Hackaday Links: February 7, 2021

What’s that they say about death and taxes? Apparently that maxim doesn’t apply to Flash, at least when it comes to the taxman. As we noted last week, the end of the Adobe Flash era took with it a scheduling and routing app for the railway system in a Chinese city. This time around, it’s the unfortunately acronymed SARS, for South African Revenue Services, having Flash woes. They still have several online tax forms that haven’t been migrated to HTML5, so to keep the revenue flowing they built their own Flash-enabled browser. Taxpayers are free to download and use the browser while SARS works on getting the rest of their forms migrated. It sort of reminds us of those plans the Internal Revenue Service has to ensure tax collection continues after a nuclear apocalypse — death and taxes indeed.

Trouble for Nintendo in the EU? It looks that way, as consumer groups have made the case to EU regulators that Nintendo’s wildly popular Switch consoles are showing unacceptably premature obsolescence with the notorious “Joy-Con drift” issue. The problem, which manifests as players being unable to control a game due to constant movement despite no inputs on the joystick-like controller, requires a repair, one that Nintendo initially only did for free as warranty service for consoles less than a year old. For consoles out of the warranty period, Nintendo was charging €45, which is approximately the same as what a new controller would cost. This didn’t sit well with regulators, and now they’re breathing down Nintendo’s neck. They now offer free repairs for up to two years, but they’re still under the EU microscope. The interesting bit in the linked document is the technical reason for the problem, which is attributed to premature PCB wear — possibly meaning the traces wear away — and inadequate sealing of the Joy-Con mechanism against dust intrusion.

Last year looked as though it was going to be an exciting one with respect to some of our nearest solar and galactic neighbors. For a while there, it looked like the red giant Betelgeuse was going to go supernova, which would have been interesting to watch. And closer to home, there were some signs of life, in the form of phosphine gas, detected in the roiling atmosphere of our sister planet, Venus. Alas, both stories appear not to have panned out. The much-hoped-for (by me) Betelgeuse explosion, which was potentially heralded by a strange off-cycle dimming of the variable star, seems now to be due to its upper atmosphere cooling by several hundred degrees. As for Venus, the phosphine gas that was detected appears actually to have been a false positive triggered by sulfur dioxide. Disappointing results perhaps, but that’s how science is supposed to work.

Amateur radio often gets a bad rap, derided as a hobby for rich old dudes who just like to talk about their medical problems. Some of that is deserved, no doubt, but there’s still a lot of room in the hobby for those interested in advancing the state of the art in radio communications. In this vein, we were pleased to learn about HamSCI, which is short for Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation. The group takes to heart one of the stated primary missions of amateur radio as the “ontinuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.” To that end, they’ll be holding HamSCI Workshop 2021, a virtual conference that will be focused on midlatitude ionospheric science. This appears to be a real science conference where both credentialed scientists and amateurs can share ideas. They’ve got a Call for Proposals now, with abstracts due by February 15. The conference itself will be on March 19 and 20, with free admission. The list of invited speakers looks pretty impressive, so if you have any interest in the field, check it out.

And finally, we got a tip this week about a collection of goofy US patents. Everything listed, from the extreme combover to baby bum-print art, is supposedly covered by a patent. We didn’t bother checking Google Patents, but some of these are pretty good for a laugh. We did look at a few, though, and were surprised to learn that the Gerbil Shirt is not a garment for rodents, but a rodent-filled garment for humans.

14 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: February 7, 2021

  1. “For consoles out of the warranty period, Nintendo was charging €45, which is approximately the same as what a new controller would cost. This didn’t sit well with regulators, and now they’re breathing down Nintendo’s neck. ”

    Companies seem to like sticking the bill to their customers. Have to beam back a mouse to a Newegg supplier even though they sent the wrong item*, and charge me for the privilege of returning it and getting some of my money back.

    *Funny thing it sells for about the same price as return shipping. Would have been easier to just give me back the difference and I keep the mouse.

