Books You Should Read: The Cuckoo’s Egg

The mid-1980s were a time of drastic change. In the United States, the Reagan era was winding down, the Cold War was heating up, and the IBM PC was the newest of newnesses. The comparatively few wires stitching together the larger university research centers around the world pulsed with a new heartbeat — the Internet Protocol (IP) — and while the World Wide Web was still a decade or so away, The Internet was a real place for a growing number of computer-savvy explorers and adventurers, ready to set sail on the virtual sea to explore and exploit this new frontier.

In 1986, having recently lost his research grant, astronomer Clifford Stoll was made a computer system admin with the wave of a hand by the management of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’s physics department. Commanded to go forth and administer, Stoll dove into what appeared to be a simple task for his first day on the job: investigating a 75-cent error in the computer account time charges. Little did he know that this six-bit overcharge would take over his life for the next six months and have this self-proclaimed Berkeley hippie rubbing shoulders with the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the German Bundeskriminalamt, all in pursuit of the source: a nest of black-hat hackers and a tangled web of international espionage.

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Snazzy Balun Lets Ham Use Off-The-Shelf Coax

It’s a dilemma many hams face: it’s easy to find yourself with a big spool of RG-11 coax cable, usually after a big cable TV wiring project. It can be tempting to use it in antenna projects, but the characteristic impedance of RG-11 is 75 Ω, whereas the ham world is geared to 50 Ω. Not willing to waste a bounty of free coax, one ham built a custom 1:1 current balun for a 75 Ω dipole.

Converting between balanced and unbalanced signals is the job of a balun, and it’s where the device derives its name. For hams, baluns are particularly useful to connect a dipole antenna, which is naturally balanced, to an unbalanced coax feedline. The balun [NV2K] built is a bifilar 1:1 design, with two parallel wires wound onto a ferrite core. To tweak the characteristic impedance to the 75 Ω needed for his antenna and feedline, [NV2K] added short lengths of Teflon insulation to one of the conductors, which is as fussy a bit of work as we’ve seen in a while. We appreciate the careful winding of the choke and the care taken to make this both mechanically and electrically sound, and not letting that RG-11 go to waste is a plus.

With as much effort as hams put into antenna design, there’s a surprising dearth of Hackaday articles on the subject. We’ve talked a bit about the Yagi-Uda antenna, and we’ve showcased a cool magnetic loop antenna, but there’s precious little about the humble dipole.

[via r/amateurradio]

Get Down to the Die Level with this Internal Chip Repair

Usually, repairing a device entails replacing a defective IC with a new one. But if you’ve got young eyes and haven’t had caffeine in a week, you can also repair a defective chip package rather than replace it.

There’s no description of the incident that resulted in the pins of the QFP chip being ablated, but it looks like a physical insult like a tool dropped on the pins. [rasminoj]’s repair consisted of carefully grinding away the epoxy cap to expose the internal traces leading away from the die and soldering a flexible cable with the same pitch between the die and the PCB pads.

This isn’t just about [rasminoj]’s next-level soldering skills, although we’ll admit you’ve got to be pretty handy with a Hakko to get the results shown here. What we’re impressed with is the wherewithal to attempt a repair that requires digging into the chip casing in the first place. Most service techs would order a new board, or at best solder in a new chip. But given that the chip sports a Fanuc logo, our bet is that it’s a custom chip that would be unreasonably expensive to replace, if it’s even still in production. Where there’s a skill, there’s a way.

Need more die-level repairs? Check out this iPhone CPU repair, or this repair on a laser-decapped chip.

[via r/electronics]

Semi-Automatic Rail Gun is a Laptop Killer

It’s huge, it’s unwieldy, and it takes 45 seconds to shoot all three rounds in its magazine. But it’s a legitimate semi-automatic railgun, and it’s pretty awesome.

Yes, it has its limits, but every new technology does, especially totally home-brew builds like this. The aptly named [NSA_listbot] has been putting a lot of work into his railgun, and this is but the most recent product of an iterative design cycle.

