Fixing NRF24L01+ Modules Without Going (Too) Insane

Good old nRF24L01+ wireless modules are inexpensive and effective. Well, they are as long as they work correctly, anyway. The devices themselves are mature and well-understood, but that doesn’t mean bad batches from suppliers can’t cause hair-pulling problems straight from the factory.

[nekromant] recently got a whole batch of units that simply refused to perform as they should, but not because they were counterfeits. The problem was that the antenna and PCB design had been “optimized” by the supplier to the point where the devices simply couldn’t work properly. Fortunately, [nekromant] leveraged an understanding of the problem into a way to fix them without going insane in the process. The test setup is shown in the image above, and the process is explained below. Continue reading “Fixing NRF24L01+ Modules Without Going (Too) Insane”

Hackaday Links: November 8, 2020

Saturday, November 7, 2020 – NOT PASADENA. Remoticon, the virtual version of the annual Hackaday Superconference forced upon us by 2020, the year that keeps on giving, is in full swing. As I write this, Kipp Bradford is giving one of the two keynote addresses, and last night was the Bring a Hack virtual session, which I was unable to attend but seems to have been very popular, at least from the response to it. In about an hour, I’m going to participate in the SMD Soldering Challenge on the Hackaday writing crew team, and later on, I’ll be emceeing a couple of workshops. And I’ll be doing all of it while sitting in my workshop/office here in North Idaho.

Would I rather be in Pasadena? Yeah, probably — last year, Supercon was a great experience, and it would have been fun to get together again and see everyone. But here we are, and I think we’ve all got to tip our hacker hats to the Remoticon organizers, for figuring out how to translate the in-person conference experience to the virtual space as well as they have.

The impact of going to a museum and standing in the presence of a piece of art or a historic artifact is hard to overstate. I once went to an exhibit of artifacts from Pompeii, and was absolutely floored to gaze upon a 2,000-year-old loaf of bread that was preserved by the volcanic eruption of 79 AD. But not everyone can get to see such treasures, which is why Scan the World was started. The project aims to collect 3D scans of all kinds of art and artifacts so that people can potentially print them for study. Their collection is huge and seems to concentrate on classic sculptures — Michelangelo’s David is there, as are the Venus de Milo, the Pieta, and Rodin’s Thinker. But there are examples from architecture, anatomy, and history. The collection seems worth browsing through and worth contributing to if you’re so inclined.

For all the turmoil COVID-19 has caused, it has opened up some interesting educational opportunities that probably wouldn’t ever have been available in the Before Time. One such opportunity is an undergraduate-level course in radio communications being offered on the SDRPlay YouTube channel. The content was created in partnership with the Sapienza University of Rome. It’s not entirely clear who this course is open to, but the course was originally designed for third-year undergrads, and the SDRPlay Educators Program is open to anyone in academia, so we’d imagine you’d need some kind of academic affiliation to qualify. The best bet might be to check out the intro video on the SDRPlay Educator channel and plan to attend the webinar scheduled for November 19 at 1300 UTC. You could also plan to drop into the Learning SDR and DSP Hack Chat on Wednesday at noon Pacific, too — that’s open to everyone, just like every Hack Chat is.

And finally, as if bald men didn’t suffer enough disrespect already, now artificial intelligence is having a go at them. At a recent soccer match in Scotland, an AI-powered automatic camera system consistently interpreted an official’s glabrous pate as the soccer ball. The system is supposed to keep the camera trained on the action by recognizing the ball as it’s being moved around the field. Sadly, the linesman in this game drew the attention of the system quite frequently, causing viewers to miss some of the real action. Not that what officials do during sporting events isn’t important, of course, but it’s generally not what viewers want to see. The company, an outfit called Pixellot, knows about the problem and is working on a solution. Here’s hoping the same problem doesn’t crop up on American football.

Modern Radio Receiver Architecture: From Regenerative To Direct Conversion

Modern radio receivers have a distinct advantage over the common early designs which I covered in my previous article. Most of the receivers you will have worked with over the past couple decades are designs by Edwin Armstrong; regenerative, superregenerative, or most commonly superheterodyne. These are distinguished by a few fascinating key traits that bring both benefits and drawbacks.

Today let’s dive into Mr. Armstrong’s receivers. I’ll also talk about DC receivers which, despite the name, are not made to listen to batteries. These are receivers you are much more likely to encounter in modern equipment.

