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Have You Ever Tried Desoldering Needles?

อังคาร, 04/04/2017 - 06:00

If you are an electronics enthusiast who has a tendency to hoard junk because it Might Be Useful Someday, you may well have a significant experience when it comes to desoldering. Why order that component, when you’ve got one on this old board?

So we’ve become experts in removing old components from dead PCBs, so when it comes to desoldering techniques you might think we’ve seen it all, there’s nothing new to learn. Then along comes [fede.tft], with a tip of a desoldering tool that’s new to us. The video below the break from [MSylvain59] demonstrates the needles in action, what do you think? Have any of you used a desoldering needle?

This is a set of tools you might use to desolder a through-hole component with a wire-end poking out beneath the board. The idea is that as stainless steel needles the solder won’t adhere to them, so you can select the appropriate size and use it to push out the lead from below.

We remain to be convinced, as it seems to be a slightly more fiddly way to do what we’ve used a small screwdriver for to lever from above the board for years, but it’s always worth talking about a tool that could be a useful new weapon in our armoury.

If you have an interest in desoldering, there’s only one place we can send you. Our own [Bil Herd] gave something of a masterclass on the subject in 2014.


Filed under: tool hacks

California Looks to Compel IoT Security

อังคาร, 04/04/2017 - 03:01

There is a bill going through committee in the state of California which, if passed, would require a minium level of security for Internet of Things devices and then some. California SB 327 Information privacy: connected devices in its original form calls for connected device manufacturers to secure their devices, protect the information they collect or store, indicate when they are collecting it, get user approval before doing so, and be proactive in informing users of security updates:

require a manufacturer that sells or offers to sell a connected device, defined as any device, sensor, or other physical object that is capable of connecting to the Internet, directly or indirectly, or to another connected device, to equip the device with reasonable security features appropriate to the nature of the device and the information it may collect, contain, or transmit, that protect it from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure, and to design the device to indicate when it is collecting information and to obtain consumer consent before it collects or transmits information, as specified. The bill would also require a person who sells or offers to sell a connected device to provide a short, plainly written notice of the connected device’s information collection functions at the point of sale, as specified. The bill would require a manufacturer of a connected device to provide direct notification of security patches and updates to a consumer who purchases the device.

This is just a proposal and will change as it finds its way through committee. Currently there a really no methods of punishment outlined, but recent comments have suggested individual prosecutors may have latitude to interpret these cases as they see fit. Additionally it has been suggested that the devices in question would be required to notify in some way the user when information is being collected. No language exists yet to clarify or set forth rules on this matter.

The security community has been sounding the cry of lackluster (often lack of) security on this growing army of IoT hardware and we’ve all known one day the government would get involved. Often this type of action requires a major event where people were in some way harmed either physically or financially that would push this issue. Denial of service attacks have already occurred and hijacking of webcams and such are commonplace. Perhaps what we saw in September finally pushed this into the limelight.

Any reasonable person can see the necessity of some basic level of security such as eliminating default passwords and ensuring the security of the data. The question raised here is whether or not the government can get this right. Hackaday has previously argued that this is a much deeper problem than is being addressed in this bill.

The size of California’s economy (relative to both the nation and the world) and the high concentration of tech companies make it likely that standards imposed if this law passes will have a large effect on devices in all markets.


Filed under: news, security hacks

Hackaday Prize Entry: Electric Variable Pitch Props

อังคาร, 04/04/2017 - 01:30

Barring the smallest manned airplanes, most aircraft that are pulled around by a prop have variable pitch propellers. The reason for this is simple efficiency. Internal combustion engines are most efficient at a specific RPM, and instead of giving the engine more gas to speed up, pilots can simply change the pitch of a propeller. With a gas powered engine, the mechanics and design of variable pitch propellers are well understood and haven’t really changed much in decades. Adding variable pitch props to something pulled around by an electric motor is another matter entirely. That’s what [Peter McCloud] is building for his entry to the Hackaday Prize, and it’s going into the coolest project imaginable.

This project is designed for a previous Hackaday Prize entry, and the only 2014 Hackaday Prize entry that hasn’t killed anyone yet. Goliath is a quadcopter powered by a lawnmower engine, and while it will hover in [Peter]’s test rig, he’s not getting the lift he expected and the control system needs work. There are two possible solutions to the problem of controlling the decapatron: an ingenious application of gimballed grid fins, or variable pitch rotors. [Peter] doesn’t know if either solution will work, so he’s working on both solutions in parallel.

[Peter]’s variable pitch rotor system is basically an electronic prop mount that connects directly to the driven shafts on his gas-powered quadcopter. To get power to the electronics, [Peter] is mounting permanent magnets to the quad’s frame, pulling power from coils in the rotor hub, and rectifying it to DC to drive the servos and electronics. Control of the props will be done wirelessly through an ESP32 microcontroller.

Variable pitch props are the standard for everything from puddle jumpers to acrobatic RC helis. In the quadcopter world, variable pitch props are at best a footnote. The MIT ACL lab has done something like this, but perhaps the best comparison to what [Peter] is doing is the incredible Stingray 500 quad. Flite Test did a great overview of this quad (YouTube), and it’s extremely similar to a future version of the Goliath. A big motor (in the Stingray’s case, a brushless motor) powers all the props via a belt, and the pitch of the props is controlled by four servos. The maneuverability of these variable pitch quads is unbelievable, but since the Goliath is so big and has so much mass, it’s doubtful [Peter] will be doing flips and rolls with his quads.

