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The Hunt for MH370 Goes On With Barnacles As A Lead

On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished. The crash site was never found, nor was the plane. It remains one of the most perplexing aviation mysteries in history. In the years since the crash, investigators have looked into everything from ocean currents to obscure radio phenomena to try and locate the plane. All have thus far failed to find the wreckage.
It was on July 2015 when a flaperon from the aircraft washed up on Réunion Island. It was the first piece of wreckage found, and it was hoped it could provide clues to the airliner’s final resting place. While it’s yet to reveal a final answer as to the aircraft’s fate, some of the ocean life living on it could help investigators need to find the plane. The picture is murky right now, but in an investigation where details are scarce, every little clue helps.

Barnacles
A fragment of engine cowling believed to be from MH370, which washed up in December 2015. Note the barnacles covering the debris. Credit: ATSB
Today, there’s a general consensus that MH370 probably went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean. That’s supported both by analysis of satellite pings and the wreckage which washed up at Réunion. Notable on the wreckage was a small population of barnacles of the species Lepas anatifera.
David Griffin, an Australian government scientist, expressed optimism that these barnacles could help pinpoint the crash site. Similarly, American scientist Gregory Herbert thought much the same thing. Akin to the rings of a tree, the shells of the barnacle can reveal a history of the organism. By analyzing the found barnacles against their typical life cycle, they could potentially reveal details about where the wreckage had been.
By studying a barnacle’s shell, it’s possible to reconstruct the conditions of its growth. Credit: research paper
A great deal of research was undertaken to learn more about the species in the hope that better understanding the barnacles could help find the plane. As a species, Lepas anatifera proved to be uniquely perfect for further analysis. These barnacles tend to attach to floating debris, such as that generated by a catastrophic plane crash. Under stable conditions, the barnacles tend to grow at a fairly consistent rate. By looking at the oldest barnacles on the debris, one could try and estimate the length of time it had been in the water. Combining this with models of ocean currents could help figure out where a piece of debris might have come from.
Unfortunately, the innate variability of the sea organisms frustrated easy analysis. By growing their own barnacles in different conditions, researchers soon found that varying sea temperatures had a significant impact on growth size. As did the amount of nutrients available for the barnacles to feed on. Some researchers found that their barnacles maxed out at 20 mm in length after three months, while others grew barnacles over twice as long in a third of the time.
Scientist David Griffin pictured with a replica flaperon used in drift modelling studies by the CSIRO. Source: Peter Mathew via CSIRO
After much analysis and comparison of barnacle studies, initial optimism was dampened by the reality of the evidence. The largest barnacles on the flaperon suggested it had been floating for about four months — far less than the 16 months between the aircraft’s disappearance and the flaperon’s discovery. Indeed, similar results were found for other debris recovered since then, too. “Unfortunately for crash investigators, the new, faster Lepas growth rates suggest that the large (36 mm) Lepas found on the missing Malaysian Airline flight MH370 wreckage at Reunion Island – 16 months after the aircraft was believed to have crashed in 2014 – were much younger than previously realised,” said Iain Suthers, a researcher with the University of New South Wales who worked on barnacle studies.
In testing, it was found the flaperon floated in an orientation where much of it stuck out of the water. And yet, the flaperon was found with barnacles on these very surfaces. It’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer at this stage. Credit: CSIRO
Other mysteries have presented baffling inconsistencies, too. When French researchers floated the flaperon in a tank to determine how it floated, they found one edge would consistently stick out of the water. This would be all well and good, except this surface was found covered in barnacles, too. This should have been impossible, as the barnacles cannot grow under these conditions.
There are still hopes that barnacle analysis could provide new areas for authorities to search for the plane. In concert with his research team, Herbert published a paper late last year positing a new drift path for the flaperon, based on barnacle studies. The paper lays out a deep analysis of a barnacle shell found on the MH370 flaperon debris. The shell’s makeup was used to determine the sea temperatures at different stages of the barnacle’s growth, based on established research into Lepas anatifera. This was then used to generate a reconstruction of the barnacle’s potential drift path through the ocean before it wound up on Réunion Island. The team hoped to repeat their analysis with larger barnacles from the flaperon debris, if they were to be released for analysis by French authorities.
Herbert’s research team used the sea surface temperature history baked into a barnacle’s shell to generate a new partial drift model for debris that washed up on Réunion Island. Credit: research paper
Grasping at (Very Scientific) Straws
It bears noting that these techniques aren’t the typical way that we hunt for crashed airliners. Normally, radar logs, transponder signals, and other data give us enough to go on to know where to look. In the case of MH370, much of that wasn’t available, meaning authorities and scientists had to get far more creative to hunt it down.
There are still some holes in the barnacle analysis as mentioned above. Plus, without access to all the barnacle evidence, researchers are naturally constrained. Ultimately, it’s an odd application of marine biology to try and solve an implacable mystery. It’s valid to try, but there’s no guarantee these small shelled organisms will turn up the plane that has so far proven impossible to find.
The ongoing investigation into MH370’s disappearance highlights the limitations and potential of using marine biology in solving such mysteries. Despite the advanced technologies and the novel application of biological data, significant gaps remain in our understanding of the debris’ drift patterns.
As researchers continue to study these marine organisms, the MH370 mystery underscores a broader truth: the ocean’s sheer size often defies our efforts to understand it. Trying to find a needle in a haystack would be a cinch by comparison.
Featured image: “Grand Canyon Sunset Through a de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter Airplane Cockpit” by Nan Palmero. […]

