Get Today’s Forecast In Classic 90s Weather Channel Style

Remember when The Weather Channel actually had weather? It’s been a while, but we sure remember what a boon Local on the 8’s was when getting ready for the day. Not having to wait for the low-information national forecast on the morning shows or putting up with the antics of [Willard Scott] or [Al Roker] was just icing on the cake.

Recreating the retro look and feel of the Weather Channel experience is what this 1990s-style weather feed is all about, and we have to say that [Mitchell Scott] knocked it out of the park. Luckily, a lot of the heavy lifting was done already thanks to the WeatherStar 4000+ emulator project, which renders forecasts using online weather APIs in the distinctive retro graphics The Weather Channel used back in the day. He combined the graphics with the original smooth jazz soundtracks that TWC used back then; they’re online, because of course they are.

To really sell the look, [Mitchell] tracked down a period-correct Zenith TV with a 9″ CRT to display the feed from a Raspberry Pi 4’s composite video output. Why such a small screen? Easy. [Mitchell] wanted it on a shelf behind him to be visible during videoconferences. It’s a bit of a weird flex, but we respect it. Getting the composite video output working was a bit of a chore, as was tricking the TV into starting up on channel 14 so the feed is instantly visible.

The nostalgia is strong with this one, especially for weather geeks. For a more in-depth look at how The Weather Channel brought those local forecasts to cable, make sure you check out how the WeatherStar box was reverse-engineered.

Thanks to [USA-RedDragon] for the tip.

Blame It On The Sockets: Forensic Analysis Of The Arecibo Collapse

Nearly three years after the rapid unplanned disassembly of the Arecibo radio telescope, we finally have a culprit in the collapse: bad sockets.

In case you somehow missed it, back in 2020 we started getting ominous reports that the cables supporting the 900-ton instrument platform above the 300-meter primary reflector of what was at the time the world’s largest radio telescope were slowly coming undone. From the first sign of problems in August, when the first broken cable smashed a hole in the reflector, to the failure of a second cable in November, it surely seemed like Arecibo’s days were numbered, and that it would fall victim to all the other bad luck we seemed to be rapidly accruing in that fateful year. The inevitable finally happened on December 1, when over-stressed cables on support tower four finally gave way, sending the platform on a graceful swing into the side of the natural depression that cradled the reflector, damaging the telescope beyond all hope of repair.

The long run-up to the telescope’s final act had a silver lining in that it provided engineers and scientists with a chance to carefully observe the failure in real-time. So there was no real mystery as to what happened, at least from a big-picture perspective. But one always wants to know the fine-scale details of such failures, a task which fell to forensic investigation firm Thornton Tomasetti. They enlisted the help of the Columbia University Strength of Materials lab, which sent pieces of the failed cable to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s High Flux Isotope reactor for neutron imaging, which is like an X-ray study but uses streams of neutrons that interact with the material’s nuclei rather than their electrons.

The full report (PDF) reveals five proximate causes for the collapse, chief of which is “[T]he manual and inconsistent splay of the wires during cable socketing,” which we take to mean that the individual strands of the cables were not spread out correctly before the molten zinc “spelter socket” was molded around them. The resulting shear stress caused the zinc to slowly flow around the cable strands, letting them slip out of the surrounding steel socket and — well, you can watch the rest below for yourself.

As is usually the case with such failures, there are multiple causes, all of which are covered in the 300+ page report. But being able to pin the bulk of the failure on a single, easily understood — and easily addressed — defect is comforting, in a way. It’s cold comfort to astronomers and Arecibo staff, perhaps, but at least it’s a lesson that might prevent future failures of cable-supported structures.

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Crafting Ribbon Cables For Retro Hardware

Building a modern computer is something plenty of us have done, and with various tools available to ensure that essentially the only thing required of the end user is to select parts and have them delivered via one’s favorite (or least expensive) online retailer. Not so with retro hardware, though. While some parts can be found used on reselling sites like eBay, often the only other option is to rebuild parts from scratch. This is sometimes the best option too, as things like ribbon cables age poorly and invisible problems with them can cause knock-on effects that feel like wild goose chases when troubleshooting. Here’s how to build your own ribbon cables for your retro machines.

[Mike] is leading us on this build because he’s been working on an old tower desktop he’s calling Rosetta which he wants to be able to use to host five different floppy disk types and convert files from one type to another. Of course the old hardware and software being used won’t support five floppy disk drives at the same time so he has a few switches involved as well. To get everything buttoned up neatly in the case he’s building his own ribbon cables to save space, especially since with his custom cables he won’t have the extraneous extra connectors that these cables are famous for.

Even though, as [Mike] notes, you can’t really buy these cables directly anymore thanks to the technology’s obsolescence, you can still find the tools and parts you’d need to create them from scratch including the ribbon, connectors, and crimping tools. Even the strain relief for these wide, fragile connectors is available and possible to build into these projects. It ends up cleaning up the build quite nicely, and he won’t be chasing down any gremlins caused by decades-old degraded multi-conductor cables. And, even though [Mike] demonstrated the floppy disk drive cables in this build, ribbon cable can be used for all kinds of things including IDE drive connectors and even GPIO cables for modern electronics projects.

