Ask Hackaday: What’s In Your Fastener Bin?

A Saturday afternoon. The work week was done, the household chores were wrapped up, and with almost a week left until Christmas, there was just enough wiggle room to deny that there was still a ton of work left to prepare for that event. It seemed like the perfect time to escape into the shop and knock out a quick project, one that has been on the back burner since at least March. I’m nothing if not skilled in the ways of procrastination.

This was to be a simple project — adding an aluminum plate to a plastic enclosure that would serve as an antenna entry point into my shack. Easy as pie — cut out an rectangle of aluminum, cut and drill a few holes, call it a day. Almost all of my projects start out that way, and almost every time I forget that pretty much every one of those builds goes off the rails at exactly the same point: when I realize that I don’t have the fasteners needed. That’s what happened with this build, which had been going swimmingly up to that point — no major screw-ups, no blood drawn. And so it was off to the hardware store I trundled, looking for the right fasteners to finish the job.

Finding hardware has long been where my productivity goes to die. Even though I live a stone’s throw from at least half a dozen stores, each with a vast selection of hardware and most open weekends and nights, the loss of momentum that results from changing from build-mode to procure-mode has historically been deadly to my projects. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has run into this issue, so the question is: what can a hacker do to prevent having to run out for just the right fasteners?

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Ask Hackaday: What Tools Do You Really Need For A Life On The Road?

How do you dispose of an old hard drive? Inventive stories about heat and flame or industrial shredders will no doubt appear in the comments, but for me I just dismantle them and throw the various parts into the relevant scrap bins at my hackerspace. The magnets end up stuck to a metal door frame, and I’m good to go. So a week or so ago when I had a few ancient drives from the 1990s to deal with, I sat down only to find my set of Torx and Allen drivers was missing. I was back to square one.

What A Missing Tool Tells You About Necessities

Clint Eastwood always seemed to have just what he needed, why can I never manage it! Produzioni Europee Associati, Public domain.
Clint Eastwood always seemed to have just what he needed, why can I never manage it! Produzioni Europee Associati, Public domain.

Life deals an odd hand, sometimes. One never expects to find oneself homeless and sofa-surfing, nearly all possessions in a container on a farm somewhere. But here I am, and somewhere in one of those huge blue plastic removal crates is my driver set, alongside the other detritus of an engineer scribe’s existence. It’s all very well to become a digital nomad with laptop and hotspot when it comes to writing, but what has the experience taught me about doing the same as a solderer of fortune when it comes to hardware? My bench takes up several large removal crates and there is little chance of my carrying that much stuff around with me, so what makes the cut? Evidently not the tools for hard drive evisceration, so I had to borrow the set of a hackerspace friend to get the job done. Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What Tools Do You Really Need For A Life On The Road?”

Ask Hackaday: With Landline Use In Decline, What’s To Be Done With The Local Loop?

Walking is great exercise, but it’s good for the mind too: it gives one time to observe and to think. At least that’s what I do on my daily walks, and being me, what I usually observe and think about is the local infrastructure along my route. Recently, I was surprised to see a number of telephone company cabinets lying open next to the sidewalk. Usually when you see an open box, there’s a telephone tech right there, working on the system. But these were wide open and unattended, which I thought was unusual.

I, of course, took the opportunity to check out the contents of these pedestals in detail. Looking at the hundreds of pairs of brightly colored wire all neatly terminated and obviously installed and maintained at great expense, I was left wondering why someone would leave such a valuable asset exposed to the elements. With traditional POTS, or plain old telephone service, on the decline, the world may no longer have much use for the millions of miles of copper cable feeding back to telco central offices (COs) anymore. But there’s got to be something this once-vital infrastructure is still good for, leading me to ask: what’s to be done with the local loop?

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Ask Hackaday: Is Windows XP Source Code Leak A Bad Thing?

News comes overnight that the Windows XP source code has been leaked. The Verge says they have “verified the material as legitimate” and that the leak also includes Windows Server 2003 and some DOS and CE code as well. The thing is, it has now been more than six years since Microsoft dropped support for XP, does it really matter if the source code is made public?

The Poison Pill

As Erin Pinheiro pointed out in her excellent article on the Nintendo IP leak earlier this year (perhaps the best Joe Kim artwork of the year on that one, by the way), legitimate developers can’t really make use of leaked code since it opens them up to potential litigation. Microsoft has a formidable legal machine that would surely go after misuse of the code from a leak like this. Erin mentions in her article that just looking at the code is the danger zone for competitors.

Even if other software companies did look at the source code and implement their own improvements without crossing the legal line, how much is there still to gain? Surely companies with this kind of motivation would have reverse engineered the secret sauce of the long dead OS by now, right?

Spy vs. Spy

The next thing that comes to mind are the security implications. At the time of writing, statcount pegs Windows XP at a 0.82% market share which is still going to be a very large number of machines. Perhaps a better question to consider is what types of machines are still running it? I didn’t find any hard data to answer this question, however there are dedicated machines like MRIs that don’t have easy upgrade paths and still use the OS and there is an embedded version of XP that runs on point-of-sale, automated teller machines, set-top boxes, and other long-life hardware that are notorious for not being upgraded by their owners.

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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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