When it comes to mathematics, the average person can probably get through most of life well enough with just basic algebra. Some simple statistical concepts would be helpful, and a little calculus couldn’t hurt. But that leaves out a lot of interesting mathematical concepts that really do have applications in everyday life and are just plain fascinating in their own right.
Chief among these concepts is the Fourier transform, which is the key to understanding everything from how JPEGs work to how we can stream audio and video over the Internet. To help get your mind around the concept, [Jez Swanson] has this interactive Fourier transform visualizer that really drives home the important points. This is high-level stuff; it just covers the basic concepts of a Fourier transform, how they work, and what they’re good for in everyday life. There are no equations, just engaging animations that show how any function can be decomposed into a set of sine waves. One shows the approximation of a square wave with a slider to control to vary the number of component sine waves; a button lets you hear the resulting sound getting harsher as it approaches a true square wave. There’s also a great bit on epicycles and SVGs, and one of the best introductions to encoding images as JPEGs that we’ve seen. The best part: all the code behind the demos is available on GitHub.
One of the nice things about living in the Internet age is that creating amazing simulations and animations is relatively simple today. [SmarterEveryDay] recently did a video that shows this off, discussing a blog post (which was in Turkish) to show how sine waves can add together to create arbitrary waveforms. You can see the English video, below.
We’ve seen similar things before, but if you haven’t you can really see how a point on a moving circle describes a sine wave. Through adding those waves, anything can then be done.
The Fourier transform underpins so much of our technological lives, in most cases probably without our realising it. The ability to mathematically split a waveform into its frequency components and vice versa underpins much of the field of digital signal processing, and DSP has become an essential part of many electronic devices we take for granted.
But while most of us will know what a Fourier transform is, fewer of us will know anything of how one works. They are a function called from a library rather than performed in themselves. Even when they are taught in schools or university courses they remain something that not all students “get”, and woe betide you if (as your scribe did) you have a sub-par maths lecturer.
The video below the break then is very much worth a look if Fourier transforms are a bit of a mystery to you. In it [Grant Sanderson] explains them through a series of simple graphical examples in a style that perhaps may chalk-and-talk mathematics teachers should emulate. You may still only use Foruier transforms through a library, but after watching this video perhaps some of their mysteries will be revealed.
Readers who were firmly on Team Nintendo in the early 2000’s or so can tell you that there was no accessory cooler for the Nintendo GameCube than the WaveBird. Previous attempts at wireless game controllers had generally either been sketchy third-party accessories or based around IR, and in both cases the end result was that the thing barely worked. The WaveBird on the other hand was not only an official product by Nintendo, but used 2.4 GHz to communicate with the system. Some concessions had to be made with the WaveBird; it lacked rumble, was a bit heavier than the stock controllers, and required a receiver “dongle”, but on the whole the WaveBird represented the shape of things to come for game controllers.
Even if you’ve never seen a GameCube or its somewhat pudgy wireless controller, you’re going to want to read though the incredible amount of information [Sam] has compiled in his GitHub repository for this project.
Starting with defining what a signal is to begin with, [Sam] walks the reader though Fourier transforms, the different types of modulations, decoding packets, and making sense of error correction. In the end, [Sam] presents a final summation of the wireless protocol, as well as a simple Python tool that let’s the HackRF impersonate a WaveBird and send button presses and stick inputs to an unmodified GameCube.
If you’ve had the classic engineering education, you probably have a hazy recollection of someone talking about control theory. If you haven’t, you’ve probably at least heard of PID controllers and open loop vs closed loop control. If you don’t know about control theory or even if you just want a refresher, [Brian Douglas] has an excellent set of nearly 50 video lectures that will give you a great introduction to the topic. You can watch the first lecture, below.
You might think that control systems are only useful in electronics when you are trying to control a process like a chemical plant or a temperature. However, control theory shows up in a surprising number of places from filters to oscillators, to the automatic gain control in a receiver. You’ll find the background behind many familiar results inside control theory. Sort of like when you take calculus and you discover how they came up with all the formulas you memorized in geometry.
If you have about an hour to kill, you might want to check out [Shahriar’s] video about the Stanford Research SR530 lock in amplifier (see below). If you know what a lock in amplifier is, it is still a pretty interesting video and if you don’t know, then it really is a must see.
Most of the time, you think of an amplifier as just a circuit that makes a small signal bigger in some way — that is, increase the voltage or increase the current. But there are whole classes of amplifiers designed to reject noise and the lock in amplifier is one of them. [Shahriar’s] video discusses the math theory behind the amplifier, shows the guts, and demonstrates a few experiments (including measuring the speed of sound), as well.
It’s funny how creation and understanding interact. Sometimes the urge to create something comes from a new-found deep understanding of a concept, and sometimes the act of creation leads to that understanding. And sometimes creation and understanding are linked together in such a way as to lead in an entirely new direction, which is the story behind this plywood recreation of the Michelson Fourier analysis machine.
For those not familiar with this piece of computing history, it’s worth watching the videos in our article covering [Bill “The Engineer Guy” Hammack]’s discussion of this amazing early 20th-century analog computer. Those videos were shown to [nopvelthuizen] in a math class he took at the outset of degree work in physics education. The beauty of the sinusoids being created by the cam-operated rocker arms and summed to display the output waveforms captured his imagination and lead to an eight-channel copy of the 20-channel original.
Working with plywood and a CNC router, [nopvelthuizen]’s creation is faithful to the original if a bit limited by the smaller number of sinusoids that can be summed. A laser cutter or 3D printer would have allowed for a longer gear train, but we think the replica is great the way it is. What’s more, the real winners are [nopvelthuizen]’s eventual physics students, who will probably look with some awe at their teacher’s skills and enthusiasm.