The Day Six Spaceships Landed In England

The BBC, as the British national broadcaster for so many decades, now finds itself also performing the function of keeper of a significant part of the collective national memory. Thus they have an unrivaled resource of quality film and audio recordings on hand for when they look back on the anniversary of a particular story, and the retrospectives they create from them can make for a particularly fascinating read.

This week has seen the fiftieth anniversary of a very unusual event, the day six flying saucers were found to have crash-landed in a straight line across the width of Southern England. It was as though a formation of invaders had entered the atmosphere in a manoeuvre gone wrong, and maintained their relative positions as they hurtled towards the unsuspecting countryside.

Except of course, there were no aliens, and there were no flying saucers. Instead there was a particularly resourceful group of apprentices from the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, and the saucers were beautifully made fibreglass and metal creations. They contained electronic sound generators to give an alien-sounding beeping noise, and a fermenting mixture of flour and water for an alien-looking ectoplasmic goo should anybody decide to drill into them. The police were called and the RAF were scrambled, and a media frenzy occurred before finally the jolly hoaxters were unmasked. In those simpler times everyone had a good laugh and got on with their lives, while without a doubt now there would have been a full-blown terrorism scare and a biohazard alert over all that flour paste.

A Hackaday writer never admits her age, but this is a story that happened well before the arrival of this particular scribe. We salute and envy these 1960s pranksters, and hope that they went on to do great things. If you are a British resident you can see an accompanying TV report on their southern regional news programme, Inside Out, on BBC One South East and South today at 19:30 BST, or via BBC iPlayer should you miss it.

Flying saucer confectionery image: jo-h [CC BY 2.0].

Newsflash: A Bunch of Arduinos is Not an Autonomous Car

Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes you’re up late at night writing a blog post and you stumble upon an incredible story. You write it up, and it ends up being, well, incredible. IEEE Spectrum took the bait on this video (embedded below) where [Keran McKenzie] claims to have built a self-driving car for under $1,000 AUS with Arduinos.

The video is actually pretty funny, and we don’t think it’s intended to be a mass-media hoax as much as a YouTube joke. After letting the car “take over” for a few seconds, it swerves and [Keran] pretends to have hit something. (He’s using his knees people!) There are lots of takes with him under the car, and pointing at a single wire that supposedly makes the whole thing work. Yeah, right.

Continue reading “Newsflash: A Bunch of Arduinos is Not an Autonomous Car”

I Am Satoshi Nakamoto

OK, you got me. I’m not. Neither is Dorian Nakamoto, pictured above, and neither is this [Craig White] guy. Or at least, his supposed proof that he is “Satoshi” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Indeed, you can re-create it yourself and pretend to be “Satoshi” too.

If you haven’t been following along, “Satoshi Nakamoto” is the person or group of people who invented Bitcoin, and who holds a decent fortune’s worth of the currency. He’s been exceedingly careful at keeping his identity secret. So much so, that upon hearing another “We Found Satoshi” story in the news, we actually laughed at our wife this morning. But then it was picked up by the BBC and is forthcoming in the Economist. Serious journalism.

Well, if you read the BBC piece, they note that “Security expert Dan Kaminsky said the procedure was almost ‘maliciously resistant’ to validation.” Hint: If Dan “DNSSEC” Kaminsky can’t verify a signature, there’s a good chance it’s not the real deal.

The really embarrassing part is that this [Craig White] character claimed to be Satoshi in December 2015. If he actually were Satoshi, who is probably a cryptographic genius, do you think it would take him five months to figure out a cryptographically sound way of proving his identity? Nope.

So here’s how he did it, according to [Patrick McKenzie]’s GitHub, linked above. There is a hashed secret out there that only “Satoshi” knows. Hashes are one-way functions; they produce a number that’s easy to calculate if you know the original data, but devilishly hard to work from the hash backwards to get the data out. This hashed value is public, and part of the blockchain, so we can be pretty sure that it hasn’t been altered.

[Craig] claimed to have some text from Sartre hashed with “Satoshi’s” key, and that this proves his identity. But instead of providing the hash of the Sartre text, [Craig] apparently substituted a hash from the blockchain. When this supposed Sartre hash is validated against the blockchain, of course, it works. In short, he swapped hashes, and people failed to notice.

So I’m not “Satoshi”, and neither is this guy. Who is? The mystery continues. And given how careful “Satoshi” has been so far, it’s likely to remain so for a long while. But one thing’s for sure, when “he” does choose to reveal himself, it won’t be difficult to verify. After all “Satoshi” knows “Satoshi’s” password.

Image via the BBC, of another guy who isn’t “Satoshi”.

(Late Edit: Here’s another really nice writeup, this one by [ErrataRob].)

Deuterium Powered Homes and the Return of Cold Fusion Hype

We’ve been sent this press release claiming a new kind of fusion reaction that works at small scales using an incredibly exotic fuel material: ultra-dense deuterium. We looked into it with an open mind, and if we’re being kind we’ll conclude that there’s a ten-year long research project being undertaken by [Leif Holmlid], a single scientist whose claims would win him one or two Nobel prizes if any of it were true.

If we drop the kindness and approach it rationally, this doesn’t smell right and can’t be believed until it has been reliably reproduced by someone not associated with the original research. Let’s delve into the claim of Deuterium powered reactions, and circle around on the cold-fusion hype we found so sadly entertaining back in the ’90s.

Continue reading “Deuterium Powered Homes and the Return of Cold Fusion Hype”

Recent news followup


Last week we talked about a single rumored arrest over the OiNK torrent tracker. Since then, there’s been a confirmed report of 6 arrests. The arrests appear to be the result of users uploading pre-release music to the now defunct site. For some time, police have had access to the OiNK user records minus the passwords which are thought to be stored as a salted MD5 hash. It seems British authorities can force these individuals to reveal passwords under something called the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

The Phoenix Mars Lander (pictured above) has found what might be a large piece of ice directly underneath it. This week the lander will scoop up a sample, melt its contents and test the various gases it releases. Twitter users can watch the mission’s progress in semi real time by following the MarsPhonix account. Lastly it looks like the official website for this mission was defaced through a SQL injection attack.

We already reported the world’s largest GPS drawing as a hoax. It has however inspired a few to look closer at the concept of position based art and others have already created authentic works. Our friends over at BoingBoing even made a little flash application to create your own “Unimpressive GPS Art“. Upon hearing of the hoax we were quick to draw up a brand new proposal for DHL using Google maps.