You can check out a video of [Peter]’s build below.

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Filed under: drone hacks, The Hackaday Prize

LEGO Liquid Handler and Big Biology

อังคาร, 04/04/2017 - 00:00

A career as a lab biologist can take many forms, but the general public seems to see it as a lone, lab-coated researcher sitting at a bench, setting up a series of in vitro experiments by hand in small tubes or streaking out a little yeast on an agar plate. That’s not inaccurate at all – all of us lab rats have done time with a manual pipettor while trying to keep track of which tube in the ice bucket gets which solution. It’s tedious stuff.

But because biology experiments generally scale well, and because more data often leads to better conclusions, life science processes can quickly grow beyond what can be handled manually. I’ve seen this time and again in my 25 years in science, from my crude grad school attempts to miniaturize my assays and automate data collection to the multi-million dollar robotic systems I built in my career in the pharmaceutical industry. Biology can get pretty big in a hurry.

Another day at the office. By Maggie Bartlett, National Human Genome Research Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsBeing able to do hundreds of experiments at the click of a mouse is remarkably powerful, but the expense of the equipment involved has kept this technology squarely in the domain of deep-pocketed institutions. Few kids with an interest in STEM disciplines ever get to see biology practiced as I’ve seen it — massive labs with dozens of robots whizzing back and forth on linear slides, moving labware between liquid handlers and incubators, eventually to be read on instruments that produce torrents of data that are processed by the latest in database technology. All most kids have seen of biology is tedious manual versions of DNA analysis or maybe some sequencing by what amounts to a black box.

That’s a shame, because I feel like the life sciences lose a lot of promising young talent to other fields that have more initial pizzazz. STEM has become somewhat synonymous with robotics, and for good reason — robots are fun, kids love them, and they’re pretty cheap to build and getting cheaper and more capable by the day. It’s been hard to impress on kids that they can do big things in biology and chemistry simply because it’s so expensive to show them.

That’s why I was really jazzed when I saw these low-cost lab automation instruments built with LEGO Mindstorms. For the price of one $400 Mindstorms kit, [Ingmar Riedel-Kruse] and his colleagues at Stanford have built a couple of different liquid handling instruments with real potential. Not only are these instruments — a pipettor that can work in a one-dimensional space and a 2D gantry robot — great for STEM demonstrations, they’re also more than capable of doing real science.

Parts needed aside from the stock Mindstorms kit are minimal, comprised mostly of labware like cuvettes and microtiter plates. The business end of the pipettor requires a 5-ml syringe to be modified to work with the LEGO parts, but that’s not a complicated affair by any means. The video below shows a certain over-compliance in the mechanism which might result in positional inaccuracy, but given some of the LEGO builds we’ve seen here before, I bet that could be remedied. Overall I’m very impressed; honestly, I’ve seen instruments that cost hundreds of times what [Ridel-Kruse] spent that have half the capability and all of the slop.

We’ve covered a lot of home-brew instruments for the DIY life science lab, from Arduino-fied syringe pumps to 3D-printed centrifuges. Those are great tools, but they’re probably not going to engage a FIRST kid. Watching a liquid handler work, though, and understanding that there are bigger and better versions in modern biology and chemistry labs, might just spur a few kids to pursue careers in the “S” disciplines of STEM.


Filed under: chemistry hacks, Hackaday Columns, robots hacks

VCF East: Enigma Machines In The Flesh

จันทร์, 04/03/2017 - 22:30

At the end of World War II, the Germans ordered all Enigma cipher machines destroyed. Around the same time, Churchill ordered all Enigma cipher machines destroyed. Add a few decades, neglect the efforts of Polish codebreakers, and make a movie about Alan Turing and an offensively historically incorrect love interest, and you have a mystique around these rare, innovative cipher machine.

At the Vintage Computer Festival East, I was privy to what is probably the largest collection of Enigma machines on the planet. The exhibit comes from [Tom] and [Dan Perera] of Enigma Museum. Right now, they’re they only place where you can go out and simply buy a real, wartime Enigma machine. The price? Well, there is a pair of million-dollar Apple I boards at VCF. The Enigmas go for about a fifth of an Apple I.

Most Enigma machines were destroyed at the end of the war by the most expedient possible means. This could mean throwing the machines into a lake, into a fire, or simply shooting them. Still, there are a few survivors, but most look something like this:

Fortunately, [Tom] and [Dan] restore Enigma machines. Their bread and butter comes from repairing battlefield finds, bringing them back to operational condition, and selling them. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but with the price these things fetch it is worth it.

Somewhat surprisingly, rotor-based code wheel technology didn’t stop advancing in 1945, and the Enigma Museum has the machine to prove it. There were two post-war Enigma-ish machines also on display, one from the Swiss, and one from the Soviets.

The Swiss NEMA cipher machine was first produced in 1947 and used through the cold war. This machine used four rotors and improved the Enigma design by irregular stepping of these rotors. This machine could also be connected to a teletype machine.

