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October 21, 2017 at 07:00AM

Geek Trivia: Lakes Formed By Meteor Impacts Are Called?

Geek Trivia: Lakes Formed By Meteor Impacts Are Called?

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Answer: Annular Lakes

There’s a wide variety of lake types on Earth, simply because a lake is a large body of water surrounded by land with a basin shape—and there are many ways earth can be carved away to create a basin that water can accumulate in. Rift (tectonic) lakes appear in the rift zones formed by the deformation and resulting lateral and vertical movements of the Earth’s crust, crater (volcanic) lakes appear in the craters and calderas of dormant volcanoes, and fluvial lakes are produced by running water (i.e. plunge pool lakes, fluviatile dams, and meander lakes).

Rather rare among lakes, however, are annular lakes—circular lakes created by the impact of meteors. One of the largest such lakes is Lake Manicouagan, located in Quebec, Canada. Not only is the lake notable for its size, but it’s also notable for the novel geography of the region. In the 1960s, the Daniel-Johnson Dam was built and used to flood the earlier Lake Mushalagan (Mouchalagan) to the west of the central plateau and the then-smaller Lake Manicouagan to the east of the central plateau, isolating the central elevated land area (which is now known as René-Levasseur Island). The area is referred to as the Manicouagan Reservoir, which acts as a giant headpond for the Manicouagan River.

The end result is a rather curious contrast: the land area of René-Levasseur Island, at 780 mi² (2,020 km²) is greater than the surface area of the surrounding annular lake, at 750 mi² (1,942 km²). The entire arrangement is so large and distinct that it can be seen from space and is referred to as the “Eye of Quebec”.

Image courtesy of NASA/Wikipedia.

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October 21, 2017 at 06:44AM

Abandon Your Real Job and Come Work For Universal Paperclips

Abandon Your Real Job and Come Work For Universal Paperclips

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It’s Friday. You’ve been working far too hard in your real job and you need a break. What kind of break? The kind of break where you fall hopelessly into the black hole of running a virtual paper clip company. It’s beautiful. Trust us.

Around a week ago when it was making the social media rounds, we came across an in-browser game that presented itself as an incredibly simple and one dimensional little time waster—Universal Paperclips—but it’s so  much more.

After sinking considerable time into the experience (and enjoying every minute) we’re paying it forward by getting you (enjoyably) addicted too.

The premise seems so simple: click a button, ala the classic browser time waster Cookie Clicker, make a paper clip. Click a button, make a paper clip. Click a button, make a paper clip.

People buy your paper clips! You buy wire to make more. Adjust the price! Sell more paper clips! Click the button!

Maybe the novelty of that would wear off quickly for most people, but like all truly addictive time wasters, the possibilities at Universal Paperclips quickly expand.

With a few thousand paper clips out the door the options begin to unfold before you. Once you hit a million paper clips or so, suddenly you’re not just making paper clips but running an investment engine and enmeshed in the game’s decision trees.

It doesn’t stop there, not by a long shot, but if you want to truly experience the surreal roller coaster ride that is your ascension to power at Universal Paperclips without any spoilers, then you should absolutely stop reading here and jump right into playing.

Need a moment to contemplate whether you want the joy of self discovery or the sweet satisfaction of immediate spoilers? You can scroll past these delightfully colorful paper clips while you ponder if you want to know the real secrets of Universal Paperclips.

Is the game just about paper clips? Oh no. The underpinning of the game are deeper than even the greatest pile of paper clips you could ever hope to manufacture.

The creative kernel for the game comes from the musings of Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, a professor at Oxford University best known for his work on existential risks, super intelligence, simulations, and the ethics of artificial intelligence and human enhancement.

Bostrom, as a thought exercise, once proposed an example of how an unfettered AI engine could, when given a simple and seemingly harmless directive, ultimately destroy humanity. What harmless task did he propose? Producing paper clips.

