Big Chemistry: From Gasoline To Wintergreen

Most of us probably have some vivid memories of high school or college chemistry lab, where the principles of the science were demonstrated, and where we all got at least a little practice in experimental methods. Measuring, diluting, precipitating, titrating, all generally conducted under safe conditions using stuff that wasn’t likely to blow up or burn.

But dropwise additions and reaction volumes measured in milliliters are not the stuff upon which to build a global economy that feeds, clothes, and provides for eight billion people. For chemistry to go beyond the lab, it needs to be scaled up, often to a point that’s hard to conceptualize. Big chemistry and big engineering go hand in hand, delivering processes that transform the simplest, most abundant substances into the things that, for better or worse, make life possible.

To get a better idea of how big chemistry does that, we’re going to take a look at one simple molecule that we’ve probably all used at one time or another: the common artificial flavoring wintergreen. It’s an innocuous ingredient in a wide range of foods and medicines, but the infrastructure required to make it and all its precursors is a snapshot of just how important big chemistry really is.

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No Privacy: Cloning The AirTag

You’ve probably heard of the infamous rule 34, but we’d like to propose a new rule — call it rule 35: Anything that can be used for nefarious purposes will be, even if you can’t think of how at the moment. Case in point: apparently there has been an uptick in people using AirTags to do bad things. People have used them to stalk people or to tag cars so they can be found later and stolen. According to [Fabian Bräunlein], Apple’s responses to this don’t consider cases where clones or modified AirTags are in play. To prove the point, he built a clone that bypasses the current protection features and used it to track a willing experimental subject for 5 days with no notifications.

According to the post, Apple says that AirTags have serial numbers and beep when they have not been around their host Apple device for a certain period. [Fabian] points out that clone tags don’t have serial numbers and may also not have speakers. There is apparently a thriving market, too, for genuine tags that have been modified to remove their speakers. [Fabian’s] clone uses an ESP32 with no speaker and no serial number.

The other protection, according to Apple, is that if they note an AirTag moving with you over some period of time without the owner, you get a notification. In other words, if your iPhone sees your own tag repeatedly, that’s fine. It also doesn’t mind seeing someone else’s tags if they are near you. But if your phone sees a tag many times and the owner isn’t around, you get a notification. That way, you can help identify random tags, but you’ll know if someone is trying to track you. [Fabian] gets around that by cycling between 2,000 pre-loaded public keys so that the tracked person’s device doesn’t realize that it is seeing the same tag over and over. Even Apple’s Android app that scans for trackers is vulnerable to this strategy.

Even for folks who aren’t particularly privacy minded, it’s pretty clear a worldwide network of mass-market devices that allow almost anyone to be tracked is a problem. But what’s the solution? Even the better strategies employed by AirGuard won’t catch everything, as [Fabian] explains.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had a look at privacy concerns around AirTags. Of course, it is always possible to build a tracker. But it is hard to get the worldwide network of Bluetooth listeners that Apple has.

Super Simple Camera Slider With A Neat Twist

When you get into making videos of products or your own cool hacks, at some point you’re going to start wondering how those neat panning and rotating shots are achieved. The answer is quite often some kind of mechanical slider which sends the camera along a predefined path. Buying one can be an expensive outlay, so many people opt to build one. [Rahel zahir Ali] was no different, and designed and built a very simple slide, but with a neat twist.

This design uses a geared DC motor, taken from a car windscreen wiper. That’s a cost effective way to get your hands on a nice high-torque motor with an integral reduction gearbox. The added twist is that the camera mount is pivoted and slides on a third, central smooth rod. The ends of this guide rod can be offset at either end, allowing the camera to rotate up to thirty degrees as the slide progresses from one end to the other. With a few tweaks, the slider can be vertically mounted, to give those up-and-over shots. Super simple, low tech and not an Arduino in sight.

The CAD modelling was done with Fusion 360, with all the models downloadable with source, in case someone needs to adapt the design further. We were just expecting a pile of STLs, so seeing the full source was a nice surprise, given how many open source projects like this (especially on Thingiverse) do often seem to neglect this.

Electronics consist of a simple DC motor controller (although [Rahel] doesn’t mention a specific product, it should not be hard to source) which deals with the speed control, and a DPDT latching rocker switch handles the motor direction. A pair of microswitches are used to stop the motor at the end of its travel. Other than a 3D printer, there is nothing at all special needed to make yourself quite a useful little slider!

We’ve seen a few slider designs, since this is a common problem for content creators. Here’s a more complicated one, and another one.

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