Hackaday Links: March 1, 2020

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Talk about buried treasure: archeologists in Germany have – literally – unearthed a pristine Soviet spy radio, buried for decades outside of Cologne. While searching for artifacts from a Roman empire settlement, the archeologists found a pit containing the Soviet R-394KM transceiver, built in 1987 and apparently buried shortly thereafter without ever being used. It was found close to a path in the woods and not far from several sites of interest to Cold War-era spies. Curiously, the controls on the radio are labeled not in Cyrillic characters, but in the Latin alphabet, suggesting the radio was to be used by a native German speaker. The area in which it was found is destined to be an open-cast lignite mine, which makes us think that other Cold War artifacts may have fallen victim to the gore-covered blades of Bagger 288.

Good news for Betelgeuse fans, bad news for aficionados of cataclysmic cosmic explosions: it looks like the red giant in Orion isn’t going to explode anytime soon. Betelgeuse has been dimming steadily and rapidly since October of 2019; as a variable star such behavior is expected, but the magnitude of its decline was seen by some astronomers as a sign that the star was reaching the point in its evolution where it would go supernova. Alas, Betelgeuse started to brighten again right on schedule, suggesting that the star is not quite ready to give up the ghost. We’d have loved to witness a star so bright it rivals the full moon, but given the times we live in, perhaps it’s best not to have such a harbinger of doom appear.

If you plan to be in the Seattle area as the winter turns to spring, you might want to check out the Vintage Computer Fair Pacific Northwest. We visited back during the show’s first year and had a good time, and the Living Computers: Museum + Labs, where the event is held, is not to be missed. The Museum of Flight is supposed to be excellent as well, and not far away.

Mozilla announced this week that Firefox would turn on DNS over HTTPS (DoH) by default in the United States. DoH encrypts the DNS requests that are needed to translate a domain name to an IP address, which normally travel in clear text and are therefore easily observed. Easily readable DNS transactions are also key to content blockers, which has raised the hackles of regulators and legislators over the plan, who are singing the usual “think of the children” song. That DoH would make user data collection and ad-tracking harder probably has nothing to do with their protests.

And finally, sad news from California as daredevil and amateur rocketeer “Mad” Mike Hughes has been killed in a crash of his homemade rocket. The steam-powered rocket was to be a follow-up to an earlier, mostly successful flight to about 1,900 feet (580 m), and supposed to reach about 5,000 feet (1.5 km) at apogee. But in an eerily similar repeat of the mishap that nearly killed Evel Knievel during his Snake River Canyon jump in 1974, Mike’s parachute deployed almost as soon as his rocket left the launch rails. The chute introduced considerable drag before being torn off the rocket by the exhaust plume. The rocket continued in a ballistic arc to a considerable altitude, but without a chute Mike’s fate was sealed. Search for the video at your own peril, as it’s pretty disturbing. We never appreciated Mike’s self-professed Flat Earth views, but we did like his style. We suppose, though, that such an ending was more likely than not.

16 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: March 1, 2020

    1. Pretty much all the “conspiracies” I’ve seen were that he was just claiming to be a FEer to convince them to help with his next big stunt after he ran out of funds.

    2. You are. He died and I am sure that he left behind family and friends that cared for him. You give up your humanity when you forget that. Wasn’t “The Discovery Channel” paying to film this nightmare. If so they are the real villains. You do not need a rocket to go 5000ft. A hot air balloon or a good old PA-28 or C152 would have worked just fine.

      1. I think you got it backwards. He gave up his humanity, and he did it voluntarily. I, perhaps unfortunately, am still here. I hope I don’t have family and friends who care for me the same way his did for him. I certainly did not encourage him to partake in this. Hopefully for him he died doing something that made him happy, but from my perspective it was just nature culling the herd. I have to admit that I am curious as to what efforts you put forth in trying to dissuade him from partaking in this activity?

  1. I am much less surprised at the discovery of a soviet spy radio in Germany than I am at hearing Germans putting up with expansion of a mine to produce just about the dirtiest power source around: lignite.
    How weird, given it’s just about 100 km from Wunderland Kalkar, née the prematurely-eviscerated SNR-300 nuclear power plant, shut down by the green nimbys before it got a chance to let fly a single neutron.
    Doubly weird, with the pushback that even the Telsa Gigafactory (Giga Berlin) is getting. You’d think, with the violent opposition those relatively clean energy projects got, that this dirty mine expansion would have a hard time.

    1. Germany in general has a very weird national psyche in my experience. When it comes to building new things (anything at all) NIMBY doesn’t even begin to cover it. BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) is a much better aproximation.

  2. It actually has a hard time: there are a lot of protests against this.

    I’m a bit confused that you heard the (relatively faint) protest signal against Tesla and missed the strong one against nearly each and every lignite site in W Germany.

    Nearly as if you had a selective receiver or something.

    Problem with lignite is that the big local energy provider is fatally intertwined with government.

    1. I’m not sure where the original poster hails from, but in the United States of course the Tesla protest gets coverage, and anti-nuclear sentiment gets a reasonable amount of coverage – in both cases because the conflict and apparent/supposed hypocrisy generate the sort of outrage that leads to page views and advertising dollars. Protests of fossil fuel extraction are straightforward and boring in comparison.

      That’s my cynical take on it anyway.

  3. DNS over HTTPS, all HTTPS/TLS traffic, certificate pining, encrypted iOS apps… All of this is certainly good for privacy and partly for security, but it also means that we can’t no more verify that some unwanted data exchange or even simply bugs aren’t going on. I think it should be mandatory that one would have the mean to decrypt any data/code inside or coming from/to his own device.

    1. There is also the tiny little detail that they forgot to mention that the only server all this “secure” DNS traffic is going to go through belongs to the Mozilla Corporation. So much for making it harder to track data.

      1. There’s plenty to criticize here (e.g. if the legal requirements they put on default DNS providers are enough to justify it being probably less tracked), but at least get the basics right. No, Mozilla is not running their DNS servers.

  4. “Good news for Betelgeuse fans, bad news for aficionados of cataclysmic cosmic explosions: it looks like the red giant in Orion isn’t going to explode anytime soon.” WHAT!? Are you telling me I bought SPF 10,000,000 sunscreen for nothing!?

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