Dead Simple Time-Domain Reflectometry With Just A Battery And An Oscilloscope

“Time-domain reflectometry” sure sounds like something that needs racks of expensive equipment to accomplish. In reality, TDR is just measuring the time between injecting a pulse into a cable and receiving its echo, either from the other end of the cable or from some fault or defect along the way. It’s a useful technique, and as [Allen Wolke (W2AEW)] shows us, it can be accomplished with little more than a battery, a resistor, and an oscilloscope. And a little math, of course.

There are, of course, dedicated time-domain reflectometers, but all of them are really just elaborations of the basic principles [W2AEW] demonstrates with his simple setup. The oscilloscope is set up with a tee connector on one channel; one side of the tee is connected to the cable under test, while the shield conductor of the other side is connected to the negative terminal of a 9V battery. A resistor connected to the center conductor is used to complete the circuit, which sends a brief pulse down the test cable. The scope is set up to capture the outgoing pulse as well as the return pulse, allowing the time between the two to be measured. Some simple math gives the length of the cable, the distance to a fault, or with a little rearrangement, the velocity factor of the cable.

The video below shows the simple method at work on coax and Cat 5e Ethernet cable. It even worked on a roll of zip cable, which was a little surprising. If this technique is too simple, you can always elaborate a bit and roll your own TDR tester. Googly eyes optional, of course, but recommended.

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Skylight In Any Room

Despite a glut of introvert memes, humans need sunlight. If vitamin D isn’t your concern, the sun is a powerful heater, and it helps plants grow. Sadly for [mime], their house is not positioned well to capture all those yummy sunbeams. Luckily for us, their entry into the 2020 Hackaday Prize is their sun-tracking apparatus that redirects those powerful rays throughout the house. It uses a couple of mirrors to redirect the light around their shed and into the house. For those who work in a dim office, no amount of work is too great for a peek of natural sunlight.

Movie spoiler alert: We saw this trick in the 1985 movie Legend and it was enough to vanquish the Lord of Darkness.

This project started in 2014 and sat on hiatus for more than five years, but it is back and prime for improvements fueled by half-a-decade of experience. The parts that aren’t likely to change are the threaded struts that adjust the positioning mirror’s angle, the driving motors, and power circuitry. Their first plan was to build a solar-powered controller with an Arduino, DC motors, and sun telemetry data, but now they’re leaning toward stepper motors and a computer in the house with a long cable. They are a finalist this year, so we will keep our eyes peeled for further development.

Infinity Mirror At Warp Speed

Inventing often combines more than one old ideas into a new one. Even when the fused things are similar, the result can be more valuable than the sum of its parts. Unlike those analog watches with a digital clock below the face, when [Mojoptix] combined the re-reflecting properties of an infinity mirror with the image twisting qualities of a funhouse mirror, we get more than just a pair of mirrors. The resulting images look like a lot of fun. Warping one surface of two parallel mirrors doesn’t just alter the result a bit, because the planes feed off each other’s view, the final product is an exponentially skewed show.

Our host mounts a 3D printed ring with an hubward-facing strip of LEDs to an ordinary glass mirror. Over that, he designs four mated plates that hold semi-reflective film sheets in different shapes. The first is a hyperbolic paraboloid, but it’s probably easier to think of it as shaped like a Pringles chip (crisp). Once the light is applied, it looks like a bowtie made by a deranged god or the start of an infinite rabbit hole of light and reflection. To further the madness, he hits us with four shapes at once, so we hope you’ll take a moment to enjoy the video below.

This guy is no stranger to optics, and we’ve reported on a couple of other cool inventions that teach a concept through demonstration. His precision calipers demonstrate the Moiré effect, and his digital sundial capitalizes on parallel light beams.

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The BNC Connector And How It Got That Way

When I started working in a video production house in the early 1980s, it quickly became apparent that there was a lot of snobbery in terms of equipment. These were the days when the home video market was taking off; the Format War had been fought and won by VHS, and consumer-grade VCRs were flying off the shelves and into living rooms. Most of that gear was cheap stuff, built to a price point and destined to fail sooner rather than later, like most consumer gear. In our shop, surrounded by our Ikegami cameras and Sony 3/4″ tape decks, we derided this equipment as “ReggieVision” gear. We were young.

