It could be said that there are a number of factors behind the explosion of creativity in our community of hardware hackers over the last couple of decades, but one in particular that is beyond doubt is the ease with which it has been possible to import small orders from China. See something on AliExpress and it can be yours for a few quid, somewhere in a warehouse on the other side of the world it’s put into a grey shipping bag, and three weeks later it’s on your doorstep. This bounty has in no small part been aided by a favourable postage and taxation environment in which both low postage costs and a lack of customs duties on packages under a certain value conspire to render getting the product in front of you a fraction of the cost of buying the thing in the first place. Continue reading “EU Duty Changes, A Whole VAT Of Trouble For Hackers?”
In the ebike world, there are two paths. The first is a homemade kit bike with motors and controllers from China. The second is a prebuilt bike from a manufacturer like Giant, with motors and controllers from China, which will be half as fast and cost three times as much. The choice is obvious, and there are other benefits to taking the first path as well, such as using this equipment which now has an open source firmware option.
The Tong Sheng TSDZ2 drive is popular in the ebike world because it’s an affordable kit motor which has a pedal-assist mode using torque sensors, resulting in a more polished experience. In contrast, other popular kit motors tend to rely on less expensive cadence sensors which are not as smooth or intuitive. This new open source firmware for the TSDZ2 further improves on the ride by improving the motor responsiveness, improving battery efficiency, and opening up the ability to use any of a number of color displays. (More information is available on a separate Wiki.)
If you have a TSDZ2-based ebike it might be time to break out the laptop and get to work installing this firmware. If you’re behind the times and still haven’t figured out that ebikes are one of the best ways to travel, here is the proof you need.
Thanks to [coaxial] for the tip! Photo via Reddit user [PippyLongSausage].
In whichever hemisphere you dwell, winter is the time of year when viruses come into their own. Cold weather forces people indoors, crowding them together in buildings and creating a perfect breeding ground for all sorts of viruses. Everything from the common cold to influenza spread quickly during the cold months, spreading misery and debilitation far and wide.
In addition to the usual cocktail of bugs making their annual appearance, this year a new virus appeared. Novel coronavirus 2019, or 2019-nCoV, cropped up first in the city of Wuhan in east-central China. From a family of viruses known to cause everything from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in humans, 2019-nCoV tends toward the more virulent side of the spectrum, causing 600 deaths out of 28,000 infections reported so far, according to official numbers at the time of this writing.
(For scale: the influenzas hit tens of millions of people, resulting in around four million severe illnesses and 500,000 deaths per season, worldwide.)
With China’s unique position in the global economy, 2019-nCoV has the potential to seriously disrupt manufacturing. It may seem crass to worry about something as trivial as this when people are suffering, and of course our hearts go out to the people who are directly affected by this virus and its aftermath. But just like businesses have plans for contingencies such as this, so too should the hacking community know what impact something like 2019-nCoV will have on supply chains that we’ve come to depend on.
Last year, fabless chip maker Zhaoxin announced they were readying a multicore x86-compatible CPU. According to media reports, the chips are showing up on Chinese marketplaces like Taobao shipping around March.
The company is a joint venture between the Shanghai Municipal Government and VIA Technologies, a familiar name in the PC business. It makes even more sense if you remember that VIA bought Centaur who had built simple x86 chips and used the simplicity to add more cache that more complex Intel and AMD chips. These fell out of the hobby market, but they’ve still been pushing forward providing simple designs that are inexpensive and consume low power.
The news this week was dominated by the novel coronavirus outbreak centered in Wuhan, China. Despite draconian quarantines and international travel restrictions, the infection has spread far beyond China, at least in small numbers. A few cases have been reported in the United States, but the first case reported here caught our eye for the technology being used to treat it. CNN and others tell us that the traveler from Wuhan is being treated by a robot. While it sounds futuristic, the reality is a little less sci-fi than it seems. The device being used is an InTouch Vici, a telemedicine platform that in no way qualifies as a robot. The device is basically a standard telepresence platform that has to be wheeled into the patient suite so that providers can interact with the patient remotely. True, it protects whoever is using it from exposure, but someone still has to gown up and get in with the patient. We suppose it’s a step in the right direction, but we wish the popular press would stop slapping a “robot” label on things they don’t understand.
