Hackaday Meetup at Electronica: Thursday

Hackaday’s parent company Supplyframe is at Electronica in Munich this week — booth C5-223. On Thursday from 16:00 – 18:00, they’ll be hosting a Hackaday Happy Hour, with a beer and coffee bar, for everyone in the Hackaday community. They’d love to see you and hear what you’re working on, be it for your day job or your night job.

If you missed the #badgelife exhibit at Supercon, it’s here at Electronica. There will also be some of those mysterious cubes you may have heard about. Richard Hogben and Bogdan Rosu will be DJing fresh beats. Stop by and say hi to [Sophi Kravitz], [Majenta Strongheart], [Alek Bradic], and everyone else from the Supplyframe team.

Hackaday’s own [Elliot Williams] will also be wandering around Electronica Wednesday afternoon. He can’t promise free beer, but if you want to crawl around Electronica with [Elliot], meet up at the Supplyframe booth at 14:30 on Wednesday.

A Cow-Powered Human Centrifuge

Spoiler alert: group of fun-loving French folks build an animal-or-human-powered merry-go-round that spins fast enough to fling all takers into the lake (YouTube, embedded below). Actually, that’s basically it. The surprise is ruined, but you probably want to check out the video anyway, because it looks like a ton of fun.

Granted, you may not have a well-stocked metal shop or a team of oxen up by the lake wherever you live, but there are certainly details in the video that will survive in translation. Basically, the team took the axle off of a junked car, attached it to a pole in the middle of the lake, made a large wooden drive wheel, and wrapped an infinite length of rope around it.

[Charles] from [Mad Cow] wrote us that there was about a 10:1 ratio between the drive wheel and the arms of the people-flinger. So if the cattle were pulling at 3 km/h, the human angular velocity was a brisk 30 km/h! Then it’s just a matter of convincing a team of cows, or a team of soccer players (?), to put their backs into it.

The [Mad Cow] crew seems to have more than their fair share of engineering dangerous fun up at their summer hideaway: check out their human crossbow that we featured a few years back.

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Want to Learn Ethernet? Write Your Own Darn AVR Bootloader!

There’s a school of thought that says that to fully understand something, you need to build it yourself. OK, we’re not sure it’s really a school of thought, but that describes a heck of a lot of projects around these parts.

[Tim] aka [mitxela] wrote kiloboot partly because he wanted an Ethernet-capable Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) bootloader for an ATMega-powered project, and partly because he wanted to understand the Internet. See, if you’re writing a bootloader, you’ve got a limited amount of space and no device drivers or libraries of any kind to fall back on, so you’re going to learn your topic of choice the hard way.

[Tim]’s writeup of the odyssey of cramming so much into 1,000 bytes of code is fantastic. While explaining the Internet takes significantly more space than the Ethernet-capable bootloader itself, we’d wager that you’ll enjoy the compressed overview of UDP, IP, TFTP, and AVR bootloader wizardry as much as we did. And yes, at the end of the day, you’ve also got an Internet-flashable Arduino, which is just what the doctor ordered if you’re building a simple wired IoT device and you get tired of running down to the basement to upload new firmware.

Oh, and in case you hadn’t noticed, cramming an Ethernet bootloader into 1 kB is amazing.

Speaking of bootloaders, if you’re building an I2C slave device out of an ATtiny85¸ you’ll want to check out this bootloader that runs on the tiny chip.

DMCA Review: Big Win for Right to Repair, Zero for Right to Tinker

This year’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) triennial review (PDF, legalese) contained some great news. Particularly, breaking encryption in a product in order to repair it has been deemed legal, and a previous exemption for reverse engineering 3D printer firmware to use the filament of your choice has been broadened. The infosec community got some clarification on penetration testing, and video game librarians and archivists came away with a big win on server software for online games.

Moreover, the process to renew a previous exemption has been streamlined — one used to be required to reapply from scratch every three years and now an exemption will stand unless circumstances have changed significantly. These changes, along with recent rulings by the Supreme Court are signs that some of the worst excesses of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention clause are being walked back, twenty years after being enacted. We have to applaud these developments.

However, the new right to repair clause seems to be restricted to restoring the device in question to its original specifications; if you’d like to hack a new feature into something that you own, you’re still out of luck. And while this review was generally favorable of opening up technology to enable fair use, they didn’t approve Bunnie Huang’s petition to allow decryption of the encryption method used over HDMI cables, so building your own HDMI devices that display encrypted streams is still out. And the changes to the 3D printer filament exemption is a reminder of the patchwork nature of this whole affair: it still only applies to 3D printer filament and not other devices that attempt to enforce the use of proprietary feedstock. Wait, what?

Finally, the Library of Congress only has authority to decide which acts of reverse engineering constitute defeating anti-circumvention measures. This review does not address the tools and information necessary to do so. “Manufacture and provision of — or trafficking in — products and services designed for the purposes of circumvention…” are covered elsewhere in the code. So while you are now allowed decrypt your John Deere software to fix your tractor, it’s not yet clear that designing and selling an ECU-unlocking tool, or even e-mailing someone the decryption key, is legal.

Could we hope for more? Sure! But making laws in a country as large as the US is a balancing act among many different interests, and the Library of Congress’s ruling is laudably clear about how they reached their decisions. The ruling itself is worth a read if you want to dive in, but be prepared to be overwhelmed in apparent minutiae. Or save yourself a little time and read on — we’ve got the highlights from a hacker’s perspective.

