Ask Hackaday: Prove Santa Exists

There is no question, that Santa Claus exists. He’s real, with the sleigh, the beard, and the reindeer and everything. He distributes gifts to billions of children in an evening, squeezes down a billion chimneys without getting that stylish red outfit dirty, and gets back home to the North Pole before sunrise. What more proof do you need, after all the missile defence folks track his progress over the icy wastes every Christmas Eve!

Well, the previous paragraph is the story you’ll get from the average youngster in countries where St. Nick is a cultural fixture, and who are we to disabuse them of this notion. Certainly not [Dave Barrett], who has the task of coming up with some ideas for a Santa Proof Of Existence for a kids’ Christmas party. In a previous year he’s thrilled them with a view of the sleigh taking off (in reality a remote-controlled model rocket launch complete with fake air traffic control clearance for Santa via CB radio), but this year the party isn’t somewhere with the space to do that trick. Instead he has the task of maintaining the illusion in those young minds for another year, with only a modest suburban plot in which to do it.

How would you prove Santa’s existence for the credulous young party-goers, using the finest technological marvels available to the Hackaday community? Perhaps you might create the illusion of boots crunching in the snow outside, or maybe the not-so-distant sound of reindeer. We suggest a Santa-Pede won’t cut it, and neither will hiring the beardy member of your hackspace as a stand-in. Kids aren’t that stupid!

What do you think? Go nuts in the comments.

Santa image: Jonathan Lindberg [Public domain].

Ask Hackaday: How On Earth Can A 2004 MP3 Player Read An SDXC Card?

What were you doing in 2004? Can you even remember 2004? Maybe it’s like the old joke about the 1960s, if you can remember it, you weren’t really there, man. Cast your mind back, [Lance Armstrong] was winning the Tour de France, and SpaceShipOne made it into space.

[Gregg Eshelman], wrote to us to say that in 2004 he bought an MP3 player. Ask your parents about them, they were what hipsters used before they had cassette tapes: portable music players that everyone thought were really cool back then, onto which music didn’t come from the Internet but had to be manually loaded from a computer.

Jokes about slightly outdated consumer electronics aside, [Gregg]’s player, a GPX MW3836, turned out to be a really good buy. Not only does it still work, it packs an unexpected bonus, it reads 64Gb SD cards when they are formatted as FAT32. This might not seem like a big deal at a cursory glance, but it’s worth considering a little SD card history.

Back when the GPX was made, the maximum capacity of an SD card was 2Gb, a figure that must have seemed huge when the standard was created, but by the middle of the last decade was starting to look a little cramped. The GPX player is designed to only read these original 2Gb cards. In the years since then there have been a couple of revisions to the standard, SDHC, and SDXC, which have given us the huge cards we are used to today. Many other devices from the 2Gb SD era, made before SDHC and SDXC existed, cannot read the modern cards, yet [Gregg]’s GPX can.

Hackaday’s readership constantly amaze us with the sheer breadth of their knowledge and expertise, so we are sure that among you reading this piece will be experts on SD card standards who can shed some light on this mystery. Why can a player designed for the original SD card standard read the much newer cards when other contemporary ones can not? [Gregg] would love to know, and now our curiosity has been whetted, so would we.

If you think you’ve heard [Gregg]’s name before, it might be for his expertise in resin casting automotive parts.

SD card image: Andreas Frank (CC BY 2.5).

Ask Hackaday: What Tools Do You Reach For First?

Let’s face it, in your workshop there are convenient tools, and there are quality tools, but so often they aren’t both. Think back to the tools you reach for first. Very often for me, speed and convenience win out. I don’t want to look too hard for that drill or saw, and want them to work as expected when I reach for them. At the same time, there are some tools that simply must be stored away, and can’t perch on my workbench forever or sit on a shelf.

It really is a balancing act sometimes. I don’t have a sure fire formula for when to break out the expensive tools, and what jobs are easy with the less expensive. I’ll lay out some of my most-often utilized tools in my arsenal, then I want to hear from you on your own faves.

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What Tools Do You Reach For First?”

Ask Hackaday: Security Questions And Questionable Securities

Your first school. Your mother’s maiden name. Your favorite color. These are the questions we’re so used to answering when we’ve forgotten a password and need to get back into an account. They’re not a password, yet in many cases have just as much power. Despite this, they’re often based on incredibly insecure information.

Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account is perhaps the best example of this. In September 2008, a Google search netted a birthdate, ZIP code, and where the politician met her spouse. This was enough to reset the account’s password and gain full access to the emails inside.

While we’re not all public figures with our life stories splashed across news articles online, these sort of questions aren’t exactly difficult to answer. Birthdays are celebrated across social media, and the average online quiz would net plenty of other answers. The problem is that these questions offer the same control over an account that a password does, but the answers are not guarded in the same way a password is.

