Oral-B Hopes You Didn’t Use Your $230 Alexa-Enabled Toothbrush

With companies desperate to keep adding more and more seemingly random features to their products, Oral-B made the logical decision to add Alexa integration to its Oral-B Guide electric toothbrush. Taking it one step beyond just Bluetooth in the toothbrush part, the Guide’s charging base also acted as an Alexa-enabled smart speaker, finally adding the bathroom to the modern, all-connected smart home. Naturally Oral-B killed off the required Oral-B Connect smartphone app earlier this year, leaving Guide owners stranded in the wilderness without any directions. Some of the basics of this shutdown are covered in a recent Ars Technica article.

Amidst the outrage, it’s perhaps good to take a bit more of a nuanced view, as despite various claims, Oral-B did not brick the toothbrush. What owners of this originally USD$230 device are losing is the ability to set up the charging base as an Alexa smart speaker, while the toothbrush is effectively just an Oral-B Genius-series toothbrush with Bluetooth and associated Oral-B app. If you still want to have a waterproof smart speaker listening in while in the bathroom, you’ll have to look elsewhere, it seems. Meanwhile existing customers can contact Oral-B support for assistance, while the lucky few who still have the Connect app installed better hope it doesn’t disconnect, as reconnecting it to the smart speaker seems to be impossible, likely due to services shut down by Oral-B together with the old “oralbconnect.com” domain name.

We recently looked at a WiFi-enabled toothbrush as well, which just shows how far manufacturers of these devices are prepared to go, whether they intend to support it in any meaningful fashion or not.

Embrace IPv6 Before Its Too Late?

Many hackers have familiar sayings in their heads, such as “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and KISS (Keep it simple, stupid). Those of us who have been in the field for some time have habits that are hard to break. When it comes to personal networks, simplicity is key, and the idea of transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6 addresses seems crazy. However, with the increasing number of ‘smart’ devices, streaming media gadgets, and personal phones, finding IPv4 space for our IoT experiments is becoming difficult. Is it time to consider embracing IPv6?

The linked GitHub Gist by [timothyham] summarizes the essential concepts for home network admins to understand before making changes. The first major point is that IPv6 has a vastly larger address space than IPv4, eliminating the need to find spare IPv4 addresses. IPv6 assigns multiple addresses to the same interface. The 128-bit addresses are split into a 64-bit prefix assigned by your ISP and a 64-bit interface identifier. Using SLAAC (Stateless Address Autoconfiguration), clients can manage their own addresses. You don’t have to use SLAAC, but it will make life easier. The suffix typically remains static, allowing integration with a local DNS server.

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Screwless Eyeballs Are A Lesson In Design-For-Assembly

[Will Cogley] makes eyeballs; hey, everyone needs a hobby, and we don’t judge. Like all his animatronics, his eyeballs are wondrous mechanisms, but they do tend toward being a bit complex, especially in terms of the fasteners needed to assemble them.

But not anymore. [Will] redid his eyeball design to be as easy to assemble as possible, and the results are both impressive and instructive. His original design mimics real eyeballs quite well, but takes six servos and a large handful of screws and nuts, which serve both to attach the servos to the frame and act as pivots for the many, many linkages needed. The new design has snap-fit pivots similar to Lego Technic axles printed right into the linkage elements, as well as snap connectors to hold the servos down. This eliminates the need for 45 screws and cuts assembly time from 30 minutes to about six, with no tools required. And although [Will] doesn’t mention it, it must save a bunch of weight, too.

Everything comes at a cost, of course, and such huge gains in assembly ease are no exception. [Will] details this in the video below, including printing the parts in the right orientation to handle the forces exerted both during assembly and in use. And while it’s hard to beat a five-fold reduction in assembly time, he might be able to reduce that even more with a few print-in-place pivots.

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A screenshot of the website, showing various parts from Western manufacturers

How Many Western ICs Are There In Russia’s Weapons?

Recently, the Ukrainian government has published a database of Western components being used in recently produced Russian armaments, and it’s a fascinating scroll. Just how much does Russia rely on Western manufacturers’ parts? It turns out, a surprising amount. For instance, if you are wondering which ICs are used to build Iran-produced Shahed drones, it seems that it’s a whole bunch of Texas Instruments parts, as well as some Maxim, Intel, and Xilinx ones. Many of the parts in the lists are MCUs and FPGAs, but it’s also surprising how many of the components are jelly bean parts with multiple suppliers.

There appear to be thousands of parts listings, compiled from a good few dozen pieces of equipment that volunteers appear to have taken apart and scrupulously documented – just take a look at the dropdowns at the top of the page. The Ukrainian government is advocating for parts restrictions to be implemented based upon this data – as we all remember, it’s way harder to produce hardware when you can’t buy crucial ICs.

