Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired On Pooping in the Dark—No Lights, No Phones, No Distractions

Hexbyte Tech News Wired On Pooping in the Dark—No Lights, No Phones, No Distractions

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

This story is part of a series on how we make time—from productivity hacks and long walks to altering the function of our own circadian clocks.

Pooping today is a plugged-in, plugged-up project. At least three-quarters of Americans, including 96 percent of members of Gen Z, shit with their smartphones. Straining away, they text, date, and Google “hemorrhoids” at three times the pre-iPhone rate. I have a friend who spends his longer movements calling his mother. Amazon sells hundreds of toilet paper holders with phone shelves. Among the top rated is an aluminum rack touting its “versatile convenience”: “the large, wide design not only holds your cell phone, it can be used as a rest for baby diapers, girl used pad … or other accessories.”

I used to DM during every BM. Then, one afternoon a few years ago, I slipped into a poop portal. Backpacking through remote wilderness in searing heat, I felt the telltale pang. Coffee, eggs, chorizo, and water were all rushing—screamingly—to the exits. At the nearest rest stop, I dashed into a bathroom so single-mindedly I didn’t turn on the lights and collapsed onto the toilet. The immediate release, shrouded as it was in shadow, was cosmic, like waking up from a nightmare, realizing it’s Christmas, I’m 5 years old, and can fly. Though I haven’t yet been able to recreate every condition, to this day I try to dump in total darkness: no lights, no phone, the gulf between mind and body quaked shut.

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The (c)rapture I felt was likely a case of “poophoria,” explains Anish Sheth, the gastroenterologist and coauthor of toilet-side staple What’s Your Poo Telling You? “Some have compared it to a religious experience, others an orgasm,” he says. The exact science is unknown, but Sheth thinks the sensation may result from “a slightly prolonged buildup, an overdistension of the rectum, and immediate collapse by passing a sizable stool, which fires the vagus nerve and releases endorphins.” Lights-out pooping, Sheth adds, may “help with a proper rate of exit.”

Smartphones only make things harder, threatening bowel, rectal, and mental health, along with hygiene. Phone users tend to spend more time on the toilet, increasing their odds of developing hemorrhoids and other gastrointestinal ailments. “Do the deed and get up,” Sheth advises. “After a few minutes, there’s nothing productive going on.” Also, flushing ejects contaminated water particles about six feet in the air, spraying exposed phones with pathogens like E. coli and staphylococcus. A UK study found 16 percent of cellphones contained fecal matter. Adults on their asses everywhere are swiping through ass-tainted Instagram photos of asses.

How did we get here? “We used to be highly aware of where our shit was going and what it was used for,” says Susan Morrison, author of Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics. Tudor Londoners hired “gong farmers” to schlep their droppings to the country, and land owners bequeathed dung heaps in their wills “because shit was worth something.” But the proliferation of private bathrooms in the 17th century, as psychoanalyst Dominique Laporte argues in History of Shit, accelerated the rise of individualism and negligence. Today, Morrison says, “we prefer not to confront our shit, and that’s dangerous. The less mindful we are of where what we eat goes, the less we consider our impact on the environment.”

Sure, it’s more polite and discreet to email while excreting than at dinner. Certainly, reading on the toilet, as Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel put it, is an “attempt to preserve the equilibrium of the ego; part of one’s bodily substance is being lost and so fresh matter must be absorbed through the eyes.” And of course, humans have feared sitting alone with their thoughts long before smartphones came on the scene. In 1952, novelist Henry Miller wrote a 9,000-word jeremiad against bathroom-reading “cowards,” claiming “the moment these sorry individuals are not active, not busy, they become aware of an awesome, sickening emptiness in themselves.” But now our phones are doing the sickening. To disconnect from 21st-century technology in the bathroom is healthy. To also disconnect from the 19th century and flick off the lights is an urgent return to nature.

