32C3: So You Want to Build a Satellite?

[INCO] gave this extremely informative talk on building a CubeSat. CubeSats are small satellites that piggyback on the launches of larger satellites, and although getting a 10 cm3 brick into orbit is cheap, making it functional takes an amazing attention to detail and redundant design.

[INCO] somehow talks through the entire hour-long presentation at a tremendous speed, all the while remaining intelligible. At the end of the talk, you’ve got a good appreciation for the myriad pitfalls that go along with designing a satellite, and a lot of this material is relevant, although often in a simpler form, for high altitude balloon experiments.

satellite_2-shot0002CubeSats must be powered down during launch, with no radio emissions or anything else that might interfere with the rocket that’s carrying them. The satellites are then packed into a box with a spring, and you never see or hear from them again until the hatch is opened and they’re pushed out into space.

[INCO] said that 50% of CubeSats fail on deployment, and to avoid being one of the statistics, you need to thoroughly test your deployment mechanisms. Test after shaking, being heated and cooled, subject to low battery levels, and in a vacuum. Communication with the satellite is of course crucial, and [INCO] suggests sending out a beacon shortly after launch to help you locate the satellite at all.

satellite_2-shot0003Because your satellite is floating out in space, even tiny little forces can throw it off course. Examples include radiation pressure from the sun, and anything magnetic in your satellite that will create a torque with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field. And of course, the deployment itself may leave your satellite tumbling slightly, so you’re going to need to control your satellite’s attitude.

Power is of course crucial, and in space that means solar cells. Managing solar cells, charging lithium batteries, and smoothing out the power cycles as the satellite enters the earth’s shadow or tumbles around out of control in space. Frequent charging and discharging of the battery is tough on it, so you’ll want to keep your charge/discharge cycles under 20% of the battery’s nominal capacity.

mpv-shot0001In outer space, your satellite will be bombarded by heavy ions that can short-circuit the transistors inside any IC. Sometimes, these transistors get stuck shorted, and the only way to fix the latch-up condition is to kill power for a little bit. For that reason, you’ll want to include latch-up detectors in the power supply to reset the satellite automatically when this happens. But this means that your code needs to expect occasional unscheduled resets, which in turn means that you need to think about how to save state and re-synchronize your timing, etc.

In short, there are a ridiculous amount of details that you have to attend to and think through before building your own CubeSat. We’ve just scratched the surface of [INCO]’s advice, but if we had to put the talk in a Tweet, we’d write “test everything, and have a plan B whenever possible”. This is, after all, rocket science.

Filed under: robots hacks, solar hacks, wireless hacks

Code Craft-Embedding C++: Hacking the Arduino Software Environment

run() {
for (;;) {
// program code here
checkSerialInput();
}
}

We only want one instance of Program to exist so I’ve assured this by making the constructor private and providing the static makeProgram() function to return the static instance created the first time makeProgram() is called. The Program member function checkSerialInput() handles checking for the serial input as discussed above. In checkSerialInput() I introduced an #if block to eliminate the actual code if the program is not using serial input.

Here is how Program is used in main.cpp:

void arduino_init() {
init();
initVariant();
}

int main(void) {
arduino_init();
Program& p = Program

32C3: Running Linux On The PS4

At the 2010 Chaos Computer Congress, fail0verflow (that’s a zero, not the letter O) demonstrated their jailbreak of the PS3. At the 2013 CCC, fail0verflow demonstrated console hacking on the Wii U. In the last two years, this has led to an active homebrew scene on the Wii U, and the world is a better place. A few weeks ago, fail0verflow teased something concerning the Playstation 4. While this year’s announcement is just a demonstration of running Linux on the PS4, root0verflow can again claim their title as the best console hackers on the planet.

Despite being able to run Linux, there are still a few things the PS4 can’t do yet. The current hack does not have 3D acceleration enabled; you won’t be playing video games under Linux with a PS4 any time soon. USB doesn’t work yet, and that means the HDD on the PS4 doesn’t work either. That said, everything to turn the PS4 into a basic computer running Linux – serial port, framebuffer, HDMI encoder, Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, and the PS4 blinkenlights – is working.

Although the five-minute lightning talk didn’t go into much detail, there is enough information on their slides to show what a monumental task this was. root0verflow changed 7443 lines in the kernel, and discovered the engineers responsible for the southbridge in the PS4 were ‘smoking some real good stuff’.

This is only root0verflow’s announcement that Linux on the PS4 works, and the patches and bootstrap code are ‘coming soon’. Once this information is released, you’ll need to ‘Bring Your Own Exploit™’ to actually install Linux.

Video of the demo below.

Filed under: cons, playstation hacks

Netflix vs. Amazon in 2015: A tale of two video-streaming giants

Amazon vs. Netflix


As we near the end of another year, VentureBeat takes a look back at some of the highlights from two companies at the forefront of the cord-cutting movement: Netflix and Amazon.

From awards and big-name content acquisitions to new international markets and strategic partnerships, this is a tale of two global video-streaming giants in 2015.

