Hackaday Europe Is Almost Here, Last Call For Tickets

By the time this post hits the front page, we’ll be just a few days away from the kickoff of Hackaday Europe 2024!

For those of you joining us in Berlin this weekend, we’ve got an incredible amount of content planned for you. Things get rolling on Friday with a pre-event meetup. But Saturday is when things really kick into high gear. Before the day’s out, we’ll have played host to nearly a dozen speakers and — literally — more workshops than we could fit into the schedule. Two workshops will be “floating” events that will happen once enough interested parties have congregated in one place. We’ll keep things going until well past midnight, which leads directly into Sunday. We want to get a few sessions of lightning talks packed in, so start coming up with your talk ideas now.

The Vectorscope will be making its European debut.

In addition, there will be food, music, camaraderie, badge hacking, and the general technolust surrounding a Hackaday event. In our humble and totally unbiased opinion, we put on some of the best and most unique hardware hacking meetups in the world — if you like reading Hackaday, you’ll love living it for a couple of days.

As of this writing, we still have a very few tickets for Hackaday Europe 2024 available. Want one? Head over to the Eventbrite page. But you better hurry. We’re talking a literal handful here, so don’t be surprised if they’ve dried up by the time you read this.

The workshops have all sold out, but as usual, we’ll be running a waiting list right up until the last minute: should anyone have to drop out of a workshop (which happens more than you might think), their spot will go to the person next in line. If you’d like to get on the list, email prize@hackaday.com with your name, ticket number, and the workshop you’re hoping to sneak into, and we’ll see what we can do.

But don’t let the workshops stop you. There’s still plenty to see, do, and experience. See you there!

How DEC’s LANBridge 100 Gave Ethernet A Fighting Chance

Alan Kirby (left) and Mark Kempf with the LANBridge 100, serial number 0001. (Credit: Alan Kirby)
Alan Kirby (left) and Mark Kempf with the LANBridge 100, serial number 0001. (Credit: Alan Kirby)

When Ethernet was originally envisioned, it would use a common, shared medium (the ‘Ether’ part), with transmitting and collision resolution handled by the carrier sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA/CD) method. While effective and cheap, this limited Ethernet to a 1.5 km cable run and 10 Mb/s transfer rate. As [Alan Kirby] worked at Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) in the 1980s and 1990s, he saw how competing network technologies including Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) – that DEC also worked on – threatened to extinguish Ethernet despite these alternatives being more expensive. The solution here would be store-and-forward switching, [Alan] figured.

After teaming up with Mark Kempf, both engineers managed to convince DEC management to give them a chance to develop such a switch for Ethernet, which turned into the LANBridge 100. As a so-called ‘learning bridge’, it operated on Layer 2 of the network stack, learning the MAC addresses of the connected systems and forwarding only those packets that were relevant for the other network. This instantly prevented collisions between thus connected networks, allowed for long (fiber) runs between bridges and would be the beginning of the transformation of Ethernet as a shared medium (like WiFi today) into a star topology network, with each connected system getting its very own Ethernet cable to a dedicated switch port.

Emails Over Radio

The modern cellular network is a marvel of technological advancement that we often take for granted now. With 5G service it’s easy to do plenty of things on-the-go that would have been difficult or impossible even with a broadband connection to a home computer two decades ago. But it’s still reliant on being close to cell towers, which isn’t true for all locations. If you’re traveling off-grid and want to communicate with others, this guide to using Winlink can help you send emails using a ham radio.

While there are a number of ways to access the Winlink email service, this guide looks at a compact, low-power setup using a simple VHF/UHF handheld FM radio with a small sound card called a Digirig. The Digirig acts as a modem for the radio, allowing it to listen to digital signals and pass them to the computer to decode. It can also activate the transmitter on the radio and send the data from the computer out over the airwaves. When an email is posted to the Winlink outbox, the software will automatically send it out to any stations in the area set up as a gateway to the email service.

