All About USB-C: Talking Low-Level PD

In this USB-C series, we’ve covered quite a bit of USB-C – things that are well known, things that should beĀ  better known, and a couple things that just appeared online for the first time. We’ve covered almost everything in some depth except USB Power Delivery. I’ve described the process a bit in the “Power” article, but that was mostly about how to use PD by simply buying the right solution. However, that’s not enough for a hacker. Let’s see if we can make our own PD trigger board. Continue reading “All About USB-C: Talking Low-Level PD”

Citizen Science Finds Prehistoric Burial Mounds

What do you do when you have a lot of LiDAR data and not enough budget to slog through it? That’s the problem the Heritage Quest project was faced with — they had 600,000 LiDAR maps in the Netherlands and wanted to find burial mounds using the data. By harnessing 6,500 citizen scientists, they were able to analyze the data and locate over 1,000 prehistoric burial mounds, including many that were previously unknown, along with cart tracks, kilns, and other items of archaeological interest.

The project used Zooniverse, a site we’ve mentioned before, to help train volunteers to analyze data. The project had at least 15 volunteers examining each map. The sites date between 2,800 and 500 BC. Archaeologists spent the summer of 2021 verifying many of these digital finds. They took samples from 300 sites and determined that 80 of them were previously unknown. They estimate that the total number of sites found by the volunteers could be as high as 1,250.

This is a great example of how modern technology is changing many fields and the power of citizen science, both topics we always want to hear more about. We’ve seen NASA tapping citizen scientists, and we’ve even seen high school students building research buoys. So if you’ve ever wanted to participate in advancing the world’s scientific knowledge, there’s never been a better time to do it.

1950s Fighter Jet Air Computer Shows What Analog Could Do

Imagine you’re a young engineer whose boss drops by one morning with a sheaf of complicated fluid dynamics equations. “We need you to design a system to solve these equations for the latest fighter jet,” bossman intones, and although you groan as you recall the hell of your fluid dynamics courses, you realize that it should be easy enough to whip up a program to do the job. But then you remember that it’s like 1950, and that digital computers — at least ones that can fit in an airplane — haven’t been invented yet, and that you’re going to have to do this the hard way.

The scenario is obviously contrived, but this peek inside the Bendix MG-1 Central Air Data Computer reveals the engineer’s nightmare fuel that was needed to accomplish some pretty complex computations in a severely resource-constrained environment. As [Ken Shirriff] explains, this particular device was used aboard USAF fighter aircraft in the mid-50s, when the complexities of supersonic flight were beginning to outpace the instrumentation needed to safely fly in that regime. Thanks to the way air behaves near the speed of sound, a simple pitot tube system for measuring airspeed was no longer enough; analog computers like the MG-1 were designed to deal with these changes and integrate them into a host of other measurements critical to the pilot.

To be fair, [Ken] doesn’t do a teardown here, at least in the traditional sense. We completely understand that — this machine is literally stuffed full of a mind-boggling number of gears, cams, levers, differentials, shafts, and pneumatics. Taking it apart with the intention of getting it back together again would be a nightmare. But we do get some really beautiful shots of the innards, which reveal a lot about how it worked. Of particular interest are the torque-amplifying servo mechanism used in the pressure transducers, and the warped-plate cams used to finely adjust some of the functions the machine computes.

If it all sounds a bit hard to understand, you’re right — it’s a complex device. But [Ken] does his usual great job of breaking it down into digestible pieces. And luckily, partner-in-crime [CuriousMarc] has a companion video if you need some visual help. You might also want to read up on synchros, since this device uses a ton of them too.

Continue reading “1950s Fighter Jet Air Computer Shows What Analog Could Do”