Hackaday Links: August 27, 2023

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We mentioned last week how robotaxi provider Cruise was having a no-good, very bad week, after one of their driverless taxis picked a fight with a semi, and it was revealed that amorous San Franciscans were taking advantage of the privacy afforded by not having a driver in the front seat. It appears that we weren’t the only ones to notice all the bad news, since California’s Department of Motor Vehicles issued an order to the company to cut its robotaxi fleet in half. The regulatory move comes after a recent Cruise collision with a fire truck, which injured a passenger in the taxi. Curiously, the DMV order stipulates that Cruise can only operate 50 vehicles during the day, while allowing 150 vehicles at night. We’d have thought the opposite would make more sense, since driving at night is generally more difficult than during daylight hours. But perhaps the logic is that the streets are less crowded at night, whereas daytime is a more target-rich environment.

We’ve been harping on this page over and over about the potential for unintended consequences from the push to remove AM radio from the infotainment systems of modern cars, particularly from electrically noisy EVs. Our position has been that as outmoded and generally unloved as AM radio may be, it still serves the purpose of providing broad access to news and information in the event of an emergency. As if to prove that point, part of the response to the tragic Maui wildfires has been the deployment of four RadioSTAT AM transmitters, to keep survivors in Lahaina apprised of the latest relief effort news. The transmitters are basically a shack-in-a-box configuration that can be set up quickly by one person. They’re only around 10 watts, so their range is limited; they’re actually marketed for use with roadside signs that advise you to tune to a certain frequency for traffic or weather information. But this seems like a great alternate use case for them, and a fantastic example of why AM radio really should be considered critical infrastructure.

Speaking of noise, if your listening tastes run to the white (or brown, or pink) variety, it looked for a while last week like Spotify was not your friend. The streaming service is apparently not happy with the increasing number of creators whose channels offer nothing but noise, which a lot of people depend on to help manage anxiety, fight tinnitus, or even just mask out background noise to get a good night’s sleep. The company seems to find it hard to turn a profit on content like this, to the tune of a $38 million annual loss. We honestly can’t see why this would be so; at first we thought there might be extra costs for storing such content, since white noise isn’t appreciably compressible. But that seems overly techie, so it probably has a more business-y reason, like rights or royalties. Either way, that’s pretty serious money, enough that the company was seriously considering banning noise channels altogether. For some reason they didn’t, though, so your favorite fans-blowing, waterfall-splashing channels are safe for now.

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from our friends at TVCOG, the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy, New York. We visited the hackerspace way back in 2015 and were very impressed with the hybrid model they employed of combining a hackerspace with a tech incubator. So when we got word of an upcoming TVCOG hackathon, we just had to get the word out. We can say with great confidence that TVCOG really knows how to put on a hackathon, so if you’re going to be in the area the second weekend in October, get yourself over to the Quackenbush Building in downtown Troy and get hacking.

And finally, if like us you’re not a welder, but occasionally try to hot-glue pieces of metal together in the garage, you might want to take a few minutes to watch a video that’ll scare the pants off you. “The Top 5 Ways to Die While Welding” is a bit of a Scared Straight! intervention that’ll get you thinking before picking up that MIG torch. We were prepared to laugh off most of these warnings, having suffered nothing worse than a few little burns for all our many minutes of welding experience. But no longer — welding is a dangerous business if you don’t respect the tools and use a little common sense. We’ll let you enjoy the decidedly Aussie presentation and make up your own mind about how much of a death trap each proposed scenario actually is, but we’ll tell you this: we’ll always make sure we know exactly where the WD-40 can is from now on.

26 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: August 27, 2023

  1. For those interested, but short on time, a quick summary of the welding risks in the video:

    – Don’t use brake cleaner.
    – Always wear gloves.
    – Don’t weld with wet gloves.
    – Don’t touch your forehead with the rod while holding the ground with wet gloves.
    – Always cover up all your fleshy parts.
    – Don’t weld WD40 cans.
    – Don’t weld galvanized metals.

    1. I sincerely thank you for this summary. As another person that has minutes of welding experience, turns out I super didn’t need some video to tell me all this obvious stuff and your comment stopped me from wasting valuable time I can now use to do other stuff. None of it useful or productive though.

      1. As an Australian, I’ll point out that John Cadogan is an idiot and any of his output can be ignored.

        He’s an expert because he says he is. No-one else (maybe his mother) agrees.

        Got a mechanical engineering degree, decided it was all too hard and talking about it was easier so became a journalist (basically on par with the HAD crew).

          1. His idiocy precedes YouTube by a long way. Failed engineer to crap journalist to loud-mouth YouTuber.

            Sounds like you could do with a bit of salt in your BS filter.

        1. I take any self-appointed expert on Youtube to be an idiot automatically, the loudest people are rarely the ones worth listening to especially coupled with clickbait titles. Plus I can’t listen to that level of self-important smugness even if they are giving reasonable information.

          The Fabrication Series is about the best most honest one I’ve found for welding advice, and Urchfab has some very good practical videos on welding car bodies specifically.

