Quick look at the Soldercore dev board

It seems like hacker-friendly ARM development boards are just exploding into the market right now. Here’s one we haven’t looked at yet. The SolderCore is made by Rowley Associates and is packed with features which help to explain the $80 price tag. [CharlieX] just ordered one and posted a bit about his first day with the device.

First off, it’s obviously the Arduino form factor. We think that’s a nice touch in a development board, but we still wish the Arduino folks hadn’t offset that one header way back when. That chip at the center packs quite a wallop; an 80 MHz ARM Cortex-M3 (from TI) with 512 kb of Flash memory and 96 kb of RAM. The in-built Ethernet jack is hard to miss, but right below it in this picture you can also see the USB On-the-Go connector. There’s a microSD card slot and both 3V and 5V regulators. [CharlieX] does a little hacking on the networking features offered, then takes a look at firmware upgrading. For that you’ll need an SD card formatted to FAT 16.

Chiptune player uses preprocessed .MOD files

[Kayvon] just finished building this chiptune player based on a PIC microcontroller. The hardware really couldn’t be any simpler. He chose to use a PIC18F2685 just because it’s big enough to store the music files directly and it let him get away with not using an external EEPROM for that purpose. The output pins feed a Digital to Analog Convert (DAC) chip, which in turn outputs analog audio to an LM386 OpAmp. The white trimpot sandwiched between the chips controls the volume.

The real work on this project went into coding a program which translates .MOD files into something the PIC will be able to play. Because of the memory limits of the chip it is unable to directly use all of the instrument samples from these files. [Kayvon] wrote a program with a nice GUI that lets him load in his music and page through each instrument to fine-tune how they are being re-encoded. The audio track from the video after the break doesn’t do the project justice, but you will get a nice look at the hardware and software.

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NC Maker Faire 2012: Other Projects

Maker Faire NC 2012 Splat Space

Although I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to at the Faire, there was a ton of stuff that was interesting enough for a mention. Many of these could probably merit their own separate article, and I didn’t get to talk about everything, so feel free to comment, or better yet write in to the tip line if you feel like you deserve more “air time.”

In the video after the break there’s everything from a [steampunk] display, to a model railroad club, and lots of projects in between.  For a list of makers at this Faire, check out this page. [Read more...]

How about a nice game of Nixie chess?

[Tony] sent in a Nixie tube chess set he’s been working on, and we’re just floored with the quality of this build. The chess pieces glow without any visible wires, the board is extremely elegant with touches of gilding and brass, and extremely well designed using (mostly) materials and components contemporary to the old Russian Nixie tubes.

Instead of numeric Nixies, [Tony] chose IN-7 and IN-7A tubes originally made to display scientific symbols such as A, V, and ~. To power the these tubes, [Tony] used 64 air-core transformers underneath each square on the chess board, allowing these Nixie tubes to be powered just like an induction charger.

Even though his blog posts are a little thin on details, we’ve got to hand it to [Tony] for an amazing build. He says there will be a kit available that includes a gigantic PCB, but we wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how much that will cost.

You can check out a pair of videos of the Nixie chess set in action after the break.

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Encrypted drive attack hints at original Xbox hacking

[Thice] discovered a vulnerability in encrypted portable storage a few years ago. He’s just pointing about the exploit now. He mentions that he notified manufacturers long ago and we’d guess the wait to publish is to give them a chance to patch the exploit.

He calls it the Plug-Over Attack and for those who were involved with original Xbox hacking, this technique will sound very familiar. The Xbox used hard drive keys to lock the device when not in use. When you booted up the console it checked the hardware signature to make sure it was talking to the right motherboard. But if you booted up the device, then swapped the IDE cable over to a computer without cutting the power you could access the drive without having the password.

This attack is pretty much the same thing. Plug in a drive, unlock it on the victim system the normal way, then replug into the attacking system. In the image above you can see that a USB hub will work for this, but you can also use a hacked USB cable that patches a second jack into the power rail. For some reason the encryption system isn’t able to lock itself when the USB enumerates on the new system, only when power is cycled. Some of them have a timer which watches for drive idle but that still doesn’t protect from this exploit.

Simple ambilight clone is just a few transistors

The Ambilight system – built in to high-end Phillips TVs – is a neat system to add a bit of ambiance to regular television viewing. With this system, a series of RGB LEDs are mounted to the rear of the TV to respond to whatever is currently being displayed. [Lovro] came up with a very simple way to add an ambilight system to his computer monitor using only a handful of components.

Unlike other Ambilight clones we’ve seen controlled by custom software or a Processing sketch, [Lovro]‘s system uses a few transistors wired to the red, green, and blue pins of his VGA cable. Each of these lines is connected to an RGB LED, so the intensity of each color is determined by the amount of the respective color on the screen.

There is a down side with this setup: a second video output in a mirrored mode is required for this hack to work. Luckily, [Lovro] has a dual-monitor graphics card, making setup a (relative) breeze.

You can check out [Lovro]‘s videos of his Ambilight clone in action after the break.

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Urban farming uses aquaponics to make farmland where there is none

[Eric Maundu] is farming in Oakland. There are no open fields in this concrete jungle, and even if there were the soil in his part of town is contaminated and not a suitable place in which to grow food. But he’s not using farming methods of old. In fact farmers of a century ago wouldn’t recognize anything he’s doing. His technique uses fish, circulated water, and gravel to grow vegetables in whatever space he can find; a farming method called aquaponics.

The video after the break gives an excellent look at his farm. The two main parts of the system are a large water trough where fish live, and a raised bed of gravel where the fish waste in the water is filtered out and composted by bacteria to becomes food for the vegetables. More parts can be added into the mix. For instance, once the water has been filtered by the stone bed it can be gravity fed into another vessel which is being used to grow lettuce suspended by floating foam board. But the water always ends up back in the fish trough where it can be reused. This ends up saving anywhere from 90-98% of the water used in normal farming.

But [Eric] is also interested in adding some automation. About seven minutes into the video we get a look at the control systems he’s working on with the help of Arduino and other hardware.

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