Name that Ware January 2007

The ware for January 2007 is shown below. Click on the image for a much larger version.

It’s unusual that I would post something that is a prototype that I made for Name That Ware; I usually consider my home-built prototypes to be unfair for the competition because I can make it arbitrarily obscure because by definition nobody else has seen these. However, I have a bit of a bone to pick this month. I try to avoid using this blog as a platform for my (biased) opinions, so I apologize for the rant: I feel this strikes too close to home to be left alone.

Some of you may be aware of the bomb scare in Boston caused by a guy who simply put circuit boards with LEDs up around the city. Those of you who read my blog frequently can probably guess that I’m not only upset by this, I’d be positively incensed by the sheer idiocy of the city of Boston in handling this situation. To quote Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the maker of these is charged with a felony for creating a device described as follows:

“It had a very sinister appearance,” Coakley told reporters. “It had a battery behind it, and wires.”

Oh. My. God. What in the hell is she thinking? My whole life is about making stuff that, by her definition, could be interpreted as sinister looking. Am I now a terrorist? Or am I just a hard-working, freedom-loving engineer who doesn’t bother to put a nice shiny case around everything I build? Should I be arrested for walking around in public with these devices? And perhaps even displaying them as works of art, carrying them around with me to raves and other public places with lots of people at them? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hopped on an airplane with devices that probably look more sinister than the one above, but are just as benign. And then, if you only knew how dangerous the Lithium Ion batteries in every laptop was in comparison to the stuff I have built…

Here’s another choice quote from the article:

‘”Scaring an entire region, tying up the T and major roadways, and forcing first responders to spend 12 hours chasing down trinkets instead of terrorists is marketing run amok,” Markey, a Democrat, said in a written statement.”‘

Look. Who scared the region? The signs, or your reaction to the signs? Have you not forgotten the immortal words of FDR:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

If Boston had simply looked at the signs and evaluated them, there would be no scare, and no impact. Some of you may argue that you would rather be safe than sorry. Caution is always a good idea, but you need to be educated in what you’re being careful about. Simply going after whatever Hollywood might portray as a bomb, or what an uninformed person may phone in to be a bomb, is the making of a witch-hunt society. If I have a score to settle with my neighbor, I could just make it even by calling in the terrorist squad on them for having several empty bottles of detergent around their house because bleach could be used to make bombs. You can pay all the money you want to a terrorist response team, but if they are uneducated, they are still ineffective, and all they do is propagate the sense of insecurity and terror. I’m scared because now I know idiots are looking after our cities.

How many terrosists have these people chased down, exactly? I think the problem is that everyone is looking for terrosists so hard that even a humble artist has now been turned into a terrorist because over-funded and terribly ineffective programs are turning out to be a waste of public money, and these programs need to find a raison d’etre. Don’t blame the incompetence of your team on the artist. Blame your incompetence on a total lack of knowledge on the part of your team. Anybody lightly trained in the art of electronics–every reader of this blog, in fact–could immediately recognize the fact that what was in Boston was not a bomb. Wires and a battery pack do not make a bomb. At worst, the artist could be accused of vandalism; at the best, the artist is exercising his right to Free Speech.

Let me tell you what I worry about. The Spanish Flu was recently synthesized and tested on a primate population to study exactly how it managed to kill 2.5-5% of the world’s population in about one year, or 25 million people back in 1918 (see Nature vol 445, No 7125, pp237, “Concern as revived 1918 flu virus kills monkeys”). We’re still vulnerable to this strain, H1N1, of influenza, and it’s much more deadly than H5N1 (aka the dreaded “Avian Flu”). What of the terrorist who walks through Chicago O’hare on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving with a 4-oz spray bottle full of this or a similar virus, putting on his or her deadly “cologne” while waiting for their delayed connection in the crowded terminals? Extrapolating statistics, that would be 150 million people killed worldwide by the virus in 25 weeks. Remember that the US only has 300 million people. (Not a totally fair comparison, first because it is worldwide deaths vs. the US population only, and second because we have had great medical advances since 1918. However, the mechanism for killing by the virus is a Cytokine storm, which kills very rapidly and quickly–by the time you thought about going to see the doctor, you are probably about to die). Should we still research H1N1? We absolutely should. We need to understand this threat to combat it. Perhaps you say H1N1 is too esoteric for a terrorist to get ahold of. Well, last I checked, its less lethal “Avian Flu” friend (H5N1) that you have probably heard about is breeding in the poultry stocks of many third world countries. And even if its mortality rate is below 0.2%, consider the economic impact it would have if all the airports were shut down because it was reported that our busy travel and commerce system was being used as a conduit to spread the virus. Or, if you are worried about economic impact and not deaths, howabout global warming? There’s a problem that will impact generations to come and our leadership continues to bury its head in the sand about it. The Department of Homeland security will spend $35.6 billion next year searching for terrorists, but only $3 billion researching global warming. Do we have our priorities correct? We could lose double-digit percentages of Florida’s landmass as a result of global warming. And unlike terrorism, global warming is now pretty much a certainty. It’s not “if”, but “when”.

