Getting the Lead Out of Lithium Battery Recycling

When that fateful morning comes that your car no longer roars to life with a quick twist of the key, but rather groans its displeasure at the sad state of your ride’s electrical system, your course is clear: you need a new battery. Whether you do it yourself or – perish the thought – farm out the job to someone else, the end result is the same. You get a spanking new lead-acid battery, and the old one is whisked away to be ground up and turned into a new battery in a nearly perfect closed loop system.

Contrast this to what happens to the battery in your laptop when it finally gives up the ghost. Some of us will pop the pack open, find the likely one bad cell, and either fix the pack or repurpose the good cells. But most dead lithium-based battery packs are dropped in the regular trash, or placed in blue recycling bins with the best of intentions but generally end up in the landfill anyway.

Why the difference between lead and lithium batteries? What about these two seemingly similar technologies dictates why one battery can have 98% of its material recycled, while the other is cheaper to just toss? And what are the implications down the road, when battery packs from electric vehicles start to enter the waste stream in bulk?

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Open Source DIY Printers are Alive and Well: What We Saw At ERRF 18

If you follow the desktop 3D printer market, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that nearly every 3D printer on display at the inaugural East Coast RepRap Festival (ERRF) was made in China. Even Printrbot CEO Brook Drumm had to admit that this was the year his company may finally bite the bullet and begin selling a branded and customized printer built overseas.

When you can get a decent (but let’s be clear, not great) 3D printer for $200 USD, it’s no surprise that American and European manufacturers are having a hard time staying competitive. But not everyone is seduced by low-cost printers. They know they could buy a decent printer for a couple hundred bucks, but for them that’s not the point. Some hackers are just as (if not more) interested in designing and building the machines than they are churning out little plastic boats with the finished product.

Luckily for us, these are also the type of folks who document their builds and make all their collected information and design files available for others under an open source license. Such builders exemplify the true spirit of the RepRap movement, and we’re happy to report that in a sea of imported printers, there were several interesting home built open source printers.

Whether you want to build your own copy of one of these machines, or simply get inspired by some of the ideas their creators had, these machines are physical proof that just because you can order a cheap 3D printer on eBay right now doesn’t mean you have to.

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Keep it Close: A Private Git Server Crash Course

At this point, everyone has already heard that Microsoft is buying GitHub. Acquisitions of this scale take time, but most expect everything to be official by 2019. The general opinion online seems to be one of unease, and rightfully so. Even if we ignore Microsoft’s history of shady practices, there’s always an element of unease when somebody new takes over something you love. Sometimes it ends up being beneficial, the beginning of a new and better era. But sometimes…

Let’s not dwell on what might become of GitHub. While GitHub is the most popular web-based interface for Git, it’s not the only one. For example GitLab, a fully open source competitor to GitHub, is reporting record numbers of new repositories being created after word of the Microsoft buyout was confirmed. But even GitLab, while certainly worth checking out in these uncertain times, might be more than you strictly need.

Let’s be realistic. Most of the software projects hackers work on don’t need even half the features that GitHub/GitLab offer. Whether you’ve simply got a private project you want to maintain revisions of, or you’re working with a small group collaboratively in a hackerspace setting, you don’t need anything that isn’t already provided by the core Git software.

Let’s take a look at how quickly and easily you can setup a private Git server for you and your colleagues without having to worry about Microsoft (or anyone else) having their fingers around your code.

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Hackers Want Cambridge Dictionary to Change Their Definition

Maybe it’s the silly season of high summer, or maybe a PR bunny at a cybersecurity company has simply hit the jackpot with a story syndicated by the Press Association, but the non-tech media has been earnestly talking about a call upon the Cambridge Dictionary to remove the word “illegal” from their definition of “Hacker”. The weighty tome from the famous British university lists the word as either “a person who is skilled in the use of computer systems, often one who illegally obtains access to private computer systems:” in its learners dictionary, or as “someone who illegally uses a computer to access information stored on another computer system or to spread a computer virus” in its academic dictionary. The cybersecurity company in question argues that hackers in fact do a lot of the work that improves cybersecurity and are thus all-round Good Eggs, and not those nasty computer crooks we hear so much about in the papers.

We’re right behind them on the point about illegality, because while there are those who adopt the hacker sobriquet that wear hats of all colours including black, for us being a hacker is about having the curiosity to tinker with anything presented to us, whatever it is. It’s a word that originated among railway modelers (Internet Archived version), hardly a community that’s known for its criminal tendencies!

Popular Usage Informs Definition

It is however futile to attempt to influence a dictionary in this way. There are two types of lexicography: Prescriptive and Descriptive. With prescriptive lexicography, the dictionary instructs what something must mean or how it should be spelled, while descriptive lexicography tells you how something is used in the real world based on extensive usage research. Thus venerable lexicographers such as Samuel Johnson or Noah Webster told you a particular way to use your English, while their modern equivalents lead you towards current usage with plenty of examples.

