Screenshot of the Insteon's new blog post, showing the Insteon logo in the header, the "A New Day for Insteon!" title, and some of the intro paragraph of the blog post

Insteon Gets Another Chance

It would appear that, sometimes, miracles happen. A few days ago, an update graced the website of Insteon, a company whose abrupt shuttering we covered in detail two months ago. An entity described as “small group of passionate Insteon users” has bought what was left of the company, and is working on getting the infrastructure back up. Previously, there was no sign of life from the company’s APIs. Now, Insteon hubs are coming back to life — or perhaps, they’re Inste-online again.

We’ve explained that revival of these devices without acquiring the company IP would’ve been tricky because of stuff like certificate pinning, and of course, a pile of proprietary code. Buying a company that’s undergoing a liquidation is not exactly end-user-friendly, but it would seem that someone sufficiently business-savvy got it done. The new CEO, as reported by [CNX Software], is a member of an investment committee — it’s fair to assert that this would help. A more sustainable funding source rather than ‘sell hardware and then somehow provide indefinite services’ is promised; they are moving to a subscription model, but only for Insteon Hub users. Recurring payments don’t sound as bad when it comes to paying developers and covering operational costs, and we hope that this revival succeeds.

Nothing is mentioned about moving towards openness in software and hardware — something that protects users from such failures in the first place. The new company is ultimately vulnerable to the same failure mode, and may leave the users in the dark just as abruptly as a result. However, we have our fingers crossed that the updated business model holds, purely for users’ sake. At least, unlike with the Wink hub, Insteon’s transition to a subscription model is better than the Inste-off alternative.

We thank [Itay] for sharing this with us! Via [CNX Software].

Insteon Abruptly Shuts Down, Users Left Smart-Home-Less

In today’s “predictable things that happened before and definitely will happen again”, Insteon, a smart home company boasting the Insteon ecosystem of devices built around their proprietary communication standards, has shut down their servers without a warning. For almost two decades, Insteon used to offer products like smart light switches, dimmers, relays, various sensors, thermostats – the usual home automation offerings, all linked into a cozy system. Looking through the Insteon subreddit’s history, there were signs of the company’s decline for good half a year now, but things were mostly stable – until about a week ago, when users woke up and noticed that parts of their smart home network stopped working, the mobile app would no longer respond, and the company’s resources and infrastructure went down. What’s more – the C-rank management has scrubbed their LinkedIn profiles from mentioning Insteon and SmartLabs (Insteon’s parent company).

Screenshot of Insteon's 'service status' page, saying "All Services Online: There's currently no known issues affecting Insteon services"Instantly, the Insteon subreddit has livened up. People, rightfully angry about being literally left in the dark, were looking for answers – as if mocking them, Insteon’s homepage claimed that all services were operational. Others, having expected the shutdown to eventually happen, started collecting and rehosting rapidly disappearing documentation, helping each other keep their tech up in the meantime, and looking into alternative platforms. It turned out to be imperative that users don’t factory reset their Insteon hubs, since those have to communicate with the currently Inste-Gone servers as part of initial configuration, diligently verifying the SSL certificates. Sadly, quite a few users, unaware and going through the usual solutions to make their network function again, are now left with hubs that are essentially bricked, save for a few lucky ones.
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Bionic Eyes Go Dark

If you were blind, having an artificial retinal implant would mean the difference between seeing a few hundred pixels in greyscale and seeing all black, all the time. Imagine that you emerged from this total darkness, enjoyed a few years of mobility and your newfound sense, and then everything goes dark again because the company making the devices abandoned them for financial reasons.

This is a harrowing tale of close-source technology, and how a medical device that relies on proprietary hard- and software essentially holds its users hostage to the financial well-being of the company that produces it. When that company is a brash startup, with plans of making money by eventually pivoting away from retinal implants to direct cortical stimulation — a technology that’s in it’s infancy at best right now — that’s a risky bet to take. But these were people with no other alternative, and the technology is, or was, amazing.

One blind man with an implant may or may not have brain cancer, but claims that he can’t receive an MRI because Second Sight won’t release details about his implant. Those bugs in your eyes? When the firm laid off its rehab therapists, patients were told they weren’t going to get any more software updates.

If we were CEO of SecondSight, we know what we would do with our closed-source software and hardware right now. The company is facing bankruptcy, has lost significant credibility in the medical devices industry, and is looking to pivot away from the Argus system anyway. They have little to lose, and a tremendous amount of goodwill to gain, by enabling people to fix their own eyes.

