Device Silences TV Commercials

Arduino-Controlled Solution

Ever wish you could block out those annoying TV ads? Tommy describes in detail how he built a device for easily muting the audio of commercials. His project relies on three modules: a UHF radio receiver, an IR module and an Arduino Trinket board.

By Tommy Tyler

Does your blood start to boil as soon as one of those people on TV tries to sell you precious metals, a reverse mortgage, a miraculous kitchen gadget or an incredible weight reduction plan? Do you want to climb the wall the next time someone says “But wait! Order now and get a second one free . . .“? Believe it or not, there was a time long ago when TV commercials were actually entertaining. That was before commercial breaks evolved from 30 second or one-minute interruptions into strings of a half-dozen or more advertisements linked end-to-end for three to five minutes—sometimes with the exact same commercial shown twice in the same group! What is perhaps most annoying is the relentless repetition.

Historically, all the feeble attempts at TV commercial elimination have been applied to recordings on VCRs or DVRs. Anyone who watches programming that’s best enjoyed when viewed in real-time—news, weather and sports—has probably wished at one time or another for a device that can enable them to avoid commercials. They long for a device that could be inserted between their TV and the program source—whether it be cable, satellite or an OTA antenna—to instantly recognize a commercial and blank the screen, change channels or somehow make it go away. The technology for doing that does exist, but you’ll probably never find it applied to consumer products. Since funding of the entire television broadcast industry is derived from paid advertisements, any company that interferes with that would face enormous opposition and legal problems.

After many years of searching the Internet I’ve concluded it is wishful thinking to expect anyone to market a product that automatically eliminates commercials in real-time. I decided to work instead on the next-best approach I could think of: A device that makes it quick and easy to minimize the nuisance of commercials with the least amount of manual effort possible. This article describes a “Kommercial Killer (KK)” that is controlled by a small radio transmitter you carry with you so it’s easily and instantly accessible. No scrambling to find that clumsy infrared remote control and aim it at the TV when a commercial starts. Just press the personal button that’s always with you, even while remaining warm and cozy curled up under a blanket.

Kommercial Killer

The KK operates from anywhere in the home, even from another room completely out of sight of the TV and can be triggered at the slightest sound of an advertisement, political message, solicitation or perhaps even a telephone call. It works with any brand and model TV without modifications or complicated wiring connections by using the TV’s infrared remote control system. If you get a new TV, its remote control can easily teach KK a different MUTE command. Don’t worry about leaving the room with the TV muted. KK automatically restores audio after a certain amount of time. The default time is three minutes, the length of a typical commercial break, but you can easily configure this to any amount of time you prefer. And when you want to restore audio immediately—for example if you have muted non-commercial program material by mistake or if a commercial runs shorter than expected—just press your transmitter button again.

Figure 1
Schematic of the Kommercial Killer

KK is built mainly from three commercially available modules that do all the heavy lifting (Figure 1). The first module is a miniature UHF radio receiver. The second is an infrared module that can learn and mimic the TV mute signal. The third module is an Arduino Trinket board that provides commercial break timing and overall control. This article explains how to load a small program into that module without needing any special equipment or training, and even if you have absolutely no previous experience with Arduino devices.

The three modules are small and inexpensive ($7 to $10 each) and with just eight additional components KK can be built on an open perf board, strip board or enclosed in a 6-inch3 box. It is powered from the same USB Micro cable you use to load or modify the Arduino program, or from any other available USB port or 5 V charger.

UHF Receiver Module

The best UHF radio transmitters and receivers are all manufactured in China, and there are no major distributors in the U.S. So, order this item early and be prepared to wait about 20 days for delivery. After sampling many different remote controls to evaluate performance, quality, cost and shipment, I selected a product manufactured by the Shenzhen YK Remote Control Electronics Company, whose products are sold and shipped through AliExpress. Shenzhen remote controls use two types of receivers. . …

Read the full article in the May 334 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Money Sorting Machines (Part 3)

Bill Validation

In this final article of his money sorting machine series, Jeff wraps up his coin sorting project and examines how a bill validator can tell one bill’s denomination from another.

By Jeff Bachiochi

Most of us connect Ben Franklin with kites and lightning. He was also a printer and might be best known for Poor Richard’s Almanack—a yearly publication that he published from 1732 to 1758 under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders. It was a best-seller and thanks to his wit and wisdom, his portrait was added to the cover of The Old Farmer’s Almanac in 1851—appearing opposite the founder Robert B. Thomas. It remains there today.

