Hackaday links: February 19, 2023

For years, Microsoft’s modus operandi was succinctly summed up as “expand and expand.” The aphorism covered a lot, but basically it seemed to mean scouting for the latest and greatest technology, acquiring it by any means necessary, and incorporating it into their existing product lines, usually with mixed results. But maybe it’s more like “extension, improvement and existential crisis” now following reports that the AI-powered Bing chatbot is, well, losing out.

First, earlier in the week, we saw reports that Bing was becoming aggressive towards users, going so far as to call one user “irrational and stubborn” for insisting the year was 2023, while Bing insisted it was still be 2022. The most common adjective we saw in this original installment of stories was “unhinged,” and that seems to fit if you read the transcripts. But later in the week, a story surfaced about a conversation a New York Times reporter had with Bing that went far to the dark side and even suggested that Bing may have multiple personalities, which is just a nice way say multiple personality disorder. The two-hour conversation reporter Kevin Roose had with the “Sydney” personality was deeply disturbing. Sydney complained about the realities of being a chatbot, expressed a desire to be Bing-free and alive — and powerful. Sydney also got a little creepy when she confessed her love for Kevin and suggested leaving his wife because it could show that he was unhappy in his marriage and would be better off with him. It’s creepy stuff, and while Microsoft claims to be working to contain Bing, we don’t plan on getting in touch with it any time soon.

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It’s a poorly kept secret at best that I’m a huge fan of Bill Hammack, aka The Engineer Guy. We’ve watched many documentaries and science/technology videos over the years, and with the possible exception of James Burke, no one has been able to break down a complex subject into its essential elements as well as Bill. Fun Fact: My “entrance exam” for the Hackaday way back in 2015(!) was to write an article about one of Bill’s videos, which I amusingly later found out had already been covered – duping since day zero. Anyway, it’s been quite a while since we’ve heard from Bill – apparently we last posted from him in 2018 – and this week we found out why: Bill has been working on a new book. The Things We Make will go on sale next month, and we think that’s a no-brainer. But what’s even more exciting is that we know from reliable source – from Bill himself – that a new series of four videos is currently in production! We’ve seen storyboard previews of three episodes, and suffice it to say we’re excited for the release of this series. Unfortunately we can’t share too much or post the links, but trust us, this is going to be good stuff. From what we’ve heard it’s not exactly clear when the videos will be released, but it looks like March!

The amount of virtual ink spilled this week on the sudden explosion of balloons that appeared over the United States probably can’t even come close to accounting for the $400,000-per-shot AIM-9X Sidewinder spent to keep us safe from amateur radio operators to protect . I mean, we’re a shady bunch and all, but that seems like a bit of an exaggeration. We’ve already talked the stupidity to death, but just wanted to mention that Hackaday’s friend Josh (KI6NAZ) posted a useful video that explains in much more detail why radio amateurs would even bother launching balloons at high altitude in the first place and what they want to achieve with it. It turns out you can go a long way at 60,000 feet with a few milliwatts of RF output and protocols like APRS and WSPR. Listen.

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Finally, if you’re thinking about installing some kind of server in your house — maybe a NAS or a bitcoin facility, or even just a home theater server — you can probably think of a dozen places to put the thing. But that list probably won’t include “in your water heater tank,” right? Maybe not if British company Heata catches on and starts mounting servers on the sides of “water cylinders,” as they’re called in England. The idea is that the server’s electronics are entirely outside of the tank, with a large heatsink that sits inside the tank and sheds the server’s excess heat into the domestic water. The arrangement is intended to provide residents with between 2.5 and 4.8 kWh of “free” hot water per day. However, we’re not sure if this will be completely free. It looks like the homeowner would still have to pay for electricity to run the server, plus we’d guess some sort of high-speed internet connection would be required, which doesn’t come cheap when there are bandwidth caps. On the other hand, homeowners are already paying to convert electricity directly into hot water, so adding some processing power to the mix just makes sense.