Hardware Hacking

ESR's Newest Project: An Open Hardware/Open Source UPS (ibiblio.org) 232

An anonymous reader writes: Last month Eric S. Raymond complained about his choices for a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), adding that "This whole category begs to be disrupted by an open-hardware [and open-source] design that could be assembled cheaply in a makerspace from off-the-shelf components, an Arduino-class microcontroller, and a PROM...because it's possible, and otherwise the incentives on the vendors won't change." It could be designed to work with longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly batteries, using "EV-style intelligent battery-current sensors to enable accurate projection of battery performance" (along with a text-based alert system and a USB monitoring port).

Calling the response "astonishing," Raymond noted the emergence within a week of "the outlines of a coherent design," and in an update on GitLab reported that "The response on my blog and G+ was intense, almost overwhelming. It seems many UPS users are unhappy with what the vendors are pushing" -- and thus, the UPSide project was launched. "We welcome contributors: people with interest in UPSes who have expertise in battery technology, power-switching electronics, writing device-control firmware, relevant standards such as USB and the DMTF battery-management profile. We also welcome participation from established UPS and electronics vendors. We know that consumer electronics is a cutthroat low-margin business in which it's tough to support a real R&D team or make possibly-risky product bets. Help us, and then let us help you!"

There's already a Wiki with design documents -- plus a process document -- and Raymond says the project now even has a hardware lead with 30 years experience as a power and signals engineer, plus "a really sharp dev group. Half a dozen experts have shown up to help spec this thing, critique the design docs, and explain EE things to ignorant me." And he's already touting "industry participation! We have a friendly observer who's the lead software architect for one of the major UPS vendors." Earlier Raymond identified his role as "basically, product manager -- keeper of the requirements list and recruiter of talent" -- though he admits on his blog that he's already used a "cute hack" to create a state/action diagram for the system, "by writing a DSL to generate code in another DSL and provably correct equivalent C application logic."

He adds to readers of the blog that if that seems weird to you, "you must be new here."


Chinese Police Begin Tracking Citizens With Face-Recognizing Smart Glasses (reuters.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: At a highway check point on the outskirts of Beijing, local police are this week testing out a new security tool: smart glasses that can pick up facial features and car registration plates, and match them in real-time with a database of suspects. The AI-powered glasses, made by LLVision, scan the faces of vehicle occupants and the plates, flagging with a red box and warning sign to the wearer when any match up with a centralized "blacklist".

The test -- which coincides with the annual meeting of China's parliament in central Beijing -- underscores a major push by China's leaders to leverage technology to boost security in the country... Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because China's authorities were using the equipment for "noble causes", catching suspects and fugitives from the law. "We trust the government," he told Reuters at the company's headquarters in Beijing.

This weekend while China's President Xi Jinping is expected to push through a reform allowing him to stay in power indefinitely, Reuters reports that the Chinese goverment is pushing the use of cutting-edge technology "to track and control behavior that goes against the interests of the ruling Communist Party online and in the wider world... A key concern is that blacklists could include a wide range of people stretching from lawyers and artists to political dissidents, charity workers, journalists and rights activists...

"The new technologies range from police robots for crowd control, to drones to monitor border areas, and artificially intelligent systems to track and censor behavior online," Reuters reports, citing one Hong Kong researcher who argues that China now sees internet and communication technologies "as absolutely indispensable tools of social and political control."

Project Gutenberg Blocks German Users After Outrageous Court Ruling (teleread.org) 263

Slashdot reader David Rothman writes: The oldest public domain publisher in the world, Project Gutenberg, has blocked German users after an outrageous legal ruling saying this American nonprofit must obey German copyright law... Imagine the technical issues for fragile, cash-strapped public domain organizations -- worrying not only about updated databases covering all the world's countries, but also applying the results to distribution. TeleRead carries two views on the German case involving a Holtzbrinck subsidiary...

Significantly, older books provide just a tiny fraction of the revenue of megaconglomerates like Holtzbrinck but are essential to students of literature and indeed to students in general. What's more, as illustrated by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in the U.S., copyright law in most countries tends to reflect the wishes and power of lobbyists more than it does the commonweal. Ideally the travails of Project Gutenberg will encourage tech companies, students, teachers, librarians and others to step up their efforts against oppressive copyright laws. While writers and publishers deserve fair compensation, let's focus more on the needs of living creators and less on the estates of authors dead for many decades. The three authors involved in the German case are Heinrich Mann (died in 1950), Thomas Mann (1955) and Alfred Döblin (1957).

