Posts Tagged ‘Hacking’
Where to find the $20 Software Defined Radio?
A while back I wrote a blog post about the availability of $20 software defined VHF/UHF radios in the form of re-purposed USB digital television dongles.
Now-days, with the improvements in software and documentation, the hardest part is finding the right dongle. What you order from EBay, and what you receive, can be two different things and only some of the dongles are suitable for use as VHF/UHF software defined radios.
So, I was pleased to see that at least one hobbyist electronics supplier has sought out and supplies a suitable device for SDR at a fair price :
Adafruit has available the USB dongle and “antenna” suitable for experimentation for $22.50, not far from the EBay (direct from China) price.
Click here to go directly to the product page: Software Defined Radio Receiver USB Stick – RTL2832 w/R820T
No, I didn’t receive a free evaluation unit and I don’t work for Adafruit … I’m just glad to see these useful devices available from a local company with an increased chance of you “Getting what you paid for.”
Adafruit also helpfully stock the adapter cables to convert the less common MCX antenna connector into the much more common BNC connector: MCX Jack to BNC RF Cable Adapter
The $20 Software Defined Radio
Despite my interest in boat-anchors I do find myself peeking ‘over the wall’ from time to time and taking a look at new and emerging technologies. After several demonstrations from friends I had become convinced of the incredible potential of software defined radios and even found thinking about owning one … one day.
Software (Linux) : After poor results with the software running on MS Windows I moved across to Linux and got it working well there. I can’t point you to a single howto for this because I used several different guides and tried a few things before it started working. The most helpful, and probably all you really need, are the build-gnuradio script which gets hardware support and gnu-radio running and the “Getting Started With RTL-SDR” page by Tom Nardi which covers installing Gqrx. All the software used is in development and requires familiarity with the command line to install and use at the moment.
Update : Thanks to a link from Neil W2NDG to an EBay sale I’ve been able to track down a pre-assembled HF up-converter on this page : New HF Converter Kit for the SDR Fun Cube Dongle The price seems to be 45 euros, or about $55 US.
Something old, something new.
Something old …
As a young boy in Australia my two favorite hangouts were my grandfather’s shed or practically anywhere that electronics were sold. The two largest electronic component retailers in my home town were Tandy (Radio Shack) and Dick Smith Electronics. They both sold kits, tools, ‘100 in 1 Labs’ and other assorted gear but Dick Smith eventually became known as the experimenters store due to their greater range.
|Original Radio Shack calculator|
If you would like to make one of these yourself then Adafruit Industries has created a PDF document you can print and cut out for create your own resistor value calculator.
The PDF file is available from Adafruit Industries or a copy is also here. Once you print it out, a little cutting and folding should produce something like the example of the right. The Adafruit design uses brass paper fasteners (remember those?) but any fastener could be used that would allow the wheel inside to rotate freely. It would be best to print on heavy card stock if you have the ability as it will give the calculator some strength.
Something new …
If you happen to have one of those new fangled iDevices you can download Circuit Playground. It has a few more features than the old Radio Shack calculator and looks great on the iPad.
More features are being added but the list at the moment includes:
- Decipher resistor & capacitor codes with ease
- Calculate power, resistance, current, and voltage with the Ohm’s Law & Power Calc modules
- Quickly convert between decimal, hexadecimal, binary or even ASCII characters
- Calculate values for multiple resistors or capacitors in series & parallel configurations
- Store, search, and view PDF datasheets
- Access exclusive sneak peaks, deals & discounts at Adafruit Industries
You can download it from the iTunes Store or, if you have an Android, you can check out ElectroDroid for similar functionality.
As time goes on there are more and more useful utilities available for electronic experimenters on iOS and Android devices. Since more and more equipment today is becoming computerized do iOS and Android devices represent the future of test equipment?
|iMSO-104 iPad Oscilloscope|
Ham Radio and Mesh Networks
Lately I’ve been fascinated by the capabilities of mesh networks. The ability to quickly create ad-hock computer networks could be an invaluable resource for amateur radio operators in general and particularly for emergency communications (EMCOM)
The particular device and software I have been experimenting with is the Linksys WRT54G router and HSMM-MESH firmware from http://hsmm-mesh.org/.
