Solving Grounding Issues On Switch Audio

Grounding of electrical systems is an often forgotten yet important design consideration. Issues with proper grounding can be complicated, confusing, and downright frustrating to solve. So much so that engineers can spend their entire careers specializing in grounding and bonding. [Bsilvereagle] was running into just this sort of frustrating problem while attempting to send audio from a Nintendo Switch into a PC, and documented some of the ways he attempted to fix a common problem known as a ground loop.

Ground loops occur when there are multiple paths to ground, especially in wires carrying signals. The low impedance path creates oscillations and ringing which is especially problematic for audio. When sending the Switch audio into a computer a loop like this formed. [Bsilvereagle] set about solving the issue using an isolating transformer. It took a few revisions, but eventually they settled on a circuit which improved sound quality tremendously. With that out of the way, the task of mixing the Switch audio with sources from other devices could finally proceed unimpeded.

As an investigation into a nuisance problem, this project goes into quite a bit of depth about ground loops and carrying signals over various transforming devices. It’s a great read if you’ve ever been stumped by a mysterious noise in a project. If you’ve never heard of a ground loop before, take a look at this guide to we featured a few years ago.

Messaging On Signal Via The ESP32

Signal is a popular encrypted messaging app, typically used on smartphones. The cross-platform service can now be used via the ESP32, however, thanks to the work of [Dharmik] and [Tirth].

The demonstration is simple, using an ESP32 microcontroller fitted with two push buttons. When one button is pushed, it increments a counter and sends a Signal message noting the current count. The other button sends an image as a Signal message.

The project relies on a Signal bot to deliver an API key that enables the project to work. Messages are sent by making HTTP requests with this key to the CallMeBot.com server. With the API key as authentication, users can only send messages to their own number, keeping the system safe from spammers.

While the demonstration is basic, it merely serves to illustrate how the project works. The aim was to allow home automation and other Internet of Things systems to send Signal messages, and through this method, it’s now possible. The highly security conscious likely won’t want to rely on a random third party server, but for those tinkering around, it may not be such a big deal.

The Internet of Things has a long history with self-messaging projects; we featured the Twittering Toaster back in 2008! Video after the break.

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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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LoRa Mesh Network With Off-the-Shelf Hardware

An ideal application for mesh networking is off-grid communication; when there’s no cellular reception and WiFi won’t reach, wide-area technologies like LoRa can be used to create ad hoc wireless networks. Whether you’re enjoying the outdoors with friends or conducting a rescue operation, a cheap and small gadget that will allow you to create such a network and communicate over it would be a very welcome addition to your pack.

That’s exactly the goal of the Meshtastic project, which aims to take off-the-shelf ESP32 LoRa development boards and turn them into affordable mesh network communicators. All you need to do is buy one of the supported boards, install the firmware, and starting meshing. An Android application that will allow you to use the mesh network to send basic text messages is now available as an alpha release, and eventually you’ll be able to run Signal over the LoRa link.

Navigating to another node in the network.

Developer [Kevin Hester] tells us that these are still the very early days, and there’s plenty of work yet to be done. In fact, he’s actively looking to bring a few like-minded individuals onto the project. So if you have experience with the ESP32 or mobile application development, and conducting private communications over long-range wireless networks sounds like your kind of party, this might be your lucky day.

From a user’s perspective, this project is extremely approachable. You don’t need to put any custom hardware together, outside of perhaps 3D printing a case for your particular board. The first time around you’ll need to flash the firmware with esptool.py, but after that, [Kevin] says future updates can be handled by the smartphone application.

Incidentally, the primary difference between the two boards is that the larger and more expensive one includes GPS. The mesh networking side of things will work with either board, but if everyone in your group has the GPS-equipped version, each user will be able to see the position of everyone else in the network.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen LoRa used to establish off-grid communications, and it surely won’t be the last. The technology is perfect for getting devices talking where there isn’t any existing infrastructure, and we’re excited to see more examples of how it can be used in this capacity.

Linux Fu: It’s A Trap!

It is easy to think that a Linux shell like Bash is just a way to enter commands at a terminal. But, in fact, it is also a powerful programming language as we’ve seen from projects ranging from web servers to simple utilities to make dangerous commands safer. Like most programming languages, though, there are multiple layers of complexity. You can spend a little time and get by or you can invest more time and learn about the language and, hopefully, write more robust programs.

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Low Tech High Safety And The NYC Subway System

The year is 1894. You are designing a train system for a large city. Your boss informs you that the mayor’s office wants assurances that trains can’t have wrecks. The system will start small, but it is going to get big and complex over time with tracks crossing and switching. Remember, it is 1894, so computing and wireless tech are barely science fiction at this point. The answer — at least for the New York City subway system — is a clever system of signals and interlocks that make great use of the technology of the day. Bernard S. Greenberg does a great job of describing the system in great detail.

The subway began operation in 1904, well over 30 years since the above-ground trains began running. A clever system of signals and the tracks themselves worked together with some mechanical devices to make the subway very safe. Even if you tried to run two trains together, the safety systems would prevent it.

On the face of it, the system is very simple. There are lights that show red, yellow, and green. If you drive, you know what these mean. But what’s really interesting is the scheme used at the time to make them light.

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Cut Through The Noise, See Tiny Signals

An oscilloscope is a handy tool for measuring signals of all kinds, but it’s especially useful if you want to measure something with a periodic component. Modern oscilloscopes have all kinds of features built-in that allow you sample a wide range of signals in the hundreds of megahertz, and make finding and measuring your signal pretty easy, provided you know which buttons to push. There are some advanced oscilloscope methods that go beyond the built-in features of even the best oscilloscopes, and [AM] has a tutorial on one of them.

The method used here is called phase-senstitive detection, and allows tiny signals to be found within noise, even if the magnitude of the noise is hundreds of times greater than the signal itself. Normally this wouldn’t be possible, but by shifting the signal out of the DC range and giving it some frequency content, and then using a second channel on the oscilloscope to measure the frequency content of the source and triggering the oscilloscope on the second channel, the phase of the measured signal can be sifted out of the noise and shown clearly on the screen.

In [AM]’s example, he is measuring the intensity of a laser using a photodiode with a crude amplifier, but even with the amplifier it’s hard to see the signal in the noise. By adding a PWM-like signal to the power source of the laser and then syncing it up with the incoming signal from the photodiode, he can tease out the information he needs. It’s eally a fascinating concept, and if you fancy yourself a whiz with an oscilloscope this is really a tool you should have in your back pocket. ┬áIf you’re new to this equipment, we do have a primer on some oscilloscope basics, too.

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