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Radio Frequency Burns, Flying a Kite, and You

Most hams can tell you that it’s possible to get a nasty RF burn if you accidentally touch an antenna while it’s transmitting. However, you can also cop a nasty surprise on the receiving end if you’re not careful, as explained in a video from [Grants Pass TV Repair].
It’s hard to see in a still image, but the RF burns from the kite antenna actually generate a little puff of smoke on contact.
An experiment was used to demonstrate this fact involving a kite and a local AM broadcaster. A simple calculation revealed that an antenna 368 feet and 6 inches long would be resonant with the KAJO Radio signal at 1.270 MHz. At half the signal’s wavelength, an antenna that long would capture plenty of energy from the nearby broadcast antenna.
Enter the kite, which served as a skyhook to loft an antenna that long. With the wire in the air picking up a strong signal from the AM radio tower, it was possible to get a noticable RF burn simply by touching the end of the antenna.
The video explains that this is a risky experiment, but not only because of the risk of RF burn itself. It’s also easy to accidentally get a kite tangled in power lines, or to see it struck by lightning, both of which would create far greater injuries than the mild RF burn seen in the video. In any case, even if you know what you’re doing, you have to be careful when you’re going out of your way to do something dangerous in the first place.
AM radio towers aren’t to be messed with; they’ve got big power flowing. Video after the break.

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AM Radio Broadcast Uses Phasor To Let Eight Towers Spray One Big Signal

If you’re in the commercial AM radio business, you want to send your signal as far and wide as possible. More listeners means you can make more ad revenue, after all. [Jeff Geerling] recently visited a tower site for WSDZ-AM, which uses a full eight towers to broadcast its 20kW AM signal. To do that, it needs a phasor to keep everything in tune. Or, uh… phase.
The phasor uses a bunch of variable inductors and capacitors to manage the phase of the signal fed to each tower. Basically, by varying the phase of the AM signal going to each of the 8 transmitter towers, it’s possible to tune the directionality of the tower array. This allows the station to ensure it’s only broadcasting to the area it’s legally licensed to do so.
The tower array is also configured to broadcast slightly differently during the day and at night to account for the differences in propagation that occur. A certain subset of the 8 towers are used for the day propagation pattern, while a different subset is used to shape the pattern for the night shift. AM signals can go far farther at night, so it’s important for stations to vary their output to avoid swamping neighbouring stations when the sun goes down.
[Jeff’s] video is a great tour of a working AM broadcast transmitter. If you’ve ever wondered about the hardware running your local commercial station, this is the insight you’re looking for. AM radio may be old-school, but it continues to fascinate us to this day. Video after the break.

