A Bit Of Mainstream Coverage For The Right To Repair

Here at Hackaday, we write for a community of readers who are inquisitive about the technology surrounding them. You wouldn’t be here if you had never taken a screwdriver to a piece of equipment to see what makes it work. We know that as well as delving inside and modifying devices being core to the hardware hacker mindset, so is repairing. If something we own breaks, we try to work out why it broke, and what we can do to fix it.

Unfortunately, we live in an age in which fixing the things we own is becoming ever harder. Manufacturers either want to sell us now hardware rather than see us repair what breaks, or wish to exercise total control over the maintenance of their products. They make them physically impossible to repair, for example by gluing together a cellphone, or they lock down easy-to-repair items with restrictive software, for example tractors upon which every replacement part must be logged on a central computer.

This has been a huge issue in our community for a long time now, but to the Man In The Street it barely matters. To the people who matter, those who could change or influence the situation, it’s not even on the radar. Which makes a piece in the British high-end weekly newspaper The Economist particularly interesting. Entitled “A ‘right to repair’ movement tools up“, it lays out the issues and introduces the Repair Association, a political lobby group that campaigns for “Right to repair” laws in the individual states of the USA.

You might now be asking why this is important, why are we telling you something you already know? The answer lies in the publication in which it appears. The Economist is aimed at politicians and influencers worldwide. In other words, when we here at Hackaday talk about the right to repair, we’re preaching to the choir. When they do it at the Economist, they’re preaching to the crowd who can make a difference. And that’s important.

You may recognise the tractors mentioned earlier as the iconic green-and-yellow John Deere. We’ve written about their DRM before.

Neon sign, All Electronics Service, Portland, Visitor7 [CC BY-SA 3.0].

Get Hands-On at Supercon: Workshop Tickets Now Available

Build something cool and pick up new skills from the workshops at the Hackaday Superconference. Last week we announced all of the talks you’ll find at Supercon, and starting today you can reserve your spot at one of the workshops.

You must have a Superconference ticket in order to purchase a workshop ticket; buy one right now if you haven’t already. You can get mechanical with Haptics and Animatronics, take your product design from schematic to PCB and enclosure, brush up your embedded development on several choices of platform, make cell towers do your bidding, or dump way too many volts into a block of wood.

Space in these workshops is limited so make sure to sign up before all the seats are taken. The base price for workshops is $10 (basically a “skin in the game” price to encourage those who register to show up). Any tickets priced above that base is meant to cover the material expense of the workshop. Here’s what we have planned:

Embedded Programming with Black Magic and the Lights On

Piotr Esden-Tempski

Sunday Afternoon

Embedded systems programming has earned a bad reputation of being difficult to master. Especially in the open-source world, most people associate it with cut and pasted code that is difficult to debug. The usual tools we have to debug embedded systems are a blinking LED and, if we are lucky, printf statements through a serial port. In this self guided workshop we will show you how easy it can be to have full insight into your microcontroller using fully open source tools that are on par with expensive proprietary closed-source solutions.

Fun with High Voltage

Will Caruana

Sunday Morning

This workshop is about making Lichtenberg figures. A Lichtenberg figure is a piece of art though the multiplication of a few thousands of volts to burn wood. We will cover the science behind this art form as well as the safety and lastly we will be getting hands on experience in being able to using high voltage transformers to make these burnings into wood and make coasters you can take home.

Designing Electronic Textures

Noah Feehan

Sunday Afternoon

Participants will learn the physics behind electrovibration, and then get to play/design for it using a new open-source board called WEFT. After the workshop, you’ll know how to deploy electrovibration in your projects, and understand the feeling of different waveforms.

End to End Product Design with Eagle and Fusion 360

Matt Berggren

Saturday Morning

In this session, we’ll take you end to end, from building a new schematic, simulating a circuit using EAGLE’s built-in SPICE simulator, laying out a PCB, generating mfg files and include some tips & tricks for milling boards and making stencils. We’ll also take you thru the link between electronics and mechanics using Fusion360. Alongside EAGLE we’ll build an enclosure and generate the mfg outputs for your mechanical design (CAM, 3D prints, etc). We’ll look at library management across electronics and mechanics and bidirectional synchronization between both of these domains. This is more than an intro, as Matt’s always good for some essential, oft-missed background and tips with EAGLE you might never have known otherwise.

AVR® MCU Effortless Design Workshop: Prototyping with Sensors and BLE

Bob Martin, Senior Staff Engineer

Sunday Morning

This hands-on training session will walk you through how to develop an embedded sensor node prototype with Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) connectivity. You will speed through configuration of the AVR microcontroller, sensor interface and communications interface setup by using Atmel Start, a graphical programming interface. This tool will generate libraries with simple APIs so you can spend time working on your solution instead of messing with registers or communication protocols.

