Modern WiFi-enabled microcontrollers have made it affordable and easy to monitor everything from local weather information to electricity usage with typically no more than a few dollars worth of hardware and a little bit of programming knowledge. Monitoring one’s own utility data can be a little bit more difficult without interfering with the metering equipment, but we have seen some clever ways of doing this over the years. The latest is this water meter monitoring device based on a Raspberry Pi Pico.
The clever thing here isn’t so much that it’s based on the tiniest of Raspberry Pis, but how it keeps track of the somewhat obscured water flow information coming from the meter. Using a magnetometer placed close to the meter, the device can sense the magnetic field created as water flows through the meter’s internal sensors. The magnetic field changes in a non-obvious way as water flows through it, so the program has to watch for specific peaks in the magnetic field. Each of these specific waveforms the magnetometer detects counts to 0.0657 liters of water, which is accurate for most purposes.
For interfacing with a utility meter, this is one of the more efficient and elegant hacks we’ve seen in a while. There have, of course, been other attempts to literally read the meter using web cams and computer vision software, but the configuration for these builds is much more complex than something like this. You can interface with plenty of utility meters other than water meters, too, regardless of age.
Moore’s law isn’t strictly holding anymore, but it is still true that most computing systems are at least trending towards lower cost over time, if not also slightly smaller size. This means wider access to less expensive hardware, even if that hardware is still an 8-bit microcontroller. While some move on to more powerful platforms as a result of this trend, there are others still fighting to push these platforms to the edge. [lcamtuf] has been working to this end, stretching a small AVR microcontroller to not only play a classic video game, but to display it on a color display. Continue reading “Pushing Crates In 8-bit Color” →
Ever since the first artificial satellite was launched into orbit, radio operators around the world have been tuning in to their space-based transmissions. Sputnik 1 only sent back pulses of radio waves, but in the decades to follow ever more advanced radio satellites were put into service that could support two-way communications from Earth to space and back again.
Some of these early satellites were somewhat lacking in security, though, and have been re-purposed by various pirates around the world for their own ends. [Gabe] aka [saveitforparts] is here to show us how to hunt for those pirates and listen in on their radio traffic.
Pirates on these satellites have typically used them for illicit activities, and it is still illegal to use them for non-governmental or non-military purposes, so [Gabe] notes that he will only be receiving, not transmitting. The signals he is tuning in to are VHF transmissions, specifically around 220 MHz. That puts them easily within the reach of the RTL-SDR and common ham radio equipment, but since they are coming from space a more directional antenna is needed. [Gabe] quickly builds a Yagi antenna from scrap, tuned specifically to 255 MHz, and mounts it to an old remote-controlled security camera mount which allows him to point it exactly at the satellite and monitor transmissions.
From there he is able to pick up what looks like a few encrypted and/or digital transmissions, plus analog transmissions of likely pirates speaking a language he guesses to be Portuguese. He also hears what he thinks is a foreign TV broadcast, but oddly enough turns out to be NPR. These aren’t the only signals in space to tune to, either. There are plenty of purpose-built ham radio satellites available for any licensed person to use, and we’ve also seen this other RTL-SDR configured to snoop on Starlink signals.
Continue reading “Hunting For Space Pirates” →
For anyone new to the world of ham radio, one of the things that takes a little getting used to is visiting the websites of authoritative experts in various fields and feeling like you’ve traveled back to the Internet of 1999. As a hobby that lends itself to extremely utilitarian amateurs, the software side can feel a little left behind like that. [Andy] aka [KB1OIQ], on the other hand, is also a Linux enthusiast and has been putting together a complete Linux distribution with everything needed to operate a radio in the modern era.
While most ham radio software seems to be developed for Windows, there is a lot available for Linux. It just takes a bit of tinkering and experimentation to get everything configured just right. Andy’s Ham Radio Linux, or AHRL, takes a lot of the guesswork out of this. The distribution includes everything from contact logging software to antenna modeling, propagation forecasting, and electronic design. While tools like this are largely optional for operating radios themselves, there are also tools included to allow the user to operate various digital modes as well, which require some sort of computer interface to use.
