An Improved Spectrometer, No Lasers Required

Here at Hackaday, we love it when someone picks up the ball from a previous project and runs with it. That’s what we’re all about, really — putting out cool projects that just might stimulate someone else to extend and enhance it, or even head off in an entirely new direction. That’s how the state of the art keeps moving.

This DIY spectrometer project is a fantastic example of that ethos. It comes to us from [Michael Prasthofer], who was inspired by [Les Wright]’s PySpectrometer, a simple device cobbled together from a pocket spectroscope and a PiCam. As we noted at the time, [Les] put a lot of the complexity of his instrument in the software, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for improvement.

[Michael]’s goals were to make his spectrometer a little easier to build, and to improve the calibration process and overall accuracy. To help with the former, he went with software correction of the color filter array on his Fuji X-T2. This has the advantage of not requiring a high-power laser and precision micropositioner to ablate the CFA, and avoids potentially destroying an expensive camera. For the latter, [Michael] delved deep into the theory behind spectroscopy and camera optics to develop a process for correlating the intensity of light along the spectrum with the specific wavelength at that location. He also worked a little machine learning into the process, training a network to optimize the response functions.

The result is pretty accurate spectra with no lasers required for calibration. The video below goes into a lot of detail and ends up being a good introduction to some of the basics of spectroscopy, along with the not-so-basics.

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Camera And Lens Repair Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, May 29 at noon Pacific for the Camera and Lens Repair Hack Chat with Anthony Kouttron!

Unlike the normies, most of us are pretty comfortable looking under the hood of just about anything electronic or mechanical. Whether it’s to effect a repair, make a modification, or just to take a look around, voiding warranties is what we do. A lot of us have hard limits, though, and will shy away from certain types of equipment. High voltages and radiation come to mind, as well as machines with lots of spinny bits that can devour your hands in a trice. One mustn’t be foolhardy, after all.

But one place that we’ve always feared to tread for some reason is camera equipment. Perhaps it has to do with all those impossibly tiny screws with subtly different lengths and the knowledge that putting the wrong screw in the wrong hole could have disastrous results. Or maybe it’s just the general fear that messing around with the insides of lenses could knock something slightly off-kilter and ruin the optics.

join-hack-chatWe’re certainly glad that Anthony Kouttron doesn’t share this trepidation. We recently featured a lens repair that he accomplished that was packed with tips and tricks for optical repairs. It turns out that Anthony has been repairing cameras for leisure since 2010, and has serviced both consumer and high-end cinema equipment — so he’s seen his fair share of broken camera bits. We’ve asked him to drop by the Hack Chat, so if you’ve been hesitant to dive into optical fixes, now might be your chance to learn about the dos and don’ts of camera and lens repair.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, May 29 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

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Hackaday Links: May 26, 2024

Another day, another crop of newly minted minimal astronauts, as Blue Origin’s New Shepard made a successful suborbital flight this week. Everything seemed to go according to plan, at least until right at the end, when an “unexpected foliage contingency” made astronaut egress a little more complicated than usual. The New Shepard capsule had the bad taste to touch down with a bit of West Texas shrubbery directly aligned with the hatch, making it difficult to find good footing for the platform used by the astronauts for the obligatory “smile and wave” upon exiting. The Blue Origin ground crew, clad in their stylish black and blue outfits that must be murderously impractical in the West Texas desert, stamped down the brush to place the stairway, but had a lot of trouble getting it to sit straight. Even with the impromptu landscaping, the terrain made it tough to get good footing without adding random bits of stuff to prop up one leg, an important task considering that one of the new astronauts was a 90-year-old man. It seems pretty short-sighted not to have adjustable legs on the stairway, but there it is.

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Regular Expressions Finally Come To Microsoft Excel

There are two types of people in the world: those who have no idea what a regular expression is, and those who not only know what they are but can compose them on the fly and tend to use them in situations where they’re clearly not called for. And it’s that latter camp, of which we consider ourself a proud member, that is rejoicing with the announcement that Microsoft is adding regular expression support to Excel.

Or perhaps not rejoicing so much as wondering what took so long. Yes, regular expressions have been part of VBA for a while now, but the new functions allow you to use regexes right in the spreadsheet grid. There are plenty of caveats, of course. The big one is that this is still in beta at this time, so you have to do some gymnastics to enable it, if you’re even allowed to in the first place. Second, support appears limited to three functions at the moment: REGEXTEST, which provides a logical test of pattern matching; REGEXEXTRACT, which returns a substring that matches a pattern; and REGEXREPLACE, which substitutes a string for a pattern. The video below walks through how to use these functions within spreadsheets.

