This month’s column brings news of the latest smart device protocol that promises ’Plug and Play’ simplicity. We rediscover the British radio astronomer Frank W. Hyde and commemorate the end of the ‘Queen of the Skies’.
Increasing numbers of households utilise their Internet connection to manage various Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets around the home.
Simple ‘If This Then That’ (IFTTT) applets enable some basic Internet-related actions to be triggered by all kinds of events, such as notifying you when your robot lawnmower has finished, or alerting when the weather is turning for the worse, or when a certain term is ‘tweeted’. More details for experimenters are at www.ifttt.com and both free and subscription- based plans are available.
^ The new Matter protocol for smart devices promises simple, touch-free ‘plug & play’ simplicity.
The Connectivity Standards Alliance (the name behind Zigbee) has finalised a new, IP-based open standard protocol that readers will gradually start to hear about when they shop for IoT gadgetry. The new ‘Matter’ protocol will become the touch-free ‘Plug-and-Play’ standard for the smart device world, and it’s intended to unify the installation and operation of Matter-compatible smart devices. It’s also designed to enable manufacturers to turn round new Matter products more quickly.
Readers will see the new Matter logo appearing on new generation IoT product spec sheets. Google, Samsung and others are very slowly rolling out updates and a handy status list of Matter compatibility is at https://matter-smarthome.de/en/overview-products-compatible-with-matter/, noting that mostly we see ‘announcements’ confirmed rather than ‘ready’ at the present time.
You can learn more about Matter at the CSA YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHsnjZPuqKM – commendably, it’s a very smooth six-minute explanatory video that, remarkably, was filmed in a single take and without any cuts. The CSA website also has more at https://csa-iot.org/all-solutions/matter/.
Periodically I find myself sifting through my old electronics magazines in search of facts or some historical information. Sometimes my hours-long searches are fruitless, but nevertheless I come away having been reminded of how things were, many decades ago. I never cease to be amazed at the foresight that some of our readers (and writers) showed when they predicted what the future would likely bring: in the January 1975 issue of Practical Electronics, for example, the advent of ‘working from home’ and the world-wide web, as well as the use of smart meters and RFID tags, were correctly forecast, if slightly ahead of their time!
^ In 1975 Practical Electronics reader S.J. Baxendale eerily foresaw working from home, video conferencing, the world-wide web and on-demand TV, while A. J. Williams forecast the use of smart meters and RFID tags!
As some long-time readers of early Practical Electronics magazines may know, PE originally had a dedicated column called Spacewatch which brought the latest news of space exploration, radio astronomy, the moonshot and the ambitions of various space satellite programmes. Recall how Russia managed in 1957 to beat the USA into space by launching Sputnik, which hastened the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA – see https://www.darpa.mil/about-us/timeline/creation-of-darpa) and accelerated the need to build a ‘self healing’ robust packet network that would form the basis of the Internet itself.
Spacewatch went monthly in Practical Electronics from the April 1969 issue, following the remarkably successful Apollo 8 manned lunar orbit mission (see https://www.nasa.gov/feature/50-years-ago-apollo-8-in-lunar-orbit). NASA astronauts sent a Christmas message from the Moon, immortalised at https://www.nasa.gov/topics/history/features/apollo_8.html.
That month Frank Hyde described NASA’s launch of their largest space observatory satellite, the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory which was an early ‘Hubble’ space telescope. Less widely known in the 1960s was the US Air Force plan to launch a secret manned spy platform called MOL (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manned_Orbiting_Laboratory) which was eventually cancelled due to budget restraints.
