CPU Showdown For Pancakes

If you ask people how they rate as a driver, most of them will say they are better than average. At first, that seems improbable until you realize one thing: people judge themselves by different criteria. So Sally thinks she’s a good driver because she goes fast. Tom’s never had a wreck. Alice never gets lost. You can see the same effect with CPUs. Some are faster or have more memory bandwidth or more instruction issues per cycle. But [Andrew] and [Scharon] at Tom’s Hardware wanted to do the real test of a CPU. How well can it cook pancakes? If you want to know, see the video below.

While your CPU might be great for playing video games, it has a surprisingly small cooking surface, so the guys needed a very small pan. The pan had grooves in it, so they slathered it with thermal grease. We doubt that’s food-grade grease, either. Continue reading “CPU Showdown For Pancakes”

Europeans Now Have The Right To Repair – And That Means The Rest Of Us Probably Will Too

As anyone who has been faced with a recently-manufactured household appliance that has broken will know, sometimes they can be surprisingly difficult to fix. In many cases it is not in the interests of manufacturers keen to sell more products to make a device that lasts significantly longer than its warranty period, to design it with dismantling or repairability in mind, or to make spare parts available to extend its life. As hardware hackers we do our best with home-made replacement components, hot glue, and cable ties, but all too often another appliance that should have plenty of life in it heads for the dump.

Czech waste management workers dismantle scrap washing machines. Tormale [CC BY-SA 3.0].
Czech waste management workers dismantle scrap washing machines. Tormale [CC BY-SA 3.0].
If we are at a loss to fix a domestic appliance then the general public are doubly so, and the resulting mountain of electrical waste is enough of a problem that the European Union is introducing new rules governing their repairability. The new law mandates that certain classes of household appliances and other devices for sale within the EU’s jurisdiction must have a guaranteed period of replacement part availability and that they must be designed such that they can be worked upon with standard tools. These special classes include washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, televisions, and more.

Let’s dig into the ramifications of this decision which will likely affect markets beyond the EU and hopefully lead to a supply of available parts useful for repair and beyond.

Continue reading “Europeans Now Have The Right To Repair – And That Means The Rest Of Us Probably Will Too”

Saying Farewell To Another B-17 And Its Crew

The harsh reality of keeping historical airplanes airworthy and flying is that from time to time one will crash. Thus it was that on October 2nd a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress crash-landed after technical troubles. Incidentally, this is the very same airplane which we covered only a number of days ago. Painted to look like another B-17 of WWII (Nine-o-Nine, variant B-17G-30-BO), this late-model B-17G-85-DL aircraft wasn’t finished in time to join World War II, but instead spent its 74 years being a flying museum to these amazing airplanes.

Details about the cause of the crash are still scarce, but from radio communication between the crew and tower, it’s understood the B-17 was having having issues with the number 4 engine, which was seen sputtering and smoking by a witness. The airplane’s pilots tried to perform an emergency landing at Bradley International Airport, Connecticut, where it had taken off from only moments ago. Unfortunately the aircraft ran off the runway and struck a building, after which it burst into flames. The NTSB has indicated that they have dispatched a team to investigate the crash, and say that a preliminary report is likely two weeks away.

Of the thirteen people on board, seven died, with the remaining six surviving with injuries. One person on the ground was injured as well. The vintage bomber (civilian registration number N93012) has been all but completely destroyed in the fire, with only a section of the wing and tail remaining recognizable.

We feel terrible about such loss of life and hope the injured make a speedy recovery. The loss of yet another B-17 is also tough to swallow, as this leaves just ten airworthy B-17s. How long until we say farewell to this part of our history, with the final flight of a B-17, or its kin?

(Thanks to Pez for this update)

What On Earth Is A Pickle Fork And Why Is It Adding To Boeing’s 737 Woes?

It’s fair to say that 2019 has not been a good year for the aircraft manufacturer Boeing, as its new 737 MAX aircraft has been revealed to contain a software fault that could cause the aircraft to enter a dive and crash. Now stories are circulating of another issue with the 737, some of the so-called “Pickle forks” in the earlier 737NG aircraft have been found to develop cracks.

It’s a concerning story and there are myriad theories surrounding its origin but it should also have a reassuring angle: the painstaking system of maintenance checks that underpins the aviation industry has worked as intended. This problem has been identified before any catastrophic failures have occurred. It’s not the story Boeing needs at the moment, but they and the regulators will no doubt be working hard to produce a new design and ensure that it is fitted to aircraft.

The Role of the Pickle Fork

For those of us who do not work in aviation though it presents a question: what on earth is a pickle fork? The coverage of the story tells us it’s something to do with attaching the wing to the fuselage, but without a handy 737 to open up and take a look at we’re none the wiser.

Fortunately there’s a comprehensive description of one along with a review of wing attachment technologies from Boeing themselves, and it can be found in one of their patents. US9399508B2 is concerned with an active suspension system for wing-fuselage mounts and is a fascinating read in itself, but the part we are concerned with is a description of existing wing fixtures on page 12 of the patent PDF.

