Fixing a Crazy Expensive Spectrum Analyser, With Solder

It used to be a spectrum analyzer was an exotic piece of gear. However, these days it is pretty common for a scope to have some ability to do the job — that is, plot amplitude versus frequency. However, a dedicated commercial product will usually have a lot more bandwidth and other features. [Signal Path] picked up an Anrtitsu 7.1 GHz portable spectrum analyzer. An expensive bit of kit — anywhere from around $4,000 to $8,000 on eBay — if it is working, but this one was not. It needed power, but it was also missing the internal flash card that the device uses to boot.

Being portable, there’s a lot of digital and RF electronics crammed into a very small space. The initial tear down didn’t look very interesting because it was mostly an RF shield. However, many tiny screws later, you can finally see the actual electronics.

Continue reading “Fixing a Crazy Expensive Spectrum Analyser, With Solder”

Revive that old Analog Cell Phone with SDR

With the latest and greatest 5G cellular networks right around the corner, it can be difficult to believe that it wasn’t so long ago that cell phones relied on analog networks. They aren’t used anymore, but it might only take a visit to a swap meet or flea market to get your hands on some of this vintage hardware. Of course these phones of a bygone era aren’t just impractical due to their monstrous size compared to modern gear, but because analog cell networks have long since gone the way of the floppy disk.

But thanks to the efforts of [Andreas Eversberg] those antique cell phones may live again, even if it’s only within the radius of your local hackerspace. His software allows the user to create a functioning analog base station for several retro phone networks used in Europe and the United States, such as AMPS, TACS, NMT, Radiocom, and C450. You can go the old school route and do it with sound cards and physical radios, or you can fully embrace the 21st century and do it all through a Software Defined Radio (SDR); in either event, calls to the base station and even between multiple mobile devices is possible with relatively inexpensive hardware.

[Andreas] has put together exceptional documentation for this project, which starts with a walk through on how you can setup your DIY cell “tower” with traditional radios. He explains that amateur radios are a viable option for most of the frequencies used, and that he had early success with modifying second-hand taxi radios. He even mentions that the popular BaoFeng handheld radios can be used in a pinch, though not all the protocols will work due to distortion in the radio.

If you want to take the easy way out, [Andreas] also explains how to replace the radios with a single SDR device. This greatly simplifies the installation, and turns a whole bench full of radios and wires into something you can carry around in your pack if you were so inclined. His software has specific options to use the LimeSDR and LimeSDR-Mini, but you should be able to use other devices with a bit of experimentation.

We’ve previously reviewed the LimeSDR-Mini hardware, as well as covered its use in setting up DIY GSM networks.

Oliver Heaviside: Rags to Recognition, to Madness

Like any complex topic, electromagnetic theory has its own vocabulary. When speaking about dielectrics we may refer to their permittivity, and discussions on magnetic circuits might find terms like reluctance and inductance bandied about. At a more practical level, a ham radio operator might discuss the impedance of the coaxial cable used to send signals to an antenna that will then be bounced off the ionosphere for long-range communications.

It’s everyday stuff to most of us, but none of this vocabulary would exist if it hadn’t been for Oliver Heaviside, the brilliant but challenging self-taught British electrical engineer and researcher. He coined all these terms and many more in his life-long quest to understand the mysteries of the electromagnetic world, and gave us much of the theoretical basis for telecommunications.

Continue reading “Oliver Heaviside: Rags to Recognition, to Madness”

New AVR-IOT Board Connects to Google

Readers of Hackaday are no strangers to using a microcontroller to push data to WiFi. Even before the ESP8266 there were a variety of ways to do that. Now Microchip is joining the fray with a $29 board called the AVR-IOT WG that contains an 8-bit ATmega4808, a WiFi controller, and hardware-based crypto chip for authenticating with Google Cloud.

The board has a section with a USB port for charging a battery and debugging that looks like it is made to cut away. There are a number of LEDs and buttons along with a light sensor and a temperature sensor. It feels like the goal here was to pack as many Microchip parts onto a single dev board as possible. You’ll find the ATmega4808 as the main controller, an ATWINC1510 WiFi controller (a castellated module reminiscent of the ESP8266), the ATECC608A cryptographic co-processor, MCP73871 LiPo charger, MIC33050 voltage regulator, and an MCP9808 temperature sensor. We can’t find much info about the “nEDBG Programmer/Debugger” chip. If you’ve used it on one of a handful of other dev board, let us know in the comments about off-board programming and other possible hacks.

Naturally, the board works with AVR Studio or MPLAB X IDE (Microchip bought Atmel, remember?). Of course, Atmel START or MPLAB Code Configurator can configure the devices, too. There’s also an AVR-IoT-branded website that lets you use Google cloud to connect your device for development. The headers along the top and bottom edges are compatible with MicroElektronika Click boards which will make anyone with a parts bin full of those happy.