Frank Hyde was an extraordinary British radio astronomer who has been recognised for constructing the largest amateur radio observatory in 1960s Britain. He would work with the Jodrell Bank observatory and it’s said his work influenced some of the experiments on board NASA’s Pioneer missions. He also knew the popular, if slightly eccentric, British astronomer Patrick Moore, who became well known for the BBC TV ‘Sky At Night’ series, with Frank Hyde also appearing occasionally on the same programme. Dr. Patrick Moore interviewed astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1970, which can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIPn_iuLPA4
Sadly the brilliant Frank Wilsenham Hyde eventually hit financial hard times, and he died in March 1984 aged 75. The founding editor of Practical Electronics, Fred Bennett, wrote an obituary in Frank Hyde’s final column, published in the June 1984 edition. Patrick Moore then took over the Spacewatch column. I managed to unearth an excellent biography of Frank Hyde, originally published in the BAA Journal, at http://cdsads.u-strasbg.fr/pdf/2018JBAA..128…17M (PDF) and there is a little more local history at https://www.stosythmuseum.co.uk/people/frank-hyde (St. Osyth being the remote location of one of his earliest amateur observatories). If you’re at all interested in astronomy, it’s worth considering becoming a member of the BAA, and more details will be found at https://britastro.org
^ NASA’s modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with the Space Shuttle Endeavour on top lifts off to begin its ferry flight back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Image: NASA Photo)
The NASA space shuttle program first took shape more than half a century ago, when the idea of building a re-usable space cargo plane gained ground. The vehicles, originally called ‘orbiters’, were extensively flight-tested as gliders and transported around using ‘shuttle carrier aircraft’ based on two specially-adapted Boeing 747s. The ‘Enterprise’ was an engine-less prototype orbiter whilst Columbia was the first orbiter that would be launched into space.
The connection with the Boeing 747 and space shuttle Columbia is particularly poignant this month as the final Boeing 747 ‘Queen of the Skies’ to be made was delivered on 1st February to the airline Atlas Air. The plane’s flight was commemorated when its flight path traced out ‘747’, as shown in a BBC news report at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64498820. Another milestone in space exploration was passed this month as well, as it’s exactly 20 years ago in 2003 that the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated during re-entry, leaving no survivors. This came almost exactly 17 years after the Challenger launch disaster of 1986. Following the Columbia disaster, space shuttle missions were suspended for two years before resuming, and the increasingly elderly shuttle fleet was grounded for good in 2011.
Investigations are continuing into finding out why Virgin Orbit’s first satellite launch from England failed during the ‘Start Me Up’ mission (see last month). Virgin Orbit stated that every other satellite they have launched had reached orbit successfully, and they are pressing on with their next launch from California. Virgin Orbit’s CEO is quoted as saying that the mission failure was possibly caused by a dislodged filter shutting off the first stage prematurely. More flights from Cornwall, England will follow later this year.
California-based ABL Space Systems (https://ablspacesystems.com) attempted to launch their first RS1 rocket from Alaska Spaceport, but the rocket fell back to earth 11 seconds after launching, creating ‘an energetic explosion’. Various storage tanks, ground-based equipment and hangars were destroyed, they stated.
Spaceport Sweden recently cut the ribbon on their new launching facility which is now open for business. The newly expanded Esrange Space Center site on the very northernmost edge of Sweden is the first such facility on mainland Europe and has previously been used for launching ‘sounding rockets’ (smaller scientific test and measurement rockets), but now has its eyes on the satellite business. More details are at https://sscspace.com/esrange/
^ On the rocks: SaxaVord has attracted attention from Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), with one launch pad being snapped up by the German rocket launcher.
Yet more competition for microsatellite launchers is arriving on the market, as Germany’s Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) launching service has signed up with SaxaVord Spaceport for exclusive use of one of its three proposed launch pads, starting by the year end. SaxaVord is based in the Shetland Islands and is Britain’s northernmost launching site. More info at https://saxavord.com/r/
My thanks go to reader Stephen Horsman who followed up on my February column about data backups by recommending Drive Snapshot (http://drivesnapshot.de/). It was/is written in machine code and could be booted from a floppy, or USB drive these days. Images can be mounted, and files dragged and dropped very easily. Stephen still uses it to this day and says it’s well worth checking out. Another backup product suited to the IT enthusiast that came recommended is Casper by Future Systems Solutions. Various versions are available, see https://www.fssdev.com/products/casper.
Users of barcode scanner apps have been alerted to the risks of scanning untrusted or dodgy QR codes, as they could link through to malware or scam sites. The problem of ‘QR Jacking’ is increasing because ordinary users trust QR codes implicitly, but they could link through to a fraudster’s site that may attempt to steal logins, IDs or other sensitive data. In one reported case, bogus QR codes were stuck on local authority parking meters encouraging drivers to scan them and pay – but the bogus website merely stole their cash instead. Look closely at QR codes stuck on meters, signs or even authentic-looking forms and if you’re unsure, treat them as dodgy-looking file attachments and steer clear.
That’s all for this month’s Net Work summary – full details are in this month’s Net Work column of Practical Electronics magazine.