Rapid Prototyping and Linux Kernel Development with the PocketBeagle® Platform

Robert Nelson

Saturday Afternoon

The newly introduced PocketBeagle® is an ultra-tiny-yet-complete Linux-enabled, community-supported, open-source USB-key-fob computer. By leveraging the Octavo SIP, the PocketBeagle offers complete BeagleBoard functionality and includes 512MB DDR3 RAM, 1-GHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU, 2x 200-MHz PRUs, ARM Cortex-M3, 3D accelerator, power/battery management and EEPROM. The board offers lots of GPIOs, on board peripherals and various expansion capabilities via multiple headers and the Mikroelektronika click board interface. During this course you will learn about pin configuration, how to create a Linux distribution, reconfiguring io on the fly and how to leverage expansion modules. Attendees will leave with their very own PocketBeagle and a couple other surprises as well.

Cellular Connectivity for Your Next Hardware Project

Ben Strahan and Chris Gammell

Saturday Afternoon

Your project shouldn’t be constrained by the range of a WiFi signal. This workshop will show you how to connect to cellular towers via a serial link, get connected into the cloud and reliably start transmitting data. This workshop is suitable for people just getting started in the firmware ecosystem up through advanced firmware engineers. Advanced members of the workshop will have the opportunity to hack their conference badge to connect to cell towers. Sign up for this workshop to add another connection method to your hardware development toolbox.

An Introduction to Animatronics with Laser Cut Tentacle Mechanisms

Joshua Vasquez

Saturday Morning

Animatronics are way cool, but the hacker community rarely ventures farther than a few hobby servos and “dem-blinkin’ LEDs.” In this workshop, I’ll get you cozy with tentacle mechanisms that you can build with just a laser cutter and a few hand tools. There are three big takeaways from this workshop. We’ll build up a two-stage controller reusable in other projects, muscle up our vocabulary of off-the-shelf parts for cable mechanisms, and discover a few laser-cut design techniques.

Superconference workshops tend to sell out extremely quickly. Don’t wait to get your ticket.

FM Snake Feeds Off Radio Waves

[Eric Brasseur] built a radio-detecting snake that consists of a LED that lights up when around reasonably strong radio waves. Near an FM radio mast you’ll find a huge amount of waste energy being dumped out in the 88 to 108 MHz range.

[Eric]’s rig consists of a pair of 1N6263 Schottky diodes, flip-flopped with one set of ends soldered to the antenna and the other ends soldered to the leads of the LED with about a foot of wire in between. The antenna can be a single wire as the diodes are soldered together. This one is around 4 feet in length for a total length of around 160 cm or a little over 5 feet. He went with a red LED just to give it a greater chance of being seen when illuminated by a distant or weak source of radio waves.

Hackaday loves its radio hacks; check out our posts on improving WiFi throughput with FM radio and building a modern DIY FM radio.

[Thanks, Alain!]

The Russians And The Americans Only Want The Moon

For the generations who lived through the decades of the Space Race, the skies above were an exciting place. Every month it seemed there was a new announcement of a new mission, a Lunar landing, new pictures from a planetary probe, or fresh feats of derring-do from astronauts or cosmonauts. Space was inspiring!

As we moved through the Shuttle, Mir, and ISS eras, the fascinating work didn’t stop. The Mars rovers, the Cassini probe, the Chang-e Lunar mission, or the Hubble telescope, to name just a very few. But somehow along the way, space lost the shine for the general public, it became routine, mundane, even. Shuttle missions and Soyuz craft carrying ISS astronauts became just another feature on the news, eventually consigned only to the technology section of the broadcaster’s website. The TV comedy Big Bang Theory derived humor from this, when a character becomes an ISS astronaut, yet is still a nobody on his return to Earth.

If you yearn for a bit of that excitement from the Space Race days you may just find it in another story tucked away in the tech sections, though it comes from a collaboration rather than a competition. NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have announced a partnership to take what will be the next step towards a future of deep space exploration, to place a manned space station in a Lunar orbit. The idea is that it would serve first as a valuable research platform for missions in deeper space than the current relatively low orbit of the ISS, and then as a launch base for both lunar missions and those further afield in the Solar System.

Of course, there is no lunar-orbiting station, yet. There is a long and inglorious history of proposed space missions that never left the drawing board, and this one may yet prove to be the next addition to it. But what are real are the two indisputable facts, that NASA and Roscosmos have inked this partnership, and eventually there will have to be a replacement for the ISS. This project stands a good chance of being that replacement, which makes it of great interest to anyone with an interest in technology. It’s a little out of the world of usual Hackaday fodder, but if you are like us you will want to believe that one day it will be launched.

Even with a lunar orbiting space station, it will be a very long time indeed before we see manned missions going significantly further into the Solar system. Perhaps another approach is required to go further, a laser-driven silicon wafer aimed at a nearby star.

Moon image: 阿爾特斯 [CC BY-SA 3.0].