Thanks to [Adrian], [Ben], [MLewis], and a few other tipsters for getting this one in!

RadioShack To Be Reborn As Online-First Retailer

The good news is that as of today RadioShack has officially been purchased by Retail Ecommerce Ventures (REV), giving the troubled company a new lease on life. The downside, at least for folks like us, is that there are no immediate plans to return the iconic electronics retailer to its brick-and-mortar roots. As the name implies, REV specializes in online retail, having previously revamped the Internet presence of other bankrupt businesses such as Pier 1 Imports and Dressbarn.

While the press release doesn’t outright preclude the possibility of new physical RadioShack locations, it’s clear that REV believes the future of retail isn’t to be found in your local strip mall. As the US mulls further lockdowns in response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to disagree. There will be millions of bored kids and adults looking for something to do during the long winter nights, and an electronic kit or two shipped to their door might be just the thing.

REV says they plan to relaunch the rather dated RadioShack website just in time for the company’s 100th anniversary in 2021. As of this writing the website currently says that sales have been temporarily halted to allow for inventory restructuring, though it’s unclear if this is directly related to the buyout or not. Getting an accurate count of how much merchandise the company still has on hand after shuttering the majority of their physical locations in 2017 certainly sounds like something the new owners would want to do.

Like most of you, we have fond memories of the Golden Age of RadioShack, back before they thought selling phones and TVs was somehow a good idea. To their credit, they did try and rekindle their relationship with hackers and makers by asking the community what they’d want to see in their stores. But we all know how that story ended. While it doesn’t look like this news will get us any closer to having a neighborhood store that stocks resistors, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that RadioShack kits and books will still be around for the next generation.

Maker Media Ceases Operations

Over the years we’ve had the dubious honor of bidding farewell to numerous companies that held a special place in the hearts of hackers and makers. We’ve borne witness to the demise of Radio Shack, TechShop, and PrintrBot, and even shed a tear or two when Toys “R” Us shut their doors. But as much as it hurt to see those companies go, nothing quite compares to this. Today we’ve learned that Maker Media has ceased operations.

Between the first issue of Make magazine in 2005 and the inaugural Maker Faire a year later, Maker Media deftly cultured the public face of the “maker movement” for over a decade. They didn’t create maker culture, but there’s no question that they put a spotlight on this part of the larger tech world. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the shuttering of Maker Media could have far reaching consequences that we won’t fully understand for years.

While this news will surely come as a crushing blow to many in the community, Maker Media founder and CEO Dale Dougherty says they’re still trying to put the pieces together. “I started the magazine and I’m committed to keeping that going because it means something to a lot of people and means something to me.” At this point, Dale tells us that Maker Media is officially in a state of insolvency. This is an important distinction, and means that the company still has a chance to right the ship before being forced to declare outright bankruptcy.

In layman’s terms, the fate of Make magazine and Maker Faire is currently uncertain. The intent is to restructure the organization and rehire enough people to keep the brand alive, but it may take rethinking their business model entirely. While they aren’t looking to crowdsource the resurrection of Make, Dale said he believes the answer may ultimately come from the community’s willingness to financially support them, “my question is can we perhaps rely on the community to offer support for what we’re doing in ways we have not asked for in the past.” Ideas currently being discussed include the sort of annual membership and pledge drives used by public broadcasting.

It’s impossible to overstate the positive influence that Make has had on the public’s perception of DIY. It put on a global pedestal the sort of projects which otherwise might have never been seen outside the basement workshops or garages they were constructed in. Through their events and outreach programs, Make showed an entire generation of young people that building something just for the joy of building it was something to be proud of. Make proved that nerds could be cool in a way that had never been done before, and worryingly, may never be done again. Let’s take a look at that legacy.

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The Return Of RadioShack?

We’ve been following the ups and downs of Radio Shack for a while now, and it looks like another chapter is about to be penned in the storied retailer’s biography – and not Chapter 11 bankruptcy this time.

According to the ARRL website and major media reports, up to 50 of the 147 US locations of HobbyTown, the brick-and-mortar retailer of RC and other hobby supplies, will soon host a “RadioShack Express” outlet. Each outlet will be up to 500 square feet of retail space devoted to electronic components that would be of use to HobbyTown’s core customer base, as well as other merchandise and services.

