What’s In A Name? Tales Of Python, Perl, And The GIMP

In the older days of open source software, major projects tended to have their Benevolent Dictators For Life who made all the final decisions, and some mature projects still operate that way. Guido van Rossum famously called his language “Python” because he liked the British comics of the same name. That’s the sort of thing that only a single developer can get away with.

However, in these modern times of GitHub, GitLab, and other collaboration platforms, community-driven decision making has become a more and more common phenomenon, shifting software development towards democracy. People begin to think of themselves as “Python programmers” or “GIMP users” and the name of the project fuses irrevocably with their identity.

What happens when software projects fork, develop apart, or otherwise change significantly? Obviously, to prevent confusion, they get a new name, and all of those “Perl Monks” need to become “Raku Monks”.  Needless to say, what should be a trivial detail — what we’ve all decided to call this pile of ones and zeros or language constructs — can become a big deal. Don’t believe us? Here are the stories of renaming Python, Perl, and the GIMP.

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Ask Hackaday: How Would You Build This Flight Tracker For Kids?

You’ve got to hand it to marketers – they really know how to make you want something. All it takes is a little parental guilt, a bit of technical magic, and bam, you’re locked into a product you never knew you needed.

This prototype flight tracking nightlight for kids is a great example. Currently under development by Canadian airline WestJet, the idea is to provide a way for traveling parents to let kids know how long it is until Mommy or Daddy gets home from their trip. The prototype shows a stylized jet airliner with Neopixel lighting in the base. A pair of projectors in the wings shine an animated flight path on the child’s darkened bedroom ceiling, showing them when the wayward parent will return. Get past the schmaltz in the video below, and perhaps get over your jealousy of parents with kids who still eagerly await their return, and it’s actually a pretty good idea.

Now for the ask: how would you go about building something like this? And more importantly, how would you make it work for any plane, train, or automobile trip, and not just a WestJet flight? A look at the “How it will work” section of the page shows several photos of the prototype, which suggests the hardware end is dead easy. A Raspberry Pi Zero W features prominently, and the projectors appear to be TI’s DLP2000EVM, which we’ve featured before, mounted to a riser card. The Neopixels, a 3D-printed case, and the superfluous flashlight fuselage would be pretty easy, too.

On the software side, a generic version that tracks flight from any airline would need an interface for the traveler to define a flight, and something to check an API like FlightAware’s, or similar ones for whatever mode of transportation you’re using.

Seems like a pretty straightforward project. WestJet claims they’ll have their Flight Light ready sometime this summer; think we can beat them to it?

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Ask Hackaday: What Skills Would You Give A Twelve Year Old?

In several decades of hanging around people who make things, one meets a lot of people fascinated by locks, lock picking, and locksport. It’s interesting to be sure, but it had never gripped me until an evening in MK Makerspace when a fellow member had brought in his lockpicking box with its selection of locks, padlocks, and tools. I was shown the basics of opening cheap — read easy from that padlocks, and though I wasn’t hooked for life I found it to be a fascinating experience. Discussing it the next day a friend remarked that it was an essential skill they’d taught their 12-year-old, which left me wondering, just what skills would you give to a 12-year-old? Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What Skills Would You Give A Twelve Year Old?”

Ask Hackaday: How Would You Detect A Marauding Drone?

The last few days have seen drone stories in the news, as London’s Gatwick airport remained closed for a couple of days amid a spate of drone reports. The police remained baffled, arrested a couple who turned out to be blameless, and finally admitted that there was a possibility the drone could not have existed at all. It emerged that a problem with the investigation lay in there being no means to detect a drone beyond the eyesight of people on the ground, and as we have explored in these pages already, eyewitness reports are not always trustworthy.

Not much use against a small and mostly plastic multirotor. Sixflashphoto [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Not much use against a small and mostly plastic multirotor. Sixflashphoto [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Radar Can’t See Them

It seems odd at first sight, that a 21st century airport lacks the ability to spot a drone in the air above it, but a few calls to friends of Hackaday in the business made it clear that drones are extremely difficult to spot using the radar systems on a typical airport. A system designed to track huge metal airliners at significant altitude is not suitable for watching tiny mostly-plastic machines viewed side-on at the low altitudes. We’re told at best an intermittent trace appears, but for the majority of drones there is simply no trace on a radar screen.