Original content comes of age

Jeffrey Tambor & the rest of the Transparent cast: Emmy's, 2015

Above: Jeffrey Tambor
& the cast Transparent at the 2015 Emmys

Image Credit: Shutterstock

If we learned anything in 2015, it’s that original content has well and truly come of age.

Both Amazon and Netflix started the year with a bang by securing gongs at the Golden Globes. Amazon walked away with the top TV comedy award for Transparent — the first online series ever to win a Golden Globe. Jeffrey Tambor also scooped up the award for best comedy actor for the show. Not to be outdone, Kevin Spacey emerged triumphant after seven previous nominations, winning the award for top actor in a drama for Netflix’s House of Cards.

Later in
the year
, Amazon notched five Emmy awards compared to Netflix’s four, which is notable when you consider that Netflix had a third more nominations than Amazon. To celebrate, Amazon cut the price of its annual Prime membership by a third. But only for 24 hours.

In addition, Netflix could have a serious Oscar contender with Beasts of No Nation, though we’ll need to wait until the new year to find out. This wouldn’t be the company’s first Oscar win, however, as it also won an Academy Award for a documentary short subject last
year.

Awards aside, the online video titans invested big in their slate of content. Perhaps most notably, Amazon emerged victorious in the race to sign up former Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, who will present a new, as-yet-unnamed show for the car-loving fraternity. The move shows how committed online-video giants are to grabbing the rights to big names. Amazon reportedly paid an eye-popping $250 million for the show. Elsewhere, Netflix confirmed it had raised $1 billion in debt to fund its original-programming ambitions.

Both
companies racked up a number of other big-name signings. Amazon signed up Woody Allen to create his first-ever TV series and later committed to producing 12 feature films a year to be shown in movie theaters. Part of this plan, the company said, was to narrow the theatrical release window to as little as four weeks, which it can do when it has full control over the content.

Over at Netflix, the company brought Leonardo DiCaprio on board in a multiyear deal to make a new documentary series, while rumors emerged that it was planning to create a new live-action adaptation of the classic Nintendo game, the Legend of Zelda.

Away from the hullaballoo of big-money content acquisitions, the surest sign yet that unique programming is emerging as the key differentiator came when Netflix revealed it would not renew its agreement with the cable network Epix, meaning subscribers would lose access to high-profile movies such as Hunger Games, World War Z, and Transformers. Why? Netflix explained:

While many of these movies are popular, they are also widely available on cable and other subscription platforms at the same time as they are
on Netflix and subject to the same drawn-out licensing periods.

While Netflix is still reliant on third-party content for the most part, it’s distancing itself from many of the titles that can easily be watched elsewhere. It primarily wants content it can dangle in front of people and say, “Hey, lookie what we got here.”

Availability

Tokyo, Japan, where both Amazon & Netflix are now available

Above: Tokyo, Japan, where both Amazon & Netflix are now available

Image Credit: Shutterstock

At the start of 2015, Netflix was available in more than 50 markets around the world, while Amazon’s Prime Video was only open in four: the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and
Austria.

With trading restrictions easing between the U.S. and Cuba, Netflix seized this opportunity by launching in the tiny Caribbean nation, though it was largely a symbolic gesture given that high-speed Internet is something of a rarity in the country. However, Netflix did announce a number of other big market launches this year. It arrived in New Zealand and Australia in March; Japan in September; Italy, Spain, and Portugal in October; and revealed that Hong Kong, Singapore,
Taiwan, and South Korea would be added in early 2016.

Amazon Video, meanwhile, barely boosted its market availability. It did follow Netflix’s lead, however, and launched Amazon Prime Video in Japan.

One question Netflix has faced over the years is: Will it ever offer offline access to its content? Netflix has never skirted the question and has always maintained that downloads aren’t on its roadmap. The issue reared its head again this year, when Amazon announced it was to let Prime subscribers download some TV
shows and movies on its mobile apps. Once again, Netflix said it has zero intentions to introduce offline mode.

Some notable partnerships came to light in 2015 to help expand the availability of both video-streaming services. Netflix signed up Marriott hotels to include its app on their in-room televisions, while Amazon inked a deal with JetBlue to let travelers watch videos without paying for Wi-Fi. Not to be outdone, Netflix partnered with Virgin America to include its service on U.S.
flights.

Elsewhere, Amazon ironed out a curious little quirk with Android this year. Until fairly recently, Amazon didn’t offer a streaming app to Android users. When it finally did launch one in late 2014, the process of accessing it was a mess. You had to find and download the Amazon Appstore to your Android device, install the Amazon Video Player, and search for videos directly within the main Amazon shopping app, which was linked to the video player.

Things improved this year when Amazon finally launched a standalone video-streaming app for Android. It’s pretty slick, but you can’t download the app easily. You still have to go through the same convoluted process as before. It’s nuts — and certainly too much friction for many non-techie people.

Netflix has stated its intent to be a truly global service — that is, in 200-ish markets — by the end of 2016. To achieve such scale, its own stack of original content will help, but it also needs to remove the friction from global licensing deals. Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sandros has previously discussed the company’s efforts to buy the rights for shows in multiple regions at once, but it’s not an easy process because of the way the networks and studios have set themselves up internationally.

