Hackaday Links: March 1, 2020

Talk about buried treasure: archeologists in Germany have – literally – unearthed a pristine Soviet spy radio, buried for decades outside of Cologne. While searching for artifacts from a Roman empire settlement, the archeologists found a pit containing the Soviet R-394KM transceiver, built in 1987 and apparently buried shortly thereafter without ever being used. It was found close to a path in the woods and not far from several sites of interest to Cold War-era spies. Curiously, the controls on the radio are labeled not in Cyrillic characters, but in the Latin alphabet, suggesting the radio was to be used by a native German speaker. The area in which it was found is destined to be an open-cast lignite mine, which makes us think that other Cold War artifacts may have fallen victim to the gore-covered blades of Bagger 288.

Good news for Betelgeuse fans, bad news for aficionados of cataclysmic cosmic explosions: it looks like the red giant in Orion isn’t going to explode anytime soon. Betelgeuse has been dimming steadily and rapidly since October of 2019; as a variable star such behavior is expected, but the magnitude of its decline was seen by some astronomers as a sign that the star was reaching the point in its evolution where it would go supernova. Alas, Betelgeuse started to brighten again right on schedule, suggesting that the star is not quite ready to give up the ghost. We’d have loved to witness a star so bright it rivals the full moon, but given the times we live in, perhaps it’s best not to have such a harbinger of doom appear.

If you plan to be in the Seattle area as the winter turns to spring, you might want to check out the Vintage Computer Fair Pacific Northwest. We visited back during the show’s first year and had a good time, and the Living Computers: Museum + Labs, where the event is held, is not to be missed. The Museum of Flight is supposed to be excellent as well, and not far away.

Mozilla announced this week that Firefox would turn on DNS over HTTPS (DoH) by default in the United States. DoH encrypts the DNS requests that are needed to translate a domain name to an IP address, which normally travel in clear text and are therefore easily observed. Easily readable DNS transactions are also key to content blockers, which has raised the hackles of regulators and legislators over the plan, who are singing the usual “think of the children” song. That DoH would make user data collection and ad-tracking harder probably has nothing to do with their protests.

And finally, sad news from California as daredevil and amateur rocketeer “Mad” Mike Hughes has been killed in a crash of his homemade rocket. The steam-powered rocket was to be a follow-up to an earlier, mostly successful flight to about 1,900 feet (580 m), and supposed to reach about 5,000 feet (1.5 km) at apogee. But in an eerily similar repeat of the mishap that nearly killed Evel Knievel during his Snake River Canyon jump in 1974, Mike’s parachute deployed almost as soon as his rocket left the launch rails. The chute introduced considerable drag before being torn off the rocket by the exhaust plume. The rocket continued in a ballistic arc to a considerable altitude, but without a chute Mike’s fate was sealed. Search for the video at your own peril, as it’s pretty disturbing. We never appreciated Mike’s self-professed Flat Earth views, but we did like his style. We suppose, though, that such an ending was more likely than not.

This Weekend: Vintage Computer Festival Pacific Northwest

The most iconic parts of computer history come alive next weekend in Seattle during the Vintage Computer Festival Pacific Northwest. It’s all happening March 23rd and 24th at the Living Computers Museum+Labs.

VCF celebrates the great hardware that has sprung up during the technological march of the last fifty years. The VCF series has been around for many years with events in Mountain View, CA and Wall, NJ, but this one is new. VCF Pacific Northwest was founded in 2018 and Hackaday’s own Dan Maloney had a great time at the inaugural event.

Keeping vintage computers running is a trick in itself and this where you can meet those who have made it a mission and a hobby as they set up exhibit tables and show off the rare, exotic, and of course nostalgic equipment. There are exhibits with  PDP-8 PDP-10, and an emulated PDP-6 (because only 23 were sold and none remain). You’ll find a Gigatron TTL computer, several flavors of Atari, and some slightly newer equipment like the Indego RISC-based workstation. There are exhibits on recreating classic computers, and buidling your own single-board computers from open source designs. The event is being held in a museum and this gives you the opportunity to check out their collection.

This year’s lineup of speakers is amazing. Joe Decuir will be speaking on Saturday morning. His long list of inventions and contributions to computing (and video gaming) make it hard to decide what to mention first. He’s well known for his time at Atari, but also developed the Amiga, and worked on USB and a laundry list of other standards.

Hackaday is once again proud to be a sponsor of VCF Pacific Northwest, VCF East, and VCF West.

Building A Swarm Of Autonomous Ocean Boats

There’s a gritty feel to the Hackerboat project. It doesn’t have slick and polished marketing, people lined up with bags of money to get in on the ground floor, or a flashy name (which I’ll get to in a bit). What it does have is a dedicated team of hackers who are building prototypes to solve some really big challenges. Operating on the ocean is tough on equipment, especially so with electronics. Time and tenacity has carried this team and their project far.

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Hackerspace Intro: Metrix Create:Space In Seattle, Washington

metrix-create-space-intro

Instead of a video, the members of Metrix Create:Space in Seattle, Washington posted a self-guided virtual tour. There is a link to a professional photographer in the area that specializes in this kind of thing. We assume he’s a member and would love to know if he hacked his own setup to capture the spherical panoramas.

The image above looks toward the front entrance. To the right is a cafe type counter which even offers a menu board listing membership prices but also time rentals on things like one hour in the solder room. The tour includes shots from 11 vantage points highlighting each portion of the space. This includes everything you might expect (3d printing, laser cutting, electronic prototyping) but a few you don’t. There’s a toddler-safe play area (we hear that the Kansas City hackerspace has one of these too), and a huge pick and place machine.

Seattle Power Tool Race & Derby


Yesterday, the Hazard Factory, an industrial arts studio, hosted the 3rd annual Seattle Power Tool Race & Derby. Participants construct a dragster powered by at most two “power tools” to race head to head down a 60 foot plywood channel. The rules are fairly loose and creativity is encouraged just as much as performance. For an example build, [spacematters] posted his machine using a circular saw and inline skate wheels. A Flickr photo pool of the day’s shenanigans is coming together and you can see some of the registered entries on the Hazard Factory’s site.

[photo: Æther]

ToorCon Seattle 2008: Lightning Talks


The second ToorCon Seattle got off to a quick start last Friday with a round of Lightning Talks at the Public Nerd Area. Each talk was limited to 5 minutes and covered a broad range of topics. Some talks were just supplying a chunk of information while others were a call to action for personal projects. Here are a few of the talks that we found interesting.

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