Hackaday Links: The ‘S’ In ‘CES’ Stands For Snake Oil

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Remember IRDA? Before we had Bluetooth and WiFi, the cool kids connected their computers and printers together over fancy Infrared connections. Yes, your computer probably still has the drivers, but the hardware is nowhere to be found. For good reason, too: we now have Bluetooth and WiFi. This year, at CES, IRDA is making a comeback. MyLiFi is a product from OLEDCOMM that puts infrared connectivity in a lamp. All you need to do is plug an Ethernet cable into a desk lamp, a proprietary dongle into your computer, and you too can reap the benefits of a wireless connection with a range measured in meters. One of the selling points of this product is that this gives you wireless Internet ‘without radio waves’, marketing to the idiots who think RF causes cancer or whatever. It’s a stupid product that’s a highlight of the entire trade show.

During this year’s CES, Intel tweeted, “With each person on earth soon to be producing ~1.5 GB of #data each day, it is a resource without limits“. Two criticisms: First, ‘Earth’ should be capitalized. Second, data mined from individuals — which includes personal data and metadata including where you were, and who you talked to — is a resource to be extracted by capitalism. Welcome to the post-privacy society, brought to you by #CES2018.

Oh, crap, we’re getting into cryptocurrency…

Kodak has announced their own blockchain. Is Kodak going to the moon? Yes, but hold on: this might be a good idea. Kodak wants to use a blockchain for ‘image rights management’, where photographers can register, archive, and license their work. It’s a blockchain, and also a solution to a problem: something you don’t see much of these days. Shares of KODK shot up from $3.15 on Monday to somewhere north of $10 this week. Is it a good idea? Who knows, but someone put the word ‘blockchain’ in a press release and made a buttload of cash.

The guy behind the Maker Movement wants to create a blockchain platform for Makers. Who’s this guy behind the Maker Movement? Mark Hatch, former CEO of TechShop and someone who is purportedly on the board of Maker Media (Oh, that’s how Make got the scoop on the TechShop closure -ED). He’s creating a Blockchain for Makers. This blockchain will take two forms. The first is to allow ‘easy confirmation of skills’? Is little Bobby certified to use the table saw? Check the Blockchain. The second barb in our paw is a ‘currency token’ that provides an easy way to pay for related goods or services. There’s no mention if these services are makerspace dues, or some sort of payment system where creators can collect money from people who really really want Raspberry Pis stuffed into 3D printed Nintendos.

In drone news, I am reporting there are no fixed-wing drones on display at CES. Last year, Underwater ROVs outnumbered autonomous fixed-wing aircraft, and this year the scales tipped even further towards submersibles. The laws of physics don’t change for 1/10th scale aircraft, and fixed-wing drones will be more efficient than their multicopter counterparts at nearly every task.

We all know (or should) that safes in Las Vegas hotel rooms aren’t secure. CES 2018 has finally innovated on the hotel safe and come up with something you really don’t want to put your money, wallet, or passport in. It’s an Internet of Things safe. What are the features? Well, it’s small and lightweight and provides little in the way to mount anything. That’s great if you just want to steal the entire safe. But what about breaking into the safe? Don’t worry, the entire thing is made out of plastic. A quick whack to the top of the safe will open it right up.

64 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: The ‘S’ In ‘CES’ Stands For Snake Oil

  1. Re: MyLiFi. I am not sure the snide commentary is entirely warranted, at least when it comes to the underlying tech. That the “marketing” people went overboard trying to sell the tech as “digital detox” is undeniable, however using infrared for wireless local area network is not the worst idea out there. For example, you won’t have to deal with your neighbour’s data if you don’t have line-of-sight to his or her router. I live in an area where it is kind of hard to find a channel that is not too busy and where most people’s solution is to shout louder than their neighbour.

        1. But if you look at the visible light Electromagnetic spectrum it goes from 430(infrared)–750(ultraviolet) THz. In theory that is a bandwidth of nearly 320 000 000 000 Hz which could transfer a hell of a lot of data.

    1. You also can split downlink between emitters. Getting a solid few hundred Mbps per LED means you can avoid some of the problems of WiFi collision in dense environments without cables. If you take half the data out of the WiFi channel you can handle many more clients in the same volume. If one of these systems becomes standardized it would be a real boon for conferences.

    2. Sorry, I couldn’t hear the internet…I was sitting in a corner with my tinfoil hat on.
      “secure, fast (23 Mb/s-) and radio waves free LiFi connectivity” isn’t bad. I’m not going to pay $840 from the campaign to be able to listen to what my lamp has to say (I’m sure it would be enlightening) but I could see this used in certain areas to transmit data securely. Add an extra layer of film to the windows and I’m sure you could get IR transmission levels down to near zero.

    3. Agreed.
      It has an application for me at my workplace where non corporate wifi is banned and frequently scanned for. This would happily slip under the radar.
      And also be of use at other places that dis-allow wifi which might be for stupid reasons but still reasons.