The Soviet efforts to reverse engineer the Enigma machine resulted in the M-125 Fialka cipher machine. This machine used ten rotors, with adjacent rotors turning in opposite directions. The Fialka was used by all Warsaw Pact countries until the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Filed under: classic hacks, cons

When the Grid Goes Dark

จันทร์, 04/03/2017 - 21:01

If you lived through the Y2K fiasco, you might remember a lot of hype with almost zero real-world ramifications in the end. As the calendar year flipped from 1999 to 2000 many forecast disastrous software bugs in machines controlling our banking and infrastructure. While this potential disaster didn’t quite live up to its expectations there was another major infrastructure problem, resulting in many blackouts in North America, that reared its head shortly after the new millennium began. While it may have seemed like Y2K was finally coming to fruition based on the amount of chaos that was caused, the actual cause of these blackouts was simply institutional problems with the power grid itself.

Built-in Protection Hardware

While blackouts of size and scope of the few that occurred in the early 2000s aren’t very common, local small-scale blackouts are almost guaranteed at some point or other. Although power utilities are incentivized to prevent as many of them as they can (if the power’s out, the meters aren’t spinning), there’s no guaranteed way to prevent lightning from striking power lines or expensive equipment, or to prevent unscrupulous electricians from overloading panels and damaging transformers, or preventing birds from nesting in every substation.

In theory, once there is a problem (referred to as a “fault” on the electrical system) there are a variety of protective devices to ensure that the interruption in power is as short as possible. Most electrical faults are brief, transient faults that will clear themselves after a small amount of time. These are things like lightning strikes or tree branches brushing power lines. Rather than open a breaker for these faults which will need to be reset by a person, small devices called “reclosers” can re-energize sections of the grid that have been affected by a temporary fault like this. For more permanent faults, a larger breaker will open but will have to be manually closed after the fault can be physically cleared by technicians. The power grid also makes extensive use of fuses, which are one-time-use devices unlike breakers and reclosers.

A Perfect Failure

All of this protective equipment isn’t without its faults, though, and can misbehave under the right circumstances to extraordinary effect. Such was the case in the Northeast Blackout of 2003 where a transmission line made contact with a tree in Ohio. Normally an incident like this would be dealt with swiftly by the protective equipment and grid operators. This was a summer day, though, and the reason that the power line came into contact with the tree was because it was sagging farther than normal from carrying close to its maximum rated current. More current means more thermal expansion of the wires, which means more chances to touch things that it shouldn’t touch.

Toronto during blackout
by Camerafiend CC-BY-SA-3.0

Since this was a summer afternoon, when the first transmission line tripped offline all of the normal load on the circuit plus all of the peak power had to be sent through other circuits to avoid power outages. Normally this would be dealt with easily, but the other circuits were also at peak carrying capacity, and those circuit tripped offline once the emergency load was transferred to them, which resulted in more transmission lines becoming overloaded, and more circuits tripping offline. When everything was said and done, an estimated 50 million people in the US and Canada were without power. It was the second-most widespread power outage in history at that point and was caused by little more than a hot day and a small computer bug that allowed the cascading failure to quickly get out of hand.

It’s important to note, again, that the power companies are businesses, and that it doesn’t make financial sense to build a power grid that is more robust than it really needs to be. A certain amount of emergency rating is a good idea, and the Ohio company may have been acting somewhat negligent in the end, though, but at least they weren’t being openly nefarious. It’s also relatively easy to point fingers in hindsight.

Blackouts as a Business Model

On the other hand, however, there have been large-scale blackouts that have been caused by companies actively trying to profit off of them. The California Electricity Crisis of 2000 and 2001 was a textbook case of conflict of interest, where energy traders such as Enron, who had control over energy supplies to the state, were also the ones who were trading energy futures. This practice isn’t allowed anymore, but it did take a company who is now famous for corruption, shady business practices, and bankruptcy, to catalyze a change in the laws which allowed for this level of deregulation in the energy market. California suffered massive rolling blackouts during the crisis even though the transmission system was robust enough to handle the demand and there was enough generation capacity to power the entire state without the blackouts.

Jump Starting a Power Plant

While there is a regulatory agency (in North America) with some teeth (thanks to Enron) to deal with problems like this, the power companies still have to be able to restore power once a blackout occurs. While any damage to the grid must be repaired, getting the power on isn’t quite as simple as flipping a switch at a nuclear plant or a combustion turbine. If these base-load plants lose power, they need either off-site power from something called a black-start plant, or they need large diesel generators in order to start producing power again. Boilers must be lit, control rods must be moved, and fuel must be delivered to the plant, and all of these things take energy. Generally power companies use hydroelectric plants for their black-start capability, but in areas without the geology to support damming a river, other methods must are currently used.

While small power outages will almost certainly happen to everyone, large-scale blackouts are relatively rare despite aging infrastructure and unscrupulous companies. Certainly, power flow can be very complicated on scales as large as the power grid, but in the next article in this series we will take a look at the smart grid: the current modernization of the electric grid and ways that we have been using modern technology to improve everything about it.