In the end, this “War on Terror” has done nothing but induce more terror on the population. The government introduced a whole new set of apropriations to deal with terrorism; now, these large, expensive organizations are looking for a reason to exist and they are justifying their existence by extending the reign of terror on the population and using innocent Americans as scapegoats. You want to know what really kills Americans? Smoking. Heart disease. Drunk driving. Lack of exercise. McDonald’s and Philip Morris has lead to the deaths of more Americans than any terrorist group, but I would never, ever, suggest that we ban such organizations. Choice is beautiful, even if it can be dangerous.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not of the opinion that I think we should do nothing about a potential terrorist problem. Some measures were productive and effective, and probably good for us in the end. The point of this post is that despite the good things that have happened, I think that now things have gone just a little too far in the wrong direction and we are starting to lose the very thing we are trying to protect, our civil liberties and our peace of mind. We have scared ourselves into believing that ghosts are real, and this event shows us that it’s time to reconsider the reality of the situation.

I believe that fundamentally, the most effective way to deal with terror is to not be afraid of it. I say take it with a stiff upper lip, ignore it, and live life like you used to, as a free society with great liberties and tolerance for all walks of life. Travel. Express. Build. Innovate. Research. Be an Individual. Be smart about who you trust, but still be willing to trust. Even if you don’t understand someone right away, it doesn’t mean they are out to kill you. If you are afraid of terrorism to the point where you fear that a hack-job lighted sign could be a bomb, then you shouldn’t even be on the road. The more you try to look for terrorists, the more terrorists integrate into society and go under the radar, and the more successful they are at causing the population to terrorize itself.

Just because I live in a world of circuit boards and batteries, and because I’m not like you, doesn’t mean I’m a terrorist.

Thanks to those who read this post. I know there are those of you who will disagree with me, and I expect that you, too, will express yourself in my comments section. I apologize for this rather political and probably controversial message, but I feel if I don’t speak up about this, it may only be a matter of time before my rights are directly threatened:

21 Responses to “Name that Ware January 2007”

  1. Karl says:

    At first, I thought it looked like your 83cb3609861edecaaa7e758c02a44b4c, but the ribbon cable and rechargable battery make me think that it’s actually your a766689f557c6de68244137558f3f3b9.

  2. Karl says:

    It appears that WordPress ate my first comment about Seattle’s response to the mooninites. Apparently, officials already discovered them, and simply removed them in some cases. The Seattle Times has more at this URL:

  3. Christian Vogel says:

    By looking at the photo, especially at the wires and the battery, I come to the conclusion: It’s a BOMB! ;-)

  4. Go Bunnie, Go!…

    I couldn’t help but comment about his Name that Ware posting for January, 2007, if only because he seems to feel much the same way I do……

  5. Ajay says:

    Right on – it has been shown many times that people spend too much time/money worrying about the wrong things. The govt’s spending on global warming vs. terrorism is a great example of this. I wonder if those figures include the cost of the iraq war, given that it’s purported purpose is to fight the war on terror.

  6. Matthias says:

    Probably I should refer you to this… Unless you’re already reading that.

  7. GumbyDamnit says:

    I still remember how people looked at me when I was walking around OSU’s campus back in 1990 with my 6809-based hand-wired project for a EE class. People took a few steps away when we were waiting to cross the street. Eyes strained to look to the side without moving their heads. It was almost comical (and sad).

    I’m pretty sure that people walking out of the SEG electronics market in Japan would not be looked at in the same way. It’s sad that our society is not as technologically savvy as our counterparts in Japan.

    What really irks me about the Boston case are the irresponsible remarks made by the public officials, especially the Attorney General. Once they knew what the issue was, they should have told the public exactly what they were dealing with. Instead, they continue to mislead the public.

    I do think that these guys broke a law or two by advertising in restricted areas (i.e. roadways). This could cause accidents if drivers are distracted (I mean more than they would be by gabbing on their cell phones, texting their friends, etc). But they were not placing bombs. They should be treated exactly like somebody that was caught putting up signs where they are not allowed to be. There should be no vandalism charges.

    The city officials in Boston should be ashamed. They should immediately recant what they said and explain exactly what they found. They should take a page from how the Seattle officials handled it (they took them down, with no fanfare).

