Many of you will at some time have heard the unfortunate tale of [James Howells], a Welsh IT worker who threw away a hard drive containing 8,000 Bitcoin back in 2013. Over the years he’s hatched various schemes to persuade his local council to let him dig up the landfill where it’s reputed to be buried, and every time he’s been rebuffed. Despite the fall in the price of cryptocurrencies he’s back with another. With the added spice of AI and robot dogs alongside the cryptocurrency angle, it reads like a buzzword bingo card and adds a whole new meaning to “Bitcoin mining”. Seemingly despite generous offers the local council are still not keen on letting him dig for the drive.
We can’t help feeling sorry for the guy — after all, in the early days of cryptocurrency the coins were a worthless curiosity so it’s not impossible there are readers with similar stories. But we’re curious how well the drive will have survived its 9-year interment even if the AI robot arm and robot dog security would ensure its recovery. With that much cash at stake the best in the data recovery business will no doubt be unleashed on whatever remains they might recover, but in the unfriendly environment of a festering landfill we’d be curious as to whether chemical action might have corroded the platters to the point at which nothing might remain. Wales has a high rainfall unlike the American southwest, so we doubt it would survive as well as an Atari cartridge.
Meanwhile, tell us your cryptocurrency might-have-beens in the comments.
This is an example of the lengths to which Network Time Protocol aficionados will go in search of slightly better performance from their NTP servers. [Folkert van Heusden], having heard that thermal stability keeps NTP servers happy, used a picnic cooler as an environmental chamber for his Pi- and GPS-based NTP rig. Heat is added to the chamber thanks to seven Block Erupter ASIC miner dongles, which are turned on by a Python script when a microcontroller sends an MQTT message that the temperature has dropped below the setpoint.
Each dongle produces about 2.5 Watts of heat when it’s working, making them pretty effective heaters. Alas, heat is all they produce at the moment — [Folkert] just has them working on the same hash over and over. He does say that he has plans to let the miners do useful work at some point, not so much for profit but to at least help out the network a bit.
This seems like a bit of a long way around to solve this problem, but since the mining dongles are basically obsolete now — we talked about them way back in 2013 — it has a nice hacky feeling to it that we appreciate.
Bitcoin. The magical internet money is often derided as “worthless” and “made up” by those who forget that all currencies only have value because we believe in them. Perhaps the world’s strongest currency not backed up by guns and ammo, Bitcoin nonetheless remains a controversial invention, as do the many cryptocurrencies that followed in its wake.
At this point the average Hackaday reader is likely familiar with so-called “Proof of Work” (PoW) cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Dogecoin. In the most basic of terms, these cryptocurrencies allow users to earn money by devoting computational power to the network. Unfortunately, it’s well past the point where your standard desktop CPU is moving enough bits to earn anything worthwhile. Individuals looking to turn a profit have therefore resorted to constructing arrays of high-end graphics cards for the express purpose of “mining” their cryptocurrency of choice.
These miners, combined with ongoing chip shortages, have ravaged the GPU market. Anyone who’s looked at building or upgrading a computer recently will know that new video cards are in short supply, and even old models that would otherwise be considered budget options, are commanding outrageous prices. In an effort to appease their core customers, NVIDIA has even introduced cryptocurrency-specific cards that lack video output. The hope was that professional miners would buy these Cryptocurrency Mining Processors (CMPs) instead of the traditional video cards, freeing up the latter for purchase by gamers. But due to the limited availability and relatively high cost of CMPs, they’ve done little to improve the situation.
Now if you don’t use your computer for gaming, this probably seems like a distant problem. You could even be forgiven for thinking of this as little more than two largely frivolous pursuits at loggerheads with each other. After all, in a community that still holds decades-old Thinkpads as the high water mark in portable computing, a certain ambivalence about cutting edge video cards is perhaps to be expected.