“I don’t know if it is more difficult than expected
but it has not been as easy road,” explained Sarandos during a recent investors’ call. “All of the studios and networks have situated themselves to be regional sellers. They have never been global sellers and it makes complete sense that Sony and Disney and Warner Brothers would have regional sales teams. Now we are global buyers and buying global rights to shows and movies, and there is some resistance to it, mostly from the regional sellers, people who are in charge of regional selling, who don’t want their jobs marginalized.”

In short, Netflix wants to expedite the rights-buying process to serve its growing global user base, but regional rights-holders are impeding this.

Feature focus

“If you stand still, you stagnate” is a common philosophy in technology as companies iterate and improve their
products to meet the latest standards and preferences. With that in mind, both Netflix and Amazon rolled out a slew of notable updates in 2015.

Back in April, Netflix introduced a new narration feature that describes what’s happening on screen for the visually impaired. This was followed in June by the platform’s first major website update in four years, which saw an all-new design rolled out to make searching easier.

Over at Amazon, the Internet giant revealed back in April that HDR-quality streams
would arrive on Prime videos this year. True to its word, two months later it launched HDR for a series (Mozart in the Jungle) in the U.S. For the uninitiated, HDR improves the contrast of a video, making shadows and highlights more distinctive — blacks appear blacker, and whites appear whiter. But if you don’t have a HDR TV, well, it will be lost on you.

Perhaps the most exciting Amazon Video launch of the year, from a feature-update perspective, was when it brought its “X-Ray for Movies and TV” service to the big screen for the first time.

In a nutshell, X-Ray for Movies and TV taps IMDb (the Internet
Movie Database) data to deliver contextual information about what’s currently happening on-screen. Want to know who that familiar face was who made a brief cameo and what other movies you’ve seen them in? This is what X-Ray is all about.

X-Ray first arrived for Kindle Fire in 2012, but it’s now available on Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick too, meaning you now have this very cool little tool in your living room.

X-Ray Actors
Who are these actors? Ask X-Ray, an Amazon Video feature. 

Netflix also put a focus on the big-screen experience this year. In January, the company launched the Netflix Recommended TV
program
, which serves up an independent evaluation of the best smart TVs for streaming Netflix. Three months later, Netflix revealed a triumvirate of televisions it reckons are great for Netflix.

Though Amazon and Netflix are competitors, the two companies — alongside Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Mozilla — joined forces to create the Alliance for Open Media. The open source project aims to deliver a next-generation video codec by 2017.

And the rest

In October, Netflix revealed it was upping its lower-tier subscription from $9 a month to $10 a month in the Americas, but only for new users. Existing users will continue on their current price plan until October 2016.

While Amazon’s reputation as an employer took a severe bashing in 2015, Netflix won major plaudits for its new maternity and paternity leave policies, which essentially promised new parents unlimited paid leave for the full first year after a child’s birth.

Elsewhere, in an interesting move, Amazon banned sales of Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast streaming devices. While they directly compete with Amazon’s own Fire TV stick and box, Amazon claims its main gripe is that Apple and Google devices don’t play friendly with Amazon Video. An eye for an eye, and all that.

Though there are pros and cons to both Netflix and Amazon Video, an exciting rumor started circling in late November that Amazon was lining up a major upgrade to its video offering. In short, Amazon was planning to offer third-party on-demand video services as part of Prime. Details were recently confirmed, and dozens of video-on-demand (VoD) partners have been brought on board, including Showtime and Starz. It’s a smart move by Amazon: By centralizing a number of VoD subscriptions through a single Amazon account, this makes it easier for consumers to monitor and manage their various subscriptions. Amazon is also integrating the various services, meaning users can search for content or create a single watchlist across all their subscriptions.

“Winners and losers”?

People often talk in terms of “winners” and “losers” when comparing products and companies. But it has become increasingly clear, in the video-streaming realm at least, that it’s not a case of one or the other. There’s every reason to suggest that consumers will be willing
to pay for both Netflix and Amazon Prime — not to mention other services such as HBO Now, which launched in the U.S. this year.

What viewers want is real differentiators. And with a growing slate of original programming, both Amazon and Netflix are setting themselves up well to service the cord-cutting generation.

To combat app overload, Apple and Google should look to Amazon

mobile-apps-pile-ss-1920


It’s hard to believe that when the iPhone launched in 2007, Apple planned to eschew third-party native apps altogether. From that nearly missed opportunity, iOS went on to not only change course and offer the App Store, but to create a blueprint for mobile software distribution that has been adopted by every smartphone platform since.

Currently home to a staggering million-plus apps (1.4 million at last count), and still trailing Android’s massive catalog, the App Store is a shining paragon of market-building, having enabled an
economy worth billions of dollars annually to both Apple and its developer community.

But Apple’s and Google’s mobile software shops have become victims of their own successes; both stores are bursting at the seams, with noise far outweighing signal.

Although significant change is unlikely to come to either of these stores, there are targeted ways in which the glut of apps could be made more manageable for consumers. In fact, one need look no further than Amazon’s Android Appstore for a better model of app management.

