Drop #170 (2023-01-04): Let's Get Physical
Ham Radio All-in-one-Cable; [T]rain Trackr; The Whole Thing (In Python)
I often forgo adding physical (electronic) items in these drops, since they generally require some coin and usually some not-as-common-as-one-might-think skills. To make up for that, I'm including three (well, four, really, but the last one in FIN requires an entirely different skill set and access to restricted resources) in today's edition. They're relatively inexpensive and may inspire some folks to take on an extended project in 2023 (NOTE: I seem to have rid myself of the 2022^H^H3 habit already.)
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Ham Radio All-in-one-Cable
While I've yet to take an actual HAM license test, I know my way around frequencies and antennae. In fact, the pandemic ushered in a sort of renaissance in amateur radio, since many of us had lots of spare time on our hands and nowhere (safe) to go.
This Ham Radio All-in-one-Cable (AIOC) is a “small adapter with a USB-C connector that enumerates itself as a sound-card” that is designed (in part) with the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) in mind. APRS is an amateur radio-based system for real time digital communications of information of immediate value in the local area. Data can include object Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates, weather station telemetry, text messages, announcements, queries, and other telemetry. APRS data can be displayed on a map, which can show stations, objects, tracks of moving objects, weather stations, search and rescue data, and direction finding data.
Now, this project absolutely requires some soldering and other skills which could be a great set of items to add to your 2023 personal learning and development plans.
Before you dive into fabricating this cable (and connectors), then learning the secrets of APRS, perhaps take some time to learn a bit more about amateur radio in general and start with some basic kit before diving in.
For readers outside the U.S., you can also use this cable. But, you will have to grok applicable regulations in your specific region (def drop some links if you are an amateur radio operator in or outside the U.S. in case this section whetted some RF appetites).
I genuinely appreciate it when there are physical manifestations of creative data visualizations. I especially appreciate it when said creations transcend “mere” art and have some additional, practical purpose.
Modern subway “maps” are remarkable geographic data visualizations. They combine geographical proximity with an added route simplicity that helps humans easily get from one point to another, assuming the trains run on time. I like them so much, I made one for last year's 30-day Map Challenge.
While Eros Station may only exist in my/our imaginations, there are real subway maps of actual subways, and there are many ways to view “live” versions in your web browser or via an app on any given glowing rectangle.
The folks at Traintracker went one step further and created visually stunning physical maps that show the live movement of all trains on a given transit network.
The video in the section header says/shows it all, and if I lived in a place where I had to take the subway/train regularly, I'd absolutely beg these folks to take my money. As it stands, I'm waiting for their rain tracker to get back in stock, since I'm also a weather nerd. I may just have to practice my soldering skills and craft one for New England on my own if their stock continues to be bereft of product.
The Whole Thing (In Python)
One could never mistake me as a gamer (I do play old school RPGs, and No Man's Sky). Despite owning a Stream Deck (which I heavily used during the Zoom Boom of the early pandemic), I had never heard the term macropad before. The Stream Deck came in super handy when orchestrating OBS setups, and I can see how it, or a more gamer-focused macropad versions, could aid one in various campaigns.
So, when I came across this macropad, I was intrigued, despite it being an end-to-end Python creation (long-time readers will know well my disdain for that indented pox on our programmatic ecosystem). Literally, everything from the firmware to the schematic, to the PCB, and even the case was coded up in Python, and the entire project is self-documenting in a Jupyter notebook.
I will confidently say that I shall never embark upon this project, myself, but I suspect there might be one or two readers that may also be sufficiently intrigued to dive into this project.
For those of drinking age and are into homebrewing, today's closing physical drop leaves the electronic gizmos behind as it is a recipe for an amber ale brewed with 45-million year old yeast. I'm only sad that they did not call it a Jurassic Lager. ☮