Heroes of Hardware Revolution: Bob Widlar

Bob Widlar (1937-1991) is without a doubt one of the most famous hardware engineers of all time.  In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the person who single-handedly started the whole Analog IC Industry. Sure, it’s Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby who invented the concept of Integrated Circuits, but it’s Widlar’s genius and pragmatism that brought it to life. Though he was not first to realize the limitations of planar process and designing ICs like discrete circuits, he was the first one to provide an actual solution - µA702, the first linear IC Operational Amplifier. Combining his engineering genius, understanding of economic aspects of circuit design and awareness of medium and process limitations, he and Dave Talbert ruled the world of Analog ICs throughout the 60s and 70s. For a significant period of time, they were responsible more than 80 percent of all linear circuits made and sold in the entire world.

Bob Widlar

 

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Fluke Issues Statement Regarding Sparkfun’s Impounded Multimeters

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Fluke just issued a response to the impounding of multimeters headed for market in the United States. Yesterday SparkFun posted their story about US Customs officials seizing a shipment of 2000 multimeters because of trademark issues. The gist of the response is that this situation sucks and they want to do what they can to lessen the pain for those involved. Fluke is providing SparkFun with a shipment of genuine Fluke DMMs which they can sell to recoup their losses, or to donate. Of course SparkFun is planning to donate the meters to the maker community.

Anyone with a clue will have already noticed the problem with this solution. The impounded shipment of 2k meters will still be destroyed… eh. The waste is visceral. But good for Fluke for trying to do something positive.

Before we sign off let’s touch on the trademark issue for just a moment. We can’t really blame Fluke too much for this. The legal crux of the matter is you either defend your trademark in every case, or you don’t defend it at all. In this case it was the border agents defending the filing, but for ease of understanding we’ll not go into that. On the other hand, speaking in general business terms, the way things are set up it is advantageous to acquire a trademark specification that is as broad as possible because it helps to discourage competitors from coming to market. So trademark is good when it keep hucksters from trying to rip off consumers. But it is bad if applied too broadly as a way of defending a company’s market share.

Where does Fluke come down in all of this? Who knows. There is literally no right answer and that’s why the discussion around yesterday’s post was full of emphatic arguments. A Fluke meter is a cream-of-the-crop device and they have the right (and obligation) to ensure that reputation is not sullied. SparkFun serves a market that probably can’t afford a Fluke at this time but may some day in the future. And this is the reason we can feel okay about this outcome.

[via Twitter]

Multimeters Without A Country: Fluke’s Broad Trademark Bans Yellow Multimeter Imports

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Check out this SparkFun Digital Multimeter. Does it make your blood boil to see them ripping off Fluke by using the color yellow? From SparkFun’s side of the story that’s exactly what’s happened here. They have a shipment of 2000 of these things stuck in customs. The trademark being infringed upon can be found in their article. Fluke owns the trademark on multimeters with a dark face and yellow border. Great. This seems like a wonderful idea, right up there with Apple owning tablets that are shaped like a piece of paper.

Okay, so if you’re not crying big fat tears for Fluke being taken advantage of in this way let’s talk about more immediate issues than fixing trademark, patent, copyright, and all of the other screw-the-little-guy type of laws (not that SparkFun is necessarily the little guy but you know what we mean). The DMMs sitting in a warehouse are costing SparkFun $150 per day. We believe they have no option of choosing a warehouse with a lower cost as we must be talking a pallet or two, right? The only two options they do have are shipping them back to China where they were manufactured, or having them destroyed. The former will cost more in re-import tariffs than the cost of the product, and the latter comes with a $150/hour disposal fee and no metric on which to judge how long it would actually take. We hate seeing this kind of waste, but sure enough 2000 DMMs are headed for the shredder in a couple of days.

We know you already have your flaming sword in hand, but simmer down for just a second. Fluke makes great products, ask anyone. And companies the world over defend their trademarks. Hopefully there will soon be a positive response from Fluke on this one. If you would like to politely encourage them to do the right thing we found Fluke’s Facebook page URL in the SparkFun comments thread. Both are worth browsing.

[Thanks Chris via Reddit]

Google Security Certificates Forged

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Recently, Google discovered that a certificate authority (CA) issued forged certificates for Google domains. This compromises the trust provided by Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure HTTP (HTTPS), allowing the holder of the forged certificates to perform a man-in-the-middle attack.

To validate that the website you’re visiting is actually who they claim to be, your browser ensures that the certificate presented by the server you’re accessing was signed by a trusted CA. When someone requests a certificate from a CA, they should verify the identity of the person making the request. Your browser, and operating system, have a set of ultimately trusted CAs (called root CAs). If the certificate was issued by one of them, or a intermediate CA that they trust, you will trust the connection. This whole structure of trust is called a Chain of Trust.

With a forged certificate, you can convince a client that your server is actually http://www.google.com. You can use this to sit between a client’s connection and the actual Google server, eavesdropping their session.

In this case, an intermediate CA did just that. This is scary, because it undermines the security that we all rely on daily for all secure transactions on the internet. Certificate pinning is one tool that can be used to resist this type of attack. It works by associating a host with a specific certificate. If it changes, the connection will not be trusted.

The centralized nature of TLS doesn’t work if you can’t trust the authorities. Unfortunately, we can’t.

Guest Rant: From Bits To Atoms

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I’ve been a software developer for quite a while. When you spend long enough inside a particular world, it’s easy to wind up with an ever-narrowing perspective. You start seeing everything from a software point of view. As the saying goes, when your only tool is a hammer, you tend to treat every problem as NP-Complete. Or something. I forget how that goes.

Anyway, the point is, it’s always good to broaden one’s horizons, and solve as many different kinds of problems as possible. To that end, I started to get into hobby electronics recently. The journey has been very enlightening in a number of ways.

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Guest Rant: Ham Radio — Hackers’ Paradise

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by [Bill Meara]

The suits at Hack-a-Day reached out to SolderSmoke HQ and asked me to send in a few words about why their readers should take a fresh look at ham radio. Here goes:

First, realize that today’s ham radio represents a tremendous opportunity for technical exploration and adventure. How about building a station (and software) that will allow you to communicate by bouncing digital signals off the moon? How about developing a new modulation scheme to send packets not down the fiber optic network, but around the world via the ionosphere, or via ham radio’s fleet of satellites? How about bouncing your packets off the trails left by meteors? This is not your grandfather’s ham radio.

You can meet some amazing people in this hobby: Using a very hacked-together radio station (my antenna was made from scrap lumber and copper refrigerator tubing) I’ve spoken to astronaut hams on space stations. Our “low power, slow signal” group includes a ham named Joe Taylor. Joe is a radio astronomer who won the Nobel Prize for Physics. He’s now putting his software skills to use in the development of below-the-noise receiving systems for ham radio. Join me after the break for more on the topic. [Read more...]

Rant: Why I love what the Chromecast stands for

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I’ve had my hands on this Chromecast for almost a week now and I love it. Years ago I hacked my first Xbox after seeing [Kevin Rose] do it on The Screensavers (I did the hardware mod but that’s inconsequential). Why did I do this? So that I could run Xbox Media Center, the predecessor of XBMC. Since then I’ve dreamed of a device which can be hung on the back of the TV with Velcro and run XBMC. We basically got there with the Raspberry Pi, but the Chromecast is the form-factor that I had always envisioned. This lets me watch Netflix, while the RPi runs XBMC. The two are match made in heaven for under a hundred bucks.

That’s why I love the Chromecast device itself, but the bigger picture is that I love what it stands for. Keep reading to see what i mean.

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