Hackaday Links: September 22, 2019

Of all the stories we’d expect to hit our little corner of the world, we never thought that the seedy doings of a now-deceased accused pedophile billionaire would have impacted the intellectual home of the open-source software movement. But it did, and this week Richard Stallman resigned from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, as well as from the Free Software Foundation, which he founded and served as president. The resignations, which Stallman claims were “due to pressure on MIT and me over a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations”, followed the disclosure of a string of emails where he perhaps unwisely discussed what does and does not constitute sexual assault. The emails were written as a response to protests by MIT faculty and students outraged over the university’s long and deep relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the late alleged pedophile-financier. This may be one of those stories where the less said, the better. If only Stallman had heeded that advice.

They may be the radio stations with the worst programming ever, but then again, the world’s atomic clock broadcasting stations can really keep a beat. One of the oldest of these stations, WWV, is turning 100 this year, and will be adding special messages to its usual fare of beeps and BCD-encoded time signals on a 100-Hz subcarrier. If you tune to WWV at 10 past the hour (or 50 minutes past the hour for WWVH, the time station located in Hawaii) you’ll hear a special announcement. There was also talk of an open house at the National Institute of Standards and Technology complete with a WWV birthday cake, but that has since been limited to 100 attendees who pre-registered.

For the machinists and wannabes out there, the Internet’s machine shop channels all pitched in this week on something called #tipblitz19, where everyone with a lathe or mill posted a short video of their favorite shop tip. There’s a ton of great tip out there now, with the likes of This Old Tony, Abom79, Stefan Gotteswinter, and even our own Quinn Dunki contributing timesaving – and finger saving – tips. Don’t stop there though – there’s a playlist with 77 videos at last count, many of them by smaller channels that should be getting more love. Check them out and then start making chips.

Most of us know that DLP chips, which lie behind the lens of the projectors that lull us to sleep in conference rooms with their white noise and warm exhaust, are a series of tiny mirrors that wiggle around to project images. But have you ever seen them work? Now you can: Huygens Optics has posted a fascinating video deep-dive into the workings of digital light processors. With a stroboscopic camera and a lot of fussy work, the video reveals the microscopic movements of these mirrors and how that syncs up with the rotation of a color filter wheel. It’s really fascinating stuff, and hats off to Huygens for pulling off the setup needed to capture this.

And speaking of tiny optics, get a load of these minuscule digital cameras, aptly described by tipster David Gustafik as “disturbingly small.” We know we shouldn’t be amazed by things like this anymore, but c’mon – they’re ridiculously tiny! According to the datasheet, the smaller one will occupy 1 mm² on a PCB; the larger stereo camera requires 2.2 mm². Dubbed NanEye, the diminutive cameras are aimed at the medical market – think endoscopy – and at wearables manufacturers. These would be a lot of fun to play with – just don’t drop one.

Can You “Take Back” Open Source Code?

It seems a simple enough concept for anyone who’s spent some time hacking on open source code: once you release something as open source, it’s open for good. Sure the developer might decide that future versions of the project close up the source, it’s been known to happen occasionally, but what’s already out there publicly can never be recalled. The Internet doesn’t have a “Delete” button, and once you’ve published your source code and let potentially millions of people download it, there’s no putting the Genie back in the bottle.

But what happens if there are extenuating circumstances? What if the project turns into something you no longer want to be a part of? Perhaps you submitted your code to a project with a specific understanding of how it was to be used, and then the rules changed. Or maybe you’ve been personally banned from a project, and yet the maintainers of said project have no problem letting your sizable code contributions stick around even after you’ve been kicked to the curb?

Due to what some perceive as a forced change in the Linux Code of Conduct, these are the questions being asked by some of the developers of the world’s preeminent open source project. It’s a situation which the open source community has rarely had to deal with, and certainly never on a project of this magnitude.

Is it truly possible to “take back” source code submitted to a project that’s released under a free and open source license such as the GPL? If so, what are the ramifications? What happens if it’s determined that the literally billions of devices running the Linux kernel are doing so in violation of a single developer’s copyright? These questions are of grave importance to the Internet and arguably our way of life. But the answers aren’t as easy to come by as you might think.

