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Hackaday Links: August 23, 2020

Apple, the world’s first trillion-dollar company — give or take a trillion — has built a bit of libertarian cachet by famously refusing to build backdoors into their phones, despite the entreaties of the federal government. So it came as a bit of a surprise when we read that the company may have worked with federal agents to build an “enhanced” iPod. David Shayer says that he was one of three people in Apple who knew about the 2005 program, which was at the behest of the US Department of Energy. Shayer says that engineers from defense contractor Bechtel, seemed to want to add sensors to the first-generation iPod; he was never clued in fully but suspects they were adding radiation sensors. It would make sense, given the climate in the early 2000s, walking down the street with a traditional Geiger counter would have been a bit obvious. And mind you, we’re not knocking Apple for allegedly working with the government on this — building a few modified iPods is a whole lot different than turning masses of phones into data gathering terminals. Umm, wait…

A couple of weeks back, we included a story about a gearhead who mounted a GoPro camera inside of a car tire. The result was some interesting footage as he drove around; it’s not a common sight to watch a tire deform and move around from the inside like that. As an encore, the gearhead in question, Warped Perception, did the same trick bit with a more destructive bent: he captured a full burnout from the inside. The footage is pretty sick, with the telltale bubbles appearing on the inside before the inevitable blowout and seeing daylight through the shredded remains of the tire. But for our money, the best part is the slo-mo footage from the outside, with the billowing smoke and shredded steel belts a-flinging. We appreciate the effort, but we’re sure glad this guy isn’t our neighbor.

Speaking of graphic footage, things are not going well for some remote radio sites in California. Some towers that host the repeaters used by public service agencies and ham radio operators alike have managed to record their last few minutes of life as wildfires sweep across the mountains they’re perched upon. The scenes are horrific, like something from Dante’s Inferno, and the burnover shown in the video below is terrifying; watch it and you’ll see a full-grown tree consumed in less than 30 seconds. As bad as the loss of equipment is, it pales in comparison to what the firefighters face as they battle these blazes, but keep in mind that losing these repeaters can place them in terrible jeopardy too.

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Hackaday Links: February 23, 2020

If you think your data rates suck, take pity on New Horizons. The space probe, which gave us lovely pictures of the hapless one-time planet Pluto after its 2015 flyby, continued to plunge and explore other, smaller objects in the Kuiper belt. In January of 2019, New Horizons zipped by Kuiper belt object Arrokoth and buffered its findings on the spacecraft’s solid-state data recorders. The probe has been dribbling data back to Earth ever since at the rate of 1 to 2 kilobits per second, and now we have enough of that data to piece together a story of how planets may have formed in the early solar system. The planetary science is fascinating, but for our money, getting a probe to narrowly miss a 35-kilometer long object at a range of 6.5 billion km all while traveling at 51,500 km/h is pretty impressive. And if as expected it takes until September to retrieve all the data from the event at a speed worse than dialup rates, it’ll be worth the wait.

Speaking of space, if you’re at all interested in big data, you might want to consider putting your skills to work in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The Berkeley SETI Research Center has been feeding data from the Green Bank Telescope and their Automated Planet Finder into the public archive of Breakthrough Listen, a 10-year, $100 million initiative to scan the million closest stars in our galaxy as well as the 100 nearest galaxies for signs of intelligent life. They’re asking for help to analyze the torrents of data they’re accumulating, specifically by developing software and algorithms to process the data. They’ve set up a site to walk you through the basics and get you started. If you’re handy with Python and have an interest in astronomy, you should check it out.

Staying with the space theme, what’s the best way to get kids interested in space and electronics? Why, by launching a satellite designed to meme its way across the heavens, of course. The Mission for Education and Multimedia Engagement satellite, or MEMESat-1, is being planned for a February 2021 launch. The 1U cubesat will serve as an amateur radio repeater and slow-scan TV (SSTV) beacon that will beam down memes donated to the project and stored on radiation-hardened flash storage. In all seriousness, this seems like a great way to engage the generation that elevated the meme to a modern art form in a STEM project they might otherwise show little interest in.

