New Efficiency Standards for Wall Warts in the US

The common household wall wart is now under stricter regulation from the US Government. We can all testify to the waste heat produced by many cheap wall warts. Simply pick one at random in your house, and hold it; it will almost certainly be warm. This regulation hopes to save $300 million in wasted electricity, and reap the benefits, ecologically, of burning that much less fuel.

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The old standard.

We don’t know what this means practically for the consumer. Will your AliExpress wall warts be turned away at the shore now? Will this increase the cost of the devices? Will it make them less safe? More safe? It’s always hard to see where new regulation will go. Also, could it help us get revenge on that knock-off laptop adapter we bought that go hot it melted a section of carpet?

However, it does look like most warts will go from a mandated 50-ish percent efficiency to 85% and up. This is a pretty big change, and some hold-out manufacturers are going to have to switch gears to newer circuit designs if they want to keep up. We’re also interested to hear the thoughts of those of you outside of the US. Is the US finally catching up, or is this something new?

Drone Registration is just FAA Making You Read Their “EULA”

Over the last few weeks we’ve waded through the debate of Drone restrictions as the FAA announced, solicited comments, and finally put in place a registration system for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Having now had a week to look at the regulation, and longer to consider the philosophy behind it, I don’t think this is a bad thing. I think the FAA’s move is an early effort to get people to pay attention to what they’re doing.

The broad picture looks to me like a company trying to get users to actually read an End User Licensing Agreement. I’m going to put the blame for this firmly on Apple. They are the poster children for the unreadable EULA. Every time there is an update, you’re asked to read the document on your smartphone. You scroll down a bit and think it’s not that long, until you discover that it’s actually 47 pages. Nobody reads this, and years of indoctrination have made the click-through of accepting an EULA into a pop-culture reference. In fact, this entire paragraph has been moot. I’d bet 99 out of 103 readers knew the reference before I started the explanation.

So, we have a population of tech adopters who have been cultivated to forego reading any kind of rules that go with a product. Then we have technological advancement and business interests that have brought UAS to the feet of the general public both with low costs, wide availability, and pop-culture appeal. What could possibly go wrong? Let’s jump into that, then cover some of the other issues people are concerned about, like the public availability of personal info on the drone registry.

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FAA Releases Rules Governing Unmanned Aerial Systems

The US Department of Transportation and the FAA have just released their guidelines that require registration of Unmanned Aerial Systems. This is the regulation that covers model aircraft, drones, quadcopters, and flying toys of all kinds. These rules have been anticipated since last month to be in place for the holiday season.

As expected, the FAA is requiring registration for all aircraft, regardless of being ‘model’ aircraft or not, weighing more than 250 grams (0.55 pounds) and less than 55 pounds. The maximum weight is a holdover from previous regulations; model aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds were never really legal without a permit. It should be noted that anyone can build a quadcopter with cameras and video transmitters weighing less than 250 grams. These quadcopters are not ‘toys’ by any means, but are not required to be marked with a registration number and the pilot is not required to actually register. As expected, most rules governing the actual flight of these aircraft remain in place – don’t fly above 400 feet, don’t fly within five miles of an airport.

Registration is by pilot, not aircraft, and costs $5. A registration number must be put on every aircraft the pilot owns, and penalties for not registering can include up to $27,500 in civil penalties and up to $250,000/3 years imprisonment in criminal penalties. The full rules are available in this 200-page PDF. As with most government regulations, there will be a 30-day RFQ period beginning December 21st on regulations.gov. The docket number is FAA-2015-7396.

FCC Clears The Air With Wi-Fi Software Updates

A few months ago, the Internet resounded with news that the FCC would ban open source router firmware. This threat came from proposed rules to devices operating in the U-NII bands – 5GHz WiFi, basically. These rules would have required all devices operating in this band to prevent modification to the radio inside these devices. Thanks to the highly integrated architecture of these devices, Systems-on-Chips, and other cost cutting measures from router manufacturers, the fear was these regulations would ultimately prevent modifications to these devices. It’s a legitimate argument, and a number of the keepers of the Open Source flame aired their concerns on the matter.

Now, the FCC has decided to clear the air on firmware upgrades to wireless routers. There was a fair bit of confusion in the original document, given the wording, “how [its] device is protected from ‘flashing’ and the installation of third-party firmware such as DD-WRT.” This appeared to mandate wholesale blocking of Open Source firmware on devices, with no suggestion as to how manufacturers would accomplish this impossible task.

[Julias Knapp], chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology has since clarified the Commission’s position. In response to the deluge of comments to the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the phrase, ‘protected from flashing… Open Source firmware” has been removed from the upcoming regulation. There’s new, narrow wording (PDF) in this version that better completes the Commission’s goal of stopping overpowered radios without encroching on the Open Source firmware scene. The people spoke, and the FCC listened — democracy at work.

Retro Time Tech: [Fran] and Pocket Watches

Whether you own a pocket watch, want to own one, or just plain think they’re cool, [Fran’s] video on setting and regulating pocket watches provides a comprehensive overview on these beautiful works of mechanical art. After addressing the advantages and disadvantages between stem, lever, and key set watches, [Fran] cracks open her 1928 Illinois to reveal the internals and to demonstrate how to adjust the regulator.

Though she doesn’t dive into a full teardown, there’s plenty of identification and explanation of parts along the way. To slow her watch down a tad, [Fran] needed to turn a very tiny set screw about a quarter of a turn counterclockwise, slowing down the period: an adjustment that requires a fine jewelers screwdriver, a delicate touch, and a lot of patience. Results aren’t immediately discernible, either. It takes a day or two to observe whether the watch now keeps accurate time.

Stick around for the video after the jump, which also includes an in-depth look at a 1904 Elgin watch, its regulator and other key components.

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