Also in health news, did you know you’re probably not as hot as you think you are? While a glance in the mirror would probably suffice to convince most of us of that fact, there’s now research that shows human body temperature isn’t what it used to be. Using medical records from the Civil War-era to the 1930s and comparing them to readings taken in the 1970s and another group between 2007 and 2017, a team at Stanford concluded that normal human body temperature in the USA has been slowly decreasing over time. They proposed several explanations as to why the old 98.6F (37C) value is more like 97.5F (36.4C) these days, the most interesting being that general overall inflammation has decreased as sanitation and food and water purity have increased, leading the body to turn down its thermostat, so to speak. Sadly, though, if the trend holds up, our body temperature will reach absolute zero in only 111,000 years.
Wine, the not-an-emulator that lets you run Windows programs on POSIX-compliant operating systems, announced stable release 5.0 this week. A year in the making, the new version’s big features are multi-monitor support with dynamic configuration changes and support for the Vulkan spec up to version 1.1.126.
Any color that you want, as long as it’s amorphous silicon. Sono Motors, the German start-up, has blown past its goal of raising 50 million euros in 50 days to crowdfund production of its Sion solar-electric car. The car is planned to have a 255 km range on a full charge, with 34 km of that coming from the solar cells that adorn almost every bit of the exterior on the vehicle. Living where the sun doesn’t shine for a third of the year, we’re not sure how well this will pay off, but it certainly seems smarter than covering roads with solar cells.
And finally, here’s a trip down memory lane for anyone who suffered through some of the cringe-worthy depictions of technology that Hollywood came up with during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Looking back through the clips shown in “copy complete” reminds us just how many movies started getting into the tech scene. It wasn’t just the sci-fi and techno-thrillers that subjected us to closeups of scrolling random characters and a terminal that beeped every time something changed on the screen. Even straight dramas like Presumed Innocent and rom-coms like You’ve Got Mail and whatever the hell genre Ghost was got in on the act. To be fair, some depictions were pretty decent, especially given the realities of audience familiarity with tech before it became pervasive. And in any case, it was fun to just watch and remember when movies were a lot more watchable than they are today.
[Editor’s note: There’s an ongoing back-and-forth about this “spyware” right now. We haven’t personally looked into it on any phones, and decoded Wireshark caps of what the cleaner software sends home seem to be lacking — it could be innocuous. We’re leaving our original text as-run below, but you might want to take this with a grain of salt until further evidence comes out. Or keep us all up to date in the comments. But be wary of jumping to quick conclusions.]
Samsung may have the highest-end options for hardware if you want an Android smartphone, but that hasn’t stopped them from making some questionable decisions on the software they sometimes load on it. Often these phones come with “default” apps that can’t be removed through ordinary means, or can’t even be disabled, and the latest discovery related to pre-loaded software on Samsung phones seems to be of a pretty major security vulnerability.
This software in question is a “storage cleaner” in the “Device Care” section of the phone, which is supposed to handle file optimization and deletion. This particular application is made by a Chinese company called Qihoo 360 and can’t be removed from the phone without using ADB or having root. The company is known for exceptionally bad practices concerning virus scanning, and the software has been accused of sending all information about files on the phone to servers in China, which could then turn all of the data it has over to the Chinese government. This was all discovered through the use of packet capture and osint, which are discussed in the post.
These revelations came about recently on Reddit from [kchaxcer] who made the original claims. It seems to be fairly legitimate at this point as well, and another user named [GeorgePB] was able to provide a temporary solution/workaround in the comments on the original post. It’s an interesting problem that probably shouldn’t exist on any phone, let alone a flagship phone competing with various iPhones, but it does highlight some security concerns we should all have with our daily use devices when we can’t control the software on the hardware that we supposedly own. There are some alternatives though if you are interested in open-source phones.
Thanks to [kickaxe] for the tip!
For nearly as long as there has been radio, there have been antennas trained on the sky, looking at the universe in a different light than traditional astronomy. Radio astronomers have used their sensitive equipment to study the Sun, the planets, distant galaxies, and strange objects from the very edge of the universe, like pulsars and quasars. Even the earliest moments of the universe have been explored, a portrait in microwave radiation of the remnants of the Big Bang.
And yet with all these observations, there’s a substantial slice of the radio spectrum that remains largely a mystery to radio astronomers. Thanks to our planet’s ionosphere, most of the signals below 30 MHz aren’t observable by ground-based radio telescopes. But now, thanks to an opportunity afforded by China’s ambitious lunar exploration program, humanity is now listening to more of what the universe is saying, and it’s doing so from a new vantage point: the far side of the moon.