It’s something that can cause significant discontent among some dictionary users as we can see from our consternation over the word “hacker”. The administration team at all dictionaries will be familiar with the constant stream of letters of complaint from people outraged that their pet piece of language is not reflected in the volume they regard as an authority. But while modern lexicographers admit that they sometimes walk in an uneasy balance between the two approaches, they are at heart scientists with a rigorous approach to evidence-based research, and are very proud of their efforts.

Big Data Makes for Big Dictionaries

Lexicographic research comes from huge corpora, databases of tens or hundreds of millions of words of written English, from which they can extract the subtlest of language trends to see where a word is going. These can be interesting and engrossing tools for anyone, not just linguists, so we’d urge you to have a go for yourself.

Sadly for us the corpus evidence shows the definition for “Hacker” has very firmly trended toward the tabloid newspaper meaning that associates cybercriminality. All we can do is subvert that trend by doing our best to own the word as we would prefer it to be used, re-appropriating it. At least the other weighty tome from a well-known British university has a secondary sense that we do agree with: An enthusiastic and skilful computer programmer or user“.

Disclosure: Jenny List used to work in the dictionary business.

Putting Crimpers to the Test: How Good Are Our Crimp Tools?

Almost every project of mine from the last quarter century, if it has contained any wiring, has featured somewhere at least one crimp connector. There are a multiplicity of different types of crimp, but in this case I am referring to the ubiquitous variety with a red, blue, or yellow coloured plastic sleeve denoting the wire size they are designed for. They provide a physically robust and electrically sound connection that is resistant to wire fatigue due to vibration, and that can carry hefty currents at high voltages without any problems.

You might expect this to now head off into the detail of crimp connection, but my colleague Dan has already detailed what makes a good or a bad crimp. Instead recently my constant searches for weird and wonderful things to review for your entertainment led me to a new crimp tool, and thence to a curiosity about the effectiveness of different styles of tool. So I’m going to evaluate the three different crimping methods available to me, namely my shiny new ratchet crimp pliers, my aged simple crimp pliers, and for comparison an ordinary pair of pliers. I’ll take a look at the physical strength of each crimping method followed by its electrical effectiveness, but first it’s worth looking at the tools themselves.

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Lost in Space Gets 3D Printing Right

When it has become so common for movies and television to hyper-sensationalize engineering, and to just plain get things wrong, here’s a breathe of fresh air. There’s a Sci-Fi show out right now that wove 3D printing into the story line in a way that is correct, unforced, and a fitting complement to that fictional world.

With the amount of original content Netflix is pumping out anymore, you may have missed the fact that they’ve recently released a reboot of the classic Lost in Space series from the 1960’s. Sorry LeBlanc fans, this new take on the space traveling Robinson family pretends the 1998 movie never happened, as have most people. It follows the family from their days on Earth until they get properly lost in space as the title would indicate, and is probably most notable for the exceptional art direction and special effects work that’s closer to Interstellar than the campy effects of yesteryear.

But fear not, Dear Reader. This is not a review of the show. To that end, I’ll come right out and say that Lost in Space is overall a rather mediocre show. It’s certainly gorgeous, but the story lines and dialog are like something out of a fan film. It’s overly drawn out, and in the end doesn’t progress the overarching story nearly as much as you’d expect. The robot is pretty sick, though.

No, this article is not about the show as a whole. It’s about one very specific element of the show that was so well done I’m still thinking about it a month later: its use of 3D printing. In Lost in Space, the 3D printer aboard the Jupiter 2 is almost a character itself. Nearly every member of the main cast has some kind of interaction with it, and it’s directly involved in several major plot developments during the season’s rather brisk ten episode run.

I’ve never seen a show or movie that not only featured 3D printing as such a major theme, but that also did it so well. It’s perhaps the most realistic portrayal of 3D printing to date, but it’s also a plausible depiction of what 3D printing could look like in the relatively near future. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’d be exceptionally interested to hear if anyone can point out anything better.

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This Is The Year Conference Badges Get Their Own Badges

Over the last few years, the art and artistry of printed circuit boards has moved from business cards to the most desirable of all disposable electronics. I speak, of course, of badgelife. This is the community built on creating and distributing independent electronic conference badges at the various tech and security conferences around the globe.

Until now, badgelife has been a loose confederation of badgemakers and distributors outdoing themselves each year with ever more impressive boards, techniques, and always more blinky bling. The field is advancing so fast there is no comparison to what was being done in years past; where a simple PCB and blinking LED would have sufficed a decade ago, now we have customized microcontrollers direct from the factory, fancy new chips, and the greatest art you’ve ever seen.

Now we have reached a threshold. The badgelife community has gotten so big, the badges are getting their own badges. This is the year of the badge add-on. We’re all building tiny trinkets for our badges, and this time, they’ll all work together. We’re exactly one year away from a sweet Voltron robot made of badges.

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