Hackaday Links Column Banner

Hackaday Links: April 24, 2022

Wait, what? Is it possible that a tech company just killed off a product with a huge installed base of hardware and a community of dedicated users, and it wasn’t Google? Apparently not, if the stories of the sudden demise of Insteon are to be believed. The cloud-based home automation concern seems to have just disappeared — users report the service went offline at the end of last week, and hasn’t been back since. What’s more, the company’s executives removed Insteon from their LinkedIn profiles, and the CEO himself went so far as to remove his entire page from LinkedIn. The reasons behind the sudden disappearance remained a mystery until today, when The Register reported that Smartlabs, Inc., the parent company of Insteon, had become financially insolvent after an expected sale of the company failed in March. The fact that the company apparently knew this was going to happen weeks ago and never bothered to give the community a heads up before pulling the switches has led to a lot of hard feelings among the estimated 100,000 Insteonhub users.

Then again, with a comet the size of Rhode Island heading our way, a bunch of bricked smart bulbs might just be a moot point. The comet, known as C/2014 UN271, has a nucleus that is far larger than any previously discovered comet, which makes it a bit of an oddball and an exciting object to study. For those not familiar with the United States, Rhode Island is said to be a state wedged between Connecticut and Massachusetts, but even having lived in both those states, we couldn’t vouch for that. For scale, it’s about 80 miles (128 km) across, or a little bit bigger than Luxembourg, which we’re pretty sure is mythical, too. The comet is a couple of billion miles away at this point; it may never get closer than a billion miles from the Sun, and that in 2031. But given the way things have been going these last few years, we’re not banking on anything.

From the “Answering the Important Questions” file, news this week of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s breakthrough development of the “Oreometer,” a device to characterize the physical properties of Oreo cookies. The 3D printed device is capable of clamping onto the wafer parts of the popular sandwich cookie while applying axial torque. The yield strength of the tasty goop gluing the two wafers together can be analyzed, with particular emphasis on elucidating why it always seems to stay primarily on one wafer. Thoughtfully, the MIT folks made the Oreometer models available to one and all, so you can print one up and start your own line of cookie-related research. As a starting point, maybe take a look at the shear strength of the different flavors of Oreo, which might answer why the world needs Carrot Cake Oreos.

And finally, since we mentioned the word “skiving” last week in this space, it seems like the all-knowing algorithm has taken it upon itself to throw this fascinating look at bookbinding into our feed. We’re not complaining, mind you; the look inside Dublin’s J.E. Newman and Sons bookbinding shop, circa 1981, was worth every second of the 23-minute video. Absolutely everything was done by hand back then, and we’d imagine that very little has changed in the shop over the ensuing decades. The detail work is incredible, especially considering that very few jigs or fixtures are used to ensure that everything lines up. By the way, “skiving” in this case refers to the process of thinning out leather using a razor-sharp knife held on a bias to the material. It’s similar to the just-as-fascinating process used to make heat sinks that we happened upon last week.

Hackaday Links Column Banner

Hackaday Links: November 1, 2020

We normally chuckle at high-profile auctions where people compete to pay as much as possible for items they clearly don’t need. It’s easy to laugh when the items on the block are things like paint-spattered canvases, but every once in a while some genuine bit of history that really piques our interest goes on sale. Such is the case with what is claimed to be an original Steve Wozniak-built Blue Box, going on sale November 5. The prospectus has an excellent summary of the history of the “Two Steves” and their early business venture making and selling these devices to Berkeley students eager to make free long distance phone calls. The item on sale is a very early rev, most likely assembled by Woz himself. The current owner claims to have bought it from Woz himself in the summer of 1972 while on a roadtrip from Sunnyvale to Los Angeles. Estimated to go for $4,000 to $6,000, we really hope this ends up in a museum somewhere — while we’ve seen attempts to recreate Woz’s Blue Box on Hackaday.io, letting a museum study an original would be a great glimpse into our shared technological history.

Not in the market for old tech? No problem — Digilent wants to get rid of 3,000 PCBs, and quickly. They posted the unusual offer on reddit a couple of days ago; it seems they have a huge stock of populated boards for a product that didn’t quite take the market by storm. Their intention is likely not to flood the market with scopes cobbled together from these boards, but rather to make them available to someone doing some kind of art installation or for educational purposes. It’s a nice gesture, and a decent attempt to keep these out of the e-waste stream, so check it out if you have a need.

Speaking of PCBs, SparkFun has just launched an interesting new service: SparkFun À La Carte. The idea is to make it really easy to design and build prototype boards. Instead of using traditional EDA software, users select different blocks from a menu. Select your processor, add components like displays and sensors, and figure out how you want to power it, and SparkFun will do the rest, delivering a fully assembled board in a few weeks. It certainly stands to suck the fun out of the design process while also hoovering up your pocketbook: “A $949 design fee will be applied to all initial orders of a design”. You can get your hands on the design files, but that comes with an extra fee: “they can be purchased separately for $150 by filling out this form”. But for someone who just needs to hammer out a quick design and get on with the next job, this could be a valuable tool.

Another day, another IoT ghost: Reciva Radio is shutting down its internet radio service. A large banner at the top of the page warns that the “website will be withdrawn” on January 31, 2021, but functionality on the site already appears limited. Users of the service are also reporting that their Reciva-compatible radios are refusing to stream content, apparently because they can’t download anything from the service’s back end. This probably doesn’t have a huge impact — I’d never heard of Reciva before — but it makes me look at the Squeezebox radio we’ve got in the kitchen and wonder how long for the world that thing is. It’s not all bad news, though — owners of the bricked radios will now have a great opportunity to hack them back into usefulness.

By the time this article is published, Halloween will be history and the hordes of cosplaying candy-grubbers who served as welcome if ironic respite from this non-stop horror show of a year will be gone. Luckily, though, if it should come to pass that the dead rise from their graves — it’s still 2020, after all — we’ll know exactly how to defeat them with this zombie invasion calculator. You may remember that last year Dominik Czernia did something similar, albeit with vampires. Switching things up from the hemophagic to the cerebrophagic this year, his calculator lets you model different parameters, like undead conversion percentage, zombie demographics, and attack speed. You’ve also got tools for modeling the response of the living to the outbreak, to see how best to fight back. Spoiler alert: everyone will need to bring Tallahassee-level badassery if we’re going to get through this.