    I guess I should leave it there — I just fell off of my soapbox ;)

  8. teabag says:

    The green board is some sort of SBC, using a Hitachi SH series controller. Looks like it’s got between 16 and 128k of SRAM or OTP eprom, but I can’t make out the exact numbers, and it’s clocked at 20MHz.
    The breadboard looks like it’s maybe got some linear ic (op amp, timer, comparator, etc), and a 74 or 4000 series logic chip.

    As to it’s purpose, I can only guess. The battery is big, so it’s either intended to run for a good while between charges, or is powering something else that draws significant current, such as a motor or LED display, connected to the controller via the ribbon cable. Given the context from the article, I’m gonna guess it’s some kind of light/display controller.

  9. Hugo says:

    This is probably the best blog post I’ve read in ages… it is so good to hear rational, justified, thought in a sea of paranoia. Have you read/heard/seen Noam Chomsky talking about fear and terrorism?

    Matthias: this page in particular:

  10. Hugo says:

    Oh and by the way, you need to turn the noise reduction down/off on your camera — it’s destroying the fine (low-contrast) details.

  11. Aaron says:

    Well I am intrigued by the 74AHCT4040 12-bit ripple counter that lends it such a “bleeding edge early 90’s” flavor, although most of the rest seems newer than that. I suspect we’d all know right away if we knew what was on the other end of the ribbon cable. My own personal experience was that 74AHCT or HCT was what you got out if you had a tangle of 74xx logic that wasn’t working because you had lousy signals somewhere … the rail-rail transitions of a little cmos would clean things right up. This thing has the look of something that was installed somewhere and has now been extracted and piled in a heap. It doesn’t look to me like there’s anything capable of more current supply than to run what’s on the board … OK, the HD64170 “7032” has 8 channels of 10-bit A/D, and it looks like a bunch of signals are patched onto the mainboard with all those ribbon cable bits. I’m going to guess that it was hooked up to something controlling it based on a bunch of analog inputs and using a few low-power digital outputs.

  12. Adam Mayer says:

    This is nothing new.

    About twelve years ago, my friends and I had a lump of clay that we’d mold when we were bored in our dormitory lounge. At the end of the day, we’d slap it to a pillar in the middle of the room, until someone would come along the next day, pull it off, and form it into something new. At the end of the next day, up on the pillar it would go again.

    After a couple of weeks of this, I returned from classes to find– obviously– the dorm evacuated, and the campus police and a couple of very unfit FBI men looking for whoever was responsible for the lump of clay. I’d bought it initially, so I told them it was mine. It was a lump of clay that I got at the local art supply store for five bucks. What seemed to be the problem?

    I was immediately arrested, whisked off in a cop car, and interviewed by the FBI men, non-stop, for four hours.

    At the time I didn’t get it. Everybody understood that this was a false alarm, that there was no threat real or suggested, that this was somebody’s paranoid phone call. The person who’d called the cops thinking that this harmless lump of gray clay was some sort of harmful device wasn’t detained. Didn’t these feds have something better to do than intimidate the hell out of a gawky twenty-year-old kid?

    Nowadays I see this behavior all over the place– as a manager now, I’m guilty of it myself, sometimes. People performing meaningless, sometimes even counterproductive, tasks solely to convince themselves that they are “doing a good job”. We live in a corporate and political culture that is obsessed with never admitting mistakes. It’s more important to be strong, or effective, or brave, than to actually be right.

    I don’t know if I have a point here, or I’m just rambling. I do know that every time I take a homemade gadget with me on a flight, I’m terrified that some idiot with a badge is going to blow it up– blow up something I’ve worked for weeks or even months on, because he doesn’t know what it is, and he’d rather be strong or brave or effective than actually figure out what’s going on.

    Probably too late in the evening to be rambling on, anyway. G’night.

  13. Guysmiley says:

    What I don’t think you understand is that the government WANTS us to be afraid. Fear is a very powerful method of control. If we are terrified, we will go along with whatever Big Brother tells us will keep us safe. There is absolutely no motivation for the government to try to calm fear in the populace.

    Just sit back, be afraid and do what I tell you.

  14. Adam Mayer says:

    Guysmiley: I’m not sure if you were addressing me, but I don’t think the government “wants” us to fear any more than a fault “wants” to have an earthquake or evolution “wants” birds to have wings. The US government is not a centralized, conscious entity; it’s a sprawling bureaucracy implemented by tens of thousands of people. The river doesn’t flood because it’s angry; it floods because of precipitation upstream, berms, dams, levees, the substance of the stone of the riverbed. To stretch that metaphor to the breaking point: I feel the useful discussions are the ones in which we stop talking about how terrible the river is, and start to discuss civil engineering.