The problems with choice

Want an auto redialer on Android? There are no less than 36 apps whose names signify that functionality. How about a voice recorder for iPhone? Too many results to count. And games? You’ll get buried by Tetris clones, alone.

This is a problem, from a number of perspectives — and it has little to do with volume. Having more apps available is not necessarily a bad thing, but having more of the same (and of course, spammy apps) is undesirable.

This phenomenon is explored in Barry Schwartz’s 2004 The Paradox of Choice, in which the author, a social psychologist, argues that people derive little benefit — and can actually develop anxiety — from expanded options, when the choices are relatively similar to one another.

It’s also a problem for developers who, barring extensive marketing budgets, end up buried in a sea of similar products — exerting significant downward pricing pressure on the entire lot. Combined with Apple’s unwillingness to let publishers utilize the in-app purchase mechanism for trialware, systemic price compression leaves little incentive for highly specialized or
especially sophisticated programs. It’s a problem currently faced by would-be iPad Pro developers.

To wit, a 2012 GigaOm survey showed that the majority of developers earned $500 or less per month from their App Store participation that year. While this may be tolerable for developers looking to supplement other income, it can’t sustain the resources necessary to build intricate, feature-rich apps.

Finally, it’s a problem for the very platform stewards enjoying the otherwise advantageous position of market leaders, in that customers oftentimes look to them to fulfill the need for app discovery — an increasingly complicated task.

In an interview with VentureBeat, senior director of industry analytics at analytics firm App Annie, Ross
Rubin, said, “As the number of apps have proliferated, surfacing them has been a huge challenge and given rise to the practice of app store optimization, much as search engines gave rise to search engine optimizations.”

“There are, of course, the top-ranked charts, apps being used near you, cohort apps based on what users who own the apps also downloaded, kid-friendly apps, and apps that support new devices such as the Apple Watch and Apple TV,” he continued. “These are all ways that the stores are seeking to provide more visibility.”

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of app overload is the fact that the stores’ gatekeepers — Apple, especially, but more recently, Google, tooalready present a pretty high barrier to entry. Even with plenty of hoops to jump through, developers have still managed to
stuff these repositories with millions of apps. There’s little hope of separating the wheat from the chaff at the entry point, at least any more than is already being done.

A page from Amazon’s book

With little hope of slowing down the endless stream of new applications, app markets can only attempt to provide their users with better discovery tools. And this is where I think Google and Apple currently fall a bit short.

As it stands, neither store offers a comprehensive set of filtering options — that’s especially surprising in Google’s case, given the rich, advanced capabilities of its web search engine.

What’s not surprising, however, is that Amazon — an entrenched retailer intimately familiar with the problem of organizing large catalogs of physical and digital goods — does a better job than either Apple or Google in this department.

Amazon’s Appstore for
Android applications is one of the most ambitious third-party software depots for a major platform, to date. It’s the default store on the company’s Fire lineup of devices, and comes preloaded alongside the Play Store on other Android products whose OEMs have struck a deal with the sprawling etailer.

The Amazon way

phone_f

Amazon’s AppStore works like any other department on Amazon.com (e.g.: Clothing, Books, Electronics). There, Amazon highlights recommended apps based on a particular shopper’s browsing and buying habits. Why isn’t Apple leveraging its plethora of data on app usage habits to mimic this functionality?

filters

On
the Web, Amazon’s omnipresent sidebar offers a plethora of options for searching and drilling down results (filters that are duplicated in dropdown menus on Amazon’s phone and tablet apps). And it highlights the absence of seemingly basic filtering tools in Apple’s App Store and Google Play, such as the ability to parse by minimum average review score (no matter what that minimum may be).

I suspect that the average user doesn’t want to do a lot of work to find apps that might interest them, and in fact, that most app downloading past the initial device setup period is done piecemeal. But for those who want to put in a little more work, who care enough about finding new apps to bother searching and browsing for them, the experience would be a lot more fruitful if they had more than the very basic tools currently offered — tools which haven’t changed much since the stores’ respective debuts.

Given their proven success as revenue-generating
machines (at least in the aggregate), and the growing pool of talented programmers, mobile app markets are only going to continue to swell larger and prove more unwieldy. That makes the need for better discovery tools an increasing priority, lest the “paradox of choice” serve to keep even more device owners from fully engaging.

WhatsApp goes down for some on New Year’s Eve

WhatsApp:-Android


WhatsApp isn’t working today for some users. We first spotted the problems at 9:58 a.m. Pacific — we couldn’t send messages at all, and then they started to go through, but were always delayed. The outage seems to be impacting certain regions more than others. At first it appeared the problems were just a blip, but reports of problems continue to flood in.

Complaints about the outage have been ongoing for a few hours now, according to searches on Facebook and Twitter. Sites like Down Detector confirm the problem, while others aren’t registering anything, as again, not all users
are affected.

In fact, Down Detector shows just how the outage is hitting certain regions harder than others:

whatsapp_outage_nye

Indeed, our reporters in Europe are having more problems than our staff in North America, for example. But reports are coming in from all over the world.

At the time of publishing, the WhatsApp status account on Twitter has not confirmed any problems. But then again, it hasn’t tweeted since February 2014.

