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twitter announced today that it will be removing its implementation of stories dubbed “fleets.” the feature was either loved or hated by twitter users since its initial release last year.

this short-lived feature, which was released in november of last year, will be removed on august 3. twitter acknowledged the controversial nature of the snapchat/instagram clone with the farewell tweet. notably, there was no fleet from the main twitter account announcing the departure of the feature, only a standard tweet.

in the goodbye, the company said it is working on “new stuff.” one can hope that they add the ability to edit tweets, in addition to the new edit audience and monetization features.

in a more detailed blog post, twitter shared that it hoped fleets would make people more comfortable posting onto twitter. as fleets disappear, some of the fleet creation features, like gifs and stickers, will be implemented into the standard tweets composer.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - One of the state’s most popular crime and emergency watchdog Facebook groups has gone through several name changes over the years, according to its head administrator, who is known as Tisha Victory on the page. It started as Anchorage Scanner Joe, then it was Alaska Scanner Joe. Today, it’s Alaska Scanner John, and Victory said the plan is for it to stay that way for years to come.

She said there was drama surrounding the page’s previous namesake that ended up impacting the page’s reputation negatively. Victory said the plan has been to change the name again for some time, but organizers wanted to make sure they picked the right person to hold that honor.

So, who is John?

John T. Johnson, known as "JJ" by many, is a longtime Houston firefighter and the new namesake...

“John T. Johnson,” Victory said. “We call him JJ. John is a firefighter from out in the Valley, and he’s been in this field — I hate to say it — but as long as I’ve been on the Earth.”

According to a post on the Alaska Scanner John page, John T. Johnson died at the age of 68 on April 13.

The post reads in part: “John will always have a solid legacy. Our page is now dedicated to him. We hope to continue to strive to always help others. Keep our communities informed. And hopefully live up to all of Johns standards and honoring his life’s work.”

Altogether, Victory said Johnson committed 43 years of service as a first responder. For the last several years, he’s been one of the page’s most critical admins. Today, Victory said there are only five, and Johnston has had a huge impact on all their lives in the time they’ve known him.

She said the page almost wouldn’t be able to function without him.

“You ask anybody about JJ out in the Valley, everybody knows him,” she said. “So he’s just been a really big mentor and you know a good leader for all of us. He’s, you know, one of those one-in-a-million guys.”

Victory pointed out that he even keeps her on her toes from time to time, making sure she doesn’t double post.

She said that, on top of being well known where he fought fires, he’s been recognized on several occasions for his service. His most recent accolades are the Veteran’s Quilt of Valor and the State of Alaska Special award for over 40 years of service and dedication.

Victory said he’s also worked in Bristol Bay, the North Slope, Adak, Willow and has fought fires in the Middle East.

“He’s been all over the place,” she said.

Unfortunately, Victory said all those years of putting out fires caught up to Johnson. For the last year, she said he’s been battling a form of cancer that is commonly associated with firefighting.

There’s not much about Victory that Johnston doesn’t know, she said. Over the years, she said he’s become “like family” for all the people who run the Facebook page.

Since his diagnosis, Victory said Johnson hasn’t stopped giving his all in the ways he can. She said most of the posts that people see on Alaska Scanner John have been filtered through him before going public.

Now with the new name, Victory said she hopes that his legacy carries on by helping Alaska be a safer, better informed and more positive community.

“It’s become the page that everybody opens up on their Facebook and reads like the newspaper in the morning,” she said. “So we just want to continue that and continue what we’re doing and just keep moving forward. And being there for our communities.”

Editor’s note: Alaska’s News Source did reach out to John Johnson, who couldn’t participate in an interview. This story was also updated with news of Johnson’s death.

Copyright 2021 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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We are creating a 3D scanner that scans only one face of an object using a ZedBoard FPGA. Future iterations of this project could extend the scan to a full 360 degrees, but we are limiting our scope to a scan of a single plane. Operation of our system is as follows:

  1. The user will place the object to be scanned on an 12 inch x 12 inch platform.
  2. The platform will move laterally across a fixed camera and fanned laser at a speed controlled by a stepper motor.
  3. The camera takes images of the object as it moves across the frame.
  4. The FPGA will use a triangulation technique on each image to process the depth of the object of any given pixel.
  5. A traversal algorithm will step through each pixel’s corresponding depth to generate triangles for a STL file.
  6. The STL file will be piped to a computer and saved to be 3D printed in the future.

