Hackaday Links: August 13, 2023

Remember that time when the entire physics community dropped what it was doing to replicate the extraordinary claim that a room-temperature semiconductor had been discovered? We sure do, and if it seems like it was just yesterday, it’s probably because it pretty much was. The news of LK-99, a copper-modified lead apatite compound, hit at the end of July; now, barely three weeks later, comes news that not only is LK-99 not a superconductor, but that its resistivity at room temperature is about a billion times higher than copper. For anyone who rode the “cold fusion” hype train back in the late 1980s, LK-99 had a bit of code smell on it from the start. We figured we’d sit back and let science do what science does, and sure enough, the extraordinary claim seems not to be able to muster the kind of extraordinary evidence it needs to support it — with the significant caveat that a lot of the debunking papers –and indeed the original paper on LK-99 — seem still to be just preprints, and have not been peer-reviewed yet.

So what does all this mean? Sadly, probably not much. Despite the overwrought popular media coverage, a true room-temperature and pressure superconductor was probably not going to save the world, at least not right away. The indispensable Asianometry channel on YouTube did a great video on this. As always, his focus is on the semiconductor industry, so his analysis has to be viewed through that lens. He argues that room-temperature superconductors wouldn’t make much difference in semiconductors because the place where they’d most likely be employed, the interconnects on chips, will still have inductance and capacitance even if their resistance is zero. That doesn’t mean room-temperature superconductors wouldn’t be a great thing to have, of course; seems like they’d be revolutionary for power transmission if nothing else. But not so much for semiconductors, and certainly not today.

We all know we should, but most of us don’t actually read the license agreements we’re presented with when signing up for the latest and greatest service. Someone does, though, or else Zoom wouldn’t have stepped in it as badly as they did this week as it was revealed that changes they made to their Terms of Service back in March seem awfully open-ended, to the point where it sure seemed like they’d be free to use any and all user data they generate on the service for the purpose of training AI models.

As one would expect, this didn’t sit well with an increasingly privacy-conscious user base, who feared their likenesses and voices would be used for whatever purposes the company saw fit. You can’t blame them, really — when a contract includes verbiage that says you grant “a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license” to the company, it sort of feels wrong. Zoom was quick on the draw in response, with a blog post that super-duper pinky swears they’re not going to use audio, video, chats, or other user-generated content to train their AIs, or any other third-party machine learning systems. They apparently updated the updated TOS to reflect this, so it’s all good now — go back to your Zoom meetings and rest assured that you’re not really the product.

We love a good caper story, and who doesn’t like a heist film? But only when the victim is a soulless corporation or some feckless billionaire — but certainly not when it’s one of our own! It looks like the Pimoroni warehouse in Sheffield, UK, was hit by thieves in the middle of the night. The place was alarmed, but the thieves were faster than the cops, leaving behind some sadly empty pallets and shelves. The Pimoroni staff is seeking help to recover their goods, so if you see any of their flagship products, like heatsink cases or cameras for Raspberry Pi on any of the usual sites, you might want to drop them a line. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.

We noted with some sadness this week the news that the Scripp’s Oceanographic Institute’s Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP) is heading to the scrapyard after 60 years of service. If you’ve never seen FLIP in action, you need to check out the video below. Technically not a ship but a research platform — hence the official name R/P FLIP — the 180-meter-long vessel was towed into place and purposely partially sunk, turning the ship’s long axis 90 degrees and putting 90% of the ship underwater. This made decks into bulkheads and bulkheads into decks, and since the ballast tanks were at the far end of the submersible spar, the platform was exceptionally stable in any sea condition. Researchers had access to the first 100 meters of the ocean for a shirtsleeves environment. Although everything in the vessel — even the galley and the toilets — was designed to work in either orientation, we’re not sure we’d want to be in the head while the transition was underway.

And finally, if you’ve ever wanted to know where each of the roughly 14,000 pieces of space debris currently in Earth orbit are, when they got there, and who put them there, we’ve got you covered. This fascinating infographic details just how crowded Earth orbits have become, and even shows where and when collisions — both accidental and intentional — have left behind plumes of debris.

The most interesting bit to us is the delineation between Low Earth Orbit (LEO} and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) — which the chart mistakenly labels “LEO” too — and the rapid drop-off in the amount of space junk at the demarcation point. We suppose that has to do with the expense and effort required to get all the way to a 2,000-km orbit; one tends to be more careful in that case. It’s also interesting how much the MEO and geosynchronous population exploded once the 1980s rolled around; we’d like to think the Space Shuttle program had a lot to do with that, but the color coding by country seems to argue against that. This is one of those infographics you could spend hours poring over — r/dataisbeautiful, anyone?

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