SDR Scanner Listens To Everything

In the old days, scanners would listen to a bunch of channels in a round-robin fashion. If a signal breaks the squelch, the scanner stops and scanning continues scanning after a few seconds of inactivity. But with modern SDRs, you don’t have to listen to one channel at a time. You can listen to all of them. [Tech Minds] shows RTL-SDR Scanner on Linux to record up to 20 MHz of the band simultaneously. It records all the channels in the band of interest. The actual project is on GitHub.

Once recorded, you can use a web interface to listen to the channels and see some statistics about them. [Tech Minds] tried recording aircraft traffic. It worked, but the program doesn’t know how to demodulate AM yet so if you want to record the entire shortwave band, aircraft, or other AM sources, you’ll have to wait a bit before this software is ready for your use case.

If you need to run the program under Windows like [Tech Minds] did, you can use VMWare Workstation Player to get a free copy of Linux on Windows. We wondered if WSL version two might work, too, but we don’t know. Once you have Linux running, Docker makes the installation straightforward.  Since the interface is a web interface, you could probably run this on a small computer on the network and then access it at your leisure from another computer.

Of course, old-fashioned scanners were often used to listen to police and fire radios. Those have all gone trunked these days. This isn’t a new idea, but it did seem like a well-packaged solution.

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Retro Gadgets: Tired Of The Beatles On 8 Track? Try The Police

In the 1970s, 8-track audio players were very popular, especially in cars. For a couple of bucks, you could have the latest album, and you didn’t have to flip the tape in the middle of a drive like you did with a cassette. We’ve seen plenty of 8-tracks and most of us a certain age have even owned a few players. But we couldn’t find anyone who would admit to owning the Bearcat 8 Track Scanner, as seen in the 1979 Popular Electronics ad below.

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Citizen-Driven Network Monitors Public Service Radio For Natural Disaster Alerts

Time is of the essence in almost every emergency situation, especially when it comes to wildfires. A wind-driven fire can roar across a fuel-rich landscape like a freight train, except one that can turn on a dime or jump a mile-wide gap in a matter of seconds. Usually, the only realistic defense against fires like these is to get the hell out of their way as soon as possible and make room for the professionals to do what they can to stop the flames.

Unfortunately, most people living in areas under threat of wildfires and other natural disasters are often operating in an information vacuum. Official channels take time to distribute evacuation orders, and when seconds count, such delays can cost lives. That’s the hole that Watch Duty seeks to fill.

Watch Duty is a non-profit wildfire alerting, mapping, and tracking service that provides near-real-time information to those living in wildfire country. Their intelligence is generated by a network of experienced fire reporters, who live in wildfire-prone areas and monitor public service radio transmissions and other sources to get a picture of what’s going on in their specific area. When the data indicate an incident is occurring, maps are updated and alerts go out via a smartphone app. Reporters have to abide by a strict code of conduct designed to ensure the privacy of citizens and the safety of first responders.

While Watch Duty’s network covers a substantial area of California — the only state covered so far — there were still a significant number of dead zones, mostly in the more remote areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and in the northern coastal regions. To fill these gaps, Watch Duty recently launched Watch Duty Echo, which consists of a network of remote listening posts.

Each station is packed with RTL-SDR receivers that cover a huge swath of spectrum used by the local fire, law enforcement, EMS agencies — any organization likely to be called to respond to an incident. In addition, each station has an SDR dedicated to monitoring ADS-B transponders and air band frequencies, to get a heads-up on incidents requiring aerial support. The listening posts have wideband discone antennas and a dedicated 1090-MHz ADS-B antenna, with either a cellular modem or a Starlink terminal to tie into the Watch Duty network.

Hats off to the folks at Watch Duty for putting considerable effort into a system like this and operating it for the public benefit. Those who choose to live close to nature do so at their own risk, of course, but a citizen-driven network that leverages technology can make that risk just a little more manageable.

The Coolest 1990s Film Scanner To Work With Windows 11

Unless you happen to be a retro enthusiast, it’s fair to say that any photography you do (whether on your phone or a dedicated camera) is going to be digital. The world of photography has all but completely moved away from film, but the transition was not instantaneous. Instead there was a period of about ten years from the mid-90s when film and digital existed side-by-side in some form. A profitable sideline for photography shops was providing scans of film, and there were a series of high-end scanners aimed at that market.

[Kai Kaufman] shares the experience of making one of these work with a modern Windows version, and it’s interesting both because of the scanner itself and the epic tale of software detective work required to bring it up to date. The scanner in question is a Pakon F135, the product of a Kodak acquisition, and an all-in-one device that simply spools in a roll of film and does all the hard work of identifying the frames, cropping the images, and reading any other data from the film.

You may never have seen one of these machines, but if you ever had your photos on a CD as well as printed back in the day you’ve probably had its output. The problem in 2022 is that these machines have drivers which only work with relatively ancient 32-bit Windows versions, so most of the write-up involves some significant detective work into the drivers.