Browning in blackness brings ethereal gifts. I am one with the early Homo sapiens who shat in the field by starlight, and with my pre-industrial ancestors who made midnight mud pies between first and second sleep, having nothing to ponder but the majesty of the task at hand. Whether it’s 30 seconds of zen or 20 minutes of pyrotechnics, I am at the mercy of my body, as I always am but rarely appreciate. I become acutely aware that anything I gobble—Cornish cuttlefish at Alain Ducasse or a half-eaten McRib from the dumpster—will peristaltically boogie through the digestive tract’s 30 feet (longer than the world record long jump), and thanks to the valves of Houston, the puborectalis, and scores of other muscles and glands in exquisite polyphony, emerge on the other end to be purified through invisible miles of pipes and cauldrons and transform into fertilizer for happy grub to gobble. All I have to do in this rigmarole is chew and flush. My bowels vacated, I am flooded with gratitude for my body and for infrastructure.

Zak Krevitt

I am one with the communal toilet shitters of ancient Rome, noticing fellow defecators. (In public restrooms, I just close my eyes. Coworkers don’t take kindly to you whispering from your stall, “I must have darkness.”) I make discoveries. I’ve found that the most avid gamers, who tap their touchscreens into submission, are the least likely to wash their hands. I hear men fart, grunt, titter, shuffle, and sigh. It isn’t pleasant, but I hear our shared struggle. For a few blind moments each morning, I see that we are one.

I am one. Engaged in pure animal act, I’m reminded that at our most base we can be our most human. With no tiles to count and graffiti to read, I turn inward. There is a sly pleasure in sneaking into daytime darkness, pulling a fast one on society. But the greatest joy is to experience your unencumbered mind when it is alert, the rarest of treats in modern life. More so than with an oxymoronic mindfulness app, I am present. I meditate through a secularized, bastardized version of the Jesuit Examen. I contemplate relationships, failures, and death. (I am among smells of decay.) I make associations. I have ideas. A bowel movement, above all human projects, is the body’s way of making time for the mind to roam.

When I leave the bathroom’s sacred filth, I plunge back into the vortex, surrounded by screens until slumber. But, having walked into my mind for a moment, I am temporarily a little more purposeful, a little more attuned to signs of life within and beyond the screens, (a lot) less full of shit. Fellow dumpers, follow me to this poophoric pootopia. Follow your breath, follow your bowels. Enter into darkness to ignite your innermost fire. And whatever you do, turn the lights on before you wipe. It’s not worth the risk.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Build a Raspberry Pi GoBot With Your Kids

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Build a Raspberry Pi GoBot With Your Kids

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

With just $60 worth of hardware and 10 lines of code, you and your kid can build a simple wheeled droid that can drive around your house. It might even be your youngling’s first step toward starting their own DIY robotics channel on YouTube.

1. Get the Parts

The heart of your project will be a Raspberry Pi, a pocket-size computer that’s popular among hobbyists. Any version of the Pi will do. You’ll also need these items, which you can find at an electronics shop or online:

MicroSD card: You’ll load this up with the bot’s software.

Two 5-volt DC motors

Two wheels with grippy rubber tires: These will snap onto the motor shafts.

L293D motor controller

Six AA batteries in a holder: To power the motors.

Small breadboard: A device used to build a simple circuit, no soldering required.

5-volt USB mobile phone battery pack: To power the Pi.

Jumper wires: To connect everything.

Chassis: Anything flat and about 6 inches square: Legos, laser-cut plastic, cardboard. You can also add two “feet” to stabilize your droid.

Sticky Tack adhesive

Robert Ormerod

Robert Ormerod

2. Wire It Up

Mount the Pi and breadboard to the top of your chassis using an adhesive like Sticky Tack. Push the L293D motor controller into the breadboard, then connect your jumper wires to the pins on the Pi and on the breadboard (see the diagram below). Connect the two wires on each DC motor to the output pins of the motor controller.

Casey Chin

Robert Ormerod

3. Connect the Power

Affix the motors, wheels, and battery box to your bot’s underside. Run the power wires up to your breadboard and connect them to the motor power input of the L293D. Mount the 5V battery pack and plug it into the Pi.