As a master printer and engraver, in 1730 Franklin began printing all paper money issued by Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Paper money was first introduced in the region in 1723, but it remained a hot political issue. That’s because it helped farmers and tradesmen, while merchants and landowners wanted it eliminated or limited in its circulation. Paper money printed from ordinary type was easy to counterfeit, but Ben’s ingenuity solved that problem by printing pictures of leaves on every piece of money. Counterfeiters could not duplicate—or even imitate—the fine lines and irregular patterns. The process by which he made the printing plates was secret, but were probably cast in type metal from molds made by pressing leaves into plaster of Paris. There began the Feds vigilant effort to thwart counterfeiters.

Today every aspect of our paper currency is controlled—from its design to its printing, as well as its monitoring and destruction. The paper (which is not paper) and ink (multiple types and formulas) are fabricated for the express use by the Department of Engraving. That department is the Treasury bureau responsible for paper money—as opposed to the U.S Mint, which is the Treasury bureau responsible for coinage. US currency consists of 25% linen and 75% cotton and contains small randomly disbursed red and blue security fibers embedded throughout the material. Depending on the denomination the material is further enhanced by embedding security threads, ribbons and watermarks. Since 1996, printing with colored and color changing inks make the new currency pop. While older black and green currency is rather drab in comparison, it is still legal tender and remains the target of most counterfeiters.

The previous two parts of this article series (December 329 and January 330) centered around coinage. Before we look at bill validation for paper money, I need to finish up with that project. I had purchased a few Coin Acceptors and showed how they are used to identify coinage, especially but not limited to US coins. The acceptance and dispensing of money is presently used in many ways today, including vending machines and ATMs. The discussion also included National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), the organization that developed the international specification for the Multi-Drop Bus/ Internal Communication Protocol (MDB/CP) released in July 2010. The MDB/ICP enables communication between a master controller and any of the peripheral hardware like Coin Acceptors and bill validators. By adhering to these guidelines, any manufacturer’s equipment is interchangeable.

Turns out the Coin Acceptors I purchased don’t have the MDB interface necessary to communicate with a Vending Machine Controller (VMC). I reviewed the protocol and VMC/Peripheral Communication Specifications required by the Coin Acceptor/Changer peripheral and began work on developing an MDB interface that would bridge my Coin Acceptor with the multi-drop bus. 

Read the full article in the February 331 issue of Circuit Cellar

Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!
Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

USB Data Acq System Features Simple Expansion

DATAQ Instruments has announced the release of its model DI-2108-P USB data acquisition (DAQ) system with 16-bit ADC resolution, programmable gain and ChannelStretch technology. The model DI-2108-P provides eight analog input channels each with 2.5-, 5- and 10-volt unipolar and bi-polar programmable measurement ranges. DATAQ Instruments di2108-product-photo-press-releaseThe DI-2108-P also provides 7 digital ports, each configurable as an input or a switch. Two ports can be programmed as counter and frequency measurement inputs. The instrument’s maximum sampling throughput rate is 160 kHz.

The ChannelStretch feature of the DI-2108-P makes channel expansion as easy as adding another device. Plug a second device into a computer and double the channel count of both analog and digital channels. Using USB hubs, plug up to sixteen devices into a single PC for a maximum count of 128 analog and 112 digital channels. And all of them are acquired synchronously at a maximum sample throughput rate of at least 480 kHz. DI-2108-P software support includes ready-to run WinDaq data acquisition software, .Net class, ActiveX controls and a fully documented communication protocol to deploy the instrument on any platform. The unit is priced at $349.

DATAQ Instruments | www.dataq.com

OPTIGA Trusted Platform Modules Enhance Security for Connected Devices

Microsoft currently uses Infineon Technologies OPTIGA Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) in its newest personal computing devices, including the Surface Pro 4 tablet and the Surface Book. The dedicated security chips store sensitive data, including keys, certificates, and passwords and keeps them separated from the main processor, which further secures the system from unauthorized access, manipulation, and data theft. For example, the Microsoft BitLocker Drive Encryption application’s key and password are stored in the TPM.Infineon-OPTIGA

Microsoft’s personal computing devices rely on the OPTIGA TPM SLB 9665, which is the first certified security controller based on TPM 2.0. This standard was defined by the Trusted Computing Group (TCG).

Source: Infineon Technologies

One Professor and Two Orderly Labs

Professor Wolfgang Matthes has taught microcontroller design, computer architecture, and electronics (both digital and analog) at the University of Applied Sciences in Dortmund, Germany, since 1992. He has developed peripheral subsystems for mainframe computers and conducted research related to special-purpose and universal computer architectures for the past 25 years.

