Ask Hackaday: Would A Scooter Get You Back To The Office?

So we’re two plus years into the pandemic at this point. Are you still working from home in the most comfortable clothes ever sewn? We figure that of the lot of you who said goodbye to that drab, tiled carpet in 2020, most have probably heard rumblings about returning to the office. And probably a good portion have at least been forced into a hybrid schedule.

Lots of companies would love to see their employees once again milling about all those glass and steel observation tanks office buildings they pay so much for. And while some are likely just forcing employees to come back, others are offering incentives, such as Google. The tech giant recently partnered with electric scooter manufacturer Unagi to provide a “Ride Scoot” program designed to lure many of Google’s US-based employees back to those brightly-colored code playgrounds they call offices with a fun mode of private transportation. The plan is to offer a full reimbursement of the monthly subscription fee for Unagi’s Model One folding scooter, which retails for $990.

The subscription is normally $49 a month plus a one-time $50 sign-up fee, but this amount will be slightly discounted (and waived) for eligible Google employees. There is one caveat to the system: an employee must use the scooter for a minimum of nine commutes to the office per month, although Google says they’re gonna be a bro about it and use the honor system.

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Hackaday Links: February 6, 2022

Last week, the news was filled with stories of Jack Sweeney and his Twitter-bot that tracks the comings and goings of various billionaires in their private jets. This caught the attention of the billionaire-iest of them all, one Elon Musk, who took exception to the 19-year-old’s feat of data integration, which draws from a number of public databases to infer the location of Elon’s plane. After Jack wisely laughed off Elon’s measly offer of $5,000 to take the bot down, Elon ghosted him — pretty childish behavior for the richest man on the planet, we have to say. But Jack might just have the last laugh, as an Orlando-based private jet chartering company has now offered him a job. Seems like his Twitter-bot and the resulting kerfuffle is a real resume builder, so job-seekers should take note.

Here’s hoping that you have a better retirement plan than NASA. The space agency announced its end-of-life plans for the International Space Station this week, the details of which will just be a run-up to the 2031 de-orbit and crash landing of any remaining debris into the lonely waters of Point Nemo. The agency apparently sees the increasingly political handwriting on the ISS’s aging and sometimes perforated walls, and acknowledges that the next phase of LEO space research will be carried out by a fleet of commercial space stations, none of which is close to existing yet. Politics aside, we’d love to dig into the technical details of the plan, and see exactly what will be salvaged from the station before its fiery demise, if anything. The exact method of de-orbiting too would be interesting — seems like the station would need quite a bit of thrust to put on the brakes, and might need the help of a sacrificial spacecraft.

“You break it, you fix it,” is a philosophy that we Hackaday types are probably more comfortable with than the general public, who tend to leave repairs of broken gear to professionals. But that philosophy seems to be at the core of Google’s new Chromebook repair program for schools, which encourages students to fix the Chromebooks they’re breaking in record numbers these days. Google is providing guidance for schools on setting up complete Chromebook repair facilities, including physical layout of the shop, organization of workflows, and complete repair information for at least a couple of popular brands of the stripped-down laptops. Although the repairs are limited to module-level stuff, like swapping power supplies, we still love the sound of this. Here’s hoping that something like this can trigger an interest in electronics for students that would otherwise never think to open up something as complicated as a laptop.

Back in July, we took note of a disturbing report of an RTL-SDR enthusiast in Crimea who was arrested for treason, apparently based on his interest in tracking flights and otherwise monitoring the radio spectrum. Now, as things appear to be heating up in Ukraine again, our friends at RTL-SDR.com are renewing their warning to radio enthusiasts in the area that there may still be risks. Then as now, we have little interest in the politics of all this, but in light of the previous arrest, we’d say it pays to be careful with how some hobbies are perceived.

And finally, aside from the aforementioned flight-tracking dustup, it’s been a tough week for Elon and Tesla. Not only have 817,000 of the expensive electric vehicles been recalled over something as simple as a wonky seatbelt chime, but another 54,000 cars are also being recalled for a software bug that causes them to ignore stop signs in “Full Self-Driving” mode. We’re not sure if this video of this Tesla hell-ride has anything to do with that bug, but it sure illustrates the point that FSD isn’t really ready for prime time. Then again, as a former Boston resident, we can pretty safely say that what that Tesla was doing isn’t really that much different than the meat-based drivers there.

Gone: Google Toolbar (2000-2021)

For both better and worse, the internet landscape moves fast. Shortening attention spans and memories all over the world. But every once in a while, we get a reminder of what once was. [Ron Amadeo] of Ars Technica fired up a Google product of year 2000 in Take one last look at Google Toolbar, which is now dead.

Today it’s hard to find an operating system that does not bundle a web browser. But back then, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was so dominant, the browser’s inclusion in Windows led to an antitrust lawsuit. Trying to get out from under IE’s shadow, many internet companies grabbed a toehold on users’ computers by installing a toolbar. (The comments thread on that Ars Technica article includes some horrific screenshots of mass toolbar infestation.)

