Have you heard the exciting news about Betelgeuse? It’s been hard to miss these days, with reports of the red supergiant star suddenly dimming, and speculation growing that the star will go supernova sometime in the next 10,000 years. But the exciting part is that astronomers have gotten together and scheduled the Betelgeuse supernova for February 21, 2020. Or at least that’s how at least a half-dozen poorly written articles make it sound. We thought that seemed odd, so we dug a bit and the real story is more complicated and more interesting. Betelgeuse is normally a variable star that goes through complex cycles of brightening and dimming. Its current dimming is unprecedented in magnitude, but the timing coincides with its normal cycle. If this dimming is just a deepening of its normal cycle, the star should start brightening again on February 21. If it doesn’t, it could mean the star is entering the next phase in its evolution. We’d love to see a star so bright it’s visible in daylight and casts shadows at night, but we’ll just have to see what happens on Friday.
One of the last two factories in the world that makes the lacquer master discs needed to make vinyl records burned to the ground last week. Luckily nobody was hurt, but it took 82 firefighters hours to get the blaze under control. It remains to be seen how this loss will impact the vinyl record market, but since the appearance of a new star in the sky has long been seen as a bad omen and a portent of doom, if Betelgeuse does go boom next week, expect to hear the hipsters gnash their teeth and rend their man-buns. In the meantime, enjoy perhaps your last look at the fascinating vinyl manufacturing process.
Rent it once, rent it for life? Apparently, at least if you rent a Ford vehicle from Enterprise and install the FordPass app on your phone. That was the experience of one Masamba Sinclair when he rented a Ford Expedition in October and found that even five months later, the app – which he never unpaired from the rental vehicle – allowed him to start and stop the car’s engine, unlock the doors, and even track its location. The same thing even happened again this month when he rented a Mustang. Ford and Enterprise might both want to rethink the security model here; leaving it up to the customer to unlink the car from the app is a recipe for disaster.
Don’t forget that we have a really interesting contest going on right now: the Train All The Things machine learning contest. With so many different machine learning platforms and frameworks available today, you can surely find a way to build something that really shines. The early entries are interesting, with everything from an intelligent bat detector to sunglasses that give you control of the world. The contest is sponsored by Digi-Key and runs through April 7, so get started on your AI masterpiece and send it in.
Speaking of Digi-Key, they’ve put together a handy list of vendors from their line card who are reporting impacts from the Covid-19 outbreak in China. We wondered about supply chain effects from the outbreak recently, and this is confirmation that we’re starting to see a pinch. As of this writing, there are 62 vendors listed, with the majority reporting impacts from the extension of the Chinese New Year holiday. We’ll stay on top of this story, and of course we continue to wish our friends in China well.