Robert Ormerod

4. Prep the SD Card

Software time! Go to raspberrypi.org/downloads. Download, unzip, and copy the NOOBS Operating System files onto the microSD card. Insert the card into your Pi. Now plug your keyboard, mouse, and monitor into the Pi—remember, it’s a tiny computer. When prompted, install the Raspbian OS.

5. Download the Code

Connect to the internet (if your Pi doesn’t have Wi-Fi, use an Ethernet cable) and type this command into the terminal: GIT CLONE HTTPS://GITHUB.COM/THE-RASPBERRY-PI-GUY/WIRED. And then: CD WIRED. Take a look at the simple 10-line Python program in the terminal using this command: NANO FIRST_MOVE.PY. This will open the code in Nano, the Pi’s native text editor.

6. Run the Program

To execute this code and make your new robot scuttle around, use this command: PYTHON3 FIRST_MOVE.PY. The little guy will move around in a rough square. Go back into the program using the Nano editor, modify the time delays, and change the commands for forward, backward, left, and right to create your own movements.

7. Grow Your Bot

You can expand your robot’s capabilities by adding sensors and writing new code. That’s the beauty of the Pi platform. For example, add an infrared sensor to the robot’s nose, then program it to follow a black line on the floor. Or add a camera and integrate computer-vision code to get the droid to chase a bright ball.

Robert Ormerod


Matt Timmons-Brown first discovered the Raspberry Pi as a preteen. “I was reading Stuff magazine in late 2011, and there was a tiny article about this little computer coming out. It was $35,” he says. “As a 12-year-old, that was appealing.” After getting hooked on tinkering, the Cambridge, UK, native started a YouTube channel at age 13, offering tutorials for other Pi-heads. Today, the Raspberry Pi Guy channel has nearly 70,000 subscribers, and the now 19-year-old engineering undergrad has written a book for budding hobbyists. This project is adapted from Timmons-Brown’s new Learn Robotics With Raspberry Pi (No Starch Press, $25). It offers detailed instructions for this Pibot and more, including how to control your creation with a Wiimote. —Michael Calore

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Hexbyte  News  Computers Boeing Built Deadly Assumptions Into 737 Max, Blind to a Late Design Change

Hexbyte News Computers Boeing Built Deadly Assumptions Into 737 Max, Blind to a Late Design Change

Hexbyte News Computers


After Boeing removed one of the sensors from an automated flight system on its 737 Max, the jet’s designers and regulators still proceeded as if there would be two.CreditCreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

SEATTLE — The fatal flaws with Boeing’s 737 Max can be traced to a breakdown late in the plane’s development, when test pilots, engineers and regulators were left in the dark about a fundamental overhaul to an automated system that would ultimately play a role in two crashes.

A year before the plane was finished, Boeing made the system more aggressive and riskier. While the original version relied on data from at least two types of sensors, the ultimate used just one, leaving the system without a critical safeguard. In both doomed flights, pilots struggled as a single damaged sensor sent the planes into irrecoverable nose-dives within minutes, killing 346 people and prompting regulators around the world to ground the Max.

But many people involved in building, testing and approving the system, known as MCAS, said they hadn’t fully understood the changes. Current and former employees at Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration who spoke with The New York Times said they had assumed the system relied on more sensors and would rarely, if ever, activate. Based on those misguided assumptions, many made critical decisions, affecting design, certification and training.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said a former test pilot who worked on the Max. “I wish I had the full story.”

While prosecutors and lawmakers try to piece together what went wrong, the current and former employees point to the single, fateful decision to change the system, which led to a series of design mistakes and regulatory oversights. As Boeing rushed to get the plane done, many of the employees say, they didn’t recognize the importance of the decision. They described a compartmentalized approach, each of them focusing on a small part of the plane. The process left them without a complete view of a critical and ultimately dangerous system.

The company also played down the scope of the system to regulators. Boeing never disclosed the revamp of MCAS to Federal Aviation Administration officials involved in determining pilot training needs, according to three agency officials. When Boeing asked to remove the description of the system from the pilot’s manual, the F.A.A. agreed. As a result, most Max pilots did not know about the software until after the first crash, in October.

“Boeing has no higher priority than the safety of the flying public,” a company spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said in a statement.

