Daily Archives: 2023-03-06

All the Streaming Boxes Suck Now

Source: Slashdot

Article note: SmartTVs are just a _worse streaming box you can't replace_. Though, fuck a whole bunch of vendor-controlled coercive appliances, just strap a cheap computer to your TV and run your content that way.

Streaming boxes had so much potential. They were going to reinvent the cable box for the internet age and make it easier for users to find and organize and watch everything available in this era of infinite content. They were going to turn our TVs, the hub of our homes, into smart gadgets through which we could do almost anything. They were going to be game consoles. Streaming boxes were the next big thing. Instead, well, streaming boxes suck. From a report: You can't find a single product on the market that comes even remotely close to satisfying this vision. Instead of a thriving hardware and software category, streaming boxes have turned into ever-cheaper commodity items. At the Walgreens down the street from my house, crammed in between AA batteries and bizarrely unbranded wired headphones, sits a Roku Express HD for $30. And it's as good a buy as anything else. Streaming boxes are bad, and they're getting worse instead of better. You could almost argue that in their current form, streaming boxes don't need to exist at all. By most measures, a majority of consumers in the US already own a smart TV -- and if you're in the market for a new set, you can barely find one that doesn't have some operating system built in. Of course, most of those smart TVs are slow, riddled with ads, and try to track your every move. That's why a good streaming box is such a good idea, at least in theory. The rest of tech's evolution has made good TV hardware and software even more important -- cloud gaming is improving all the time, our homes are getting smarter, we're even using our TVs to video chat. Streaming boxes let you upgrade without throwing out your big screen and add new features that might not come baked into the set itself. Plus, a good box could mitigate some of the worst ills of the smart TV world. To borrow an old-TV analogy: the built-in smart TV stuff is like the rabbit ears of old, and we need the cable box.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Low Power Challenge: The PotatoP Runs Lisp For Months Without Recharging

Source: Hack a Day

Article note: A tiny lisp machine would not be my first choice just because I'm not into lisps, and the ergonomics and portability of the physical arrangement look..rough.. but I've long been taken with the idea of a very portable very long lived machine that can do text editing, maybe some simple programming, and probably be a terminal (via a powered-down-when-unused wifi adapter like an ESP01 maybe?) since the advent of cheap low-power micros more powerful than the computers I grew up with.
A yellow computer with a black keyboard and a small monochrome LCD screen

A common complaint among laptop users is that while battery technology has vastly improved over the past decades, a simulltaneous shrink in form factors has meant that a typical laptop today doesn’t last much longer on a battery charge than one from the early 2000s. But it doesn’t have to be that way, as [Andreas Eriksen] demonstrates with his entry for the Low Power Challenge. The PotatoP is a portable computer that should be able to run for about two years on a single battery charge, and can be topped up through an integrated solar panel.

Granted, it doesn’t have the processing power of even the cheapest laptop you can buy today, but it’s perfectly fine for [Andreas]’s use case. He’s a Lisp hacker, and a Sparkfun RedBoard Artemis can run uLisp just fine on its 48 MHz Cortex-M4F processor. The operating environment is very basic though, even requiring [Andreas] to write his own text editor, called Typo, to give him editing luxuries like backspace functionality and a movable cursor.

The Artemis board is very power-efficient by itself – typical power consumption is less than 1 mA. [Andreas] added a simple monochrome black-and-white LCD screen capable of displaying 53 columns of text, plus an SD card reader for data storage, and designed a sleek 3D-printed case to hold everything together. When running a typical piece of code, the entire system uses around 2.5 mA, which translates to about 125 days of continuous run-time on the beefy 12000 mAh lithium battery. Add a bit of solar power, plus a more realistic eight-hour working day, and the two year runtime estimated by [Andreas] appears entirely reasonable.

This has to be one of the most power-efficient portables we’ve ever seen, and one running Lisp at that. Despite its age, Lisp keeps popping up in interesting custom computers like the Lisperati1000 cyberdeck and The Lisp Badge.

2023 Hackaday.io Low-Power Challenge

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Why the Floppy Disk Just Won’t Die

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Lately I've tended to replace floppies with solid-state emulators where possible. Gotek with FlashFloppy firmware does a _glorious_ job turning a 34pin Shugart floppy interface into a slot for a USB drive with image files.
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Adversarial IR Hoodie Lets You Own the Night in Anonymity

Source: Hack a Day

Article note: I really conceptually enjoy the "You point a camera at me, you accept whatever light I project at it" approaches to public surveillance. They're not _generally_ super effective, but as legal and upstream technical protections keep not happening, they're good craft.

If you’re in the market for something to obfuscate your nefarious nocturnal activities, rejoice — this adversarial infrared hoodie may be just what you’re looking for.

Not that we condone illegal activities, of course, and neither does artist [Mac Pierce], who created “The Camera-Shy Hoodie.” His purpose seems to be exploring the nature of the surveillance state, or rather to perplex it in the name of anonymity. The idea is simple — equip a standard hoodie with a ring of super-bright IR LEDs, and control them with an RP2040.

We’ve seen blinding hoodies before, but here the LEDs strobe on and off in one of three different patterns, all of which are timed to confound the autoexposure mechanism in just about any surveillance camera by not giving it time to adjust to the rapidly and drastically changing light level. The result is near-total obfuscation of the wearer’s facial features, at least when the camera is in night-vision mode. Check out the results in the video below.

There are some nice touches to [Mac]’s approach, like aluminum PCBs for the LEDs and the use of soldered-on fabric snaps to attach them to the inside of the hoodie, making them easy to remove for laundering. With the LEDs peeking through holes in the fabric, the hoodie looks pretty run-of-the-mill — until, of course, night falls and the USB battery bank in the hoodie’s pocket powers up the light show.

Granted, this won’t exactly help you avoid detection — the big ball of light around your head will be instantly seen by even the most casual observer. But at least it makes it easier to keep your face to yourself. And it won’t help much in daylight — for that, you might want something a little more like this passive adversarial ugly sweater.

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