Just How Simple Can A Transceiver Be?

We’ve frequently talked about amateur radio on these pages, both in terms of the breadth of the hobby and the surprisingly low barrier to entry. It’s certainly the case that amateur radio does not have to mean endlessly calling CQ on SSB with an eye-wateringly expensive rig, and [Bill Meara N2CQR] is on hand with a description of a transceiver that’s so simple it only uses one transistor.

It’s a 40 meter (7 MHz) QRP or low power transceiver in which the transmitter is a simple crystal oscillator and the receiver is an equally simple regenerative design. What makes it so simple is the addition of a three-way switch to transfer the single transistor — a J310 FET — between the two halves of the circuit. It’s no slouch as QRP radios go, having clocked up real-world contacts.

This circuit shows us how a little can go a long way in the world of amateur radio, and we can’t help liking it for that. It’s worth saying though that it’s not without flaws, as a key click filter and another transistor would make for a much higher quality transmitted signal. But then it would no longer be a single-transistor rig, and thus would miss the point, wouldn’t it.

Considering The Originality Question

Many Hackaday readers have an interest in older technologies, and from antique motorcycles to tube radios to retrocomputers, you own, conserve and restore them. Sometimes you do so using new parts because the originals are either unavailable or downright awful, but as you do so are you really restoring the item or creating a composite fake without the soul of the original? It’s a question the railway film and documentary maker [Chris Eden-Green] considers with respect to steam locomotives, and as a topic for debate we think it has an interest to a much wider community concerned with older tech.

Along the way the film serves as a fascinating insight for the non railway cognoscenti into the overhaul schedule for a working steam locomotive, for which the mainline railways had huge workshops but which presents a much more significant challenge to a small preserved railway. We wrote a year or two ago about the world’s first preserved railway, the Welsh Tal-y-Llyn narrow gauge line, and as an example the surprise in the video below is just how little original metal was left in its two earliest locomotives after their rebuilding in the 1950s.

The film should provoke some thought and debate among rail enthusiasts, and no doubt among Hackaday readers too. We’re inclined to agree with his conclusion that the machines were made to run rather than gather dust in a museum, and there is no harm in a majorly-restored or even replica locomotive. After all, just as a retrocomputer is as much distinguished by the software it runs, riding a steam train is far more a case of sights and smells than it is of knowing exactly which metal makes up the locomotive.

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Tiny SAO, Tough CTF Challenge!

Over the year or two since the SAO connector specification was published, otherwise known as the Shitty Addon, we’ve seen a huge variety of these daughter boards for our favourite electronic badges. Many of them are works of art, but there’s another subset that’s far less about show and more about clever functionality. [Uri Shaked]’s little SAO is rather unprepossessing to look at, being a small round PCB with only an ATtiny microcontroller, reset button, and solitary LED, but its interest lies not in its looks but its software. It contains a series of CTF puzzles within, and despite its apparent simplicity should contain enough to detain even the hardiest puzzle-solving hackers.

It’s a puzzle of three parts, at the simplest level merely flashing the LED is enough, while the next level involves retrieving a buried string from the firmware and the last requires replacing the string with one of your own. You are only allowed to do so through the SAO connector, but fortunately you do have the benefit of access to the source code to trawl for vulnerabilities. There is a hefty hint that the data sheet for the microcontroller might also be useful.

[Uri] has appeared many times on these pages, most recently when he added a microscope to his 3D printer.

Superconference Interview: Carl Bugeja

It’s an exciting time of year for us, not because Christmas is on the horizon, instead for something far more exciting than that! The Hackaday Superconference is nearly upon us, our yearly gathering of the creme de la creme of the hardware hacking world for a fascinating program of lectures and other events. We can’t wait, and we hope you’re looking forward to it as much as we are.

A particularly stimulating part of the Supercon experience comes from the people you rub shoulders with as you attend, whether or not you will have seen their work on these pages they represent a huge and fascinating breadth of experience and skill. It’s the incidental conversations at events like this that are the most fertile, because from them comes inspiration that can feed all manner of things.

One of last year’s hits came from Carl Bugeja, when he gave a talk about his impressive work with using printed circuit boards to construct electric motors and magnetic actuators. We’ve seen the various iterations of his work evolving in these pages, and at last year’s event he also gave an interview to our own Elliot Williams, and we’re happy to bring you the resulting video after the break.

We’d love to be able to reveal a hidden stash of Supercon tickets, but sadly it’s all sold out. We can however direct you to the livestream of the event which begins at 10 am Pacific time on November 15th. Be sure to head on over to the Hackaday YouTube channel, and subscribe.

