19hertz

ramblings of an electronic engineer.


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The Final Frontier

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“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long walk down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Space. This is what has been occupying most of my mental space for the past couple of weeks, specifically thinking about cubesats, how to design, build and send them to space.

To explain further let me backtrack to Sunday night a few weeks ago after church. I was having a conversation with one of my friends and I was asked “If you could work on any project what would it be?” I thought about the things on my project list and replied either a fusor reactor or cube sat. I was quick to then point out how infeasible each of these was due to either financial or legal reasons but throughout the week it got me thinking. (Quick side note I’ll likely never design or build a fusor reactor due to the safety concerns and potential legal reason alone so moving on…).

What is a cubesat?

So it’s probably good to first explain what a cubesat actually is. Simply put it is a satellite in the shape of a small cube (10cm³) however some other form factors to exist such that you can have various rectangular satellites. Since 2003 university’s around the world have been designing (along side students) these small form factor satellites and sending them to space as secondary payloads on supply missions to eventually get launched into low earth orbit (LEO). These satellites contain particular experiments to perform on their time in orbit around the earth before eventually de-orbiting and burning up the the atmosphere.

What prohibits me sending a cubesat to space?

This question is the one I’ve been thinking about. On the surface level the answers seem obvious, the vast expanse of knowledge required in electronics design, orbital mechanics, material selection etc…, the cost of building a satellite, government regulations and laws. Given these issues probably the largest to overcome by far is the cost involved with the project which last time I checked is easily upwards of 25k. Spending that amount of money on something that at worst just doesn’t work when it reaches space and at best will burn up to nothing as it de-orbits just isn’t justifiable and for this reason alone is why the project has been benched for so long. However there is no reason to say that over time the costs for manufacturing and transporting cubesats to space won’t decrease. Even in the past two years there has been an increased interest in the hobbies/maker/hacker movements to start designing and sending cubesats to space and presumably if the interest continues to pick up (with projects like SatNOGS) it may not be inconceivable that the costs of a cubesat become affordable in the future. So thinking further under the premise of the project potentially been financially feasible over a long time really the only other barrier is knowledge and experience (government regulations are a bit of a wild card but i’m not overly worried).

On a long time frame.

So about a decade is the time frame I’m looking at the moment to gain the various facets of knowledge and experience required, design, build and test a cubesat for orbit. As i’m starting to more in depth with the various parts of the project I find that the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. So needless to say the timeframe is pretty flexible 😛 Looking through my current project list there are various aspects of certain project that would be helpful for designing a cubesat for example, environmental monitoring has aspects of power generation & storage, wireless communication, sensors etc.. while a barn door tracker incorporated aspects of celestial movement and object tracking. Workin on these project will over time help with the overall project.

And off we go, kinda.

So what changes from here beyond? In many respects this doesn’t change much, It’s going to be several years still till I even start designing some of the satellites sub systems so for the time been I’ll be working on projects to increase my knowledge in the areas required. I’ve also started a pile of reading on the subject, from NASA satellite and launch specs to preflight testing. It’s going to be a long adventure but hopefully worth it! Although there are many factors involved at the very worst I intend to have a completed cubesat even if it doesn’t make it to orbit and a whole lot of projects completed along the way. The first project I’m working on towards this goal is something called software defined radio (SDR) but I won’t get too much into that now but will leave it for the weeks ahead.


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Fox and Fiasco – In Recording

Two weeks ago on a rainy Wednesday night I grabbed my camera and headed off to my old university to photograph my friends band, Fox and Fiasco as they were recording their new album (which is yet to be released as of yet but is in the pipeline!). To be honest I really like nights like this, there is something relaxing about taking photos of friends doing something that they are passionate about and getting to hear some previews of the songs there were recording was an added bonus. From a technical side of things the recording rooms were pretty poorly lit which led me to predominately use my trusty 50mm f1.8 shooting wide open with my ISO bumped up to 1600 this combination (plus stopping down a little) was thankfully enough for me to get shots without significant amounts of movement blur. I will say though that even thought the rooms were poorly lit I the down lights created some very dramatic lighting and shadows which I quite enjoyed.

 

 


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Get Detached

I mentioned a few weeks ago some of my friends were starting a new podcast and looking to crowd-fund the hosting costs of the venture. Well jump forward a few weeks to today and I’m happy to announce that that they have reached their funding goal and have created their first episode! The Detachment Podcast is now a thing.

Technically their first episode (ep1) is actually their second since they released a, lets call it, pre-series episode detailing what you should expect (ep0). Regardless I quite enjoyed listening to them both. I feel the hosts Patty and Sam have a really good synergy between them that works well on air and the addition or a rotating third chair will be beneficial to inject new ideas and opinions into the weekly conversation. I suppose also the Detachment Podcast by talking about things that they use to detach themselves from the mundane of life in turn helps and enables their listeners to do the same.

You can find their first and zeroth episodes on both ItunesSoundcoud and Libsyn and find out more about the podcast over at Facebook and on Twitter.


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Meta: about and links pages updated & projects!

It occurred to me this week that it’s probably about time I updated a few of the sections of 19hertz. As such this week I have rewritten the about section and links section of the website. As I going about this, particularly with adding and removing websites from the links section I found it curious to see how my preferences and interests have changed over time. Most obviously (if you indeed has previously visited) the the addition of the Coffee, Information Technology and Misc sections but also within existing sections such as the cooking section which focuses a lot more on the science behind cooking.

