Hackaday Links: December 1, 2019

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We can recall a book from our youth that cataloged some of the most interesting airplanes in the world. One particularly interesting beast was dubbed “The Super Guppy”, a hilariously distended cargo plane purpose-built for ferrying Saturn rocket sections around the US in the 1960s. We though the Guppies were long gone, victims like so many other fascinating machines of the demise of the Apollo program. It turns out we were only 4/5 right about that, since one of the original five Super Guppies is still in service, and was spotted hauling an Orion capsule from Florida to Ohio for vacuum testing. The almost 60-year-old plane, a highly modified C-97 Stratofreighter, still has a big enough fan-base to attract 1500 people to brave the Ohio cold and watch it land.

The news this week was filled with reports from Texas of a massive chemical plant explosion that forced the evacuation of 50,000 people from their homes the day before Thanksgiving. The explosion and ensuing fire at the TPC Group petrochemical plant were spectacular; thankfully, there were no deaths and only two injuries reported from the incident. The tie-in to the hacker community lies in what this plant made: butadiene, or synthetic rubber. The plant produced about 16% of the North American market’s supply of butadiene, which we know from previous coverage is one of the polymers in acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS. It remains to be seen if this will put a crimp in ABS printer filament supplies, or any of the hundreds of products that butadiene is in, including automotive tires and hoses.

Remember when “Cyber Monday” became a thing? We sure do; in the USA, it was supposed to be the first workday back from the Thanksgiving break which would afford those lacking a fast Internet connection at home the opportunity to do online shopping on company time. The idea seems so year 2000 now, but the name stuck, and all kinds of sales and bargains are now competing for your virtual attention and cyber dollars. That includes Tindie, of course, where the Cyber Monday Sale is running through December 6. There’s tons to chose from, including products that got started as Hackaday.io projects and certified open-source hardware products. Be sure to check out the Tindie Twitter feed and blog for extra discount codes, too.

Speaking of gift-giving, we got an interesting tip about a product we never knew we needed. Called “WorkBench”, it’s a modular development system that takes care of an oft-neglected side of prototyping: the physical and mechanical layout. Too often we just start with a breadboard on the bench, and while that’ll do for lots of smaller projects, as the build keeps growing and the breadboards keep coming, things can get out of hand. WorkBench aims to tidy things up by providing a basal platen onto which breadboards, microcontrollers, perfboards, or just about anything else can be snapped. Handles make the whole thing portable, and a clear acrylic cover protects your hard work.

We love to hear stories about citizen science, especially when the amateurs scoop the professionals. Astronomy seems to be a hotbed for this brand of discovery, usually as a lone astronomer peering into the night sky to see a comet or asteroid nobody has seen before. Catching a glitching pulsar in the act is an entirely different level of discovery, though. Back in February, Steve Olney detected a 2.5 parts-per-million increase in the 89-millisecond period of emissions for the Vela pulsar using his RTL-SDR-based observatory. Steve has some fascinating information about pulsars and his observatory on his website. Color us impressed that he was able to pull off this observation without the benefit of millions of dollars in equipment and a giant parabolic dish antenna.

12 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: December 1, 2019

  1. Thank you for mentioning “Workbench”, Dan. You are so correct about “breadboards getting out of hand”, especially with multi-board projects like humanoid-form robots. The functional electronics are usually detailed sufficiently in the Hackaday descriptions, but we need more info on protective enclosures for the completed boards, such as weatherproof modular cases that allow access to controls, touch-screens, etc. The raw completed board by itself will certainly serve as a “proof-of-concept”, but once you are ready to take it out into the “real world”, such as outdoors during inclement weather, a sealed-yet-accessible case is very good. A simple case, sized to the components it encloses, can sometimes be made out of sheet plastic (the ABS that you mentioned is extremely rugged). A more complex design can be 3-D printed (I have one that was printed using ABS resin). Perhaps at some point you could devote an entire illustrated article to project-protective cases.

    1. John—I’m the developer of the WorkBench; thanks for your thoughts.

      One of our goals is to provide engineers and hobbyists a platform to take their projects from desktop prototype all the way out to full deployment in hazardous environments. We’re not fully there yet, but we’ve taken an important step in that direction.

      Please take a look at our weatherproof WorkBench (https://www.phasedock.com/1107-weatherproof-kit-contents-specifications); it mounts into a readily-available BUD 32016 NEMA-rated case. We’ve also prototyped acrylic covers that enable the user to mount a touchscreen on the top; haven’t productized that yet, but it’s on the roadmap.

      We’d love to hear more thoughts from users about their requirements for protection and portability; we couldn’t agree more about the need for high-quality solutions to these problems.

  2. I don’t understand why the US has a law to protect criminals from ‘incriminating’ themselves. If asked by a court everyone should be obliged to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Passwords (to me) are an issue of privacy, which should be protected separately.

    1. It’s not to protect criminals, but to protect the innocent from being coerced into saying things that make them appear guilty. Often times law enforcement puts the wrong person on trial, for a variety of reasons. The fifth amendment to the constitution allows for the defendant to shut up and let their lawyer argue the case.

      I do kind of agree with you however that passwords don’t fall under the fifth amendment. To me, passwords are no different than keys to your house. With a search warrant, law enforcement can search your house, why can’t they search your digital files?

  3. I grew up in Huntsville, AL, home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in the 1960s. I remember seeing the Guppies fly overhead on several occasions. It’s nice to know that one is still in service.

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