New Year’s Eve is not a good day for an outage, especially for a messaging service. Hopefully, WhatsApp will resolve the root cause of the problem before midnight arrives for all users around the globe.

We
have reached out to Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, for more information. We will update you as we learn more about the issue.

Update at 10:42 a.m. Pacific: “Some people have had trouble accessing WhatsApp for a short period today,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We’re working to restore service back to 100% for everyone and we apologize for the inconvenience.”

Update at 11:19 a.m. Pacific: Many are still seeing messages not being sent immediately, if they are ever delivered. Delayed messages appear to more widespread and not limited to just certain regions.

Oculus Touch delayed to second half of 2016

Oculus Touch isn't coming out until Q2 2016.



Check out all of our GamesBeat Rewind 2015 end of the year coverage here.

Oculus VR announced today that its Oculus Touch hand controls for virtual reality will be delayed until the second half of 2016.

In a blog post, the company said it needs more time to perfect its Touch controls, which allow you to use your hands in a virtual-reality simulation. That means the Oculus Rift headset will ship with an Xbox One controller — a traditional video game input device — when it debuts in the first quarter. Preorders for the
Oculus Rift will start “very soon,” according to Oculus VR, which Facebook bought for $2 billion in March 2014.

The delay is significant because lots of developers are dependent on Oculus in the VR ecosystem. Tech adviser Digi-Capital estimates that VR will be a $30 billion business by 2020, but that is dependent on strong platform launches by companies such as Oculus.

“On Touch hardware, we’ve made significant advances in ergonomics, and we’re implementing many changes that make Touch even more comfortable, reliable, and natural,” the blog post said. “We’re also implementing changes that improve hand-pose recognition.”

Oculus VR is also setting up a larger pre-production run so that it can get more prototypes to developers. Oculus said there will be a lot of “groundbreaking new content launching alongside Touch.” Early previews will be shown at the Oculus Connect 2 in September, and the Oculus
team said the Touch will be worth the wait.

That means Oculus VR will likely have less cool stuff to show than previously expected at the 2016 International CES, next week’s big tech trade show in Las Vegas.

Reddit’s 2015 stats: Pageviews up 16% to 82 billion, su

Reddit Alien


Reddit today announced that in 2014 it served an impressive 82.54 billion pageviews in over 88,700 active subreddits. The company also shared that it saw 73.15 million submissions, received 725.85 million comments, and enjoyed over 6.89 billion total votes during the year.

Using 2014’s figures, we can see that pageviews were up 15.85 percent year-over-year from 71.25 billion pageviews. Submissions and comments were also up from 54.9 million and 535 million, increases of 33.24 percent and 35.67 percent, respectively. This is impressive, especially given all the turmoil we saw at the site this year.

Reddit did not disclose the number of unique visitors it saw, a number it stopped sharing in 2014. We speculated last year that this could be because of slowed growth for that number, but regardless of the reason, the site is no longer interested in disclosing that information.

In 2014, the number of votes took
a big hit. In 2015, the total number of votes rebounded to 6.89 billion (from 5.74 billion in 2014 and 6.7 billion in 2013).

Here is the full list of released stats for 2015:

  • 82.54 billion pageviews
  • 73.15 million submissions
  • 725.85 million comments made by 8.7 million total authors and containing 19.36 billion words
  • 6.89 billion upvotes
  • 88,700 active subreddits 1
  • 101 gildings on the top gilded post
  • 100 gildings on the top gilded comment 2
  • 327,800 total months of gold gifted by 97,500 redditors
  • 285,375 RedditGifts exchange sign-ups
  • 1 million button pressers
  • 1 pressiah
  • 6,300 Reddit Live threads created
  • 16,000 Reddit Live unique contributors
  • 1.3 million Reddit Live updates posted
  • 24.9 million Reddit Live pageviews
  • Over $250,000 raised for earthquake victims in Nepal
  • Nearly $772,000 raised for teachers through RedditGifts
  • Over $72,000 raised for sick children through Extra Life

Another year, another slew of growth numbers for Reddit.

Oh, and one more note from the announcement: Reddit is finally capitalizing its own name. This tidbit was hidden in the label: “/r/theydidthemath, the ‘R’ is capitalized now, what a time to be alive.”

reddit is dead. Long live Reddit.

2015: As the Hardware World Turns

A few hours from now, the ball will drop in Times Square. 2015 is over, and the good news is you can easily turn a handwritten ‘5’ into a ‘6’. Keep that in mind for the next few weeks. It’s time for a retrospective of everything that happened in 2015. That’s rather boring, though, and it’s usually better to put the most outrageous items in the lede. Therefore, it’s time for predictions of what will happen over the next 366 days. They are, in order:

  • 2016 will be the year of the Linux desktop
  • Self-driving cars will be demonstrated
  • Graphene! Something to do with graphene!
  • Your company will receive a resume with ‘Bitcoin’ listed as a skill
  • Fusion power is only nine years away

With that said, a lot happened this year. Tiny Linux single board computers became incredibly cheap, Radio Shack died, and Arduino went crazy.

The Nine, Eight, and Five Dollar Computer

C.H.I.P., a small single board computer available for $9.
C.H.I.P., a small single board computer available for $9.