He added that Boeing and regulators had followed standard procedures. “The F.A.A. considered the final configuration and operating parameters of MCAS during Max certification, and concluded that it met all certification and regulatory requirements,” Mr. Johndroe said.

At first, MCAS — Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System — wasn’t a very risky piece of software. The system would trigger only in rare conditions, nudging down the nose of the plane to make the Max handle more smoothly during high-speed moves. And it relied on data from multiple sensors measuring the plane’s acceleration and its angle to the wind, helping to ensure that the software didn’t activate erroneously.

Then Boeing engineers reconceived the system, expanding its role to avoid stalls in all types of situations. They allowed the software to operate throughout much more of the flight. They enabled it to aggressively push down the nose of the plane. And they used only data about the plane’s angle, removing some of the safeguards.


Ray Craig, shown in a 2003 Boeing magazine, was the chief test pilot when he put the Max through maneuvers in a flight simulator in 2012.Creditvia Boeing’s Aero Magazine

The disasters might have been avoided, if employees and regulators had a better understanding of MCAS.

A test pilot who originally advocated for the expansion of the system didn’t understand how the changes affected its safety. Safety analysts said they would have acted differently if they had known it used just one sensor. Regulators didn’t conduct a formal safety assessment of the new version of MCAS.

The current and former employees, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigations, said that after the first crash, they were stunned to discover MCAS relied on a single sensor.

“That’s nuts,” said an engineer who helped design MCAS.

“I’m shocked,” said a safety analyst who scrutinized it.

“To me, it seems like somebody didn’t understand what they were doing,” said an engineer who assessed the system’s sensors.

In 2012, the chief test pilot for the Max had a problem.

During the early development of the 737 Max, the pilot, Ray Craig, a silver-haired retired Navy airman, was trying out high-speed situations on a flight simulator, like maneuvers to avoid an obstacle or to escape a powerful vortex from another plane. While such moves might never be necessary for the pilot of a passenger plane, the F.A.A. requires that a jet handle well in those situations.

But the plane wasn’t flying smoothly, partly because of the Max’s bigger engines. To fix the issue, Boeing decided to use a piece of software. The system was meant to work in the background, so pilots effectively wouldn’t know it was there.

Mr. Craig, who had been with Boeing since 1988, didn’t like it, according to one person involved in the testing. An old-school pilot, he eschewed systems that take control from pilots and would have preferred an aerodynamic fix such as vortex generators, thin fins on the wings. But engineers who tested the Max design in a wind tunnel weren’t convinced they would work, the person said.

Mr. Craig relented. Such high-speed situations were so rare that he figured the software would never actually kick in.

To ensure it didn’t misfire, engineers initially designed MCAS to trigger when the plane exceeded at least two separate thresholds, according to three people who worked on the 737 Max. One involved the plane’s angle to the wind, and the other involved so-called G-force, or the force on the plane that typically comes from accelerating.


A Boeing 737-800 flight simulator. When Mr. Craig simulated high-speed maneuvers for the Max, it didn’t fly smoothly, so Boeing settled on MCAS for a fix.CreditAviation-Images.com, via Getty Images

The Max would need to hit an exceedingly high G-force that passenger planes would probably never experience. For the jet’s angle, the system took data from the angle-of-attack sensor. The sensor, several inches long, is essentially a small wind vane affixed to the jet’s fuselage.

On a rainy day in late January 2016, thousands of Boeing employees gathered at a runway next to the 737 factory in Renton, Wash. They cheered as the first Max, nicknamed the Spirit of Renton, lifted off for its maiden test flight.

“The flight was a success,” Ed Wilson, the new chief test pilot for the Max, said in a news release at the time. Mr. Wilson, who had tested Boeing fighter jets, had replaced Mr. Craig the previous year.

“The 737 Max just felt right in flight, giving us complete confidence that this airplane will meet our customers’ expectations,” he said.

But a few weeks later, Mr. Wilson and his co-pilot began noticing that something was off, according to a person with direct knowledge of the flights. The Max wasn’t handling well when nearing stalls at low speeds.