      1. This. It is secure and with minimal precautions can’t be detected without interrupting it. I was working on an IR way to pass notes in an Android app until I realized most Android devices didn’t have the IRDA hardware and my Galaxy was the exception… Even toyed with the idea of a “dongle” you could plug in your headphone jack that would have a IR LED on the speaker circuit and a receiver on the mic input. Basically I just decided it was dumb and I would spend my time doing other better hacks

      1. You may not be far off. I’ve only been to two CES’s, but by the end of each day, I was downing ibuprofen by the fistful. On the plane-ride home, praying for the sweet release of death.

    1. Listening would be easy. Sending your own traffic through it… probably not so much. (Distance vs power)

      What worries me in LiFi is “phone/tablet in pocket/backpack” use-case does not work. And I prefer my phone/tablet to have semiautomatic connectivity.
      And yes, I am old enough to remember IRDA, and it did work.

          1. Inches. HP’s calculator IR capabilities were deliberately limited to *very* short distances so the calculators could be used in classroom testing without enabling inter-calculator communications. The printer was not much larger than the calculator so the IR link was in lieu of needing another cable.

          2. Yep, inches. And the calculator had to be lined up properly to the printer. Ambient lighting made a difference as well. I switched out a desk lamp on my desk to improve reliability.
            Those were the days!

    2. It wouldn’t work. Ordinary window glass doesn’t transmit IR directly through. It absorbs it, spreads it out, then re-radiates it out the other side.

      All those cop shows on TV where they use “infrared cameras” to look through windows, walls, ceilings etc to show people walking around are BS.

      Hawaii Five-0 is a flagrant and frequent abuser of this, even going as far as doing such shots from satellites. Odd that the show does that when much of the other tech used is real stuff, though often fancied up or sped up a bit. One example is the portable fingerprint device. Real tech, scans and sends to AFIS, but reality takes 10~15 minutes VS TV show instantly.

      The show also nearly always does the “wasn’t on the phone long enough to trace” BS. Cel phone locations can be triangulated just about instantly, especially when there are three or more towers in range of the phone. If prepared in advance, waiting for a call from a specific number, the phone location will be nailed down instantly. The show alternates between treating cell phones accurately or like it’s the 1950’s with mechanical switched landlines – as the plot dictates.

      1. I think you’re confusing near and far IR. Clear glass is pretty much perfectly transparent to near IR – it’s close enough to the visible spectrum that attenuating one attenuates the other. Far IR/thermal imaging requires special optics (chalcogenide glass etc) for precisely the reasons you describe, but there’s no way the LiFi thing is using far IR.

      2. “Odd that the show does that when much of the other tech used is real stuff, though often fancied up or sped up a bit.”

        Also CSI and NCIS and their ability to process and identify DNA. Soon, if not already, they’ll just put a drop of blood or hair in a device plugged into their cell phones and have then entire sequence in seconds as well as identifying who left the sample and any foreign substances in it…

  2. Seems odd that they would ignore such a significant proportion of their potential market by only marketing to the idiots, excluding all those non-idiots who think similarly, and especially those who are undecided and choose to err on the side of caution, and/or perhaps look to limit exposure to within recommended safe levels. And that’s not to mention all those other idiots who think that IR can have advantages over RF for other reasons too.

  3. I’m all for selling snake oil to the gullible.

    I hope it comes with ion depleted anhydrous copper mains cable to fully offset the effects of mains frequency imballance in the photon exchange unit.

  4. “Yes, your computer probably still has the drivers, but the hardware is nowhere to be found.”

    Except in my drawer. Good for the HP48. As for LiFi I can see this combined with POE+ to giving the advantages of both.

  5. > This year, at CES, IRDA is making a comeback.

    no it isn’t?


    “Li-Fi has almost no limitations on capacity. The visible light spectrum is 10,000 times larger than the entire radio frequency spectrum. Researchers have reached data rates of over 224 Gbit/s…”

    > … and you too can reap the benefits of a wireless connection with a range measured in meters.

    kind of like bluetooth?

    > Two criticisms: First, ‘Earth’ should be capitalized.

    …you’re complaining about grammar on twitter.

  6. I have always appreciated IRDA and find it a bright way to transceive. It may be best to ignore how something is marketed and think for yourself when deciding whether or not it is a useful technology. The noise floor is crummy enough so anything to reduce it helps. While I do not personally like the tone or attitude of this post, I am glad that it was brought to my attention that IRDA is seeing the light of day again. yo.

  7. One might think that in a show devoted to consumer electronics that the persons intended to buy the stuff (AKA consumers) would be allowed to attend and give some important feedback on whether or not they might desire to exchange money for the products.

    It’s the same with most other industry trade shows. There are big ones for kitchen appliances and pretty much everything else made to be used in kitchens – but Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner aren’t allowed in to voice their opinion on the Master Mixer 2525.

    You won’t see any of the people who’re building a custom car or hot rod in their garage at SEMA, nevermind that some exhibitors might have exactly the product(s) that would sell to large numbers of such people – if they were allowed into the show to find out the product(s) exist.

    How many great products introduced at industry trade shows never succeed because the industry media declines to write any gushing articles about them, while the people who would actually be interested are kept outside the gates?

