Weird World Of Microwaves Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, December 18 at noon Pacific for the Weird World of Microwaves Hack Chat with Shahriar Shahramian! We’ve been following him on The Signal Path for years and are excited to pick his brain on what is often considered one of the dark arts of electronics.

No matter how much you learn about electronics, there always seems to be another door to open. You think you know a thing or two once you learn about basic circuits, and then you discover RF circuits. Things start to get a little strange there, and stranger still as the wavelengths decrease and you start getting into the microwave bands. That’s where you see feed lines become waveguides, PCB traces act as components, and antennas that look more like musical instruments.

Shahriar is no stranger to this land. He’s been studying millimeter-wave systems for decades, and his day job is researching millimeter-wave ASICs for Nokia Bell Labs in New Jersey, the birthplace of the transistor. In his spare time, Shahriar runs The Signal Path, a popular blog and YouTube channel where he dives tear-downs, explanations, and repairs of incredibly sophisticated and often outrageously expensive equipment.

We’ll be sitting down with Shahriar this week for the last Hack Chat of 2019 with a peek inside his weird, wonderful world of microwaves. Join us with your questions about RF systems, microwaves in the communication industry, and perhaps even how he manages to find the gear featured on his channel.

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, December 18 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.

Chisel Away At FPGA Development

Most of the time if you were to want to develop for an FPGA, you might turn to Verilog or VHDL. Both of these are quite capable, but they are also firmly rooted in languages that are old-fashioned by today’s standards. There have been quite a few attempts to treat those languages as an output to some other tool — either a higher-level language or a graphical tool. One recent effort is a toolchain that starts with Chisel.

The idea behind Chisel is to provide Scala with Verilog-like constructs. If you want, you can use it as a “super Verilog” taking advantage of classes and other features. However, Chisel also allows you to create generators that produce different output Verilog depending on how you call them. True, you can do some of this with Verilog modules, but it is much easier with Chisel. Chisel uses Firrtl to convert what you ask it to do into Verilog for different FPGA and ASIC targets.

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Friday Hack Chat: Audio Amplifier Design

Join [Jørgen Kragh Jakobsen], Analog/digital Design Engineer at Merus-Audio, for this week’s Hack Chat.

Every week, we find a few interesting people making the things that make the things that make all the things, sit them down in front of a computer, and get them to spill the beans on how modern manufacturing and technology actually happens. This is the Hack Chat, and it’s happening this Friday, March 31, at noon PDT (20:00 UTC).

Jørgen’s company has developed a line of multi level Class D amplifiers that focus on power reduction to save battery life in mobile application without losing audio quality.

There are a lot of tricks to bring down power consumption, some on core technologies on transistor switching, others based on input level where modulation type and frequency is dynamically changed to fit everything from background audio level to party mode.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging.

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Upcoming Hack Chats

We’ve got a lot on the table when it comes to our Hack Chats. On April 7th, our host will be [Samy Kamkar], hacker extraordinaire, to talk reverse engineering.

Friday Hack Chat: ASIC Design

Join [Matt Martin], ASIC designer at Keysight, for this week’s Hack Chat.

Every week, we find a few interesting people making the things that make the things that make all the things, sit them down in front of a computer, and get them to spill the beans on how modern manufacturing and technology actually happens. This is the Hack Chat, and it’s happening this Friday, March 17, at noon PDT (20:00 UTC).

[Matt] has been working at Agilent / Keysight since 2007 as an ASIC designer. The work starts with code that is synthesized into logic gates. After that, [Matt] takes those gates and puts them into silicon. He’s worked with processes from 0.13um to 28nm. Turning code into silicon is still a dark art around here, and if you’ve ever wanted to know how all of this works, this is your chance to find out.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging.

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Upcoming Hack Chats

We’ve got a lot on the table when it comes to our Hack Chats. On March 24th, we’re going to argue the merits of tube amplifiers in audio applications. In April, we have [Samy Kamkar], hacker extraordinaire, to talk reverse engineering.

Because I’ve never had the opportunity to do so, and because these Hack Chat announcement posts never get many comments anyway, I’m going to throw this one out there. What would it take to build out a silicon fabrication plant based on technology from 1972? I’m talking about a 10-micrometer process here, something that might be able to clone a 6502. Technology is on our side — a laser printer is cheaper than a few square feet of rubylith — and quartz tube heaters and wire bonding machines can be found on the surplus market. Is it possible to build a silicon fab in your garage without going broke? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and then bring them with you to the Hack Chat this Friday.