Installing the HSMM-MESH firmware changes the way the Linksys router functions and allows it to automatically connect to other HSMM routers in a mesh network. No special configuration is required after setting your callsign. All TCP/IP configuration is pre-configured, even down to automatically assigning addresses to connecting clients.
Mesh networks are highly fault tolerant. Every router in the network is aware of every other router and has the ability to move network packets through from one unit to another provided there is a link, or chain of linked routers, between them.
In the diagram to the right each router is represented by a numbered circle. If router number 6 were to fail then network packets that needed to move between router 1 and 7 would travel through routers 2 & 3 or 5 & 10 until 6 was repaired. All this happens automatically and quickly enough so that there is no disruption to the traffic.
Anything you can access on a normal computer network can be made to work on a mesh network. Some of the services that have been demonstrated include email, voice over IP (VOIP), video conferencing, file sharing, web servers & groupware applications.
With simple modified antennas the modest output power from the WRT54G (100 to 200mW) can be used to reach distances of many miles or tens of miles with directional antennas. Mounting the router on a mast in a sealed enclosure can reduce losses from long cable runs while running off 12V power makes them compatible with ham radio power sources including solar and wind power.
The example to the left is from NG5V located on hsmm-mesh.org and consists of an omni-directional external antenna and a lawn sprinkler controller box from a popular home improvement store.
Did you know that … Frequencies used by channels one through six of 802.11b and 802.11g fall within the 2.4 GHz amateur radio band. Licensed amateur radio operators may operate 802.11b/g devices under Part 97 of the FCC Rules and Regulations, allowing increased power output but not commercial content or encryption.
I hope to acquire a few more WRT54G routers and put together a mesh network in the Katy TX area as a resource for experimentation and education in an area not normally touched upon by regular amateur radio operators. Who knows what the future holds & it behooves us to investigate this technology and bend it to our own needs.
The Amateur is Progressive … He keeps his station abreast of science. It is well built and efficient. His operating practice is above reproach.
Jeri Ellsworth video “Secret to Learning Electronics – Fail and Fail Often”
I came across this video by Jeri Ellsworth via the Make blog and I was so impressed with the content I thought I would repost it. Listen to what Jeri says, there is some great advice here.
Ottawa Mini Maker Faire 2010
For readers local to my home area you may be interested in this exciting and free event in Ottawa this weekend. Full details can be found on the Artengine website. The essential details are:
Dates and times: Nov. 6th and Nov 7th, 12pm to 6pm.
Location: Arts Court 2 Daly Ave. Ottawa, ON K1N 6E2
If you are not sure what makers do or what goes on at a Maker Faire take a look at this video of the 2010 Kansas City Mini Maker Faire
Videos of Akihabara
Tokyo Hackerspace has recently released these videos of a tour of Akihabara in Tokyo and they have done a viral tour of some of the major hacker blogs like Make and Hackaday. If you have not already seen them then they are worth the time watching as Akiba of Freaklabs gives a great tour of this part of Tokyo which is brimming with stores that sell tools, electronic components and everything else for the hobbyist, maker, hacker and engineer.
The full collection of 24 videos are on the Tokyo Hackerspace website. The video recording was made in HD so if you have a good bandwidth connection try the 1080 HD version on full screen. Here are a couple of the videos that I found particularly interesting. First an amateur radio store called ‘Rocket Radio’
This next video shows a collection of indoor stalls that sell a wide variety of hobbyist items. The location reminded me of a British indoor market, but instead of clothes and food here you can buy radios and enclosures. A collection of ‘candy stores’ for hobbyists.
I had heard of Akihabara but was stunned watching these videos how many stores there are. I am sure it is unique in the density of electronics and construction retailers. I would be interested to hear from anyone if they know of a collection of electronic component stores similar to this elsewhere, particularly in North America. No doubt there were smaller collections of shops like this after World War II when the surplus gear hit the high street. I know in London, UK, Tottenham Court Road had a concentration of such stores and I remember my father taking the family there when we visited London in the 70′s when I was a kid. I believe that Shudehill in Manchester, UK, also had electronic component stores around that time (again I recall a visit with my father) but they had all gone except for a TV and Radio store in the 80′s when I was a student there.
Thanks to Akira of FreakLabs, Patrick of Work in Progress and Tokyo Hackerspace for bringing us these videos.