    (As for the ware, I’m completely lost; you’ve cleverly arranged your wires to cover every part number that would give me a clue. The long wires and analog breadboard at the bottom seem to suggest some sort of remote data collection, which fits with the battery, but then that gives the ribbon cable nowhere to go, and that heat sink in the middle is throwing me off– charging circuit? I got nuthin’, I guess.)

  15. Karl says:

    Since it’s been several days since anyone else has attempted this, I’m going to reveal my hand now.

    The first thing that stood out for me is the Hitatchi SH7032 chip. I recognized this part number as being part of the Hitatchi SuperH RISC processor family from my Sega Saturn hacking days. Ironically enough, I was browsing bunnie’s site right before this was posted, and remembered seeing the this project on the site. Aha! That was my initial guess.

    $ echo -n “Switching D/A converter” | md5sum
    83cb3609861edecaaa7e758c02a44b4c –

    Then, I did a bit more digging. The schematics didn’t match, and the presence of the battery was a mystery. That page said it used the SH1-EVB, so I searched Google for some documentation on it, seeing if that was the same board used in this Name That Ware. One hit was particularly interesting: bunnie’s digital tachometer.

    That page has pictures of the digital tachometer project, including the secondary breadboard, lots of colored wires flying everywhere, and the ribbon cable. The only thing that wasn’t pictured was the battery, but it made sense that it might use it, given the lousy power available in cars.

    Besides the SH1 evaluation board, the only other descernable part was the CD74HCT404CE. A Google search reveals that it’s a 12 bit counter. I’m guessing that part is used as the clock prescaler mentioned on the project page.

    So, that’s my final answer:

    $ echo -n “digital tachometer” | md5sum
    a766689f557c6de68244137558f3f3b9 –

  16. unixfan says:

    I totally agree with you bunnie.. These guys are going to face up to 5 years in prison simply because a majority of the popular is so damn stupid they can’t identify what the devices were..

    How can these people actually be so stupid? They even “destroyed” one of the devices to “check for explosives”..

    I think the idiots who called in the “bomb” threats should be put in jail or be sent to fu**ing school!!

  17. unixfan says:

    majority of the population* sorry..

  18. Phillster says:

    Sometime in about 2000, I (perhaps somewhat foolishly) took an ex-KGB sniper camera home with me on a plane from Berlin. The authorities pulled me out of the line, and I went into a little room where they did a spectrographic analysis of the contents of the dust inside the case, I was allowed to observe this, and it was fascinating, until half way through, when I realised I didn’t have a clue where the thing had come from, and it could quite easily have been stored next to ammunition. As it turned out, it got the all clear, and he courteous and helpful staff sent me on my way. I have also transported vast amounts of radio equipment between Berlin and London by air, without problems, I doubt very strongly that I would be allowed the same freedoms today, as even bottles of shampoo are now suspected.

    The strange thing is, I could have transported anything I liked between the ferry terminals as you are nearly always waved through without checks, and the last time I was checked, I had all my camping gear in old ammo cases, no reaction from the customs guys, didn’t even have to open them.

    So what’s the deal?

    The respective governments DO want you to be afraid, the threat level in the UK has been at “severe” (which is imminent attack) for months, they keep arresting and shooting innocent people (at Forest Gate, and Stockwell) and tell us now we have to spy on each other, despite my country having the most surveillance cameras in the world.

    It’s about fear and distraction, make the public afraid and compliant enough to accept I.D. cards, because a small square of plastic can be handy in a terrorist attack, RFID chip our passports, monitor every journey by car on this island, and we’ll nail anyone for anything else we find at the same time, distractions from the real issue, we haven’t caught anyone from Iraq or Afganistan trying to attack us here, but we do now have homegrown terrorists from Manchester. Way to go Mr. Blair.

    Since 1969, up until a few years ago, we were at constant risk of bomb attacks by the IRA, and it was never like this. I actually did see for about eighteen months, the litter bins on the underground in use, before they were bolted shut again.

    I have little illusion that if the police were to “investigate” the room I’m sitting in, most of the wires, hard-disks, breadboards etc. could be mis-described as terrorist paraphernalia.

    Corporate, conformist, and pay your taxes on time, that is what “they” want.

    The answer is: dare to think differently, true democracy thrives on dissention, and just keep doing what you do, and never forget that stupidity knows no bounds.

    Rant over, I have to go, I hear the thought police at the door…….

  19. John says:

    Hello. I fall in love with your blog at first time I saw it! Thanks a lot.

  20. sam heuston says:

    The day when rex ruined jens painting and it all turned into drama and i also like the day when they all dressed up as each of the housemates one by one and act like them, that was funny :)