Micropython Binaries for the ESP8266 to be Released

MicroPython is a Kickstarted project that brings Python to small, embeddable devices. As part of the terms of the Kickstarter, supporters were to get exclusive access to binary builds, with a few exceptions. Now it looks like the ESP8266-version is going to be added to the binary list. This is awesome news for anyone who enjoys playing around with the popular WiFi chip.

But even more heartwarming is the overwhelming response of the Kickstarter’s backers for making the binary builds public. Basically everyone was in favor of opening the binaries up to the general public, and many wrote that they wanted public binaries all along. People can be so giving.

But there’s also something in it for them! The more people get behind MicroPython, the more (free and paid) development support it will warrant, and the more bug reports it will garner. Wins all around. So keep clicking refresh on the binary list until you see it live. Or better yet, if you’re interested, head over to the forum. (Or just wait for us to cover it here. You know we will.)

3D Printering: Makerbot’s Class Action Suit Dismissed

This time last year, Stratasys, parent company of Makerbot, was implicated in a class action suit. Investors claimed Stratasys violated securities laws, and overstated both the performance of the 5th generation of Makerbot printers and the performance of the company itself. Court docs received by Adafruit have revealed this case has been dismissed with prejudice. Makerbot won this one.

The case presented by Stratasys investors relied on two obvious facts. First, the price of Stratasys shares fell far beyond expectations. Second, the extruder for the 5th generation of Makerbot printers – the ‘Smart Extruder’ – was terrible. No one can reasonably dispute these claims; shares of SYSS fell from $120 in September of 2014 to $30 in September of 2015. With many returns to handle, Makerbot quickly redesigned the Smart Extruder.

Both of these indisputable facts are in stark contrast to statements made by Stratasys and Makerbot at the time. In a press release for the 4th quarter 2013 financial results, Stratasys’ expected sales to grow at least 25% over 2013 and stated it was experiencing “strong sales” of its desktop 3D printer. Concerning the Smart Extruder, Makerbot stated this new feature of the 5th generation Makerbots would make them easy to use, and “define the new standard for quality and reliability.”

The facts of this case are not in dispute – Stratasys did not see the growth they expected in late 2013. The Smart Extruder certainly did not make printers more reliable. These facts, however, are not sufficient to violate securities law.  In a wonderful legal turn of phrase, the judge deciding this case called the statements about the quality of the 5th generation Makerbots consisted of, “non-actionable puffery,” and a ‘statement so vague and such obvious hyperbole than no reasonable investor would rely on them.’

Statements made by Stratasys on their financial performance were also found not to be sufficient to violate securities laws. Stratasys did make several statements about negative performance in late 2014 and 2015, and positive statements made earlier did not have an intent to deceive investors.

This is good news for Makerbot. The claims brought by investors in this case had little merit. The case cannot be appealed, and Stratasys is no longer facing a class action suit. Does this news actually matter? Not really; Makerbot is a dead man walking, and 2016 sales will be at levels not seen since 2010 or 2011.

The consumer 3D printing industry is booming, despite the Makerbot bellwether though.

Don Eyles Walks Us Through the Lunar Module Source Code

A couple weeks ago I was at a party where out of the corner of my eye I noticed what looked like a giant phone book sitting open on a table. It was printed with perforated green and white paper bound in a binder who’s cover looked a little worse for the wear. I had closer look with my friend James Kinsey. What we read was astonishing; Program 63, 64, 65, lunar descent and landing. Error codes 1201, 1202. Comments printed in the code, code segments hastily circled with pen. Was this what we thought we were looking at? And who brings this to a party?

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Bridging the Air Gap; Data Transfer via Fan Noise

When you want to protect a computer connected to the Internet against attackers, you usually put it behind a firewall. The firewall controls access to the protected computer. However, you can defeat any lock and there are ways a dedicated attacker can compromise a firewall. Really critical data is often placed on a computer that is “air gapped.” That is, the computer isn’t connected at all to an insecure network.

An air gap turns a network security problem into a physical security problem. Even if you can infect the target system and collect data, you don’t have an easy way to get the data out of the secure facility unless you are physically present and doing something obvious (like reading from the screen into a phone). Right? Maybe not.

Researchers in Isreal have been devising various ways to transmit data from air walled computers. Their latest approach? Transmit data via changing the speed of cooling fans in the target computer. Software running on a cellphone (or other computer, obviously) can decode the data and exfiltrate it. You can see a video on the process below.

