Category Archives: geek

LoRealAle

lora dev board

LoRa Dev Board

There’s a catch-22 involved in feeling uninspired: you need a seed of inspiration, but in order to find it you have to go out and experience things – and that seems like a huge amount of effort when you’re feeling uninspired.
In the fug of a long-term grey period of un-inspiration, some of the fine hairs on the edge of my inspiration-gland were inadvertently stimulated during a DevOps conference (yes I know… more later). Someone started talking about a thing called “LoRa” which it turns out is a low power long range digital radio standard.
Several months later, it was last night.
Last night was great. After work I went to a “pre-hackathon meetup” focussed on this LoRa thing which was being held by phLoRa in advance of a big Hackathon effort next weekend. This is the first time I’ve ever been involved with a Hackathon and it was a tad nerve-racking, right up until the point of entry into the venue: a sort of incubator thing called WeWork. It was lovely for so many reasons; suffice it to say there was free beer. Also there was a bunch of very friendly, excitable and knowledgeable geeks who were there for much the same reasons as I.
We got given some hardware to play with and, thanks to the skillful presenter’s abilities, we were all able to hook the hardware up to a local Philadelphia LoRa network by the end of the night. We, probably like you dear reader, also became aware that there was such a thing as a local LoRa network!
It was a great experience on a technical and social level. I met some lovely people from as far away as Italy, Georgia (the country) and even Kensington (the Philadelphia one). The guy from Kensington turned out to be an ex-employee of my current employer and used to work with a lovely guy I have known for a few years now: Nick.
Anyway, we all had and the inspiration level indicator on my tank was back into the “F” region. That’s “F” for “Full”. You knew that.

After the meetup, whilst waiting at the familiar bus-stop on Walnut St, I received a text message alerting me to the notional existence of a pint of beer that would be mine providing I attended the Dawson St. Pub in Manayunk; it was from Nick [q.v. above]. It was also clearly a message from the Gods, as was the severely delayed bus that arrived at my stop just when I needed it.

So, after the usual unpleasantness of I76 I spent an unreasonably pleasant experience at Dawson with Nick, his friend, and a couple of pints of beautifully kept British-style real-ale: Yards ESB.

The cherry on the cake was that I had taken Friday off of work, as a result of the ludicrous “use it or lose it” policy, and so had the freedom of not worrying about getting up in the morning.

Sometimes things just come together.


How the US Reverse Engineered Soviet Typewriter Bugs

This is a fascinating and in-depth description of how the US uncovered and reverse engineered sophisticated bugs placed in the electric typewriters of embassy staff in Moscow in the late 70s/early 80s.
Bruce Schneier suggests these devices may the worlds first keyloggers and it’s easy to see why. These astounding devices buffered characters typed by the golf-ball and sent them to the soviets using RF burst transmitters. It took 8 years to discover they were there!

https://www.nsa.gov/about/_files/cryptologic_heritage/center_crypt_history/publications/learning_from_the_enemy_the_gunman_project.pdf


New Toybox

Cypress PSOC BLEAnother perk of my new job is that we often get our hands on some interesting hardware, of which this superb little kit is the latest example. It’s a development kit for an amazing little chip from Cypress which, apart from having a full-on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) implementation, contains a Cortex M0 jam-packed with goodies, including most of the radio hardware you’ll need. It’s a great idea because it means that you can create just about any BLE device you could imagine with a single chip and the absolute minimum of external components – no need for an external microcontroller or PHY hardware.

The Kit itself consists of three  devices Рone of which is capable of being battery powered and has Arduino compatible I/O ports, an RGB LED, capacitative touch pad, buttons and proximity sensor.

The software is pretty amazing too, but only runs on Winblows. Fortunately it seems to run perfectly on a Virtualbox VM running TinyXP which means I’m happily using it on my old Mac. You design applications by dragging components into a workspace and “wiring” them together on screen. Some of the components are designed to be external (e.g. resistors and LEDs), and some are internal to the chip (for example op-amps and logic gates) but you can hook them up however you like. Obviously, one of the components you have at your disposal is a BLE module, and it comes preloaded with all of the various standard profiles and configurations, so you can literally have it behave as anything you wish from a virtual mouse to a heart rate monitor.

When your design is complete, the software will generate the corresponding code for the device, complete with comprehensive comments, and you can tinker to your hearts delight before building. You can then run and debug it on the hardware. It will even generate a full PDF datasheet for your design that you can then publish to make it look like you’re a proper chip designer who knows what he’s talking about and everything!

So as a result of this I’m very excited and have a new project in mind. OK I’ll shut up now.