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All About USB-C: Illegal Adapters

Let’s be clear – it’s not enough to have USB-C to USB-C cables. There’s a lot of cables that we might want to acquire for our day-to-day use, perhaps, for a transition period while we still own some amount of devices not adorned with a USB-C connector. However, the USB-C specification only accounts for a limited amount of kinds of cables, explicitly or implicitly excluding a range of cables that you might want to buy or make.

It’s my firm belief that, as a hacker, you should be able to buy any USB-C contraption that you could ever need. Hackers don’t need restrictions driven by marketing – they need understanding of how a piece of tech can or cannot be used, based on how it operates internally. I would like you to provide with such understanding, so that you can make informed decisions.

On the other hand, USB-C is designed to be used by less-than-skilled people, even if it often fails at that. (Cable labelling, anyone?) Clear definitions of what complies to a standard can help enforce it. Here’s the notorious story of a USB-C cable that killed a Chromebook, and launched a career of explaining USB-C specifics online for [Benson Leung]. There’s many such failure stories, in fact. Today, we’ll go through USB-C contraptions which might or might not fail you, depending on how you use them. Continue reading “All About USB-C: Illegal Adapters”

$800 Mountain Bike Seat Post Chopped In Two

For those unfamiliar with the sport of mountain biking, it’s a wild hobby that is rife with hacking. It started in the early 70s when the first dedicated mountain bikers were hacking road bikes together to ride on trails to varying levels of success, but only in the last decade or so have there been a lot of electronics appearing in various bike parts that we can all tinker with as well. This video discusses some of the downsides with a very expensive electronic seat post on a mountain bike, and attempts to solve its shortcomings by cutting it in half.

This build involves a dropper seat post, which is an adjustable seat for mountain biking that functions like an office chair. By pushing a button on the handlebars, the seat post can be rapidly adjusted up or down on-the-fly. Normally these seat posts use a cable to actuate, but this expensive version is wireless. The only problem is the battery will occasionally fly off when hitting big jumps, so [Berm Peak Express] decided to cut the existing proprietary battery system out and create a new housing for it. The new housing has a wired extension for the battery in its new location under the seat instead of behind it, and this gives it the clearance it arguably should have had from the manufacturer.

While not the most involved project of all time, it does take a certain mentality to take a hacksaw to a bike part that costs more than a large percentage of bicycles. It’s a niche product to be sure, but it also shows that some of the biggest annoyances with proprietary parts are not too difficult to overcome. And, it is interesting to see the ways that some people are hacking bikes outside of admittedly clever ebike conversions.

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The Surprisingly Manual Process Of Building Automotive Wire Harnesses

Even from the very earliest days of the automobile age, cars and trucks have been hybrids of mechanical and electrical design. For every piston sliding up and down in a cylinder, there’s a spark plug that needs to be fired at just the right time to make the engine work, and stepping on the brake pedal had better cause the brake lights to come on at the same time hydraulic pressure pinches the wheel rotors between the brake pads.

Without electrical connections, a useful motor vehicle is a practical impossibility. Even long before electricity started becoming the fuel of choice for vehicles, the wires that connect the computers, sensors, actuators, and indicators needed to run a vehicle’s systems were getting more and more complicated by the year. After the engine and the frame, a car’s wiring and electronics are its third most expensive component, and it’s estimated that by 2030, fully half of the average vehicle’s cost will be locked in its electrical system, up from 30% in 2010.

Making sure all those signals get where they’re going, and doing so in a safe and reliable way is the job of a vehicle’s wire harnesses, the bundles of wires that seemingly occupy every possible area of a modern car. The design and manufacturing of wire harnesses is a complex process that relies on specialized software, a degree of automation, and a surprising amount of people-power.

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A Simple Web-Based Wiring Harness Tool

When building electronic assemblies there is quite often the need to construct custom cables to hook things up. It’s all very well if you’re prototyping by hand, or just building one or two of a thing, but if you’re cranking them out using outside help, then you’re going to want to ensure that cable is described very accurately. [Christian Nimako-Boateng Jr.] presents for us the first version of wirely, a wiring harness tool. This is a web-based tool that allows one to describe the cable ends and connectivity between them, producing a handy graphic and exports to excel in a format that should be easy to follow.

Based around the wireviz Python library running on a flask-based backend, image data are sent to the web assembly front-end and rendered with OpenGL. Configuration files can be imported and exported as JSON, making it easily linkable to other tools if required. Helpfully, the tool also seems to support some kind of revision control, although we didn’t try that yet. The process is straightforward enough, one simply defines a few groups (these relate to individual PCBs or other floating items in the assembly) which each contain one or more connectors. First, the connectors are described with part numbers, and wire gauge data, before defining the list of connections (wires) showing which signal and physical pins are connected together. Nothing more complex than that yet. We think there is still some more functionality that the tool could manage, such as shielding and guarding details, twisted pair definitions and a few others, but for a first pass, wirely looks pretty handy.

If you want a more heavyweight option using IEC 60617 symbols for describing wiring harnesses, then look no farther than QElectroTech, and yes, we have covered wireviz before, just for those that want to cut out the middleman and describe their cables in Python directly.