28 | December | 2020

There are a lot of things in our everyday life that are holdovers from an earlier time that we continue to use simply because of inertia even if they don’t make a lot of sense in modern times. Examples include a 60 Hz power grid, the spacing between railroad tracks, […]

There are a lot of things in our everyday life that are holdovers from an earlier time that we continue to use simply because of inertia even if they don’t make a lot of sense in modern times. Examples include a 60 Hz power grid, the spacing between railroad tracks, and of course the self-contained attic ladder which is made to fit in between standard spaced ceiling joists. It’s not wide enough to get big or heavy stuff into an attic, and building standards won’t change just for this one inconvenience, so if you want to turn that space into something more usable you’re going to need to build a custom elevator.

This attic elevator comes to us from [Brian] who recently moved into a home with about half the square footage as his previous home, but still needed to hold all of his stuff. That means clever ways of using the available space. For the elevator he constructed a platform out of 2x lumber held together with bolts and steel supports. The carriage runs up and down on a track made out 1 5/8″ super strut and is hoisted by a winch motor rated for 550 pounds, which is more than enough to hoist up most household items including a large toolbox.

The only thing that we would have liked to have seen in the video is how the opening was made. Presumably this would have involved cutting into a ceiling joist to make the opening wider than the standard attic ladder, and care would have needed to be taken to ensure the ceiling/floor wasn’t weakened. Either way, this is a great solution to a common problem, and could perhaps be made to work on more than two levels with a custom controller. Continue reading “Build Your Own Custom Elevator”

We pity the civil servants involved in the negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom, because after tense meetings until almost the Eleventh Hour, they’ve had to cobble together the text of a post-Brexit trade agreement in next-to-no time. In the usual manner of such international agreements both sides are claiming some kind of victory over fish, but the really interesting parts of the document lie in the small print. In particular it was left to eagle-eyed security researchers to spot that Netscape Communicator 4, SHA-1, and RSA encryption with a 1024-bit key length are recommended to secure the transfer of DNA data between states. The paragraphs in question can be found on page 932 of the 1256-page agreement.

It’s likely that some readers under 30 years old will never have used a Netscape product even though they will be familiar with Firefox, the descendant Mozilla software. Netscape were a pioneer of early web browsers, and  Communicator 4 was the company’s all-in-one browser and email offering from the late 1990s. It and its successors steadily lost ground against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and ultimately faded away along with the company under AOL ownership in the late 2000s. Meanwhile the SHA-1 hashing algorithm has been demonstrated to be vulnerable to collision attacks, and computing power has advanced such that 1024-bit RSA encryption can be broken in a sensible time frame by anyone with sufficient GPU power to give it a try. It’s clear that something is amiss in the drafting of this treaty, and we’d go so far as to venture the opinion that a tired civil servant simply cut-and-pasted from a late-1990s security document.

So will the lawmakers of Europe now have to dig for ancient software as mandated by treaty? We hope not, as from our reading they are given as examples rather than as directives. We worry however that their agencies might turn out to be as clueless on digital security as evidently the civil servants are, so maybe Verizon Communications, current owners of the Netscape brand, could be in for a few support calls.

Creality, makers of the Ender series of 3D printers, have released a product called Wi-Fi Box meant to cheaply add network control to your printer. Naturally I had to order one so we could take a peek, but this is certainly not a product review. If you’re looking to control your 3D printer over the network, get yourself a Raspberry Pi and install Gina Häußge’s phenomenal OctoPrint on it. Despite what Creality might want you to believe, their product is little more than a poor imitation of this incredible open source project.

Even if you manage to get it working with your printer, which judging by early indications is a pretty big if, it won’t give you anywhere near the same experience. At best it’ll save you a few dollars compared to going the DIY route, but at the cost of missing out on the vibrant community of plugin developers that have helped establish OctoPrint as the defacto remote 3D printing solution.

That being said, the hardware itself seems pretty interesting. For just $20 USD you get a palm-sized Linux computer with WiFi, Ethernet, a micro SD slot, and a pair of USB ports; all wrapped up in a fairly rugged enclosure. There’s no video output, but that will hardly scare off the veteran penguin wrangler. Tucked in a corner and sipping down only a few watts, one can imagine plenty of tasks this little gadget would be well suited to. Perhaps it could act as a small MQTT broker for all your smart home devices, or a low-power remote weather station. The possibilities are nearly limitless, assuming we can get into the thing anyway.

So what’s inside the Creality Wi-Fi Box, and how hard will it be to bend it to our will? Let’s take one apart and find out.