The principle is similar to other railguns we’ve featured before, which accelerate projectiles using rapidly pulsed electromagnets. The features list in the video below reads like a spec for a top-secret military project: field-augmented circular bore, 4.5kJ capacitor bank, and a custom Arduino Nano that’s hardened against the huge electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated by the coils. But the interesting bits are in the mechanical design, which had to depart from standard firearms designs to handle the caseless 6 mm projectiles. The resulting receiver and magazines are entirely 3D printed. Although it packs a wallop, its cyclic rate of fire is painfully slow. We expect that’ll improve as battery and capacitor technology catches up, though.

Want to check out some more railgun builds? We’ve got them in spades — from one with $50,000 worth of caps to a wrist-mounted web-slinger.

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Not Your Typical ATX Bench PSU

We know what you’re thinking — yet another scrap PC power supply turned into a bench PSU. But look a little closer and you’ll see a nicely designed linear bench supply that just fits inside a gutted ATX case.

A lot of the items on [Medzik]’s BOM for this build are straight from the scrap bin. The aforementioned ATX supply case is one, as is the power transformer donated by a friend. Modules such as the 30V/2A regulator, the digital volt/ammeter, and a thermostat module to control the fan at higher power settings were all sourced via the usual suspects. The PSU boasts two outputs — an adjustable 0-22 volt supply, and a fixed 12-volt output. An unusual design feature is a secondary input which uses the 22-VAC supply from a Weller soldering station to give the PSU a little more oomph. This boosts the maximum output to 30 volts; one wonders why [Medzik] didn’t just source a bigger transformer, but you work with what you have sometimes. There are some nice touches, too, like custom-printed vinyl overlays for the case.

It’s a good-looking and compact unit with a decent suite of features, and you could do a lot worse when building your next bench supply. If it’s not your cup of tea though, just take your pick — tiny and yellow, built to last, or ensconced in Ultrasuede.

A Solar Freakin’ Walkway

Looking to add a little pizzazz to your back garden? Are those strings of lights hung in the trees looking a little dated? Why not try lighting your garden path with DIY solar-powered pavers?

If [jfarro]’s project looks like a miniature version of the much-touted solar freakin’ roadways concept, rest assured that there are huge differences. For one, these lighted pavers actually work — trust me on this; I live not far from the demo site for the Solar Roadways and the degree to which it underwhelms cannot be overstated. Granted, a garden path is a lot simpler to engineer than a road, but many of the challenges remain.

Using recycled glass blocks that are usually reserved for walls and windows, [jfarro] figured out how to attach Neopixel rings to the underside and waterproof them with a silicone conformal coating. The 12 lighted pavers he built draw considerable current, so a 45-watt solar array with charge controller and battery were installed to power the pavers. An Arduino and a motion sensor control the light show when someone approaches; more complicated programs are planned.

Hats off the [jfarro] for taking on a project like this. We don’t often see builds where electrical engineering meets civil engineering, and even on a small scale, dealing with dirt, stone, and water presents quite a few challenges. Here’s hoping his project lasts longer than the Solar Roadways project did.

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A Raspberry Pi Rain Man in the Making

We see a lot of Raspberry Pis used to play games, but this is something entirely different from the latest RetroPie build. This Raspberry Pi is learning how to read playing cards, with the goal of becoming the ultimate card counting blackjack player.

If [Taxi-guy] hasn’t named his project Rain Man, we humbly suggest that he does so. Because a Pi that can count into a six-deck shoe would be quite a thing, even though it would never be allowed anywhere near a casino. Hurdle number one in counting cards is reading them, and [Taxi-guy] has done a solid job of leveraging the power of OpenCV on a Pi 3 for the task. His description in the video below is very detailed, but the approach is simple: find the cards in a PiCam image of the playing field using a combination of thresholding and contouring. Then, with the cards isolated, compare the rank and suit in the upper left corner of the rotated card image to prototype images to identify the card. The Pi provides enough horsepower to quickly identify an arbitrary number of non-overlapping cards; we assume [Taxi-guy] will have to address overlapping cards and decks that use different fonts at some point.

We’re keen to see this Pi playing blackjack someday. As he’s coding that up, he may want to look at algorithmic approaches to blackjack strategies, and the real odds of beating the house.

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