Atari Archaeology Without Digging Up Landfill Sites

We are fortunate to live in an age of commoditized high-power computer hardware and driver abstraction, in which most up-to-date computers have the ability to do more or less anything that requires keeping up with the attention of a human without breaking a sweat. Processors are very fast, memory is plentiful, and 3D graphics acceleration is both speedy and ubiquitous.

Thirty years ago it was a different matter on the desktop. Even the fastest processors of the day would struggle to perform on their own all the tasks demanded of them by a 1980s teenager who had gained a taste for arcade games. The manufacturers rose to this challenge by surrounding whichever CPU they had chosen with custom co-processors, ASICs that would take away the heavy lifting associated with 2D graphics acceleration, or audio and music synthesis.

One of the 1980s objects of computing desire was the Atari ST, featuring a Motorola 68000 processor, a then-astounding 512k of RAM, a GUI OS, high-res colour graphics, and 3.5″ floppy drive storage. Were you to open up the case of your ST you’d have found those ASICs we mentioned as being responsible for its impressive spec.

Jumping forward three decades, [Christian Zietz] found that there was frustratingly little information on the ST ASIC internal workings. Since a trove of backed-up data became available when Atari closed down he thought it would be worth digging through it to see what he could find. His write-up is a story of detective work in ancient OS and backup software archaeology, but it paid off as he found schematics for not only an ASIC from an unreleased Atari product but for the early ST ASICs he was looking for. He found hundreds of pages of schematics and timing diagrams which will surely take the efforts of many Atari enthusiasts to fully understand, and best of all he thinks there are more to be unlocked.

We’ve covered a lot of Atari stories over the years, but many of them have related to their other products such as the iconic 2600 console. We have brought you news of an open-source ST on an FPGA though, and more recently the restoration of an ST that had had a hard life. The title of this piece refers to the fate of Atari’s huge unsold stocks of 2600 console cartridges, such a disastrous marketing failure that unsold cartridges were taken to a New Mexico landfill site in 1983 and buried. We reported on the 2013 exhumation of these video gaming relics.

A tip of the hat to Hacker News for bringing this to our attention.

Atari ST image, Bill Bertram (CC-BY-2.5) via Wikimedia Commons.

Laser-cut Album Released

In some alternate universe, where laser cutters and phonographs are more common than MP3 players, it makes a ton of sense to release laser-cutter files for your band’s new album (Translated). In this universe, it’s wacky and awesome.

The new EP from ASIC, alias [Patric] from Fablab Zürich, is out as PDF before it’s out in other forms of digital download, and the trailer video (embedded below the break) looks fantastic.

The release draws on this Instructable by Amanda Ghassaei to turn the music into PDFs suitable for feeding into a laser cutter, and we think it’s classy that she gets a shout-out on the label’s release page.  Everything else about the album will be released under a Creative Commons license to boot.

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Hackaday Links: July 20, 2014

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Etch-a-Sketch spray-painted silver with electronics bolted onto the side? Sign us up! This art installation adds one thing that we don’t often see in these types of hacks, eerie audio.

If you’re still mining bitcoin you need to do it faster than anyone else… that’s pretty much how the whole thing works. [Lewin] has been using the Antminer USB ASIC and toyed around with overclocking to 2.2 GH/s (gighashes per second) but to make sure his hardware holds up to the overwork he hacked his own water cooling system for the dongle.

Smart phones are the best bang for your buck on portability and power. Better yet you can get slightly broken ones for a song. If you manage to find an Android device with a broken touch screen but functioning LCD try this trick to add a mouse to it. There must be another life for this in a future hack!

We have a love-hate relationship with this particular crowd-funding campaign. First this hate: It’s basically a 100% clip-art video presentation with an $800,000 ask. Yeah… good luck buddy. On the other hand, this is the type of stuff we actually want to see as crowd funding. The idea is to use modern materials and techniques to build [Nikola Tesla’s] Wardenclyffe Tower, which was designed and built to research wireless energy (both as a means of communication and actual energy transfer). It was never fully functional and ended up being demolished. Wouldn’t it be great if teams of highly skilled and motivated people took grand ideas like this, crossing every theoretical “t” and dotting every theoretical “i”, and then proposed a crowd funding campaign to build a test platform? Oh wait, that sounds very much like a government research grant. Anywhoo… check out the Global Energy Transmission’s campaign.