In the 2003 publication “Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence” he wrote:

Suppose we have an AI whose only goal is to make as many paper clips as possible. The AI will realize quickly that it would be much better if there were no humans because humans might decide to switch it off. Because if humans do so, there would be fewer paper clips. Also, human bodies contain a lot of atoms that could be made into paper clips. The future that the AI would be trying to gear towards would be one in which there were a lot of paper clips but no humans.

And that, dear readers, is where the single click that produces your first paper clip leads—from global domination of an industry to the stars all the way to the eventual death of the universe and the extinction of life and sentience itself. But, along the way you get to see some neat stuff and make a few paper clips, so it’s more than worth the sacrifice.

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October 21, 2017 at 06:44AM

Look what came out of my USB charger !

Look what came out of my USB charger !

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Quick Charge, Qualcomm’s power delivery over USB technology, was introduced in 2013 and has evolved over several versions offering increasing levels of power transfer. The current version — QCv3.0 — offers 18 W power at voltage levels between 3.6 V to 20 V.  Moreover, connected devices can negotiate and request any voltage between these two limits in 200 mV steps. After some tinkering, [Vincent Deconinck] succeeded in turning a Quick Charge 3.0 charger into a variable voltage power supply.

His blog post is a great introduction and walk through of the Quick Charge ecosystem. [Vincent] was motivated after reading about [Septillion] and [Hugatry]’s work on coaxing a QCv2.0 charger into a variable voltage source which could output either 5 V, 9 V or 12 V. He built upon their work and added QCv3.0 features to create a new QC3Control library.

To come to grips with what happens under the hood, he first obtained several QC2 and QC3 chargers, hooked them up to an Arduino, and ran the QC2Control library to see how they respond. There were some unexpected results; every time a 5 V handshake request was exchanged during QC mode, the chargers reset, their outputs dropped to 0 V and then settled back to a fixed 5 V output. After that, a fresh handshake was needed to revert to QC mode. Digging deeper, he learned that the Quick Charge system relies on specific control voltages being detected on the D+ and D- terminals of the USB port to determine mode and output voltage. These control voltages are generated using resistor networks connected to the microcontroller GPIO pins. After building a fresh resistor network designed to more closely produce the recommended control voltages, and then optimizing it further to use just two micro-controller pins, he was able to get it to work as expected. Armed with all of this information, he then proceeded to design the QC3Control library, available for download on GitHub.

Thanks to his new library and a dual output QC3 charger, he was able to generate the Jolly Wrencher on his Rigol, by getting the Arduino to quickly make voltage change requests.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, hardware

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October 21, 2017 at 04:00AM

UK ‘Pirate’ Kodi Box Seller Handed a Suspended Prison Sentence

UK ‘Pirate’ Kodi Box Seller Handed a Suspended Prison Sentence

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After being raided by police and Trading Standards in 2015, Middlesbrough-based shopkeeper Brian ‘Tomo’ Thompson found himself in the spotlight.

Accused of selling “fully-loaded” Kodi boxes (those with ‘pirate’ addons installed), Thompson continued to protest his innocence.

“All I want to know is whether I am doing anything illegal. I know it’s a gray area but I want it in black and white,” he said last September.

Unlike other cases, where copyright holders took direct action, Thompson was prosecuted by his local council. At the time, he seemed prepared to martyr himself to test the limits of the law.

“This may have to go to the crown court and then it may go all the way to the European court, but I want to make a point with this and I want to make it easier for people to know what is legal and what isn’t,” he said. “I expect it go against me but at least I will know where I stand.”

In an opinion piece not long after this statement, we agreed with Thompson’s sentiment, noting that barring a miracle, the Middlesbrough man would indeed lose his case, probably in short order. But Thompson’s case turned out to be less than straightforward.

Thompson wasn’t charged with straightforward “making available” under the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Acts. If he had, there would’ve been no question that he’d been breaking law. This is due to a European Court of Justice decision in the BREIN v Filmspeler case earlier this year which determined that selling fully loaded boxes in the EU is illegal.

Instead, for reasons best known to the prosecution, ‘Tomo’ stood accused of two offenses under section 296ZB of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, which deals with devices and services designed to “circumvent technological measures”. It’s a different aspect of copyright law previously applied to cases where encryption has been broken on official products.

