Best Buy’s IoT Goes Dark, Leaving Some “Smart” Products Dumbfounded

Bad news if you bought several Insignia-branded smart devices from Best Buy. The company has decided to shut down the back end systems that make them work — or at least work as a smart device. On the chopping block are smart outlets, switches, a security camera, and an upright freezer. If you bought, say, the freezer, it will still keep things cold. But the security camera will apparently be of no use at all now that the backend systems have gone dark. The company is offering an unspecified partial refund to users of the affected devices.

Best Buy announced this in September, and the shutdown date was last week on November 6th. Not all Insignia products are impacted, just the ones that rely on their app.

Anytime we talk about cloud-based technology, there are always a few people who say something like, “I’ll never rely on anything in the cloud!” Perhaps they have a point — certainly in this case they were right. There are really two things to consider: hardware devices that rely on the cloud, and data that resides in the cloud. In some cases, one product — like a camera — might have both.

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Arm Allows Custom Instructions

We’re surrounded by ARM processors, which enjoy a commanding foothold in the consumer market, especially with portable electronics. However, Arm Holdings has never focused its business model on manufacturing chips, instead licensing its CPUs to others who make the physical devices. There is a bit of a tightrope to walk, though, because vendors want to differentiate themselves while Arm wants to keep products as similar as possible to allow for portability and reuse of things like libraries and toolchains. So it was a little surprising when Arm announced recently that for the first time, they would allow vendors to develop custom instructions. At least on the Armv8-M architecture.

We imagine designs like RISC-V are encroaching on Arm’s market share and this is a response to that. Although it is big news, it isn’t necessarily as big as you might think since Arm has allowed other means to do similar things via special coprocessor instructions and memory-mapped accelerators. If you are willing to put in some contact information, they have a full white paper available with a pretty sparse example. The example shows a population count function hand-optimized into 12 Arm instructions. Then it shows a single custom instruction that would do the same job. However, they don’t show the implementation nor do they offer any timing data about speed increases.

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Who Could Possibly Need An FPGA With 9M Logic Cells And 35B Transistors?

Xilinx recently announced the Virtex UltraScale+ VU19P FPGA. Of course, FPGA companies announce new chips every day. The reason this one caught our attention is the size of it: nearly 9 million logic cells and 35 billion transistors on a chip! If that’s not enough there is also over 2,000 user I/Os including transceivers that can move around 4.5 Tb/s back and forth.

To put things in perspective, the previous record holder — the Virtex Ultrascale 440 — has 5.5 million logic cells and an old-fashioned Spartan 3 topped out at about 50,000 cells — the new chip has about 180 times that capacity. For the record, I’ve built entire 32-bit CPUs on smaller Spartans.

That led us to wonder? Who’s buying these things? When I first heard about it I guessed that the price would be astronomical, partly due to expense but also partly because the market for these has to be pretty small. The previous biggest Xilinx part is listed on DigKey who pegs the Ultrascale 440 (an XCVU440-2FLGA2892E) at a cost of $55,000 as a non-stocked item. Remember, that chip has just over half the logic cells of the VU19P.

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WiringPi Library To Be Deprecated

Since the release of the original Raspberry Pi single board computer, the WiringPi library by [Gordon] has been the easy way to interface with the GPIO and peripherals – such as I2C and SPI – on the Broadcom SoCs which power these platforms. Unfortunately, [Gordon] is now deprecating the library, choosing to move on rather than deal with a community which he no longer recognizes.

Among the points which he lists are the (commercial) abuse of his code, and the increasing amount of emails and messages on social media from folk who either failed to read the friendly manual, or are simply rude and inconsiderate. As [Gordon] puts it, WiringPi was never meant to be statically linked into code, nor to be used with anything other than C and RTB BASIC programmers. He never supported the use of the library with other languages, or having it statically integrated into some Java/JavaScript/NodeJS project.

As this secondary use is what’s draining the fun out of the project, he has decided to put out one final release, before making it a closed-source project, for use by himself and presumably paying clients. What the impact of this will be has to be seen. Perhaps a new fork will become the new ‘WiringPi’?

Suffice it to say, none of this is a good thing. The illegal use of open source code and the support nightmare that gets poured on the authors of said code by less than informed users is enough to drive anyone away from putting their projects out there. Fighting abuse and junking the ‘spam’ is one way to deal with it, but who has the time and energy (and money) for this?

What are your thoughts on this news, and this issue in general? How should an open source developer deal with it?

Thanks to [Dirk-Jan Faber] for sending this one in.

Goodyear Aero Thinks Flying Cars Are A Thing

The 2019 Geneva International Motor Show has a number of “concept” vehicles. These are vehicles that usually include some cool feature that isn’t really practical — at least today. For example, in the past, concept cars have had adjustable color interior lighting, plug-in hybrid engines, and power windows — all things that would eventually become commonly available. However, today’s advances in computer-generated graphics have meant you can show things you can’t begin to build. Case in point: Goodyear has a video touting the Aero — a solid car tire that doubles as a propeller for your garden variety flying car.

To us, the thing looks more like a science fiction movie trailer than anything remotely practical. Four relatively small wheels with no central hub can flip and provide enough lift to propel a sizeable vehicle skyward. Even more interesting, is to transition modes from ground to flight, the vehicle balances on two wheels while using only two as propellers to generate lift.

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Expert Says Don’t Teach Kids To Code

I was a little surprised to see a news report about Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills at OECD — the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Speaking at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Paris, Schleicher thinks that teaching kids to code is a waste of time. In particular, he seems to think that by the time a child today grows up, coding will be obsolete.

I can’t help but think that he might be a little confused. Coding isn’t going away anytime soon. It could, of course, become an even deeper specialty, and thus less generally applicable. But the comments he’s made seem to imply that soon we will just tell smart computers what we want and they will just do that. Somewhat like computers work on Star Trek.

What is more likely is that most people will be able to find specific applications that can do what they want without traditional coding. But someone still has to write something for the foreseeable future. What’s more, if you’ve ever tried to tease requirements out of an end user, you know that you can’t just blurt out anything you want to a computer and expect it to make sense. It isn’t the computer’s fault. People — especially untrained people — don’t always make sense or communicate unambiguously.

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What Hardware Lies Beneath? Companies Swear They Never Meant To Violate Your Privacy

“Don’t Be Evil” was the mantra of Google from years before even Gmail was created. While certainly less vague than their replacement slogan “Do the Right Thing”, there has been a lot of criticism directed at Google over the past decade and a half for repeatedly being at odds with one of their key values. It seems as though they took this criticism to heart (or found it easier to make money without the slogan), and subsequently dropped it in 2018. Nothing at Google changed, though, as the company has continued with several practices which at best could be considered shady.

The latest was the inclusion of an undisclosed microphone in parts of their smart home system, the Nest Guard. This is a member of the Nest family of products — it is not the thermostat itself, but a base station for a set of home security hardware you can install yourself. The real issue is that this base station was never billed as being voice activated. If you’re someone who has actively avoided installing “always-listening” style devices in your home, it’s infuriating to learn there is hardware out that have microphones in them but no mention of that in the marketing of the product. Continue reading “What Hardware Lies Beneath? Companies Swear They Never Meant To Violate Your Privacy”