C++ Turns 30 – Looking Forward to the Future

[Bjarne Stroustrup] introduced C++ to the world on Monday 14th October 1985 at the ACM annual conference on “The Range of Computing”. On its 30th anniversary [Bjarne] reviewed the history, his experience, and his thoughts on the future of the language in an interview. Also on that day the first edition of his book, “The C++ Programming Language” was released. It’s now available in a 4th edition. The title differed only in the “++” from the classic C book by [Kernighan] and [Ritchie] that graced the desktops of a multitude of C programmers.

The first versic++ bjarneons of C++ were compiled with CFront, a compiler that generated C code which was then compiled as normal. Around the 1990s, it’s unclear when, numerous native compilers became available, notably for PCs, which lead to explosive growth from 400,000 users to an estimated 4.4 million today.

 

One of the frustrations [Stroustrup] expresses is how C++ is viewed by developers,

… a problem that has plagued C++ forever: Poor teaching and poor understanding of C++ even among its practitioners. There has always been a tendency to describe C++ as some odd variant of something else.

Soon the standards committee is meeting to discuss C++17 in Hawaii. Fair winds and bright skies look to be in the future of C++.

LED Pendulum Pulses Out Clock Face

You have to admit [Dylan Rush’s] clock is a real swinger. Literally. You’ve seen the desk novelties where an arm with leds mounted on it sweeps out a message? [Dylan] did the same thing to make a clock but instead of drawing numbers, he actually draws an analog clock face. Y’know one of those round things with arms?

IMG_20150824_2156213_rewindBehind the clock is an Arduino driving a MAX7219 LED controller. Using the MAX7219 was a challenge because it expects a grid of LEDs while the clock needs a linear array. [Dylan] used a line of individual LEDs wired to match what the controller wanted. A rotary encoder tells the processor the position of the arm so the Arduino sketch can determine which LEDs should be lit to show the time and clock face.

What’s even more amazing is [Dylan] created this before clocks became infamous.

Swing over to the video after the break.

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RF Attack Controls Nearby Smartphones Via “Okay Google” And “Hey Siri”

Screenshot_20151016-170014Most spy movies (at least the ones worth their salt) will include a few scenes that depict nerds in a van listening in on conversations remotely and causing the victims phones to do things like turn themselves or their cameras on. We have been made to believe that it takes an entire van of equipment and one or two MIT level hackers to pull this off. Turns out all it takes is about $2300, some know how, and an unsuspecting target with a set of microphone-equipped headphones attached to their phone.

The French Government’s information security research group ANSSI has been investigating this and published a paper with their findings. Unfortunately that paper is behind a paywall. Wired has a pretty good summation of the findings, which use a transmitter to induce a current in the headphone wires. This in itself isn’t surprising. But they’re able to do it with such accuracy that it can both trigger, and successfully interact with the hands-free features provided by Siri and Google Now.

We think this is a really cool proof-of-concept. It’s mentioned that an attacker could potentially use this to make calls or do other things that cost the victim money. We think it’s more likely to be implemented by resourceful young engineers as a practical joke. Rick Rolling is a poplar go-to. But if you can make the phone “hear” audio, you should also be able to make someone wearing headphones hear ghosts. This has a lot of potential. The first one to make this happen really needs to let us know about it.

 

3D Printed Gun is Off the Rails

There are certain topics that cause people to have knee-jerk reactions: Try asking a crowd which Star Trek was best or–around here–take a stance for or against the Arduino and you’ll see what we mean. Certainly people polarize quickly when you talk about a 3D printed gun. However, if anyone can sneak [xtamared’s] 3D printed rail gun through airport security, then some guards will have to be fired. It looks like a cool prop from a bad movie, but (as you can see in the videos below) it can project a conductive slug into a decidedly low-tech target.