One solution in the U.S. and elsewhere for modern creators would be national library endowments... Meanwhile, it would be very fitting for Google and other deep-pocketed corporations with an interest in a global Internet and more balanced copyright to help Gutenberg finance its battle. Law schools, other academics, educators and librarians should also offer assistance.


MIT Plans To Build Nuclear Fusion Plant By 2033 170

Mallory Locklear reports via Engadget: MIT announced yesterday that it and Commonwealth Fusion Systems -- an MIT spinoff -- are working on a project that aims to make harvesting energy from nuclear fusion a reality within the next 15 years. The ultimate goal is to develop a 200-megawatt power plant. MIT also announced that Italian energy firm ENI has invested $50 million towards the project, $30 million of which will be applied to research and development at MIT over the next three years. MIT and CFS plan to use newly available superconducting materials to develop large electromagnets that can produce fields four-times stronger than any being used now. The stronger magnetic fields will allow for more power to be generated resulting in, importantly, positive net energy. The method will hopefully allow for cheaper and smaller reactors. The research team aims to develop a prototype reactor within the next 10 years, followed by a 200-megawatt pilot power plant.
The Internet

FCC's Ajit Pai is Surrounded By a 'Set of People With a Very Traditional Mindset', Says Sir Tim Berners-Lee (bbc.com) 114

Next Monday the web celebrates its 29th birthday. Ahead of it, Sir Tim Berners-Lee spoke with BBC on a wide-range of topics. An excerpt: In Barcelona last week at the Mobile World Congress I heard FCC boss Ajit Pai mount a robust defence of the move, pointing out that the internet had grown and thrived perfectly well in the years before 2015, when the net neutrality provision came in. "He said the same thing to me," Sir Tim tells us, revealing that he had recently been to lunch with Mr Pai. He had told the FCC boss that advances in computer processing power had made it easier for internet service providers to discriminate against certain web users for commercial or political reasons, perhaps slowing down traffic to one political party's website or making it harder for a rival company to process payments. But he failed to change Ajit Pai's mind. "He's surrounded by a set of people with a very traditional mindset, which has been driven by the PR machine of the telco industry, who believe it is their duty in Washington to oppose any regulation, whatever it is." Sir Tim, however, is refusing to concede defeat in this battle. "We stopped SOPA and PIPA," he says, referring to two US anti-piracy measures which campaigners opposed on the grounds they impinged on internet freedoms.

Modders Get Intel's Coffee Lake CPUs To Run On Incompatible Motherboards (pcgamer.com) 83

Paul Lilly reports via PC Gamer: It took some time and a whole lot of tweaking, but modders have finally figured out a way to get Intel's Coffee Lake processors running on older motherboards based on Intel's Z270 and Z170 chipsets. Even though Coffee Lake is pin compatible with older LGA 1151 motherboards, the official word from Intel is that the power requirements differ, and as such Coffee Lake only works in newer motherboards based on Intel's Z370 chipset. [T]here is a forum post on Overclock.net that outlines how it can be done. It is a fairly involved process and specific to ASRock motherboards, which the modders claim "have proven to work well" with the steps that are outlined. In short, getting a Coffee Lake processor to run in an older motherboard requires making tweaks to the CPU's microcode, the iGPU's UEFI GOP driver, and some Management Engine bootstraps. The modders were able to get a Core i3-8300 processor to boot in a couple of older boards, but not a Core i7-8700 chip. That is a higher core chip, of course -- six cores instead of four -- which seems to suggest that the power issue is related to driving higher core counts.

Frequency Deviations In Continental Europe Are Causing Electric Clocks To Run Behind By 5 Minutes (entsoe.eu) 251

elgatozorbas shares a short note from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E): Apparently the Continental European Power System has been off since mid-January, causing some clocks to run behind by 5 minutes. How common are these mains-frequency synchronized clocks anyway, and why are they built that way? "The power deviations have led to a slight drop in the electric frequency," reports ENTSO-E. "This in turn has also affected those electric clocks that are steered by the frequency of the power system and not by a quartz crystal... All actions are taken by the transmission system operators (TSOs) of Continental Europe and by ENTSO-E to resolve the situation."