A cross-section of the aircraft wing fixing, in which we've highlighted the role of the pickle forks. (Boeing)
A cross-section of the aircraft wing fixing, in which we’ve highlighted the role of the pickle forks. (Boeing)

The pickle fork is an assembly so named because of its resemblance to the kitchen utensil, which attaches firmly to each side of the fuselage and has two prongs that extend below it where they are attached to the wing spar.

For the curious engineer with no aviation experience the question is further answered by the patent’s figure 2, which provides a handy cross-section. The other wing attachment they discuss involves the use of pins, leading to the point of the patented invention. Conventional wing fixings transmit the forces from the wing to the fuselage as a rigid unit, requiring the fuselage to be substantial enough to handle those forces and presenting a problem for designers of larger aircraft. The active suspension system is designed to mitigate this, and we’d be fascinated to hear from any readers in the comments who might be able to tell us more.

We think it’s empowering that a science-minded general public can look more deeply at a component singled out in a news report by digging into the explanation in the Boeing patent. We don’t envy the Boeing engineers in their task as they work to produce a replacement, and we hope to hear of their solution as it appears.

[via Hacker News]

[Header image: AMX Boeing 737 XA-PAM by Jean-Philippe Boulet CC-BY 3.0]

Chinese Radio Telescope Hopes To Find Exoplanets FAST

People who enjoy radio are constantly struggling to find a place to erect a bigger and better antenna. Of course it’s a different story and the most hardcore end of the spectrum: radio astronomers. The Chinese are ready to open up a new radio telescope called FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope). As the name implies, it is 500 meters in diameter which is about 1,600 feet — that five and a half American football fields or about four and half of the other kind of football field.

The new telescope will be the largest single-dish observatory in the world and will offer about twice the area of the next-largest single-dish instrument at Arecibo. The project is in a very remote location, presumably to reduce the level of local radio interference — it’s hard to find radio quiet zones in heavily populated areas.

Scientists hope the huge antenna will help solve the mystery of fast radio bursts and may even study exoplanets. In fact, earlier this year, the instrument detected hundreds of fast radio bursts from a source, many of which were too faint to be heard by lesser antennas. There are also plans to examine pulsars in an attempt to discover ripples in space-time. The location in the Dawodang depression of the Guizhou province uses about 4,400 panels and 2,000 mechanical winches to focus radio energy.

Other telescopes that use multiple dishes have more resolution and, in fact, FAST adds 3 dozen 5 meter commercial dishes to get an increase in resolution of 100 times. Of course, you could build your own, although to get up to 500 meters might be a stretch. If your backyard isn’t that big, you can build a tiny radio telescope too.

Gatwick Drone Incident: Police Still Clueless

Quietly released and speedily buried by Parliamentary wrangles over Brexit is the news that Sussex Police have exhausted all lines of inquiry  into the widely publicised drone sighting reports that caused London’s Gatwick Airport to be closed for several days last December. The county’s rozzers have ruled out 96 ‘people of interest’ and combed through 129 separate reports of drone activity, but admit that they are no closer to feeling any miscreant collars. There is no mention of either their claims at the time to have found drone wreckage, their earlier admissions that sightings might have been of police drones, or even that there might have been no drone involved at all.

Regular readers will know that we have reported extensively the sorry saga of official reactions to drone incidents, because we believe that major failings in reporting and investigation will accumulate to have an adverse effect on those many people in our community who fly multi-rotors. In today’s BBC report for example there is the assertion that 109 of the drone sightings came from “‘credible witnesses’ including a pilot and airport police” which while it sounds reassuring is we believe a dangerous route to follow because it implies that the quality of evidence is less important than its source. It is crucial to understand that multi-rotors are still a technology with which the vast majority of the population are still unfamiliar, and simply because a witness is a police officer or a pilot does not make them a drone expert whose evidence is above scrutiny.

Whichever stand you take on the drone sightings at Gatwick and in other places it is clear that Sussex Police do not emerge from this smelling of roses and that their investigation has been chaotic and inept from the start. We believe that there should be a public inquiry into the whole mess, so that those embarrassing parts of it which they and other agencies are so anxious to quietly forget can be subjected to scrutiny. We do not however expect this to happen any time soon.

Keystone Kops header image: Mack Sennett Studios [Public domain].

Return Of The MITERS Journal

After a long hiatus, the MIT Electronic Research Society, better known as MITERS, has released their summer 2019 edition of the MITERS Journal, officially known as Volume 43 Issue 1.

The latest edition features a throwback to the first journal published in 1976, showing that some things just never change:

“What is MITERS? MITERS is the MIT Electronic Research Society, a non-profit, student-run laboratory for MIT’s EE hackers. The Society provides work space, tools, low-cost parts and information to any number of the MIT community. We have a few good ‘scopes, various and sundry pieces of test equipment, a b’zillion power supplies, and Bertha, our beloved PDP-7 computer. (No snickers from the peanut gallery, please. Bertha is very sensitive.) We also have the most incredible plunder-trove on campus.”

– 1976 Journal 1 Number 1

The space remains a member-run project space and maker shop, providing the MIT community with access to tools, knowledge, and room to build projects. Continue reading “Return Of The MITERS Journal”