Xbox 360 DVD changer is the ultimate in gaming laziness


Let’s face it – gamers have a reputation for being pretty lazy. In the most recent episode of his web series, [Ben Heck] takes on the stereotypical gamer role and cranks the laziness factor to 11, lamenting the fact that he needs to get up off the couch to swap discs in his Xbox 360 console. Never allowing laziness get in the way of his hacking, he springs into action, hauling off to his shop in order to construct an Xbox DVD changer system.

He grabbed a pair of CD changers and popped them open to see how they operated. After choosing the best candidate based on its CD loading method, he got to work disassembling the changer. The old CD player and its guts were removed, which he replaced with DVD drive components ripped from his Xbox. Quite a bit of trimming and tweaking was required to swap out the components, but it seems that [Ben] got things working just fine.

With the mechanical portion of the project out of the way, he dug into the electronics. The CD changer had no way of knowing how to interface with the Xbox and vice versa, so [Ben] had to devise a way for the two devices to communicate. He used an Arduino Uno to control the systems, triggering the CD carousel only when the Xbox thought it had its drive slot opened.

While the system looks a bit unpolished, and the controller quite bulky, we love this thing!  No matter if you are lazy or not, jamming these two devices together is exactly what hacking is all about.

Shoulder surfing with openCV


While it seems that many people are wise to shoulder surfing, keeping a lookout for anyone spying on their passwords, [Haroon] wrote in to remind us that the threat is just as real today as it ever was.

The subjects of his research are touch screen phones and tablets, which utilize on-screen keyboards for data entry. He says that while nearly all password entry boxes on these devices are obscured with the traditional line of asterisks, the keyboards themselves are quite an interesting vulnerability.

Since touch screen technology can be finicky at times, most vendors ship their devices with some sort of key press verification system. On the iPhone and iPad, for instance, each key is highlighted in blue following a button press. This functionality makes it quite easy for shoulder surfers to casually steal your password if you’re not paying attention.

But what if you are well aware of your surroundings? [Haroon] has developed a piece of software he calls shoulderPad, which is based on openCV that does the surfing for him. The application can monitor a video stream, live or recorded, extracting the user’s password from the highlighted button presses. His demonstrations show the recording taking place at a relatively close distance, but he says that it would be quite easy to use surveillance footage or zoom lenses to capture key presses from afar.

He does say that the button highlighting can be easily disabled in the iPhone’s options pane, which should negate this sort of attack for the most part.

Continue reading to see a quick video of shoulderPad in action.

[Read more...]

Character LCD screen add-on for Android devices

Here’s an Android accessory project that adds a secondary LCD display. It utilizes the Android Open Accessory Development Kit standard to connect the 16×2 character LCD as a USB device. It pairs an app on the phone which runs transparently with firmware for the ATmega2560-based Arduino compatible board you see to the left. The app launches as soon as the auxiliary hardware is connected and is responsible for determining which lines of text are pushed out to the LCD. The example code displays the current time on the top line, and scrolls incoming text messages as they are received.

This is a good way to get your feet wet with the ADK hardware. We’ve already seen it used for larger displays like this LED marquee, but this smaller test project doesn’t require much hardware setup. Chances are you either already have an Arduino and character LCD on hand, or can easily borrow which makes this an easy weekend project.

One note on that Arduino compatible board; it’s called a Freakduino ADK but we couldn’t figure out if it’s a Freak Labs product or not. If you have some insight about that, please leave a comment.

FPGA generated SPDIF output

[Mike Field] just finished implementing SPDIF generation on an FPGA. SPDIF is an industry standard for transmitting digital audio signals; the acronym stands for Sony/Philips Digital Interconnect Format. It’s been around for more than a decade and since it’s found on most home-audio equipment, building an SPDIF output into your projects may be quite a desirable feature. [Mike] mentions several ideas for this functionality like building high-end test equipment, or providing a high-quality output for electronic instruments.

He first jumped into analyzing the specification in order to determine the hardware requirements. Due to some issues with jitter, he found it necessary to use a 100 MHz clock signal. This pushes the jitter down to +/- 5ns of jitter, which he concedes may raise the hackles of audio purists, but does satisfy the published standard. Output requires just one pin of the FPGA and the five components seen above. A hex inverter (74HC04) voltage divider, capacitor, and RCA connector transmit the 0.5V signal to your audio-receiver of choice. Of course, since TOSLINK fiber optic connectors use the same protocol, you could redesign the output and make this an optical connection.

FabLab helps the developing world set up long-distance wireless Ethernet

The wooden frame seen above hosts a parabolic reflector making up one side of a wireless network link. This is a Fab Lab project called FabFi which uses common networking hardware to setup long-distance wireless Ethernet connections. It’s a bit hard to tell in the image above, but the reflector focuses radio waves on the antennae of a router we’re quite familiar with, the Linksys WRT54G. It’s held upside-down in an enclosure meant to protect it from the elements. The node above manages to complete a connection spanning 2.41 miles!

One of the core values of the project is to develop hardware that is easy to build with limited resources, then to make that knowledge freely available. Anyone who has the ability to download and print out the 2D design file can build a reflector for themselves. As we’ve seen in other projects, paper stencils and hand tools can handle this job with no need for a laser-cutter (which was used for the prototype). WRT54G routers are inexpensive and the project uses the open source firmware OpenWRT. They can be run from 12VDC power which means a car battery works when mains power is not an option. The system has been running in Afghanistan for two years and hardware failure is still in the low single-digits.

[Thanks das_coach]

Zzstructure emulator

[John Ohno] has been working on a zzstructure operating system written C since January. [John] realizes not many people know what a zzstructure is, so he posted a demo of his project. [John] has also put all the code online.

A zzstructure is both a hypertext and operating system unlike anything we have today. You could say that when it was first conceived in 1960 it was 100 years ahead of its time. [John]‘s implementation of zzstructures operates on a 256-dimension grid and functions a lot like a multidimensional forum thread. Although that’s a lot to wrap your head around, it can probably best be explained by [Ted Nelson], the creator of zzstructures.

[Read more...]

Wearable video coat

[David Forbes] is no stranger to the weird and esoteric, so he created a color LED TV built into a lab coat. He plans on bringing it to Burning Man next month.

The RGB LEDs are mounted narrow flex boards, providing a 160×120 pixel NTSC display. Video processing is taken care of by an Xilinx FPGA that takes the YCrCb video feed from a video iPod and converts it into four separate RGB streams for the front, back, and the two sides. The requisite controls for brightness and color are on the shoulders.

Of course, the build wouldn’t be over-the-top without the ability to plug a Nintendo into a lab coat, so there’s an NTSC input on an RCA jack. Everything is powered by two 11.1 V, 5Ah radio-control LiPo battery packs that should power this for a while.

Check out a video of the LED lab coat below.