There aren’t many build details, although you can deduce a few things from the pictures and the captions. At the rear of the gun is a paintball tank that gets the slug moving before it hits the rails which further accelerate the projectile. The electric part is Arduino-based and the very prominent capacitors at the front end can deliver 1800 joules of energy (and add 20 pounds of weight to the gun).

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Retrotechtacular: New York City’s Secret Computer

Over 750,000 people pass through New York City’s Grand Central Terminal each day. Located in the heart of the city, it’s one of the largest train stations in the world. Its historic significance dates back to 1913, when it opened its doors to the public. At the time, few were aware of the secret computer that sat deep in a sub basement below the hustle and bustle of the city’s busy travelers. Its existence was kept secret all the way into the 1980’s.

Westinghouse had designed a system that would allow authorities to locate a stuck train in a tunnel. There were cords stretched the length of the tunnels. If a train stalled, the operator could reach out and yank on the cord. This would set off an alarm that would alert everyone of the stuck train. The problem being that even though they knew a train was down, they did not know exactly where. And that’s where the computer come in. Westinghouse designed it to calculate where the train was, and write its location on some ticker tape.

So this is the part of the post where we tell you how the computer established where exactly the train breakdown occurred. Although the storyteller in the video is admirably enthusiastic about telling the story, our depth of detail on the engineering that went into this seems nowhere to be found. Let us know in the comments below if you have a source of more information. Or just post your own conjecture on how you would have done it with the early 20th century tech.

The invention of the two way radio made the whole thing obsolete not long after is was built. Never-the-less, it remains intact to this day.

Thanks to [Greg] for the tip!

Powered Skateboards are Passe; Skelecs the New Hotness

[Harris] has an interesting answer to the inevitable question about what he did on his summer vacation: he built a pair of electric roller blades.  [Harris] is an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Nottingham, and he completed the first version of what he calls Skelecs just before he went back to college. He has documented the process from the initial concept and building his own controller board, through his failures at correctly drilling the steel base, to his first drive down the road.

His build uses a pair of small 120W hub motors attached to a steel chassis, which is attached to a pair of cannibalized rollerblade boots.

It’s a bit of a Frankenstein build (he currently has the batteries and controller stuffed into a pants pocket, which isn’t really a practical long-term solution), but it works. A bit too well, in fact: [Harris] says that a combination of speed and a bumpy road detached one of the batteries and sent him flying. He’s not letting a minor injury and a bit of blood put him off, though: he’s already started work on version 2, which will use lighter aluminum construction and a pair of omniwheels for easier steering and more control. We’ll believe that claim when we see it.

Remember, powered skateboards are over — non hackers got their hands on them so they’re commonplace. Hipster hackers need to drop that build and start on your own pair of Skelecs.

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Converting a 3D Printer from 3mm to 1.75mm

A few weeks ago, I published a post discussing the filament diameters common in 3d printing. For no reason whatsoever, consumer 3D printers have settled on two different sizes of filament. Yes, there are differences, but those differences are just a function of engineering tradeoffs and historical choices. [Thomas], YouTube’s 3D printing guru, took this post as a challenge: what does it take to convert a printer to accept different sizes of filament? Not much, actually.

The printer [Thomas] is changing out to accept 1.75mm is the Lulzbot Mini, one of the most popular printers that would ever need this modification. The only required materials is a new hot end suitable for 1.75mm filament, a 4mm drill, and a few wrenches and allen keys. It would be a smart idea to get a hot end that uses the same thermistor as the old one, but that’s not a deal-breaker as the problem can be fixed in the firmware.

Disassembly was easy enough, and after mounting the PTFE tubing, cutting the old wires, soldering in the new hot end, thermistor, and fan, [Thomas] had everything set up and ready to go.

It should be noted that changing a 3mm hot end to 1.75mm doesn’t really do anything. Just about every filament is available in both sizes, although it may not be convenient to buy 3mm filament locally. It would be a good idea to change out the hot end so can standardize your workshop or hackerspace on a single diameter of filament.

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