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?”
As anyone who has been faced with a recently-manufactured household appliance that has broken will know, sometimes they can be surprisingly difficult to fix. In many cases it is not in the interests of manufacturers keen to sell more products to make a device that lasts significantly longer than its warranty period, to design it with dismantling or repairability in mind, or to make spare parts available to extend its life. As hardware hackers we do our best with home-made replacement components, hot glue, and cable ties, but all too often another appliance that should have plenty of life in it heads for the dump.
If we are at a loss to fix a domestic appliance then the general public are doubly so, and the resulting mountain of electrical waste is enough of a problem that the European Union is introducing new rules governing their repairability. The new law mandates that certain classes of household appliances and other devices for sale within the EU’s jurisdiction must have a guaranteed period of replacement part availability and that they must be designed such that they can be worked upon with standard tools. These special classes include washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, televisions, and more.
Let’s dig into the ramifications of this decision which will likely affect markets beyond the EU and hopefully lead to a supply of available parts useful for repair and beyond.
For most of the history of industrial electronics, solder has been pretty boring. Mix some lead with a little tin, figure out how to wrap it around a thread of rosin, and that’s pretty much it. Sure, flux formulations changed a bit, the ratio of lead to tin was tweaked for certain applications, and sometimes manufacturers would add something exotic like a little silver. But solder was pretty mundane stuff.
Then in 2003, the dull gray world of solder got turned on its head when the European Union adopted a directive called Restriction of Hazardous Substances, or RoHS. We’ve all seen the little RoHS logos on electronics gear, and while the directive covers ten substances including mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium, it has been most commonly associated with lead solder. RoHS, intended in part to reduce the toxicity of an electronic waste stream that amounts to something like 50 million tons a year worldwide, marked the end of the 60:40 alloy’s reign as the king of electrical connections, at least for any products intended for the European market, when it went into effect in 2006.
Apple released a phone, the most phone in the history of phones. It’s incredible.
There are four machines that are the cornerstone of electronic music. The TR-808, the TR-909, the TB-303, and the SH-101 are the machines that created techno, house, and every other genre of electronic music. This week at KnobCon Behringer, the brand famous for cheap mixers, other audio paraphernalia of questionable quality, and a clone of the Minimoog, teased their clone of the 909. Unlike the Roland reissue, this is a full-sized 909, much like Behringer’s clone of the 808. Price is said to be under $400, and the best guess on the release is, ‘sometime in the next year’
Speaking of synths, [jan] has created a ton of electronic musical instruments based around single chips. There’s one that fits inside a MIDI plug, and another that also adds a keyboard. Now he has an ‘educational kit’ on IndieGoGo. It’s surprisingly cheap at $19.
Europe is outlawing memes (I’m 12 and what is this?).
The EU parliament adopted a proposal for a Copyright Directive, the most onerous proposal being Article 13, requiring platforms to adopt copyright filters to examine everything uploaded to a platform.
The takeaway analogy is that this proposal is opposite of the DMCA’s Safe Harbor provision that protects ISPs from consequences of user’s actions; If Article 13 is adopted, an image-hosting service could be sued by copyright holders because users uploaded copyrighted images.
Needless to say, this is dumb, and a massive opportunity for you to become a startup founder. Companies like Google and Facebook already have robots and databases crawling their servers looking for copyrighted content, but smaller sites (hackaday.io included) do not have the resources to build such a service themselves. You’re looking at a massive B2B startup opportunity when these copyright directives pass.
It sometimes seems as though barely a week can go by without yet another major software-related hardware vulnerability story. As manufacturers grapple with the demands of no longer building simple appliances but instead supplying them containing software that may expose itself to the world over the Internet, we see devices shipped with insecure firmware and little care for its support or updating after the sale.
The French government have a proposal to address this problem that may be of interest to our community, to make manufacturers liable for the security of a product while it is on the market, and with the possibility of requiring its software to be made open-source at end-of-life. In the first instance it can only be a good thing for device security to be put at the top of a manufacturer’s agenda, and in the second the ready availability of source code would present reverse engineers with a bonanza.
It’s worth making the point that this is a strategy document, what it contains are only proposals and not laws. As a 166 page French-language PDF it’s a long read for any Francophones among you and contains many other aspects of the French take on cybersecurity. But it’s important, because it shows the likely direction that France intends to take on this issue within the EU. At an EU level this could then represent a globally significant move that would affect products sold far and wide.
What do we expect to happen in reality though? It would be nice to think that security holes in consumer devices would be neutralised overnight and then we’d have source code for a load of devices, but we’d reluctantly have to say we’ll believe it when we see it. It is more likely that manufacturers will fight it tooth and nail, and given some recent stories about devices being bricked by software updates at the end of support we could even see many of them willingly consigning their products to the e-waste bins rather than complying. We’d love to be proven wrong, but perhaps we’re too used to such stories. Either way this will be an interesting story to watch, and we’ll keep you posted.
Merci beaucoup [Sebastien] for the invaluable French-language help.
French flag: Wox-globe-trotter [Public domain].
We covered many of [Jason Rollette]’s personal projects in the past and are happy to welcome him as our newest Hack-A-Day contributor.
The electronics industry has shifted to lead free compliance, but most hobbyists haven’t even considered the personal impact of using lead. Today’s How-To will cover what it takes to switch from tin/lead solder to completely lead free. Our previous posts Introduction to soldering and the follow-up still apply to lead free. You may have never considered switching to lead free before, but we hope to help you make an informed decision.