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Puzzling Out an 80s Puzzle Toy

[Ido Gendel] looks back a time in the 80s when kids would learn by answering the questions to quizzes on their “TOMY Teacher,” or, “Sears Quiz-A-Tron”. There’s a bit of a conundrum with this toy. How did it know which answers were correct. Chip memory of any kind wasn’t the kind of thing you’d sweep into the dust bin if you had extras like it is now; it was expensive.

To use the toy, the child would place the notebook in the plastic frame on the device. They’d open the page with the quiz they would like to take. Printed in the upper left hand corner were three colored squares. There was a matching set of colored buttons on the device. They’d press the corresponding buttons in order from top to bottom and then the machine would magically know which answers on the quiz were correct.

[Ido] wondered how the machine handled this information. Was there an internal table for all 27 possible codes? Did it generate the answer table somehow? He sat down with a spreadsheet filled with the notebook code on the left and the corresponding correct answers on the right. Next he stared at the numbers.

He eventually determined that there was a pattern. The machine was using the colored squares as the input for a function that determined what the answers were. A table would have only taken up 68 bytes, but with one 80s chip on board, sounds to play, and lights to switch on and off, the machine needed all the free space it could get.

The EAGLE has landed: at Autodesk!

The selloffs continue at Farnell! We’d previously reported that the UK distributor of electronics parts was being sold to a Swiss distributor of electronics parts. Now it looks like they’re getting rid of some of their non-core businesses, and in this case that means CadSoft EAGLE, a popular free-for-limited-use PCB layout suite.

But that’s not the interesting part: they sold EAGLE to Autodesk!

Autodesk had a great portfolio of professional 3D-modeling tools, and has free versions of a good number of their products. (Free as in beer. You don’t get to see the code or change it.) By all accounts, the professional versions of their tools are very professional if you can afford them, and the trial versions are still useful. This makes EAGLE slot very nicely into their business model, filling a hole (PCB design) in their toolchain.

What does this mean for those of you out there still using EAGLE instead of open-source alternatives? (We haven’t used EAGLE since KiCAD got good a couple years back.) Beats us! Care to speculate wildly? That’s why we have a comments section. Go! In the mean time we hope to have more info for you directly from Autodesk soon so stay tuned to the front page.

The Politest Patent Discussion, OSHW v. Patents

We’ve covered [Vijay] refreshable braille display before. Reader, [zakqwy] pointed us to an interesting event that occured in the discussion of its Hackaday.io project page.

[Vijay] was inspired by the work of [Paul D’souza], who he met at Makerfaire Bangalore. [Paul] came up with a way to make a refreshable braille display using small pager motors. [Vijay] saw the light, and also felt that he could make the vibrating motor display in such a way that anyone could make it for themselves at a low cost.

Of course, [Paul], had patented his work, and in this case rightly so. As jaded as we have become with insane patent trolls, our expectation on receiving the tip was that [Paul] had sued [Vijay] out of house and home and kicked his dog while he was at it. A short google search shows that [Paul] is no patent troll, and is a leader in his field. He has done a lot to help the visually impaired with his research and inventions.

Instead we were greeted by a completely different conversation. [Paul] politely mentioned that his lawyer informed him that in order to protect his IP he needed to let [Vijay] know exactly how the information could be used. No cease and desist, in fact he encouraged [Vijay] to continue his open research as long as he made it clear that the methods described could not be used to make a marketable product without infringing on [Paul]’s patents. They’d need to get in touch with [Paul] and work something out before doing such.

[Vijay] responded very well to this information. His original goal was to produce a cheap braille display that could be made and sold by anyone. However, he did use [Paul]’s work as a basis for his variation. Since [Paul]’s commercial interests relied on his patent, there was a clear conflict, and it became obvious to [Vijay] that if he wanted to meet his goal he’d have to pick a new direction. So, he released his old designs as Creative Commons, since the CERN license he was using was invalidated by [Paul]’s patent. He made it very clear that anyone basing their work off those designs would have to get in touch with [Paul]. Undaunted by this, and still passionate about the project, [Vijay] has decided to start from scratch and see if he can invent an entirely new, unprotected mechanism.

Yes, the patent system is actually encouraging innovation by documenting prior work while protecting commercial and time investments of beneficial inventors. Well. That’s unexpected.

Kudos to [Paul] for encouraging the exploration of home hackers rather than playing the part of the evil patent owner we’ve all come to expect from these stories. Also [Vijay], for acting maturely to [Paul]’s polite request and not ceasing his work.