Credit Card Chip Used To Make Crystal Radio

Perhaps the simplest radio one can build is the crystal radio. Using a diode as a detector, the design generally uses less than 10 components and no battery, getting its power to run from the radio signal itself. [Billy Cheung] decided to build a crystal radio using a rather unconventional detector – the smart chip in a common credit card.

This is possible because the smart chip on many credit cards contains a diode. It’s then a simple matter of hooking up the right pads on the credit card to the rest of a crystal radio circuit, and you’re all set. Of course, [Billy] goes the whole hog, building the entire radio on a single credit card. Other cards are cut up to create bobbins for winding coils to form a variable inductor, used to tune the radio. Doing this allows for a much cleaner, thinner design, rather than using a variable capacitor which is comparatively hard to find. Turning the dial allows stations to be tuned in, and with a high impedance earbud hooked up, you’re listening to AM radio. Oh, and don’t forget an antenna!

[Billy] breaks down the details for anyone wishing to replicate the feat, going so far as to wind the coils in real time in his Youtube video. Cutting templates and other details are available on Github. While it’s not going to be the most replicated hack, as it requires the destruction of a credit card to achieve, we love the ingenuity. And, if society does collapse, we’ll all have a great source of diodes when the ATMs have all become useless. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Zane Atkins for the tip!]

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Receive Analog Video Radio Signals From Scratch

If you’ve been on the RTL-SDR forums lately you may have seen that a lot of work has been going into the DragonOS software. This is a software-defined radio group that has seen a lot of effort put into a purpose-built Debian-based Linux distribution that can do a lot of SDR out of the box. The latest and most exciting project coming from them involves a method for using the software to receive and demodulate analog video.

[Aaron]’s video (linked below) demonstrates using a particular piece of software called SigDigger to analyze an incoming analog video stream from a drone using a HackRF. (Of course any incoming analog signal could be used, it doesn’t need to be a drone.) The software shows the various active frequency ranges, allows a user to narrow in on one and then start demodulating it. While it has to be dialed in just right to get anything that doesn’t look like snow, [Aaron] is able to get recognizable results in just a few minutes.

Getting something like this to work completely in software is an impressive feat, especially considering that all of the software used here is free. Granted, this wouldn’t be as easy for a digital signal like most TV stations broadcast, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had. In case you missed the release of DragonOS, we covered it a few weeks ago and it’s only gotten better since then, with this project just as one example.

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Hackaday Links: May 24, 2020

We’re saddened to learn of the passing of Gershon Kingsley in December 2019 at the age of 97. The composer and electronic music pioneer was not exactly a household name, but the things he did with the Moog synthesizer, especially the surprise hit “Pop Corn”, which he wrote in 1969, are sure to be familiar. The song has been covered dozens of times, in the process of which the spelling of the name changed to “Popcorn.” We’re most familiar with the 1972 cover by Hot Butter, an earworm from our youth that doesn’t hide the Moog as deeply in the backing instruments as Kingsley did in the original. Or, perhaps you prefer the cover done by a robotic glockenspiel, because robotic glockenspiel.

A few months back, we covered the audacious plan to recover the radio gear from the Titanic. At the time, the potential salvors, Atlanta-based RMS Titanic, Inc., were seeking permission to cut into the submerged remains of the Titanic‘s Marconi room to remove as much of the wireless gear as possible. A federal judge granted permission for the salvage operation last Friday, giving the company the green light to prepare an expedition for this summer. The US government, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service, argued strenuously to leave the wreck be and treat it as a tomb for the 1,527 victims. For our part, we had a great discussion about the merits in the comments section of the previous article. Now that it’s a done deal, we’d love to hear what you have to say about this again.

Although life appears to be slowly returning to what passes for normal, that doesn’t mean you might not still have some cycles to spare, especially when the time spent can bolster your skillset. And so if you’re looking to adding FPGAs to your resume, check out this remote lab on FPGA vision systems offered by Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University. The setup allows you to watch lectures, download code examples, and build them on your local computer, and then upload the resulting binaries to real hardware running on the lab’s servers in Germany. It sounds like a great way to get access to FPGA hardware that you’d otherwise have a hard time laying hands on. Or, you know, you could have just come to the 2019 Hackaday Superconference.

Speaking of skill-builders, oscilloscope owners who want to sharpen their skills could do worse than to listen to the advice of a real scope jockey like Allen Wolke. He recently posted a helpful video listing the five most common reasons for your scope giving “wrong” voltage readings. Spoiler alert: the instrument is probably doing exactly what you told it to do. As a scope newbie, we found the insights very helpful, and we can imagine even seasoned users could make simple mistakes like using the wrong probe attenuation or forgetting that scope response isn’t flat across its bandwidth.

Safety tip for the gearheads among us: your jack stands might be unsafe to use. Harbor Freight, the stalwart purveyor of cheap tools, has issued a recall of two different models of its jack stands. It seems that the pawls can kick out under the right conditions, sending the supported load crashing to the ground. This qualifies as a Very Bad Day for anyone unlucky enough to be working underneath when it happens. Defective jack stands can be returned to Harbor Freight for store credit, so check your garage and be safe out there in the shop.

