Looks like there’s trouble out at L2, where the James Webb Space Telescope suffered a mechanical anomaly back in August. The issue, which was just announced this week, involves only one of the six imaging instruments at the heart of the space observatory, known as MIRI, the Mid-Infrared Instrument. MIRI is the instrument on Webb that needs the coldest temperatures to work correctly, down to six Kelvins — we’ve talked about the cryocooler needed to do this in some detail. The problem has to do with unexpectedly high friction during the rotation of a wheel holding different diffraction gratings. These gratings are rotated into the optical path for different measurements, but apparently the motor started drawing excessive current during its move, and was shut down. NASA says that this only affects one of the four observation modes of MIRI, and the rest of the instruments are just fine at this time. So they’ve got some troubleshooting to do before Webb returns to a full program of scientific observations.
There’s an old saying that, “To err is human, but to really screw things up takes a computer.” But in Russia, to really screw things up it takes a computer and a human with a really poor grasp on just how delicately balanced most infrastructure systems are. The story comes from Moscow, where someone allegedly spoofed a massive number of fake orders for taxi rides (story in Russian, Google Translate works pretty well) through the aggregator Yandex.Taxi on the morning of September 1. The taxi drivers all dutifully converged on the designated spot, but instead of finding their fares, they just found a bunch of other taxis milling about and mucking up traffic. Yandex reports it has already added protection against such attacks to its algorithm, so there’s that at least. It’s all fun and games until someone causes a traffic jam.
It may be hard for the normies out there to imagine a coffee table book of electronic components, but if you’ve followed along here much, you’ll no doubt have seen some of the beautiful cross-sections that Eric Schlaepfer, aka TubeTime, has come up with. Eric has teamed up with Windell Oskay from the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories blog and created “Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components.” You’ll definitely want to check out the first chapter, which is available as a PDF for download. Bunnie also did a glowing review, which you’ll want to check out at least for the coupon code — Christmas is coming, after all. Windell and Eric talked about the book on the Embedded.fm podcast too, if you’d rather hear them talk about the book.
We’ve all likely heard the horror stories of 3D printers catching fire in the middle of the night, and while the relative risk is probably small — it’s definitely non-zero. So a little prudence is probably indicated, which for most of us has some practical limitations. It’s just not easy to organize your day around babysitting a print, especially one that goes 24 hours or more. Utilities like OctoPrint can help, but at the end of the day, if you’re minutes away when seconds count, all a camera is going to do is document the destruction. But here’s an idea that might actually do something about a fire. It uses a product we’d never seen before, which is an automatic fire extinguisher for car interiors. They apparently self-activate above a preset temperature, spewing out some sort of dry chemical to put out the fire. We’ve got our doubts about how well this would work in a car, but inside a 3D printer enclosure, it might actually work. If anyone has experience with these things, sound off in the comments.
And finally, if like us you’re always feeling behind the curve on understanding quantum mechanics, you could be in the market for our friend Jeroen Vleggaar’s latest video on quantum fields. It’s pretty clever — he uses his recent bathroom remodeling project as a launching board for the discussion, which honestly we only got about halfway through before zoning out. That’s a consistent problem for us when dipping a toe into the quantum pool, and honestly getting that far is doing better than average. So hats off to Jeroen for attempting to explain things, and for the sweet bathroom upgrade. Oh, and on a related note, Sabine Hossenfelder just dropped a video on the “Nine Levels of Nothing,” which you might want to check out once your mind is in the proper quantum state.