Continue reading “Can You “Take Back” Open Source Code?”

Flash Your Libre Firmware With A Libre Programmer

Whether or not you personally agree with all the ideals of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), you’ve got to give them credit: they don’t mess around. They started by laying the groundwork for a free and open source operating system, then once that dream was realized, started pushing the idea of replacing proprietary BIOS firmware with an open alternative such as Libreboot. But apparently, even that’s not enough, as there’s still more freedom to be had. We’re playing 4D Libre Chess now, folks.

To flash your libre boot firmware on your libre OS running computer without any proprietary funny business, you’re going to need a libre chip programmer. Luckily, the FSF has just awarded the Zerocat Chipflasher their “Respects Your Freedom” certification, meaning every element of the product is released under a free license for your hacking enjoyment. According to the FSF, this is a major milestone towards their goal of providing users a truly free and open source computer, from the browser all the way down to the BIOS.

Of course, you don’t need to be Richard Stallman to appreciate a fully open chip programmer. With the software, wiring diagrams, and PCB files available on the Chipflasher’s website, the project is an excellent educational reference. Is also means that with a clone the Chipflasher’s Git repository, you’re well on the way to spinning up your own build of the device.

Given the roughly $350 USD price tag on the first generation Zerocat Chipflasher, it seems fairly likely we’ll be seeing some DIY builds of this device before too long. Not that we want to deprive Zerocat commercial success for this very neat piece of gear, but for many it’s a mighty steep price; even if you do get all the Freedoms.

It may use a device of slightly more nebulous morality than the Zerocat Chipflasher, but our own [Bryan Cockfield] documented the saga of getting Libreboot installed on a Thinkpad X200 if you’d like to know more about the high stakes world of BIOS replacement. Whatever it takes to get that Intel Management Engine off your penguin-powered box.

Save WiFi: Act Now To Save WiFi From The FCC

Right now, the FCC is considering a proposal to require device manufacturers to implement security restricting the flashing of firmware. We posted something about this a few days ago, but completely missed out on a call to action. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we live under a system of participatory government, and there is still time to convince the FCC this regulation would stifle innovation, make us less secure, and set back innovation in the United States decades.

The folks at ThinkPenguin, the EFF, FSF, Software Freedom Law Center, Software Freedom Conservancy, OpenWRT, LibreCMC, Qualcomm, and other have put together the SaveWiFi campaign (archive.is capture, real link is at this overloaded server) providing you instructions on how to submit a formal complaint to the FCC regarding this proposed rule.

Under the rule proposed by the FCC, devices with radios may be required to prevent modifications to firmware. All devices operating in the 5GHz WiFi spectrum will be forced to implement security features to ensure the radios cannot be modified. While prohibiting the modification of transmitters has been a mainstay of FCC regulation for 80 years, the law of unintended consequences will inevitably show up in full force: because of the incredible integration of electronic devices, this proposed regulation may apply to everything from WiFi routers to cell phones. The proposed regulation would specifically ban router firmwares such as DD-WRT, and may go so far as to include custom firmware on your Android smartphone.

A lot is on the line. The freedom to modify devices you own is a concern, but the proposed rules prohibiting new device firmware would do much more damage. The economic impact would be dire, the security implications would be extreme, and emergency preparedness would be greatly hindered by the proposed restrictions on router firmware. The FCC is taking complaints and suggestions until September 8th.

Even if you’re not living under the jurisdiction of the FCC, consider this: manufacturers of routers and other WiFi equipment will not be selling two version of hardware, one to the US and another to the rest of the world. What the FCC regulates affects the entire world, and this proposed rule would do us all a disservice. Even if you’re not in the US, tell your second favorite websites to cover this: neither Ars Technica nor Wired have posted anything on the FCC’s proposed rule, and even boingboing is conspicuously silent on the issue. You may submit a comment until September 8th here.