HobbyTown locations in Mooresville, North Carolina, and Ontario, Ohio, will be among the first stores to get the RadioShack Express treatment. Current employees of the franchisees will staff the store-within-a-store, which will be stocked with RadioShack merchandise purchased by the store. Stores with Express outlets will have special RadioShack branding inside and out to attract customers. There’s talk of the deal being extended chain-wide if the pilot program goes well.

Back from the Ashes?

This is obviously great news for the beleaguered electronics retailer that was once a neighborhood fixture. True, its parts selection was often less than complete, more so in recent years than in the chain’s heyday in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. And it’s true that prices were often astronomical compared to buying online. But on a Sunday afternoon, The Shack was a lifesaver for that last minute part needed to finish a project, and the premium was well worth the convenience. Watching the decline of the chain and seeing stores disappear one by one was a slow, sad process, so that makes this seems like an unqualified positive development.

But is it? On the face of it, there’s a lot of synergy between the HobbyTown offerings and what could be stocked in a RadioShack Express. I’ve never actually visited a HobbyTown myself — I plan to fix that now that I know I’ve got an outlet nearby, even if it doesn’t appear to be on the list of 50 early Express locations — so I can only go by what I see listed online for merchandise. But a store that sells every conceivable part for RC cars and planes, drones, model rockets, and STEM-related toys and kits seems a likely place to find customers for RadioShack’s offerings.

It won’t be clear until someone sees one of these Express kiosks first hand and reports back, but it seems like we might see something like the old “cabinet o’ components” that was found in the back of the most recent incarnation of RadioShack retail stores, along with a few shelves full of things like solder, wire, and tools. There may also be some items in the Arduino-Pi space, which would be really exciting, although that might run afoul of existing HobbyTown offerings. Still, one-stop shopping of everything from servos to MOSFETs would be a huge win for electronics hobbyists.

Not the Cell Phones Again!

But there may be cause for concern. Reports are that RadioShack Express locations will also offer services such as cell phone repairs. Dipping a toe into the cell phone market seemed to be the beginning of the end for RadioShack the first time through, and by the time it was clear to everyone that the chain was on death’s door, it was hard to go into a RadioShack store without being bombarded by cell phone sales pitches. To be brutally frank, I don’t take the early inclusion of cell phone repairs as an encouraging sign of the long-term viability of the RadioShack Express concept. Do we really need another place that fixes cell phones? The areas that HobbyTown stores tend to locate are rife with places that fix phones already, so I just don’t see the point. And it just smacks of the bad old days of RadioShack.

Still, I’m cautiously optimistic that this is a positive development for RadioShack, and I think it’s a win for electronics hobbyists overall. I’ll be keeping my eye on my local HobbyTown for the return of that iconic RadioShack logo, and looking forward to the day that I can pay a buck for a resistor again. Until then, if any readers happen to be near one of the combined locations when they open next week, we’d love a boots-on-the-ground report. Post your observations in the comments below, and pix or it didn’t happen.

[via r/amateurradio]

A Scam Of Galactic Proportions

Here at Hackaday we see a lot of technological hoaxes looking for funding. Some are on Kickstarter, others are firms looking for investors. And unlike a lot of the press, we’re both skeptical and experienced enough to smell the snake oil. When you read about a laser-powered razor blade that looks too good to be true, you know we’ve got your back.

The background: [Zachary Feinstein] is a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies financial engineering, and in particular systemic financial risk in the banking sectors. So he’s just exactly the guy you’d tap to write a paper on the financial repercussions of the destruction of the Death Stars in Star Wars (PDF). Wait, what?

The central argument of the paper is that, since the Empire has so much money wrapped up in building the Death Stars, it’s economic suicide for the Rebels to destroy it. To quantify any of this, [Feinstein] runs financial crisis models. The idea is that the Rebels win, but they inherit an economy that’s so dysfunctional that they’d have been better off not destroying the Death Stars.

We’re not saying that the rest of the press is gullible, but we are saying that they’re not putting their best economists onto articles about financing Death Stars. But here at Hackaday, we are. And we’re calling it a hoax. So let’s look into what the paper gets right, and what makes less sense even than Chewbacca’s infernal growling. Spoiler: we’ll get wrapped up in numbers because it’s fun, but the whole thing is moot for Econ 101-style reasons.

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