Filed under: Featured, Interest, Original Art

Revealing Capcom’s Custom Silicon Security

จันทร์, 04/03/2017 - 18:00

Ask any security professional and they’ll tell you, when an attacker has hardware access it’s game over. You would think this easily applies to arcade games too — the very nature of placing the hardware in the wild means you’ve let all your secrets out. Capcom is the exception to this scenario. They developed their arcade boards to die with their secrets through a “suicide” system. All these decades later we’re beginning to get a clear look at the custom silicon that went into Capcom’s coin-op security.

Alas, this is a “part 1” article and like petulant children, we want all of our presents right now! But have patience, [Eduardo Cruz] over at ArcadeHacker is the storyteller you want to listen to on this topic. He is part of the team that figured out how to “de-suicide” the CP2 protections on old arcade games. We learned of that process last September when the guide was put out. [Eduardo] is now going through all the amazing things they learned while figuring out that process.

These machines — which had numerous titles like Super Street Fighter II and Marvel vs. Capcom — used battery-backed ram to store an encryption key. If someone tampered with the system the key would be lost and the code stored within undecipherable thanks to “two four-round Feistel ciphers with a 64-bit key”. The other scenario is that battery’s shelf life simply expires and the code is also lost. This was the real motivation behind the desuicide project.

An overview of the hardware shows that Capcom employed at least 11 types of custom silicon. As the board revisions became more eloquent, the number of chips dropped, but they continued to employ the trick of supplying each with battery power, hiding the actual location of the encryption key, and even the 68000 processor core itself. There is a 6-pin header that also suicides the boards; this has been a head-scratcher for those doing the reverse engineering. We assume it’s for an optional case-switch, a digital way to ensure you void the warranty for looking under the hood.

Thanks for walking us through this hardware [Eduardo], we can’t wait for the next installment in the series!


Filed under: security hacks

Recover Your Broken SD Card Selfies by Your Selfie

จันทร์, 04/03/2017 - 15:01

You may still have some luck getting those selfies off of your SD card, even if it will no longer mount on your computer. [HDD Recovery Services] shows us a process to directly access the NAND memory of a faulty micro SD card to recover those precious files you thought about backing up but never got around to.

On a Micro SD card you may have noticed there are two slightly longer pins than the rest. These are VSS and VCC pins. As long as they are not a dead short between the two the SD card controller isn’t completely trashed and we can go ahead and get into that little sucker. With a bit of know how — along with sandpaper, enameled wire, and a NAND reader — an image of your lost data can be recovered with a bit of patience and some good soldering skills.

Working your way down from a relatively high grit sand paper, slowly sand away the plastic on the underside of the SD card until you can clearly see the copper traces hidden away inside. Then solder your enameled wire onto the small solder pads to hook it up to a NAND reader and you should be able to read the data that was previously unreachable via conventional means. Of course you’re still going to need to make sense out of the NAND dump. That’s a topic for a different article.

If you ever find yourself in need of an SD card recovery tool you could always roll your own DIY NAND reader. We will likely give this process a try just to play round with the concept. Hopefully we’ll never need to do SD card recovery!


Filed under: repair hacks

Command Alexa With a Completely Mechanical Vintage Remote Control

จันทร์, 04/03/2017 - 12:00

Anyone with grandparents already knows that in ye olden days, televisions did not have remote control. Your parents probably still complain about how, as children, they were forced to physically walk over to the TV in order to switch between the three available channels. In these modern times of technological wonder, we have voice control, programmable touch screen remotes, and streaming services that will automatically play an entire season of the show you’re binge watching. However, before these, and before the ubiquitous infrared remote, television manufacturers were experimenting with ways to keep kids from having to run across the living room every time the channel needed to be changed.

Early remote controls were simply wired affairs — nothing too surprising there. But, it wasn’t long before methods of wireless control were being introduced. One early effort called the Flashmatic would shine light onto a photoelectric cell on the television set to control it. Of course, it might also be controlled by unintended light sources, and users had to have good aim to hit the sensor. These issues soon led to the introduction of the Zenith Space Command remote control, which used ultrasonic frequencies to control the TV.

What is particularly interesting about the Zenith Space Command was that it was completely mechanical, and contained no electronics whatsoever. There were no batteries to change, and because it used ultrasonic sound, it didn’t need to be pointed directly at the television set. Robert Adler, the Zenith engineer who designed the Space Command, achieved this by using physical buttons which triggered spring-loaded hammers to hit metal rods tuned to the necessary frequencies. This created a distinctive click (hence the term “clicker”), sounded the proper ultrasonic frequency, and a circuit in the television set would respond by changing the channel.

In the video below, [Monta Elkins] breaks down a vintage Zenith Space Command to show us how the internal mechanisms work. Then, he takes it a few steps further and demonstrates how he built a system to respond to the remote control. Using a Teensy, an Arduino Uno, and a bit of speech synthesis, the system gets triggered by the Space Command and then speaks a command, which is then registered by an Amazon Alexa.

Want to learn more about the all-powerful remote control? Then you’ll first want to answer the question: how old is the remote?


