DIY Hydrophone Listens In On The Deep For Cheap

The microphone is a pretty ubiquitous piece of technology that we’re all familiar with, but what if you’re not looking to record audio in the air, and instead want to listen in on what’s happening underwater? That’s a job for a hydrophone! Unfortunately, hydrophones aren’t exactly the kind of thing you’re likely to find at the big-box electronics store. Luckily for us, [Jules Ryckebusch] picked up a few tricks in his 20-year career as a Navy submariner, and has documented his process for building a sensitive hydrophone without needing a military budget.

Fascinated by all the incredible sounds he used to hear hanging around the Sonar Shack, [Jules] pored over documents related to hydrophone design from the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) until he distilled it all down to a surprisingly straightforward build. The key to the whole build is a commercially available cylindrical piezoelectric transducer designed for underwater communication that, incredibly, costs less than $20 USD a pop.

The transducer is connected to an op-amp board of his own design, which has been adapted from his previous work with condenser microphones. [Jules] designed the 29 x 26 mm board to fit neatly within the diameter of the transducer itself. The entire mic and preamp assembly can be cast inside a cylinder of resin. Specifically, he’s found an affordable two-part resin from Smooth-On that has nearly the same specific gravity as seawater. This allows him to encapsulate all the electronics in a way that’s both impervious to water and almost acoustically transparent. A couple of 3D-printed molds later, the hydrophone was ready to cast.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first homebrew hydrophone we’ve seen. But compared to that earlier entry, which basically just waterproofed a standard microphone pickup, we think this more thoughtful approach is likely to have far better performance.

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A vintage supercomputer with unique dual screen display

VCF East 2021: The Early Evolution Of Personal Computer Graphics

The evolution of computer graphics is something that has been well documented over the years, and it’s a topic that we always enjoy revisiting with our retrocomputing readers. To wit, [Stephen A. Edwards] has put together an impressively detailed presentation that looks back at the computer graphics technology of the 1960s and 70s.

The video, which was presented during VCF East 2021, goes to great lengths in demystifying some of the core concepts of early computer graphics. There’s a lot to unpack here, but naturally, this retrospective first introduces the cathode-ray tube (CRT) display as the ubiquitous technology that supported computer graphics during this time period and beyond. Building from this, the presentation goes on to demonstrate the graphics capabilities of DEC’s PDP-1 minicomputer, and how its striking and surprisingly capable CRT display was the perfect choice for playing Spacewar!

As is made clear in the presentation, the 1960s featured some truly bizarre concepts in regards to cutting edge computer graphics, such as Control Data Corporation’s 6600 mainframe and accompanying vector-based dual-CRT video terminal, which wouldn’t look out of place on the Death Star. Equally strange at the time was IBM’s 2260 video data terminal, which used a ‘sonic delay line’ as a type of rudimentary video memory, using nothing but coiled wire, transducers and sound itself to store character information following a screen refresh.

These types of hacks were later replaced by solid state counterparts during the microcomputer era. The video concludes with a look back at the ‘1977 trinity’ of microcomputers, namely the Apple II, Commodore PET and TRS-80. Each of these microcomputers handled graphics in a slightly different way, and it’s in stark contrast to today’s largely homogenised computer graphics landscape.

There’s a lot more to this great retrospective, so make sure to check out the video below. When you’re finished watching, make sure to check out our other coverage of VCF 2021, including some great examples of computer preservation and TTL-based retrocomputing.

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Surfsonar shows the depth of water while surfing

Surf Sensor Adds Depth To Finding The Ultimate Wave

To say that the ocean is a dynamic environment would be a gross understatement, especially when coastlines are involved. Waves crash, tides go in and out, and countless variables make even the usual conditions a guessing game. When [foobarbecue] goes surfing, he tries to take into account all of these things. The best waves at his local beach are directly over an ever-moving sand bar, and their dynamics are affected by depth, another constant variable. [foobarbecue]’s brilliant solution to understanding current conditions? Build a depth finder directly into his surf board!

At the heart of the “surfsonar” is the Ping Sonar Echosounder, a sonar transducer designed for AUV’s and ROV’s. [foobarbecue] embedded the transducer directly into the board. Data is fed to a Raspberry Pi 4b, which displays depth and confidence (a percentage of how sure it is of the measurement) on a 2.13 inch e-Paper Display Hat.

Power is provided by a PiSugar. Charging is done wirelessly, which we’d say is pretty important considering that the whole device is sealed inside a modified surfboard.

While it’s not a low budget build, and there’s yet room for improvement, early reports are positive. Once away from the breaking waves, the device confidently shows the depth. More testing will show if the surfsonar will help [foobarbecue] find that ever-moving sandbar!

Surf hacks are always welcome, we’ve featured the LED Strip Lit Surfboard as well as the Surf Window, which tells its owner if the surf is up. Be sure to let us know about any cool hacks you find when you’re out surfing the ‘net via our Tips Line!