For me, one thing that set pro gear apart from the consumer stuff was the type of connectors it had on the back panel. If a VCR had only the bog-standard F-connectors like those found on cable TV boxes along with RCA jacks for video in and out, I knew it was junk. To impress me, it had to have BNC connectors; that was the hallmark of pro-grade gear.

I may have been snooty, but I wasn’t really wrong. A look at coaxial connectors in general and the design decisions that went into the now-familiar BNC connector offers some insight into why my snobbery was at least partially justified.

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Studying Airplane Radio Reflections With SDR

A property of radio waves is that they tend to reflect off things. Metal surfaces in particular act as good reflectors, and by studying how these reflections work, it’s possible to achieve all manner of interesting feats. [destevez] decided to have some fun with reflections from local air traffic, and was kind enough to share the results.

The project centers around receiving 2.3 GHz signals from a local ham beacon that have been reflected by planes taking off from the Madrid-Barajas airport. The beacon was installed by a local ham, and transmits a CW idenfication and tone at 2 W of power.

In order to try and receive reflections from nearby aircraft, [destevez] put together a simple but ingenious setup.

ADS-B data was plotted on a map and correlated with the received reflections.

A LimeSDR radio was used, connected to a 9 dB planar 2.4 GHz WiFi antenna. This was an intentional choice, as it has a wide radiation pattern which is useful for receiving reflections from odd angles. A car was positioned between the antenna and the beacon to avoid the direct signal overpowering reflected signals from aircraft.

Data was recorded, and then compared with ADS-B data on aircraft position and velocity, allowing recorded reflections to be matched to the flight paths of individual flights after the fact. It’s a great example of smart radio sleuthing using SDR and how to process such data. If you’re thirsty for more, check out this project to receive Russian weather sat images with an SDR.

[Thanks to Adrian for the tip!]

Long PCB Shows Effects Of Ludicrous Speed

Transmission lines can seem like magic. When you make use of them it seems strange that a piece of wire can block or pass certain frequencies. It is less common to use transmission lines with pulses and typically your circuit’s transmission line behavior isn’t all that significant. That is, until you have to move a signal a relatively long distance. [Robert Baruch] has been using a long PCB to test pulse behavior on a bus he’s working on. He actually has a few videos in this series that are worth watching.

What makes it interesting is that [Robert] has enough distance on the board to where light-speed effects show up. By using a very nice DPO7104 oscilloscope and a signal generator, he shows how the signal reflects on the line at various points, adding and subtracting from it. The measurements matched theory fairly closely. You shouldn’t expect them to match exactly because of small effects that occur randomly throughout the system.

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The Internet Of Non-Electronic Things

The bill of materials for even the simplest IoT project is likely to include some kind of microcontroller with some kind of wireless module. But could the BOM for a useful IoT thing someday list only a single item? Quite possibly, if these electronics-less 3D-printed IoT devices are any indication.

While you may think that the silicon-free devices described in a paper (PDF link) by University of Washington students [Vikram Iyer] and [Justin Chan] stand no chance of getting online, they’ve actually built an array of useful IoT things, including an Amazon Dash-like button. The key to their system is backscatter, which modulates incident RF waves to encode data for a receiver. Some of the backscatter systems we’ve featured include a soil sensor network using commercial FM broadcasts and hybrid printable sensors using LoRa as the carrier. But both of these require at least some electronics, and consequently some kind of power. [Chan] and [Iyer] used conductive filament to print antennas that can be mechanically switched by rotating gears. Data can be encoded by the speed of the alternating reflection and absorption of the incident WiFi signals, or cams can encode data for buttons and similar widgets.

It’s a surprisingly simple system, and although the devices shown might need some mechanical tune-ups, the proof of concept has a lot of potential. Flowmeters, level sensors, alarm systems — what kind of sensors would you print? Sound off below.

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