It’s Numbers All The Way Down With This Tape Measure Number Station Antenna

For all their talk of cooperation and shared interests, the nations of the world put an awful lot of effort into spying on each other. All this espionage is an open secret, of course, but some of their activities are so mysterious that no one will confirm or deny that they’re doing it. We’re talking about numbers stations, the super secret shortwave radio stations that broadcast seemingly random strings of numbers for the purpose of… well, your guess is as good as ours.

If you want to try to figure out what’s going on for yourself, all you need is a pair of tape measures and a software defined radio (SDR), as [Tom Farnell] demonstrates. Tape measure antennas have a long and proud history in amateur radio and shortwave listening, being a long strip of conductive material rolled up in a convenient package. In this case, [Tom] wanted to receive some well-known numbers stations in the 20- to 30-meter band, and decided that a single 15-meter conductor would do the job. Unlike other tape measure antennas we’ve seen, [Tom] just harvested the blades from two 7.5-meter tape measures, connected them end-to-end, and threw the whole thing out the window in sort of a “sloper” configuration. The other end is connected to an RTL-SDR dongle and a smartphone running what appears to be SDRTouch, which lets him tune directly into the numbers stations.

Copying the transmissions is pretty simple, since they transmit either in voice or Morse; the latter can be automatically decoded on a laptop with suitable software. As for what the long strings of numbers mean, that’ll remain a mystery. If they mean anything at all; we like to think this whole thing is an elaborate plan to get other countries to waste time and resources intercepting truly random numbers that encode nothing meaningful. It would serve them right.

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A Quick And Easy Tape Measure Turnstile Antenna For MILSAT Snooping

The number of satellites whizzing by over our heads at any moment is staggering, and growing at a rapid rate as new constellations are launched. But sometimes it’s the old birds that are the most interesting, as is the case with some obsolete but still functional military communications satellites, which thanks to a lack of forethought are largely unsecured and easily exploitable. And all that’s needed to snoop in on them is a cheap ham radio and something like this simple and portable satcom antenna.

As proof of the global nature of the radio hobby, the design in the video below by Brit [Tech Minds] borrows heavily from previous work by Italian ham [Ivo Brugnera (I6IBE)], which itself was adapted to use 3D-printed parts in a German blog post a few years ago. The common thread is the use of tape measures for the elements of the aptly named turnstile antenna, a tried and true material for lightweight, foldable antennas that amateur radio enthusiasts have been using for years. The antenna is similar in design to the classic three-element Yagi-Uda, with a crossed pair of driven elements in the middle of a boom that also supports a reflector and a director. Strips of tape measure material are held to the 20-mm aluminum tubing boom with 3D-printed brackets. A phasing harness of precisely cut coax cable connects to the driven elements and runs down the boom; the quarter-wavelength loop serves to introduce the 90° phase shift needed for the circularly polarized signal from the satellites.

A quick scan with a vector antenna analyzer showed just how well this antenna performs on the 220-MHz band, and the antenna was easily able to pick up the Brazilian satellite pirate’s chatter. The tape measure elements make the antenna easy to handle and foldable, not to mention pretty cheap to build. And what’s not to love about that?

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A Hacky Automatic Camera Slider Using No Motors

Camera sliders are a great way to get smooth, continuous panning shots. You can buy off the shelf or build yourself a motorized model pretty easily these days. However, [Shivam Dehinwal] came up with a hack that’s even simpler again.

The design uses a 3D-printed base which mounts the camera on top. Four wheels are installed underneath to allow the base to roll on smooth surfaces.

Inside the base, there’s a slot to install a Komelon Touch Lock measuring tape, with the tape’s auto-retract mechanism used to create the sliding function. Pressing the center disc on the measuring tape brakes the tape retract mechanism. The harder you press, the more it slows down.

In the slider, this is achieved with a screw-in puck that contacts the tape measure’s brake. Tighten the puck down, and the tape measure retracts very slowly, moving the slider at a crawl. Leave the puck loose, and the tape measure retracts more quickly for faster panning shots.

It’s a neat way to build a camera slider, of which we’ve seen many before in the past. It never needs batteries and adjustment is as easy as turning a screw. Sometimes the simple ways have their charms. Video after the break.

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Just How Good Is A Tape Measure Antenna Anyway?

Amateur radio operators have played a longstanding game of “Will It Antenna?” If there’s something even marginally conductive and remotely resonant, a ham has probably tried to make an antenna out of it. Some of these expedient antennas actually turn out to be surprisingly effective, but as we can see from this in-depth analysis of the characteristics of tape measure antennas, a lot of that is probably down to luck.