For this reason, I have always used complete gibberish when filling in security questions. Whenever I did forget a password, I was generally lucky enough to solve the problem through a recovery e-mail. Recently, however, my good luck ran out. It was a Thursday evening, and I logged on to check my forex trading account. I realised I hadn’t updated my phone number, which had recently changed.

Upon clicking my way into the account settings, I quickly found that this detail could only be changed by a phone call. I grabbed my phone and dialed, answering the usual name and date of birth questions. I was all set to complete this simple administrative task! I was so excited.

“Thanks Lewin, I’ll just need you to answer your security question.”

“Oh no.”

“The question is… Chutney butler?”

“Yes. Yes it is. Uh…”

“…would you like to guess?”

Needless to say, I didn’t get it.

I was beginning to sweat at this point. To their credit, the call center staffer was particularly helpful, highlighting a number of ways to recover access to the account. Mostly involving a stack of identification documents and a visit to the nearest office. If anything, it was a little reassuring that my account details required such effort to change. Perhaps the cellular carriers of the world could learn a thing or two.

In the end, I realised that I could change my security question with my regular password, and then change the phone number with the new security question. All’s well that ends well.

How do You Deal with Security Questions?

I want to continue taking a high-security approach to my security questions. But as this anecdote shows, you do occasionally need to use them. With that in mind, we’d love to hear your best practices for security questions on accounts that you care about.

Do you store your answers in a similar way to your passwords, using high entropy to best security? When you are forced to use preselected questions do you answer honestly or make up nonsensical answers (and how do you remember what you answered from one account to the next)? When given the option to choose your own questions, what is your simple trick that ensures it all makes sense to you at a later date?

We’d love to hear your best-practice solutions in the comments. While you ponder those questions, one mystery will remain, however — the answer to the question that nobody knows: Chutney butler?

Ask Hackaday: How Small is Your Shop?

Electronics, metalwork, carpentry, sewing — however you express your inner hacker, you’ve got to have a place to work. Most of us start out small, assembling projects on the kitchen table, or sharing space on a computer desk. But eventually, if we’re lucky, we all move on to some kind of dedicated space. My first “shop” was a corner of the basement my Dad used for his carpentry projects. He built me what seemed at the time like a huge bench but was probably only about five feet long. Small was fine with me, though, and on that bench I plotted and planned and drew schematics and had my first real lesson in why you don’t reach for a soldering iron without looking first. My thumb still bears that scar as a reminder.

Many of us outgrow that first tiny space eventually, as projects (and accumulated junk) outpace the available space. Some of us go on to build workspaces to die for; personally, I feel wholly inadequate whenever I see Frank Howarth’s immense wood shop, with its high ceilings, huge windows for natural light, and what amounts to a loading dock. Whenever I see it I think The work I could do in there!

Or could I? Is bigger necessarily better when it comes to workspaces? Would more space make me a better craftsman?

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: How Small is Your Shop?”

Ask Hackaday: Saving The World With Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men

This is a solution to global warming. This solution will also produce electricity, produce rain in desertified areas, and transform the Sahara into arable land capable of capturing CO2. How is this possible? It’s simple: all we need to do is build a five-kilometer tall, twenty-meter wide chimney. Hot air, warmed by the Earth’s surface, will enter the base of the chimney and flow through turbines, generating electricity. From there, air will rise through the chimney, gradually cooling and transferring energy from the atmosphere at Earth’s surface to five kilometers altitude. This is the idea behind the Super Chimney, It’s an engineering concept comparable to building a dam across the Strait of Gibraltar, a system of gigantic mirrors in Earth’s orbit, or anything built under an Atoms for Peace project. In short, this is fringe engineering.

This is also, ‘saving the world with wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men.’

The idea of building tens of thousands of fabric chimneys, placing them all around the globe, and cooling the Earth while sequestering carbon dioxide is fantastic. Ideas are simple, implementation is something else entirely. There are also obvious problems with the physics presented in the Super Chimney presentation, but these problems don’t actually make a Super Chimney impossible. We need more eyes on this, so we’re opening this one up as an Ask Hackaday. What do you think of this audacious scheme, and is it even possible?

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Saving The World With Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men”

Ask Hackaday: Selling Yourself as a Hacker

While there are plenty of hackers that hack just for the love of it, it’s no secret that many of us are looking to hit it big someday. Tales of the businesses like HP and Apple that started in someone’s garage inevitably lead to musings like, “Hey, I’ve got a garage!” and grand plans to turn that special idea into the Next Big Thing™. Many will try, most will fail for one reason or another, but hope springs eternal, and each new widget seems to start the entrepreneurial cycle again.

But for as much pressure as we may feel to be the next Packard, Wozniak, or Musk, not everyone is cut out to be the boss. Some of us have no interest in or aptitude for business — we don’t want to hire or fire people, we don’t want to wheel and deal, and we certainly don’t want to worry about salesmanship. Some of us just want to abstract all that complexity away and just find a job, preferably one that leverages the things we love to do.
Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Selling Yourself as a Hacker”