When asked to share a description and images of his workspace with Circuit Cellar, he stressed that there are two labs to consider: the one at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts and the other in his home basement.

Here is what he had to say about the two labs and their equipment:

In both labs, rather conventional equipment is used. My regular duties are essentially concerned  with basic student education and hands-on training. Obviously, one does not need top-notch equipment for such comparatively humble purposes.

Student workplaces in the Dortmund lab are equipped for basic training in analog electronics.

Student workplaces in the Dortmund lab are equipped for basic training in analog electronics.

In adjacent rooms at the Dortmund lab, students pursue their own projects, working with soldering irons, screwdrivers, drills,  and other tools. Hence, these rooms are  occasionally called the blacksmith’s shop. Here two such workplaces are shown.

In adjacent rooms at the Dortmund lab, students pursue their own projects, working with soldering irons, screwdrivers, drills, and other tools. Hence, these rooms are occasionally called “the blacksmith’s shop.” Two such workstations are shown.

Oscilloscopes, function generators, multimeters, and power supplies are of an intermediate price range. I am fond of analog scopes, because they don’t lie. I wonder why neither well-established suppliers nor entrepreneurs see a business opportunity in offering quality analog scopes, something that could be likened to Rolex watches or Leica analog cameras.

The orderly lab at home is shown here.

The orderly lab in Matthes’s home is shown here.

Matthes prefers to build his  projects so that they are mechanically sturdy. So his lab is equipped appropriately.

Matthes prefers to build mechanically sturdy projects. So his lab is appropriately equipped.

Matthes, whose research interests include advanced computer architecture and embedded systems design, pursues a variety of projects in his workspace. He describes some of what goes on in his lab:

The projects comprise microcontroller hardware and software, analog and digital circuitry, and personal computers.

Personal computer projects are concerned with embedded systems, hardware add-ons, interfaces, and equipment for troubleshooting. For writing software, I prefer PowerBASIC. Those compilers generate executables, which run efficiently and show a small footprint. Besides, they allow for directly accessing the Windows API and switching to Assembler coding, if necessary.

Microcontroller software is done in Assembler and, if required, in C or BASIC (BASCOM). As the programming language of the toughest of the tough, Assembler comes second after wire [i.e., the soldering iron].

My research interests are directed at computer architecture, instruction sets, hardware, and interfaces between hardware and software. To pursue appropriate projects, programming at the machine level is mandatory. In student education, introductory courses begin with the basics of computer architecture and machine-level programming. However, Assembler programming is only taught at a level that is deemed necessary to understand the inner workings of the machine and to write small time-critical routines. The more sophisticated application programming is usually done in C.

Real work is shown here at the digital analog computer—bring-up and debugging of the master controller board. Each of the six microcontrollers is connected to a general-purpose human-interface module.

A digital analog computer in Matthes’s home lab works on master controller board bring-up and debugging. Each of the six microcontrollers is connected to a general-purpose human-interface module.

Additional photos of Matthes’s workspace and his embedded electronics and micrcontroller projects are available at his new website.

 

 

 

Electronics Workspace: Pure Function, Minimal Form

Engineering consultant Steve Hendrix of Sagamore Hills, OH, says the “corporate headquarters” of Hx Engineering, LLC, pictured below, “is pure function, minimal form, and barely fits.”

This basement workspace reflects Steven's diverse projects and clients.

This basement workspace reflects Steve’s diverse projects and clients.

It’s a home basement workspace that reflects a variety of projects and clients. “I do a range of design work, from transistor-level hardware design through microcontrollers and FPGAs, as well as the embedded firmware and PC-side software to run the products,” Hendrix says. “Most of my clients are small to medium businesses in northeast Ohio, although I’ve done designs for companies as far west as New Mexico, as far south as Florida, and as far east as Cypress.”

Hendrix describes a workspace layout that stresses utility and a certain attention to thriftiness:

As I look through my equipment, probably the central theme is cost-effective solid equipment, without necessarily being the ‘first kid on the block.’ I learned long ago to be the second kid on the block with the newest toy… er… TOOL. The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

He provides the following detailed description of his equipment and desk, which is a very large, solid-core door purchased cheaply from a lumberyard because it had been damaged:

Being natural wood and not plastic, it makes an inherently anti-static workstation. I used a router to round the front edge to be a bit friendlier to elbows, and carefully trimmed it and wedged it between the wall on the right and the utility room wall on the left, supported by vertical plywood against the walls. My PCs are in the adjacent utility room so I don’t have to listen to fans all day and they’re up on custom brackets on the wall so I don’t have to shinny under the desk to get to them. All the wires pass through plumbing fittings in the wall. The main work computer runs the lower dual monitors. The next-older work computer is still used for some specialized hardware, via the monitor above and an extra mouse. Under the left monitor is an all-band receiver that I sometimes use to monitor equipment under development, but also listen to broadcast music.

