Black Hole Imaging Scientists Win 2020 Breakthrough Prize

Making a monumental scientific breakthrough is really kind of its own reward. Even so, it’s always nice to get extra recognition in the form of unexpected money. For the 347 scientists around the world who made history when they captured the first image of a black hole, the event itself is pretty sweet. The cake of notoriety recently gained some icing, because the group has been awarded a $3 million Breakthrough Prize.

The prize, known as “the Oscars of science”, was created eight years ago with the goal of furthering scientific advancements in the areas of physical science, mathematics, and life science. Created by tech investor Yuri Milner, the Breakthrough Prize is funded by other deep-pocketed notables like Sergey Brin and the Zuckerbergs. This year’s theme is “seeing the invisible”. Prizes will also be awarded for discoveries toward non-opioid pain relievers and the study of neuro-degenerative disorders.

Each of the black hole imaging scientists will receive $8,645.53 when the prize is awarded in a televised ceremony on November 3rd, which is going down at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. In lieu of parading all 347 scientists across the stage, [Shep Doeleman] of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Director of the Event Horizon Telescope project, will accept the award on their behalf.

What exactly are black holes, and how did they come about? Explore their origins with [Will Sweatman] in this feature from 2018.

Black hole wire frame CC0 Public Domain via Phys.org

Black hole image via NASA

Using The Electricity Grid In Cities As A Source Of Heat

In the process of finding new, low-carbon ways to provide our homes with heat and electricity, it is that one might consider sources that never before came to mind. In London such a source that has been examined by researchers and an electricity network operator are the 2.5 meter wide tunnels that run for many kilometers underneath the city. In each of them are many more kilometers worth of electricity distribution cables, each of which produces so much heat from electric resistance that active cooling is required.

Currently, every 1.8 kilometers there are shafts that lead to the surface, through which cold surface air is brought in and the warm tunnel air is exhausted into the air. The study by London South Bank University researchers and UK Power Networks looked at using this heat directly for heating local houses, replacing the use of gas boilers. This is in effect similar to heating with waste heat from industrial processes, but with noticeable differences.

The thermal power available from each 1.8 kilometer section of tunnel differs between 100 – 460 kW by installing equipment at the top of the shafts. With London looking at using heat from the London Underground for heating in a similar fashion, it would be fascinating to see whether the combined heat from both underground sources could provide the city with a sizeable source of low-carbon heat, while increasing creature comfort.

Hackaday Links: September 15, 2019

It’s probably one of the first lessons learned by new drivers: if you see a big, red fire truck parked by the side of the road, don’t run into it. Such a lesson appears not to have been in the Tesla Autopilot’s driver education curriculum, though – a Tesla Model S managed to ram into the rear of a fire truck parked at the scene of an accident on a southern California freeway. Crash analysis reveals that the Tesla was on Autopilot and following another vehicle; the driver of the lead vehicle noticed the obstruction and changed lanes. Apparently the Tesla reacted to that by speeding up, but failed to notice the stationary fire truck. One would think that the person driving the car would have stepped in to control the vehicle, but alas. Aside from beating up on Tesla, whose AutoPilot feature seems intent on keeping the market for batteries from junked vehicles fully stocked, this just points out how far engineers have to go before self-driving vehicles are as safe as even the worst human drivers.

The tech press is abuzz today with stories about potential union-busting at Kickstarter. Back in March, Kickstarter employees announced their intent to organize under the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). On Thursday, two of the union organizers were fired. Clarissa Redwine, who recently hosted a Hack Chat, was one of those released; both she and Taylor Moore are protesting their terminations as an illegal attempt to intimidate Kickstarter employees and keep them from voting for the union. For their part, Kickstarter management says that both employees and two more were released as a result of documented performance issues during the normal review cycle, and that fourteen employees who are in favor of the union were given raises during this cycle, with three of them having been promoted. There will no doubt be plenty more news about this to come.