You may also notice that there is a new page that has been created entitled “Projects”. This page exists to share my list of project ideas and be a central location where as I (hopefully) complete said projects to be able to link back to and from.

-David


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From the Vault: The Spit Sunrise 2015

Last month my friend Peter (TruskieFoto on Flickr) and myself got up very early one Sunday morning and headed off to The Spit on the Gold Coast to photograph the sunrise. I’ll admit I was less than enthusiastic about getting up so early but upon reflection it was well worth it and we both ended up with some shots we were happy with. The spit is a great location for photography especially in the morning which features a great view of the Surfers Paradise skyline (when it isn’t obscured by fog), a sand pumping jetty/pier, local wildlife and a awesome view of the ocean. Throughout our morning we had incredible variation in the lighting conditions and clouds as well as a bit of lucky timing with photographing a kite in flight which I’m particularly pleased with.


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EDC 2014

I’ve been hesitating and putting off writing this post for over a year now. It’s now time to share my EDC.

For those uninitiated EDC stands for Everyday Carry and essentially refers to the tools/equipment/supplies you carry around with everyday. Furthermore it embodies the philosophy of preparedness for any problem that may come your way which leads many to incorporate multitools, pens, torches, knives and even guns (particularly in the US) into their EDC’s.

The problem I have, and for that matter have had for a while now is I don’t feel like my EDC is completed yet. In many regards I’m still trialling carrying different things with me and overall aren’t completely happy with every item that I do use.  This has been the mental barrier that has prevented me writing about it for so long, however recently I have come to a realisation; that is that I should just share what the things I currently use and start to discuss the conflicts/issues I have with certain items. Sharing my EDC also has the advantage of been able to track changes over time and review new products I’m trialling. So without further to do:

 

My EDC for 2014

I tend to split my EDC into to categories, what I carry on my person i.e. my pockets and what I carry in my bag, which to some extent will change depending on where I’m going, but for the most part remains fixed.

On my person

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  • Nexus 4 phone
  • Fitbit One
  • DDC Stuff Sheath
  • Field Notes Memo Books
  • Kara Kustoms Retract Pen w/ Pilot Juice Black Gel Ink Cartridge
  • Various card sized things (Credit Card, Drivers Licence etc…)

This part of my EDC is probably the most refined and “perfected” per say. Each item work really well into my daily routine and I find I get a lot of use out of them.

In my bag

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  • Book (constantly rotating, currently Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson)
  • Nalgene 1L Water Bottle
  • Tritium Vials (small glass vials containing a radioactive decaying material which ignites phosphors creating light)
  • Leatherman Wave Black
  • Wallet
  • Hand Sanitiser
  • New Nintendo 3DS
  • Keys
  • Tissues
  • IPod Touch
  • Sennheiser CX175 headphones
  • 8G USB
  • Coin Purse
  • Sunglasses
  • Torch
  • Fisher Space Pen

This is the part of my EDC I start having a few issues with. Overall I feel that many of these item are useful, but combined they take up too much space in my bag which leads to finding particular items a bit of a challenge. Furthermore I feel that there are a few items missing that I could include (suncreen, allergy pills) and also some things that need to be replaced because they have become unreliable (torch). Over the next coming months I’ll be experimenting with including some new items, removing others as well as upgrading some other components but for the time been this has been my EDC for most of last year and has served me pretty well. As I find new products that I add to my EDC I’ll be sure to review them throughout the year.

 

 


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Book Review: Racing the Beam

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In 1977 Atari released the Atari 2600 (aka Atari VCS) and in doing so radically changed and shaped to the course of gaming to what we have today. It’s not controversial to say that games developed for the Atari spawned multiple of original genres and game mechanics. Racing the Beam published by The MIT Press takes a fascinating and insightful look into the history behind the Atari VCS as well as delving into the technical aspects of the system which influenced the game design for titles on that platform.

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In the book authors Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost have picked 6 games (Combat, Adventure, Pac-man, Yar’s Revenge, Pitfall, and Starwars: The Empire Strikes Back) that show the effect the VCS platform had on the creative production of each game. While the book is reasonable technically laden it is still very interesting to learn about the challenges faced by VCS programmers when designing games, probably most notable the limitations of  systems RAM (only 2K!) and limited computational time between drawing frames. VCS games back in the day were displayed on a CRT displays which draw individual frames using an electron beam. The beam ignites phosphors in the display moving horizontally to create one scan line. The beam then moves down one to thee next vertical line and repeats the process until it reaches the bottom of the screen.It then needs to move the beam back to the top of the screen and start the process again. The problem been for VCS programmers that they have the get all the games maths and calculations done before the electron beam reaches the top again so it is ready to draw the next frame of the game, In essence they were constantly racing the beam trying to get all the games calculations finished in time ready for the next frame to be drawn by the display. This problem led to some ingenious solutions like drawing several back lines at the top of the screen to allow for extra computational time i.e. trading screen resolution for computing time.

 

Racing the beam is also very rich with interesting history of the Atari VCS and gaming in general around that time. For example it takes a look into the origins of game developer Activision which was started by several Atari programmers whom were unhappy with the the recognition and fiscal compensation they received for the titles they had programmed for Atari (collectively worth $60 million). Overall this book was a great read (possible the best so far this year) and I really enjoyed the way it demonstrated how technical challenges of the Atari system influenced the development of games all while mixing in interesting trivia and history. While I think this book would be enjoyable for a reader while little to no technical background (due to the history in the book) I’m inclined to recommend it more towards a reader who is familiar with with some electronics, programming or retro gaming systems.

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