Hackaday Links: March 19, 2023

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We get results! Well, sort of. You may recall that in this space last week we discussed Ford’s plans to exclude AM reception on the infotainment systems of certain of their cars starting in 2024. We decried the decision, not for the loss of the sweet, sweet content that AM stations tend to carry — although we always enjoyed “Traffic on the 8s” back in our dismal days of daily commuting — but rather as a safety concern, because AM radio can reach almost the entire US population with emergency information using just 75 stations. To our way of thinking, this makes AM radio critical infrastructure, and eliminating it from motor vehicles is likely to have unintended consequences. Now it seems like there’s some agreement with that position, as former administrators of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration; and no, not FEDRA) have gotten together to warn about the dangers of deleting AM from cars. Manufacturers seem to be leaning into the excuse that EVs emit a lot of radio frequency interference, rendering static-sensitive AM receivers less useful than other, more profitable less susceptible modes, like digital satellite radio. That seems like a red herring to us, but then again, the most advanced infotainment option in any car we’ve ever owned is a CD player, so it’s hard for us to judge.

Speaking of antiquated technology that’s apparently not, it was with great glee that we learned this week that some of the nearly 600 Chuck E. Cheese’s franchises in the world today are still using floppies to run their animatronic shows. Full disclosure: we worked at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1983, for the five hours it took to realize food service in a scratchy polyester uniform wasn’t our thing. But the animatronic show was pretty cool, at least the first couple of times; after seeing it a dozen times in a row, it wears pretty thin. And while technology has marched on lo these past 40 years, with most installations moving on to SD cards and flash drives, it seems not to have progressed for about 50 of the franchises, where the floppy still reigns supreme. We assume the floppy-philic locations are at least using 3.5″ disks, but you never know. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Then again…

But if it is broke, go ahead and turn it on and off — 120 times in a row! Those are the instructions Ford has issued to technicians who need to switch a vehicle out of “Factory Mode,” whatever that is. Sixty cycles of the start-stop button on the dash — 120 total pushes — will apparently do the trick. Given hourly labor rates, this could be an expensive proposition, and it certainly seems sort-sighted for Ford not to provide a more sensible way to do this. Then again, we’ve had to endure the whole “twice on the ignition, flash the high beams, and unlock the driver’s door three times” to set and reset features, so we suppose this is all just an artifact of the somewhat limited UI a car dashboard presents.

Bad news for science fiction fans: it turns out that the planet Vulcan doesn’t actually exist. According to Star Trek canon, Mr. Spock’s homeworld of Vulcan was said to orbit the star 40 Eridani A, the primary star of an actual triple star system about 16 light-years away. Back in 2018, exoplanet hunters discovered Doppler shifts in the spectrum of the star with a period of 42 days, leading them to conclude that the star hosted a planet inside its habitable zone. The news was greeted with much enthusiasm by Star Trek fans, and the prognosticatory abilities of Gene Roddenberry and the original series writing staff were much praised. But alas, more careful measurements now show pretty clearly that what was thought to be Vulcan’s signature was really just an artifact of stellar surface activity. If it sounds too good to be true…

And finally, if you never caught the Wordle bug, here’s your chance to try again, with a twist. Progle() is the name of the game, and it tests your knowledge of programming language attributes to narrow in on the language of the day. You pick a language at random from a list of choices — there are only 33, so your odds of a one-move win are pretty good — and a grid pops up to show you how various attributes, like typing, garbage collection, compiled vs. interpreted, compare to the target language. You then use your power of deduction and encyclopedic knowledge of language characteristics to home in on the answer. We’ve won a couple of times, but if we’re being honest, most of it was just wild guessing.

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