The Space Station has a Supercomputer Stowaway

The failed launch of Soyuz MS-10 on October 11th, 2018 was a notable event for a number of reasons: it was the first serious incident on a manned Soyuz rocket in 35 years, it was the first time that particular high-altitude abort had ever been attempted, and most importantly it ended with the rescue of both crew members. To say it was a historic event is something of an understatement. As a counterpoint to the Challenger disaster it will be looked back on for decades as proof that robust launch abort systems and rigorous training for all contingencies can save lives.

But even though the loss of MS-10 went as well as possibly could be expected, there’s still far reaching consequences for a missed flight to the International Space Station. The coming and going of visiting vehicles to the Station is a carefully orchestrated ballet, designed to fully utilize the up and down mass that each flight offers. Not only did the failure of MS-10 deprive the Station of two crew members and the experiments and supplies they were bringing with them, but also of a return trip which was to have brought various materials and hardware back to Earth.

But there’s been at least one positive side effect of the return cargo schedule being pushed back. The “Spaceborne Computer”, developed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and NASA to test high-performance computing hardware in space, is getting an unexpected extension to its time on the Station. Launched in 2017, the diminutive 32 core supercomputer was only meant to perform self-tests and be brought back down for a full examination. But now that its ticket back home has been delayed for the foreseeable future, NASA is opening up the machine for other researchers to utilize, proving there’s no such thing as a free ride on the International Space Station.

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Steady Hand Repurposes Cheap SSD Modules

For hackers, cheap (and arguably disposable) consumer hardware makes for a ready supply of free or low-cost components. When you can walk into a big box store and pick up a new low-end laptop for $150, how many are going to spend the money to repair or upgrade the one they have now? So the old ones go to the bin, or get sold online for parts. From an ecological standpoint our disposable society is terrible, but at least we get some tech bargains out of the deal.

Case in point, the dirt cheap 32 GB eMMC SSDs [Jason Gin] recently scored. Used by Hewlett Packard on their line of budget laptops, he was able to snap up some of these custom drives for only $12 each. Only problem was, since they were designed for a very specific market and use case, they aren’t exactly the kind of thing you can just slap in your computer’s drive bay. He had to do some reverse engineering to figure out how to talk to them, and then some impressive fine-pitch soldering to get them plugged in, but in the end he got some very handy drives for an exceptionally low price.

[Jason] starts by figuring out the drive’s pinout using the cornerstone of the hacker’s electronic toolkit: the multimeter. By putting one lead on an obvious ground point such as the PCB’s screw holes, you can work through the pins on the connector and make some educated guesses as to what’s what. Ground pins will read as a short, but the meter should read power and data pins as a forward-biased diode. With a rough idea of the pin’s identities and some luck, he was able to figure out that it was basically a standard SATA connection in a different form factor.

To actually hook it up to his computer, he pulled the PCB off of a dead SATA hard drive, cut it down to size, and was able to use fine magnet wire to attach the conductors in the drive’s ribbon cable to the appropriate pads. He sealed everything up with a healthy dose of hot glue to make sure it didn’t pull loose, and then ran some drive diagnostics on his cobbled together SSD to make sure it was behaving properly. [Jason] reports the drive isn’t exactly a speed demon, but given the low cost and decent performance he still thinks it’s worth the work to use them for testing out different operating systems and the like.

[Jason] seems to have something of an obsession with eMMC hacking. Last time we heard from him, he was bringing a cheap Windows tablet back from the dead by replacing its shot eMMC chip.

Hackaday Links: March 18, 2018

Oh, boy. You know what’s happening next weekend? The Midwest RepRap Festival. The greatest 3D printing festival on the planet is going down next Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon in beautiful Goshen, Indiana. Why should you go? Check this one out. To recap from last year, E3D released a new extruder, open source filaments will be a thing, true color filament printing in CMYKW is awesome, and we got the world’s first look at the infinite build volume printer. This year, The Part Daddy, a 20-foot-tall delta bot will be there once again. It’s awesome and you should come.

We launched the 2018 Hackaday Prize this week. Why should you care? Because we’re giving away $200,000 in prizes. There are five challenges: the Open Hardware Design Challenge, Robotics Module, Power Harvesting, Human-Computer Interface, and Musical Instrument Challenge. That last one is something I’m especially interested in for one very specific reason. This is a guitorgan.

Building a computer soon? Buy your SSD now. Someone fell asleep on the e-stop at a Samsung fab, and now 3.5% of global NAND production for March has been lost.

Need to put an Arduino in the cloud? Here’s a shield for that. It’s a shield for SIMCom’s SIM7000-series module, providing LTE for a microcontroller. Why would you ever need this? Because 2G is dead, for various values of ‘dead’. 3G is eventually going to go the same way.

