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Hackaday Links: October 9, 2022


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Don’t you just hate it when you walk out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe? That’s a little bit like what happened when the Mars helicopter Ingenuity picked up a strange bit of debris on one of its landing pads. The foreign object was spotted on the helicopter’s down-pointing navigation camera, and looks for all the world like a streamer of toilet paper flopping around in the rotor wash. The copter eventually shed the debris, which wafted down to the Martian surface with no further incident, and without any apparent damage to the aircraft. NASA hasn’t said more about what the debris isn’t — aliens — than what it is, which of course is hard to say at this point. We’re going to go out on a limb and say it’s probably something we brought there, likely a scrap of plastic waste lost during the descent and landing phase of the mission. Or, you know, it’s getting to be close to Halloween, a time when the landscape gets magically festooned with toilet paper overnight. You never know.

In UAV news slightly closer to home, there’s a story from France of a heist being pulled off with an unlikely accomplice: a DJI drone. The robbery occurred in Reims back in January, and the thieves pulled it off by forcing open a grille covering a ventilation duct to a “technical room” supporting ATMs. In heist movies, this would be the point where the smallest member of the team would grease up and slip into the duct, potentially getting stuck or having a crippling attack of claustrophobia. But instead, they piloted a Mavic Mini through the duct and into the room, where the drone was used to push a button to open the door to the room. They made off with €150,000, a pretty good return on investment for the drone. We can’t say we condone the thievery, but we do enjoy a good heist story, and this one has a nice tech twist. We just hope everyone wore nice suits.

If you fly Lufthansa, you’ll want to note that the German airline now bans Apple AirTags in checked baggage. Or more precisely, AirTags can only be transported in check luggage if they’re completely powered down, which of course renders them useless. Obviously, Lufthansa is billing this as a “safety precaution,” using the same logic that phones and other devices must be powered down during takeoff and landing, lest avionic mayhem ensues. But could it be something else? Could perhaps Lufthansa — and the other airlines sure to follow its lead — think that squads of tech-savvy travelers knowing exactly where their lost bags are while they claim the bags can’t be found is perhaps a bad look? We’re not sure how airlines intend to enforce this ban, so it’ll be interesting to watch this one play out.

Back during the last meatspace Superconference in 2019, we recall some excited talk from attendees who traveled to Pasadena by train rather than plane. The trip took long enough and the train car was spacious enough that they were able to work on projects on the way, which sounded like a blast. There were plans afoot to expand that idea for the 2020 Supercon, with talk of even renting a private car for the trip from Seattle to Pasadena for a rolling mini-hackathon. Well, we all know what happened to that plan, and the 2021 plan as well, but Supercon 2022 is here and so is the #HackerTrain! It’s going to be on the Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Seattle, an absolutely stunning journey through some of this country’s most beautiful landscapes — trust us; we drove down almost this entire route to Supercon in 2019 and it was the trip of a lifetime. Looks like the train leaves on 11/3, so if you’re in the overlapping region of the Venn diagram of Supercon attendees, train aficionados, and those handy to Seattle, think about climbing aboard the HackerTrain.

And finally, what could go wrong with the Central Intelligence Agency’s plan to resurrect extinct species? At least that’s what the headlines are telling us, although a deeper read is necessary to figure out what’s going on here, to the extent that anything about the US intelligence community is discernible. The company that actually is trying to genetically “de-extinct” long-dead species, not only the wooly mammoth but also the Tasmanian tiger and dodo, is called Colossal Biosciences. They have a plan to not only produce a wooly mammoth calf with genetic engineering, but to “re-wild” it within the next five years. The tie-in to the spooks is that Colossal was recently added to the portfolio of venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, which is partially funded by the CIA. We’re going on the record as thinking this is a Really Bad Idea™ because there’s a reason these species are extinct. Sure, sometimes that reason is us, but this is probably not the way to make up for misdeeds. Haven’t we all seen this movie already? Over and over again even?

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