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Hackaday Links: November 21, 2021

As the most spendiest time of the year rapidly approaches, it’s good to know that your hard-earned money doesn’t have to go towards gifts that are probably still sitting in the dank holds of container ships sitting at anchor off the coast of California. At least not if you shop the Tindie Cyber Sale that started yesterday and goes through December 5. There’s a lot of cool stuff on sale, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find something; to sweeten the deal, Jasmine tells us that there will be extra deals going live on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But wait, there’s more — follow Tindie on Twitter for bonus discount codes.

Blue is the old black, which was the new blue? At least when it comes to “Screens of Death” it is, since Microsoft announced the Windows 11 BSOD will revert back from its recent black makeover to the more familiar blue theme. You’ll have to scroll down a bit, perhaps three-quarters of the way through the list of changes. Again, the change seems completely cosmetic and minor, but we’d still love to know what kind of research went into making a decision like this.

From the “One Man’s Trash” department, we have a request for help from reader Mike Drew who picked up a bunch — like, a thousand — old tablet computers. They originally ran Windows but they can run Linux Mint just fine, and while they lack batteries and the back cover, they’re otherwise complete and in usable condition, at least judging by the pictures he shared. These were destined for the landfill, but Mike is willing to send batches of 10 — no single units, please — to anyone who can cover the cost of packaging and shipping. Mike says he’ll be wiping the tablets and installing Mint, and will throw in a couple of battery cables and a simple instruction sheet to get you started. If you’re interested, Mike can be reached at michael.l.drew@gmail.com. Domestic shipping only, please. Here’s hoping you can help a fellow hacker reclaim a room in his house.

Answering the important questions: it turns out that Thanos couldn’t have snapped half of the universe out of existence after all. That conclusion comes from a scientific paper, appearing in the Journal of the Royal Society. While not setting out to answer if a nigh-invulnerable, giant purple supervillain could snap his fingers, it’s pretty intuitive that wearing any kind of gloves, let alone a jewel-encrusted metal gauntlet, makes it hard to snap one’s fingers. But the mechanics of snapping is actually pretty cool, and has implications beyond biomechanics. According to the paper, snapping is actually an example of latch-mediated spring actuation, with examples throughout the plant and animal kingdoms, including the vicious “one-inch punch” of the tiny mantis shrimp. It turns out that a properly executed human finger snap is pretty darn snappy — it takes about seven milliseconds to complete, compared to 150 milliseconds for an eye blink.

And finally, it seems like someone over at Id Software is a bit confused. The story began when a metal guitarist named Dustin Mitchell stumbled across the term “doomscroll” and decided that it would make a great name for a progressive thrash metal band. After diligently filing a trademark application with the US Patent and Trademark Office, he got an email from an attorney for Id saying they were going to challenge the trademark, apparently because they feel like it will cause confusion with their flagship DOOM franchise. It’s hard to see how anyone who lived through the doomscrolling years of 2020 and 2021 is going to be confused by a thrash metal band and a 30-year-old video game, but we suppose that’s not the point when you’re an attorney. Trademark trolls gonna troll, after all.

Historical Hackers: The Hacker Of Cragside, Circa 1870

Imagine visiting a home that was off the grid, using hydroelectric power to run lights, a dishwasher, a vacuum cleaner, and a washing machine. There’s a system for watering the plants and an intercom between rooms. Not really a big deal, right? This is the twenty first century, after all.

Armstrong with a 7 inch gun of his design
Image of Armstrong and his 7-inch gun from an 1887 edition of Illustrated London News

But then imagine you’ve exited your time machine to find this house not in the present day, but in the year 1870. Suddenly things become quite a bit more impressive, and it is all thanks to a British electrical hacker named William Armstrong who built a house known as Cragside. Even if you’ve never been to Northumberland, Cragside might look familiar. It’s appeared in several TV shows, but — perhaps most notably — played the part of Lockwood Manor in the movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Armstrong was a lawyer by training but dabbled in science including hydraulics and electricity — a hot topic in the early 1800s. He finally abandoned his law practice to form W. G. Armstrong and Company, known for producing Armstrong guns, which were breech-loading artillery pieces ranging from 2.5 inch bores up to 7 inches. By 1859, he was knighted and became the principal supplier of armaments to both the Army and the Navy.