Due to our fixing of the fanned laser, we will change which x-coordinate is being illuminated by the laser through adjustments in the stepper motor. The y-coordinate will be determined using the pixel scale generated by the camera. The camera that we are using is a OV7670, which generates a resolution of 640 x 480. However, due to the limited number of BRAMs located on the ZedBoard, we have reduced the resolution to be 320 x 240. This way we have enough space in BRAMs to store the most recently acquired image from the camera for the image processing module to read from, another BRAM with the same camera contents but the the VGA reads from, a third BRAM where the z-coordinates for each pixel are stored, and a fourth BRAM that displays where the systems determines the laser to have fallen in the current camera image. Future iterations could implement an additional form of memory on the FPGA to better refine the resolution of the final STL file. Z-coordinates are determined by triangulating the distance from the known x-coordinate (the setting of the stepper motor), the y-coordinate (based on which pixel is being examined), and where the laser actually falls in the camera’s frame. Data is sent from the ZedBoard to a host computer by piping the final STL triangles via UART and a program that logs UART activity.


As aforementioned, both the camera and fanned laser are fixed while the object to be scanned is moved across the camera’s field of view. This is accomplished via the setup below:


The platform is loosely attached to the two metal rods and slides back and forth based on movements from the band, which is driven by the stepper motor.

This approach was adapted from a design made by Arthur Guy, which is described here.

We have configured the stepper motor to operate using half-stepping, which corresponds to a rotation of 0.9 degrees of the motor’s rotor for each half-step taken. Throughout the scanning process, the motor must make a total of 320 complete movements in order to be consistent with the resolution that the camera is producing. Our final design implements a complete movement of the motor that correspond to 4 half-steps per increment of the platform. Each half-step moves the platform 1/100th of an inch, so each increment moves the platform a total of 4/100th of an inch. With a total of 320 increments, the platform moves a total of 12.8 inches over the course of 1 scan. This link shows a video depicting how the platform moves.

Image Processing

There are two stages of image processing that our scanner implements. The first is detecting where the laser is from the image that the camera generates, and the second is determining what the z-coordinate is for each pixel of the camera’s image.

The 0V7670 camera has a resolution of 640 x 480, but due to the limited number of BRAMs on the ZedBoard and the suggestions from students of previous years, we altered the image of the camera to generate a resolution of 320 x 240. The camera constantly updates the image being stored in the camera BRAM, but the module that detects the laser only processes the contents of that BRAM once the motor has indicated it has completed its movement so that the image processing does not make an erroneous read. The way in which the laser is detected from the image is as follows. For each column in the image, the entire row is scanned to find the pixel with the highest red color content. The RGB value generated by the OV7670 is 12 bits, which corresponds to 4 bits per red, green, and blue value, but only the bits corresponding to the red color are used for the image processing.

The diagram shown below illustrates how we calculated the z-coordinate for each pixel based off of the measured displacement of where the laser was detected from where its default display is in the camera picture. The original configuration of the laser should be set up in such a way that it is aligned with the rightmost side of the camera’s image so that as the object moves in front of the beam’s path, the laser displacement picked up by the camera always shows the laser to be some offset to the left of this default value. This offset is characterized in the diagram below as x’.


Our setup utilizes a fixed camera and line laser while the object moves laterally in front of the two devices. Based on these fixed components’ placements, A and B can be measured. You must be careful when measuring distance A because it is not simply from the center of the camera to the center of the line laser, it is from the center of the laser to the point orthogonal from where the laser hits the backdrop.

With known A and B values, you can calculate θ using the following equation:


As the object moves along its path, the laser will be displaced from the location that it hits the backdrop as the object moves in front of the beam. The angle that the laser shines is never disturbed throughout the scanning process, so the angle that the beam’s path makes with edge A when the laser is hitting an object is the same as the angle that the beam’s path makes with edge A when the laser is hitting the backdrop. Using the previously calculated θ value along with the known A distance and the system’s calculated x’ value, you can calculate z to determine that point’s z-coordinate.


The final piece needed to accurately convert the coordinates associated with each pixel into their physical distances are the multiplier coefficients. These are multiplied by certain intermediate values to convert pixel offsets into the values that you could actually measure in inches. To begin with, for the x-coordinate that the motor module is generating based on each increment of the platform, the multiplier coefficient that we used was 0.04 because each movement of the platform corresponded to an x-displacement of 4/100th of an inch. There were two more multiplier coefficients used to convert offsets measured in pixels to correspond to the actual value in inches. This was done for the value of x’ and the y-coordinate of each pixel. These coefficient values were calculated by taking a ruler, marking off on the backdrop of the scanner exactly where the edge of the field-of-view for the camera was, measuring these respective x and y-distances, and then dividing by the resolution we were using for the camera.