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Ask Hackaday: Why Aren’t We Hacking Cellphones?

When a project has outgrown using a small microcontroller, almost everyone reaches for a single-board computer — with the Raspberry Pi being the poster child. But doing so leaves you stuck with essentially a headless Linux server: a brain in a jar when what you want is a Swiss Army knife.

It would be a lot more fun if it had a screen attached, and of course the market is filled with options on that front. Then there’s the issue of designing a human interface: touch screens are all the rage these days, so why not buy a screen with a touch interface too? Audio in and out would be great, as would other random peripherals like accelerometers, WiFi, and maybe even a cellular radio when out of WiFi range. Maybe Bluetooth? Oh heck, let’s throw in a video camera and high-powered LED just for fun. Sounds like a Raspberry Pi killer!

And this development platform should be cheap, or better yet, free. Free like any one of the old cell phones that sit piled up in my “hack me” box in the closet, instead of getting put to work in projects. While I cobble together projects out of Pi Zeros and lame TFT LCD screens, the advanced functionality of these phones sits gathering dust. And I’m not alone.

Why is this? Why don’t we see a lot more projects based around the use of old cellphones? They’re abundant, cheap, feature-rich, and powerful. For me, there’s two giant hurdles to overcome: the hardware and the software. I’m going to run down what I see as the problems with using cell phones as hacker tools, but I’d love to be proven wrong. Hence the “Ask Hackaday”: why don’t we see more projects that re-use smartphones?

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Soyuz Rocket Emergency Landing, Everyone OK

NASA spokesperson [Brandi Dean] summarized it succinctly: “Confirming again that today’s Soyuz MS10 launch did go into ballistic re-entry mode … That means the crew will not be going to the ISS today. Instead they will be taking a sharp landing, coming back to earth”. While nobody likes last-minute changes in plans, we imagine that goes double for astronauts. On the other hand, it’s always good news when we are able to joke about a flight that starts off with a booster separation problem.

Astronauts [Nick Hague] and [Aleksey Ovchinin] were on their way this morning to the International Space Station, but only made it as far as the middle of Kazakhstan. Almost as soon as the problem occurred, the rocket was re-pathed and a rescue team was sent out to meet them. Just an hour and a half after launch, they were on-site and pulled the pair out of the capsule unharmed. Roscosmos has already commissioned a report to look into the event. In short, all of the contingency plans look like they went to plan. We’ll have to wait and see what went wrong.

Watching the video (embedded below) the only obvious sign that anyone got excited is the simultaneous interpreter stumbling a bit when she has to translate [Aleksey] saying “emergency… failure of the booster separation”. Indeed, he reported everything so calmly that the NASA commentator didn’t even catch on for a few seconds. If you want to know what it’s like to remain cool under pressure, have a listen.

Going to space today is still a risky business, but thankfully lacks the danger factor that it once had. For instance, a Soyuz rocket hasn’t had an issue like this since 1975. Apollo 12 was hit by lightning and temporarily lost its navigation computer, but only the truly close call on Apollo 13 was made into a Hollywood Blockbuster. Still, it’s worth pausing a minute or two to think of the people up there floating around. Or maybe even sneak out and catch a glimpse when the ISS flies overhead.

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A Funny Thing Happened on Ada Lovelace Day…

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate and encourage women in the fields of science and technology. The day is named after “Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, born Byron”, or Lady Ada Lovelace for short. You can read up more on her life and contribution to computer science at Wikipedia, for instance.

But it’s not really fair to half of the world’s population to dedicate just one day to observing the contributions of female scientists and then lavish all the laurels solely on Lovelace. So last year, the day after Ada Lovelace day, Brian Benchoff sent an internal e-mail at Hackaday HQ suggesting we tell the stories of other women in science. We put our heads together and came up with a couple dozen leads so quickly, it was clear that we were on to something good.

From a writer’s perspective, the stories of women in science are particularly appealing because they are undertold. Sure, everyone knows of Marie Curie’s brilliant and tragic dedication to uncovering the mysteries of radioactivity. But did you know how Rita Levi-Montalcini had to hide from the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis using fake names, doing research on scarce chicken eggs in her parent’s kitchen, before she would eventually discover nerve growth factor and win the Nobel Prize? We didn’t.

Do you know which biochemist is the American who’s logged the most time in space? Dr. Peggy Whitson, the space ninja. But the honor of being the first civilian in space goes to Soviet skydiver Valentina Tereshkova. Margaret Hamilton was lead software engineer on the code that got the first feet on the moon, but in the days before astronauts had learned to trust the silicon, John Glenn wanted Katherine Johnson to double-check the orbital calculations before he set foot in the Friendship 7.

And on it goes. Maria Goeppert-Mayer figured out the structure of nuclear shells, Kathleen Booth invented assembly language, and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi discovered HIV. Stephanie Kwolek even saved Hackaday writer Dan Maloney’s life by inventing Kevlar.

In all, we’ve written 30 profiles of women in science in the last year — far too many to list here by name. You can browse them all by using the Biography category. (We’ve thrown in biographies of a few men too, because women don’t have a monopoly on neat stories.)

We’re not done yet, either. So thank you, Ada Lovelace, for giving us the impetus to cover the fascinating stories and important contributions of so many women in science!