But there’s a new form of cryptocurrency on the rise which threatens more than just the hardcore gamers. With “Proof of Space” (PoS) cryptocurrencies, it’s not about having the fastest CPU or the highest number of GPUs; the commodity being traded is storage space, and the player with the most hard drives wins.
That collective “Phew!” you heard this week was probably everyone on the Mars Ingenuity helicopter team letting out a sigh of relief while watching telemetry from the sixth and somewhat shaky flight of the UAV above Jezero crater. With Ingenuity now in an “operations demonstration” phase, the sixth flight was to stretch the limits of what the craft can do and learn how it can be used to scout out potential sites to explore for its robot buddy on the surface, Perseverance.
While the aircraft was performing its 150 m move to the southwest, the stream from the downward-looking navigation camera dropped a single frame. By itself, that wouldn’t have been so bad, but the glitch caused subsequent frames to come in with the wrong timestamps. This apparently confused the hell out of the flight controller, which commanded some pretty dramatic moves in the roll and pitch axes — up to 20° off normal. Thankfully, the flight controller was designed to handle just such an anomaly, and the aircraft was able to land safely within five meters of its planned touchdown. As pilots say, any landing you can walk away from is a good landing, so we’ll chalk this one up as a win for the Ingenuity team, who we’re sure are busily writing code to prevent this from happening again.
If wobbling UAVs on another planet aren’t enough cringe for you, how about a blind mechanical demi-ostrich drunk-walking up and down a flight of stairs? The work comes from the Oregon State University and Agility Robotics, and the robot in question is called Cassie, an autonomous bipedal bot with a curious, bird-like gait. Without cameras or lidar for this test, the robot relied on proprioception, which detects the angle of joints and the feedback from motors when the robot touches a solid surface. And for ten tries up and down the stairs, Cassie did pretty well — she only failed twice, with only one counting as a face-plant, if indeed she had a face. We noticed that the robot often did that little move where you misjudge the step and land with the instep of your foot hanging over the tread; that one always has us grabbing for the handrail, but Cassie was able to power through it every time. The paper describing how Cassie was trained is pretty interesting — too bad ED-209’s designers couldn’t have read it.
So this is what it has come to: NVIDIA is now purposely crippling its flagship GPU cards to make them less attractive to cryptocurrency miners. The LHR, or “Lite Hash Rate” cards include new-manufactured GeForce RTX 3080, 3070, and 3060 Ti cards, which will now have reduced Ethereum hash rates baked into the chip from the factory. When we first heard about this a few months ago, we puzzled a bit — why would a GPU card manufacturer care how its cards are used, especially if they’re selling a ton of them. But it makes sense that NVIDIA would like to protect their brand with their core demographic — gamers — and having miners snarf up all the cards and leaving none for gamers is probably a bad practice. So while it makes sense, we’ll have to wait and see how the semi-lobotomized cards are received by the market, and how the changes impact other non-standard uses for them, like weather modeling and genetic analysis.
Speaking of crypto, we found it interesting that police in the UK accidentally found a Bitcoin mine this week while searching for an illegal cannabis growing operation. It turns out that something that uses a lot of electricity, gives off a lot of heat, and has people going in and out of a small storage unit at all hours of the day and night usually is a cannabis farm, but in this case it turned out to be about 100 Antminer S9s set up on janky looking shelves. The whole rig was confiscated and hauled away; while Bitcoin mining is not illegal in the UK, stealing the electricity to run the mine is, which the miners allegedly did.
And finally, we have no idea what useful purpose this information serves, but we do know that it’s vitally important to relate to our dear readers that yellow LEDs change color when immersed in liquid nitrogen. There’s obviously some deep principle of quantum mechanics at play here, and we’re sure someone will adequately explain it in the comments. But for now, it’s just a super interesting phenomenon that has us keen to buy some liquid nitrogen to try out. Or maybe dry ice — that’s a lot easier to source.
