Death Of The Serial Squid: When Do You Give Up?

While searching for a connector recently, I revisited an old project of mine called the Serial Squid. This was to have been my first open-source hardware design. After completing the entire design, PCB, BOM, and preparing for a crowd-funded campaign, I eventually gave up for reasons discussed below, I’ve always thought of this as a failure, but on further reflection I see it in a new light. There were some good lessons learned along the path to abandonment.

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The V-Bomber Ejector Seat Controversy

Once upon a time, bailing out of a plane involved popping open the roof or door, and hopping out with your parachute, hoping that you’d maintained enough altitude to slow down before you hit the ground. As flying speeds increased and aircraft designs changed, such escape became largely impossible.

Ejector seats were the solution to this problem, with the first models entering service in the late 1940s. Around this time, the United Kingdom began development of a new fleet of bombers, intended to deliver its nuclear deterrent threat over the coming decades. The Vickers Valiant, the Handley Page Victor, and the Avro Vulcan were all selected to make up the force, entering service in 1955 through 1957 respectively. Each bomber featured ejector seats for the pilot and co-pilot, who sat at the front of the aircraft. The remaining three crew members who sat further back in the fuselage were provided with an escape hatch in the rear section of the aircraft with which to bail out in the event of an emergency.

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Active Camouflage Material Shows Promise At Hiding From Infrared Or Visual Detection

An invisibility cloak may seem like science fiction, but despite that, many scientists and engineers have put much time into developing the concept, pushing it closer to reality. A device which detects the nature of its surroundings and changes its own properties to blend in may be complex, but a multitude of examples in the animal world show that it’s not impossible to achieve.

A team from Seoul National University recently developed a flexible material designed in part as a flexible “cloaking” material. We’ll take a look at the underlying concept behind such devices below, and look at how this work furthers the state of the art in the field.

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Amazon’s Custom T-Shirt May Rub You The Wrong Way

How far would you go in pursuit of the perfect black t-shirt? Would you let Amazon build a virtual double of your body? They already know so much about you, so what’s a body scan or two between customer and company?

So here’s the deal — Amazon is trying to launch a brand of bespoke clothing called Made for You, and they’re starting with custom solid color t-shirts. Here’s how it works: you give them $25 along with information about your height, weight, and skin tone. Then you upload two pictures of your torso to their app, and these get turned into a 3D model of your body. Once your avatar is built to match, you design your shirt to fit the model. In theory, you get a really good idea of how it will fit.

You can choose from two different fabrics and eight colors, and can customize the neckline, the shirt length, and the sleeve length. If you want to, you can put your name on the tag. Then your perfect t-shirt gets made in the US from imported fabric — either lightweight or medium weight pima cotton. We’re not sure if robots or people are making them, but our money is on people. After all, Amazon is the company that created Mechanical Turk to form a pool of humans available to do on-demand work via the Internet. This is along those lines but with tailors sewing to your specifications. The big questions are what do you get, how does the technology make these better than off-the-rack, and do you give up your privacy in return?

One-Size Fits One

To say that these are custom t-shirts is a bit of a stretch. Oh you don’t need to worry about the t-shirts being skin-tight and showcasing your spare tire — if it’s a relaxed fit you want, that’s one of the options. But the current options are limited.

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Solar Flares And Radio Communications — How Precarious Are Our Electronics?

On November 8th, 2020 the Sun exploded. Well, that’s a bit dramatic (it explodes a lot) — but a particularly large sunspot named AR2781 produced a C5-class solar flare which is a medium-sized explosion even for the Sun. Flares range from A, B, C, M, and X with a zero to nine scale in each category (or even higher for giant X flares). So a C5 is just about dead center of the scale. You might not have noticed, but if you lived in Australia or around the Indian Ocean and you were using radio frequencies below 10 MHz, you would have noticed since the flare caused a 20-minute-long radio blackout at those frequencies.

According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the sunspot has the energy to produce M-class flares which are an order of magnitude more powerful. NOAA also has a scale for radio disruptions ranging from R1 (an M1 flare) to R5 (an X20 flare). The sunspot in question is facing Earth for the moment, so any new flares will cause more problems. That led us to ask ourselves: What if there were a major radio disruption?

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2020: As The Hardware World Turns

By pretty much any metric you care to use, 2020 has been an unforgettable year. Usually that would be a positive thing, but this time around it’s a bit more complicated. The global pandemic, unprecedented in modern times, impacted the way we work, learn, and gather. Some will look back on their time in lockdown as productive, if a bit lonely. Other’s have had their entire way of life uprooted, with no indication as to when or if things will ever return to normal. Whatever “normal” is at this point.

But even in the face of such adversity, there have been bright spots for our community. With traditional gatherings out of the question, many long-running tech conferences moved over to a virtual format that allowed a larger and more diverse array of presenters and attendees than would have been possible in the past. We also saw hackers and makers all over the planet devote their skills and tools to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE). In a turn of events few could have predicted, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic helped demonstrate the validity of hyperlocal manufacturing in a way that’s never happened before.

For better or for worse, most of us will associate 2020 with COVID-19 for the rest of our lives. Really, how could we not? But over these last twelve months we’ve borne witness to plenty of stories that are just as deserving of a spot in our collective memories. As we approach the twilight hours of this most ponderous year, let’s take a look back at some of the most interesting themes that touched our little corner of the tech world this year.

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Teardown: Creality Wi-Fi Box

Creality, makers of the Ender series of 3D printers, have released a product called Wi-Fi Box meant to cheaply add network control to your printer. Naturally I had to order one so we could take a peek, but this is certainly not a product review. If you’re looking to control your 3D printer over the network, get yourself a Raspberry Pi and install Gina Häußge’s phenomenal OctoPrint on it. Despite what Creality might want you to believe, their product is little more than a poor imitation of this incredible open source project.

Even if you manage to get it working with your printer, which judging by early indications is a pretty big if, it won’t give you anywhere near the same experience. At best it’ll save you a few dollars compared to going the DIY route, but at the cost of missing out on the vibrant community of plugin developers that have helped establish OctoPrint as the defacto remote 3D printing solution.

That being said, the hardware itself seems pretty interesting. For just $20 USD you get a palm-sized Linux computer with WiFi, Ethernet, a micro SD slot, and a pair of USB ports; all wrapped up in a fairly rugged enclosure. There’s no video output, but that will hardly scare off the veteran penguin wrangler. Tucked in a corner and sipping down only a few watts, one can imagine plenty of tasks this little gadget would be well suited to. Perhaps it could act as a small MQTT broker for all your smart home devices, or a low-power remote weather station. The possibilities are nearly limitless, assuming we can get into the thing anyway.

So what’s inside the Creality Wi-Fi Box, and how hard will it be to bend it to our will? Let’s take one apart and find out.

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