A bridge collapsed in Florida this week. A pedestrian walkway at Florida International University collapsed this week, killing several. The engineering efforts are still underway to determine the cause of the accident, but some guy from Canukistan posted a pair of informative videos discussing I-beams and pre-tensioned concrete. It’s going to be months until the fault (and responsibility) will be determined, but until then we have the best footage yet of this collapse. It’s dash cam footage from a truck that rolled up to the red light just before the collapse. This is one that’s going to go down in engineering history along with the Hyatt Regency collapse.

Need to test your app? Here’s a delta robot designed for phones. You would be shocked at how popular this robot is.

World’s Stupidest Solid State Disk Drive Hack

The title might seem a little harsh, but it is a direct quote from the video by [Linus Tech Tips] that you can see below. He picked up a board that is a RAID 0 controller for up to ten SD cards so you can use them as a conventional SATA SSD. Of course, the channel’s tag line is “impractical solutions for improbable problems” but even by his own admission, this is pretty impractical.

It is odd for us to scoff at any kind of hack, but honestly, it is hard to see the value to this, other than it is amusing to think some factory turned these boards out hoping to make a profit. Besides being amusing, though, it is also a good exercise in design trades. For example, when you design a car, you want it to be safe, but you can’t make the body out of four-inch thick steel because of cost, weight, and fuel consumption. So you balance these concerns by making tradeoffs.

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Upgrading A Microsoft Surface To A 1 TB SSD

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a neat little tablet, and with an i7 processor, a decent-resolution display, and running a full Windows 8.1 Pro, it’s the closest you’re going to get to a desktop in tablet format. Upgrading the Surface Pro 3, on the other hand, is nigh impossible. iFixit destroyed the display in their teardown, as did CNET. [Jorge] wanted to upgrade his Surface Pro 3 with a 1 TB SSD, and where there’s a will there’s a way. In this case, a very precise application of advanced Dremel technology.

Taking a Surface Pro 3 apart the traditional way with heat guns, spudgers, and a vast array of screwdrivers obviously wasn’t going to work. Instead, [Jorge] thought laterally; the mSSD is tucked away behind some plastic that is normally hidden by the small kickstand integrated into the Surface. If [Jorge] could cut a hole in the case to reveal the mSSD, the resulting patch hole would be completely invisible most of the time. And so enters the Dremel.

By taking some teardown pictures of the Surface Pro 3, printing them out to scale, and aligning them to the device he had in his hand, [Jorge] had a very, very good idea of where to make the incision. A Dremel with a carbide bit was brought out to cut into the metal, and after a few nerve-wracking minutes the SSD was exposed.

The only remaining task was to clone the old drive onto the new one, stuff it back in the Surface, and patch everything up. [Jorge] is using some cardboard and foam, but a sticker would do just as well. Remember, this mod is only visible when the Surface kickstand is deployed, so it doesn’t have to look spectacular.

Thanks [fridgefire] and [Neolker] for sending this in.

Hard Drive Becomes Hard Drive Activity Light; Stores no Data

A while ago [Frank Zhao] built a computer in an aquarium. It’s exactly what you would expect – a bunch of parts stuffed into a container filled with mineral oil. Yes, there’s an i7 and a GTX970 in there, but there’s also a bunch of neopixels and a neat little bubbling treasure chest. That wasn’t enough for [Frank], and he wanted to add a HDD activity monitor. What’s the most absurd activity monitor for an SSD? An old platter-based drive, of course.

The build is relatively simple and something [Frank] put together from spare parts in a day. After cracking open an old PATA hard drive, the voice coil for the hard drive arm was connected to the motherboard’s HDD activity signal through a few MOSFETs. The platter motor is controlled by an MTD6501 motor driver, set to spin up when the circuit is on.

It’s a kludge as far as controlling the components of a hard drive go, but that’s not really the point. It’s just a neat project to show when the SSD in the aquarium computer is being accessed. That said, the activity monitor is currently disconnected because the old HDD is so freakin’ loud. It looks really cool, though.

Building your own Fusion Drive

We missed the original announcement, but Apple unveiled more than just the iPad Mini at their last event. They’ve got a new storage system called Fusion Drive which is supposed to combine the access speeds of solid state with the storage density of platter drives. When you look just under the surface what you’re really seeing is a disc drive with grossly enlarged cache in the form of an SSD drive. How about moving from the 64 MB or so of cache seen on many large hard drives today to something like 64GB?

Well you don’t have to wait for Apple to do it. [Patrick Stein] gave it a shot using command line tools to combine an SSD with a physical drive. Sure, it’s not an all-in-one solution, but it is a pretty good proof. The linchpin that will really make it possible is a low-level driver that can handle the caching on the SDD, while ensuring that the data eventually makes it to the platter for long-term storage.

[via Engadget]