Looks like you can pick up the Microchip boards now from the usual places. From reading what Microchip is saying, they would like to position this as the “IoT Arduino” — something someone without a lot of experience could pick up and use to pipe data into Google cloud. While that’s probably good, it isn’t that hard to use an ESP-device to do the same thing using the Arduino IDE and then you have a 32-bit processor and you can use whatever cloud vendor you want. Sure, it would be a little more work, so maybe that’s where this offering will appeal.

On the plus side, we really liked that there was a battery option with a charger already on board — it seems like that’s something we always have to add anyway. It may be buried in the documentation, but the user’s guide and the technical guide didn’t appear to have an average and maximum current draw specified, so battery life is an open question, although the video says “low power.”

Although it isn’t quite the same thing, we’ve seen ESP8266’s talk to Google servers for interfacing with Google Home. And while it is on the Amazon cloud, we’ve even seen a 6502 up there.

 

 

DIY Tuning Capacitors from Washers and 3D-Printed Parts

The inside of classic radios holds wonders that the sterile chips and SMD components of today’s circuits can’t hold a candle to. Chunky resistors and capacitors, vacuum tubes with cathodes aglow, and seemingly free-form loops of wire forming inductors will all likely make an appearance. But the most fascinating bit of any old radio was connected to the tuning knob: the big variable capacitor with its interdigitating metal plates. Watching one at work, with its plates evenly and finely spaced, is still a joy to behold.

In an attempt to recapture a little of that magic, [Jeremy S. Cook] came up with this home-brew variable tuning capacitor. The frame is built mainly from 3D-printed parts, which supports a shaft made from a common bolt. Plates are fashioned from stainless steel fender washers cut in half; the fixed plates are press-fit into the frame while the rotary plates ride on the shaft. The spacing between the rotary plates is maintained by printed spacers, which also serve to lock the rotor into one solid unit. [Jeremy]’s prototype, for which he provides STL files, can be tuned between about 7 and 15 pF. Check out the build in the video below.

We love the look of this, and we can imagine custom tuning caps would come in handy for certain retro radio builds. The tuning range is a little narrow, but that could be fixed with more plates or closer spacing. That might be a tall order with thick steel washers, but we’ve seen really thin aluminum machined and closely spaced before, so this might be one approach to higher capacitance. Continue reading “DIY Tuning Capacitors from Washers and 3D-Printed Parts”

Portable Hacking Unit Combines Pi With WiFi Pineapple

Sometimes you need to hack on the go. [Supertechguy] has put together an interesting system for hacking on the hoof called the Pineapple Pi. This combines a Raspberry Pi 3 with a seven-inch touchscreen and a Hak 5 WiFi Pineapple into a handy portable package that puts all of the latest WiFi and ethernet hacking tools to hand. The package also includes a 20,100 mAh battery, so you won’t even need a wall socket to do some testing. It’s a bit of a rough build — it is held together with velcro, for instance — but it’s a good place to start if you are looking to make a portable, standalone system for testing WiFi networks.

Continue reading “Portable Hacking Unit Combines Pi With WiFi Pineapple”

Wired Wireless Over Coax

If it’s stupid and it works, then it’s not stupid. There’s no better evidence of that than [Tobias]’ networking setup.

He recently had to distribute Ethernet through a building, and there are a few ways to do that. You can use regular ‘ol twisted pair, or fiber, but in this case running new cables wasn’t possible. WiFi would be the next obvious choice, the distance was just a bit too far for ‘regular’ WiFi links. Ethernet over power lines was an option, but there are amateur radio operators in the house, and they put out a bunch of interference and noise. The solution was to mis-use existing 75 Ohm satellite TV coax that was just sitting around.

The correct way to do this would be to use a standard DOCSIS modem and become your own cable Internet provider. The equipment to do this is expensive, and if you’re already considering running WiFI over coax, you’re too deep down the rabbit hole to spend real money. Instead, [Tobias] simply made a few u.FL to F-connector adapters from u.FL to SMA, then SMA to F-connector adapters.

There are some problems with this plan. WiFi is 50 Ohms, TV coax cable is 75 Ohms. Only one MIMO channel will be available meaning the maximum theoretical bandwidth will be 433 Mbps. WiFi is also at much higher frequencies than what coax is designed for.

With two WiFi antenna to coax adapters, [Tobias] simply connected the coax directly to a router set up to bridge Ethernet over WiFi. The entire thing worked, although testing showed it was only getting about 60 Mbps of throughput. That’s not bad for something that was cobbled together out of old parts and unused wiring. Is it surprising that this worked? No, not really, but you’ve probably never seen anyone actually do it. Here’s the proof it does work, and if you’re ever in a bind, this is how you make WiFi wired.