Plastics: Acrylic

If anything ends up on the beds of hobbyist-grade laser cutters more often than birch plywood, it’s probably sheets of acrylic. There’s something strangely satisfying about watching a laser beam trace over a sheet of the crystal-clear stuff, vaporizing a hairs-breadth line while it goes, and (hopefully) leaving a flame-polished cut in its wake.

Acrylic, more properly known as poly(methyl methacrylate) or PMMA, is a wonder material that helped win a war before being developed for peacetime use. It has some interesting chemistry and properties that position it well for use in the home shop as everything from simple enclosures to laser-cut parts like gears and sprockets.

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Web Development: What’s Big In 2019?

I try to keep up with web development trends but it’s hard to keep pace since it’s such a fast evolving field. Barely a week goes by without the release of a new JS framework, elaborate build tool or testing suite — all of them touted as the¬†one to learn. Sorting the hype from the genuinely useful is no mean feat, so my aim in this article is to summarise some of the most interesting happenings that web development saw in the last year, and what trends we expect to see more of in 2019.

A technology or framework doesn’t have to be brand new to be on our list here, it just needs to be growing rapidly or evolving in an interesting way. Let’s take a look!

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Three Dimensions: What Does That Really Mean?

The holy grail of display technology is to replicate what you see in the real world. This means video playback in 3D — but when it comes to displays, what is 3D anyway?

You don’t need me to tell you how far away we are from succeeding in replicating real life in a video display. Despite all the hype, there are only a couple of different approaches to faking those three-dimensions. Let’s take a look at what they are, and why they can call it 3D, but they’re not fooling us into believing we’re seeing real life… yet.

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Why Converting Classic Cars to Electric Drive Is A Thing

A vintage British sportscar is a wonderful thing. Inimitable style and luxury, beautiful curves, and a soundtrack that could make even Vinnie Jones shed a tear. However, even under the most diligent maintenance schedule, they are known, above all, for their unreliability. As the value of such cars is tied heavily to their condition as unmodified examples, owners are typically reluctant to make modifications to remedy these issues.

However, things are starting to change. Cities across the world are enacting measures to ban fossil fuel vehicles from their streets, and sales of such vehicles are similarly going to be banned entirely. The automotive industry is preparing for a major pivot towards electric drivetrains, and no carmaker will be left untouched. In this landscape, it’s not just Tesla and Nissan who are selling electric cars anymore. Luxury brands are beginning to deliver electric vehicles, too.

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Fail of the Week: EPROMs, Rats’ Nests, Tanning Lamps, and Cardboard on Fire

It all started when I bought a late-1990s synthesizer that needed a firmware upgrade. One could simply pull the ROM chip, ship it off to Yamaha for a free replacement, and swap in the new one — in 2003. Lacking a time machine, a sensible option is to buy a pre-programmed aftermarket EPROM on eBay for $10, and if you just want a single pre-flashed EPROM that’s probably the right way to go. But I wanted an adventure.

Spoiler alert: I did manage to flash a few EPROMs and the RM1X is happily running OS 1.13 and pumping out the jams. That’s not the adventure. The adventure is trying to erase UV-erasable EPROMS.

And that’s how I ended up with a small cardboard fire and a scorched tanning lamp, and why I bought a $5 LED, and why I left EPROMs out in the sun for four days. And why, in the end, I gave up and ordered a $15 EPROM eraser from China. Along the way, I learned a ton about old-school UV-erasable EPROMs, and now I have a stack of obsolete silicon that’s looking for a new project like a hammer looks for a nail — just as soon as that UV eraser arrives in the mail.

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Your Face is Going Places You May Not Like

Many Chinese cities, among them Ningbo, are investing heavily in AI and facial recognition technology. Uses range from border control — at Shanghai’s international airport and the border crossing with Macau — to the trivial: shaming jaywalkers.

In Ningbo, cameras oversee the intersections, and use facial-recognition to shame offenders by putting their faces up on large displays for all to see, and presumably mutter “tsk-tsk”. So it shocked Dong Mingzhu, the chairwoman of China’s largest air conditioner firm, to see her own face on the wall of shame when she’d done nothing wrong. The AIs had picked up her face off of an ad on a passing bus.

False positives in detecting jaywalkers are mostly harmless and maybe even amusing, for now. But the city of Shenzhen has a deal in the works with cellphone service providers to identify the offenders personally and send them a text message, and eventually a fine, directly to their cell phone. One can imagine this getting Orwellian pretty fast.

Facial recognition has been explored for decades, and it is now reaching a tipping point where the impacts of the technology are starting to have real consequences for people, and not just in the ways dystopian sci-fi has portrayed. Whether it’s racist, inaccurate, or easily spoofed, getting computers to pick out faces correctly has been fraught with problems from the beginning. With more and more companies and governments using it, and having increasing impact on the public, the stakes are getting higher.

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DooM Retrospective: 25 Years of Metal

Metal is many things. A material hard and coarse in nature that by forging it in fire becomes sharp enough to cut through anything in its path. The music that bares its namesake is equally cutting and exudes an unyielding attitude that seeks to separate the posers from the true acolytes. Metal is the sentiment of not blindly following the rules, a path less taken to the darker side of the street. In videogame form, there is nothing more metal than Doom.

The creators of Doom, id Software, were always hellbent on changing the perception of PC gaming in the 1990s. Games of the time were rigid and slow in comparison to their console counterparts. The graphical fidelity was technically superior on PC, but no other developer could nail movement in a game like id. The team had made a name for themselves with their Commander Keen series (which came about after a failed Super Mario Bros. 3 PC demo) along with the genre defining Wolfenstein 3D, but nothing topped Doom. In an era that was already soaking with “tude”, Doom established an identity all its own. The moody lighting, the grotesque monster designs, the signature push forward combat, and all the MIDI guitars a Soundblaster could handle; Doom looked and felt a cut above everything else in 1993.

In December of that year, Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl held a hearing to publicly condemn the inclusion of violence in videogames sold in America. The bulk of the arguments sought to portray the videogame industry and its developers as deviants seeking to corrupt the nation’s youth. Id Software responded as if to raise the largest middle finger imaginable, by releasing Doom to the world the very next day. A quarter of a century later people are still talking about it.

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