Continue reading “Teardown: Creality Wi-Fi Box”

Yay! Another videoconference call is in the books, so that must mean that it’s time to fumble around awkwardly for the hang-up button with a fading smile. [lanewinfield] knew there had to be a better way, and looked to the pull chain switch for salvation. Sure, this could just as easily be a button, but what’s the fun in that? Besides, few buttons would be as satisfying as pulling a chain to a Zoom call.

The pull chain switch is connected to an Adafruit Feather nRF52840 Express that’s emulating a Bluetooth keyboard. Firmware-wise it sends command + F6, which triggers an AppleScript that manually exits and and all Zoom calls and kills Chrome tabs pointed to meet.google.com. He’s using Apple’s hotkey wizard Alfred, but this could be handled just as easily with something like AutoHotKey.

Pull chain switches are neat little mechanisms. The chain is connected to a cam that engages a wheel with copper contacts on half the outside. When you pull the chain, the wheel moves 90° and the wheel contacts connect up with the fixed contacts inside the housing to make a connection. Pulling the chain again moves the wheel which slides to the half without the contacts. Check it out in the video below.

Continue reading “A Pull Chain To End Your Zoom Pain”

As the world waits for COVID-19 vaccines, some pharmaceutical companies stand armed and ready with an exciting improvement: better vials to hold the doses. Vials haven’t changed much in the last 100 years, but in 2011, Corning decided to do something about that. They started developing an alternative glass that is able to resist damage and prevent cracks. It’s called Valor glass, and it’s amazingly strong stuff. Think Gorilla glass for the medical industry.

Traditionally, pharmaceutical vials have been made from borosilicate glass, which is the same laboratory-safe material as Corning’s Pyrex. Borosilicate glass gets its strength from the addition of boron. Although borosilicate glass is pretty tough, it comes with some issues. Any type of glass is only as strong as its flaws, and borosilicate glasses are prone to some particularly strength-limiting flaws. Pharmaceutical glass must stand up to extreme temperatures, from the high heat of the vial-making process to the bitterly cold freeze-drying process and storing temperature required by the fragile viral RNA of some COVID-19 vaccines. Let’s take a look at how Valor glass vials tackle these challenges.

Continue reading “The High-Tech Valor Glass Vials Used To Deliver The Coronavirus Vaccine”

Reader [Eric Mockler] brought Louis “Lebel” Wichinsky to our attention, a colorful inventor he ran into some years back in the Borscht Belt of Upstate New York. Described as a Mel Brooks doppelgänger, Lebel was born the son of a baker in Hurleyville NY. During WW2 he served in England where he lodged with two brothers who also owned a bakery. When his British friends suggested he should build a bagel machine because “you Yanks can do anything”, he accepted their challenge and began working on a design. Despite taking a detour through Israel as an aircraft mechanic on his journey home, he finally succeeded in 1964 after 20-some years of tinkering. A patent followed in 1968, despite discovering that someone else had independently invented similar device.

Continue reading “The Wichinsky Bagelmatic”

While the SSD1306 OLED has somewhat become the go-to display for up-to-date projects, the good old character displays with their Hitachi HD44780 controller don’t seem to be disappearing just yet either. And why would they, especially if you want to show just text, having a built-in font has certainly its perk compared to worrying about integrating your own characters — which you can still do on top as well. Or perhaps you can combine both worlds, which is what [oldmaninSC] did with his digital clock that takes an entire 16×2 LCD to show each single digit.

The whole clock uses 16 individual, upright rotated 16×2 LCDs that are arranged in two rows of eight LCDs each, turning the entire construct sort of into a giant 8×2 display itself. For some additional information such as the date, there’s also a smaller font available that uses only half the height, allowing up to four total rows of information. To communicate with each LCD via I2C, two TCA9548A I2C multiplexers are connected to an Arduino, along with an RTC to keep track of the time and date itself.

As the TCA9548A has three pins dedicated to define its own address, the entire clock could be scaled up to a total of 64 LCDs — so how about a 16×4 display made out of 16×4 displays? Sure, adding smooth scrolling might become a bit tricky at some point, but imagine playing Tetris on that one!

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Novavax Launches Phase 3 Demo of Covid-19 Vaccine Candidate

Mon Dec 28 , 2020
Novavax  (NVAX) – Get Report, a late-stage biotechnology corporation, mentioned on Monday that it was launching a Period III trial of its covid-19 vaccine applicant in the U.S. and Mexico. The trial will appraise the vaccine candidate’s efficacy, security and capability to prompt an immune response, the company explained in […]