Thieves Steal 600 Powerful Bitcoin-Mining Computers In Iceland (apnews.com) 88

The Associated Press reports of a Bitcoin heist in Iceland where thieves stole some 600 computers used to "mine" bitcoin and other virtual currencies. "Some 11 people were arrested, including a security guard, in what Icelandic media have dubbed the 'Big Bitcoin Heist,'" reports the Associated Press. From the report: The powerful computers, which have not yet been found, are worth almost $2 million. But if the stolen equipment is used for its original purpose -- to create new bitcoins -- the thieves could turn a massive profit in an untraceable currency without ever selling the items. Three of four burglaries took place in December and a fourth took place in January, but authorities did not make the news public earlier in hopes of tracking down the thieves. Police tracking the stolen computers are monitoring electric consumption across the country in hopes the thieves will show their hand, according to an industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media. Unusually high energy usage might reveal the whereabouts of the illegal bitcoin mine. Authorities this week called on local internet providers, electricians and storage space units to report any unusual requests for power.

2M Americans Lost Power After 'Bomb Cyclone' (apnews.com) 129

An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press: Tens of thousands of utility workers in the Northeast raced to restore power to more than 1.5 million homes and businesses just days after a powerful nor'easter caused flooding and wind damage from Virginia to Maine... Flood waters had receded in most areas, but Friday's storm had taken huge chunks out of the coastline in Massachusetts and other states... Residents in other areas, meanwhile, bailed out basements and surveyed the damage while waiting for power to be restored, a process that power companies warned could take days in some areas.

Power outages on the East Coast dipped by about 500,000 from a peak of 2 million earlier Saturday, but officials said lingering wind gusts were slowing repair efforts. The storm's aftermath also was still affecting travel, with airports from Washington, D.C. to Boston reporting dozens of delays and cancellations, while service was slowly returning to normal on rail systems throughout the region... The death toll from the storm increased by four, with authorities saying at least nine people had lost their lives.

Airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights, according to the Associated Press, while Amtrak suspended service along the northeast corridor (though it's saying they should all return to service on Sunday).

CNN reported roughly 1 in 4 Americans were in the storm's path, facing winds as high as 50 mph, while the Associated Press reports gusts up to 90 mph on Cape Cod.

China Bans Letter N From Internet as Xi Jinping Extends Grip on Power (theguardian.com) 196

Speaking of things the Chinese government has been censoring in the country, The Guardian reports: It is the 14th letter in the English alphabet and, in Scrabble, the springboard for more than 600 8-letter words. But for the Communist party of China it is also a subversive and intolerable character that was this week banished from the internet as Chinese censors battled to silence criticism of Xi Jinping's bid to set himself up as ruler for life. The contravening consonant was perhaps the most unusual victim of a crackdown targeting words, phrases and even solitary letters censors feared might be used to attack Beijing's controversial decision to abolish constitutional term limits for China's president. The Communist party has painted the move -- which experts say paves the way for Xi to become a dictator for life -- as an expression of overwhelming popular support for China's strongman leader. However, there has been widespread online push-back in China since it was announced on Sunday on the eve of an annual political congress in Beijing.

China Censors Social Media Responses To Proposal To Abolish Presidential Terms (theverge.com) 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Negative social media reactions in China toward the government's interest in abolishing presidential term limits have sparked a crackdown on memes since Sunday evening. China's constitution currently restricts the president and vice-president to 10 years of leadership, meaning that President Xi Jinping would have been out of power by 2023. The Party's Central Committee proposed removing a phrase in the constitution that stated the two leaders would "serve no more than two consecutive terms," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Authorities will vote on the proposal in March. Many took to social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo with Winnie the Pooh memes, as the animated bear resembles President Xi Jinping to some degree. Winnie the Pooh has been associated with Xi for years and this week, he donned a crown and sat on a throne, enjoying his honey pot. These memes and social media posts were then taken down, hours after the Committee's announcement, signaling that the public's reaction was more unfavorable than authorities predicted. An assortment of phrases have been filtered out by new censors, including "constitution amendment," "re-elected," "proclaim oneself as emperor," and "two term limit." The lag time between the censorship and the initial proposal indicates authorities expected the public to react less critically.
United States

After Rising For 100 Years, Electricity Demand is Flat (vox.com) 229

An anonymous reader shares a report: The US electricity sector is in a period of unprecedented change and turmoil. Renewable energy prices are falling like crazy. Natural gas production continues its extraordinary surge. Coal, the golden child of the current administration, is headed down the tubes. In all that bedlam, it's easy to lose sight of an equally important (if less sexy) trend: Demand for electricity is stagnant. Thanks to a combination of greater energy efficiency, outsourcing of heavy industry, and customers generating their own power on site, demand for utility power has been flat for 10 years, and most forecasts expect it to stay that way. The die was cast around 1998, when GDP growth and electricity demand growth became "decoupled." This historic shift has wreaked havoc in the utility industry in ways large and small, visible and obscure. Some of that havoc is high-profile and headline-making, as in the recent requests from utilities (and attempts by the Trump administration) to bail out large coal and nuclear plants.

