Hackaday Links: February 12, 2023

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So, maybe right now isn’t the best time to get into the high-altitude ballooning hobby? At least in the US, which with the downing of another — whatever? — over Alaska, seems to have taken a “Sidewinders first, threat identification later” approach to anything that floats by. The latest incident involved an aircraft of unknown type, described as “the size of a small car” — there’s that units problem again — that was operating over Prudhoe Bay off the northern coast of Alaska. The reason that was given for this one earning a Sidewinder was that it was operating much lower than the balloon from last week, only about 40,000 feet, which is well within the ceiling of commercial aviation. It was also over sea ice at the time of the shootdown, making the chance of bothering anyone besides a polar bear unlikely. We’re not taking any political position on this whole thing, but there certainly are engineering and technical aspects of these shootdowns that are pretty interesting, as well as the aforementioned potential for liability if your HAB goes astray. Nobody ever really benefits from having an international incident on their resume, after all.

Regarding that first balloon — if the second object is confirmed to be a balloon at all — we were surprised to find that military aviation enthusiasts recorded the radio traffic going back and forth between the pilots to coordinate the takedown. It’s not a surprise that this would be carefully coordinated — one does not fling a rocket with nine kilos of high-explosive around willy-nilly, after all, especially with the sky full of friendly tankers and surveillance aircraft — but that the radio traffic all appears to be have been entirely in the open. We’d have expected the military to use some kind of digital mode at least, and just naturally assumed they’d encrypt everything. All the more so since many law enforcement agencies here in the states have switched over to digital modulation like Project 25 with full encryption. Apparently not so with military aviation though, at least in this case. The more you know.

We don’t hang around much on Reddit anymore — it’s a rough neighborhood these days — but when we did, we were always surprised by the creativity of the users in coming up with their handles. And now it seems like some of these handles are “killing words” for the popular chatbot. It seems that a pair of security researchers who were looking through ChatGPT’s token set found a cluster of about 100 strange words, like “SolidGoldMagikarp,” “StreamerBot,” and ” TheNitromeFan,” with the leading space apparently important. The strange tokens all seem to break ChatGPT in some way, and they all appear to be Reddit handles, some of whom are involved in a contest of sorts on r/counting to count to infinity. We were going to riff a little on how easy it seems to be to break ChatGPT in ways that seem to give you unexpected glimpses into how it works, but after finding out about competitive counting, that seems like it would be burying the lede a bit.

OK, we’ll bite. We’ve gotten a couple of tips on a slightly sketchy-feeling build,  world’s smallest 3D printer this week, and it’s probably time to open this up for discussion. We on the writing crew have actually been hashing this out on our Discord channel, because nobody likes to fall for a scam. Some of us thought it was a fake, some not. From our point of view, it doesn’t look substantially different from Sean Hodgins’ ornament-printing Christmas ornament from a few years back; both are SLA printers with the carriage of an old DVD drive serving as the Z-axis, and both appear to be about the same size. Sean’s printer worked pretty well, so we’re inclined to believe that this one does too. But we’ll let you be the judge.

And finally, because our timeline seems to be inching ever closer to the inevitable crossover into The Terminator universe, you might want to check out AndysMachines, a YouTube channel where Andy is, perhaps unwisely, trying to build a movie-accurate T800 endoskeleton. His current build focuses on the murderous cyborg’s hands, which like real human hands are pretty complex. There’s a lot of machining goodness in these videos, and the end results have been pretty impressive so far. And everything appears to work, too, or at least move — it’s not just a model. Andy’s putting a lot of thought into the means of our destruction, so check it out while you can. Then again, maybe we can just say “SolidGoldMagikarp” to it, or even ask it to count to infinity.

24 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: February 12, 2023

    1. Your comparison image is showing the size of the “first balloon”, the one that drifted across CONUS in the first few days of February before being shot down off the east coast on the 4th.

      The one “the size of a small car” referenced in the article was the “second balloon”, shot down on the 10th just north of the Alaskan coast. That’s the description from The Powers That Be, although it’s left vague whether that’s referring to just the payload hanging under the balloon, or the whole rig, or what.

      Then #3 was shot down over the Yukon on the 11th, and #4 was shot down over Lake Huron today (the 12th). Haven’t seen any silly size descriptions for those yet.

    1. Because they’d want whatever payload it has to drop over safe area like the ocean, Lake Huron, or remote icy area. Filling the balloon with holes would not guarantee the balloon would go down quickly. It’d suck if it kept floating a whole longer and ends up in a farmer market, destroying the cabbage stand.

      Plus where would those bullets go? it won’t stop at the balloon, it’d still fly forward and could end up putting holes in your window or even in some unlucky dog.

    2. I asked that question to someone who knows the answer. Asks I: “So why didn’t they gun it??” Says they: It’s not safe at those altitudes, and at those speeds required when you’re at those altitudes. You end up running over your own bullets – it’s happened before. Search it.

      Altitude is crazy. You have to change the way you think When the air is thin, airspeed might say 200 but ground speed is over 1000. It’s the way a pitot tube works, and if you think about it, it’s mass flow. Which is all you really care about.

    3. This was explained in previous articles / comments; Because big balloons take *ages* to deflate if you shoot them (the gas inside is lighter than air but not under any significant pressure – like a hot air balloon), and they can drift around unpredictably while they slowly drop which is a pain if you want to track the final location to capture the remains.

      1. “They” might be using superpressure balloons, i.e. a balloon that stops expanding at a certain atmospheric pressure (somewhat related to altitude). Superpressure balloons don’t keep rising until they burst (like wx balloons do).

  1. How is a Sidewinder hitting something with no heat signature? I can see not getting much of a description. We don’t have anything that can hover at 40,000 feet, and stall speeds for aircraft at that altitude are quite high. There are no “slow passes”.

    I am hoping they are those very long black solar heated bags but I am afraid they would not show up on RADAR. https://publiclab.org/notes/mathew/5-29-2012/solar-hot-air-balloons

      1. I’m sure they are much improved since the old days. They would “howl” when they got a target. They are a Mach 5 missile and would not need an explosive for this job but better to blow them up so smaller pieces fall, though some of the pieces are pretty heft chunks of aluminum.

  2. Other than battlefield signals from ANGLICO and other FACs, most ground to air and air-to-air traffic is ‘regular’ FM – because most aircraft comm in CONUS is with the FAA and military air controllers. And even then, I have seen ANGLICO use regular aviation-band FM to talk to birds that are dropping stuff that goes boom.

    Comm compatibility has only improved incrementally in the 30+ years since Desert Storm; that is, it’s still a freaking mess. So the most reliable command and control comm would be unencrypted FM.

  3. As of the 15th, it turns out the US military was watching since the big one was launched on Hainan and did not say anything until someone in Montana saw it. That is sub-tropical to the Yukon? I will have to look at some wind charts!

  4. “We’d have expected the military to use some kind of digital mode at least, and just naturally assumed they’d encrypt everything”

    Well, they still have some nuclear devices running on floppy disks so….. yeah. In case you needed a reason to not sleep.

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