Would you pay $900 for a Nixie clock? We wouldn’t, but if you choose to buy into Millclock’s high-end timepiece, it may help soften the blow if you think about it being an investment in the future of Nixie tubes. You see, Millclock isn’t just putting together an overpriced clock that uses surplus Russian Nixies – they’re actually making brand new tubes. Techmoan recently reviewed the new clock and learned that the ZIN18 tubes are not coming from Czech Republic-based Dalibor Farný, but rather are being manufactured in-house. That’s exciting news for Nixie builders everywhere; while Dalibor’s tubes are high-quality products, it can’t hurt to have a little competition in the market. Nixies as a growth industry in 2019 – who’da thunk it?

We ran across an interesting project on Hackaday.io the other day, one that qualifies as a true hack. How much house can you afford? A simple question, but the answer can be very difficult to arrive at with the certainty needed to sign papers that put you on the hook for the next 30 years. Mike Ferarra and his son decided to answer this question – in a circuit simulator? As it turns out, circuit simulators are great at solving the kinds of non-linear simultaneous equations needed to factor in principle, interest, insurance, taxes, wages, and a host of other inflows and outflows. Current sources represent money in, current sinks money paid out. Whatever is left is what you can afford. Is this how Kirchoff bought his house?

And finally, is your parts inventory a bit of a mystery? Nikhil Dabas decided that rather than trying to remember what he had and risk duplicating orders, he’d build an application to do it for him. Called WhatDidIBuy, it does exactly what you’d think; it scrapes the order history pages of sites like Adafruit, Digi-Key, and Mouser and compiles a list of your orders as CSV files. It’s only semi-automated, leaving the login process to the user, but something like this could save a ton of time. And it’s modular, so adding support for new suppliers is a simple as writing a new scraper. Forgot what you ordered from McMaster, eBay, or even Amazon? Now there’s an app for that.

Monster Bush Plane Is A One-Off Engineering Masterpiece

All of us dream of reaching a point in life where we have the knowledge, skills, energy and resources to pull off builds that match our wildest dreams. [Mike Patey] is living that dream and with a passion for engineering and aviation that is absolutely infectious, he built Draco, the world’s most badass bush plane.

Draco started life as a PZL-104MA Wilga 2000, which already had impressive short take off and landing (STOL) capabilities for a 4 seater. Its original 300 hp Lycoming piston engine failed catastrophically in 2017, very nearly dumping [Mike] in Lake Utah. He decided it was a good excuse to start building his dream plane, and replaced the motor with a Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engine, putting out a massive 680 hp.

Almost the entire plane was upgraded, and the engineering that went into it is awe-inspiring, especially considering that [Mike] did most of it himself. This includes a redesigned fuel system, enlarged wing and control surfaces, new avionics, oxygen system, upgraded landing gear and an array of lights. The wing tip landing lights are actually from a Boeing 737. [Mike] estimates that the upgrades cost somewhere in the region of a million US dollars. All the highlights of the build is documented in series of videos on [Mike]’s YouTube channel. What we would give for a personal workshop like that…

Try not to let your jaw hit the floor when watching the video after the break.

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GymCam Knows Exactly What You’ve Been Doing In The Gym

Getting exact statistics on one’s physical activities at the gym, is not an easy feat. While most people these days are familiar with or even regularly use one of those motion-based trackers on their wrist, there’s a big question as to their accuracy. After all, it’s all based on the motions of just one’s wrist, which as we know leads to amusing results in the tracker app when one does things like waving or clapping one’s hands, and cannot track leg exercises at the gym.

To get around the issue of limited sensor data, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, USA) developed a system based around a camera and machine vision algorithms. While other camera solutions that attempt this suffer from occlusion while trying to track individual people as accurately as possible, this new system instead doesn’t try to track people’s joints, but merely motion at specific exercise machines by looking for repetitive motion in the scene.

The basic concept is that repetitive motion usually indicates forms of exercise, and that no two people at the same type of machine will ever be fully in sync with their motions, so that merely a handful of pixels suffice to track motion at that machine by a single person. This also negates many privacy issues, as the resolution doesn’t have to be high enough to see faces or track joints with any degree of accuracy.

