Degrees Of Freedom: Booting ARM Processors

Any modern computer with an x86 processor, whether it’s Intel or AMD, is a lost cause for software freedom and privacy. We harp on this a lot, but it’s worth repeating that it’s nearly impossible to get free, open-source firmware to run on them thanks to the Intel Management Engine (IME) and the AMD Platform Security Processor (PSP). Without libre firmware there’s no way to trust anything else, even if your operating system is completely open-source.

The IME or PSP have access to memory, storage, and the network stack even if the computer is shut down, and even after the computer boots they run at such a low level that the operating system can’t be aware of what they’re really doing. Luckily, there’s a dark horse in the race in the personal computing world that gives us some hope that one day there will be an x86 competitor that allows their users to have a free firmware that they can trust. ARM processors, which have been steadily increasing their user share for years but are seeing a surge of interest since the recent announcement by Apple, are poised to take over the personal computing world and hopefully allow us some relevant, modern options for those concerned with freedom and privacy. But in the real world of ARM processors the road ahead will decidedly long, windy, and forked.

Even ignoring tedious nitpicks that the distinction between RISC vs CISC is more blurred now than it was “back in the day”, RISC machines like ARM have a natural leg up on the x86 CISC machines built by Intel and AMD. These RISC machines use fewer instructions and perform with much more thermal efficiency than their x86 competitors. They can often be passively cooled, avoiding need to be actively cooled, unlike many AMD/Intel machines that often have noisy or bulky fans. But for me, the most interesting advantage is the ability to run ARM machines without the proprietary firmware present with x86 chips.

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A Special Baseball Bat With Explosive Hitting Power

To make up for some lacking athletic ability, [Shane Wighton] of [Stuff Made Here] created a custom baseball bat with an explosive sweet spot, that almost guarantees a home run. Inside a custom machined bat, he added a piston mechanism, powered by blank cartridges intended for powder actuated nailers, that can hit a ball with impressive force.

Up to three rimfire blank cartridges are placed in the stationary side of the piston mechanism, and are fired by three firing pins on the back of the piston when a ball hits the front of the piston. The expanding gasses then drive the piston out at high velocity, hitting the ball, before it is stopped from flying out completely by a crossbar. The gasses are exhausted through the side of the sleeve, into a “muffler” machined into the front of the bat. The first time [Shane] fired the mechanism with two cartridges, it almost sheared off the stopping bar, and damaged all the other components and blew the bat apart. This led to a complete redesign, including a crossbar with urethane dampers and an aluminum muffler.

The results with the “upgrades” are pretty impressive, and a little scary. Batting distance was around 350 feet with two cartridges, hitting the ball off a tee to avoid putting a pitcher in the firing line. [Shane] did a lab test with three cartridges, which put a hole in the ball and looked like it would break the bat. He expects that three cartridges would allow him to break the home run record, but would require another redesign and will be left for a future video

We admit to being rather envious of [Shane]’s workshop, and the projects that come out of it. We’ve seen him create an all-in-one golf club, a robotic barber, and a robotic basketball hoop, to name a few.

Floppy Disks Still Used To Update 747 Flight Software

For garden variety daily computing tasks, the floppy disk has thankfully been a thing of the past for quite some time. Slow, limited in storage and easily corrupted, few yearn for the format to return, even if there is some lingering nostalgia for the disks. As it turns out, though, there is still hardware that relies on floppies – namely, the Boeing 747-400, as The Register reports.

The news comes from the work of Pen Test Partners, who recently inspected a 747 being retired as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The floppy disks are used to load navigational databases which need to be updated regularly, every 28 days. Engineers responsible for loading updates must perform the process manually on the ground.

Efforts have been made in some areas to replace the disks with more modern technology. As Aviation Today covered in 2014, legacy aircraft often require updates involving up to eight floppy disks, leading to slow updates that can cause flight delays. As anyone familiar with the reliability of floppy media knows, it only takes one bad disk to ruin everything. While retrofits are possible, it’s more likely that airlines will simply stick with the technology until the legacy airplanes are retired. Certifying new hardware for flight is a major cost that is difficult to justify when the current system still works.

Floppies continue to cling to relevance, even if for most of us it’s simply as the save icon. We’ve also seen floppies used as an even more inefficient method of data entry. It turns out you can even fit an entire podcast on one, too!