Hackaday Links: October 13, 2019

Trouble in the Golden State this week, as parts of California were subjected to planned blackouts. Intended to prevent a repeat of last year’s deadly wildfires, which were tied in part to defective electrical distribution equipment, the blackouts could plunge millions in the counties surrounding Sacramento into the dark for days. Schools have canceled classes, the few stores that are open are taking cash only, and hospitals are running on generators. It seems a drastic move for PG&E, the utility that promptly went into bankruptcy after being blamed for last year’s fires, but it has the support of the governor, so the plan is likely to continue as long as the winds do. One group is not likely to complain, though;  California amateur radio operators must be enjoying a greatly decreased noise floor in the blackout areas, thanks to the loss of millions of switch-mode power supplies and their RF noise.

Good news, bad news for Fusion 360 users. Autodesk, the company behind the popular and remarkably capable CAD/CAM/CAE package, has announced changes to its licensing scheme, which went into effect this week. Users no longer have to pay for the “Ultimate” license tier to get goodies like 5-axis machining and generative design tools, as all capabilities are now included in the single paid version of Fusion 360. That’s good because plenty of users were unwilling to bump their $310 annual “Standard” license fee up to $1535 to get those features, but it’s bad because now the annual rate goes to $495. In a nice nod to the current userbase, those currently on the Standard license, as well as early adopters, will get to keep the $310 annual rate as long as they renew, and The $495 pricing tier went into effect in November of 2018, while anyone still on the $310 annual price was grandfathered in (and will remain to be). At that time there was still a $1535 tier called Ultimate, whose price will now be going away but the features remain in the $495 tier which is now the only pricing option for Fusion 360. Ultimate users will see a $1040 price drop. As for the current base of freeloaders like yours truly, fear not: Fusion 360 is still free for personal, non-commercial use. No generative design or tech support for us, though. (Editor’s Note: This paragraph was updated on 10/14/2019 to clarify the tier changes after Autodesk reached out to Hackaday via email.)

You might have had a bad day at the bench, but was it as bad as Román’s? He tipped us off to his nightmare of running into defective Wemos D1 boards – a lot of them. The 50 boards were to satisfy an order of data loggers for a customer, but all the boards seemed caught in an endless reboot loop when plugged into a USB port for programming. He changed PCs, changed cables, but nothing worked to stop the cycle except for one thing: touching the metal case of the module. His write up goes through all the dead-ends he went down to fix the problem, which ended up being a capacitor between the antenna and ground. Was it supposed to be there? Who knows, because once that cap was removed, the boards worked fine. Hats off to Román for troubleshooting this and sharing the results with us.

Ever since giving up their “Don’t be evil” schtick, Google seems to have really embraced the alternative. Now they’re in trouble for targeting the homeless in their quest for facial recognition data. The “volunteer research studies” consisted of playing what Google contractors were trained to describe as a “mini-game” on a modified smartphone, which captured video of the player’s face. Participants were compensated with $5 Starbucks gift cards but were not told that video was being captured, and if asked, contractors were allegedly trained to lie about that. Contractors were also allegedly trained to seek out people with dark skin, ostensibly to improve facial recognition algorithms that notoriously have a hard time with darker complexions. To be fair, the homeless were not exclusively targeted; college students were also given gift cards in exchange for their facial data.

For most of us, 3D-printing is a hobby, or at least in service of other hobbies. Few of us make a living at it, but professionals who do are often a great source of tips and tricks. One such pro is industrial designer Eric Strebel, who recently posted a video of his 3D-printing pro-tips. A lot of it is concerned with post-processing prints, like using a cake decorator’s spatula to pry prints off the bed, or the use of card scrapers and dental chisels to clean up prints. But the money tip from this video is the rolling cart he made for his Ultimaker. With the printer on top and storage below, it’s a great way to free up some bench space.

And finally, have you ever wondered how we hackers will rebuild society once the apocalypse hits and mutant zombie biker gangs roam the Earth? If so, then you need to check out Collapse OS, the operating system for an uncertain future. Designed to be as self-contained as possible, Collapse OS is intended to run on “field expedient” computers, cobbled together from whatever e-waste can be scrounged, as long as it includes a Z80 microprocessor. The OS has been tested on an RC2014 and a Sega Master System so far, but keep an eye out for TRS-80s, Kaypros, and the odd TI-84 graphing calculator as you pick through the remains of civilization.