My late father-in-law was always extremely thrifty, and salvaged the flatbed scanner at the top left from a dumpster. It’s turned out to be the best scanner I’ve seen, and I used it to scan their family pictures. There’s also an HP Photosmart scanner that’s excellent on slides and negatives.

The middle stack has a parts cabinet that I really should retire, holding mainly SN74 series dual in-line packages (DIPs) that I very rarely use these days. Below that is an Ethernet-enabled power switch that controls various equipment. Next down is my trusty old Tektronix TDS-220 oscilloscope

I was pleased to note that past contributors to [Circuit Cellar’s Workspace feature] also use that same scope. It was the first digital scope I ever encountered that wouldn’t fib to me about aliasing, and it’s still a real workhorse. The ability to do screen captures with the free PC software helps a lot in documenting a finished product and in discussing problems remotely. Below that is a very solid bench multimeter. If it just had a capacitance function, I could abandon my Fluke 12! Then there’s a basic analog function generator, and some manual switches for AC.

Over on the far right are some more parts cabinets, several power supplies (including the ±5V/±12V supply my dad helped me build during my very first excursions into the then-new SN74 series of logic), an RF signal generator, and a good old boat-anchor Hewlett-Packard (HP) spectrum analyzer. I got that one off eBay, and spent as much again to get it repaired and calibrated. It’s in many ways better than the newer instruments. If it had a synthesized local oscillator and a computer interface, it would do it all. Actually, I have on occasion faked a computer interface by connecting the video outputs on its front panel to my TDS-220, and then capturing the resulting waveform.

In front of that is my solder station and stereo zoom microscope. Sitting on its stage is a backup prototype identical to the one currently controlling 4,800 W of my total 6,800 W of installed solar capacity. I routinely do prototypes using 0603 parts and recently more 0402 parts, with occasional 0201 parts. Don’t sneeze around those! The cabinets on the right wall are mainly connectors and surface-mount parts.

I needed some more bench space for a project, so I added a “temporary” shelf between the right end of my bench and the bookshelves on the wall to the right. As you can imagine, the “temporary” part of that wasn’t. So now it holds a voltage standard, on which sits my solder station and a ham radio. The latter is powered directly by 12-V solar power. At the extreme right are an inverter connected to the same solar batteries and the side of a breaker panel that allows me to safely connect to those same batteries when I need a heavy-duty 12-V power supply.

The whole office is lighted by strips of white LEDs run directly by 12-V solar power. The self-adhesive strips are just stuck to the drop-ceiling rails on each side of the standard florescent fixture. The standard fixture is still present and functional as a backup, but the solar lights are actually brighter and don’t flicker like a florescent. The 12-V solar is also wired to the rear jacks of the HP multimeter, so I can get an instant reading on the battery charge state. I have future plans to move some or all of my office circuits to the 120 VAC solar power that runs a portion of our home.

To the right and out of the picture is a solid wall of bookshelves that I built to hold databooks when I first set up this office over 20 years ago. The Internet and PDFs have pretty much made that obsolete, so those shelves now hold various supplies, projects in various states of completion, and some archival data. Behind me as I take this picture is a long table, made of another big door sitting atop filing cabinets. My original intent was for the desk to be for software/firmware, and the long table to be for hardware. Indeed, there are still a couple of RS-232 lines up through the ceiling and down to the table. However, now it serves as an assembly area when I have contractors doing assembly, as well as for storage and general workspace. But there’s Ethernet available on both the desk and the bench, for connecting Ethernet-enabled prototypes.

The biggest drawback to this office comes on a clear, cold, sunny day. The upstairs has lots of glass, so it absorbs lots of free solar heat. However, that means the furnace doesn’t run at all (even near zero outside), so the office and the rest of the basement get really cold. But since the furnace blower is on solar power, which is abundant under those conditions, I just force the blower on to share some of that heat!

If you’re interested in learning more about Hendrix’s work, check out our member profile posted last year. Also, be sure to pick up Circuit Cellar‘s upcoming July and August issues, which will include Hendrix’s two-part series on his personal solar-power setup.

These solar panels are mounted on Steve's east-facing roof.

These solar panels are mounted on Steve’s east-facing roof.