounds include stacking more layers on top of each other (3D NAND) and increasing the number of voltage levels – and thus bits – within an individual cell. Although this has boosted the storage capacity, the transition from single-level cell (SLC) to multi-level (MLC) and today’s TLC and QLC NAND Flash have come at severe penalties, mostly in the form of limited write cycles and much reduced transfer speeds.

So how did we get here, and is there life beyond QLC NAND Flash?

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