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Bad Experiences With a Cheap Wind Turbine

If you’ve got a property with some outdoor space and plenty of wind, you might consider throwing up a windmill to generate some electricity. Indeed, [The Broject List] did just that. Only, his experience was a negative one, having purchased a cheap windmill online. He’s warning off others from suffering the same way by explaining what was so bad about the product he bought.
The windmill in question was described as a “VEVOR Windturbine”, which set him back around 100 euros, and claimed to be capable of producing 600 watts at 12 volts. He starts by showing how similar turbines pop up for sale all over the Internet, with wildly inflated specs that have no relation to reality. Some sellers even charge over 500 euros for the same basic device.
He then demonstrates the turbine operating at wind speeds of approximately 50 km/h. The output is dismal, a finding also shared by a number of other YouTube channels out there. Examining the construction of the wind turbine’s actual generator, he determines that it’s nowhere near capable of generating 600 watts. He notes the poorly-manufactured rotor and aluminium coils as particular disappointments. He concludes it could maybe generate 5 watts at most.
Sadly, it’s easy to fall into this trap when buying online. That’s where it pays to do your research before laying down your hard-earned cash.
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Building a Giant Boardgame Isn’t Easy

[Stevenson Streeper] is a maker, and was recently charged with a serious mission. He had to prototype, design, and build a board game. A software-controlled board game, that is, and one that was 400 square-feet in size. As you might imagine, this ended up being a tall order, and he’s been kind enough to share his tale on his blog.
His client’s idea was for a giant interactive game board akin to the glowing disco floors of old. It had to play a game approximating the rules of “The Floor Is Lava.” It had to handle up to 20 players at a time, too.
[Stevenson] runs a company that delivers “Activations”—basically big showpieces for customers willing to pay. This wasn’t his first attempt at building an immersive attraction, but it was a big job, and a challenging one at that. He explains the difficulties that came about from a limited crew, limited timeline, and a number of difficult missteps. Hurdles included surprise unusable off-the-shelf hardware and the difficulty of hand-sanding 144 tiles of polycarbonate. One weeps for the project’s plight early on – if only the AliExpress tiles were documented.
He may have bitten off more than he could chew, and yet—the project was finished and to a decent degree of functionality success. That’s to be applauded, and [Stevenson] learned a ton along the way. Big projects can be daunting and can put you in a bind. As this story demonstrates, though, perseverance often gets you somewhere okay in the end. Video after the break.

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Roboticizing An Etch-a-Sketch

The Etch-a-Sketch was a popular toy, but a polarizing one. You were either one of those kids that had the knack, or one of the kids that didn’t. [Micah] was pretty firmly in the latter group, so decided to roboticize the Etch-a-Sketch so a computer could draw for him instead.
The build uses a pair of stepper motors attached to the Etch-a-Sketch’s knobs via 3D-printed adapters. It took [Micah] a few revisions to get the right design and the right motors for the job, but it all came together. A Raspberry Pi is charged with driving the motors to draw the desired picture.
Beyond the mechanics, [Micah] also does a great job of explaining the challenges around drawing and the drive software. Namely, the Etch-a-Sketch has a major limitation in that there’s no way to move the stylus without drawing a line. He accounts for this in his code for converting and drawing images.
The robot draws slowly but surely. The final result is incredibly impressive, and far exceeds what most of us could achieve on by hand. We’ve seen some similar builds in the past, too. Video after the break.

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Ultra-Tiny Wii Uses Custom Parts And Looks Amazing

The Nintendo Wii was never a large console. Indeed, it was smaller than both the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and most consoles of previous generations, too. That’s not to say it couldn’t be smaller, though. [loopj] has built what is perhaps the smallest Wii yet, which measures roughly the same size as a deck of cards. The best bit? The housing is even to scale!
There’s no emulation jiggery-pokery here. This build uses an original Wii motherboard that’s been cut down to the bare basics. Measuring just 62 mm by 62 mm, it features the CPU, GPU, RAM, and flash memory, while most of the extraneous hardware has been eliminated. Power and data is provided to the board from a special Wii Power Strip PCB, while the Periphlex flex PCB handles breaking out controller interfaces. Indeed, the build is nicknamed Short Stack as it’s built from a number of specialist PCBs for builds like this one. It also uses two boards designed by [YveltalGriffin] — the fujiflex for HDMI video output and the nandFlex to handle the Wii’s NAND memory chip.
[loopj] also had to design two further PCBs specifically for this build. One handles power, the micro SD card, HDMI connector, and controller ports. Meanwhile, the second handles the power, reset, and sync buttons along with status LEDs. Another neat hack of [loopj]’s own devising is using TRRS connectors in place of the original bulky GameCube controller ports.
Ultimately, it’s volume is just 7.4% that of an original Nintendo Wii. It’s probably possible to go smaller, too, says [loopj], so don’t expect things to end here. We’ve seen some other great Wii mods before, too, like this excellent handheld design. […]

