Ask Hackaday: Could Rating Airlines Stop Flights From Spreading Diseases?


A few weeks ago, I found myself the victim of flights from hell. My first flight was cancelled, leaving me driving home late at night, only to wake again for a red-eye the next morning. That was cancelled as well, with the second replacement delayed by a further hour. All in all I ended up spending a good ten hours extra in the airport surrounded by tired, sick, and coughing individuals, and ended up a full 16 hours late to my destination. On the return, I’d again tangle with delays, and by the weekend’s close, I’d contracted a nasty flu for my trouble.

All this had me riled up and looking for revenge. I had lost hours of my life to these frustrations, and the respiratory havoc claimed a further week of my working life. It had me realizing that we could surely improve the performance and hygiene of our airliners with a simple idea: a website called Flights From Hell.

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Mining And Refining: Titanium, Our Youngest Industrial Metal

Earlier in this series, we made the case for copper being “the metal that built technology.” Some readers took issue with that statement, noting correctly that meteoric iron and gold were worked long before our ancestors were able to locate and exploit natural copper outcroppings, therefore beating copper to the historical punch. That seems to miss the point, though; figuring out how to fashion gold decorations and iron trinkets doesn’t seem like building the foundations for industry. Learning to make tools from copper, either pure or alloyed with tin to make bronze? Now that’s how you build an industrial base.

So now comes the time for us to make the case for our most recent addition to humanity’s stable of industrial metals: titanium. Despite having been discovered in 1791, titanium remained locked away inside abundantly distributed ores until the 1940s, when the technological demands of a World War coupled with a growing chemical prowess and command of sufficient energy allowed us to finally wrest the “element of the gods” from its minerals. The suddenness of it all is breathtaking, too; in 1945, titanium was still a fantastically expensive laboratory oddity, but just a decade later, we were producing it by the (still very expensive) ton and building an entirely new aerospace industry around the metal.

In this installment of “Mining and Refining,” we’ll take a look at titanium and see why it took us over 11,000 years to figure out how to put it to work for us.

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Italy Proposes Minimalist Lunar Outpost For Artemis

When humanity first step foot on the Moon, they couldn’t stay around for very long. The Apollo program was limited by the technology of the era — given the incredible cost per kilogram to put a payload down on the lunar surface, it wasn’t feasible to bring down enough consumables for a lengthy stay. Even if they could have carried sufficient food and water to last more than a few days, the limiting factor would have become how long the crew could realistically remain cooped up in the tiny Lunar Excursion Module (LEM).

In comparison, the Artemis program is far more ambitious. NASA wants to establish a long-term, and perhaps even permanent, human presence on our nearest celestial neighbor. This will be made possible, at least in part, to the greatly reduced launch costs offered by current and near-future launch vehicles compared to legacy platforms like the Saturn V or Space Shuttle. But cheaper rides to space is only part of the equation. NASA will also be leaning heavily on the lessons learned during the International Space Program; namely, the advantages of modular design and international cooperation.

While NASA and their commercial partners will still end up providing the bulk of the hardware for the Artemis program, many modules and components are being provided by other countries. From the Orion’s European Service Module (ESM) to the Japanese life support systems to be installed on the Lunar Gateway Station, America won’t be going to the Moon alone this time.

The latest international contribution to the Artemis program comes from the Italian Space Agency (ASI), who have announced their intention to develop a lunar habitation module they’re calling the Multi-Purpose Habitat (MPH) in collaboration with Thales Alenia Space.

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The Sunspots Are Coming (Again)

There are a bunch of ways to estimate the age of a radio amateur, by the letters in their callsign, by their preferred choice of homebrewing technology, or sometimes by their operating style. One that perhaps doesn’t immediately come to mind is to count how many solar cycles they remember, and since the current cycle 25 is my fourth I guess I’ve seen a few. Cycle 25 is so far shaping up to be quite an active one especially of late, which popular media are describing as bombarding us with flares from a “sunspot archipelago” and the more measured tones of giving us warning of X-class flares heading in our direction, today!

