It’s been a while since we heard from Dmitry Rogozin, the always-entertaining former director of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. Not content with sending mixed messages about the future of the ISS amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, or attempting to hack a mothballed German space telescope back into action, Rogozin is now spouting off that the Apollo moon landings never happened. His doubts about NASA’s seminal accomplishment apparently started while he was still head of Roscosmos when he tasked a group with looking into the Apollo landings. Rogozin’s conclusion from the data his team came back with isn’t especially creative; whereas some Apollo deniers go to great lengths to find “scientific proof” that we were never there, Rogozin just concluded that because NASA hasn’t ever repeated the feat, it must never have happened.
Can your chair crash your computer? You’d think not, at least under normal use — I mean, hit a computer with a chair and it’ll probably crash eventually — but that’s not Felix Häcker’s experience. He noticed a pesky problem with his monitor, which turns off briefly when he gets in or out of his chair. His first instinct was to look for loose connections, thinking his movements were wiggling the power or data cables loose. But then he discovered similar reports from other users of the Ikea “MARKUS” chair, which apparently builds up enough electrostatic charge that the discharge created by getting in or out of it zaps the monitor. It’s one of the weirdest failure modes we’ve ever heard of. And note to self: Don’t use this chair at the workbench.
Does a USB drive change weight as you add and remove data? It seems like a silly question, but apparently, it does — just not the way you might think. Since electrons have mass — all of 9.109×10−31 kg each — and flash memory works by storing charge, adding and removing data from a USB stick must change its weight. But interestingly, since flash memory removes the charge from the floating gate of the MOSFET to store a logical 1, that means that an empty flash drive (i.e., one storing nothing but zeros) must weigh more than a drive with nothing but ones. But by how much? Knowing that each bit in a flash memory cell holds somewhere around 100 to 1,000 electrons, a little back-of-the-envelope math shows us that a half-terabyte USB drive can vary by as much as 373 femtograms on the low end to 3.73 picograms at the upper limit. Actually measuring the weight change is left as an exercise for the reader.
If you manage to accomplish that task, you’re probably the kind of person who’d enjoy Teardown 2023. Billed as “a conference for hacking, discovering, and sharing hardware,” it sounds right up our collective alley. It’ll be held June 23 through 25 on the campus of Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. Early-bird tickets are available now, and there’s a call for proposals too. It looks like this is the first in-person Teardown since 2019, the “before-times,” so don’t miss the chance to mix and mingle again.
And finally, a few months back we gave everyone the heads up that Bill Hammack would be coming back to YouTube with more of his “The Engineer Guy” videos. It was exciting news at the time, and now that the videos have dropped, we can say that they were well worth the wait. They cover everything from the neolithic engineering of Göbekli Tepe to the invention of the magnetron, and he manages to tie them all together with insights into the engineering mindset. The key takeaway for me was the difference between the scientific method and the engineering method. The videos are fantastic, and I can’t wait to get the accompanying book, The Things We Make. In the meantime, enjoy the videos.