Meanwhile it’s worth pointing those lucky ticket holders to the Supercon ticketing page since we’ve added more tickets to the previously-sold-out workshops. Now, enjoy Carl’s interview, and we hope you’ll join us for Superconference whether you do so online or in person.

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Will The Real UNIX Please Stand Up?

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie at a PDP-11. Peter Hamer [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie at a PDP-11. Peter Hamer [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Last week the computing world celebrated an important anniversary: the UNIX operating system turned 50 years old. What was originally developed in 1969 as a lighter weight timesharing system for a DEC minicomputer at Bell Labs has exerted a huge influence over every place that we encounter computing, from our personal and embedded devices to the unseen servers in the cloud. But in a story that has seen countless twists and turns over those five decades just what is UNIX these days?

The official answer to that question is simple. UNIX® is any operating system descended from that original Bell Labs software developed by Thompson, Ritchie et al in 1969 and bearing a licence from Bell Labs or its successor organisations in ownership of the UNIX® name. Thus, for example, HP-UX as shipped on Hewlett Packard’s enterprise machinery is one of several commercially available UNIXes, while the Ubuntu Linux distribution on which this is being written is not.

When You Could Write Off In The Mail For UNIX On A Tape

The real answer is considerably less clear, and depends upon how much you view UNIX as an ecosystem and how much instead depends upon heritage or specification compliance, and even the user experience. Names such as GNU, Linux, BSD, and MINIX enter the fray, and you could be forgiven for asking: would the real UNIX please stand up?

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Eth0 Autumn 2019: Tiny Camp, Creative Badge

The Dutch organisation eth0 has run a series of informal small camps over the years, never with an attendance too far into three figures, and without pre-planned events or entertainment. What happens is at the instigation of the attendees, and the result is a weekend of much closer socialising and working together on projects than the large camps where you spend your time running around to catch everything.

The largest of hacker camps offer all the lights, robots, tschunk, and techno music you can stomach; they can be a blast but also overwhelming. I made my way eth0 over the past week weekend, enjoying the more intimate size and coming away having made friendships from spending time with great people at a large private camping hostel near Lichtenvoorde. This is in the far east of the country near the German border, to which in the company of a British hardware hacker friend I traveled in the tiny European hatchback. Netherlands roads are so easy to navigate!

A prototype tensegrity structure. Image: Igor Nikolic.
A prototype tensegrity structure. Image: Igor Nikolic.

At the event was the usual array of activities, though since it was a restricted photography affair I’m short on wider shots that would include people. This year’s hit came from surplus flipdot displays from retired German buses, with plenty of glitches as their quirks were figured out by our friends Nilkas Fauth and Jan Henrik. Something tells me I’ll be seeing a lot of those fluorescent circles in the future.

I’d brought along the nucleus of a textile village, and RevSpace in the Hague had added their embroidery machine to my overlocker and sewing machines. Its operator was Boekenwuurm from Hackalot in Eindhoven who was kind enough to embroider a Wrencher for me, and now I want one of these 600-Euro machines even if I can’t afford one. She and RevSpace’s Igor Nikolic were experimenting with inflatables and tensegrity structures, creating prototypes with an eye to more impressive installations at future camps.

An entertaining tale of a couple of days hanging out with friends in the Netherlands countryside could probably be spun into a reasonable tale, but there was something more interesting still at this camp. It had a badge, courtesy of the prolific badge.team Dutch badge crew. It didn’t come with their trademark ESP32 firmware though, instead in keeping with the budget of the event it was a prototyping board on which attendees could create their own badges. What came forth from that was extremely impressive, and continued after the event.

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IR Hack Turns Kid’s Lamp Into Temp Display

Sometimes a clever hack of an off-the-shelf product can come courtesy of its dismantling and hardware modification, but at other times the most elegant of hacks can be made without ever turning a screwdriver. [Brian Lough] was given the request by a friend to replicate a commercial child’s night light that changed colour with temperature, and his response was to use an off-the-shelf colour changing kids light unmodified, sending it temperature-related colour commands via its infra-red control.

His device is a spectacularly simple one hardware-wise using an off-the-shelf Wemos D2 Mini ESP8266 board running an Arduino bootloader, coupled with a BME280 temperature sensor, IR receiver, and transmitter. His video which we’ve placed below the break is a handy primer to anyone with an interest in infra-red reverse engineering, and we can see that there will be other projects that could be seeded by it. For those curious enough to look, it can be found on GitHub.

[Brian] has appeared here so many times, and is definitely worth a follow. One of his more recent builds featured another child’s toy augmented to make it something really special.

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