Hackaday Links: May 19, 2024

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If there was one question we heard most often this week, it was “Did you see it?” With “it” referring to the stunning display of aurora borealis — and australis, we assume — on and off for several days. The major outburst here in North America was actually late last week, with aurora extending as far south as Puerto Rico on the night of the tenth. We here in North Idaho were well-situated for prime viewing, but alas, light pollution made things a bit tame without a short drive from the city lights. Totally worth it:

Hat tip to Tom Maloney for the pics. That last one is very reminiscent of what we saw back in 1989 with the geomagnetic storm that knocked Québec’s grid offline, except then the colors were shifted much more toward the red end of the spectrum back then.

Despite this being the strongest solar storm in almost 20 years, the damage was nearly non-existent, with reports limited to minor power grid disturbances and some GPS and satellite outages. Starlink service was reportedly impacted, but luckily no satellites deorbited, a distinct possibility for recently launched satellites still in lower orbits due to increased atmospheric drag. Still, it feels like we dodged a cosmic bullet here, and if you have any doubt about that, check this out — it’s a comparison of the sunspot group that just got us with the Carrington Event sunspots from 1859. What a difference a few degrees of latitude makes.

From the “Not Everything Needs to be IoT” files comes a story about the perils of security as an afterthought. The condensed version: tech journalist Kevin Purdy’s new home came with a Rinnai tankless water heater. He hooked up the Rinnai Control-R WiFi module to control the appliance remotely from a smartphone app, and as any good home automation geek would, eventually tried integrating it into Home Assistant. But then he discovered that for an early version of Control-R, there was absolutely no security on the company’s cloud service, making it possible to control any connected Rinnai water heater knowing nothing more than the user’s email address. No auth tokens, no passwords, nothing. Rinnai seems to have added authentication to their newer Rinnai Central system, but the whole story is worth a read, not least for the weaselly responses from Rinnai through a PR firm.

If you thought Clippy, the annoying animated desktop assistant from the bad old days of Microsoft Office 97, had died a well-deserved death in obscurity, think again. Clippy is back, this time as a wise-cracking assistant in an open-source tool called Winpilot, which is designed to eliminate bloatware and turn off annoying defaults in Windows 11. The irony of including an icon of annoyance in an application designed to make your user experience less annoying is rich indeed. It’s not really clear how Winpilot’s author, Belmin Hasanovic, is getting away with using Clippy; we’d have thought Microsoft would protect their IP a little more vigorously, especially when it says things like, “You know something, champ? This is bullsh*t. I started this gig in ’97. My ultimate goal was to take over Bill Gates job.”

The list of announced talks for HOPE XV keeps growing. It’s hard to say how many talks were added since last week, but it looks like a lot. Better get your proposals in soon if you want to have a chance at a talk.

And finally, we’ve featured the work of Montana wheelwright Dave Engels before, specifically the process of shrink-fitting iron tires onto the massive wooden wheels he builds for things like timber carts and borax wagons. The whole thing is a ballet of fire, steel, wood, smoke, steam, and people, and never fails to entertain. But giant wheels aren’t the only thing Engels works on, and some of the smaller wheels have pretty interesting processes behind them too. Fitting rubber tires to cart wheels is a perfect example, and one with a lot of surprises. We had no idea that these tires have steel wires running through them, to keep them firmly seated on the wooden wheel, which also has a shrink-fit steel rim. The machine that tensions the wires while compressing the rubber is fascinatingly complex, too. We were also taken by the parallels between this machine and a modern tire machine, as well as the clear lineage between solid rubber buggy wheels and modern pneumatic tires.

4 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: May 19, 2024

  1. @Dan Maloney “We here in North Idaho were well-situated for prime viewing, but alas, light pollution made things a bit tame without a short drive from the city lights.”

    Where in North Idaho are you located? I wasn’t aware there was HaD people nearby.

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