In a meeting at Boeing Field in Seattle, Mr. Wilson told engineers that the issue would need to be fixed. He and his co-pilot proposed MCAS, the person said.

The change didn’t elicit much debate in the group, which included just a handful of people. It was considered “a run-of-the-mill adjustment,” according to the person. Instead, the group mostly discussed the logistics of how MCAS would be used in the new scenarios.

“I don’t recall ever having any real debates over whether it was a good idea or not,” the person said.

The change proved pivotal. Expanding the use of MCAS to lower-speed situations required removing the G-force threshold. MCAS now needed to work at low speeds so G-force didn’t apply.

The change meant that a single angle-of-attack sensor was the lone guard against a misfire. Although modern 737 jets have two angle-of-attack sensors, the final version of MCAS took data from just one.


Ed Wilson, right, with his co-pilot, Craig Bomben, after the first Max test flight in 2016.CreditElaine Thompson/Associated Press

Using MCAS at lower speeds also required increasing the power of the system. When a plane is flying slowly, flight controls are less sensitive, and far more movement is needed to steer. Think of turning a car’s steering wheel at 20 miles an hour versus 70.

The original version of MCAS could move the stabilizer — the part of the tail that controls the vertical direction of the jet — a maximum of about 0.6 degrees in about 10 seconds. The new version could move the stabilizer up to 2.5 degrees in 10 seconds.

Test pilots aren’t responsible for dealing with the ramifications of such changes. Their job is to ensure the plane handles smoothly. Other colleagues are responsible for making the changes, and still others for assessing their impact on safety.

Boeing declined to say whether the changes had prompted a new internal safety analysis.

While the F.A.A. officials in charge of training didn’t know about the changes, another arm of the agency involved in certification did. But it did not conduct a safety analysis on the changes.

The F.A.A. had already approved the previous version of MCAS. And the agency’s rules didn’t require it to take a second look because the changes didn’t affect how the plane operated in extreme situations.

“The F.A.A. was aware of Boeing’s MCAS design during the certification of the 737 Max,” the agency said in a statement. “Consistent with regulatory requirements, the agency evaluated data and conducted flight tests within the normal flight envelope that included MCAS activation in low-speed stall and other flight conditions.”

After engineers installed the second version of MCAS, Mr. Wilson and his co-pilot took the 737 Max for a spin.

The flights were uneventful. They tested two potential failures of MCAS: a high-speed maneuver in which the system doesn’t trigger, and a low-speed stall when it activates but then freezes. In both cases, the pilots were able to easily fly the jet, according to a person with knowledge of the flights.

In those flights, they did not test what would happen if MCAS activated as a result of a faulty angle-of-attack sensor — a problem in the two crashes.

Boeing engineers did consider such a possibility in their safety analysis of the original MCAS. They classified the event as “hazardous,” one rung below the most serious designation of catastrophic, according to two people. In regulatory-speak, it meant that MCAS could trigger erroneously less often than once in 10 million flight hours.


Boeing Max fuselages on their way to an assembly plant. The company declined to say whether it had conducted a new safety analysis of the revised MCAS.CreditWilliam Campbell/Corbis, via Getty Images

That probability may have underestimated the risk of so-called external events that have damaged sensors in the past, such as collisions with birds, bumps from ramp stairs or mechanics’ stepping on them. While part of the assessment considers such incidents, they are not included in the probability. Investigators suspect the angle-of-attack sensor was hit on the doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight in March.

Bird strikes on angle-of-attack sensors are relatively common.

A Times review of two F.A.A. databases found hundreds of reports of bent, cracked, sheared-off, poorly installed or otherwise malfunctioning angle-of-attack sensors on commercial aircraft over three decades.

Since 1990, one database has recorded 1,172 instances when birds — meadowlarks, geese, sandpipers, pelicans and turkey vultures, among others — damaged sensors of various kinds, with 122 strikes on angle-of-attack vanes. The other database showed 85 problems with angle-of-attack sensors on Boeing aircraft, including 38 on 737s since 1995.

