Hackaday Links: March 5, 2023

Well, we guess it had to happen eventually – Ford is rolling out plans to make its vehicles self-recovering. At least, that seems to be the case with a patent application published last week, which reads like something written by someone who thinks he’s an evil genius but is really, really boring. Like most patent applications, it covers a lot of ground; Along with the obvious ability of a self-driving car to drive to the dealership, Ford lists a number of steps its proposed system could take before or instead of driving the car away from someone who is behind on a payment.

Examples include selectively disabling in-vehicle conveniences, such as HVAC or infotainment systems, or even door locks and efficient vehicle brickwork. Ford graciously accounts for use of the repossessed vehicle in an emergency and mentions the use of in-vehicle cameras and a “neural network” to verify that the locked user has, for example, an emergency. medical. What could go wrong?

IEEE Spectrum published a really interesting article about the huge shadow cast by the famous Xerox Alto. It’s pretty amazing when you consider how much of the Alto’s design, which dates back to 1973, is still used today. Almost every element of modern user interface design, from windows to file management systems to the physical “keyboard-mouse-monitor on desk, box on floor” arrangement, goes right back to the Alto – about the only thing Alto got wrong is that most of us don’t use portrait mode screens.

While the Alto hardware stuff is great, for our money the meat of the article is the story of Xerox PARC, and how the somewhat stilted copier company decided to enter the IT business and simultaneously build a world-class R&D organization. Of particular interest was the process of elimination that led to choosing Palo Alto; as a former Nutmegger, we couldn’t agree more with New Haven’s assessment as inappropriate due to “traditional Yale faculty snobbery.”

Pro tip: If you’re considering setting up an illicit cryptocurrency mining operation, there are probably better places to do it than in the crawl space of a public high school. That’s what Nadeam Nahas, former assistant director of facilities at Cohasset High School in Massachusetts, learned after he allegedly set up the operation in an unused utility space at the school. The operation was quite extensive – police seized at least ten machines from the crawl space, which were discovered when custodial staff noticed them along with misplaced electrical cables and conduit, presumably to power and cool the facility. The platform ran from April to December 2021, during which time it racked up approximately $17,500 in electricity expenses on the school district tab. No word on what cryptocurrency was mined or what rig was fabricated before the charges of fraudulent use of electricity and vandalism were made.

An interesting story surfaced this week about a YouTube video that causes Pixel phones to reboot. The Cursed Video, a 4k HDR clip of perhaps the 1979 classic’s best jump scare Extraterrestrial, would have crashed Pixel phones containing Google’s Exynos-derived Tensor SoC hard before even a single frame of video was loaded. We just tried it with our Pixel 6 Pro and enjoyed the whole scene without crashing, so either YouTube fixed the video or our phone was somehow immune to the bug. It’s probably best to watch the whole movie, just to be sure.

And finally, if you have a secret passion for metrology, you’ll want to watch Machine Thinking’s latest video, which features a visit to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Specifically, the tour focused on the Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM) laboratory, located 25m underground and housing a magnificent work of industrial art, a 1988 Moore M48 CMM. The machine is a study of contrasts – constructed from massive iron castings but capable of 10 nanometer measurements over a one meter range. The machine is so sensitive that the ambient temperature must be controlled to the nearest hundredth of a degree Celsius and the lights must be turned off so as not to disturb the measurements. If you want to understand what the extremes are in metrology, this video is for you.

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