“A person commits an offense if he — in the course of a business — sells or lets for hire, any device, product or component which is primarily designed, produced, or adapted for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of effective technological measures,” the law reads.

‘Tomo’ in his store

In January this year, Thompson entered his official ‘not guilty’ plea, setting up a potentially fascinating full trial in which we would’ve heard how ‘circumvention of technological measures’ could possibly relate to streaming illicit content from entirely unprotected far-flung sources.

Last month, however, Thompson suddenly had a change of heart, entering guilty pleas against one count of selling and one count of advertising devices for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of effective technological measures.

That plea stomped on what could’ve been a really interesting trial, particularly since the Federation Against Copyright Theft’s own lawyer predicted it could be difficult and complex.

As a result, Thompson appeared at Teeside Crown Court on Friday for sentencing. Prosecutor Cameron Crowe said Thompson advertised and sold the ‘pirate’ devices for commercial gain, fully aware that they would be used to access infringing content and premium subscription services.

Crowe said that Thompson made around £40,000 from the devices while potentially costing Sky around £200,000 in lost subscription fees. When Thompson was raided in June 2015, a diary revealed he’d sold 159 devices in the previous four months, sales which generated £17,000 in revenue.

After his arrest, Thompson changed premises and continued to offer the devices for sale on social media.

Passing sentence, Judge Peter Armstrong told the 55-year-old businessman that he’d receive an 18-month prison term, suspended for two years.

“If anyone was under any illusion as to whether such devices as these, fully loaded Kodi boxes, were illegal or not, they can no longer be in any such doubt,” Judge Armstrong told the court, as reported by Gazette Live.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances an immediate custodial sentence is not called for. But as a warning to others in future, they may not be so lucky.”

Also sentenced Friday was another local seller, Julian Allen, who sold devices to Thompson, among others. He was arrested following raids on his Geeky Kit businesses in 2015 and pleaded guilty this July to using or acquiring criminal property.

But despite making more than £135,000 from selling ‘pirate’ boxes, he too avoided jail, receiving a 21-month prison sentence suspended for two years instead.

While Thompson’s and Allen’s sentences are likely to be portrayed by copyright holders as a landmark moment, the earlier ruling from the European Court of Justice means that selling these kinds of devices for infringing purposes has always been illegal.

Perhaps the big surprise, given the dramatic lead up to both cases, is the relative leniency of their sentences. All that being said, however, a line has been drawn in the sand and other sellers should be aware.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

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October 21, 2017 at 03:19AM

One Chip, Sixteen Times The RAM

One Chip, Sixteen Times The RAM

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Have you ever upgraded your computer’s memory sixteen-fold, with a single chip? Tynemouth Software did for a classic Sinclair micro.

For owners of home computers in the early 1980s, one of the most important selling points was how much RAM their device would have. Sometimes though there just wasn’t much choice but to live with what you could afford, so buyers of Sinclair’s budget ZX81 computer had to put up with only 1 kiB of memory. The system bytes took up (by this writer’s memory) around 300 bytes, so user programs were left with only around 700 bytes for their BASIC code. They were aided by Sinclair’s BASIC keywords stored as single bytes, but still that was a limit that imposed coding economy over verbosity.

Sinclair sold a 16 kiB upgrade, the so-called “Rampack”, which located on the ’81’s edge connector and was notorious for being susceptible to the slightest vibration. Meanwhile the mainboard had provision for a 2 kiB chip as a drop-in that was never sold in the UK, and enterprising users could fit larger capacities with soldered combinations of other chips piggybacking the original. And this is what the Tynemouth people have done, they’ve replaced their machine’s dual 1 kiB x 4 chips with a single 62256, and with a bit of pin-bending they’ve managed to do it without the track-cutting that normally accompanies this mod.

Adding chips to a 36-year-old home computer for which there are plenty of available Rampacks might seem a bit of a niche, but in doing so they’ve made a standalone ’81 that’s just a little bit more useable. They’ve also brought a few other components up-to-date, with a composite video mod, switching regulator, and heatsink for the rare ULA chip. If you are of a Certain Generation, it might just bring a tear to your eye to see a ZX81 being given some love.