    1. The goal behind the trade shows is to connect manufacturers and resellers – the guys who are going to be placing the high volume orders with the manufacturer and often taking on part of the support burden. A manufacturer going to a trade show is going to be looking to get their products into retail stores, and the retail stores will be the one putting the product out in the showroom in front of consumers. There are other events, and other channels, that work well for a manufacturer who is looking to get directly in front of consumers.

  8. “The laws of physics don’t change for 1/10th scale aircraft, and fixed-wing drones will be more efficient than their multicopter counterparts at nearly every task.”

    For energy of locomotion, sure. But fixed wings have minimum stall speeds and then you have to sync timing of the flight with the moving subject you’re using. With rotor vehicles, hovering and waiting for a cue makes production a hell of a lot easier to sync things up. That efficiency is sometimes more paramount than fight time. Plus, spare batteries are a must no matter the ‘craft.

    1. Not to mention that line-of-sight laws are much easier to comply with in hovering vehicles, and virtually all popular uses of civilian drones (mostly photography and film) depend on being able to vtol and hover precisely.

      We have model planes, had them for decades, but there’s just not much use for them besides as a hobby.

  9. I really wonder what the point is, that this post should drive home. “CES sucked and i had a bad day” ? “Marketing is st00p1d” ? I would have enjoyed a more positively voiced article describing the funny things at CES, or an opinionated article on how some of these things go a little bit too far. This rather reads as a bunch of negativity about things that are quite related to other news on here – and really not too different. I hope you have a better day today, and manage to find the positive angle in things too :)

    1. There are plenty of “journalists” to write Press Releases for CES. However good journalism implies criticism and resistance to manipulation. This is exactly what we get here today. I prefer this than reading IoT is a revolution in the safes’ industry….

  10. Except from the fact that i.r. light is also electromagnetic radiation, I really like the video where the girl uses her phone (assumingly through WiFi) to control her RF-free lamp.

  11. I’ll throw in on the pro-light pile-on. Did you see Dominic and Mike’s talk?

    I really liked the stereo audio broadcasting device that (FM) modulated audio on two different high-frequency carriers over light. Big bank of IR LEDs could provide audio to a whole room without interfering with the next ballroom over.

    Anyway, the big point of their talk was that you can treat IR like radio, use the GNURadio tools with it, and have a lot of fun (and bandwidth) — without a ham license. I want to (see/do) more hacking on this in 2018. Resolution!

      1. For instance. But have you priced out one of their systems? The system that Mike and Dominic took apart was pretty darn spendy. That said, audio-over-IR is also used for in-car headphone systems too, so not every such system is out of reach.

        My point was just that this is interesting tech, using tools familiar to anyone who plays around with SDR, and that it should be cheap enough to put a system together that’s hacker-relevant.

  12. I live in crowded apartments and our wifi space is crowded there, too. All channels are busy. Lost packets, slow ping. So, I’m one of these “idiots” dreaming about light-based networking technology…

    1. Well maybe the future is better than the past, but in the past it was very finicky with absolute square on line of sight and was often only inches apart. The end use typically being “hey its kind of cool I can set my laptop in front of this printer and vomit out a presentation on transparancy film before walking in the room” or “I need to sync my PDA”.

      As far as beaming files across the room, yes you could do it, but it often took less time to just walk the floppy’s over than messing with it and hoping the ambient light level in the room didnt swing too much, and that was in a small room

    2. Radio waves are light, too. But I get your point. Also something tells me you’re being a little bit optimistic about the setbacks concerning IR communications. It has its own downsides aplenty.

  13. “Blockchain for Makers”?
    who thinks this crap up?

    “‘currency token’ that provides an easy way to pay for related goods or services”
    they already did that, its called a dollar.

      1. True. It seems like the only actual value in crypto-currencies is the fact that it might be possible to conceal payments from governments. Which is great not only for all the fat cat business ‘elite’ but also international criminals, terrorists, drug smugglers, people traffikers etc.

    1. Honestly, this seems like a use case where you don’t need your own token, just use something that already exists. But it seems like everyone here shits on crypto, Benchoff especially.

      For people on the bleeding edge of tech, you guys are hilariously backwards when it comes to cryptocurrencies. USD and many other government-backed currencies are inflated and manipulated at the whim of your leaders. The common argument of crypto being in a bubble is probably true, but like the dotcom bubble, real value was forged there. Sure, the speculation was stupid, and many people lost money. Plenty of cryptos are blatant scams. Plenty more are very stealthy scams lol. But right now, of all the dollars you have, how many can you hold in your hand? Your money is electronic already, why not have it in a public ledger? Why not have a fixed supply so your government can’t steal from your future prosperity? Why not have contracts that can execute themselves?

      Crypto is going to be bigger than the stock market, solely because it’s easy to get into (compared to stocks), anyone can do it worldwide, and Western Union drinks the blood of foreigners sending remittance payments back to their families. It’s almost magical. If you encrypt your wallet file, you can make a million dollars worthless to anyone but you. Basically turn gold into lead until you hit it with the right spell(password). I mean, this is some cutting edge stuff.

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