Hackaday Links: March 5, 2023

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Well, we guess it had to happen eventually — Ford is putting plans in place to make its vehicles capable of self-repossession. At least it seems so from a patent application that was published last week, which reads like something written by someone who fancies themselves an evil genius but is just really, really annoying. Like most patent applications, it covers a lot of ground; aside from the obvious capability of a self-driving car to drive itself back to the dealership, Ford lists a number of steps that its proposed system could take before or instead of driving the car away from someone who’s behind on payments.

Examples include selective disabling conveniences in the vehicle, like the HVAC or infotainment systems, or even locking the doors and effectively bricking the vehicle. Ford graciously makes allowance for using the repossessed vehicle in an emergency, and makes mention of using cameras in the vehicle and a “neural network” to verify that the locked-out user is indeed having, say, a medical emergency. What could possibly go wrong?

IEEE Spectrum ran a really interesting article on the huge shadow cast by the famous Xerox Alto. It’s pretty amazing when you think about how much of the Alto’s design, which dates from 1973, is still in use today. Pretty much every element of modern UI design, from windows to file management systems to even the physical “keyboard-mouse-monitor on the desk, box on the floor” arrangement, traces directly back to the Alto — about the only thing Alto got wrong is that most of us don’t use monitors in portrait mode.

While the stuff about the Alto hardware is great, for our money the meat of the article is the history of Xerox PARC, and how the somewhat staid photocopier concern decided to break into the computer business and simultaneously build a world-class R&D organization. Particularly interesting was the process of elimination that led to choosing Palo Alto; as a former Nutmegger, we couldn’t agree more with the assessment of New Haven as being unsuitable due to “traditional Yale faculty snobbery.”

Pro-tip: If you’re going to set up an illicit crypto mining operation, there are probably better places to do it than in the crawlspace of a public high school. That’s what Nadeam Nahas, former assistant director of facilities at Cohasset High School in Massachusetts, learned after allegedly setting up the operation in an unused utility space in the school. The operation was pretty extensive — police seized at least ten machines from the crawlspace, which were discovered when custodial staff noticed them along with out-of-place electrical wiring and ductwork, presumably for powering and cooling the setup. The rig ran from April to December of 2021, during which time it racked up an estimated $17,500 in electricity expenses on the school district’s tab. No word about which cryptocurrency was being mined or much the rig made before the charges of fraudulent use of electricity and vandalism were leveled.

An interesting story popped up this week about a YouTube video that causes Pixel phones to reboot. The cursed video, a 4k HDR clip of perhaps the best jump-scare from the 1979 classic Alien, was said to hard-crash Pixel phones containing Google’s Exynos-derived Tensor SoC before even a single frame of the video was loaded. We just gave it a try with our Pixel 6 Pro and enjoyed the entire scene without a crash, so either YouTube fixed the video or our phone was somehow immune to the bug. It’s probably best to watch the whole movie, though, just to be sure.

And finally, if there’s any bit of you that harbors a secret passion for metrology, you’ll want to check out Machine Thinking’s latest video, which features a field trip to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Specifically, the tour focused on the coordinate measuring machine (CMM) lab, located 80 feet (25 m) underground and housing a magnificent piece of industrial art, a 1988 Moore M48 CMM. The machine is a study in contrasts — built from massive iron castings but capable of 10-nanometer measurements over a one-meter range. The machine is so sensitive that the room temperature has to be controlled to the hundredth of a Celsius degree, and the lights have to be turned off lest they disturb measurements. If you want to understand what the extremes are in the field of metrology, this is the video for you.

40 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: March 5, 2023

  1. I’m not sure why anyone would win the argument that someone who had a medical emergency would be better off with their vehicle repossessed the traditional way as opposed to being remotely locked out of it.

      1. I know there’s a video where an owner drew a white circle around their car to trap it, but personally, I’d put black tape over the cameras to blinker the self driving ability. That way it remains usable.

