Radio Telescopes Horn In With GNU Radio

Who doesn’t like to look up at the night sky? But if you are into radio, there’s a whole different way to look using radio telescopes. [John Makous] spoke at the GNU Radio Conference about how he’s worked to make a radio telescope that is practical for even younger students to build and operate.

The only real high tech part of this build is the low noise amplifier (LNA) and the project is in reach of a typical teacher who might not be an expert on electronics. It uses things like paint thinner cans and lumber. [John] also built some blocks in GNU Radio that made it easy for other teachers to process the data from a telescope. As he put it, “This is the kind of nerdy stuff I like to do.” We can relate.

The telescope is made to pick up the 21 cm band to detect neutral hydrogen from the Milky Way. It can map the hydrogen in the galaxy and also measure the rotational speed of the galaxy using Doppler shift. Not bad for an upcycled paint thinner can. These are cheap enough, you can even build a fleet of them.

This would be a great project for anyone interested in radio telescopes or space. However, it is particularly set up for classroom use. Students can flex their skills in math, engineering, programming, and — of course — astronomy and physics.

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Epsom Salts Restores Lead Acid Battery

Despite a lot of advances in battery technology, lead acid batteries are still used in many applications due to cost and their ability to provide a lot of surge current. But they don’t last forever. However, [AvE] shows that in some cases a failed battery can be restored with — of all things — epsom salts. If it makes you feel funny to use the stuff grandpa soaks in when he has a backache, you can call it magnesium sulfate.

You can find a complete explanation in the video below (which includes [AvE’s] very colorful language), but fundamentally, the magnesium sulfate dissolves lead sulfate build-up on the battery plates. The fix is usually temporary because this build-up occurs with other failure mechanisms like plate material shedding and collecting at the bottom of the battery. Obviously, epsom salt can’t repair damaged plates or do any other magic cure.

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Lime SDR (and Pluto, Too) Sends TV

If you have experienced software defined radio (SDR) using the ubiquitous RTL SDR dongles, you are missing out on half of it. While those SDRs are inexpensive, they only receive. The next step is to transmit. [Corrosive] shows how he uses DATV Express along with a Lime SDR or a Pluto (the evaluation device from Analog Devices) to transmit video. He shows how to set it all up in the context of ham radio. An earlier video shows how to receive the signal using an SDR and some Windows software. The receiver will work with an RTL SDR or a HackRF board, too. You can see both videos, below.

The DATV Express software has plenty of options and since SDR if frequency agile, you ought to be able to use this on any frequency (within the SDR range) that you are allowed to use. At the end, he mentions that to really put these on the air you will want a filter and amplifier since the output is a bit raw and low powered.

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Is That A Vintage Computer In Your Pocket?

There’s a lot of debate over which of several contenders was the first modern computer. One of those first operating computers was the University of Cambridge’s EDSAC — the brainchild of Dr. Maurice Wilkes. The EDSAC scored a lot of firsts and used a serial data path along with mercury delay line memories. Over on, [David Boucher] wanted to simulate the EDSAC in a much smaller form factor than the original room full of racks.

As you can see in the video below, he succeeded in that task, using a Teensy and a small LCD display. We’re reminded EDSAC was among the first machines so some of the terms we would employ were not in use yet. An order is an instruction, for example. Initial orders are akin to a bootloader. Continue reading “Is That A Vintage Computer In Your Pocket?”

Talking With Bubbles

Despite the title, this isn’t a tale of conversing with Michael Jackson’s chimp. Rather, it is about [KyungYun]’s machine that transforms speech into whimsical bubbles. While the speech control is novel, we were more fascinated with how the mechanism uses a system of strings to blow bubbles, along with the workmanship to make the device portable.

The rate of fire isn’t that great, so the bubbles appear to simply get larger the longer you talk. Essentially, the device increases the size of the iris — the part that blows the bubble — until you pause speaking. Then it burps out a bubble.

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DIY Clapper is 1980s Style With Raspberry Pi Twist

Home automation isn’t all that new. It is just more evolved. Many years ago, a TV product appeared called the Clapper. If you haven’t heard of it, it was basically a sound-operated AC switch. You plug, say, a lamp into the device and the clapper into the wall and you can then turn the lamp on or off by clapping. If you somehow missed these — and you can still get them, apparently — have a look at the 1984 commercial in the video below. [Ash] decided to forego ordering one on Amazon and instead built her own using a Raspberry Pi.

[Ash’s] prototype uses an LED and could — in theory — drive anything. If you wanted to make a real Clapper replacement you’d need a relay or some other kind of AC switch suitable for the load. The actual clap detection software is from [nikhiljohn10] and simply waits for two loud noises. No fancy machine learning to differentiate between a clap and a cat knocking over a vase. Just a threshold and some timing.

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Hack Your Gmail: A Quick Start for Google App Scripting

For many people, Gmail is synonymous with e-mail. Some people like having cloud access to everything and some people hate having any personal data in the cloud. However you feel about it, one thing that was nice about having desktop software is that you could hack it relatively easily. If you didn’t like how your desktop mail client worked, you had a lot of options: use a different program, write your own, hack the executable of your current program, or in the case of open source just fork it and make any changes you are smart enough to make.

Google provides a lot of features with all of its products, but however you slice it, all the code runs on their servers out of your reach. Sort of. If you know JavaScript, you can use Google Apps Script to add features to many Google products including Gmail. If you’ve used Office scripting, the idea is the same, although obviously the implementation is very different.

With scripting you can make sophisticated filters that would be very hard to do otherwise. For example,  monitor for suspicious messages like those with more than 4 attachments, or that appear to come from a contact between the hours of 2AM and 5AM.

For our example today, I’m going to show you something that is easy but also highly useful.

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