Supercon 2023: Jose Angel Torres On Building A Junkyard Secure Phone

If you ever wondered just what it takes to build a modern device like a phone, you should have come to last year’s Supercon and talked with [Jose Angel Torres]. He’s an engineer whose passion into investigating what makes modern devices tick is undeniable, and he tells us all about where his forays have led so far – discovering marvels that a Western hacker might not be aware of.

Six years ago, he has moved to China, having previously been responsible for making sure that their Chinese subcontractors would manufacture things in the right ways. Turns out, doing that while being separated by an ocean set up more than just the timezone barriers – they were communicating between different worlds.

[Jose] tells us of having learned Chinese on the spot, purely from communicating with people around him, and it’s no wonder he’s had the motivation! What he’s experienced is being at the heart of cycle of hardware life, where devices are manufactured, taken apart and rebuilt anew. Here’s how he tapped into that cycle, and where he’s heading now.

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Hackaday Links: December 3, 2023

Sure, it does less than originally promised, but hey — at least it’s more expensive. That about sums up Tesla fans’ feelings after the long-awaited Cybertruck reveal at the Texas Gigafactory on Thursday, where Elon Musk himself handed over the keys — or their Cyber equivalent — to a few new owners. These are expensive machines — $61,000 for the two-motor model, and just shy of $100,000 for the three-motor all-wheel-drive model with all the bells and whistles. That’s considerably more than they were expected to cost back in 2019, a fact which may be at least partially behind the drop in Tesla shares after the launch.

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The State Of High Speed Rail, And A Look To Tomorrow

In the 21st century, the global transportation landscape is in shift. Politicians, engineers, and planners all want to move more people, more quickly, more cleanly. Amid the frenzy of innovative harebrained ideas, high-speed rail travel has surged to the forefront. It’s a quiet achiever, and a reliable solution for efficient, sustainable, and swift intercity and intercountry transit.

From the thriving economies of Europe and Asia to the burgeoning markets of the Middle East and America, high-speed rail networks are being planned, expanded, and upgraded whichever way you look. A combination of traditional and magnetic levitation (maglev) trains are being utilized, reaching speeds that were once the stuff of science fiction. As we set our sights towards the future, it’s worth taking a snapshot of the current state of high-speed rail, a field where technology, engineering brilliance, and visions of a greener tomorrow converge.

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This Month’s World’s Largest Wind Turbine Goes Operational

A new wind turbine installed in the Taiwan Strait went online last week, as part of the Fujian offshore wind farm project by the China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG). The system is the MySE 16-260, designed by the Ming Yang Wind Power Group, one of the leading manufacturers of wind turbines in the world. The numbers are staggering, the 16MW generator is projected to provide 66 GWh (gigawatt-hours) to the power grid annually. And this is a hefty installation, with a 260 m rotor diameter ( three each 123 m blades ) sitting atop a 152 m tower. The location is both a blessing and a curse, being an area of the Pacific that experiences Beaufort level 7 winds ( near gale, whole trees in motion ) for more than 200 days per year. Understandably, the tower and support structures are beefy, designed to survive sustained winds of 287 km/h.

This 16 MW installation surpasses the previous record holder, announced this January — the Vestas V236-15.0MW turbine with 115.5 m blades, located in Denmark’s Østerild Wind Turbine Test Center. But wait … Ming Yang also announced in January their new 18 MW turbine with 140 m long blades.

We imagine that there will eventually be a natural plateau, where the cost of the next humongous installation approaches or exceeds that of multiple smaller ones. Or will these multi-megawatt turbine systems just keep leapfrogging each other, year after year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Bluetooth Battery Monitors That Also Monitor Your Position, Without Asking

These days Bluetooth-based gadgets are everywhere, including for car and solar batteries. After connecting them up to the battery, you download the accompanying app on your smartphone, open it up and like magic you can keep tabs on your precious pile of chemistry that keeps things ticking along. Yet as [haxrob] discovered during an analysis, many of these devices will happily pass your location and other information along to remote servers.

The device in question is a Bluetooth 4.0 Battery Monitor that is resold under many brands, and which by itself would seem to do just what it is said to do, from monitoring a battery to running crank tests. Where things get unpleasant is with the Battery Monitor 2 (BM2) mobile app that accompanies the device. It integrates a library called AMap which is “a leading provider of digital map in China” and part of Alibaba. Although the app’s information page claims that no personal information is collected, the data intercepted with Wireshark would beg to differ.

In part 2 of this series, the BM2 app is reverse-engineered, decompiling the Java code. The personal information includes the latitude and longitude, as well as GPS, cell phone tower cell IDs and WiFi beacon data, which understandably has people rather upset. In addition to leaking your personal info, the BM2 app seems to be also good at running constantly in the background, which ironically drains your phone’s battery at an alarming rate.

Cases like these should be both a warning to not just install any app on your smartphone, as well as a wake-up call to Google and others to prevent such blatant privacy violations.

(Thanks to [Drew] for the tip)

China Plans Its Own Megaconstellation To Challenge Starlink

Satellite internet used to be a woeful thing. Early networks relied on satellites in geostationary orbits, with high latency and minimal bandwidth keeping user demand low. That was until Starlink came along, and provided high-speed, low-latency internet access using a fleet of thousands of satellites in Low Earth orbit.

Starlink has already ruffled feathers due to concerns around light pollution and space junk in particular. Now, it appears that China may be readying its own competing constellation to avoid being crowded out of low orbits by the increasingly-popular service.

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Books You Should Read: Prototype Nation

Over the years, I’ve been curious to dig deeper into the world of the manufacturing in China. But what I’ve found is that Western anecdotes often felt surface-level, distanced, literally and figuratively from the people living there. Like many hackers in the west, the allure of low-volume custom PCBs and mechanical prototypes has me enchanted. But the appeal of these places for their low costs and quick turnarounds makes me wonder: how is this possible? So I’m left wondering: who are the people and the forces at play that, combined, make the gears turn?

Enter Prototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation, by Silvia Lindtner. Published in 2020, this book is the hallmark of ten years of research, five of which the author spent in Shenzhen recording field notes, conducting interviews, and participating in the startup and prototyping scene that the city offers.

This book digs deep into the forces at play, unraveling threads between politics, culture, and ripe circumstances to position China as a rising figure in global manufacturing. This book is a must-read for the manufacturing history we just lived through in the last decade and the intermingling relationship of the maker movement between the west and east.

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