And finally, because everyone loves a good flame war, Ars Technica has come up with a pronunciation guide for common tech terms. We have to admit that most of these are not surprising; few among the technology literate would mispronounce “Linux” or “sudo”. We will admit to a non-fanboy level of ignorance on whether the “X” in “iOS X” was a Roman numeral or not, but learning that the “iOS” part is correctly pronounced as three syllables, not two was a bit shocking. It’s all an exercise in pedantry that reminds us of a mildly heated discussion we had around the secret Hackaday writers’ bunker and whether “a LED” or “an LED” is the correct style. If the Internet was made for anything, it was stuff like this.

Radio’s Sordid History Of Being Blamed For Everything

In the surreal world of a pandemic lockdown, we are surrounded by news stories that defy satire. The idea that 5G cellular networks are to blame for the COVID-19 outbreak and a myriad other ills has the more paranoid corners of social media abuzz with concerned citizens leaping upon random pieces of street furniture as potential 5G infrastructure.

The unanimous advice of the world’s scientists, doctors, and engineers that it is inconceivable for a phone technology to cause a viral outbreak. Amusingly, 5G has not yet been rolled out to some of the places where this is happening. But with conspiracy theory, fact denial only serves to reinforce the idea, however misguided. Here at Hackaday we have already ventured into the technical and scientific side of the story, but there is another side to it that leaves the pandemic behind and reaches back over the decades. Fear of new technology and in particular radio is nothing new, it stretches back almost as long as the public has had access to it.

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Pulling A Crystal By Grinding It

If you own a radio transmitter, from a $10 Baofeng handheld to a $1000 fancy all-band transceiver, setting the frequency is simply a case of dialing in where you want to go. A phase-locked-loop frequency synthesizer or a software-defined radio will generate your frequency, and away you go. There was a time though when synthesizers were impossibly complex and radio amateurs were faced with a simple choice. Use an LC oscillator and put up with drifting in frequency, or use a crystal oscillator, and be restricted to only the frequencies of the crystals you had. [Mark Erdle, AE2EA] modified a 1950s broadcast AM broadcast transmitter for the 1.8MHz amateur band, and his friend [Andy Flowers, K0SM] thought it needed its crystal back for originality rather than the external frequency source [Mark] had provided. He documents the process of modifying a crystal oven and moving a crystal frequency in the video below the break.

A crystal oven is a unit containing the crystal itself alongside a thermostatic heater, and in this one, the crystal was a 1970s-vintage hermetically sealed HC6 device. He modified the oven to take a socket for older FT243 crystals because the quartz element can easily be accessed. [Andy] picked a crystal as close as he could find below the required frequency. He then ground it down with very fine grit on a glass plate, reducing its mass and thus its resonant frequency. We’re taken through the process of getting it close to frequency, but sadly don’t see the etching that he uses for the very last stage. At the end of the video, we see a QSO on the transmitter itself, which is something of an oddity in an age when AM on amateur bands has been supplanted by other modes for decades.

If you’re curious about the transmitter there’s a video thread following its restoration, and if the guts of older radio gear interests you then take a look at this aircraft receiver lovingly brought back to life.

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The Lost Art Of Component Scavenging

With the easy and cheap availability of parts by Internet mail order, it’s easy to forget that acquiring electronic components was once a more tedious process, and it was common to use salvaged parts because they were what you had. Scouring a panel from a dumpster-find TV for the right resistor may now be a thing of the past, but it’s not entirely dead. [Ryan Flowers] was lucky enough to score a box of old CB radios at a garage sale, and takes us through a teardown in search of parts he can use to make a QRP amateur radio rig. Delving into aged electronics is right up our street!

An IF amplifier was high-tech back in '75.
An IF amplifier was high-tech back in ’75.

A possibility for a 27 MHz CB rig is to convert it to the neighbouring 10 m amateur band, but since these were all AM rigs, a mode that sees very little amateur use, it was better to part them out. It’s an interesting study in the evolution of radio design, as an entirely analogue design of mostly discrete components is revealed.

Careful inspection of the photographs reveals a Fairchild uA703 5-transistor IF amplifier chip in a metal can, but that’s about as high-tech as it gets. Unexpectedly there is a huge bank of crystals rather than the frequency synthesiser that would have been standard only a few years later.

He comes away with the chassis, switches and pots, and the RF inductors and crystals from the PCB. Those miniature Toko inductors used to be a common sight, but are now something of a rarity. If you fancy a wallow in semiconductors from this era we’ve previously taken a look at the vintage Fairchild catalogue, in which the uA703 is on page 398.

Odd Crosley Radios From The 1920s

You may sometimes see the Crosley name today on cheap record players, but from what we can tell that company isn’t connected with the Crosley Radio company that was a powerhouse in the field from 1921 to 1956. [Uniservo] looks at two of the very early entries from Crosley: the model VIII and the XJ. You can see the video of both radios, below.

The company started by making car parts but grew rapidly and entered the radio business very successfully in 1921. We can only imagine what a non-technical person thought of these radios with all the knobs and switches, for some it must have been very intimidating.

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