Countdown To The GPS Timepocalypse

There’s a bug about to hit older GPS hardware that has echos of Y2K. Those old enough to have experienced the transition from the 1990s to the 2000s will no doubt recall the dreaded “Year 2000 Bug” that was supposed to spell the doom of civilization. Thanks to short-sighted software engineering that only recorded two digits for year, we were told that date calculations would fail en masse in software that ran everything from the power grid to digital watches. Massive remediation efforts were undertaken, companies rehired programmers whose outdated skills were suddenly back in demand, and in the end, pretty much nothing actually happened.

Yet another epoch is upon us, far less well-known but potentially deeper and more insidious. On Saturday April 6, 2019 — that’s tomorrow — GPS receivers may suffer from software issues due to rollover of their time counters. This could result in anything from minor inconvenience to major confusion, with an outside chance of chaos. Some alarmists are even stating that they won’t fly this weekend, for fear of the consequences.

So what are the real potential consequences, and what’s the problem with GPS in the first place? Unsurprisingly, it all boils down to basic math.

Continue reading “Countdown To The GPS Timepocalypse”

The Apocalypse Bicycle

It seems to be a perennial among humans, the tendency among some to expect the End Times. Whether it was mediaeval Europeans who prepared for a Biblical Armageddon at the first sight of an astronomical phenomenon, 19th-century religious sects busy expecting a Noah’s flood, cold-war survivalists with bunkers under the lawn, or modern-day preppers buying survival gear, we have a weakness for thinking that Time’s Up even when history shows us repeatedly that it isn’t. Popular culture has even told us that the post-apocalyptic world will be kinda cool, with Mad Max-style rusty-looking jacked-up muscle cars and Tina Turner belting out ballads, but the truth is likely to be a lot less attractive. Getting away from danger at faster than walking pace as a starving refugee would likely be a life-or-death struggle without the industrial supply chain that keeps our 21st-century luxury cars on the road, so something more practical would be called for.

[Don Scott] has written a paper describing an extremely straightforward solution to the problem of post-apocalyptic transport, which he calls the Apocalypse Bicycle. As you might expect it’s a two-wheeler, though it’s not the kind of machine on which you’d lead a break-away from the Tour de France peloton. Instead this is a bicycle pared down to its minimum,, without advanced materials and with everything chosen for durability and reliability. Bearings would have grease nipples, for instance, the chain would be completely enclosed for better retention of lubrication, and the wheels would be designed to have strips of salvaged tyre attached to them. Interestingly, the machine would also be designed not to attract attention, with muted matte colours, and no chrome. It occurs to us that many of the durability features of this machine are also those that appear on the rental bicycles owned by bike sharing companies that have been spread liberally on the streets of many cities.

You might wonder what use the idea might have, and why a prepper might consider one alongside their tins of survival rations. But it’s also worth considering that these machines have a real application in the here-and-now, rather than just an imagined one in an apocalyptic future. Many Hackaday readers are fortunate enough to live in countries unaffected by wars or natural disasters, but there are plenty of places today where an aid agency dropping in a load of these machines could save lives.

Apocalyptic cycling has featured little here. But we have brought you at least one bike made from wood.

Peristaltic Pump Moves Fluids Uphill Both Ways

Here’s a skill we should all probably have for after the apocalypse—the ability to build a cheap peristaltic pump that can transport highly viscous fluids, chunky fluids, or just plain water from point A to point B with no priming necessary. That’s exactly what [Jack Ruby] has done with some fairly common items.

He started with a springform cake pan from a thrift store, the kind where the bottom drops out like that centripetal force ride at the carnival. He’s using 2″ casters from Harbor Freight mounted to a block of wood. The casters go round and squeeze fluid through the hose, which is a nice length of heat-resistant silicone from a local homebrew shop. He’s currently using a drill to run the pump, but intends to attach a motor in the future.

[Jack]’s write-up is very thorough and amusing. Stick around to see the pump in action as well as a complete tour. You can also pump colored goo if you’re out of beer materials.

Continue reading “Peristaltic Pump Moves Fluids Uphill Both Ways”

Seawater Cooled Data Centers

swac-mauritius

Remember Mauritius from High School geography? We didn’t either, but apparently it’s a small island nation east of the southern tip of Africa. It seems they are trying to develop an industry in eco-friendly data centers. The plan is to use a pipeline to gather cold water from the ocean, run it two miles to the island, and use it as inexpensive cooling. Because rooms packed with servers generate copious amounts of heat it’s easy to see how this can reduce the cost of maintaining a data center.

The thing that struck us here is, how eco-friendly is this? The article mentions that this technology is fairly mature and is already used in several places. With that in mind, isn’t this just another way to raise the temperature of the oceans, or does the environmental savings of not using electricity or gas to produce the cooling offset this?

[Thanks Vesanies]