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Hackaday Links: March 5, 2023

Hackaday Links: March 5, 2023

Well, we guess it had to happen eventually — Ford is putting plans in place to make its vehicles capable of self-repossession. At least it seems so from a patent application that was published last week, which reads like something written by someone who fancies themselves an evil genius but is just really, really annoying. Like most patent applications, it covers a lot of ground; aside from the obvious capability of a self-driving car to drive itself back to the dealership, Ford lists a number of steps that its proposed system could take before or instead of driving the car away from someone who’s behind on payments.

Examples include selective disabling conveniences in the vehicle, like the HVAC or infotainment systems, or even locking the doors and effectively bricking the vehicle. Ford graciously makes allowance for using the repossessed vehicle in an emergency, and makes mention of using cameras in the vehicle and a “neural network” to verify that the locked-out user is indeed having, say, a medical emergency. What could possibly go wrong?

IEEE Spectrum ran a really interesting article on the huge shadow cast by the famous Xerox Alto. It’s pretty amazing when you think about how much of the Alto’s design, which dates from 1973, is still in use today. Pretty much every element of modern UI design, from windows to file management systems to even the physical “keyboard-mouse-monitor on the desk, box on the floor” arrangement, traces directly back to the Alto — about the only thing Alto got wrong is that most of us don’t use monitors in portrait mode.

While the stuff about the Alto hardware is great, for our money the meat of the article is the history of Xerox PARC, and how the somewhat staid photocopier concern decided to break into the computer business and simultaneously build a world-class R&D organization. Particularly interesting was the process of elimination that led to choosing Palo Alto; as a former Nutmegger, we couldn’t agree more with the assessment of New Haven as being unsuitable due to “traditional Yale faculty snobbery.”

Pro-tip: If you’re going to set up an illicit crypto mining operation, there are probably better places to do it than in the crawlspace of a public high school. That’s what Nadeam Nahas, former assistant director of facilities at Cohasset High School in Massachusetts, learned after allegedly setting up the operation in an unused utility space in the school. The operation was pretty extensive — police seized at least ten machines from the crawlspace, which were discovered when custodial staff noticed them along with out-of-place electrical wiring and ductwork, presumably for powering and cooling the setup. The rig ran from April to December of 2021, during which time it racked up an estimated $17,500 in electricity expenses on the school district’s tab. No word about which cryptocurrency was being mined or much the rig made before the charges of fraudulent use of electricity and vandalism were leveled.

An interesting story popped up this week about a YouTube video that causes Pixel phones to reboot. The cursed video, a 4k HDR clip of perhaps the best jump-scare from the 1979 classic Alien, was said to hard-crash Pixel phones containing Google’s Exynos-derived Tensor SoC before even a single frame of the video was loaded. We just gave it a try with our Pixel 6 Pro and enjoyed the entire scene without a crash, so either YouTube fixed the video or our phone was somehow immune to the bug. It’s probably best to watch the whole movie, though, just to be sure.

And finally, if there’s any bit of you that harbors a secret passion for metrology, you’ll want to check out Machine Thinking’s latest video, which features a field trip to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Specifically, the tour focused on the coordinate measuring machine (CMM) lab, located 80 feet (25 m) underground and housing a magnificent piece of industrial art, a 1988 Moore M48 CMM. The machine is a study in contrasts — built from massive iron castings but capable of 10-nanometer measurements over a one-meter range. The machine is so sensitive that the room temperature has to be controlled to the hundredth of a Celsius degree, and the lights have to be turned off lest they disturb measurements. If you want to understand what the extremes are in the field of metrology, this is the video for you.