The other design consideration [Andy] made was something that most hams consider when choosing software, which is that it should be able to run on extremely modest hardware. To that end, the distribution is based around Xubuntu and can run on ten-year-old machines with as little as 2 GB of RAM. And, for those interested more in software-defined radio specifically, there is another Debian-based Linux distribution called DragonOS that we’ve featured a few other times as well which is also worth checking out.
Continue reading “A Linux Distro For All Your Ham Needs” →
Computers and digital sensors have allowed for the collection and aggregation of data barely possible to imagine to anyone in the instrumentation scene even sixty years ago. Before that, things like weather stations, seismometers, level sensors, and basically any other way of gathering real data about the world would have been performed with an analog device recording the information on some sort of spool of paper. This was much more tedious but the one thing going for these types of devices was their aesthetic. [mircemk] is back to bring some of that design inspiration to a digital barometric display.
The barometer is based around an Arduino Arduino Nano and a relatively large I2C display to display the captured data. It also uses a BME 280 pressure sensor board, but the technical details of this project are not the focal point here. Instead, [mircemk] has put his effort in recreating the old analog barographs, which display barometric data on a spool of paper over time, on the I2C display. As the device measures atmospheric pressure, it adds a bar to the graph, displaying the data over time much as the old analog device would have.
We’ve discussed plenty of times around here that old analog meters and instrumentation like this recreation of a VU meter are an excellent way of getting a more antique aesthetic than is typically offered by digital replacements. Adding in a little bit of style to a project like this can go a long way, or you can simply restore the original antique instead.
Burning wood, while not a perfect heating solution, has a number of advantages over more modern heating appliances. It’s a renewable resource, doesn’t add carbon to the atmosphere over geologic time scales like fossil fuels do, can be harvested locally using simple tools, and it doesn’t require any modern infrastructure to support it. That being said, wood stoves aren’t something that are very high-tech and don’t lend themselves particularly well to automation as a result, at least with the exception of this wood stove from [jotulf45v2].
While this doesn’t automate the loading or direct control of a modern pellet stove, it does help [jotulf45v2] know when the best times are for loading more wood into the stove and helps keep the stove in the right temperature range to avoid the dangerous formation of creosote on the inside of his chimney caused by low temperature burns. Two temperature sensors, one on the stovetop and the other on the stove pipe, monitor the stove exhaust temperature. They feed data to a Node-RED system running on a Raspberry Pi which automatically notifies the user by text message when certain stove temperatures are reached.
For anyone heating with wood, tools like this are indispensable to help avoid spending an otherwise unnecessary amount of time getting a fire up to temperature quickly without over-firing the stove. Modern pellet stoves have some more modern conveniences like this built in, but many of the perks of using cord wood are lost with these devices. There are plenty of other ways to heat with wood too; take a look at this custom wood boiler which serves as a hot water heater.
While there are plenty of places around the world to get a great cup of tea, no one has quite burned it into their culture like those in the United Kingdom. While they don’t have the climate to grow the plants themselves, they at least have figured out the art of heating water extremely rapidly in purpose-built electric kettles while the rest of us wait to heat water on our stoves and microwaves. But that’s still not fast enough for some, like [Finlay Shellard], who just completed this jet-powered tea kettle.
[Finlay] took some inspiration cues and parts from another jet engine he had on hand that was powering his toaster. This is a pulse jet design, which is welded together from laser-cut pieces of sheet metal with guides welded in place to allow water to flow around the combustion chamber and exhaust. Pressurized water sits in a reservoir at the top of the engine, and when it is up to temperature, a valve allows it to flow to the engine to heat up. When it has passed the jet engine section, it passes a tea bag holder and then out of a spout at the end of the engine.
A few tests at 100 PSI had the hot tea exiting the engine in a non-linear fashion, so the pressure was reduced. The device now makes tea at incredibly fast speeds, with the only downsides being access to some sort of jet fuel, and also the need for a protective hearing device of some sort. For anyone attempting to do this themselves, take a look at this build which includes a turbocharger design for improved efficiency of the pulse jet itself.
Continue reading “Jet Engine Powers Tea Kettle” →