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Broadband Across The Congo

If you live in much of the world today, high-speed Internet is a solved problem. But there are still places where getting connected presents unique challenges. Alphabet, the company that formed from Google, details their experience piping an optical network across the Congo. The project derived from an earlier program — project Loon — that used balloons to replace traditional infrastructure.

Laying cables along the twisting and turning river raises costs significantly, so a wireless approach makes sense. Connecting Brazzaville to Kinshasa using optical techniques isn’t perfect — fog, birds, and other obstructions don’t help. They still managed to pipe 700 terabytes of data in 20 days with over 99.9% reliability.

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Google’s Periodic Table

One of the nice things about the Internet is that you don’t need huge reference books anymore. You really don’t need big wall charts, either. A case in point: what science classroom didn’t have a periodic table of the elements? Now you can just look up an interactive one from Google. They say it is 3D and we suppose that’s the animations of the Bohr model for each atom. You can debate if it is a good idea to show people Bohr models or not, but it is what most of us learned, after all.

While the website is probably aimed more at students, it is a handy way to look up element properties and it is visually attractive, too. You probably remember, the columns are no accident in a periodic table, so the actual format doesn’t vary from one instance of it to another. However, we liked the col coding and the information panel that appears when you click on an element.

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Hackaday Links: July 25, 2021

Everyone makes mistakes in their job, but very few of us get the chance to make a one-character mistake with the potential to brick millions of devices. But that’s what happened to a hapless Google developer, who made an understandable typo in the ChromeOS code that ended up making it all the way to production. The error, which was in the OS encryption keys vault, was supposed to include the “&&” operator for a logical AND. The developer instead used a single ampersand, which broke the who conditional statement. This meant the OS evaluated even correct passwords as invalid, leaving users locked out of their Chromebooks. To be fair to the developer there should be a lot of QA steps between that typo and production, but it still has to sting.

Speaking of whoopsies, sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be right on the internet. It started when a player of the popular tank battle simulator “War Thunder” took issue with the in-game 3D model of the British Challenger 2 main battle tank. The player argued that the model was inaccurate to the point of affecting gameplay, and thought the model should be changed to make things more realistic. There seemed to be some basis for this, as the player claimed to have been a Challenger 2 commander and gunnery instructor. What’s more, like any good Netizen, the player cited sources to back up the claims, including excerpts from the official Challenger 2 instruction manual. Players on the War Thunder forum flagged this as likely classified material, but the player insisted that it wasn’t — right up to the point where the UK Ministry of Defence said, “Not so fast.” It turns out that the manual hasn’t been declassified, and that releasing the material potentially runs afoul of the Official Secrets Act, which carries with it up to 14 years detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

For fans of pinball, the announcement that the Museum of Pinball in Banning, California is closing its doors for good is probably a mix of good news and bad. It’s obviously bad news for any museum to close, especially one that curates collections from popular culture. And there’s no denying that pinball has been a big part of that culture, and that the machines themselves are often works of electromechanical art. But it appears that the museum just couldn’t make a go of it, and now its cavernous space will be sold off to a cannabis grower. But the sad news is tempered by the potential for private collectors and other pinball aficionados to score one of the estimated 1,100 pins the museum now needs to find a home for. We’ve never been to the museum, so it’s hard to say what kinds of machines they have and how collectible they are, but regardless, the market is about to be flooded. If you’re nearby, you might want to take a chance to see and play some of these machines one last time, before they get shipped off to private game rooms around the world.

And finally, exciting news from Hackaday superfriend Fran Blanche, who will soon tick an item off her bucket list with a zero-G ride on “G-Force 1”. Not to be confused with its military cousin the “Vomit Comet”, the weightlessness-simulating aircraft will afford Fran a total of about five minutes of free-fall when she takes the ride in a couple of months. There will also be periods of the flight that will simulate the gravity on both the Moon and Mars, so Fran has promised some Matt Damon mythbusting and Buzz Aldrin moonbouncing. And always one to share, Fran will bring along a professional video crew, so she can concentrate on the experience rather than filming it. We’ve actually scheduled Fran for a Hack Chat in August, to talk about the flight and some of her other cool goings-on, so watch out for that.

Project Starline Realizes Asimov’s 3D Vision

Issac Asimov wrote Caves of Steel in 1953. In it, he mentions something called trimensional personification. In an age before WebEx and Zoom, imagining that people would have remote meetings replete with 3D holograms was pretty far-sighted. We don’t know if any Google engineers read the book, but they are trying to create a very similar experience with project Starline.

The system is one of those that seems simple on the face of it, but we are sure the implementation isn’t easy. You sit facing something that looks like a window. The other person shows up in 3D as though they were on the other side of the window. Think prison visitation without the phone handset. The camera is mounted such that you look naturally at the other person through your virtual window.

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