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Build Your Own RGB Fill Light For Photography

Photography is all about light, and capturing it for posterity. As any experienced photographer will tell you, getting the right lighting is key to getting a good shot. To help in that regard, you might like to have a fill light. If you follow [tobychui]’s example, you can build your own!
Colors!
The build relies on addressable WS2812B LEDs as the core of the design. While they’re not necessarily the fanciest LEDs for balanced light output, they are RGB LEDs, so they can put out a ton of different colors for different stylistic effects. The LEDs are under the command of a Wemos D1, which provides a WiFI connection for wireless control of the light.
[tobychui] did a nice job of building a PCB for the project, including heatsinking to keep the array of 49 LEDs nice and cool. The whole assembly is all put together inside a 3D printed housing to keep it neat and tidy. Control is either via onboard buttons or over the WiFi connection.
Files are on GitHub if you’re seeking inspiration or want to duplicate the build for yourself. We’ve seen some other similar builds before, too. Meanwhile, if you’re cooking up your own rad photography hacks, don’t hesitate to let us know! […]

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Remove Wall Plugs Fast With A Custom Tool

The best thing about buying your own home is that you can hang things on the walls. It’s a human right all too often denied to renters the world over. Regardless, five years later, when you’re doing the mandatory minimalist remodel, you’ll be ruing the day you put in all those wall anchors. At that point, consider removing them with this nifty tool from [XDIY with Itzik].
The design aims to remove wall anchors as cleanly as possible. It’s easiest to watch the video to get the idea of how it works.
The tool features a block which holds a bearing. That bearing acts as a rotating stop for a wood screw. The idea is that you place the block against the wall, and use a power drill to drive a wood screw into the anchor at high speed. The screw can’t move forward, so the threads basically yank the plug out of the wall, and relatively neatly at that. Once removed, there’s a little push stopper you can use to hold the old plug in place as you remove the wood screw from the device, ready to go again.
[Itzik] demonstrates the device by removing ten wall plugs in just 40 seconds. If you’ve got a lot to do, or it’s a job you do regularly, you might like to have this tool in your kit.
Oftentimes, having the right tool can make a job ten times faster, and this seems like one of those cases. Video after the break.

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Microsoft Killed My Favorite Keyboard, And I’m Mad About It

As a professional writer, I rack up thousands of words a day. Too many in fact, to the point where it hurts my brain. To ease this burden, I choose my tools carefully to minimize obstructions as the words pour from my mind, spilling through my fingers on their way to the screen.
That’s a long-winded way of saying I’m pretty persnickety about my keyboard. Now, I’ve found out my favorite model has been discontinued, and I’ll never again know the pleasure of typing on its delicate keys. And I’m mad about it. Real mad. Because I shouldn’t be in this position to begin with!