  2. “premature PCB wear”. Sounds to me like they may have potentiometers implemented as carbon screen-printed on phenolic, which is standard for cheap pots, but “PCB wear” makes me wonder if they’re printing these directly on the PCB. Anyway, this could lead to uneven wear if the joystick is used more often on one side than the other, leading to nonlinear response, leading to an indication that the joystick is off-center while it is physically centered. Just a guess.

    1. That might well be how the joystick is done, but the joysticks themselves are their own separate little package with a zif ribbon connector to the pcb as a whole… So replace or mod won’t be hard, other than the stupidly compact form factor…. I really should break open the few duds that came on my second hand system and find out how they are designed…

      I also personally think its rather overhyped as a problem, unless you are mistreating it they seem to last really well. I’ve certainly worn out much bigger xbox style joystick pots in similar use time – in that case its usually the centring spring, rather than the contacts that ‘fail’, but both failure modes lead to a rather poor experience..

      1. Agreed, all the way around. But this could probably be fixed in software as well. I remember from a project long ago, that some force-actuated input devices, like the TrackPoint stick used on ThinkPads, don’t depend on the center value being a specific value. It is just assumed that if the value from the device is somewhere near the center, and does not change for a few seconds, that this is the new “center” for that device. I remember testing this by putting constant pressure on a TrackPoint for a few seconds, then releasing it. As predicted, the mouse pointer stopped moving after a few seconds of being held with constant force, then started drifting the other direction when released.

      2. I bought a Switch Lite last year and it got joystick drift within the first month. I replaced it myself with one off Amazon for $9. Absolutely insane that it needed replacement that quickly. My niece & nephew have a Switch as well, two of their controllers have joystick drift after one year. I doubt it’s overhyped. It reminds me of the Xbox 360 red ring issue, it seems to be inevitable, just a matter of time.

        1. Rather different from the red ring as wearing out of moving parts in inevitable, where a computer in the right operating conditions should last till the bigger electrolytic caps in the PSU fail (being the component that usually has the shortest lifespan) – and my experience is the sticks last well over a year of use. Its not like I’m delicate with my controllers either, though I don’t coat my hands in crud before I play… I’ve worn out official 360 controller in similar time..

          I’ve not heard of many failures that were that fast most seem to be around the year old mark (and I know of quite a few older than that – friends who have had a switch from launch with no issues at all yet).. I know my second hand system was over a year old and arrived with one stick just starting to show – wasn’t bad enough to make me replace it for months. The rest of the sticks were fine.

    1. It’s probably just an old version of an open source browser with a few lines commented out. Or some other way around.

      After all, it has to be an easier fix than to just update a few documents to HTML5.

      1. There’s dozens of firefox clones around, only the top 4 or 5 of which are actually altered much, or offered in repositories, so gotta presume that those are easily rebranded.

  3. While the word is used, it’s not obsolescence; for some reason there is the forced drift of language to replace words into use that other words already occupy as if the user tried and failed to determine the use from context. Obsolescence is the case of a functional item that works as it was originally designed that is no longer used because another, newer item performs that function is in some more attractive way. Usually because the newer item has a better appearance, better performance, or also provides some additional function. Like, if the new model Switch had twice the memory then that would make the old model Switch obsolete.

    What has happened is the Switch has a latent defect. I don’t know if this was planned or just poor attention to detail.

    Planning this sort of failure is common in appliance design – makers continuously work on the various parts so that parts wear out and fail much sooner than the consumer would want them to, preferably in ways that save up-front costs, but also so that by the time the main part fails all the other parts are corroded or fatigued to the point that repair is not economical.

    Press a motor bearing in place with insufficient lubrication and no path to add lubricant and then cut the thickness of the paint and undersize welds or create crevices or leave electronics without sufficient waterproofing – boom a clothes washing machine that fails spectacularly in 10 years instead of going 25 years. And that electronics board? Had a proprietary programmed chip on it that “authenticates” the part and is available for <5 years from manufacture. Cost savings to the maker ~ 10%, but more than doubles the spending of the consumer.

    I figure the Switch problem is mainly variability from their supplier and a component that is on the ragged edge of suitability in preference for the small package size rather than engineered life limitation.

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