Behind the Scenes at a Pair of Cell Sites

Those who fancy themselves as infrastructure nerds find cell sites fascinating. They’re outposts of infrastructure wedged into almost any place that can provide enough elevation to cover whatever gap might exist in a carrier’s coverage map. But they’re usually locked behind imposing doors and fences with signs warning of serious penalty for unauthorized access, and so we usually have to settle for admiring them from afar.

Some folks, like [Mike Fisher] aka [MrMobile], have connections, though, and get to take an up close and personal tour of a couple of cell sites. And while the video below is far from detailed enough to truly satisfy most of the Hackaday crowd, it’s enough to whet the appetite and show off a little of what goes into building out a modern cell site. [Mike] somehow got AT&T to take him up to a cell site mounted in the belfry and steeple of the 178-year old Unitarian Church in Duxbury, Massachusetts. He got to poke around everything from the equipment shack with its fiber backhaul gear and backup power supplies to the fiberglass radome shaped to look like the original steeple that now houses the antennas.

Next he drove up to Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the highest point in the northeast US and home to a lot of wireless infrastructure. Known for having some of the worst weather in the world and with a recent low of -36°F (-38°C) to prove it, Mount Washington is brutal on infrastructure, to which the tattered condition of the microwave backhaul radomes attests.

We appreciate the effort that went into this video, but again, [Mike] leaves us wanting more details. Luckily, we’ve got an article that does just that.

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A Stepper Motor for Two Dimensions

We’ve all heard linear motors, like those propelling Maglev trains, described as “unrolled” versions of regular electric motors. The analogy is apt and helps to understand how a linear motor works, but it begs the question: what if we could unroll the stator in two dimensions instead of just one?

That’s the idea behind [BetaChecker’s] two-axis stepper motor, which looks like it has a lot of potential for some interesting applications. Build details are sparse, but from what we can gather from the videos and the Hackaday.io post, [BetaChecker] has created a platen of 288 hand-wound copper coils, each of which can be selectively controlled through a large number of L293 H-bridge chips and an Arduino Mega. A variety of sleds, each with neodymium magnets in the base, can be applied to the platen, and depending on how the coils are energized, the sled can move in either dimension. For vertical applications, it looks like some coils are used to hold the sled to the platen while others are used to propel it. There are RGB LEDs inside the bore of each coil, although their function beyond zazzle is unclear.

We’d love more details to gauge where this is going, but with better resolution, something like this could make a great 3D-printer bed. If one-dimensional movement is enough for you, though, check out this linear stepper motor that works on a similar principle.

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First Light: The Story of the Laser

Lasers are such a fundamental piece of technology today that we hardly notice them. So cheap that they can be given away as toys and so versatile that they make everything from DVD players to corneal surgery a reality, lasers are one of the building blocks of the modern world. Yet lasers were once the exclusive province of physicists, laboring over expansive and expensive experimental setups that seemed more the stuff of science fiction than workhouse tool of communications and so many other fields. The laser has been wildly successful, and the story of its development is an intriguing tale of observation, perseverance, and the importance of keeping good notes.

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Scrap a Hard Drive, Build a Rotary Encoder

There’s something to be said for the feel of controls. Whether it’s the satisfying snap of a high-quality switch or the buttery touch of the pots on an expensive amplifier, the tactile experience of the controls you interact with says a lot about a device.

[GreatScott!] knows this, and rather than put up with the bump and grind of a cheap rotary encoder, he decided to find an alternative. He ended up exploring hard drive motors as encoders, and while the results aren’t exactly high resolution, he may be onto something. Starting with a teardown of some old HDDs — save those magnets! — [Scott!] found that the motors fell into either the four-lead or three-lead categories. Knowing that HDD motors are brushless DC motors, he reasoned that the four-lead motors had their three windings in Wye configuration with the neutral point brought out to an external connection. A little oscilloscope work showed the expected three-phase output when the motor hub was turned, with the leading and lagging phases changing as the direction of rotation was switched. Hooked to an Arduino, the motor made a workable encoder, later improved by sending each phase through a comparator and using digital inputs rather than using the Nano’s ADCs.

