I built a small aluminum smelter and have been experimenting with melting down old cans and scrap metal. so far it’s not the easiest process, I still need to work out some kinks and issues. Here are a couple videos on the project so far, I plan on doing more soon.
I’ve been playing around with radio astronomy and satellite stuff lately. As usual, this is with the cheapest / free-est (is that a word?) gear I can build or scavenge. So far I’ve made a very very basic “radio telescope” out of an old TV dish and security camera mount. I’ve also managed to listen to passing weather satellites with some bits of wire. This is another project I’ll be working on more in the near future. I’d like to be able to do more with the dish (maybe pick up free NASA TV), and more with the weather satellites (maybe geostationary next). Stay tuned for updates!
Some weather images I received from NOAA satellites using the V-dipole antenna:
Listening to NOAA weather satellites as they pass overhead is relatively simple! Actually getting imagery decoded from the transmissions took a little more effort, as I learned in the process of making this video. Below are some of the resources and guides I found helpful for this project:
Basic intro to satellite reception: https://publiclab.org/notes/sashae/06-26-2020/diy-satellite-ground-station
The antenna design I used: https://lna4all.blogspot.com/2017/02/diy-137-mhz-wx-sat-v-dipole-antenna.html
Website for tracking satellites and determining upcoming overhead passes (As of early 2021, the ones to watch are NOAA 18, 19, and 15): https://www.n2yo.com/
Info on the NanoVNA I used for antenna tuning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJYeFpiqY8c
This is a decent Software Defined Radio that’s capable of hearing these satellites. You can get them with or without lots of extras like antennas and amplifiers: https://www.rtl-sdr.com/buy-rtl-sdr-dvb-t-dongles/
The software I used to interface with the SDR and record audio files (for Linux / Raspberry Pi): https://gqrx.dk/ (I have heard SDR# is good for Windows, but have not tried it: https://airspy.com/download/)
The software I used for decoding images: https://wxtoimgrestored.xyz/
Some “gotchas” I ran into when working with saved audio files (not always obvious from online guides):
-WXtoIMG is ancient abandonware and barely works on modern computers. The Linux version has some display issues and freezes when trying to update Keplers, at least on my system. On Windows I found that the beta version works better, the “stable” release won’t install at all). It also doesn’t like modern sound drivers, so if you can’t decode live signals you may have to record and decode later (see below for even more tricks with this!)
-Gqrx saves recordings in stereo at the wrong sample rate. You’ll need to open the saved audio file in Audacity (or some other audio editor), collapse the file to mono and change the sample rate to 11025. You’ll probably also want to Normalize the file after each step. See here for more details: https://lucasteske.dev/2016/02/recording-noaa-apt-signals-with-gqrx-and-rtl-sdr-on-linux/
-WXtoIMG It is very finicky about date/time stamps and you may need to fiddle around a lot to get your recording to match a known satellite pass. I had no luck using the filename to specify recording time as the faq recommends. I had to download a file attribute editor (Or this software can change timestamps: https://noaa-apt.mbernardi.com.ar/ ). You need to change the “Modified” date and time (not the “created” attribute) to the time when the recording started (because once you process the file through Audacity, the timestamp will be different). I then had to manually adjust the map overlay in WXtoIMG (fortunately I had a visible reference point, if it’s all clouds you might be out of luck!) See https://wxtoimgrestored.xyz/faq/ for some info on this.
Hopefully all that helps! There are a lot of guides online for how to do this, some are more complete than others. There are problably also plenty of videos better at explaining this than mine, I was just trying everything out for the first time.
Here are a couple videos expanding on our DIY backyard garden pond. Earlier this year we discovered that goldfish eggs or fry had mysteriously migrated across the yard to the duck pond! We were able to catch and relocate the new goldfish before the ducks ate them, and they seem to be doing well.
The second video is a follow-up on our inverted “fishdome” in the pond. It’s a cool fish observation bubble and works on the same principle as lifting an upside down glass in the sink. The only downside to these things is they need to be cleaned of algae frequently.
I’ve always wanted an outdoor railroad, but it turns out the “real” equipment is expensive! Fortunately I found an alternative in cheap 1980s Christmas tree trains! Made by “New Bright” under a variety of product names, these can often be found at thrift stores and garage sales in the $5-$10 range.
While New Bright does G Scale trains as well, the ones I’ve been collecting are closer to “S scale”. I don’t know if they actually have an official scale or gauge, as they’re just cheap-o plastic products with no real attempt to be detail-accurate. I still enjoy them, and the battery-powered locomotives mean I don’t have to mess with wiring up track.
These won’t last long-term outdoors, so I did put them away before winter. Maybe next year I’ll actually find some outdoor-rated brass track and upgrade to more legitimate G scale!
This was one of the bigger projects I’ve been involved in recently! My friend Carl (link to his website) got this massive playland for free from a defunct Burger King. A few friends got together and helped take it apart in the three days we were given before the building was boarded up. We moved the whole thing out to Sandland where it’s stored for the winter. Next spring we’ll start re-assembling it outside (we checked and the manufacturer says it’s UV-resistant).
Recently I built a couple more “dangerous” things. Not for any particular reason, but more as a way to use up extra junk that’s been accumulating in my garage.
First up was a trebuchet (historic siege weapon) made out of old kayak paddles! I have dozens of these paddles that I pulled out of a dumpster, and I’ll probably eventually sell the good ones once garage sales are safe again. The damaged ones went into this project. It’s honestly not very good, I can probably throw farther than this can. Maybe I’ll build a bigger one in the future.
The second one is an air cannon made out of an old nailgun. Again, this is just something I had lying around, also rescued from the trash. It actually works frighteningly well with just a PVC pipe hammered onto the front and some ball bearings in it.
If you saw my Sandland video, you know about the sandstone tunnels we’re digging! Sandstone is a great material, being relatively easy to dig and yet structurally sound enough to last for hundreds of years with no artificial supports. (Some examples of local sandstone caves and tunnels can be found here, here, and here).
I’ll be doing a larger project in these tunnels that involves carving out an underground room, so stay tuned for that sometime next year!
In case you’ve missed my ongoing “terrible boat” Youtube series, I recently picked up a free 1970s tri-hull and have been getting it into working condition. Here are the videos so far:
I’ve also hit the questionable and arbitrary milestone of 5,000 subscribers on this Youtube thing! To celebrate, I’ve opened a contest to name this awful boat! Details here: https://youtu.be/RfU6OKeafG4
The boat doesn’t 100% work yet, but we’re slowly getting there!
Have you ever wanted to create mazes, dig tunnels, built forts in the woods, or hang out in a huge multi-acre playground? Who hasn’t! Sandland is a rural property that one of my friends bought to do just that! It has all of the above and more!
For readers familiar with my monorail project, Sandland is where the train now lives. The main purpose of the property is the underground tunnels dug out of the sandstone bedrock. The surface of Sandland also has lots of fun surface structures and creations built by all kinds of people. From tunnels to treehouses to ziplines to everything in between, Sandland is an ever-evolving project!
Coming soon, I’ll have a video tour of Sandland on my Youtube channel!