Homebrew Slide Rule Gets Back To Mathematical Basics

In the grand scheme of things, it really wasn’t all that long ago that a slide rule was part of an engineer’s every day equipment. Long before electronic calculators came along, a couple of sticks of wood inscribed with accurate scales was all it took to do everything from simple multiplication to logarithms and trig functions.

While finding a slide rule these days isn’t impossible, it’s still not exactly easy, and buying one off the shelf isn’t as fun or as instructive as building one yourself. [JavierL90]’s slide rule build started, ironically enough, on the computer, with a Python program designed to graphically plot the various scales needed for the fixed sections of the slide rules (the “stators”) and the moving bit (the “slide”).  His first throught was to laser-engrave the scales, but the route of printing them onto self-adhesive vinyl stock proved to be easier.

With the scale squared away, work turned to the mechanism itself. He chose walnut for the wood, aluminum for the brackets, and a 3D-printed frame holding a thin acrylic window for the sliding cursor. The woodworking is simple but well-done, as is the metalwork. We especially like the method used to create the cursor line — a simple line scored into the acrylic with a razor, which was then filled with red inks. The assembled slide rule is a thing of beauty, looking for all the world like a commercial model, especially when decked out with its custom faux leather carry case.

We have to admit that the use of a slide rule is a life skill that passed us by, but seeing this puts us in the mood for another try. We might have to start really, really simple and work up from there.

There is a certain charm to older electronics gear. Heavy metal chassis and obviously hand-wired harness can be a work of art even if they would be economically impractical for most modern gear. Watching [msylvain59’s] tear down of a Collins 51R VOR receiver is a good example of that. The construction looks so solid.

If you aren’t familiar with VOR, it stands for VHF omnidirectional range and allows airplanes to tune into a fixed ground-based beacon and determine its heading in relation to the beacon. In some cases, it can also calculate distance.

Rotary Plotter Draws On Bottles

A pen plotter is often the first experience many ambitious makers have of the world of Computer Numerical Control, or CNC. While they typically operate on flat stock, with the right build, they can be designed to draw on curved surfaces, too – as [tuenhidiy] demonstrates with this rotary bottle plotter.

The plotter uses shafts salvaged from an old printer to act as the rollers for the bottle to be drawn upon, turned by a pair of stepper motors. X and Z axes are created out of two CD drive mechanisms – a popular way to build two linear axes on the cheap. The hardware is controlled by GRBL, running on an Arduino Uno kitted out with a CNC shield to handle the necessary I/O.

The build is somewhat limited to by the short range of its X axis, which prevents the plotter from easily drawing on a full-size bottle label or can. However, this could easily be fixed with some upgrades and extra steppers if so desired. As a home build, it’s a great way to learn about the CNC techniques required to work with curved surfaces effectively. Video after the break.

Teensy Controller For Powerful CNCs

It seems like every year, it gets a bit easier to build your own CNC. From the Enhanced Machine Controller (EMC) project of the early 1990s to Arduinos running Grbl in the late 2000s, the open source community has moved ahead in leaps and bounds. Grbl is at its core firmware that interprets G-code and commands stepper motors, usually to move a tool head in such a way as to make something. Tons of systems have been built around it, including early Makerbot printers.

Its also spawned a plethora of other projects (the Grbl GitHib repo has 2,400 forks!), including a 32-bit flavor called grblHAL. This version is at the heart of a fantastic CNC controller board developed by [Phill Barrett]. Ditching the Arduino for a more powerful Teensy 4.1, [Phil]’s controller supports full five-axis control, variable frequency drive spindles, dust extractor control, and flood and mist coolant control. It can run at blazing stepping rates of up to 160 kHz (standard Grbl on an Arduino hits 30 kHz) and can be assembled with either a USB or Ethernet interface.

There’s no shortage of interesting Grbl-based machines out there — including a revamped Atari plotter and a three-axis rotary CNC (shameless plug for the author’s own project) but it’s always exciting to see new hardware developed that will undoubtedly find its way into the next generation of a family of projects. We can’t wait to see what comes next!

Escalating Privileges In Ubuntu 20.04 From User Account

Ubuntu 20.04 is an incredibly popular operating system, perhaps the most popular among the Linux distributions due to its ease-of-use. In general, it’s a fairly trustworthy operating system too, especially since its source code is open. However, an update with the 20.04 revision has led to security researcher [Kevin Backhouse] finding a surprisingly easy way to escalate privileges on this OS, which we would like to note is not great.

The exploit involves two bugs, one in `accountservice` daemon which handles user accounts on the computer, and another in the GNOME Display Manager which handles the login screen. Ubuntu 20.04 added some code to the daemon which looks at a specific file on the computer, and with a simple symlink, it can be tricked into reading a different file which locks the process into an infinite loop. The daemon also drops its privileges at one point in this process, a normal security precaution, but this allows the user to crash the daemon.

The second bug for this exploit involves how the GNOME Display Manager (gdm3) handles privileges. Normally it would not have administrator privileges, but if the `accountservice` daemon isn’t running it escalates itself to administrator, where any changes made have administrator privileges. This provides an attacker with an opportunity to create a new user account with administrator privileges.

Of course, this being Ubuntu, we can assume that this vulnerability will be immediately patched. It’s also a good time to point out that the reason that open-source software is inherently more secure is that when anyone can see the source code, anyone can find and report issues like this which allow the software maintainer (or even the user themselves) to make effective changes more quickly.

Spacing Out: A Big Anniversary, Starlink Failures Plummet, Lunar Cellphones, And A Crewed Launch

After a couple of months away we’re returning with our periodic roundup of happenings in orbit, as we tear you away from Star Trek: Discovery and The Mandalorian, and bring you up to date with some highlights from the real world of space. We’ve got a launch to look forward to this week, as well as a significant anniversary.

Visualizing Magnetic Memory With Core 64

For the vast majority of us, computer memory is a somewhat abstract idea. Whether you’re declaring a variable in Python or setting a register in Verilog, the data goes — somewhere — and the rest really isn’t your problem. You may have deliberately chosen the exact address to write to, but its not like you can glance at a stick of RAM and see the data. And you almost certainly can’t rewrite it by hand. (If you can do either of those things, let us know.)

These limitations must have bothered [Andy Geppert], because he set out to bring computer memory into the tangible (or at least, visible) world with his interactive memory badge Core 64. [Andy] has gone through a few different iterations, but essentially Core 64 is an 8×8 grid of woven core memory, which stores each bit via magnetic polarization, with a field of LEDs behind it that allow you to visualize what’s stored. The real beauty of this setup is that it it can be used to display 64 pixel graphics. Better yet — a bit can be rewritten by introducing a magnetic field at the wire junction. In other words, throw a magnet on a stick into the mix and you have yourself a tiny drawing tablet!

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen cool experiments with core memory, and not even the first time we’ve seen [Andy] use it to make something awesome, but it really illuminates how the technology works. Being able to not only see memory being written but to manually write to it makes it all so much realer, somehow.