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A Fantastic Frontier Of FPGA Flexibility Found In The 2019 Supercon Badge

We have just concluded a successful Hackaday Superconference where a highlight for many was digging into this year’s hardware badge. Shaped in the general form of a Game Boy handheld gaming console, the heart of the badge is a large FPGA opening up new and exciting potential for badge hacking.

Beyond our normal tools of compiling custom code or modifying hardware with a soldering iron, we now have the option to change core hardware behavior with Verilog. And people explored this new frontier to great effect, as seen at the badge hacking ceremony. (Video embedded below.)

FPGAs are not new, technically speaking, why are they exciting now? We can thank their recent growth in capability, their rapidly falling cost, and the relatively new availability of open source toolchains. These developments elevated FPGA into one of the most exciting trends in hardware today, so this year’s badge master [Sprite_TM] built an open FPGA playground for several hundred of his closest Supercon friends. Let’s take a look at what people were able to accomplish in just a few days using this unique and powerful hardware.

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Hackaday Podcast Ep 044: Superconference Special

Half of the Hackaday writing staff was at the Superconference this weekend, and our own Kerry Scharfglass took the opportunity to interview everyone. Meanwhile, Elliot wandered around the soldering irons just about two hours before the Badge Hacking Ceremony, collecting stories of projects that worked, and those that didn’t.

Put the two together, and you’ve got an audio collage that gives you a peek into at least one facet of Supercon life, and gives you a chance to put voices to the words you read here every day!

We’ll be back to our normal programming next week.

Tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

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Kathleen Booth: Assembling Early Computers While Inventing Assembly

Imagine having to program your computer by rewiring it. For a brief period of time around the mid-1940s, the first general-purpose electronic computers worked that way. Computers like ENIAC initially had no internal storage for code. Programming it involved manipulating thousands of switches and cables. The positions of those switches and cables were the program.

Kathleen Booth began working on computers just as the idea of storing the program internally was starting to permeate through the small set of people building computers. As a result, she was one of the first programmers to work on software and is credited with inventing assembly language. But she also got her hands dirty with the hardware, having built a large portion of the computers which she programmed. She also did some early work with natural language processing and neural networks. And this was all before 1962, making her truly a pioneer. This then is her tale.

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Even The PlayStation 2 Can’t Escape Java

Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that Java has a pretty impressive track record in terms of supported platforms. Available on everything from flip phones to DVD players, not to mention computers, Oracle once famously claimed that Java runs on three billion devices. An estimate that, in truth, is probably on the low side at this point. Especially when [Michael Kohn] keeps figuring out how to run it on increasingly esoteric devices.

[Michael] writes in to tell us that he’s added support for the PlayStation 2 console to Java Grinder, his software for taking Java code and turning it into a native binary for a variety of unexpected platforms. His previous conquests have included the TRS-80 and Atari 2600, so by comparison the PS2 is an almost tame addition to the list.

Let’s be honest, you probably don’t have any desire to run a Java program on Sony’s nearly two decade old game system. But that’s OK. The documentation [Michael] has written up is fascinating anyway, covering specifics of the PS2’s rather unique hardware and quirks he ran into when developing on an emulator and deploying on real hardware. Even if you’ll never put the findings to practical use, it’s absolutely worth a read.

In the video after the break you can see the demo [Michael] came up with booting on a real PS2 to prove the software works. To really put his mark on it, he mentions he wrote and performed the demo’s songs and even drew some of the artwork on paper and scanned it into his computer.

We’ve previously covered his work getting Java running on the Sega Genesis, as well as the venerable 6502 CPU. Oh, and one time he encoded data onto a pancake. We like this guy’s style.

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The Think Tank At The Chicago Unconference

On Saturday the Hackaday community turned out in force to try something new. The first Hackaday Unconference was held in three places at the same time, and I was in Chicago and was amazed at the turnout and variety of presentations. The image above sums up the concept quite well, everyone shows up ready to give an eight minute talk, but as a whole, no one knows what to expect. Well, we should have known to expect awesome and that’s what we got.

As usual, people are excellent… to one another and in adapting to the fluid nature of the day. Pumping Station: One, a renowned Hackerspace in the Avondale neighborhood near downtown Chicago, opened their doors for us. Not knowing how many people to expect we set up two presentation rooms with a third on deck just in case it was needed.

We just barely squeezed everyone in one room for the first track but ended up splitting into two for part of the day. Here you can see that second room filling up. Even so we still had a handful of presentations that didn’t get a chance to shine — we simply must do this again so they can have the chance and because I had such a great time!

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