It looks like [GreatScott!]’s current setup only responds to a full rotation of the makeshift encoder, but we’d bet resolution could be improved. Perhaps this previous post on turning BLDC motors into encoders will help.

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Tearing Down a Darkroom Relic for Buried Treasure

If your goal is to harvest unique parts from defunct devices, the further back in time you go, the better the pickings stand to be. At least that’s what [Kerry Wong] discovered during his tear-down of a darkroom color analyzer from the early 1980s.

For readers whose experience with photography has been solely digital, you need to understand that there once was a time when images were made with real cameras on real film, and serious amateurs and pros had darkrooms to process the film. Black and white processing was pretty straightforward in terms of chemistry — it was just developer, stop, and fixing. Color processes were much trickier, and when it came to enlarging your film onto color photo paper, things could get really complicated. [Kerry]’s eBay find, a Besler PM1A color analyzer, was intended to help out in the color lab by balancing the mix of cyan, blue, and yellow components in the enlarger.

The instrument, which no doubt demanded a princely sum back in the day, is actually really simple, with the object of [Kerry]’s desire, a PM1A photomultiplier tube and its driver, being the only real find.  Still, it’s an interesting teardown, and we’re eager to see what [Kerry] makes of the gem. A muon detector, perhaps? An X-ray backscatter machine? Or perhaps repeating his old speed of light experiments is on the docket.

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Fallen Radiosonde Reborn as Active L-band Antenna

If your hobby is chasing radiosondes across vast stretches of open country, and if you get good enough at it, you’ll eventually end up with a collection of the telemetry packages that once went up on weather balloons to record the conditions aloft. Once you’ve torn one or two down though, the novelty must wear off, which is where this radiosonde conversion to an active L-band antenna comes from.

As it happens, we recently discussed the details of radiosondes, so if you need a primer on these devices, check that out. But as Australian ham [Mark (VK5QI)] explains, radiosondes are a suite of weather instruments crammed into a lightweight package with a GPS receiver and a small transmitter. Lofted beneath a weather balloon into the stratosphere, a radiosonde transmits a wealth of data back to the ground before returning on a parachute after the balloon bursts. [Mark] had his eyes on the nice quadrifilar helical antenna used by the Vaisla R92 radiosonde’s GPS receiver, with the aim of repurposing them. He had a lot of components to remove while still retaining the low-noise amplifier (LNA), but in the end managed to get a working antenna with 40 dB gain in the L-band, and with the help of an RTL-SDR dongle he picked up solid signals from Iridium satellites.

Want to score your own radiosonde to play with? First, you have to know how to listen in so you can find them. Or, you know – there’s always eBay.

[via RTL-SDR.com]

Celebrate Display Diversity for a Circuit Circus Clock

There’s a lot to be said for nice, tidy projects where everything lines up and looks pretty. Seeing straight lines and pleasing proportions speaks to our obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and tends to soothe the mind and calm the spirit. But disorder is not without its charm, and mixing it up a little from time to time, such as with this mixed-media digital clock, can be a good idea.

Now, we know what you’re thinking — yet another Nixie clock. True, but that’s only half the story — or more accurately, one-sixth. There’s but a single Nixie in [Fuselage]’s circus-punk themed clock, used for the least significant digit in the hours part of the display. The other digits are displayed with four seven-segment devices — a Numitron, a vacuum fluorescent display, and an LED dot display — plus a real oddball, an old electromechanical display with individual slides for each character and a rear-screen projector. The RTC part of the project is standard Arduino fare, but as you can imagine the power supply needed for such a diversity of displays is pretty complex and has to provide everything from +5 to -270 volts. Each display needs its own driver, too, making this more of a zoo than a circus. The mixed up look just works with the circus theme, too. We’d really like more information on the projector display, though.

Looking for a real statement for your next clock build? Check out the rare as hens’ teeth NIMO tube.

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