We start this week with news from Mars, because, let’s face it, the news from this planet isn’t all that much fun lately. But a couple of milestones were reached on the Red Planet, the first being the arrival of Perseverance at the ancient river delta it was sent there to explore. The rover certainly took the scenic route to get there, having covered 10.6 km over the last 424 sols to move to a position only about 3.5 km straight-line distance from where it landed. Granted, a lot of that extra driving was in support of the unexpectedly successful Ingenuity demonstration, plus taking time for a lot of pit stops along the way at interesting features. But the rover is now in place to examine sedimentary rocks most likely to harbor the fossil remains of ancient aquatic life — as opposed to the mainly igneous rocks it has studied along the crater floor so far. We’re looking forward to seeing what happens.
Speaking of Ingenuity, the plucky helicopter just keeps on performing. It recently completed its 27th flight — of five planned flights, mind you — and spotted the crashed remains of the aeroshell and parachute from its spectacular arrival last February. They look quite the worse for the wear, but that’s to be expected. The stunningly high-resolution pictures Ingenuity sent back will no doubt be pored over by engineers for whatever clues it holds about how the structure stood up to descent and landing conditions. We’re not sure, but this may be the first time a landing or crash site has been revisited since Allan Bean absolutely nailed the Apollo 12 landing to within walking distance of Surveyor 3 in 1969.
“And the Emmy goes to… Comic Sans?” No, not really, and apologies to anyone triggered by the mention of The Font That Shall Not Be Used. But this week the 2021 Technology & Engineering Emmy award went to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web fonts Working Group and MPEG together for “standardizing font technology for custom downloadable fonts and typography for web and TV devices.” To be clear, the award is not for any particular font, but rather the technical achievement of downloadable fonts. Still, it’s easy to poke fun at typography, especially when font snobs go on about the merits of this serif or that descender. But those subtle differences that most of us think are meaningless actually play a huge role in the “feel” of websites. Web fonts have a lot to do with how polished and professional most sites look these days, compared to some of the atrocities of the Web 1.0 days.
A couple of weeks back, we had a PCB Thermal Design Hack Chat over on Hackaday.io with Mike Jouppi. It was a great discussion and spawned an interesting sidebar with attendee Sven about thermal vias. It looks like Sven’s application had plenty for Mike to sink his teeth into, because he made an in-depth video on the thermal design of this PCB, along with a discussion of what went into developing IPC-2152, the standard for PCB trace current-carrying capacity design. Thanks to Mark Hughes of Advanced Assembly for the heads up on this, and for suggesting Mike come on the Hack Chat in the first place.
And finally, it looks like Lichtenberg patterns are getting popular enough that it’s necessary to warn people that playing with electricity can be dangerous. Lichtenberg patterns, which are fractal channels burned into wood or other materials by the (hopefully) judicious application of high voltage, are certainly something we’ve seen and featured before. However, the American Association of Woodturners — because of course there’s such a group — now condemns the practice, which apparently has caught on in the woodturning community. The AAW really doesn’t want anyone doing Lichtenbergs — they banned the practice at all their events and in their publications, enlisted the aid of a doctor to tell everyone that electricity can stop your heart, and urged anyone who has fractal woodburning gear to throw it out now before it attacks. We understand and wholeheartedly agree that working with high voltage can be dangerous, and we’re not saying that woodturners should not take the potentially deadly consequences of Lichtenbergs seriously. But this warning seems a bit rich coming from an organization that encourages its members to stand in front of a machine that can throw razor-sharp tools at you, fling heavy chunks of wood at your head, or instantly relieve you of your clothes — or worse. Be safe out there, everyone.