Regenerative and Superregenerative

The regenerative receiver is all about doing more with less. You still see some of these in simple applications like RF remote controls. The idea derives from how an oscillator works. In a simple way of thinking, an oscillator is an amplifier with enough positive feedback that any tiny signal at the right frequency will amplify and then, through feedback, continue to output over and over. If everything were perfect, then, an oscillator would have infinite gain at a given frequency.

Continue reading “Modern Radio Receiver Architecture: From Regenerative To Direct Conversion”

Exposing Computer Monitor Side-Channel Vulnerabilities With TempestSDR

Having been endlessly regaled with tales of side-channel attacks and remote exploits, most of us by now realize that almost every piece of gear leaks data like a sieve. Everything from routers to TVs to the power supplies and cooling fans of computers can be made to give up their secrets. It’s scary stuff, but it also sounds like a heck of a lot of fun, and with an SDR and a little software, you too can get in on the side-channel action.

Coming to us via software-defined radio buff [Tech Minds], the video below gives a quick tour of how to snoop in on what’s being displayed on a monitor for almost no effort or expense. The software that makes it possible is TempestSDR, which was designed specifically for the job. With nothing but an AirSpy Mini and a rubber duck antenna, [Tech Minds] was able to reconstruct a readable black and white image of his screen at a range of a few inches; a better antenna and some fiddling might improve that range to several meters. He also shares a trick for getting TempestSDR set up for all the popular SDRs, including SPRplay, HackRF, and RTL-SDR.

Learning what’s possible with side-channel attacks is the key to avoiding them, so hats off to [Tech Minds] for putting together this simple, easy-to-replicate demo. To learn even more, listen to what [Samy Kamkar] has to say about the subject, or check out where power supplies, cryptocurrency wallets, and mixed-signal microcontrollers are all vulnerable.

Continue reading “Exposing Computer Monitor Side-Channel Vulnerabilities With TempestSDR”

How Early Radio Receivers Worked

If you’ve ever built a crystal radio, there’s something magical about being able to pull voices and music from far away out of thin air. If you haven’t built one, maybe you should while there’s still something on the AM band. Of course, nowadays the equivalent might be an SDR. But barring a computer solution, there are not many ways to convert radio waves into intelligence. From a pocket radio to advanced RADAR to a satellite in orbit, receiving a radio wave is accomplished in pretty much the same way.

There are, however, many ways to modulate and demodulate that radio wave. Of course, an AM radio works differently than an FM radio. A satellite data downlink works differently, too. But the process of capturing the radio wave from the air and getting them into a form ready for further processing hasn’t changed much over the years.

In this article, I’ll talk about the most common radio receiver architectures you may have seen in years past, and next week I’ll talk about modern architectures. Either way, understanding receiver architectures will help you design new radios or troubleshoot them.

Continue reading “How Early Radio Receivers Worked”

Learning About VNAs

We live in a good time to be an electronics geek. It used to be only the richest or shrewdest among us had a really good oscilloscope, while these days it is entirely feasible to have a scope that would have cost a fortune a few decades ago, a logic analyzer, arbitrary waveform generator, and what would have once been a supercomputer and still not be in debt. One of the cooler pieces of gear for people working on RF electronics is a vector network analyzer (VNA) which used to be exotic, but now can be bought for very little. But what do you do with it? [W2AEW] has the answer.

We always look forward to a video from [W2AEW]. Even if we know about the subject he covers, we usually pick up something new or interesting. Like all of his videos, this one is intensely practical. Not a lot of drawing but plenty of scope shots and experimenting.

Continue reading “Learning About VNAs”

Portable MRI Machine Comes To The Patient

To say that the process of installing a magnetic resonance imager in a hospital is a complex task is a serious understatement. Once the approval of regulators is obtained, a process that could take years, architects and engineers have to figure out where the massive machine can be installed. An MRI suite requires a sizable electrical service to be installed, reinforced floors to handle the massive weight of the magnet, and special shielding in the walls and ceiling. And once the millions have been spent and the whole thing is up and running, there are ongoing safety concerns when working around a gigantic magnet that can suck ferromagnetic objects into it at any time.

MRI studies can reveal details of diseases and injuries that no other imaging modality can match, which justifies the massive capital investments hospitals make to obtain them. But what if MRI scanners could be miniaturized? Is there something inherent in the technology that makes them so massive and so expensive that many institutions are priced out of the market? Or has technology advanced far enough that a truly portable MRI?

It turns out that yes, an inexpensive MRI scanner is not only possible, but can be made portable enough to wheel into a patient care room. It’s not without compromise, but such a device could make a huge impact on diagnostic medicine and extend MRI technologies into places far beyond the traditional hospital setting.

Continue reading “Portable MRI Machine Comes To The Patient”