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Hackaday Links: December 5, 2021

Sad news from Germany, with the recent passing of a legend in the crypto community: Mr. Goxx, the crypto-trading hamster. The rodent rose to fame in the crypto community for his trades, which were generated at random during his daily exercise routines — his exercise wheel being used like a roulette wheel to choose a currency, and a pair of tunnels determined whether the transaction would be a buy or sell. His trading career was short, having only started this past June, but he was up 20% over that time — that’s nothing to sneeze at. Our condolences to Mr. Goxx’s owners, and to the community which sprung up around the animal’s antics.

It might seem a little early to start planning which conferences you’d like to hit in 2022, but some require a little more lead time than others. One that you might not have heard of is DINACON, the Digital Naturalism Conference, which explores the intersection of technology and the natural world. The con is set for the entire month of July 2022 and will be held in Sri Lanka. It has a different structure than most cons, in that participants attend for a week or so on a rotating basis, much like a biology field station summer session. It sounds like a lot of fun, and the setting couldn’t be more idyllic.

If you haven’t already killed your holiday gift budget buying NFTs, here’s something you might want to consider: the Arduino Uno Mini Limited Edition. What makes it a Limited Edition, you ask? Practically, it’s the small footprint compared to the original Uno and the castellated edges, but there are a bunch of other extras. Each elegant black PCB with gold silk screening is individually numbered and comes in presentation-quality packaging. But the pièce de résistance, or perhaps we should say the cavallo di battaglia, is that each one comes with a hand-signed letter from the Arduino founders. They honestly look pretty sharp, and at $45, it’s really not a bad collector’s piece.

And finally, the YouTube algorithm giveth again, when this infrastructure gem popped up in our feed. You wouldn’t think there’d be much of interest to see in a water main repair, but you’d be wrong, especially when that main is 50′ (15 m) below the surface, and the repair location is 600′ (183 m) from the access hatch. Oh yeah, and the pipe is only 42″ (1 m) in diameter, and runs underneath a river. There’s just so much nope in this one, especially since the diver has to swim into a special turning elbow just to get pointed in the right direction; how he turns around to swim out is not worth thinking about. Fascinating tidbits include being able to see the gravel used to protect the pipe in the riverbed through the crack in the pipe, and learning that big water mains are not completely filled, at least judging by the small air space visible at the top of the pipe. Those with claustrophobia are probably best advised to avoid this one, but it’s still amazing to see how stuff like this is done.

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Racks of ASIC mining hardware

Bitcoin In For Bumpy Ride As China Crackdown Shakes Things Up

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.

Recently, the Chinese government has cracked down on operations within the country. With China hosting the world’s largest fraction of Bitcoin mining capability, it’s sent shockwaves through the network and had a huge effect in a multitude of ways. Here’s what’s going down.

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Hamster Trades Crypto Better Than You

The inner machinations of the mind of cryptocurrency markets are an enigma. Even traditional stock markets often seem to behave at random, to the point that several economists seriously suggest that various non-human animals might outperform one market or another just by random chance alone. The classic example is a monkey picking stocks at random, but in the modern world the hamster [Mr Goxx] actively trades crypto from inside his hamster cage.

[Mr Goxx]’s home comprises a normal apartment and a separate office where he can make his trades. The office contains an “intention wheel” where he can run in order to select a currency to trade, and two tunnels that [Mr Goxx] can use to declare his intention to buy or sell the currency he selected with the wheel. The wheel is connected to an Arduino Nano with an optical encoder, and the Nano also detects the hamster’s presence in the “buy” or “sell” tunnel and lights up status LEDs when he wants to execute a trade. The Nano also communicates with an intricate Java program which overlays information on the live video feed and also executes the trades in real life with real money.

Live updates are sent directly both on Twitter and Reddit, besides the live Twitch stream of [Mr Goxx] we linked above. The stream only shows his office and not his apartment, and he’s mostly active at night (Berlin time). But we can’t wait for his random walks to yield long-term results which can be analyzed for years to come. In the meantime we’ll see if others have been able to make any profits in crypto with any less-random methods.

What’s Chia, And Why Is It Eating All The Hard Drives?

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.

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Hackaday Links: June 6, 2021

There are a bunch of newly minted millionaires this week, after it was announced that Stack OverFlow would be acquired for $1.8 billion by European tech investment firm Prosus. While not exactly a household name, Prosus is a big player in the Chinese tech scene, where it has about a 30% stake in Chinese internet company Tencent. They trimmed their holdings in the company a bit recently, raising $15 billion in cash, which we assume will be used to fund the SO purchase. As with all such changes, there’s considerable angst out in the community about how this could impact everyone’s favorite coding help site. The SO leadership are all adamant that nothing will change, but only time will tell.

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Hackaday Links: May 30, 2021

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.

What Uses More Power Than Argentina But Doesn’t Dance The Tango?

There’s been a constant over the last few weeks’ news, thanks to Elon Musk we’re in another Bitcoin hype cycle. The cryptocurrency soared after the billionaire endorsed it, at one point coming close to $60k, before falling back to its current position at time of writing of around $47k. The usual tide of cryptocurrency enthusiasts high on their Kool-Aid hailed the dawn of their new tomorrow, while a fresh cesspool of cryptocurrency scam emails and social media posts lapped around the recesses of the Internet.

This Time It’s Different!

The worst phrase that anyone can normally say about a financial bubble is the dreaded phrase “This time it’s different“, but there is something different about this Bitcoin hype cycle. It’s usual to hear criticism of Bitcoin for its volatility or its sometime association with shady deals, but what’s different this time is that the primary criticism is of its environmental credentials. The Bitcoin network, we are told, uses more electricity than the Netherlands, more than Argentina, and in an age where global warming has started to exert an uncomfortable influence over our lives, we can’t afford such extravagance and the emissions associated with them.

Here at Hackaday we are more concerned with figures than arguments over the future of currency, so the angle we take away from it all lies with those power stats. How much energy does Argentina use, and is the claim about Bitcoin credible?

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