Hackaday Links: January 26, 2019

The news this week was dominated by the novel coronavirus outbreak centered in Wuhan, China. Despite draconian quarantines and international travel restrictions, the infection has spread far beyond China, at least in small numbers. A few cases have been reported in the United States, but the first case reported here caught our eye for the technology being used to treat it. CNN and others tell us that the traveler from Wuhan is being treated by a robot. While it sounds futuristic, the reality is a little less sci-fi than it seems. The device being used is an InTouch Vici, a telemedicine platform that in no way qualifies as a robot. The device is basically a standard telepresence platform that has to be wheeled into the patient suite so that providers can interact with the patient remotely. True, it protects whoever is using it from exposure, but someone still has to gown up and get in with the patient. We suppose it’s a step in the right direction, but we wish the popular press would stop slapping a “robot” label on things they don’t understand.

Also in health news, did you know you’re probably not as hot as you think you are? While a glance in the mirror would probably suffice to convince most of us of that fact, there’s now research that shows human body temperature isn’t what it used to be. Using medical records from the Civil War-era to the 1930s and comparing them to readings taken in the 1970s and another group between 2007 and 2017, a team at Stanford concluded that normal human body temperature in the USA has been slowly decreasing over time. They proposed several explanations as to why the old 98.6F (37C) value is more like 97.5F (36.4C) these days, the most interesting being that general overall inflammation has decreased as sanitation and food and water purity have increased, leading the body to turn down its thermostat, so to speak. Sadly, though, if the trend holds up, our body temperature will reach absolute zero in only 111,000 years.

Wine, the not-an-emulator that lets you run Windows programs on POSIX-compliant operating systems, announced stable release 5.0 this week. A year in the making, the new version’s big features are multi-monitor support with dynamic configuration changes and support for the Vulkan spec up to version 1.1.126.

Any color that you want, as long as it’s amorphous silicon. Sono Motors, the German start-up, has blown past its goal of raising 50 million euros in 50 days to crowdfund production of its Sion solar-electric car. The car is planned to have a 255 km range on a full charge, with 34 km of that coming from the solar cells that adorn almost every bit of the exterior on the vehicle. Living where the sun doesn’t shine for a third of the year, we’re not sure how well this will pay off, but it certainly seems smarter than covering roads with solar cells.

And finally, here’s a trip down memory lane for anyone who suffered through some of the cringe-worthy depictions of technology that Hollywood came up with during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Looking back through the clips shown in “copy complete” reminds us just how many movies started getting into the tech scene. It wasn’t just the sci-fi and techno-thrillers that subjected us to closeups of scrolling random characters and a terminal that beeped every time something changed on the screen. Even straight dramas like Presumed Innocent and rom-coms like You’ve Got Mail and whatever the hell genre Ghost was got in on the act. To be fair, some depictions were pretty decent, especially given the realities of audience familiarity with tech before it became pervasive. And in any case, it was fun to just watch and remember when movies were a lot more watchable than they are today.

Forget Printing Labels For Your Bathtub Hooch, Why Not Engrave The Bottle?

[BlueFlower] sends in this cool wine bottle engraver. It’s a simple machine that reminds us of the infamous EggBot. One axis can move in x and z while the other axis rotates the work piece. The EggBot works in spherical coordinates while this one lives in a cylindrical world.

The base of the device appears to be an older project of [BlueFlower]’s an XY-Plotter/Cutter. The plotter itself is a very standard twin-motor gantry design. In fact, it looks like when the machine is converted to bottle engraving, the drivers which previously moved the Y-axis are re-purposed to move two rollers. The rollers themselves are suspiciously similar to those found inside 2D printers. We all have them kicking around our junk drawers, but it’s rare to see them actually being used. The spindled is just a DC motor with a ball grinder coupled to the end.

As for the final result, we have to admit that the engraved bottles are quite fetching. Catch a video of the engraving process after the break.

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The Saga Of 32-Bit Linux: Why Going 64-Bit Raises Concerns Over Multilib

The story of Linux so far, as short as it may be in the grand scheme of things, is one of constant forward momentum. There’s always another feature to implement, an optimization to make, and of course, another device to support. With developer’s eyes always on the horizon ahead of them, it should come as no surprise to find that support for older hardware or protocols occasionally falls to the wayside. When maintaining antiquated code monopolizes developer time, or even directly conflicts with new code, a difficult decision needs to be made.

Of course, some decisions are easier to make than others. Back in 2012 when Linus Torvalds officially ended kernel support for legacy 386 processors, he famously closed the commit message with “Good riddance.” Maintaining support for such old hardware had been complicating things behind the scenes for years while offering very little practical benefit, so removing all that legacy code was like taking a weight off the developer’s shoulders.