Did you lose your ZX81 along the way? How about emulating one in mbed?

Filed under: classic hacks

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October 21, 2017 at 01:03AM

Low-Budget Hydroformer Puts the Squeeze on Sheet Metal Parts

Low-Budget Hydroformer Puts the Squeeze on Sheet Metal Parts

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Between manufacturing technologies like 3D-printing, CNC routers, lost-whatever metal casting, and laser and plasma cutters, professional quality parts are making their way into even the most modest of DIY projects. But stamping has largely eluded the home-gamer, what with the need for an enormous hydraulic press and massive machined dies. There’s more than one way to stamp parts, though, and the budget-conscious shop might want to check out this low-end hydroforming method for turning sheet metal into quality parts.

If hydroforming sounds familiar, it might be because we covered [Colin Furze]’s attempt, which used a cheap pressure washer to inflate sheet metal bubbles with high-pressure water. The video below shows a hydroformer that [Rainbow Aviation] uses (with considerably less screaming) to make stamped aluminum parts for home-brew aircraft. The kicker with this build is that there is no fluid — at least not until the 40,000-pound hydraulic press semi-liquifies the thick neoprene rubber pad placed over the sheet metal blank and die. The pressure squeezes the metal into and around the die, forming some pretty complex shapes in a single operation. We especially like the pro-tip of using Corian solid-surface countertop material offcuts to make the dies, since they’re available for a pittance from cabinet fabricators.

It’s always a treat to see hacks from the home-brew aviation world. They always seem to have plenty of tricks and tips to share, like this pressure-formed light cowling we saw a while back.

Thanks for the tip, [Noah Orr].

Filed under: misc hacks, tool hacks

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October 20, 2017 at 10:06PM

3D Printed Gear Serves Seven Months Hard Labor

3D Printed Gear Serves Seven Months Hard Labor

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3D Printed Gear Serves Seven Months Hard Labor

Even the staunchest 3D printing supporter would have to concede that in general, the greatest strength of 3D printing is not in the production of final parts, but in prototyping. Sure you can make functional prints, as the pages of this site will attest; but few would argue that you wouldn’t be better off getting your design cut out of metal or injection molded if you planned on putting the part into service over the long term. Especially if the part was to be subjected to rough service in an industrial setting.

While that’s valid advice, it certainly isn’t the definitive word on the issue. Just because a part is printed in plastic on a desktop 3D printer doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be put into real service, at least for as long as it takes to get proper replacement parts. A recent success story from [bloomautomatic] serves as a perfect example, when one of the gears in his MIG welder split, he decided to try and print up a replacement in PLA while he waited for the nylon gear to get shipped out to him. Fast forward seven months and approximately 80,000 welds later, and [bloomautomatic] reports it’s finally time to install those replacement gears he ordered.

In the pictures [bloomautomatic] posted you can see the printed gear finally wore down to the point the teeth were essentially gone where they meshed with their metal counterparts. To those wondering why the gear was plastic to begin with, [bloomautomatic] explains that it’s intended to be a sacrificial gear that will give way instead of destroying the entire gearbox in the event of a jam. According to the original post he made when he installed the replacement gear, the part was printed in Folgertech PLA on a Monoprice Select Mini. There’s no mention of infill percentage, but with such a small part most slicers would likely have made it essentially solid to begin with.

While surviving seven tortuous months inside of the welder is no small feat, we wonder if hardier PLA formulationstreatment of the part post-printing, or even casting it in a different material couldn’t have turned this temporary part into a permanent replacement.

Posted in 3d Printer hacks, hardware, repair hacksTagged , , ,

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October 20, 2017 at 07:01PM

Friday Squid Blogging: “How the Squid Lost Its Shell”

Friday Squid Blogging: “How the Squid Lost Its Shell”

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Interesting essay by Danna Staaf, the author of Squid Empire. (I mentioned the book two weeks ago.)

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

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October 20, 2017 at 05:33PM