Ask Hackaday: Why Did GitHub Ship All Our Software Off To The Arctic?

If you’ve logged onto GitHub recently and you’re an active user, you might have noticed a new badge on your profile: “Arctic Code Vault Contributor”. Sounds pretty awesome right? But whose code got archived in this vault, how is it being stored, and what’s the point?

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Ask Hackaday: What Can Be Done With Your Bootlooping Blu-Ray?

Last Friday, thousands of owners of Samsung Blu Ray players found that their home entertainment devices would no longer boot up. While devices getting stuck in a power-cycling loop is not uncommon, this case stands out as it affected a huge range of devices all at the same time. Samsung’s support forum paints a bleak picture, with one thread on the issue stretching to 177 pages in just a week.

So what is going on, and what can be done to fix the problem? There’s a lot of conflicting information on that. Some people’s gear has started working again, others have not and there are reports of customers being told to seek in-person repair service. Let’s dive in with some wild speculation on the problem and circle back by commiserating about the woes of web-connected appliances.

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Ask Hackaday: Is Our Power Grid Smart Enough To Know When There’s No Power?

Just to intensify the feeling of impending zombie apocalypse of the COVID-19 lockdown in the British countryside where I live, we had a power cut. It’s not an uncommon occurrence here at the end of a long rural power distribution network, and being prepared for a power outage is something I wrote about a few years ago. But this one was a bit larger than normal and took out much more than just our village. I feel very sorry for whichever farmer in another village managed to collide with an 11kV distribution pole.

What pops to mind for today’s article is the topic of outage monitoring. When plunged into darkness we all wonder if the power company knows about it. The most common reaction must be: “of course the power company knows the power is out, they’re the ones making it!”. But this can’t be the case as for decades, public service announcements have urge us to report power cuts right away.

In our very modern age, will the grid become smart enough to know when, and perhaps more importantly where, there are power cuts? Let’s check some background before throwing the question to you in the comments below.

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Ask Hackaday: Are 80 Characters Per Line Still Reasonable In 2020?

Software developers won’t ever run out of subjects to argue and fight about. Some of them can be fundamental to a project — like choice of language or the programming paradigm to begin with. Others seem more of a personal preference at first, but can end up equally fundamental on a bigger scale — like which character to choose for indentation, where to place the curly braces, or how to handle line breaks. Latest when there’s more than one developer collaborating, it’s time to find a common agreement in form of a coding style guide, which might of course require a bit of compromise.

Regardless of taste, the worst decision is having no decision, and even if you don’t agree with a specific detail, it’s usually best to make peace with it for the benefit of uniformly formatted code. In a professional environment, a style guide was ideally worked out collaboratively inside or between teams, and input and opinions of everyone involved were taken into consideration — and if your company doesn’t have one to begin with, the best step to take is probably one towards the exit.

The situation can get a bit more complex in open source projects though, depending on the structure and size of a project. If no official style guide exists, the graceful thing to do is to simply adopt the code base’s current style when contributing to it. But larger projects that are accustomed to a multitude of random contributors will typically have one defined, which was either worked out by the core developers, or declared by its benevolent dictator for life.

In case of the Linux kernel, that’s of course [Linus Torvalds], who has recently shaken up the community with a mailing list response declaring an overly common, often even unwritten rule of code formatting as essentially obsolete: the 80-character line limitation. Considering the notoriety of his rants and crudeness, his response, which was initiated by a line break change in the submitted patch, seems downright diplomatic this time.

[Linus]’ reasoning against a continuing enforcement of 80-char line limits is primarly the fact that screens are simply big enough today to comfortably fit longer lines, even with multiple terminals (or windows) next to each other. As he puts it, the only reason to stick to the limitation is using an actual VT100, which won’t serve much use in kernel development anyway.

Allowing longer lines on the other hand would encourage the use of more verbose variable names and whitespace, which in turn would actually increase readability. Of course, all to a certain extent, and [Linus] obviously doesn’t call for abolishing line breaks altogether. But he has a point; does it really make sense to stick to a decades old, nowadays rather arbitrary-seeming limitation in 2020?

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Ask Hackaday: Wink Hubs, Extortion As A Service?

Wink Labs just announced that their home automation hub, the Wink Hub, is “transitioning to a $4.99 monthly subscription, starting on May 13, 2020.” Should you fail to pay the fiver every month, you will lose access to their app, voice control, and automations, which is everything it does as far as we can tell.

This is an especially bitter pill to swallow for Hub users, because the device was just that — a hub. It speaks Bluetooth, Z-Wave, ZigBee, WiFi, Kidde, and a couple other specific device protocols, interfaces with Amazon’s Alexa, has a handy Android master panel app, and had a nice “robot” system that made the automation side of “home automation” simple for normal people. In short, with its low one-time purchase price, compatibility with many devices, nice phone app, and multiple radios, it was a great centerpiece for a home-automation setup.

“Nice home automation system you’ve got there. Would be a shame if anything happened to it.”

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Ask Hackaday: What Should We Be Doing During Coronavirus Lockdown?

There’s a lot of good in the world and that includes you. Humanity has a way of coming together at crucial moments and we have certainly reached that with the outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus. At this point, most people’s daily lives have been turned upside down. We can all have an impact on how this plays out.

It’s scary, it’s real, but we will get through this. What we need to focus on now is how we can behave that will lead to the best outcomes for the largest number of people. The real question is, how can we help? If you’re stuck at home it’s easy to feel powerless to help but that’s not true. Let’s cover a few examples, then open up the discussion in the comments so we can hear what has been working for you.

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Sky Is New Limit For Dot Com Domain Prices

Earlier this week, domain name registrar Namecheap sent out an email to all customers advising them of a secret deal that went down between ICANN and Verisign sometime late last year. It has the potential to change the prices of domain names drastically over time, and thus change the makeup of the Internet as we know it.

Domain names aren’t really owned, they’re rented with an option to renew, and the annual rate that you pay depends both on your provider’s markup, but also on a wholesale rate that’s the same for all names in that particular domain. This base price is set by ICANN, a non-profit.

Officially, this deal is a proposed Amendment 3 to the contract in place between Verisign and ICANN that governs the “.com” domain. The proposed amendment would let Verisign increase the wholesale rental price of “.com” domain names by 7% per year for the next four years. Then there will be a two-year breather, followed by another four years of 7% annual hikes. And there is no foreseeable end to this cycle. We think it seems reasonable to assume that the domain name registrars might pass the price gouging on to the consumer, but that really remains to be seen.

The annual wholesale domain name price has been sitting at $7.85 since 2012, and as of this writing, Namecheap is charging $8.88 for a standard “.com” address. If our math is correct, ten years from now, a “.com” domain will cost around $13.50 wholesale and $17.50 retail. This almost-doubling in price will affect both small sites and companies that hold many domain names. And the increase will only get more dramatic with time.

So let’s take a quick look at the business of domain names.
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