Filed under: classic hacks

VCF: The Guys Keeping Up With Commodore

จันทร์, 04/03/2017 - 09:00

This year at the Vintage Computer Festival, war was beginning. The organizers of the con pulled a coup this year, and instead of giving individual exhibitors a space dedicated to their wares, various factions in the war of the 8-bitters were encouraged to pool their resources and create the best exhibit for their particular brand of home computers. The battle raged between the Trash-80 camp and the Apple resistance. In the end, only one home computer exhibit would remain. Are you keeping up with Commodore? Because Commodore is keeping up with you. This exhibit from [Anthony Becker], [Chris Fala], [Todd George], and [Bill Winters] among others is the greatest collection of Commodore ever assembled in one place.

This year’s Commodore exhibit was a free for all of every piece of the hardware Commodore (or Zombie Commodore) has ever produced. Remember netbooks? Commodore made one. Remember when people carried dedicated devices to play MP3s? Commodore was there. Did you know you can spend $20,000 USD on a 30-year-old computer? That’s Commodore.

Zombie Commodore exists, and you’ll run into them if you ever try to sell some retrocomputing equipment with the chicken lips on it. Someone holds the trademark to Commodore, and that means there have been some weird officially-licensed commodore products over the years. There’s a netbook, a crappy video player, something worse than a Zune, and most interestingly, the closest thing we’re ever going to get to a modern Amiga running on real hardware.

Sitting inside an unassuming standard desktop PC case is a Pegasos motherboard. This is a PowerPC MicroATX motherboard with AGP, PCI, Ethernet, USB, and Firewire. This isn’t all that different from a translucent blue PowerMac, but this boots with Open Firmware, meaning it runs Amiga 4.0 natively.

By far, the rarest, most exotic, and most expensive computer on display at the Commodore booth was the legendary Commodore 65. Only about 200 prototypes of this machine were produced, making their way out of the QVC studios in West Chester and into the hands of collectors. When one of these rare machines ends up on eBay, ending bids of $20,000 are not uncommon.

Other rarities and oddities of the Commodore camp include nearly all the TED machines – ‘cost reduced’ versions of the C64 designed in part by our own [Bil Herd] that had a few interesting features. Piles of VIC 20s reached the ceiling, and a few of the IBM PC-compatible Commodores made an appearance. Nobody cared about the PC-compatibles.

In this battle royale between the Trash-80s, Apples, and Commodores, who would win? The elite panel of expert judges chose Commodore. They kept up with Commodore, because Commodore is keeping up with you.


Filed under: classic hacks, cons

Hackaday Links: April 2, 2017

จันทร์, 04/03/2017 - 06:00

Toorcamp registration is open. It’s June 20-24th on Orcas Island, Washington.

Hey, you. The guy still using Mentor Graphics. Yeah, you. Siemens has acquired Mentor Graphics.

CNC knitting machines are incredibly complicated but exceptionally cool. Until now, most CNC knitting machines are actually conversions of commercial machines. Beginning with [Travis Goodspeed] and  [Fabienne Serriere] hack of a knitting machine, [Becky Stern]’s efforts, and the Knitic project, these knitting machines are really just brain transplants of old Brother knitting machines. A few of the folks from the OpenKnit project have been working to change this, and now they’re ready for production. Kniterate is a project on Kickstarter that’s a modern knitting machine, and basically a 2D woolen printer. This is an expensive machine at about $4500, but if you’ve ever seen the inside of one of these knitting machines, you’ll know building one of these things from scratch is challenging.

There was a time when a Macintosh computer could play games. Yes, I know this sounds bizarre, but you could play SimCity 2000, Diablo, and LucasArts adventure games on a machine coming out of Cupertino. [Novaspirit] wanted to relive his childhood, so he set up a Mac OS 7 emulator on a Raspberry Pi. He’s using Minivmac, beginning with an install of OS 7.1, upgrading that to 7.5.3, then upgrading that to 7.5.5. It should be noted the utility of the upgrade to 7.5.5 is questionable — the only real changes from 7.5.3  to 7.5.5 are improved virtual memory support (just change some emulator settings to get around that) and networking support (which is difficult on an emulator). If you’re going to upgrade to 7.5.5, just upgrade to 8.1 instead.

It’s getting warmer in the northern hemisphere, and you know what that means: people building swamp coolers. And you know what that means: people arguing about the thermodynamics of swamp coolers. We love these builds, so if you have a swamp cooler send it on in to the tip line.

The Prusa edition of Slic3r is out. The improvements? It’s not a single core app anymore (!), so slicing is faster. It’s got that neat variable layer slicing. Check out all the features.

It takes at least a week to delete your Facebook account. In the meantime, you can lawyer up and hit the gym. Additionally, we’re not really sure Facebook actually deletes your profile when you disable your account. Robots to the rescue. [anerdev] built a robot to delete all his content from Facebook. It’s a pair of servos with touchpad-sensitive pens. Add an Arduino, and you have a Facebook deleting machine.


Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Hackaday links

The 35 Year Music Synthesizer that Spawned Chiptune

จันทร์, 04/03/2017 - 03:00

If you are a certain age, MOS6581 either means nothing to you, or it is a track from Carbon Based Lifeforms. However, if you were a Commodore computer fan 35 years ago, it was a MOS Technologies SID (Sound Interface Device). Think of it as a sound “card” for the computers of the day. Some would say that the chip — the power behind the Commodore 64’s sound system — was the sound card of its day. Compared to its contemporaries it had more in common with high-end electronic keyboards.