Relying on Renewables Alone Significantly Inflates the Cost of Overhauling Energy (technologyreview.com) 248

A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or even passed legislation that would require producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades. That might sound like a great idea. But a growing body of evidence shows it's not. From a report: It increasingly appears that insisting on 100 percent renewable sources -- and disdaining others that don't produce greenhouse gases, such as nuclear power and fossil-fuel plants with carbon-capture technology -- is wastefully expensive and needlessly difficult. In the latest piece of evidence, a study published in Energy & Environmental Science determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80 percent of recent US annual electricity demand, but massive investments in energy storage and transmission would be needed to avoid major blackouts. Pushing to meet 100 percent of demand with these resources would require building a huge number of additional wind and solar farms -- or expanding electricity storage to an extent that would be prohibitively expensive at current prices. Or some of both.

Math Shows Some Black Holes Erase Your Past and Give You Unlimited Futures (vice.com) 190

dmoberhaus writes: An international team of mathematicians has found that there are theoretical black holes that would allow an observer to survive passage through the event horizon. This would result in the breakdown of determinism, a fundamental feature of the universe that allows physics to have predictive power, and result in the destruction of the observer's past and present them with an infinite number of futures. The findings were detailed in a report published last week in Physical Review Letters.

Tesla Model 3 Torn Down, Hacked and Set On a Dynamometer, Exposing Unusual Tech Details (electrek.co) 227

Rei writes: With an estimated 8,670 Model 3s delivered, a race is on as competitors and owners work to figure out its limits and explore the tech behind it. Many-time Tesla teardown expert "Ingineerix" has posted a series of videos and discussed his findings on Reddit. Among them: what appears to be the industry's first switched reluctance motor, a massive "smuggling compartment" allocated for a future front-wheel motor, no physical fuses (all solid-state), significant wiring harness length reductions via the use of multiple body controllers, a swappable crash energy absorption system, a liquid-cooled compute unit, and redundant controllers for all safety-related systems. He followed up by posting a screenshot of the car tricked into "factory mode" to reveal its internal specs, including a 1200A max discharge current, 370kW max discharge power, and a 76 kWh pack with 72,5kWh usable. Meanwhile, Munro and Associates tore down a Model 3 for an undisclosed, "not Tesla" client, releasing a video criticizing its build quality and for difficulty in accessing the HV cables in the event of an accident (Munroe's claims were dismissed by Ingineerix). Meanwhile, engineers from German automakers were extremely impressed by what they found during their teardown -- particularly the power electronics system, which they described as "compact, expandable, fully integrated, modular, easily accessible, well-protected, reasonably priced and astonishingly clever in many details." Other owners have been putting their cars on dynamometers to measure their power. Drag Times suffered some skid and measured a conflicting 281 / 327.6 hp with 552 lb-ft torque. Contrarily, Tesla Repair Channel found consistent readings around 250hp when starting from 30mph, but consistently around 390 hp when starting from 10mph. The reason for the discrepancy is not yet clear.

Scientists Say Space Aliens Could Hack Our Planet (nbcnews.com) 293

Scientists are worried that space aliens might send messages that worm their way into human society -- not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture. "Astrophysicists Michael Hippke and John Learned argue in a recent paper that our telescopes might pick up hazardous messages sent our way -- a virus that shuts down our computers, for example, or something a bit like cosmic blackmail: 'Do this for us, or we'll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth,'" reports NBC News. "Or perhaps the cosmic hackers could trick us into building self-replicating nanobots, and then arrange for them to be let loose to chew up our planet or its inhabitants." From the report: The astrophysicists also suggest that the extraterrestrials could show their displeasure (what did we do?) by launching a cyberattack. Maybe you've seen the 1996 film "Independence Day," in which odious aliens are vanquished by a computer virus uploaded into their machinery. That's about as realistic as sabotaging your neighbor's new laptop by feeding it programs written for the Commodore 64. In other words, aliens that could muster the transmitter power (not to mention the budget) to try wiping us out with code are going to have a real compatibility problem.

