Radio Apocalypse: Hardening AM Radio Against Disasters

If you’ve been car shopping lately, or even if you’ve just been paying attention to the news, you’ll probably be at least somewhat familiar with the kerfuffle over AM radio. The idea is that in these days of podcasts and streaming music, plain-old amplitude modulated radio is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a medium of mass communication, to the point that automakers are dropping support for it from their infotainment systems.

The threat of federal legislation seems to have tapped the brakes on the anti-AM bandwagon, at least for now. One can debate the pros and cons, but the most interesting tidbit to fall out of this whole thing is one of the strongest arguments for keeping the ability to receive AM in cars: emergency communications. It turns out that about 75 stations, most of them in the AM band, cover about 90% of the US population. This makes AM such a vital tool during times of emergency that the federal government has embarked on a serious program to ensure its survivability in the face of disaster.

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What Losing Everything Taught Me About Backing Up

Backing up. It’s such a simple thing on paper – making a copy of important files and putting them in a safe place. In reality, for many of us, it’s just another thing on that list of things we really ought to be doing but never quite get around to.

I was firmly in that boat. Then, when disaster struck, I predictably lost greatly. Here’s my story on what I lost, what I managed to hang on to, and how I’d recommend you approach backups starting today.

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Dumping Game Boy Cartridges Via The Link Cable Port

When it comes to vintage consoles like the Game Boy, it’s often nice to be able to dump cartridge ROMs for posterity, for archival, and for emulation. To that end, [Francis Stokes] of [Low Byte Productions] whipped up a rather unique method of dumping Game Boy carts via the link cable port.

The method starts by running custom code on the Game Boy, delivered by flash cart. That code loads itself into RAM, and then waits for the user to swap in a cart they wish to dump and press a button. The code then reads the cartridge, byte by byte, sending it out over the link port. To capture the data, [Francis] simply uses a Saleae logic analyzer to do the job. Notably, the error rate was initially super high with this method, until [Francis] realised that cutting down the length of the link cable cut down on noise that was interfering with the signal.

The code is available on GitHub for those interested. There are other ways to dump Game Boy cartridges too, of course.

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Ryobi Battery Hack Keeps CPAP Running Quietly

When it comes to cordless power tools, color is an important brand selection criterion. There’s Milwaukee red, for the rich people, the black and yellow of DeWalt, and Makita has a sort of teal thing going on. But when you see that painful shade of fluorescent green, you know you’ve got one of the wide range of bargain tools and accessories that only Ryobi can offer.

Like many of us, Redditor [Grunthos503] had a few junked Ryobi tools lying about, and managed to cobble together this battery-powered inverter for light-duty applications. The build started with a broken Ryobi charger, whose main feature was a fairly large case once relieved of its defunct guts, plus an existing socket for 18-volt battery packs. Added to that was a small Ryobi inverter, which normally plugs into the Ryobi battery pack and converts the 18 VDC to 120 VAC. Sadly, though, the inverter fan is loud, and the battery socket is sketchy. But with a little case modding and a liberal amount of hot glue, the inverter found a new home inside the charger case, with a new, quieter fan and even an XT60 connector for non-brand batteries.

It’s a simple hack, but one that [Grunthos503] may really need someday, as it’s intended to run a CPAP machine in case of a power outage — hence the need for a fan that’s quiet enough to sleep with. And it’s a pretty good hack — we honestly had to look twice to see what was done here. Maybe it was just the green plastic dazzling us. Although maybe we’re too hard on Ryobi — after all, they are pretty hackable.

Thanks to [Risu no Kairu] for the tip on this one.

Homebrew ROM Reader Saves Data From A Vintage Minicomputer

Have you ever heard of a Centurion minicomputer? If not, don’t feel bad — we hadn’t either, until [David Lovett] stumbled upon a semi-complete version of the 1980-ish mini in all its wood-trimmed, dust-encased glory. And what does a hacker do with such an acquisition but attempt to get it going again?

Of course, getting a machine from the Reagan administration running is not without its risks, including the chance of losing whatever is on the machine’s many ROM chips forever. When finding a commercial ROM reader supporting the various chips proved difficult, [David] decided to build his own. The work was eased considerably by the fact that he had managed to read one chip in a commercial reader, giving him a baseline to compare his circuit against. The hardware is straightforward — a 12-bit counter built from a trio of cascaded 74LS161s to step through addresses, plus an Arduino Nano to provide clock pulses and to read the data out to the serial port.

The circuit gave the same results as the known good read, meaning results would be valid for the rest of the chips. The breadboard setup made supporting multiple ROM pinouts easy, even for the chips that take -9 volts. What exactly the data on the ROMs mean, if anything, remains a mystery, but at least it’s backed up now.