T’is Better To Have Loved And Lost
I liked how the Sculpt design allowed my hands to lay naturally in line with my arms, with no splaying of the wrists.
After some research and a little trial and error, I found a keyboard that worked for me. I detest rectangular keyboards that forced my wrists into splay inwards in an unnatural way. It gave me all kinds of problems approaching the realms of RSI and carpal tunnel and other ugly things.
In turn, I came to love the delicate curves of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. Wireless, sleek, beguiling. With the keys laid out in delicate three-dimensional curves, the keyboard met my hands in their natural resting orientation, so perfectly I felt the keyboard had been made for me.
No more would my hands cramp and my wrists contort to find the keys. Instead, my fingers would simply dance a few millimeters, deftly finding the keys as I needed them. My typing was fast, clean, and my wrists barely moved an inch. They rested deftly in position ready to deliver. Oh, bliss.
Loving this keyboard as I did, I forgave it when it faltered just 6 months into ownership. Dropped keys and dropped connections I could not withstand, but I had the salve at hand. I’d kept the receipt like some paper-hoarding dragon, and returned to darken the door of the office supply once more. I suffered the side-eyes and probing questions and left with a new ‘board fresh in box. Our love affair would continue as I racked up tens, hundreds of thousands of words with my new ally. We wrote together, we gamed together, we moved house together. We were building a life together. My plastic friend was helping me pay my bills. Nothing could stop us. The words flowed and the cash flowed in turn. Such is the life of a writer.
Then came the break in.
Every computer I owned was stolen. Most of my guitars, too. Years of data, videos, photos, projects… all gone when they carried my desktop out the door. They hadn’t taken everything though. They’d left behind my TV, my kettle, my toaster. Oh, and my Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. Mouse, keyboard, and even the separate numeric keypad. It was all there, except…
With the desktop, left the dongle. Sans the dongle, my friend was dead.
Irreplaceable
Talk to Logitech. They’ll sell you a keyboard, or a mouse, or fifteen of each. Swap them in and out as you like, you can pair them all to a single Unifying Receiver. Lose the dongle, and fear nothing. Just buy another one and re-pair your devices.
Microsoft couldn’t find the time to implement this on the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. Fashionable engineers with houses with light fixtures more expensive than my car were too busy to think of the consequences this would have on me, so many years and miles far removed.
I tried a mechanical keyboard, but the rectangular layout just wasn’t for me. Neither were the switches, and I didn’t fancy spending months trying to find what I liked.
In the wake of the robbery, I didn’t have time to mourn or weep. To a writer, time is words and words are money. I needed money. I threw a cheap machine on my credit card and got back to work. Now lean on funds, I had to economize on a new keyboard. I couldn’t afford another Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. I had to make do with a $30 keyboard and mouse combo made of cheaper plastic than most Coke bottles. My new instrument was cheap. The same 101 keys, but the music they played wasn’t as sweet.
I rankled at having to buy a replacement. I still had a perfectly good keyboard right here, why did I need to buy a new one when only the dongle was missing? But alas, these are the ways of the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop—the mouse, the keyboard, and the numeric keypad. One dongle to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
After 18 months, I relented. I could go on no more. Words had to flow, faster than before. I couldn’t rely on this cheap plastic from the store. I needed a better keyboard, my muse. I needed a faster way to pump out the news.
By now, the world had turned. The Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop was done, dusted. Discontinued forever. Mine was useless without the original dongle, and remaining stock online was retailing for $800. I’d have to move on.
Better, Somehow
It’s not as radical looking as the Microsoft design, but the fundamentals are there.
Thankfully, a blessed light shined from a local office store. Something akin to the glory of the Sculpt, but so slightly different. The Logitech Ergo K860 was designed with similar curves such that the keys meet the hand with a minimum of twist, with a supportive wrist pad to boot. It similarly had low-travel keys for a light, laptop-like typing experience. I tried it out and found it instantly familiar. My speed was up, mistakes down. My wrists once again enjoying the comfort courtesy of a quality keyboard.
Perhaps the greatest joy of the Logitech design, though, is that it dispenses with the ridiculous notion of a dongle paired for life. Instead, it’s more than capable of being paired with any Logitech Unifying Receiver out there. I can pair a mouse and a keyboard to a single receiver, using a single USB port, and if I want to swap either out, I can do so freely. There’s no lock-in, and I’m free to set up my desktop as I wish. If someone were to steal my computer again, I could simply buy a new dongle and keep on using my perfectly good keyboard the next day.
The Logitech has similarly magic curves.
As an engineer, I can perhaps understand why Microsoft didn’t go this route. Logitech had to develop a piece of software for pairing its dongles and peripherals, which takes engineering time. That software needs to be written, tested, and likely maintained over time to ensure it stays compatible with today’s ever-changing operating systems. Microsoft perhaps didn’t see the point in doing so.
At the same time, this is what separates Logitech from Microsoft in this regard. One is a dedicated manufacturer of quality peripherals to the exclusion of all else. The other does build hardware, but as a secondary consideration, seldom achieving the same focus as its rivals.
I still have my useless Microsoft Sculpt keyboard. DIY wired conversions exist. I wanna say that I’ll do that one day, but for a use with a laptop, it’s kinda too messy. Plus I always kinda hated how the wrist rest always looked dirty. Nevermind.
Ultimately, I’m happy that Logitech came through for me here. I needed a quality keyboard that fit me like a glove, and I have one once more. Plus, I don’t have to worry about the loss of a tiny USB dongle making my $200 keyboard worthless. That’s a plus. Overall, I’m about hardware that’s robust and reusable, not fickle and fragile. That’s what matters to me. […]