And the public databases don’t necessarily capture the extent of incidents involving angle-of-attack sensors, since the F.A.A. has additional information. “I feel confidence in saying that there’s a lot more that were struck,” said Richard Dolbeer, a wildlife specialist who has spent over 20 years studying the issue at the United States Department of Agriculture, which tracks the issue for the F.A.A.

On March 30, 2016, Mark Forkner, the Max’s chief technical pilot, sent an email to senior F.A.A. officials with a seemingly innocuous request: Would it be O.K. to remove MCAS from the pilot’s manual?

The officials, who helped determine pilot training needs, had been briefed on the original version of MCAS months earlier. Mr. Forkner and Boeing never mentioned to them that MCAS was in the midst of an overhaul, according to the three F.A.A. officials.

Under the impression that the system was relatively benign and rarely used, the F.A.A. eventually approved Mr. Forkner’s request, the three officials said.

Boeing wanted to limit changes to the Max, from previous versions of the 737. Anything major could have required airlines to spend millions of dollars on additional training. Boeing, facing competitive pressure from Airbus, tried to avoid that.

Mr. Forkner, a former F.A.A. employee, was at the front lines of this effort. As the chief technical pilot, he was the primary liaison with the F.A.A. on training and worked on the pilot’s manual.

“The pressure on us,” said Rick Ludtke, a cockpit designer on the Max, “was huge.”

“And that all got funneled through Mark,” Mr. Ludtke added. “And the pushback and resistance from the F.A.A. got funneled through Mark.”


Federal Aviation Administration officials said Boeing’s request to remove MCAS from the pilot’s manual didn’t mention that the system was being overhauled.CreditJason Redmond/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Like others, Mr. Forkner may have had an imperfect understanding of MCAS.

Technical pilots at Boeing like him previously flew planes regularly, two former employees said. “Then the company made a strategic change where they decided tech pilots would no longer be active pilots,” Mr. Ludtke said.

Mr. Forkner largely worked on flight simulators, which didn’t fully mimic MCAS.

It is unclear whether Mr. Forkner, now a pilot for Southwest Airlines, was aware of the changes to the system.

Mr. Forkner’s attorney, David Gerger, said his client did not mislead the F.A.A. “Mark is an Air Force veteran who put safety first and was transparent in his work,” Mr. Gerger said.

“In thousands of tests, nothing like this had ever happened,” he said. “Based on what he was told and what he knew, he never dreamed that it could.”

The F.A.A. group that worked with Mr. Forkner made some decisions based on an incomplete view of the system. It never tested a malfunctioning sensor, according to the three officials. It didn’t require additional training.

William Schubbe, a senior F.A.A. official who worked with the training group, told pilots and airlines in an April meeting in Washington, D.C., that Boeing had underplayed MCAS, according to a recording reviewed by The Times.

“The way the system was presented to the F.A.A.,” Mr. Schubbe said, “the Boeing Corporation said this thing is so transparent to the pilot that there’s no need to demonstrate any kind of failing.”

The F.A.A. officials involved in training weren’t the only ones operating with outdated information.

An April 2017 maintenance manual that Boeing provided to airlines refers to the original version of MCAS. By that point, Boeing had started delivering the planes. The current manual is updated.

Boeing continued to defend MCAS and its reliance on a single sensor after the first crash, involving Indonesia’s Lion Air.

At a tense meeting with the pilots’ union at American Airlines in November, Boeing executives dismissed concerns. “It’s been reported that it’s a single point failure, but it is not considered by design or certification a single point,” said Mike Sinnett, a Boeing vice president, according to a recording of the meeting.

His reasoning? The pilots were the backup.

“Because the function and the trained pilot work side by side and are part of the system,” he said.

Four months later, a second 737 Max crashed in Ethiopia. Within days, the Max was grounded around the world.

As part of the fix, Boeing has reworked MCAS to more closely resemble the first version. It will be less aggressive, and it will rely on two sensors.

Jack Nicas reported from Seattle, and Natalie Kitroeff, David Gelles and James Glanz from New York. Julie Creswell, Tiffany Hsu and Agustin Armendariz contributed reporting from New York. Kitty Bennett and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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