What’s also unclear now is what flavor of regular expressions is supported. There are a bewildering number of entities in the regex bestiary — character classes, positional indicators, quantifiers, subexpressions, lazy and greedy matches, and a range of grouping constructs that perplex even regex pros. One hopes these new functions will support one of the existing regex standards, but Microsoft is famous for “extending and enhancing.” Then again, regex support has been in the .NET Framework for years and is pretty close to the Perl standard, so our guess is that it’ll be close to that.

If you fall into the “What’s a regex?” camp but want to change that, why not get your grep on?

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Hackaday Podcast Episode 272: Desktop EDM, Silence Of The Leaves, And The Tyranny Of The Rocket Equation

With Elliot off on vacation, Tom and Dan made a valiant effort to avoid the dreaded “clip show” and provide you with the tastiest hacker treats of the week. Did they succeed? That’s not for us to say, but if you’re interested in things like non-emulated N64 games and unnecessarily cool filament sensors, this just might be one to check out.

We also came across a noise suppressor for a leaf blower, giant antennae dangling from government helicopters, and a desktop-friendly wire EDM setup that just might change the face of machining. We waxed on about the difference between AI-generated code and just pulling routines from StackExchange, came to the conclusion that single-stage-to-orbit is basically just science fiction, and took a look at the latest eclipse from 80,000 feet, albeit a month after the fact.

Worried about attracting the Black Helicopters? Download the DRM-free MP3 and listen offline, just in case.

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Console Calculator Moves One Step Closer To Original Design

With smartphone apps and spreadsheets being the main ways people crunch their numbers nowadays, there’s not much call for a desktop calculator. Or any other physical calculator, for that matter. Which is all the more reason to appreciate this  Wang 300-series calculator console’s revival through a new electronic backend.

If you haven’t made the acquaintance of the Wang calculator series, [Bob Alexander]’s previous Wang project is a perfect introduction. Despite looking very much like an overbuilt early-70s desktop calculator, what you see in the video below is just a terminal, one of four that could connect to a shared “Electronics Package” where most of the actual computational work was done. The package was big and is currently hard to come by, at least at a reasonable price, but the consoles, with their Nixie displays and sturdy keypads, are relatively abundant.

[Bob]’s previous venture into reviving his console involved embedding a PIC32-based controller, turning it into the standalone desktop calculator it never was. To keep more with the original design philosophy, [Bob]’s second stab at the problem moves much of the same circuitry from inside the console into a dedicated outboard package, albeit one much smaller than the original. The replacement package extends and enhances the console functionality a bit, adding a real-time clock and a Nixie exercise routine to ward off the dreaded cathode poisoning. [Bob] also recreates the original Wang logarithmic method of multiplication and division, which is a nice touch with its distinctive flashing display.

Seeing the Wang console hooked up to a package through that thick cable and Centronics connector is oddly satisfying. We’d love to see [Bob] take this to the logical extent and support multiple consoles, but that might be pushing things a bit.

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Passive Diplexer Makes One Antenna Act Like Two

Stay in the amateur radio hobby long enough and you might end up with quite a collection of antennas. With privileges that almost extend from DC to daylight, one antenna will rarely do everything, and pretty soon your roof starts to get hard to see through the forest of antennas. It may be hell on curb appeal, but what’s a ham to do?

One answer could be making one antenna do the work of two, as [Guido] did with this diplexer for dual APRS setups. Automatic Packet Reporting System is a packet radio system used by hams to transmit telemetry and other low-bandwidth digital data. It’s most closely associated with the 2-meter ham band, but [Guido] has both 2-meter (144.8-MHz) and 70-cm LoRa (433.775-MHz) APRS IGates, or Internet gateway receivers. His goal was to use a single broadband discone antenna for both APRS receivers, and this would require sorting the proper signals from the antenna to the proper receiver with a diplexer.

Note that [Guido] refers to his design as a “duplexer,” which is a device to isolate and protect a receiver from a transmitter when they share the same antenna — very similar to a diplexer but different. His diplexer is basically a pair of filters in parallel — a high-pass filter tuned to just below the 70-cm band, and a low-pass filter tuned just above the top of the 2-m band. The filters were designed using a handy online tool and simulated in LTSpice, and then constructed in classic “ugly” style. The diplexer is all-passive and uses air-core inductors, all hand-wound and tweaked by adjusting the spacing of the turns.

[Guido]’s diplexer performs quite well — only a fraction of a dB of insertion loss, but 45 to 50 dB attenuation of unwanted frequencies — pretty impressive for a box full of caps and coils. We love these quick and dirty tactical builds, and it’s always a treat to see RF wizardry in action.