If 2014 was the year of a million single board Linux computers, 2015 was the year of the insanely cheap single board Linux computer. This trend began with C.H.I.P., a Kickstarter that raised $2M of their original $50k goal. The idea is simple enough: sell a computer for $9, and people will fall over themselves reaching for their wallets. Money will be thrown at screens. It really didn’t matter that an adapter board was needed for VGA or HDMI. It didn’t matter these computers wouldn’t be available for six months. It was cheap, low margins high volume buy buy buy.

Right about the time C.H.I.P. was getting ready to ship their nine dollar computers out to backers, the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero was released. It was available in Microcenters and online retailers the very same day. A brilliant coup by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. C.H.I.P. is now an eight dollar computer, and comes with WiFi and Bluetooth, where the Pi requires a few USB adapters. The C.H.I.P. needs an adapter for video output, whereas the Pi Zero comes with HDMI stock. They’re different boards for different uses, but one thing remains constant: there is more and more competition for tiny, cheap single board computers and that can only benefit the consumer.

The Arduino Hullabaloo

2015 will go down as the most important year in the history of Arduino. There’s really no question about that. The funny thing is, the importance of 2015 for Arduino isn’t about any significant boards that were released, and it wasn’t about any new technology. It’s all about trademarks, the two Arduinos, and a bitter rivalry.

Official Arduinos from Arduino LLC were manufactured by Smart Products SRL, which became Arduino SRL
Official Arduinos from Arduino LLC were manufactured by Smart Products SRL, which became Arduino SRL

It all began in 2009 when Arduino LLC was founded by five guys. Arduino LLC took care of the trademarks, designs, software, community, and everything else that propelled Arduino into the stratosphere. Manufacturing the actual Arduino boards was handled by Smart Projects SRL (the Italian version of an LLC), headed up by one of the original Arduino founders, [Gianluca Martino]. A little more than a year ago, Smart Projects SRL changed their name to Arduino SRL, and last February, Arduino LLC sued Arduino SRL. It only got more confusing from there.

For most of 2015, there were effectively two Arduinos, with SRL telling distributors they were the real Arduino. LLC countered by adding a warning about non-licensed boards in the IDE, and SRL got around that by simply bumping up the minor version number of the IDE.

Things got even more confusing when LLC rebranded themselves as ‘Genuino’ everywhere in the world except for the US. Everybody is playing some very shady games and generally acting like children. That’s not to say these actions aren’t understandable; the Arduino trademark is by far the most valuable asset to both Arduinos.

When will it end? Not soon, that’s for certain. The dispute will be resolved in US Federal court, and the expected outcome is that Arduino LLC will retain the use of the Arduino trademark in the US, and SRL will be able to use the trademark everywhere except the US. It’s a story of betrayal and popcorn, and certainly something to watch in 2016.

Cash Rules Everything Around Me (dolla’ dolla’ bills y’all)

2015 was the year companies had money to spend. A lot of money. The semiconductor industry was shaken up by a lot of mergers and acquisitions. Need a list?

How did all this happen? Companies were sitting on piles of cash, interest rates were low, and this sort of thing happens every decade or so anyway. What’s going to happen in 2016? Well, interest rates will probably go up, but the semiconductor industry still has plenty of companies in play.

Drones!

In 2012, Congress told the FAA to get off their butts and create some rules for drones, quadcopters, and unmanned aerial systems. The FAA was required – by law – to do this by September 30, 2015. When November rolled around, the FAA realized they hadn’t done what they were supposed to and whipped up some rules in under a month. The rules don’t make any sense, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics is telling members not to register themselves in the FAA’s system. How will this turn out? The AMA currently has a case in federal court, but that’s not going to happen until after New Years. Either way, you don’t have to register yourself as a drone pilot for a few weeks.

3D Printing is so 2014…

Makerbot’s smart extruders perform so poorly they are sold in packs of three

Makerbot is dead. I actually know this, but it’ll take me until late March to put the ‘Makerbot is dead’ post together. They’ve cut 36% of their staff, there’s a class action suit (only for investors), and over one year Stratasys stock has gone from over $80 to below $30/share. We await their eventual demise with pleasure.

Other than Makerbot’s upcoming demise, there isn’t actually that much in the 3D printing world to say. Strange metal and plastic-based filaments are all the rage, and very interesting: they allow you to print in something that has the weight and feel of copper, bronze, and iron. A mainstream CoreXY 3D printer still does not exist, but (other than Makerbot), business is booming. 2015 was the year of the trough of disillusionment for 3D printing, and we look forward to the advances that will come in 2016.

Car Hacking

Until 2015, all car hacks focused entirely on the in-vehicle network. The CAN bus in a car controls nearly everything, but until this year, there wasn’t a way to turn any car into an Internet-connected remote control car. This was because of an ‘airgap’ between OnStar, uConnect, and other telematic services offered in most new cars.

Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek displayed on the center console of a Jeep
Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek displayed on the center console of a Jeep

This airgap didn’t really exist, as was demonstrated in a paper from [Charlie Miller] and [Chris Valasek]. By bridging this airgap between the WiFi and CAN bus in a Jeep Cherokee. One thing leads to another, and a writer for Wired is seconds away from committing vehicular manslaughter.