In experiments at the university’s gym, the accuracy of their system over 5 days and 42 hours of video. Detecting exercise activities in the scene was with a 99.6% accuracy, disambiguating between simultaneous activities was 84.6% accurate, while recognizing exercise types was 93.6% accurate. Ultimately repetition counts for specific exercises were within 1.7 counts.

Maybe an extended version of this would be a flying drone capturing one’s outside activities, giving one finally that 100% accurate exercise account while jogging?

Thanks to [Qes] for sending this one in!

Scratch Built Media Player Channels 1980s Design

No, you aren’t looking at a 30 year old Teac graphic equalizer that somebody modified. The MWA-002 Network Music Player created by [GuzziGuy] is built entirely from new components, and easily ranks up there with some of the most gorgeous pieces of homebrew audio gear we’ve ever seen. Combining modular hardware with modern manufacturing techniques, this 1980s inspired build is a testament to how far we’ve come in terms of what’s possible for the dedicated hacker and maker.

The enclosure, though it looks all the world like a repurposed piece of vintage hardware, was built with the help of a CNC router. It’s constructed from pieces of solid oak, plywood, and veneered MDF that have all been meticulously routed out and cut. Even the front panel text was engraved with the CNC and then filled in with black paint to make the letters pop.

Internally, the MWA-002 is powered by a Raspberry Pi 3 running Mopidy to play both local tracks and streaming audio. Not satisfied with the Pi’s built-in capabilities, [GuzziGuy] is using a Behringer UCA202 to produce CD-quality audio, which is then fed into a TPA3116 amplifier. In turn, the output from the amplifier is terminated in a set of female jacks on the player. Just like the stereo equipment of yore, this player is designed to be connected to a larger audio system and doesn’t have any internal speakers.

The primary display is a 256×64 Futaba GP1212A02A FVD which has that era-appropriate glow while still delivering modern features. [GuzziGuy] says it was more difficult to interface with this I2C display than the LCDs he used in the past due to the lack of available libraries, but we think the final product is proof it was worth the effort. He bought both the VFD spectrum analyzer and LED VU meter as turn-key modules, but the center equalizer controls are completely custom; with dual MCP3008 ADCs to read the state of the sliders and the Linux Audio Developer’s Simple Plugin API (LADSPA) to tweak the Pi’s audio output accordingly.

We’re no strangers to beautiful pieces of audio gear here at Hackaday, but generally speaking, most projects involve modernizing or augmenting an existing device. While those projects are to be admired, the engineering that goes into creating something of this caliber from modular components and raw building materials is really an accomplishment on a whole different level.

Atomic Pi Gets A 3D-Printed Mac Makeover

The Atomic Pi is a pretty impressive piece of kit for the price, but it’s not exactly a turn-key kind of product. Even to a greater extent than what you might normally expect with a “dev” board like this, the user is responsible for putting together the rest of the pieces required to actually utilize it. But with this design by [Renri Nakano], you can turn the Atomic Pi into something that’s dangerously close to being a practical computer, and a trendy one at that.

Inspired by the 2019 Apple Mac Pro “Cheese Grater”, this 3D printable enclosure for the Atomic Pi is equal parts form and function. It integrates the necessary power supply to get things up and running without the need for the official breakout board or power module, which is good, since at the time of this writing they don’t seem to be available anyway. Plus it has a cool looking power button, so that’s got to count for something.

There’s also an integrated USB hub to give the Atomic Pi a bit more expandability, and a short HDMI extension cable that puts a video port on the back of the case. [Renri] even thought to leave an opening so you could run the wires for your wireless antennas.

At this point, we’ve seen several projects that mimic the unique case design of the 2019 Mac Pro. The level commitment ranges from recreating the design in CAD and milling it out of aluminum to just sticking a Raspberry Pi inside of a literal cheese grater from the kitchen. Naturally we enjoy a well executed Internet meme as much as the next hacker, but all the same, we were glad to see [Renri] put in the effort to make sure this case was more than just a pretty face.

[Thanks to baldpower for the tip.]