Hackaday Links: March 21, 2021

If you think you’re having a bad day at work, pity the poor sysadmin at Victoria University of Wellington in Australia New Zealand, who accidentally nuked the desktops of pretty much everyone at the university. This apparently happened last week and impacted everyone connected to the university network with a Windows machine, which had any files stored on their desktops deleted and also appears to have reset user profiles to the default state. This caused no end of consternation, especially among those who use their desktop folder to organize work in progress; we’d imagine more than one student at VUW is hating life right now for not storing work on a backed-up network drive. The problem seems to have started with an attempt to clean up files and profiles left behind by former students; how that escalated to nuking files on the desktop will require some ‘splaining.

Speaking of mea culpas, there was quite a dustup this week in the Cricut community. It started when the maker of CNC cutting machines announced its intention to limit uploads to their online design software unless the user signs up for a $10 a month account. After getting an earful from the users, the CEO of the company announced that these changes would be delayed until the end of 2021. That decision still didn’t sit well with the community, which includes a fair number of users designing PCBs, and two days later, the CEO announced that they were throwing in the towel on the whole plan, and that everything was going back to status quo ante. Story over? We’ll see — it seems like Cricut has tipped its hand here that they’re looking to extract more money from the users, and the need for that likely hasn’t gone away just because they relented. As Elliot Williams pointed out when we discussed the whole debacle, it’s easy to see how Cricut could start adding new features to the paid version of their software, basically abandoning the free user base. We’ll have to see how the obviously vociferous community responds to something like that.

Much interesting news from Mars this week, where the Perseverance rover is getting used to its new home and getting itself ready to roll. Late last week, Perseverance successfully dropped the “belly pan” that was covering the sensitive instruments under the rover, including the Adaptive Sample Caching system that will seal up Martian core samples and drop them out onto the surface for later pickup. This seemingly simple task was a critical one; had the pan not cleanly separated, the mission could have been severely impacted. Perseverance also did a little test drive this week, and recorded what it sounds like to drive on Mars. The audio clip is 16 minutes long, and the noises coming from the billion-dollar rover are just awful at times. We hear clunks and clanks and squeals galore, and while we’re sure they all have a good explanation and will provide valuable engineering data, they sound somewhat alarming to us.

But not so alarming as the sounds that must have come from a Jeep that suffered a bad tow job recently. The cringe-making story starts with a brand-new Jeep being towed on its wheels behind a motorhome, which allows the RV owners to park their rig and still have something to drive around in while they camp. The towed vehicle, or “pusher”, is normally equipped with a manual transmission, as towing with the wheels on the ground for extended distances is easier with them. Unfortunately, the Jeep’s owner set up the shift levers wrong and left the transmission in first gear, with the transfer case in low range. The linked article estimates the gearing ratios meant that the poor Jeep’s engine was being spun at something like 54,000 RPM; chances are good the engine exploded long before that point. The damage shown in the video accompanying the article is just brutal — the oil pan and bell housing are gone, the bottom of the crankcase is blown out, and at least two pistons and their share of the crankshaft are missing in action. We feel sorry for the owner, but really wish the Jeep had had a belly cam like the one on Perseverance.

Desktop Wind Tunnel Brings Aerospace Engineering To The Home Gamer

Computer simulation is indispensable in validating design and used in every aspect of engineering from finite element analysis to traffic simulation to fluid dynamics. Simulations do an amazing job and at a fraction of the time and expense of building and testing a scale model. But those visceral ah-ha moments, and some real-world gremlins, can be easier to uncover by the real thing. Now you don’t need a university research or megacorp lab to run aerodynamic study IRL, you can just build a functional desktop wind tunnel for a pittance.

[Mark Waller] shows off this tidy little design that takes up only about two feet of desk space, and includes the core features that make a wind tunnel useful. Air is pulled through the tunnel using a fan mounted at the exhaust side of the tunnel. The intake is the horn-like scoop, and he’s stacked up a matrix of drinking straws there to help ensure laminar flow of the air as it enters the tunnel. (The straw trick is frequently used with laminar flow water fountains). It also passes through a matrix of tubes about the diameter of a finger at the exhaust to prevent the spin of the fan from introducing a vortex into the flow.

For analysis, five tubes pipe in smoke from an vape pen, driven into the chamber by an aquarium pump. There’s a strip of LEDs along the roof of the tunnel, with a baffle to prevent the light shining on the black rear wall of the chamber for the best possible contrast. The slow-motion video after the break shows the effectiveness of the setup.

Whether you’re a Hackaday Editor cutting their own glider wing profiles using foam and hot wire, or just want to wrap your head around how different profiles perform, this will get you there. And it’ll do it at a fraction of the size that we’ve seen in previous wind tunnel builds.

Continue reading “Desktop Wind Tunnel Brings Aerospace Engineering To The Home Gamer”

Ubuntu Update Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, July 22 at noon Pacific for the Ubuntu Update Hack Chat with Rhys Davies and Alan Pope!

Everyone has their favorite brands, covering everything from the clothes they wear to the cars they drive. We see brand loyalty informing all sorts of acquisition decisions, not only in regular consumer life but in technology, too. Brand decisions sort people into broad categories like Mac versus PC, or iPhone versus Android, and can result in spirited discussions of the relative merits of one choice over the others. It’s generally well-intentioned, even if it gets a bit personal sometimes.