Bad news, Martian helicopter fans: Ingenuity, the autonomous helicopter that Perseverance birthed onto the Martian surface a few days ago, will not be taking the first powered, controlled flight on another planet today as planned. We’re working on a full story so we’ll leave the gory details for that, but the short version is that while the helicopter was undergoing a full-speed rotor test, a watchdog timer monitoring the transition between pre-flight and flight modes in the controller tripped. The Ingenuity operations team is going over the full telemetry and will reschedule the rotor test; as a result, the first flight will occur no earlier than Wednesday, April 14. We’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Anyone who has ever been near a refinery or even a sewage treatment plant will have no doubt spotted flares of waste gas being burned off. It can be pretty spectacular, like an Olympic torch, but it also always struck us as spectacularly wasteful. Aside from the emissions, it always seemed like you could at least try to harness some of the energy in the waste gasses. But apparently the numbers just never work out in favor of tapping this source of energy, or at least that was the case until the proper buzzword concentration in the effluent was reached. With the soaring value of Bitcoin, and the fact that the network now consumes something like 80-TWh a year, building portable mining rigs into shipping containers that can be plugged into gas flaring stacks at refineries is now being looked at seriously. While we like the idea of not wasting a resource, we have our doubts about this; if it’s not profitable to tap into the waste gas stream to produce electricity now, what does tapping it to directly mine Bitcoin really add to the equation?
What would you do if you discovered that your new clothes dryer was responsible for a gigabyte or more of traffic on your internet connection every day? We suppose in this IoT world, such things are to be expected, but a gig a day seems overly chatty for a dryer. The user who reported this over on the r/smarthome subreddit blocked the dryer at the router, which was probably about the only realistic option short of taking a Dremel to the WiFi section of the dryer’s control board. The owner is in contact with manufacturer LG to see if this perhaps represents an error condition; we’d actually love to see a Wireshark dump of the data to see what the garrulous appliance is on about.
As often happens in our wanderings of the interwebz to find the very freshest of hacks for you, we fell down yet another rabbit hole that we thought we’d share. It’s not exactly a secret that there’s a large number of “Star Trek” fans in this community, and that for some of us, the way the various manifestations of the series brought the science and technology of space travel to life kick-started our hardware hacking lives. So when we found this article about a company building replica Tricorders from the original series, we followed along with great interest. What we found fascinating was not so much the potential to buy an exact replica of the TOS Tricorder — although that’s pretty cool — but the deep dive into how they captured data from one of the few remaining screen-used props, as well as how the Tricorder came to be.
And finally, what do you do if you have 3,281 drones lying around? Obviously, you create a light show to advertise the launch of a luxury car brand in China. At least that’s what Genesis, the luxury brand of carmaker Hyundai, did last week. The display, which looks like it consisted mostly of the brand’s logo whizzing about over a cityscape, is pretty impressive, and apparently set the world record for such things, beating out the previous attempt of 3,051 UAVs. Of course, all the coverage we can find on these displays concentrates on the eye-candy and the blaring horns of the soundtrack and gives short shrift to the technical aspects, which would really be interesting to dive into. How are these drones networked? How do they deal with latency? Are they just creating a volumetric display with the drones and turning lights on and off, or are they actually moving drones around to animate the displays? If anyone knows how these things work, we’d love to learn more, and perhaps even do a feature article.
The hack is relatively straightforward. The Game Boy is hooked up to a PC via a Raspberry Pi Pico and a level shifter to handle the different voltage levels. The Game Boy runs custom software off a flash cart, which runs the SHA hash algorithm on incoming data from the PC and reports results back to the PC which communicates with the Bitcoin network.
[stacksmashing] does a great job of explaining the project, covering everything from the Game Boy’s link port protocol to the finer points of the Bitcoin algorithm in explicit detail. For the technically experienced, everything you need to know to recreate the project is there. While the Game Boy manages just 0.8 hashes per second, trillions of times slower than cutting edge hardware, the project nonetheless is amusing and educational, so take that into consideration before firing off hot takes in the comments below. If you’re really interested in the underlying maths, you can try crunching Bitcoin hashes with pen and paper.