Not every reader will be an expert on Windows driver de-compilation, but perhaps the most interesting pieces of the puzzle come from his detective work in finding the origin of some components. Example code from Microsoft and from a chip design company both make the job much easier, and the final result is a fully functioning 64-bit driver for the device. Not many people will have a Pakon film scanner, but for those who do it seems life may just have become a bit easier.

Thanks [adilosa] for the tip!

Scanning Receipts Proves Trickier Than Anticipated

It’s one of those things that certainly sounds simple enough: take a picture of a receipt, run it through optical character recognition (OCR), and send the resulting information to whatever expense-tracking website or software you wish. There are companies that offer such a service, so it can’t be too difficult to replicate on your own…right?

That’s what [Marcel Robitaille] thought when he set out to create his homebrew “Receipt Ingestion” system, anyway. But in reality it took so much time to troubleshoot and implement that he says it would have been faster to just enter in all his receipts by hand. We’re happy he stuck with it though, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading about it on Hackaday, and we wouldn’t be able to learn anything from the detailed account he’s provided.

It only took an evening to hack together a rough demo, and the initial results were very promising. The code could detect the edges of the receipt, rotate the captured image appropriately, and then pull out the critical information such as date, total amount, business name, etc. He was then able to decipher the API for Splitwise, an online service for splitting bills, by capturing the data sent by his browser while adding a new bill. With this information, writing up some Python code to push his captured data into the service was trivial. So far, so good.

Using a QR code as reference point.

But like so many horror films that begin with a happy family starting a new life in a beautiful home, there was a monster lurking in the shadows. It’s one thing to capture data from perfectly clean and flat receipts, but quite another to get any useful info out of one that spent half the day crumpled up in your back pocket. The promising proof of concept that worked a treat under controlled conditions failed completely in the real-world, with [Marcel] reporting that only 1 in 5 receipts he tried to scan actually went through.

In the end, [Marcel] realized that the best way to handle the unreliable condition of the receipts was to focus on a different object in the image. He came up with a QR code marker that he could put on the table with the receipt to be scanned, which his software can use as a known point of reference. This greatly improves the reliability of the image rotation and transformation, which in turn makes the OCR more reliable. It also makes it much easier to tell which images need to be scanned — if there’s no QR code found, the software just skips that shot and keeps looking.

The unique challenges of digitizing large amounts of printed content using OCR makes for some fascinating problem solving, and we’re glad [Marcel] shared this particular story with us. While there’s still some edge cases that need chasing down, he’s using the software on a nearly daily basis, and has posted it up on GitHub for anyone who might wish to build on his efforts.

wifi scanner

Visualizing WiFi With A Converted 3D Printer

We all know we live in a soup of electromagnetic radiation, everything from AM radio broadcasts to cosmic rays. Some of it is useful, some is a nuisance, but all of it is invisible. We know it’s there, but we have no idea what the fields look like. Unless you put something like this 3D WiFi field strength visualizer to work, of course.

Granted, based as it is on the gantry of an old 3D printer, [Neumi]’s WiFi scanner has a somewhat limited work envelope. A NodeMCU ESP32 module rides where the printer’s extruder normally resides, and scans through a series of points one centimeter apart. A received signal strength indicator (RSSI) reading is taken from the NodeMCU’s WiFi at each point, and the position and RSSI data for each point are saved to a CSV file. A couple of Python programs then digest the raw data to produce both 2D and 3D scans. The 3D scans are the most revealing — you can actually see a 12.5-cm spacing of signal strength, which corresponds to the wavelength of 2.4-GHz WiFi. The video below shows the data capture process and some of the visualizations.

While it’s still pretty cool at this scale, we’d love to see this scaled up. [Neumi] has already done a large-scale 3D visualization project, using ultrasound rather than radio waves, so he’s had some experience in this area. But perhaps a cable bot or something similar would work for a room-sized experiment. A nice touch would be using an SDR dongle to collect signal strength data, too — it would allow you to look at different parts of the spectrum.

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Scanning Medium Format Film On A 35mm Scanner

Scanning film is great for archival purposes as well as sharing said photos digitally. However, if you’re scanning 120 film, aka medium format, it can be expensive to get the requisite hardware. 35mm scanners are comparatively more common, so [Christian Chapman] decided to modify one to suit medium film instead.

The hack is for the Plustek 8100, and requires modifying the scanner in two ways. Firstly, the driver has to be scanned to sweep a longer range to take into account the bigger film. Secondly, a part of the film carriage has to be replaced so it doesn’t show up in the scanners field of view.

The former is achieved by using the sane-genesys scanner software backend, which can be easily modified to adjust the scan length values appropriately. The latter is achieved via 3D printing replacement components that fit without blocking the requisite area.

It’s a tidy hack and one that allows [Christian] to both scan medium format film as well as overscan 35mm film to capture details from the sprocket hole area. We’ve seen fully custom film scanner builds before, too. If you’ve built your own scanner, be sure to drop us a line!