Perhaps no choice is more personal in hacker circles than which Linux distribution to use. There are tons to choose from, each with their various features and particular pros and cons. Ubuntu has become a very popular choice for Linux aficionados, attracting more than a third of the market. Canonical is the company behind the Debian-based distro, providing editions that run on the desktop, on servers, and on a variety of IoT devices, as well as support and services for large-scale users.

To fill us in on what’s new in the world of Ubuntu, Canonical product manager Rhys Davies and developer advocate Alan Pope will stop by the Hack Chat this week. They’ll be ready to answer all your questions about the interesting stuff that’s going on with Ubuntu, including the recently announced Ubuntu Appliances, easy to install, low maintenance images for Raspberry Pis and PCs that are built for security and simplicity. We’ll also talk about snaps, desktops, and whatever else crops up.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, July 22 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “Ubuntu Update Hack Chat”

Building A Limitless VR Desktop

[Gabor Horvath] thinks even two monitors is too little space to really lay out his windows properly. That’s why he’s building a VR Desktop straight out of our deepest cyberpunk fantasies.

The software runs on Windows and Android at the moment. The user can put up multiple windows in a sphere around them. As their head moves, the window directly in front grows in focus.  Imagine how many stack overflow windows you could have open at the same time!

Another exciting possibility is that the digital work-spaces can be shared among multiple users. Pair programming isn’t so bad, and now the possibility of doing it effectively while remote seems a little more possible. Even pair CAD might be possible depending on how its done. Imagine sharing your personal CAD session on another user’s screen and seeing theirs beside yours, allowing for simultaneous design.

Overall it’s a very cool tech demo that could turn into something more. It makes us wonder how long it is before tech workers on their way to lunch are marked by a telltale red circle on their face.

Case Mod Takes “All In One” Printer To The Next Level

You’ve seen printers with scanners in them, printers with copiers in them, even ones with the ancient technology known as “facsimile” built-in. But have you ever seen a printer with a full gaming computer built into it? No? Well, you still haven’t, technically. There’s no printer to be had anymore inside this re-purposed HP Photosmart 6520 case, but it’s probably the closest we’re going to get.

[Jacob Lee] wrote in to share this awesome build with us, which sees the motherboard, graphics card, ATX power supply, and hard drives all fit seamlessly into the shell of a disused “All-in-one” style printer. Incredibly, he even managed to integrate an LCD into the top; which hinges open when in use and gives a look down into the madness that makes this build tick.

To say there’s a lot of hardware packed into this thing is an understatement. Which is all the more impressive when you consider that he] didn’t take the easy way out for any of it. He could have used a mini-ITX motherboard, or a slim PSU. He could have even dropped the graphics card for integrated. No, [Jacob] is clearly a subscriber to the “Go big or go home” ethos.

As if putting all this gear inside of a normal looking printer case wasn’t impressive enough, he even went as far as adding female ports for Ethernet, HDMI, and USB on the rear of the device to give it a stock look. He mentions there’s some room for improvement with the USB ports, but the power switch and IEC port really look like they could have been original components.

In the age of the Raspberry Pi and other diminutive computers, we don’t see too many proper desktop computer projects anymore. Fewer still that are so well executed and creative. We don’t know how many other people might be trying to stick a computer in a printer case, but if they’re out there, the bar has just been set pretty high.

Under The Hood Of AMD’s Threadripper

Although AMD has been losing market share to Intel over the past decade, they’ve recently started to pick up steam again in the great battle for desktop processor superiority. A large part of this surge comes in the high-end, multi-core processor arena, where it seems like AMD’s threadripper is clearly superior to Intel’s competition. Thanks to overclocking expert [der8auer] we can finally see what’s going on inside of this huge chunk of silicon.

The elephant in the room is the number of dies on this chip. It has a massive footprint to accommodate all four dies, each with eight cores. However, it seems as though two of the cores are deactivated due to a combination of manufacturing processes and thermal issues. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, or a reason not to use this processor if you need to utilize a huge number of cores, though; it seems as though AMD found it could use existing manufacturing techniques to save on the cost of production, while still making a competitive product.

Additionally, a larger die size than required opens the door for potentially activating the two currently disabled chips in the future. This could be the thing that brings AMD back into competition with Intel, although both companies still maintain the horrible practice of crippling their chips’ security from the start.

Hackaday Prize Entry: PCBs On Demand With Etchr

The ambitious etchr – the PCB Printer is just a concept at the moment, but it’s not often we see someone trying to tackle desktop PCB production in a new way. Creator [Jonathan Beri] is keenly aware that when it comes to creating electronics, the bottleneck for most workflows is the PCB itself. Services like OSH Park make professionally fabricated PCBs accessible at a low cost, but part of the bargain is that turnaround times are often measured in weeks.

[Jonathan]’s concept for etchr is a small system that automates not only etching a copper-clad board with all the attendant flooding and draining of chemicals, but applying a solder mask and silkscreen layer labeling as well. The only thing left to do would be to drill any required holes.

The idea behind etchr is to first take a copper-clad board with photoresistive film or spray applied to it, and fix it into a frame. A UV projector takes care of putting the traces pattern onto the board (and also handles a UV-curable solder mask in a later step) and the deep frame doubles as a receptacle for any chemical treatments such as the etching and cleaning. It’s an ambitious project, but the processes behind each step are well-understood and bringing them all together in a single machine is an intriguing approach.

Desktop production of PCBs can be done in a few ways, including etching via the toner transfer method (whose results our own Elliot Williams clearly explained how to take from good to great). An alternative is to mill the PCBs out directly, a job a tool like the Othermill is designed specifically to do. It’s interesting to see an approach that includes applying a solder mask.