    1. That book is the bible of fundamental accuracy in my world. It’s still actively sold by Moore themselves, very reasonable at 150$. Obviously not a cheap book but considering what it covers I feel that’s very fair. Plenty of people have complained the only copies available of that are hundreds of dollars more but apparently they don’t know that Moore themselves still publish it, along with the awesome treatise on jig grinding called Holes, Contours, & Surfaces.

  2. That Ford patent is a great development! I was never going to buy a Ford anyway, and the patent means other brands I hate marginally less can’t make self-repossessing cars. I fail to see a negative, at least until the patent expires or Ford starts licensing it.

    1. Given an ambient temperature sensor, just turn the heat on full blast if ambient is above 80, and the same scheme to turn on the A/C if below some trip point. People who live in say southern California would be immune to such a scheme of course.

      As Joe says, the odds of me buying a Ford are vanishingly small, so I feel entirely safe no matter how this works itself out.

  3. Sounds like a conspiracy plot to steal motor vehicles to me. I don’t generally borrow to buy a car — the only time I did I made one regular payment and the second was for the remaining balance.

      1. That’s like saying Best Buy should choose their customers more carefully because of the amount of shoplifting that occurs. Easy to say, hard to do.
        I assure you the cost of “drift” is factored in and both auto makers and Best Buy are making decent, sustainable profits. But if an easy way to decrease said evaporation occurred that would only increase profits.

      2. Not that easy. First, laws are a problem. FECOA and in some states (AZ, CA, WA..) the person just has to meet very basic requirements to be offered the lease.
        We can increase the down payment and lending rate, but only up to a maximum. They don’t care, they’re not paying anyway.
        Second are the cartels. They’ve gotten very good selling illegal immigrants all the required paperwork and connections to pull off this scam.
        Also, it’s not just Mexican immigrants, it’s all walks of life. Tons of Russians lately, but also tons of Chinese, Indians, African, South-East Asian islands, etc.
        The top lending companies on the West Coast have closed or are in the process. Hell I think I saw American Car Center is closing now too.

  4. I can recommend a secondary monitor in portrait – great for code and viewing datasheets and other things still designed to be published on paper. I even have a portable USB-C powered one for use with my laptop. Many Dell monitors are rotatable but you wouldn’t want to do it on the fly due to cabling hassles.

    1. +1, as a content creator I have a triple monitor setup for my workflow. Primary is a standard 1080p, secondary is a 1900×1200 in portrait mode (which alternately serves as discord, chrome, or OBS + audacity, depending what I’m up to), and the third monitor is an old 1280×1024 I have for running a youtube video in the background while doing something else on the main screen.

  5. I’m not sure what purpose there was, in producing a 3D animation of an extreme precision machine, shown operating in an environment that would probably lower its repeatability by orders of magnitude.

  6. Just park your car on rollers, or put a trashcan in front of it. It only takes a scary shopping bag to stop a self driving car.

    Or import some actually decent and exciting cars from 25 years ago if you live in US. 25 years ago is getting to some reasonably modern OBD2 equipment.

  7. The self-repoing cars are absolutely going to run over someone, kidnap someone, and cause a medical emergency, all at the same time. There’s also the fact that self-driving cars are still not at the point where they, like, actually work as intended, even with driver consent? Honestly, my theory is that Ford filed the patent 1) “just to have on hand someday” and 2) “to prevent a more nefarious party from filing first, we don’t actually plan to use the idea ourselves, how crazy would you have to be?” (kinda like the “say mcdonalds to end commercial” patent that was making the rounds the other day)…

  8. But the technology for stealing the car would be in it also, if i did not lease it but paid cash for it? No thanks! Perhaps I am to old, but I do not like the idea of a “connected car” which leaves a data trace.

    1. For 20 years there have been these connected cars. And for 10 some are not optionally connected. See Chevrolet and Tesla. I do not want a car that is a Tablet on wheels full of ads tracking and touch menus. Its gross.

  9. From Ford’s Facebook page:
    “Helping to build a better world where every person is free to move and pursue their dreams.”

    At least until you fall behind in your payments :D

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