Hackaday Links: August 2, 2020

If you somehow manage to mentally separate yourself from the human tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, it really has provided a fascinating glimpse into how our planet operates, and how much impact seven billion people have on it. Latest among these revelations is that the shutdowns had a salubrious effect in at least one unexpected area: solar power. Researchers found that after the Indian government instituted mandatory lockdowns in March, output from solar power installations in Delhi increased by more than eight percent. The cause: the much-diminished smog, which let more sunlight reach solar panels. We’ve seen similar shutdown-related Earth-impact stories, from decreased anthropogenic seismicity to actually being able to see Los Angeles, and find them all delightfully revealing.

Remember Google Glass? It’s hard to forget, what with all the hype leading up to launch and the bitter disappointment of realizing that actually wearing the device wouldn’t go over well in, say, a locker room. That said, the idea of smart glasses had promise, and several startups tried to make a go of combining functionality with less out-there styling that wouldn’t instantly be seen as probable cause for being a creep. One such outfit was North, who made the more-or-less regular looking (if a bit hipsterish) Focals smart glasses. But alas, North was bought out by Google back in June, and as with so many things Google acquires, Focals smart glasses are being turned off. Anyone who bought the $600 specs will reportedly get their money back, but the features of the smart glasses will no longer function. Except, you know, you’ll still be able to look through them.

It looks like someone has finally come up with a pretty good use case for the adorably terrifying robot mini-dogs from Boston Dynamics. Ford Motors has put two of the yellow robots to work in their sprawling Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Michigan. Dubbed Fluffy and Spot (aww), the dogs wander around the plant with a suite of cameras and sensors, digitally mapping the space to prepare for possible future modifications and expansions. The robots can cover a lot of ground during the two hours that their batteries last, and are even said to be able to hitch a ride on the backs of other robots when they’re tuckered out. Scanning projects like these can keep highly trained — and expensive — engineers busy for weeks, so the investment in robots makes sense. And we’re sure there’s totally no way that Ford is using the disarmingly cute robo-pets to keep track of its employees.

We all know that the Linux kernel has some interesting cruft in it, but did you know that it can actually alert you to the fact that your printer is aflame? We didn’t either until  Editor-in-Chief Mike Szczys shared this reddit post that details the kernel function lp_check_status and how it assumes the worst if it detects the printer is online but also in “check mode.” The Wikipedia entry on the “lp0 on fire” error message has some interesting history that details how it’s not as implausible as it might seem for a printer, especially one in the early 1970s, to burst into flames under the right conditions. A toner fuser bar running amok on a modern laser printer is one thing, but imagine a printer with a fusing oven running out of control.

And finally, because 2020 is apparently the gift that can’t stop giving, at least in the weirdness department, the US Department of Defense let it slip that the office charged with investigating unidentified aerial phenomena is not quite as disbanded as they once said it was. Reported to have been defunded in 2017, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program actually appears to live on, as the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, operating out of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Their purpose is ostensibly to study things like the Navy videos of high-speed craft out-maneuvering fighter jets, but there are whispers from former members of the task force that “objects of undetermined origin have crashed on earth with materials retrieved for study.” All this could just be a strategic misdirection, of course, but given everything else that has happened this year, we’re prepared to believe just about anything.

14 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: August 2, 2020

  1. Well I have to say that looking at all the evidence gathered about UFOs, if they are Aliens (not chest bursters but little pale fellows with big eyes) then we can come to only one conclusion, Extraterrestrials are idiots!

  2. Of course the DoD is interested in UFOs. Once you get rid of the misidentified birds, drones, planets, lens scratches, etc, you have a list of flying things that can’t easily be identified. Many of those sightings are experimental aircraft. There’s a chance that some of them are another country’s aircraft, which the DoD would love to know about. Even more so if one crashed, and they could get a look at the wreckage.

    It’s a secondhand memory, but I’m pretty sure my grandparents saw a “UFO” out in Utah years and years ago, and in retrospect realized they had actually seen an f-117 on a test flight, before it was officially announced.

    1. They play both ends against the middle also. They are suspiciously enthusiastic about UFOs when they’ve got their own experimental aircraft, missiles or weapons testing going on that they need cover stories for.

  3. “We’ve seen similar shutdown-related Earth-impact stories, from decreased anthropogenic seismicity to actually being able to see Los Angeles, and find them all delightfully revealing.”

    Revealing, once the pandemic’s over and we get back to climate change and broadband cap discussions.

  4. @Dan Maloney said: “Scanning projects like these can keep highly trained — and expensive — engineers busy for weeks, so the investment in robots makes sense.”

    Robots at Ford (and elsewhere) cause humans to lose their jobs. People without jobs can’t buy Ford cars. Hmmm… Solution: Pay robots to work. Robots buy Ford cars.

  5. I would love to have glasses with a heads up display like Google Glass but no camera. I would love to be able to watch video (even at a really low resolution) or read as I go about my day while still being able to see through the image in front of me. Did they do that? It kind of looked like it was physically capable in the preview videos I saw but not clear just what Google’s software actually allowed.

    Bonus if nobody but the wearer can see that the glasses are displaying something.

    Even just seeing alerts from my phone would be cool although I can kind of do that on my watch already. Though the watch sucks for that but it’s really just a software design issue and off-topic.

    Well, anyway, I was kind of mystified when Google Glass came out and all anyone seems to see it as was a camera. Is that all anyone thought to use if for? That’s the last thing I want it for, mainly because then I would have to be constantly aware of when it needs to come off. The camera in the phone in my pocket is already about the right balance of privacy vs convenience. Or it would be if I could put my own software on it and not have to trust an evil cellular provider, cellphone manufacturer and Google. But again.. off topic.

    Of course.. there’s the price problem too. They have to be a LOT less expensive before being practical.

  6. “objects of undetermined origin have crashed on earth with materials retrieved for study.”

    Meaning, something that was probably a prototype weapon but we don’t want to admit that it was.

      1. Meaning they are at least 200 years ahead of us. Consider the advances we made in the last 200 years. Besides, the reports usually involve high speed, high maneuverability objects. Completely unlike the foam vessel described. So ‘far more advanced’ is indeed by definition and therefor ‘capable of our complete destruction’ is as well.
        The biggest question is the why. Earth is either not interesting to them, but then why visit? Or earth is interesting (for the biology?), but then apparently they do not want to make contact – however they are to stupid to remain fully undetected. It makes no sense.

  7. Seriously? North’s things seemed really cool and Google just randomly killed them? Another reason to distrust “cloud” stuff, I guess. Hopefully someone will be able to make them work again at least somewhat.

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