    2. Just a few more bits of data from the video:
      – The tetrachloroethylene in brake cleaner becomes a seriously deadly poison when heated.
      – The guy who electrocuted himself was just lifting his helmet with the hand holding the electrode while the other was touching the table with a sweaty glove.
      – The sparks from welding create intense UV light, which over time can cause cancer, which is the reason to cover up.
      – Pressurized cans can become bombs if touched to the electrode while sitting on a grounded table.
      – Galvanized metals give off poisonous fumes when welded, so grind off the galvanic coating and/or make sure you’re breathing only fresh air while working on it.

      1. not gonna watch the video, but as the (uneducated) son of a career welder and dabbling myself if find it stupid that we even have to address these issues.

        -TCE – Chlorinated solvents are the work of the devil to begin with. Yes, they work – Don’t expose them to extreme temperatures. Are they less flammable? Yes. Will they kill you in more insidious ways than that? Oh, most definitely.

        -Electricity will always find the path of least resistance. Your average window-licking “operator” in a “safety first” shop may not necessarily understand this concept. I run my stick and flux-core off an ungrounded generator – played it fast and loose for a while, but the one day the ground (my driveway is my shop) was just wet enough I learned my lesson real quick.

        -UV is weird – my landlord does mig without a helmet, i refuse to be in the same room. But sleeves? I always wear pants and gloves, molten steel hurts. Mesothelioma is a really big word that most people can’t comprehend, let alone appreciate.

        -WD-40 – 50/50 on this one. Unfortunately, Idiocracy may just be a documentary from the future.

        -Galvanized – Don’t. Just don’t. Period, end of story. You will never “grind it all out,” itll haunt you, and you’d have been better off avoiding it in the first place.

        1. Welding galvanised steel is fine, if you do it wrong you get a rather bad headache & fever-like symptoms, and that’s enough encouragement for you to remember ventilation next time.

          As you should be do regardless of what you are welding, brazing, soldering, gluing etc.

          1. Ok, well, I guess that explains a lot, especially the ‘toxic’ slant some of your posts have.

            Note that the fumes (and dust when grinding) coming off of galvanized metal contain lead as well as zinc.

            Anyway, sounds like you are on the same page as John Cadogan here, but you are both taking risks that may have long term repercussions for your health and cognitive ability.

            For those people learning to weld by reading hack-a-day comments: Stop doing that, and also just don’t weld galvanized metal…

          2. Lol, are you serious?

            Previous poster said “never ever ever no no on” don’t it, which is dumb. It’s not hard to do it right. Even John Cadogan could manage it.

            Even you could do it.

          3. You are giving beginners welding advice, telling them you can weld galvanized metals, and to bush off any medical issues that come from doing that. Doesn’t seem like good advice….

            > Even you could do it.

            Anybody can do it, but the trick is doing it while not getting yourself sick and potentially causing long term health side effects.

            Would I weld galvanized metals? Yes, but I would use the same respiration system I would use when melting tire weights into lead bricks.

      1. Well, I was only trying to guess why the DMV made the decision about what to allow Cruise to do. I don’t know if the DMV took regular taxis into account or not. Perhaps I should not try to second guess ANY decision made by a governmental body.

          1. Sorry I didn’t make myself clear. I was just trying to say that I, myself, am unlikely to be able to guess the reasons for the decisions of the DMV, or any governmental body, so perhaps I should refrain from trying.

          2. Apologies, my wording was poorly-aimed as to sound as though I was calling your interpretation incorrect… No…

            I’m betting your interpretation is *definitely* a huge contributor to the decision of how to handle this.

            I’m calling BS on the idea that it should’ve been. See my other comment below… Basically: If a human had done these things they’d lose their license entirely. It makes far *less* sense to treat 150 identical machines, all with the same bug, with *less* scrutiny, as they’ve done!

          3. And now it appears that robotaxis have participated in the death of someone who was not even their passenger: from the NY Times about a San Francisco Fire Department report.

            “Driverless Taxis Blocked Ambulance in Fatal Accident, San Francisco Fire Dept. Says

            Two Cruise taxis delayed an ambulance carrying a car accident victim to a hospital, a department report said. The company said it was not at fault.”

            Here’s the link (paywall warning):


  2. LP-FM is easier to set up. AM has problems with noise but the lack of grid power sadly helps, people will still mess with the rabbit ear of a portable though trying to get AM.

    1. If all your transmitters are on the same frequency and simulcasting, FM has the advantage of the capture effect. Your receiver will only pick up the strongest station. With AM, it’s a mixing affect of all the signals received, and under certain circumstances either the detector gets overloaded, or there’s some phasing effects that cause nulls in the received signal and you hear little or nothing.

  3. I just wanna get this straight… if a human smashed their car into a firetruck /and/ a clearly turning semi, they’d most likely lose their license for who knows how long (months?) then probably have to take hours of “scared straight” style classes about how negligent driving destroys families, then retake the drivers’ tests with a test-giver from the DMV who probably would judge their driving far more harshly than most other-folk…
    But when a poorly-written computer program (or poorly-trained neural-network?) copied identically numerous times in numerous identical machines does the same, it gets a curfew?
    I just wanna get this straight…

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