Flipper Zero Panic Spreads To Oz: Cars Unaffected

A feature of coming to adulthood for any young person in the last quarter of the twentieth century would have been the yearly warnings about the danger of adulterated Halloween treats. Stories were breathlessly repeated of apples with razor blades in them, or of chocolate bars laced with rat poison, and though such tales often carried examples of kids who’d died horrible deaths in other far-away places, the whole panic was (as far as we know) a baseless urban legend.

It’s difficult not to be reminded of those times today then, as we read news from Australia warning about the threat from the Flipper Zero wireless hacking tool. It has the same ingredients, of an imaginary threat earnestly repeated by law enforcement officers, and lapped up by a credulous media with little appetite for verifying what they print.

This is a story which first appeared in mid-February in Canada, when a government minister singled out the Flipper Zero as a car theft tool and promised to ban it. This prompted a storm of derision from tech-savvy Canadians and others who immediately pointed out that vehicle security has long ago eclipsed the capabilities of the Flipper, and that there are far more pertinent threats such as those from CAN bus attacks or even RF boosters. Despite this debunking, it seems to have spread. Where will Flipper Mania pop up next?

Canada and Australia are both countries with a free press; that press should be doing their job on these stories by fact-checking and asking pertinent questions when the facts don’t fit the story. When it comes to technology stories it seems not doing this has become the norm.

Thanks [Peter Caldwell] for the tip.

Australia’s Second Largest Telco Went Dark, And Chaos Reigned

Engineers tend to worry about uptime, whether it’s at a corporate server farm or just our own little hobby servers at home. Every now and then, something will go wrong and take a box offline, which requires a little human intervention to fix. Ideally, you’ll still have a command link that stays up so you can fix the problem. Lose that, though, and you’re in a whole lick of trouble.

That’s precisely what happened to Australia’s second largest telecommunications provider earlier this month. Systems went down, millions lost connectivity, and company techs were left scrambling to put the pieces back together. Let’s dive in and explore what happened on Optus’s most embarrassing day in recent memory.

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Rocket Range Australia, 1950s Style

The Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) of Australia just released a digitized version of a 1957 film documentary on Australia’s rocket research back in the day ( see video below the break ). The Woomera test range is an isolated place about 500 km northwest of Adelaide ( 2021 population 132 ) and hosts a small village, an airstrip, and launch facilities. In the Salisbury suburb of Adelaide, a former WW2 munitions factory complex was repurposed as a research center for rockets and long range weapons.

The documentary showcases a wide variety of state-of-the-art technologies from the late 1950s. As ancient as those appear today, a lot of the basic concepts haven’t changed — careful choreography of the launch countdown sequence of events, the antenna and radio systems to receive and store rocket telemetry, photographic records of the rocket in flight, and post-flight analyses of everything to fix problems and improve your designs. They tried to do as much as possible at the Salisbury campus, because as the narrator notes, it’s expensive to work at the distant test range, a concept which is still a consideration today. There’s even a glimpse of the residents’ leisure life in the barren village. It was a different time, to say the least. Continue reading “Rocket Range Australia, 1950s Style”

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Hackaday Links: July 23, 2023

It may be midwinter in Perth, but people still go to the beach there, which led to the surprising discovery earlier this week of what appears to be a large hunk of space debris. Local authorities quickly responded to reports of a barnacle-encrusted 2.5-m by 3-m tank-like object on the beach. The object, which has clearly seen better days, was described as being made of metal and a “wood-like material,” which on casual inspection is clearly a composite material like Kevlar fibers in some sort of resin. Local fire officials teamed up with forensic chemists to analyze the object for contamination; finding none, West Australia police cordoned off the device to keep the curious at bay. In an apparently acute case of not knowing how the Internet works, they also “urge[d] everyone to refrain from drawing conclusions” online, which of course sent the virtual sleuths into overdrive. An r/whatisthisthing thread makes a good case for it being part of the remains of the third stage of an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV); reentry of these boosters is generally targeted at the East Indian Ocean for safe disposal, but wind and weather seem to have brought this artifact back from the depths.

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Plan To Jam Mobile Phones In Schools Is Madness

Mobile phones in schools. If you’re a teacher, school staffer, or a parent, you’ve likely got six hundred opinions about this very topic, and you will have had six hundred arguments about it this week. In Australia, push has come to shove, and several states have banned the use of mobile phones during school hours entirely. Others are contemplating doing the same.

In the state of New South Wales, the current opposition party has made it clear it will implement a ban if elected. Wildly, the party wants to use mobile phone jamming technology to enforce this ban whether students intend to comply or not. Let’s take a look at how jammers work in theory, and explore why using them in schools would be madness in practice.

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The Tasmanian Tiger’s Comeback Tour, Powered By Science

Scientists estimate that approximately 900 species have gone extinct in the last five centuries alone, to say nothing of the thousands or millions that vanished from life in the billions of years before that.

Conventional wisdom states that once an animal has gone extinct, it’s gone forever. However, a team from the University of Melbourne hopes to change all that, with their new project aiming to bring the Tasmanian Tiger back to life.
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A Coolant Leak The Likely Culprit For Aussie Tesla Battery Bank Fire

Followers of alternative energy technology will remember how earlier in the year a battery container at Tesla’s Megapack Australian battery grid storage plant caught fire. Lithium ion batteries are not the easiest to extinguish once aflame, but fortunately the fire was contained to only two of the many battery containers on the site.

The regulator Energy Safe Victoria have completed their investigation into the incident, and concluded that it was caused by a coolant leak in a container which caused an electrical component failure that led to the fire. It seems that the container was in a service mode at the time so its protection systems weren’t active, and that also its alarm system was not being monitored. They have required that cooling systems should henceforth be pressure tested and inspected for leaks, and that alarm procedures should be changed for the site.

When a new technology such as large-scale battery storage is brought on-line, it is inevitable that their teething troubles will include catastrophic failures such as this one. The key comes in how those involved handle them, and for that we must give Tesla and the site’s operators credit for their co-operation with the regulators. The site’s modular design and the work of the firefighters in cooling the surrounding packs ensured that a far worse outcome was averted. Given these new procedures, it’s hoped that future installations will be safer still.

You can read our original coverage of the fire here, if you’re interested in more information.

[Main image source: CFA]