DIY Radio Telescopes Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, February 12 at noon Pacific for the DIY Radio Telescopes Hack Chat with James Aguirre!

For most of history, astronomers were privy to the goings-on in the universe only in a very narrow slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. We had no idea that a vibrant and wondrous picture was being painted up and down the wavelengths, a portrait in radio waves of everything from nearly the moment of creation to the movement of galaxies. And all it took to listen in was an antenna and a radio receiver.

Over the years, radio telescopes have gotten more and more sophisticated and sensitive, and consequently bigger and bigger. We’re even to the point where one radio telescope often won’t cut it, and astronomers build arrays of telescopes spread over miles and miles, some with antennas that move around on rails. In the search for signals, radio astronomy has become the very definition of “Big Science.”

But radio astronomy doesn’t have to be big to be useful. James Aguirre, an astronomer at the University of Pennsylvania, spends his days (and nights) studying the radio universe with those big instruments. But he’s also passionate about down-scaling things and teaching everyone that small radio telescopes can be built on the cheap. His Mini Radio Telescope project uses a cast-off satellite TV dish and a couple of hundred bucks worth of readily available gear to scan the skies for all sorts of interesting phenomena.

Dr. Aguirre will join us on the Hack Chat to discuss all things radio astronomy, and how you can get in on the radio action on the cheap. Chances are good your junk pile — or your neighbor’s roof — has everything you need, and you might be surprised how approachable and engaging DIY radio astronomy can be.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 12 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “DIY Radio Telescopes Hack Chat”

Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Coronavirus Supply Chain Exposure?

In whichever hemisphere you dwell, winter is the time of year when viruses come into their own. Cold weather forces people indoors, crowding them together in buildings and creating a perfect breeding ground for all sorts of viruses. Everything from the common cold to influenza spread quickly during the cold months, spreading misery and debilitation far and wide.

In addition to the usual cocktail of bugs making their annual appearance, this year a new virus appeared. Novel coronavirus 2019, or 2019-nCoV, cropped up first in the city of Wuhan in east-central China. From a family of viruses known to cause everything from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in humans, 2019-nCoV tends toward the more virulent side of the spectrum, causing 600 deaths out of 28,000 infections reported so far, according to official numbers at the time of this writing.

(For scale: the influenzas hit tens of millions of people, resulting in around four million severe illnesses and 500,000 deaths per season, worldwide.)

With China’s unique position in the global economy, 2019-nCoV has the potential to seriously disrupt manufacturing. It may seem crass to worry about something as trivial as this when people are suffering, and of course our hearts go out to the people who are directly affected by this virus and its aftermath. But just like businesses have plans for contingencies such as this, so too should the hacking community know what impact something like 2019-nCoV will have on supply chains that we’ve come to depend on.

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Coronavirus Supply Chain Exposure?”

Hackaday Links: February 9, 2020

In case you thought that we learned everything we need to know to land on the Moon fifty years ago, think again. NASA still has a lot of questions, and has scheduled the first of many commercial missions designed to fill in the blanks. As part of the Artemis program, which aims to land the first women and the next men on the Moon by 2024, NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS) will send 16 science payloads to the Moon via two separate commercial flights. The two companies, Astrobotics and Intuitive Machines, will send landers to the Moon in 2021 using a ULA Vulcan Centaur and a SpaceX Falcon 9, respectively. Fourteen companies were selected for CLPS, and with much to learn (or relearn) about landing and working on the Moon, watch for many more flights in the years to come. We’re all for the commercialization of space, but we have to admit that things were easier to keep track of when space exploration was a little more monolithic.

It looks like millions of BlackBerry phone users will have to find something else to do with their thumbs now that TCL is getting out of the BlackBerry business. The Chinese company announced this week that they would no longer have the rights to manufacture BlackBerry-branded phones like the Key2 as of August 31, 2020. Crackberry addicts were understandably upset, but all may not be lost for those who can’t stand the virtual keyboards on most other smartphones, as there’s still a chance another manufacturer will step in to fill the void.

Hypothetical situation: You’re in need of a car, so you go to a used car dealer. You see a nice car, take it for a test drive, and decide to buy it. Money is exchanged, paperwork done, and the salesman hands you the keys. You go out to the lot to drive your new ride home only to find out that the mechanic has removed the tires. When you ask what the deal is, the salesman says, “Sorry, you didn’t buy a license for the tires.” Hypothetical perhaps, but not far off from what happened to one Tesla Model S buyer when an over-the-air update disabled the Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features he paid for. Tesla didn’t see it that way, though, claiming that he’d need to pony up to use the new features, which originally sold for $8,000. It raises interesting questions about how the secondary automotive market will respond to the increasingly complicated relationship between hardware and software, and what you’re actually paying for when you buy a car.

Back in the early days of Bitcoin, skeptics used to dismiss the cryptocurrency by saying, “When you can pay your taxes with it, then it’s real money.” Well, that day is apparently here for the municipality of Zermatt in Switzerland, where it was announced that Bitcoin will be accepted as payment for local taxes and other official fees. The Zermatt city hall has installed a Bitcoin point-of-sale terminal, or payments can be made directly from a Bitcoin wallet after filling out the proper paperwork. Bitcoin as legal tender for public debts is not exactly new; Ohio was doing it back as far as 2018. But we find the economic implications of this interesting — as our resident econometrician [Elliot Williams] pointed out, paying taxes in anything but the national currency was considered preposterous not that long ago.