Even for a regular hacker, this database is worth a scroll, if only to marvel at all the regular parts we wouldn’t quite associate with military use. Now, all that’s left is to see whether any of the specific chips pictured have been sold to washing machine manufacturers.

Gas-Tight FDM 3D Printing Is Within Your Grasp

The widespread availability of inexpensive 3D printers has brought about a revolution in what can be easily made at home. However these creations aren’t perfect, particularly when it comes to the adhesion between their layers. Aside from structural failures along the layer lines there is also the question of those joins being permeable, limiting the possibility for waterproof or gas proof prints. It’s something [German Engineer] has tackled in a new video, in which he’s looking at the design and preparation of small propane tanks.

A blurry image of a red 3d-printed part exploding
This is the frame at which the 3D printed tank explodes

The attraction of propane as a fuel is that it liquefies easily on compression, so a propane cylinder or tank will be an equilibrium of liquid propane with pressurized gas above it, whose pressure depends on the ambient temperature. This means that any tank must be expected to have a working pressure somewhere between 150 and 200 PSI, with of course a design pressure far exceeding that for safety reasons.

Filling a 3D printed tank immediately results in the propane escaping, as he demonstrates by putting one of his prints under water. He solves this with a sealant, Diamant Dichtol, which is intended to polymerize in the gaps between layers and create a gas-tight tank. A range of three tanks of different thicknesses are treated this way, and while the 1 mm thick variety bursts, the thicker ones survive.

It’s clear that this technique successfully creates gas-tight prints, and we can see the attraction of a small and lightweight fuel tank. But we can’t help worrying slightly about the safety, for even when the material is a lightweight 3D print, high pressure equipment is not to be trifled with. Tanks do burst, and when that happens anyone unfortunate enough to be close by sustains nasty, even life-threatening injuries. Use the technique, but maybe don’t hit it with high pressures.

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Happy Birthday, Tetris!

Porting DOOM to everything that’s even vaguely Turing complete is a sport for the advanced hacker. But if you are just getting started, or want to focus more on the physical build of your project, a simpler game is probably the way to go. Maybe this explains the eternal popularity of games like PONG, Tetris, Snake, or even Pac-Man. The amount of fun you can have playing the game, relative to the size of the code necessary to implement them, make these games evergreen.

Yesterday was Tetris’ 40th birthday, and in honor of the occasion, I thought I’d bring you a collection of sweet Tetris hacks.

On the big-builds side of things, it’s hard to beat these MIT students who used colored lights in the windows of the Green Building back in 2012. They apparently couldn’t get into some rooms, because they had some dead pixels, but at that scale, who’s complaining? Coming in just smaller, at the size of a whole wall, [Oat Foundry]’s giant split-flap display Tetris is certainly noisy enough.

Smaller still, although only a little bit less noisy, this flip-dot Tetris is at home on the coffee table, while this one by [Electronoobs] gives you an excuse to play around with RGB LEDs. And if you need a Tetris for your workbench, but you don’t have the space for an extra screen, this oscilloscope version is just the ticket. Or just play it (sideways) on your business card.

All of the above projects have focused on the builds, but if you want to tackle your own, you’ll need to spend some time with the code as well. We’ve got you covered. Way back, former Editor in Chief [Mike Szczys] ported Tetris to the AVR platform. If you need color, this deep dive into the way the NES version of Tetris worked also comes with demo code in Java and Lua. TetrOS is the most minimal version of the game we’ve seen, coming in at a mere 446 bytes, but it’s without any of the frills.

No Tetris birthday roundup would be complete without mentioning the phenomenal “From NAND to Tetris” course, which really does what it says on the package: builds a Tetris game, and your understanding of computing in general, from the ground up.

Can you think of other projects to celebrate Tetris’ 40th? We’d love to see your favorites!

Baffle The Normies With This Binary Thermometer

We think it’s OK to admit that when someone puts a binary display on a project, it’s just a thinly veiled excuse to get more blinkenlights into the world. That and it’s a way to flex a little on the normies; you’ve gone pretty far down the tech rabbit hole to quickly decipher something like this binary-display thermometer, after all.

Don’t get us wrong, we think those are both perfectly valid reasons for going binary. And all things considered, a binary display for a thermometer like [Clovis Fritzen]’s is much simpler to decode than, say, a clock. Plus, it seems a bit that this build was undertaken at least partially as an exercise in Charlieplexing, which [Clovis] uses to drive the six-bit LED display using only three lines of GPIO from the Digispark ATtiny85 board running the show.

The temperature sensor is a DHT11, whose output is read by the microcontroller before being converted to binary and sent to the six-bit display. The 64-degree range is perfect for displaying the full range of temperatures most of us would consider normal, although we’d find 63°C a touch torrid so maybe there’s a little too much resolution on the upper end of the scale. Then again, switching to Fahrenheit would shift it toward the hypothermia end of the scale, which isn’t helpful. And you can just forget about Kelvin.