The Conversation has a great write up about how the chip was different, how it came to be, the bug in the silicon that allowed it to generate an extra voice, and how it spawned the chiptune genre of music. The post might not be as technical as we’d do here at Hackaday, but it does have oscilloscope videos (see below) and a good discussion of what it took to create music on the device.

The article talks a lot about the music side of things but in a technical way. Besides — as the author points out — in those days the musicians had to be programmers, too. Luckily, there are a lot of musical programmers — or perhaps programming musicians, we aren’t quite sure.

If you want your own SID to play with, there’s always the FPGA version. Or get a real chip and control it with a Raspberry Pi.


Filed under: classic hacks

Easy-Peasy Heart Monitor

จันทร์, 04/03/2017 - 00:00

If you’re at all into medical hacks, you’ve doubtless noticed that the medical industry provides us with all manner of shiny toys to play with. Case in point is a heart-monitoring IC that’s so brand new, it’s not even available in all of the usual distributors yet. [Ashwin], who runs a small prototyping-supplies company, ProtoCentral, has been playing around with the new MAX30003 ECG chip, and the results look great.

The punchline is that the four-to-five dollar chip does everything for you, including analog filtering, wander removal, and even detecting the pulse rate. Using the chip is simple: you plug in two electrodes on one end, and you get the waveform data out over SPI on the other, with little or no work to do on the microprocessor side. The Arduino in the examples is just passing the SPI data straight to the laptop, with no processing going on at all.

[Ashwin] is selling these as breakout boards, but everything is open source, from the hardware to the GUI, so check it out if you’re interested in building your own. In particular, the circuit is just a voltage regulator and five volt level shifter.

Everything we know about electrocardiography projects, we learned from this presentation, and it looks like the devil is in the (many) details, so it’s nice to offload them to custom silicon whenever possible. We just think it’s awesome that we can scoop up some of the giant medical industry’s crumbs to play around with.


Filed under: Medical hacks

VCF East: Before There Was Arduino, We Had Balls

อาทิตย์, 04/02/2017 - 22:30

Today, if you want to teach kids the art of counting to one, you’re going to drag out a computer or an iPad. Install Scratch. Break out an Arduino, or something. This is high technology to solve the simple problem of teaching ANDs and ORs, counting to 0x0F, and very basic algorithms.

At the Vintage Computer Festival East this year, System Source, proprietors of a fantastic museum of not-quite-computing equipment brought out a few of their best exhibits. These include mechanical calculators, toys from the 60s, and analog computers that are today more at home in a CS departments’ storage closet than a classroom. It’s fantastic stuff, and shows exactly how much you can learn with some very cleverly designed mechanical hardware.

System Source has a small computer museum in their offices just north of Baltimore, mostly focusing on ‘trainer’ and ‘toy’ computers. These aren’t technically computers, they’re more along the lines of digital logic trainers, designed to teach kids the difference between ANDs and ORs or XORs or NANDs. We’ve seen some of their stuff before including a great visualization of digital logic using EL wire (which was in attendance at VCF). Short of trucking down to the poor man’s Portland, though, this is the best look at the collection we’ve ever seen.

The best example of what System Source brought – that also plays into the headline of this post – is the DigiComp II. This is a recreation of a 1960s toy mechanical computer capable of addition, multiplication, subtraction, division, and counting. This cheap plastic toy was recreated in CNC plywood by Evil Mad Scientists a few years ago, and System Source had it out on display. 11mm pachinko balls flow gracefully through flip-flop registers, eventually landing on a lever connected to a rod that releases the next ball. We recently gave away an EMSL DigiComp II as a prize in the 1 kB Challenge. It’s beautiful, but certainly not the extent of the System Source collection.

Other mechanical computer toys included Dr. Nim, a toy that questions the definition of ‘computer’ as a device that plays a game called Nim, with the goal of the game is to be the last player to remove an object from a heap. By ‘programming’ Dr. Nim with a few letters, the game is unbeatable, so long as the human player always goes first.

With a Digi-Comp II, it’s only fitting that System Source would have a Digi-Comp I, a bizarre mechanical computer toy made out of plastic, wire, and a few dials.

Mechanical toy computers can only do so much, and there were a few more pieces that showed the progression of pre-microcontroller digital logic. Of note was the CES ED-Lab 700, an analog computer produced in the 1980s to teach students the fundamentals of digital logic. Included in this giant box of banana jacks is a clock with two outputs 180° out of phase with each other, flip-flops, AND, NANDs, NORs, and ORs. Also on deck was the Comdyna GP-6, a gigantic metal box designed to teach control systems and analog computing.

Nowadays we take it for granted that our microcontrollers can multiply. We have compilers and all sorts of fancy tricks to make computers do math fast, and if none of those work out we can just put a gigantic look up table in ROM. It wasn’t always like this, and yes, there are still people around who learned on these sorts of tools. It’s great seeing this hardware out in the real world, even if it is only for one weekend a year a the Vintage Computing Festival.


Filed under: classic hacks, cons

Musical String Shooter Makes Sound Visible

อาทิตย์, 04/02/2017 - 21:00

One reason we really like [Rulof]’s hacks is that he combines the most unlikely things to create something unexpected. This time he makes a fast-moving loop of cotton string undulate in time to music.