We’re sure that some large players in the world of defence radar are queueing up to offer multi-million-dollar systems to airports worldwide, panicked into big spending by the Gatwick story, but idle hackerspace chat on the matter makes us ask the question: Just how difficult would it be to detect a drone in flight over an airport? A quick Google search reveals multiple products purporting to be drone detectors, but wouldn’t airports such as Gatwick already be using them if they were any good? The Hackaday readership never fail to impress us with their ingenuity, so how would you do it?

Can You Hear What You Can’t See?

It’s easy to pose that question as a Hackaday scribe, so to get the ball rolling here’s my first thought on how I’d do it. I always hear a multirotor and look up to see it, so I’d take the approach of listening for the distinctive sound of multirotor propellers. Could the auditory signature of high-RPM brushless motors be detected amidst the roar of sound near airports?

I’m imagining a network of Rasberry Pi boards each with a microphone attached, doing some real-time audio spectrum analysis to spot the likely frequency signature of the drone. Of course it’s easy to just say that as a hardware person with a background in the publishing business, so would a software specialist take that tack too? Or would you go for a radar approach, or perhaps even an infra-red one? Could you sense the heat signature of a multirotor, as their parts become quite hot in flight?

Whatever you think might work as a drone detection system, give it a spin in the comments. We’d suggest that people have the confidence to build something, and maybe even enter it in the Hackaday Prize when the time comes around. Come on, what have you got to lose!

Ask Hackaday: What Is The Future Of Implanted Electronics?

Biohacking is the new frontier. In just a few years, millions of people will have implanted RFID chips under the skin between their thumb and index finger. Already, thousands of people in Sweden have chipped themselves to make their daily lives easier. With a tiny electronic implant, Swedish rail passengers can pay their train ticket, and it goes without saying how convenient opening an RFID lock is without having to pull out your wallet.

That said, embedding RFID chips under the skin has been around for decades; my thirteen-year-old cat has had a chip since he was a kitten. Despite being around for a very, very long time, modern-day cyborgs are rare. The fact that only thousands of people are using chips on a train is a newsworthy event. There simply aren’t many people who would find the convenience of opening locks with a wave of a hand worth the effort of getting chipped.

Why hasn’t the most popular example of biohacking caught on? Why aren’t more people getting chipped? Is it because no one wants to be branded with the Mark of the Beast? Are the reasons for a dearth of biohacking more subtle? That’s what we’re here to find out, so we’re asking you: what is the future of implanted electronics?

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Ask Hackaday: What’s In Your Digital Bugout Bag?

Your eyes pop open in the middle of the night, darting around the darkened bedroom as you wonder why you woke up. Had you heard something? Or was that a dream? The matter is settled with loud pounding on the front door. Heart racing as you see blue and red lights playing through the window, you open the door to see a grim-faced police officer standing there. “There’s been a hazardous materials accident on the highway,” he intones. “We need to completely evacuate this neighborhood. Gather what you need and be ready to leave in 15 minutes.”

Most people will live their entire lives without a scenario like this playing out, but such things happen all the time. Whether the disaster du jour is man-made or natural, the potential to need to leave in a big hurry is very real, and it pays to equip yourself to survive such an ordeal. The primary tool for this is the so-called “bugout bag,” a small backpack for each family member that contains the essentials — clothing, food, medications — to survive for 72 hours away from home.

A bugout bag can turn a forced evacuation from a personal emergency into a minor inconvenience, as those at greatest risk well know — looking at you, Tornado Alley. But in our connected world, perhaps it pays to consider updating the bugout bag to include the essentials of our online lives, those cyber-needs that we’d be hard-pressed to live without for very long. What would a digital bugout bag look like?

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Ask Hackaday: Preserving Electronic Devices

Conventional wisdom holds that we no longer make things to last for the long haul, and that we live in a disposable world. It’s understandable — after all, most of us have a cell phone in our pocket that’s no more than a year or two old, and it’s often cheaper to buy a new printer than replace the ink cartridges. But most of that disposability is driven by market forces, like new software that makes a device obsolete long before it breaks down, or the razor and blades model that makes you pay through the nose for ink. It turns out that most electronic devices are actually pretty well engineered, and as long as they’re not abused can still be operating decades down the road.

But what happens when you want to put an electromechanical device away and preserve it for a rainy day? What can you do to make sure the device will operate again a few years down the road? Are there steps one can take beyond the typical “keep it in a cool, dry place” advice? In short, how do you preserve electronic devices?

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