The rationale was the same a few years ago when distributions like Arch Linux decided to drop support for 32-bit hardware entirely. Maintainers had noticed the drop-off in downloads for the 32-bit versions of their distributions and decided it didn’t make sense to keep producing them. In an era where even budget smartphones are shipping with 64-bit processors, many Linux distributions have at this point decided 32-bit CPUs weren’t worth their time.

Given this trend, you’d think Ubuntu announcing last month that they’d no longer be providing 32-bit versions of packages in their repository would hardly be newsworthy. But as it turns out, the threat of ending 32-bit packages caused the sort of uproar that we don’t traditionally see in the Linux community. But why?

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Biological Hacking In The 19th Century Or How The World Almost Lost Wine

While it isn’t quite universal, a lot of people enjoy a glass of wine now and again. But the world faced a crisis in the 1800s that almost destroyed some of the world’s great wines. Science — or some might say hacking — saved the day, even though it isn’t well known outside of serious oenophiles. You might wonder how biological hacking occurred in the 19th century. It did. It wasn’t as fast or efficient, but fortunately for wine drinkers, it got the job done.

When people tell me about new cybersecurity threats, I usually point out that cybercrime isn’t new. People have been stealing money, tricking people into actions, and impersonating other people for centuries. The computer just makes it easier. Even computing itself isn’t a new idea. Counting on your fingers and counting with electrons is just a matter of degree. Surely, though, mashing up biology is a more recent scientific advancement, right? While it is true that CRISPR can make editing genes a weekend garage project, people have been changing the biology of plants and animals for centuries using techniques like selective breeding and grafting. Not as effective, but sometimes effective enough.

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Retrocomputing For The Forgotten

The world runs on marketing hype. Remember the public relations swirl around the Segway? Before it rolled out we were led to believe it was going to be remembered as fire, the wheel, and Segway. Didn’t really happen. Microsoft and IBM had done something similar with OS/2, which you may not even remember as the once heir-apparent to MS-DOS. OS/2 was to be the operating system that would cure all the problems with MS-DOS just as IBM’s new Microchannel Architecture would cure all the problems surrounding the ISA bus (primarily that they couldn’t stop people from cloning it). What happened? OS/2 died a slow agonizing death after the Microsoft/IBM divorce. But for whatever reason [Ryan C. Gordon] decided to write a Linux emulation layer for OS/2 call 2ine (twine).

We like retrocomputing projects even if they aren’t very practical, and this one qualifies. The best analog for 2ine is it is Wine for OS/2, which probably has something to do with the choice of name. You might be ready to click away since you probably don’t have any OS/2 programs you want to run, but wait! The good news is that the post has a lot of technical detail about how Linux and OS/2 programs load and execute. For that reason alone, the post is well worth a read.

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Spare RPi? You Have A Currency Trading Platform

While Bitcoin and other altcoins are all the rage these days, there is still a lot of activity in the traditional currency exchanges. Believe it or not, there’s money to be made there as well, although it rarely makes fanciful news stories like cryptocurrency has been. Traditional currency trading can be done similar to picking stocks, but if you’d rather automate your particular trading algorithm you can set up a Raspberry Pi to make money by trading money.

This particular project by [dmitry] trades currency on the Forex exchange using an already-existing currency trading software package called MetaTrader. This isn’t an ARM-compatible software suite though, so some auxiliary programs (Wine and ExaGear Desktop) need to be installed to get it working properly. From there, its easy enough to start trading in government-backed currency while reaping all of the low-power-usage benefits that the Pi offers.

[dmitry] does note that you can easily use MetaTrader on a standard laptop, but you might be tempted to go against your trading algorithms and even then you won’t be reaping the power benefits of the ARM processor. We don’t see too many traditional currency or stock trading tips around here, but don’t forget that it’s still possible to mine some types of cryptocurrency even if BitCoin is out of reach of most now.

Listen To Your Fermentation To Monitor Its Progress

If you are a wine, beer, or cider maker, you’ll know the ritual of checking for fermentation. As the yeast does its work of turning sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide bubbles froth on the surface of your developing brew, and if your fermentation container has an airlock, large bubbles pass through the water within it on a regular basis. Your ears become attuned to the regular “Plop… plop… plop” sound they make, and from their interval you can tell what stage you have reached.

[Chris] automated this listening for fermentation bubbles, placing a microphone next to his airlock and detecting amplitude spikes through two techniques: one using an FFT algorithm and the other a bandpass filter. Both techniques yielded similar graphs for fermentation activity over time.

He has a few ideas for improvement, but notes that his system is vulnerable to external noises. There is also an admission that using light to detect bubbles might be a more practical solution as we have shown you more than once with other projects, but as with so many projects on these pages, it is the joy of the tech as much as the practicality that matters.