The Hackers and the Hurricane

When natural disasters strike, particularly if they are in some of the less remote parts of the world, we see them unfolding in real-time on our television screens. They become a 24-hour rolling news exercise in disaster titillation, each fresh horror ghoulishly picked over by breathless reporters live-telecasting from windswept streets, and endlessly rehashed by a succession of in-studio expert guests.

Then once the required image of a dusty child being pulled from the rubble or a tearful mother describing her daughter being swept away is in the can, a politician somewhere is found in bed with a model or a tinpot dictator rattles his sabre, and the world moves on. The BAFTA or the Emmy is a certainty for this one, did you see the anguish!

Meanwhile on the ground, the situation remains the same. There is no power, no sanitation, no communications, no food, and help seems very far away. In the wake of the recent hurricane season across the Caribbean, there are millions of people whose worlds have been wrecked, and several international governments have faced significant criticism for their lethargic response.

In our world of hardware hackers and makers, we are on the whole practical people. We exist to make, and do, rather than to endlessly talk. Seeing the plight of the victims of Irma, Jose, or Maria leaves us wanting to do practical things to help, because that’s what we do. But of course, we can do nothing, because we’re thousands of miles away and probably lack whatever skills or training are in demand on the islands.

It’s heartening then to hear of just a few moments when our wider community has managed to be in the right place at the right time to offer some help. We’ve had a couple in our tips line lately we’d like to share.

[Csp3r] writes about the Derbycon conference held in Louisville, at which [Carlos Perez] and [Jose Quinones Borreros], information security specialists from Puerto Rico, were in attendance. They mentioned a need for emergency radios, and the community at the conference came together to raise money for much more than just a few radios. $15,000 was raised in all, spent on radios, solar chargers, generators, flashlights, USB battery packs, and tools. This amounted to a significant bulk, so Hackers For Charity helped secure some space on an aid flight to the island.

Then [Bruce Perens, K6BP] writes about a request from the American Red Cross to the ARRL for 50 radio amateurs to help with their relief efforts in Puerto Rico. They will perform the role you might expect of enabling essential communications, as well as to quote the ARRL: “help record, enter, and submit disaster-survivor information into the ARC Safe and Well system”. This is a request unprecedented in its scale, and reflects the level of damage across the island.

For most of us, the best we can do when helping out with these events will be to drop coins into an OXFAM or Red Cross collecting tin and leave it to the experts. But as we’ve noted above, for just a few of us the opportunity to do something a bit more useful presents itself. If you find yourself in that position, make it count!

We’ve looked at the role of amateur radio in public service before, and we’ve even featured it in one or two projects. This emergency box for example has all you’d need to provide this type of service.

Cyclone Catarina image from the ISS, [Public domain].

Have Some Candy While I Steal Your Cycles

Distributed computing is an excellent idea. We have a huge network of computers, many of them always on, why not take advantage of that when the user isn’t? The application that probably comes to mind is Folding@home, which lets you donate your unused computer time to help crunch the numbers for disease research. Everyone wins!

But what if your CPU cycles are being used for profit without your knowledge? Over the weekend this turned out to be the case with Showtime on-demand sites which mined Monero coins while the users was pacified by video playback. The video is a sweet treat while the cost of your electric bill is nudged up ever so slightly.

It’s an interesting hack as even if the user notices the CPU maxing out they’ll likely dismiss it as the horsepower necessary to decode the HD video stream. In this case, both Showtime and the web analytics company whose Javascript contained the mining software denied responsibility. But earlier this month Pirate Bay was found to be voluntarily testing out in-browser mining as a way to make up for dwindling ad revenue.

This is a clever tactic, but comes perilously close to being malicious when done without the user’s permission or knowledge. We wonder if those ubiquitous warnings about cookie usage will at times include notifications about currency mining on the side? Have you seen or tried out any of this Javascript mining? Let us know in the comments below.

Sector67 Hackerspace Rocked by Explosion at New Location

Madison, WI hackerspace Sector67 is in a period of transition as they move from their current rented location to a new property that will be their permanent home a half mile away. Last Wednesday (September 20, 2017) an unfortunate propane explosion in the new building led to the injury of Chris Meyer, the founder and director of the hackerspace.

The structure has been stabilized and renovation is continuing, but Chris was seriously burned and will be in the hospital for at least a month with a much longer road to complete recovery. It is fortunate that nobody else was injured.

This accident comes at a time when Sector67 essentially has two spaces to maintain; the existing space is still running, but many of the members are focused on the construction of the new space. The building needs significant work before the move can take place. Currently the roof is being raised so that the building can go from one awkward-height story to two normal stories, doubling the size. An expiring lease and imminent demolition of the current location by developers means the clock is still ticking on the move, and this explosion means Sector67 will have to work even harder, and without the presence and constant effort of the person who has been leading the project.

A GoFundMe campaign for Sector67 has been started and is well on its way towards helping Chris and Sector67.