Before anyone notes the obvious, yes, [David] could have used a 555 to clock the reader — perhaps even this one. We’d actually have loved that, but we get it — sometimes you just need to throw an Arduino at a job and be done with it.

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Hackaday Links: August 1, 2021

Amateur radio operators have a saying: When all else fails, there’s ham radio. And that’s true, at least to an extent — knock out the power, tear down the phone lines, and burn up all the satellites in orbit, and there will still be hams talking about politics on 40 meters. The point is, as long as the laws of physics don’t change, hams will figure out a way to send and receive messages. In honor of that fact, the police in the city of Pune in Maharashtra, India, make it a point to exchange messages with their headquarter using Morse code once a week. The idea is to maintain a backup system, in case they can’t get a message through any other way. It’s a good idea, especially since they rotate all their radio operators through the Sunday morning ritual. We can’t imagine that most emergency services dispatchers would be thrilled about learning Morse, though.

Just because you’re a billionaire with a space company doesn’t mean you’re an astronaut. At least that’s the view of the US Federal Aviation Administration, which issued guidelines pretty much while Jeff Bezos and his merry band of cohorts were floating about above the 100-km high Kármán line in a Blue Origin “New Shepard” rocket. The FAA guidelines make it clear that those making the trip need to have actually done something to qualify as an astronaut, by “demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety.” That’s good news to the “Old Shepard”, who clearly was in control of “Freedom 7” during the Mercury program. But the Bezos brothers, teenager Oliver Daemen, and Wally Funk, one of the “Mercury 13” group of women who trained to be NASA astronauts but never got to fly, were really just along for the ride, as the entire flight was automated. It doesn’t take away from the fact that they’ve been to space and you haven’t, of course, but they can’t officially call themselves astronauts. This goes to show that even billionaires can just be ballast too.

Good news, everyone — if you had anything that was being transported aboard the Ever Given, your stuff is almost there. The Suez Canal-occluding container ship finally made it to its original destination in Rotterdam, approximately four months later than originally predicted.  After plugging up the vital waterway for six days last March, the ship along with her cargo and her crew were detained in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake, perhaps the coolest sounding body of water in the world next to the Dead Sea. Legal squabbling ensued at that point, all the while rendering whatever was in the 20,000-odd containers aboard the ship pretty much pointless. We’d imagine that even with continuous power, whatever was in the refrigerated containers must be pretty nasty by now, so there’s probably a lot of logistics and clean-up left to sort out.

I have to admit that I have a weird love of explosive bolts. I don’t know what it is, but the idea of fasteners engineered to fail in a predictable way under the influence of pyrotechnic charges just tickles something in me. I mean, I even wrote a whole article on the subject once. So when I came across this video explaining how the Space Shuttles were held to the launch pad, I really had to watch it. Surprisingly, the most interesting part of this story was not the explosive aspect, but the engineering problem of supporting the massive vehicle on the launch pad. For as graceful as the Shuttles seemed once they got into orbit, they really were ungainly beasts, especially strapped to the external fuel tank and booster. The scale of the eight frangible nuts used to secure the boosters to the pad is just jaw-dropping. We also liked the idea that NASA decided to catch the debris from the explosions in a container filled with sand.

Tales From The Sysadmin: Impending Hard Drive Doom

It should have been another fine day, but not all was well in paradise. Few things bring a creeping feeling of doom like a computer that hardlocks and then refuses to boot. The clicking sound coming from the tower probably isn’t a good sign either. Those backups are up to date, right? Right?

There are some legends and old stories about hard drive repair. One of my favorites is the official solution to stiction for old drives: Smack it with a mallet. Another trick I’ve heard repeatedly is to freeze a hard drive before trying to read data off of it. This could actually be useful in a couple instances. The temperature change can help with stiction, and freezing the drive could potentially help an overheating drive last a bit longer. The downside is the potential for condensation inside the drive. Don’t turn to one of these questionable fixes unless you’ve exhausted the safer options.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume the problem is the hard drive, and not another component like a power supply or SATA cable causing problems. A truly dead drive is a topic for another time, but if the drive is alive enough to show up as a block device when plugged in, then there’s hope for recovering the data. One of the USB to SATA cables available on your favorite online store is a great way to recover data. Another option is booting off a Linux DVD or flash drive, and accessing the drive in place. If you’re lucky, you can just copy your files and call it a day. If the file transfer fails because of the dying drive, or you need a full disk image, it’s time to pull out some tools and get to work. Continue reading “Tales From The Sysadmin: Impending Hard Drive Doom”