At first glance, tape measure antennas seem to have a lot going for them (just for clarification, most tape measure antennas use only the spring steel blade of a tape measure, not the case or retraction mechanism — although we have seen that done.) Tape measures can be rolled up or folded down for storage, and they’ll spring back out when released to form a stiff, mostly self-supporting structure.

But [fvfilippetti] suspected that tape measures might have some electrical drawbacks, thanks to the skin effect. That’s the tendency for current to flow on the outside of a conductor, which at lower frequencies on conductors with a round cross-section turns out to be not a huge problem. But in a thin, rectangular conductor, a little finite element method magnetics (FEMM) analysis revealed that most of the current is carried in very small areas, resulting in high electrical resistance — an order of magnitude greater than a round conductor. Add in the high permittivity of the carbon steel material of the blade, and you end up something more like what [fvfilippetti] calls “a tape measure dummy load.

One possible solution: stripping the paint off the blade and copper plating it. It’s not clear if this was tried; we’d think it would be difficult to accomplish, but not impossible — and surely worth a try.

Wind-Up Tape Measure Transformed Into Portable Ham Antenna

If there’s one thing that amateur radio operators are good at, it’s turning just about anything into an antenna. And hams have a long history of portable operations, too, where they drag a (sometimes) minimalist setup of gear into the woods and set up shop to bag some contacts. Getting the two together, as with this field-portable antenna made from a tape measure, is a double win in any ham’s book.

For [Paul (OM0ET)], this build seems motivated mainly by the portability aspect, and less by the “will it antenna?” challenge. In keeping with that, he chose a 50-meter steel tape measure as the basis of the build. This isn’t one of those retractable tape measures, mind you — just a long strip of flexible metal on a wind-up spool in a plastic case. His idea was to use the tape as the radiator for an end-fed halfwave, or EFHW, antenna, a multiband design that’s a popular option for hams operating from the 80-m band down to the 10-m band. EFHW antennas require an impedance-matching transformer, a miniature version of which [Paul] built and tucked within the tape measure case, along with a BNC connector to connect to the radio and a flying lead to connect to the tape.

Since a half-wave antenna is half the length of the target wavelength, [Paul] cut off the last ten meters of the tape to save a little weight. He also scratched off the coating on the tape at about the 40-meter mark, to make good contact with the alligator clip on the flying lead. The first video below details the build, while the second video shows the antenna under test in the field, where it met all of the initial criteria of portability and ease of deployment.

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Watch The Day Inch Along With A Tape Measure Clock

If we asked you to rattle off all the tools at your own personal disposal, you’d probably leave your timepieces off the list. But we say clocks are definitely tools — cool tools that come in countless forms and give meaning to endless days.

A clock form we hadn’t considered was that of an actual tool. So we were immeasurably delighted to see [scealux]’s clock made from a measuring tape. At least, the time-telling part of the clock is made from a measuring tape. The case isn’t really from a tape measure — it’s entirely printed, Bondo’d, sanded, and painted so well that it’s quite easy to mistake it for the real thing.

Tightly packed inside this piece of functional art is an Arduino Nano and a DS3231 precision RTC module, which we think is fitting for a tool-based clock. The Nano fetches the time and drives a stepper motor that just barely fits inside. There’s just enough tape wound around the printed hub to measure out the time in increments of one hour per inch. Take 1/16″ or so and watch the demo and brief walk-through video after the break.

Not all tools are sharp, and not all clocks are meant to be precise. Here’s a clock for the times that gives you the gist.

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Building An Artisanal Tape Measure

Some tools are so common, so basic, that we take them for granted. A perfect example is the lowly tape measure. We’ve probably all got a few of these kicking around the lab, and they aren’t exactly the kind of thing you give a lot of thought to when you’re using them. But while most of us might not give our tape measure a second thought, [Ariel Yahni] decided to create an absolutely gorgeous new enclosure for his. Because if you’re going to measure something, why not look good doing it?

A CNC router is used to carve the body of the new tape measure out of a solid block of wood and cut a top plate out of clear acrylic. [Ariel] then used an angle grinder to cut off a small section of steel rod which he secured into a carved pocket in the base using epoxy. Finally, the internals of a commercial tape measure were inserted into this new enclosure, and the acrylic top was screwed down into place.

[Ariel] has made the DXF files for this project public for anyone else who wants to carve out their own heirloom tape measure, though it seems likely the designs will need some tweaking depending on the make and model of donor tape measure. While this might not be the most technically impressive project to run on Hackaday, it’s still a fantastic example of the sort of bespoke designs that are made possible with modern manufacturing methods.

This design reminds us of a similar project to turn a basic Honda key fob into a true conversation piece with the addition of some CNC’d hardwood and aluminum.

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