Watch Your Life Tick Away With This Lifetime Countdown Clock

Good news, everyone! Now you can have an ongoing existential crisis, every second of your ever-dwindling life with this personal life countdown timer.

Why would anyone want to be confronted by a count of the number of seconds left until you’ve made 80 trips around the sun? We can think of plenty of reasons not to, but creator [Jia Xun Chai] thought it would be somehow motivating to see the seconds tick irretrievably by while going about his life. Thus the idea for “Lifeclocc” came to be, with its ten seven-segment displays and Teensy to tally up and display the number of seconds left in a nominal 80-year life. A DS3231 RTC module keeps it on track between power-offs. It’s not clear what happens when you hit your 80th birthday; we assume it rolls over and starts counting up as you start playing in the bonus round. No word either on what happens should you croak with time left on the clock. Answer these questions and many more by building one yourself, or you can just wait for the Kickstarter.

It took [Jia Xun] three years to develop Lifeclocc, during which time his personal life clock decreased by 94,608,000 seconds. We will say that the finished product, with its matte-finish PCB, makes a handsome timepiece. Circuit sculptor [Mohit Bhoite] took a less-angsty stab at a similar clock, the cute appearance of which is no doubt intended to blunt the pain of impending doom.

The $50 Ham: Going Mobile

So far in this series, everything we’ve covered has been geared around the cheapest and easiest possible means of getting on the air: getting your Technician license, buying your first low-end portable transceiver, and checking in on the local repeater nets. That’s all good stuff, and chances are you can actually take all three of those steps and still have change left over from your $50 bill. Like I said, amateur radio doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun.

But at some point, every new ham is going to yearn for that first “real” rig, something with a little more oomph in terms of power, and perhaps with a few more features. For many Technicians, the obvious choice is a mobile rig, something that can be used to chat with fellow hams on the way to work, or to pass the time while on long road trips. Whatever your motivation is, once you buy a radio, you have to install it, and therein lie challenges galore, both electrical and mechanical.

I recently took the plunge on a mobile rig, and while the radio and antenna were an order of magnitude more expensive than $50, the process of installing it was pretty cheap. But it’s not the price of the thing that’s important in this series; rather, it’s to show that ham radio is all about doing it yourself, even when that means tearing your car apart from the inside out and rebuilding it around a radio.

Continue reading “The $50 Ham: Going Mobile”

Keeping Ham Radio Relevant Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, February 5 at noon Pacific for the Keeping Ham Radio Relevant Hack Chat with Josh Nass!

It may not seem like it, but amateur radio is fighting a two-front war for its continued existence. On the spectrum side, hams face the constant threat that the precious scraps of spectrum that are still allocated to their use will be reclaimed and sold off to the highest bidder as new communication technologies are developed. On the demographic side, amateur radio is aging, with fewer and fewer young people interested in doing the work needed to get licensed, with fewer still having the means to get on the air.

Amateur radio has a long, rich history, but gone are the days when hams can claim their hobby is sacrosanct because it provides communications in an emergency. Resting on that particular laurel will not win the hobby new adherents or help it hold onto its spectrum allocations​, so Josh Nass (KI6NAZ) is helping change the conversation. Josh is an engineer and radio amateur from Southern California who runs Ham Radio Crash Course​, a YouTube channel dedicated to getting people up to speed on ham radio. Josh’s weekly livestreams and his video reviews of ham radio products and projects show a different side of the World’s Greatest Hobby, one that’s more active (through events like “Summits on the Air​​”) and focused on digital modes that are perhaps more interesting and accessible to new hams.

Join us on the Hack Chat as we discuss how to make ham radio matter in today’s world of pervasive technology. We’ll talk about the challenges facing amateur radio, the fun that’s still to be had on the air even when the bands are dead like they are now (spoiler alert: they’re not really), and what we can all do to keep ham radio relevant.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 5 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “Keeping Ham Radio Relevant Hack Chat”

Acrylic Mold Makes For Professional-Looking Silicone Keyboards

The border between consumer electronics and DIY projects is getting harder and harder to define. First it was PCBs, which quickly went from homemade to professional with quick-turn services. Then low-cost CAD/CAM packages and high-end fabrication services gave us access to enclosures that were more than black plastic boxes with aluminum covers. Where will it end?

That’s a question [arturo182] begins to answer with this custom-molded silicone keyboard for a handheld device. There’s no formal writeup, but the Twitter thread goes into some detail about the process he used to make the tiny qwerty keypad. The build started by milling a two-part mold from acrylic. Silicone rubber was tinted and degassed before injecting into the mold with a baster. The keys are connected by a thin membrane of silicone, and each has a small nub on the back for actuating a switch.

There’s clearly room for improvement in this proof of concept – tool marks from the milling process mar the finish of the keys slightly, for instance. There may be tips to be had from this article on silicone keyboard refurbishment to improve the process, but overall, we’d say [arturo182] is well on his way here.