Jean-Claude Roy, VP, Hydro Quebec
We wouldn’t be this guy for anything. From CBC’s coverage of the 1989 power outage.

As the technology for solar observation has increased in sophistication and the Internet has allowed anyone to follow the events above us as they unfold, the awareness of solar phenomena has shifted away from the relatively small numbers of astronomers and radio amateurs who would once have been eagerly awaiting a solar cycle to a wider audience. Ever since a particularly severe event in March 1989  during cycle 22 caused disruptions including the blackout of a significant part of Canada it’s been a periodic topic of mild doom in slow news moments. But what lies behind the reports of solar activity? Perhaps it’s time to take a look.

The solar cycle refers to the 11-year period of solar activity from a maximum of observed sunspots through a minimum to a new maximum. The sunspots are the visible evidence of the solar magnetic field changing its polarity, and appear as darker areas where there is a greater strength of magnetic flux in the sun’s photosphere. We refer to solar cycles by number with solar cycle 1 occurring in 1755 because that year represents the earliest cycle which can be found in modern astronomical observation data, but previous cycles have been deduced over millennia through dendrochronology, sediment analysis, isotope observations, and other methods. Continue reading “The Sunspots Are Coming (Again)”

Falsified Photos: Fooling Adobe’s Cryptographically-Signed Metadata

Last week, we wrote about the Leica M11-P, the world’s first camera with Adobe’s Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) credentials baked into every shot. Essentially, each file is signed with Leica’s encryption key such that any changes to the image, whether edits to the photo itself or the metadata, are tracked. The goal is to not only prove ownership, but that photos are real — not tampered with or AI-generated. At least, that’s the main selling point.

Although the CAI has been around since 2019, it’s adoption is far from widespread. Only a handful of programs support it, although this list includes Photoshop, and its unlikely anybody outside the professional photography space was aware of it until recently. This isn’t too surprising, as it really isn’t relevant to the casual shooter — when I take a shot to upload to Instagram, I’m rarely thinking about whether or not I’ll need cryptographic proof that the photo wasn’t edited — usually adding #nofilter to the description is enough. Where the CAI is supposed to shine, however, is in the world of photojournalism. The idea is that a photographer can capture an image that is signed at the time of creation and maintains a tamper-proof log of any edits made. When the final image is sold to a news publisher or viewed by a reader online, they are able to view that data.

At this point, there are two thoughts you might have (or, at least, there are two thoughts I had upon learning about the CAI)

  1. Do I care that a photo is cryptographically signed?
  2. This sounds easy to break.

Well, after some messing around with the CAI tools, I have some answers for you.

  1. No, you don’t.
  2. Yes, it is.

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Ejector Seats: The Rocket Chairs That Save Lives

Once upon a time, escaping an aircraft was a tricky business. You had to unstrap yourself, fling open a heavy glass canopy, and try to wrench yourself out of a small opening without getting smacked by the tail or chopped up by the propeller. Many pilots failed this difficult task, to the tragic loss of their lives.

Eventually, the human cost was heavy enough and militaries grew strained at having to train new pilots to replace the experienced ones lost to accidents and enemy fire. The ejection seat was developed to make escaping a plane as simple as tucking yourself in and pulling a big red handle. Let’s dive in and learn how it came to be.

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Mobile Phones And The Question Of Declining Sperm Quality

In a world increasingly reliant on technology, a pressing question arises: can our dependence on gadgets, particularly mobile phones, be affecting our health in unexpected ways? A growing body of research is now pointing towards a startling trend – declining sperm quality in the human population – with mobile phones emerging as a potential culprit.

Recent studies have been sounding the alarm over a noticeable decline in sperm counts and quality across the globe. This decline isn’t just about quantity; it’s about the vitality, motility, and overall health of sperm cells. The implications of this trend are profound, affecting fertility rates and possibly even the long-term viability of populations. The situation is murky and complicated, but new studies suggest that cellular phones could have a role to play.

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