NE-2 neon lamp illuminated side-by-side with non-illuminated

The Humble NE-2 Neon Lamp Has A New Trick

Ah, the humble neon lamp. The familiar warm orange glow has graced the decks of many a DIY timepiece, sometimes in a purely indicating duty, and sometimes forming a memory element in place of a more conventional semiconductor device. Capable of many other tricks such as the ability to protect RF circuits from HV transients, its negative resistance operating region after it illuminates gives us usable hysteresis which can used to form a switching element and the way the pair of electrodes are arranged give it the ability to indicate whether a voltage source is AC or DC. Now, due to some recent research by [Johan Carlsson] and the team at Princeton University, the humble NE-2 tube has a new trick up its sleeve: acoustic transduction.

The idea is not new at all, with some previous attempts at using electric discharge in a gas to detect audio, going back to the early part of last century, but those attempts either used atmospheric pressure air or other non-sealed devices that exhibited quite a lot of electrical noise as well as producing noxious gases. Not ideal.

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Ultrasonic spirit writing

Ultrasonic Array Powers This Halloween Spirit Writer

The spooky season is upon us, and with it the race to come up with the geekiest way to scare the kids. Motion-activated jump-scare setups are always a crowd-pleaser, but kind of a cheap thrill in our opinion. So if you’re looking for something different for your Halloween scare-floor, you might consider “spirit writing” with ultrasound.

The idea that [Dan Beaven] has here is a variation on the ultrasonic levitation projects we’ve seen so many of over the last couple of years. While watching bits of styrofoam suspended in midair by the standing waves generated by carefully phased arrays of ultrasonic transducers is cool, [Dan] looks set to take the concept to the next level. Very much still a prototype, the setup has a 256-transducer matrix suspended above a dark surface. Baking powder is sprinkled over the writing surface to stand in for dust, which is easily disturbed by the sound waves reflecting off the hard surface. The array can be controlled to make it look like an unseen hand is tracing out a design in the dust, and the effect is pretty convincing. We’d have chosen “REDRUM” rather than a pentagram, but different strokes.

[Dan] obviously has a long way to go before this is ready for the big night, but the proof-of-concept is sound. While we wait for the finished product, we’ll just file this away as a technique that might have other applications. SMD components are pretty small and light, after all — perhaps an ultrasonic pick-and-place? In which case, sonic tweezers might be just the thing.

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Wooden You Love To Build A Ribbon Microphone?

Carbohydrate foams derived from dead trees are not the first material that springs to mind when considering building audio equipment. But really, there’s no reason not to explore new materials for jobs normally reserved for metal or plastic, and when pulled off right, as with this wooden ribbon microphone, the results can both look and sound great.

To be fair, there are plenty of non-wood components in [Frank Olson]’s replica of a classic RCA model 44 microphone. After all, it’s hard to get wood to exhibit the electromagnetic properties needed to turn acoustic energy into electric currents. But that doesn’t mean that wood, specifically walnut veneer, isn’t front and center in this design. [Frank] worked with thin sheets of veneer; cut into shape with a commercial vinyl cutter and stacked up with alternating grains, the wood was glued up with copious cyanoacrylate adhesive to form a plywood of sorts. The dogbone-shaped body was fitted with two neodymium magnets, leaving a gap just wide enough for the microphone’s ribbon diaphragm. That was made from a thin piece of aluminum foil that was corrugated using a DIY crimp roller. Suspended between the magnets and connected to leads, the mic element was adorned with a wood and fabric windscreen and suspended from elastic bands in a temporary frame for testing. The narration on the video below was recorded with the mic, which sounds quite nice to our ears.

We’ve seen ribbon microphones before, as well as wooden microphones, but this is the first time we’ve seen a wooden ribbon microphone. It looks as though [Frank] has more work he wants to do to finish it off properly, and we eagerly await the finished product.

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Cool Off With A Piezo And A Glass Of Water

Some cool-mist humidifiers work by flinging water at a vaporizer, but our favorite kind uses a piezoelectric transducer. These work by using high-frequency sound waves to pound the surface of the water with mechanical energy. That energy introduces standing waves that force the water to break apart into a fine mist on the surface of the piezo disk.

The driving circuit for this DIY mist maker uses a 555 to generate 113 KHz, a trimmer potentiometer to fine-tune it, and a MOSFET to amplify the signal. You don’t need much more than that and a handful of passives to recreate this cool junk box experiment, but the spec of the piezo disk is quite important. The circuit is designed for atomizing transducers, which have a resonant frequency of 113 KHz — much higher than your average junk box piezo. Check out the demo and build video after the break.

Atomizing transducers can do way more than than moisten the air for our comfort. They’re not picky about where the water comes from, so if you have enough of them, you can dry a load of laundry in a few minutes.

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