It looks as though Linux might be getting a big boost as the government of South Korea announced that they’re switching 3.3 million PCs from Windows to Linux. It’s tempting to blame Microsoft’s recent dropping of Windows 7 support for the defenestration, but this sounds like a plan that’s been in the works for a while. No official word on which distro will be selected for the 780 billion won ($655 million) effort, which is said to be driven by ballooning software license costs and a desire to get out from under Microsoft’s thumb.

And finally, in perhaps the ickiest auction ever held, the “Davos Collection” headed to the auction block this week in New York. The items offered were all collected from the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the world’s elites gather to determine the fate of the 99.999%. Every item in the collection, ranging from utensils and glassware used at the many lavish meals to “sanitary items” disposed of by the billionaires, and even hair and fluid samples swabbed from restrooms, potentially holds a genetic treasure trove in the form of the DNA it takes to be in the elite. Or at least that’s the theory. There’s a whole “Boys from Brazil” vibe here that we find disquieting, and we flatly refuse to see how an auction where a used paper cup is offered for $8,000 went, but if you’d like to virtually browse through the ostensibly valuable trash of oligarchs, check out the auction catalog.

Biology Lab On Your Christmas List

We hope you have been good this year because we have a list to start your own biology lab and not everything will fit into Santa’s bag (of holding). If you need some last minute goodie points, Santa loves open-source and people who share on our tip line. Our friends at [The Thought Emporium] have compiled a list of the necessary equipment for a biology lab. Chemistry labs-in-a-box have been the inspiration for many young chemists, but there are remarkable differences between a chemistry lab and a biology lab which are explained in the Youtube video linked above and embedded after the break.

If you are preparing to start a laboratory or wondering what to add to your fledging lab, this video is perfect. It comes from the perspective of a hacker not afraid to make tools like his heat block and incubator which should absolutely be built rather than purchased but certain things, like a centrifuge, should be purchased when the lab is mature. In the middle we have the autoclave where a used pressure cooker may do the trick or you may need a full-blown commercial model with lots of space and a high-pressure range.

Maybe this will take some of the mystique out of starting your own lab and help you understand what is happening with a gel dock or why a spectrophotometer is the bee’s knees. There are a handful of other tools not mentioned here so if this is resonating, it will be worth a watch.

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IndieGoGo Project Offers DNA Editing For The Home

CRISPR is the new darling of the genetics world, because it allows you to easily edit DNA. It is far more effective than previous techniques, being both precise and relatively easy to use. According to this IndieGoGo project, it is coming to your home lab soon. Genetic researchers love Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) because it allows you to very precisely edit a DNA strand. Using a protein called CAS9, CRISPR can find a very specific sequence in a DNA sequence and cut it. It occurs naturally in cells as part of the immune system: by finding and remembering parts of virus DNA, a cell can recognize and attack it when infected. For the genetics researcher, this allows them to insert new DNA sequences at specific points in the genes of any living cell.

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Genetic Research On The Cheap

When you think of DIY hardware, genetic research tools are not something that typically comes to mind. But [Stacey] and [Matt]’s OpenPCR project aims to enable anyone to do polymerase chain reaction (PCR) research on the cheap.

PCR is a process that multiplies a specific piece of DNA a few million times. It can be used for many purposes, including DNA cloning and DNA fingerprinting for forensics. PCR is also used for paternity testing.

The process involves baking the DNA at specific temperatures for the right amount of time. The DNA is first denatured, to split the helix into individual strands. Next, the temperature is lowered and primers are bound to the strands. Finally, another temperature is used to allow the polymerase to duplicate the DNA. This process is repeated to multiply the DNA.

The OpenPCR uses an Arduino to control a solid state relay. This relay provides power to two large resistors that act as heaters. A MAX31855 is used to read a thermocouple over SPI and provide feedback for the system. A computer fan is used to cool the device down.

A milled aluminium sample holder houses and heats the samples during cycling. The laser cut, t-slot construction case features some helix art, and houses all of the components. It will be interesting to see what applications this $85 PCR device can perform.

Via Adafruit