Like the cellular network, the does rely on having an infrastructure of receiving stations that can send the emails out to the Winlink service on the Internet; since VHF and UHF are much more limited in range than HF this specific setup could be a bit limiting unless there are other ham radio operators within a few miles. This guide also uses VARA, a proprietary protocol, whereas the HF bands have an open source protocol called ARDOP that can be used instead. This isn’t the only thing these Digirig modules can be used for in VHF/UHF, though. They can also be used for other digital modes like JS8Call, FT8, and APRS.

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Soldering The Elusive USB C Port

Many SMD components, including some USB C ports, have their terminals under the component. When installed, the pins are totally hidden. So, how do you solder or unsolder them? That’s the problem [Learn Electronics Repair] encountered when fixing a Lenovo Yoga, and he shows us his solution in the video below.

He showed the removal in a previous video, but removal is a bit easier since you can just heat up the area, yank the connector, and then clean up the resulting mess at your leisure. Installation is harder because once the socket is down, you no longer have access to the pads.

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Double-Checking NASA’s Eclipse Estimate At Home

If you were lucky enough to be near the path of totality, and didn’t have your view obscured by clouds, yesterday’s eclipse provided some very memorable views. But you know what’s even better than making memories? Having cold hard data to back it up.

Hackaday contributor [Bob Baddeley] was in Madison, Wisconsin for the big event, which NASA’s Eclipse Explorer website predicted would see about 87% coverage. Watching the eclipse through the appropriate gear at the local hackerspace was fun, but the real nerding out happened when he got home and could pull the data from his solar system.

A graph of the system’s generated power shows a very clear dip during the duration of the eclipse, which let him determine exactly when the occlusion started, peaked, and ended.

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On Cloud Computing And Learning To Say No

Do you really need that cloud hosting package? If you’re just running a website — no matter whether large or very large — you probably don’t and should settle for basic hosting. This is the point that [Thomas Millar] argues, taking the reader through an example of a big site like Business Insider, and their realistic bandwidth needs.

From a few stories on Business Insider the HTML itself comes down to about 75 kB compressed, so for their approximately 200 million visitors a month they’d churn through 30 TB of bandwidth for the HTML assuming two articles read per visitor.

This comes down to 11 MB/s of HTML, which can be generated dynamically even with slow interpreted languages, or as [Thomas] says would allow for the world’s websites to be hosted on a system featuring single 192 core AMD Zen 5-based server CPU. So what’s the added value here? The reduction in latency and of course increased redundancy from having the site served from 2-3 locations around the globe. Rather than falling in the trap of ‘edge cloud hosting’ and the latency of inter-datacenter calls, databases should be ideally located on the same physical hardware and synchronized between datacenters.

In this scenario [Thomas] also sees no need for Docker, scaling solutions and virtualization, massively cutting down on costs and complexity. For those among us who run large websites (in the cloud or not), do you agree or disagree with this notion? Feel free to touch off in the comments.

In A Twist, Humans Take Jobs From AI

Back in the 1970s, Rockwell had an ad that proudly proclaimed: “The best electronic brains are still human.” They weren’t wrong. Computers are great and amazing, but — for now — seemingly simple tasks for humans are out of reach for computers. That’s changing, of course, but computers are still not good at tasks that require a little judgment. Suppose you have a website where people can post things for sale, including pictures. Good luck finding a computer that can reliably reject items that appear to be illegal or from a business instead of an individual. Most people could easily do that with a far greater success rate than a computer. Even more so than a reasonable-sized computer.

Earlier this month, we reported on Amazon stepping away from the “just walk out” shopping approach. You know, where you just grab what you want and walk out and they bill your credit card without a checkout line. As part of the shutdown, they revealed that 70% of the transactions required some human intervention which means that a team of 1,000 people were behind the amazing technology.

Humans in the Loop

That’s nothing new. Amazon even has a service called Mechanical Turk that lets you connect with people willing to earn a penny a picture, for example, to identify a picture as pornographic or “not a car” or any other task you really need a human to do. While some workers make up to $6 an hour handling tasks, the average worker makes a mere $2 an hour, according to reports. (See the video below to see how little you can make!) The name comes from an infamous 200-year-old chess-playing “robot.” It played chess as well as a human because it was really a human hiding inside of it.

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