There was something strange after [Miller] and [Valasek] published their paper. While we would normally expect a public outcry over evil ‘hackers’ trying to kill people, congressional hearings on the matter, and pundits screaming from the belltowers that something must be done, instead something remarkable happened: nothing. Now no one is trying to protect you from hackers taking over your car. There’s a DMCA exemption for hacking your own car, and congress and the media are relying on the auto industry to make everything secure. This is unprecedented.

How did the auto industry pull this one off? How was the issue of ‘evil hackers’ taking over cars brushed off the table in the minds of an extremely reactionary and not very technically adept media? Cars are driving themselves now. No mind can contain the cognitive dissonance of the hero worship of [Elon Musk] and the idea of remote attacks on poorly designed in-vehicle systems, so everyone is just going with it. 2015 is the year we accepted remote attacks on cars, because cars driving themselves is just too cool. On the other hand, cheating on your emissions testing will put a car company on pretty shaky ground.

Other Newsey Items and The Events of 2015

This has been a big year for silicon. The first 5nm chips are on their way, meaning we’ll probably get a laptop with a 5nm CPU sometime between 2020 and 2025. The first memristor-based products are now available, although we really don’t know what we’re going to do with them. The usefulness of a newborn baby, or something like that.

Radio Shack died. We’ve all been waiting a decade for that news, but Radio Shack is now either officially dead or lingering on in the form of Sprint cell phone stores.

Heathkit is back. 2015 is the year Radio Shack died and Heathkit returned from the dead. Wrap your head around that one. Rumors of Heathkit’s return have been circulating for a few years now, and just a few months ago, they shipped their first product in a decade: an AM radio kit

Hackaday’s parent company bought Tindie and now I can’t un-see the cyberman in the face of the Tindie dog logo. Hackaday.io is booming.

What does 2016 have in store for Hackaday? More everything. More and better content, videos, events, and contests for one of the best communities on the Intertubes. There’s some big changes coming, and they’re all awesome.

Filed under: Featured, news

2015: As the Hardware World Turns

A few hours from now, the ball will drop in Times Square. 2015 is over, and the good news is you can easily turn a handwritten ‘5’ into a ‘6’. Keep that in mind for the next few weeks. It’s time for a retrospective of everything that happened in 2015. That’s rather boring, though, and it’s usually better to put the most outrageous items in the lede. Therefore, it’s time for predictions of what will happen over the next 366 days. They are, in order:

  • 2016 will be the year of the Linux desktop
  • Self-driving cars will be demonstrated
  • Graphene! Something to do with graphene!
  • Your company will receive a resume with ‘Bitcoin’ listed as a skill
  • Fusion power is only nine years away

With that said, a lot happened this year. Tiny Linux single board computers became incredibly cheap, Radio Shack died, and Arduino went crazy.

The Nine, Eight, and Five Dollar Computer

C.H.I.P., a small single board computer available for $9.
C.H.I.P., a small single board computer available for $9.

If 2014 was the year of a million single board Linux computers, 2015 was the year of the insanely cheap single board Linux computer. This trend began with C.H.I.P., a Kickstarter that raised $2M of their original $50k goal. The idea is simple enough: sell a computer for $9, and people will fall over themselves reaching for their wallets. Money will be thrown at screens. It really didn’t matter that an adapter board was needed for VGA or HDMI. It didn’t matter these computers wouldn’t be available for six months. It was cheap, low margins high volume buy buy buy.

Right about the time C.H.I.P. was getting ready to ship their nine dollar computers out to backers, the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero was released. It was available in Microcenters and online retailers the very same day. A brilliant coup by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. C.H.I.P. is now an eight dollar computer, and comes with WiFi and Bluetooth, where the Pi requires a few USB adapters. The C.H.I.P. needs an adapter for video output, whereas the Pi Zero comes with HDMI stock. They’re different boards for different uses, but one thing remains constant: there is more and more competition for tiny, cheap single board computers and that can only benefit the consumer.

The Arduino Hullabaloo

2015 will go down as the most important year in the history of Arduino. There’s really no question about that. The funny thing is, the importance of 2015 for Arduino isn’t about any significant boards that were released, and it wasn’t about any new technology. It’s all about trademarks, the two Arduinos, and a bitter rivalry.

Official Arduinos from Arduino LLC were manufactured by Smart Products SRL, which became Arduino SRL
Official Arduinos from Arduino LLC were manufactured by Smart Products SRL, which became Arduino SRL

It all began in 2009 when Arduino LLC was founded by five guys. Arduino LLC took care of the trademarks, designs, software, community, and everything else that propelled Arduino into the stratosphere. Manufacturing the actual Arduino boards was handled by Smart Projects SRL (the Italian version of an LLC), headed up by one of the original Arduino founders, [Gianluca Martino]. A little more than a year ago, Smart Projects SRL changed their name to Arduino SRL, and last February, Arduino LLC sued Arduino SRL. It only got more confusing from there.