To do this he uses cotton string, hard drive parts, two wheels from a toy Ferrari, two DC motors, a plastic straw,  a speaker, and an amplifier.  The loop of string sits in the air by being rapidly rotated in between the two wheels. The hard drive parts, driven by the amplifier, give the string a tap with an amplitude, and at a time determined by the music. The result is music made visible in the air in front of you, or in his living room in this case. Check out how he made it, and see it in action in the video below the break.

And if you want to see more of [Rulof]’s creations, have a look at his leg mounted, underwater, beer bottle propulsion system, his vibrating gaming chair, and another usage of the same hard drive parts but this time to make a microphone that works surprisingly well.


Filed under: musical hacks

VCF: 3D Printing In The 80s

อาทิตย์, 04/02/2017 - 18:00

The Vintage Computer Festival East is going down right now, and I’m surrounded by the height of technology from the 1970s and 80s. Oddly enough, Hackaday frequently covers another technology from the 80s, although you wouldn’t think of it as such. 3D printing was invented in the late 1980s, and since patents are only around for 20 years, this means 3D printing first became popular back in the 2000’s.

In the 1970s, the first personal computers came out of garages. In the early 2000s, the first 3D printers came out of workshops and hackerspaces. These parallels pose an interesting question – is it possible to build a 1980s-era 3D printer controlled by a contemporary computer? That was the focus of a talk from [Ethan Dicks] of the Columbus Idea Foundry this weekend at the Vintage Computer Festival.

First, the hardware. [Ethan]’s test bench consists of a Commodore PET Model 8032, running a 1MHz 6502, sporting 32k of RAM, and connects to the outside world through the ‘user port’ that has a grand total eight digital outputs.

The exemplar printer for this talk was a MakerBot Cupcake. No, the Cupcake was not in operating condition. A working MakerBot Cupcake is a newsworthy event, after all. However, this is actually a pretty good choice for a simple 3D printer. There are only three stepper motors on this printer, with each driver only requiring a step and direction signal. Endstops really aren’t required on the Cupcake, the extruder is just a DC motor, and a heated bed is a luxury. In total, you’ll need about eight control signals to run the motors in this printer, one or two more to turn the heaters on and off, and an analog input. Add in Revars LCD mod (expunged from MakerBot, but the Wayback machine caught it), and you can easily control a printer with a PET.

While it is possible to control the motors in a printer with a 6502, it’s not exactly easy. The electronics board developed for the Cupcake – the Sanguinololu – uses an ATMega644 running at 16MHz. The 6502 in the PET runs at 1MHz, but it gets worse: a lot of the instructions on the ATMega only require one clock, whereas the 6502 takes several clocks per instruction. The 6502 simply doesn’t have the ability to step through the code as fast as a three-dollar microcontroller.

There is also the problem of how to store a 3D printable file on a vintage computer. Today, it’s not uncommon for simple STL files to weigh in at Megabytes. A complicated model couldn’t have been stored on a vintage hard drive.

[Ethan] has a few solutions to these problems. He can’t really get around the processing speed of the PET, but he does have a solution to the size of an STL cube. During slicing, a 3D printable file of a cube is split up into layers. The bottom layers are simply solid, the middle layers have a perimeter and an infill pattern, and the top layers are just solid again. Instead of processing a file that weighs in at a few Megabytes, [Ethan] is simply taking a few bottom layers, a middle layer, and the top layers and running them through a for loop.

Was [Ethan] able to grind some MakerBot motors with a PET? Unfortunately not. The theory is there, even if slicing a model is far, far beyond the scope of this hack. Still, it is at least possible to build a 3D printer around a computer from the 80s. You only need to look at the original patents for evidence of that.


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, classic hacks, cons

Cordless Water Pump!

อาทิตย์, 04/02/2017 - 15:00

A water pump is one of those items that are uncommonly used, but invaluable when needed. Rarer still are cordless versions that can be deployed at speed. Enter [DIY King 00], who has shared his build of a cordless water pump!

The pump uses an 18 volt brushed motor and is powered by an AEG 18V LiPo battery. That’s the same battery as the rest of [DIY King]’s power tools, making it convenient to use. UPVC pipe was used for the impeller — with a pipe end cap for a housing. A window of plexiglass to view the pump in motion adds a nice touch.

A bit of woodworking resulted in the mount for the pump and battery pack, while a notch on the underside allows the battery to lock into place. Some simple alligator clips on the battery contacts and the motor connected through a switch are all one needs to get this thing running.

Unfortunately, the motor is seen smoking a bit at the end of the video, the result of a slightly oversized impeller causing the motor to draw too much current. Still — for a short while at least — this thing can spit 10L of water per minute up to 10 feet away! Not too shabby!

This pump would certainly come in handy for any water-related emergencies, but if you want to nip that problem in the bud before it gets out of hand, check out how you can rig up your home’s sump pump to alert you of any impending crises.