STL Generation

The file format we chose for our 3D rendered object is a StereoLithography file (STL).  We chose this as it is a very low overhead, industry standard file format for 3D renderings.  Generally, an STL file is a collection of triangular faces.  Each triangle consists of three points, each having an X, Y, and Z coordinate to position it in 3D space.  Since objects in the real world or 3D renderings are not always triangular or polygonal in nature, having a large number of small triangles creates the appearance of smooth surfaces and realistic objects.

In our project, the STL generation is done on the processing system (PS) side of the ZYNQ chip.  After the scan is complete, the programmable logic (PL) has a large 2D array stored in block RAMs.  Each index of this 2D array corresponds to a particular X and Y value in the real 3D space, and the value stored in each index corresponds to a Z value.  Once a signal has been passed to the PS side that the PL has completed the scan, the PS iterates through the entire array generating triangles.  The general algorithm for each index is as follows:

  1. Determine if this X/Y combination should be part of a vertex which forms the upper left of a triangle.  This is the case if and only if X < 320 and Y < 240 (the boundaries of our scan on the bottom and right hand sides).
    • If this is the case:
      1. Read the Z value from the Block RAM
      2. Normalize X, Y, and Z values using the formulas above
      3. Output triangle via UART
  2. Determine if this X/Y combination should be part of a vertex which forms the bottom right of a triangle.  This is the case if and only if X > 1 and Y > 1 (the boundaries of our scan on the top and left hand sides).
    • If this is the case:
      1. Read the Z value from the Block RAM
      2. Normalize X, Y, and Z values using the formulas above
      3. Output triangle via UART
  3. Iterate to next index, moving left to right first, then top to bottom.

Common 3D rendering software often limits the amount of triangular faces it supports.  For example, SolidWorks, the software most common used for CAD and 3D rendering at Bucknell, is limited to 20,000 faces.  If we went through every single index stored in block RAMs though, we would generate over 150,000 faces.  To mitigate this problem, and to allow for faster output over UART, we only iterate over every 10th index in both the X and Y direction.  This gives us a little under 2,000 triangles.  We can easily increase this resolution in our program though, and for more detailed scans, we will often go over every 4th or 5th index.

Data Transmission

Embedded systems like the Zedboard do not inherently have file systems that large, real-time OS systems have.  As a result, we had to come up with an alternative to generate the STL file.  Since we are generating the STL on the PS side, we wanted something that was already a part of the PS side.  Our natural approach then was to output the data in the file over the Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter (UART) on the Zedboard.  This module by default interfaces with all I/O operations available in the C library <stdio.h>.

At first, we generated STL files in their ASCII form.  This meant the file is in plain text, something that a human could read.  The general format of the file is as follows:

  1. “solid NAME” where name is the name of your rendering
  2. for each triangle in the file
    1. “facet normal N1, N2, N3” where N1, N2, and N3 create a normal vector pointing away from the face, or are (0, 0, 0).
    2. “outer loop”
    3. “vertex Vx, Vy, Vz” where Vx, Vy, and Vz are the X, Y, and Z coordinates of the first vertex
    4. “vertex Vx, Vy, Vz” where Vx, Vy, and Vz are the X, Y, and Z coordinates of the second vertex
    5. “vertex Vx, Vy, Vz” where Vx, Vy, and Vz are the X, Y, and Z coordinates of the third vertex
    6. “endloop”
    7. “endfacet”
  3. “endsolid NAME”

While this was fairly easy to generate with printf() statements, this format required a lot of overhead for transmission of data.  To output a full resolution image, we were looking at approximately 30-45 minutes of just data transmission.  Thankfully, the STL standard provided an alternative to allow us quicker transmission – binary files.  Binary STL files follow a similar format, but instead of transmitting human readable text, we transmit floating point and integer values, which take up less data.  We are therefore able to send the same information with significantly less data, resulting in much less transmission time.  The format of the binary STL is as follows:

  1. Size 80, 8-bit character array that is the header.  This can be anything so long as it does not begin with “solid.”
  2. 32-bit unsigned integer indicating the number of triangles
  3. For each triangle in the solid:
    1. Array of 3 32-bit IEEE 754 floating point values arranged [X, Y, Z] indicating the coordinates of the first vertex
    2. Array of 3 32-bit IEEE 754 floating point values arranged [X, Y, Z] indicating the coordinates of the second vertex
    3. Array of 3 32-bit IEEE 754 floating point values arranged [X, Y, Z] indicating the coordinates of the third vertex

The current project allows users to switch between ASCII and binary STL files by editing a macro in the C program.  Users may choose ASCII over binary in order to be able to read the file themselves, but would choose binary for speed of the transmission.

Innovative and efficient MSK open scanner. Joe Li, PhD

Alaska Scanner John


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