For most of 2015, there were effectively two Arduinos, with SRL telling distributors they were the real Arduino. LLC countered by adding a warning about non-licensed boards in the IDE, and SRL got around that by simply bumping up the minor version number of the IDE.

Things got even more confusing when LLC rebranded themselves as ‘Genuino’ everywhere in the world except for the US. Everybody is playing some very shady games and generally acting like children. That’s not to say these actions aren’t understandable; the Arduino trademark is by far the most valuable asset to both Arduinos.

When will it end? Not soon, that’s for certain. The dispute will be resolved in US Federal court, and the expected outcome is that Arduino LLC will retain the use of the Arduino trademark in the US, and SRL will be able to use the trademark everywhere except the US. It’s a story of betrayal and popcorn, and certainly something to watch in 2016.

Cash Rules Everything Around Me (dolla’ dolla’ bills y’all)

2015 was the year companies had money to spend. A lot of money. The semiconductor industry was shaken up by a lot of mergers and acquisitions. Need a list?

How did all this happen? Companies were sitting on piles of cash, interest rates were low, and this sort of thing happens every decade or so anyway. What’s going to happen in 2016? Well, interest rates will probably go up, but the semiconductor industry still has plenty of companies in play.

Drones!

In 2012, Congress told the FAA to get off their butts and create some rules for drones, quadcopters, and unmanned aerial systems. The FAA was required – by law – to do this by September 30, 2015. When November rolled around, the FAA realized they hadn’t done what they were supposed to and whipped up some rules in under a month. The rules don’t make any sense, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics is telling members not to register themselves in the FAA’s system. How will this turn out? The AMA currently has a case in federal court, but that’s not going to happen until after New Years. Either way, you don’t have to register yourself as a drone pilot for a few weeks.

3D Printing is so 2014…

Makerbot’s smart extruders perform so poorly they are sold in packs of three

Makerbot is dead. I actually know this, but it’ll take me until late March to put the ‘Makerbot is dead’ post together. They’ve cut 36% of their staff, there’s a class action suit (only for investors), and over one year Stratasys stock has gone from over $80 to below $30/share. We await their eventual demise with pleasure.

Other than Makerbot’s upcoming demise, there isn’t actually that much in the 3D printing world to say. Strange metal and plastic-based filaments are all the rage, and very interesting: they allow you to print in something that has the weight and feel of copper, bronze, and iron. A mainstream CoreXY 3D printer still does not exist, but (other than Makerbot), business is booming. 2015 was the year of the trough of disillusionment for 3D printing, and we look forward to the advances that will come in 2016.

Car Hacking

Until 2015, all car hacks focused entirely on the in-vehicle network. The CAN bus in a car controls nearly everything, but until this year, there wasn’t a way to turn any car into an Internet-connected remote control car. This was because of an ‘airgap’ between OnStar, uConnect, and other telematic services offered in most new cars.

Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek displayed on the center console of a Jeep
Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek displayed on the center console of a Jeep

This airgap didn’t really exist, as was demonstrated in a paper from [Charlie Miller] and [Chris Valasek]. By bridging this airgap between the WiFi and CAN bus in a Jeep Cherokee. One thing leads to another, and a writer for Wired is seconds away from committing vehicular manslaughter.

There was something strange after [Miller] and [Valasek] published their paper. While we would normally expect a public outcry over evil ‘hackers’ trying to kill people, congressional hearings on the matter, and pundits screaming from the belltowers that something must be done, instead something remarkable happened: nothing. Now no one is trying to protect you from hackers taking over your car. There’s a DMCA exemption for hacking your own car, and congress and the media are relying on the auto industry to make everything secure. This is unprecedented.

How did the auto industry pull this one off? How was the issue of ‘evil hackers’ taking over cars brushed off the table in the minds of an extremely reactionary and not very technically adept media? Cars are driving themselves now. No mind can contain the cognitive dissonance of the hero worship of [Elon Musk] and the idea of remote attacks on poorly designed in-vehicle systems, so everyone is just going with it. 2015 is the year we accepted remote attacks on cars, because cars driving themselves is just too cool. On the other hand, cheating on your emissions testing will put a car company on pretty shaky ground.

Other Newsey Items and The Events of 2015

This has been a big year for silicon. The first 5nm chips are on their way, meaning we’ll probably get a laptop with a 5nm CPU sometime between 2020 and 2025. The first memristor-based products are now available, although we really don’t know what we’re going to do with them. The usefulness of a newborn baby, or something like that.

Radio Shack died. We’ve all been waiting a decade for that news, but Radio Shack is now either officially dead or lingering on in the form of Sprint cell phone stores.

Heathkit is back. 2015 is the year Radio Shack died and Heathkit returned from the dead. Wrap your head around that one. Rumors of Heathkit’s return have been circulating for a few years now, and just a few months ago, they shipped their first product in a decade: an AM radio kit

Hackaday’s parent company bought Tindie and now I can’t un-see the cyberman in the face of the Tindie dog logo. Hackaday.io is booming.

What does 2016 have in store for Hackaday? More everything. More and better content, videos, events, and contests for one of the best communities on the Intertubes. There’s some big changes coming, and they’re all awesome.

Filed under: Featured, news