Yet there is a way that messages from space might be disruptive. Extraterrestrials could simply give us some advanced knowledge -- not as a trade, but as a gift. How could that possibly be a downer? Imagine: You're a physicist who has dedicated your career to understanding the fundamental structure of matter. You have a stack of reprints, a decent position, and a modicum of admiration from the three other specialists who have read your papers. Suddenly, aliens weigh in with knowledge that's a thousand years ahead of yours. So much for your job and your sense of purpose. If humanity is deprived of the opportunity to learn things on its own, much of its impetus for novelty might evaporate. In a society where invention and discovery are written out of the script, progress and improvement would suffer.


Tesla Deploys Over 300 Powerwalls To Give Hawaiian School Kids AC (electrek.co) 147

Fred Lambert reports via Electrek: As part of a state initiative, Tesla deployed over 300 Powerwalls in schools to cool down hot classrooms in Hawaii. Hawaii has a problem with hot temperatures in public classrooms that is affecting students negatively. The problem was so significant that the Hawaii State Department of Education had to intervene. They put together a $100 million fund, which has already helped cool down 1,190 classrooms to date, with contracts set for more than 1,300 classrooms, according to The Garden Island. In order to roll out the program without significantly increasing energy costs for public schools, they partnered with Tesla to pair Powerwalls with solar power to reduce the impact of running the air conditioners in classrooms across the state. It also resulted in an interesting learning opportunity about renewable energy and energy storage for students.

New Tech Industry Lobbying Group Argues 'Right to Repair' Laws Endanger Consumers (securityledger.com) 146

chicksdaddy brings this report from Security Ledger: The Security Innovation Center, with backing of powerful tech industry groups, is arguing that letting consumers fix their own devices will empower hackers. The group released a survey last week warning of possible privacy and security risks should consumers have the right to repair their own devices. It counts powerful electronics and software industry organizations like CompTIA, CTIA, TechNet and the Consumer Technology Association as members... In an interview with The Security Ledger, Josh Zecher, the Executive Director of The Security Innovation Center, acknowledged that Security Innovation Center's main purpose is to push back on efforts to pass right to repair laws in the states.

He said the group thinks such measures are dangerous, citing the "power of connected products and devices" and the fact that they are often connected to each other and to the Internet via wireless networks. Zecher said that allowing device owners or independent repair professionals to service smart home devices and connected appliances could expose consumer data to hackers or identity thieves... Asked whether Security Innovation Center was opposed to consumers having the right to repair devices they purchased and owned, Zecher said the group did oppose that right on the grounds of security, privacy and safety... "People say 'It's just my washing machine. Why can't I fix it on my own?' But we saw the Mirai botnet attack last year... Those kinds of products in the wrong hands can be used to do bad things."


Japanese Scientists Invent Floating 'Firefly' Light (reuters.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Japanese engineering researchers say they have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly which rides waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping. Named Luciola for its resemblance to the firefly, the featherweight levitating particle weighs 16.2 mg, has a diameter of 3.5 mm (0.14 inch), and emits a red glimmer that can just about illuminate text. But its minuscule size belies the power of the 285 microspeakers emitting ultrasonic waves that hold up the light, and have a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing Luciola to operate in apparent total silence. It took two years for Luciola to get this far, said circuit design specialist Makoto Takamiya, a member of the Kawahara Universal Information Network Project that developed the device. The developers expect Luciola to find applications in the so-called Internet of Things, in which regular objects, such as cars, or domestic appliances such as air-conditioners, are connected to networks to send and receive data. Equipped with movement or temperature sensors, Luciola could fly to such objects to deliver a message or help to make moving displays with multiple lights that can detect the presence of humans, or participate in futuristic projection mapping events.

Tesla Will Supply Free Charging Stations To Office Parking Lots 39

Tesla has unveiled a new "workplace charging" program today, which offers businesses free Tesla wall connectors and will also cover installation, provided they meet certain qualifications set forth by the California carmaker. "Tesla won't cover the cost of operating the charging stations, and the company says there could be other permitting, construction, zoning, or labor costs," reports The Verge. From the report: The workplace charging stations will be compatible with all Tesla cars, but not with other EVs, and they won't show up on publicly available Tesla charging maps. The wall chargers are 240 volts, or "Level 2," which is capable of topping off a battery pack in a handful of hours, though the company says the charge rate will vary by location depending on the infrastructure available.

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