[Via Instructables]


Filed under: how-to, tool hacks

Solar-Powered Prosthetic Skin

อาทิตย์, 04/02/2017 - 12:00

One of the biggest problems for prosthetic users is feel. If you’ve ever tried to hold a pen and write with a numb hand, you’ve realised how important feedback is to the motor control equation. Research is ongoing to find ways to provide feedback from prosthetic limbs, in even a basic format.  The human nervous system is a little more complex than just interfacing with the average serial UART. One of the requirements of many feedback systems is power, which usually would involve bulky batteries or some form of supercapacitors, but a British team has developed a way to embed solar cells in a touch-sensitive prosthetic skin.

The skin relies on everyone’s favourite material of the minute, graphene. A thin layer of graphene allows the prosthetic to feed signals back to the user of both temperature and contact pressure. The trick is that the graphene skin is incredibly transparent, reportedly allowing 98% of light on its surface to pass through. It’s then a simple matter of fitting solar panels beneath this skin, and the energy harvested can then be used to power the sensor system.

The team does admit that some power storage will later be required, as it would be difficult for any prosthetic user if their limbs lost all feedback when they walked into a dark room. The idea of one’s arm losing all feeling upon going to bed isn’t particularly appealing. Check out the paper here (paywalled). Video below the break.
We see a lot of great prosthetic projects cross our desk here at Hackaday – like this 3D printed prosthetic hand. Prosthetics definitely matter, so why not build your own and enter it in the 2017 Hackaday Prize?


Filed under: Medical hacks

Linear Clock Slows the Fugit of the Tempus

อาทิตย์, 04/02/2017 - 09:00

We feature a lot of clocks here on Hackaday, and lately most of them seem to be Nixie clocks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but every once in a while it’s nice to see something different. And this electromechanical rack and pinion clock is certainly different.

[JON-A-TRON] calls his clock a “perpetual clock,” perhaps in a nod to perpetual calendars. But in our opinion, all clocks are perpetual, so we’ll stick with “linear clock.” Whatever you call it, it’s pretty neat. The hour and minute indicators are laser cut and engraved plywood, each riding on a rack and pinion. Two steppers advance each rack incrementally, so the resolution of the clock is five minutes. [JON-A-TRON] hints that this was a design decision, in part to slow the perceived pace of time, an idea we can get behind. But as a practical matter, it greatly simplified the gear train; it would have taken a horologist like [Chris] at ClickSpring to figure out how to gear this with only one prime mover.

In the end, we really like the look of this clock, and the selection of materials adds to the aesthetic. And if you’re going to do a Nixie clock build, do us a favor and at least make it levitate.


Filed under: clock hacks

Cerebrum: Mobile Passwords Lifted Acoustically with NASB

อาทิตย์, 04/02/2017 - 06:01

 

There are innumerable password hacking methods but recent advances in acoustic and accelerometer sensing have opened up the door to side-channel attacks, where passwords or other sensitive data can be extracted from the acoustic properties of the electronics and human interface to the device. A recent and dramatic example includes the hacking of RSA encryption  simply by listening to the frequencies of sound a processor puts out when crunching the numbers.

Now there is a new long-distance hack on the scene. The Cerebrum system represents a recent innovation in side-channel password attacks leveraging acoustic signatures of mobile and other electronic devices to extract password data at stand-off distances.

Research scientists at cFREG provide a compelling demonstration of the Cerebrum prototype. It uses Password Frequency Sensing (PFS), where the acoustic signature of a password being entered into an electronic device is acquired, sent up to the cloud, passed through a proprietary deep learning algorithm, and decoded. Demonstrations and technical details are shown in the video below.

Many of these methods have been shown previously, as explained by MIT researcher T. M. Gil in his iconic paper,

“In recent years, much research has been devoted to the exploration of von Neumann machines; however, few have deployed the study of simulated annealing. In fact, few security experts would disagree with the investigation of online algorithms [25]. STEEVE, our new system for game-theoretic modalities, is the solution to all of these challenges.”

To counter this argument, the researchers at cFREG have taken it to a much higher and far more accurate level.

Measurements

The Cerebrum team began their work by prototyping systems to increase the range of their device. The first step was to characterize the acoustic analog front end and transducers with particular attention paid to the unorthodox acoustic focusing element:

The improvements are based on the ratio of Net Air-Sugar Boundaries (NASB) using off-the-shelf marshmallows. Temperature probing is integral for calibrating this performance, and with this success they moved on to field testing the long-range system.

Extending the Range

The prototype was tested by interfacing a magnetic loop antenna directly onto the Cerebrum through a coax-to-marshmallow transition. By walking the street with a low-profile loop antenna, numerous passwords were successfully detected and decoded.

War Driving with PFS

To maximize range, additional antenna aperture were added and mounted onto a mobile platform including a log periodic, an X-band parabolic dish, and a magnetic loop antenna to capture any and all low frequency data. In this configuration it was possible to collect vast quantities of passwords out to upwards of ½ of a mile from the vehicle resulting in a treasure trove of passwords.

 

Without much effort the maximum range and overall performance of the Cerebrum PFS was dramatically increased opening up a vast array of additional applications. This is an existing and troubling vulnerability. But the researchers have a recommended fix which implements meaningless calculations into mobile devices when processing user input. The erroneous sound created will be enough to fool the machine learning algorithms… for now.


Filed under: digital audio hacks, security hacks