Business card draws [ch00f]‘s logo

card

[ch00f] is at it again, expanding the horizons of the art of PCB business cards. This one draws his logo on any computer over a USB port.

The physical design of the card is heavily inspired by [Frank Zhao]‘s card; both use an ATtiny85 and the V-USB package to handle the USB protocol and communications. Instead of typing words into a text editor like [Frank]‘s, [ch00f]‘s card draws the ch00ftech logo in MS Paint or other image editor.

There was a problem with simply emulating the mouse to draw a logo on the screen, though; because different computers have different mouse settings for acceleration, the ch00ftech logo was nearly always distorted. [ch00f] fixed that by emulating an absolute input device, basically turning his business card into a single-function pen tablet.

The logo was traced by hand and put into a few arrays in the firmware. Surprisingly, the logo didn’t take up much space – only 4k of the tiny85’s flash is used. There’s a lot more space for a more complicated drawing, but for now the simple ch00ftech logo (video after the break) will do.

[Read more...]

[ch00ftech] Visits a Shenzhen Market

On a business trip, [ch00ftech] visited a Shenzhen electronics market and documented the trip. Some of the attractions included multiple Apple stores of questionable authenticity, stores selling PC components with no manuals, drivers, or packaging, and a variety of LEDs and lasers.

[ch00ftech] showed off the loot from the trip, including breadboards, perf boards, LED matrices, and an RFID reader all for very low prices. There’s also the Class 4 laser pointer that cost about $120 and has a power output of “between 500 mW and 8000 mW.” Given the 500 mW power restriction on lasers sold in the US, it’s fair to say that this thing should be handled with care. Hopefully the included safety classes actually block the specific wavelength of the laser.

The staff in these stores were very knowledgeable and knew part numbers and inventories by memory. One of the biggest surprises was just how low the prices were.  While Radio Shack has started to carry some more parts for hackers, it seems that nothing stateside can compare these Chinese electronics markets.

Reverse Engineering HitClips

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After a quick review of the Hackaday viewer demographics, we need to say the late 90s were weird. Even portable audio players were downright bizarre: MP3 players existed, but you loaded up your songs (all eight of them) over your PC’s parallel port.  While helping a cousin move some furniture, [Ch00f] found a huge collection of one of the oddest music formats ever: HitClips, a tiny plastic encapsulated bit of circuitry that stores 60 seconds of terrible-sounding mono audio. Yes, this was a thing, but so was the pet rock. With no HitClips player, [Ch00f] decided he would take a swing at reverse engineering these tiny, tinny songs.

After taking apart the plastic enclosure, [Ch00f] found a very simple circuit: a few resistors, a cap, and an epoxy blob that enclosed an die with the musical data. On the back of the clip, there are eight pads for connecting to the player. With nothing to go on, [Ch00f] started poking around and found connecting one of these pins to ground caused circuit to draw 300uA of current for about 60 seconds – the same length of time as the recorded sample.

[Ch00f] originally thought the HitClip would provide audio data over an SPI or other digital protocol. What he found was much more interesting: two of the pins on the HitClip correspond to the push and pull FETs of a class D amplifier. The audio on the HitClip is digital audio, but it’s encoded so it can directly drive an analog circuit. Pretty clever engineering for a happy meal toy, if you ask us.

After dumping this data with a logic analyzer, [Ch00f] turned all the values in to .WAV file. It was, amazingly, music. A little refinement to the process to nail down the timing resulted in a 60-second clip seen (heard?) after the break.

Since [Ch00f] doesn’t want to spend $40 on eBay for a vintage HitClips player, he’s right about at the limit of what he can reverse engineer out of these cheap, crappy music chips. He has put up all his documentation, though, so if you’re up for improving on [Ch00f]‘s methods, have a go.

[Read more...]

Serializing Dickens to LEDs

ch00fmas12

[ch00f] managed to capture some holiday spirit this year by translating all of A Christmas Carol to scrolling text. Dickens’s work has long since entered public domain, which led [ch00f] to wire up a GeekCatch programmable display from Amazon. It has a low refresh rate, which means videos look a bit goofy, but it’s perfectly acceptable for text. [ch00f] ditched the remote control and instead used the display’s serial connection to program in the novella. Unfortunately, he could not find any documentation for the serial protocol, but he was able to reverse engineer it with some freeware applications found online.

It takes over six hours for the sign to spit out the entirety of A Christmas Carol, which easily surpassed the display’s limited text buffer. [ch00f] instead had to send text to the display one paragraph at a time via a custom Python script. This solution takes advantage of the sign’s fixed-width font to estimate the time it takes for each character to scroll by, then immediately feeds the sign a new line.

Check out the blog post for a quick teardown of the display itself and for a detailed description of the protocol in case you decide to use this display for a project. Stick around for a video below!

[Read more...]

Aluminum Bitcoin Keychain

mVCyX2K

Here’s a cool way to bring a physical presence to your Bitcoins: a custom CNC milled QR code Bitcoin address!

[ch00f], one of our occasional writers here at Hack a Day, has just finished this slick aluminum Bitcoin QR code keychain. He started by creating a vanity Bitcoin address using a program called OCLVanitygen, consisting of his dad’s first initial and last name at the beginning, followed by a random string of numbers. It only took his Radeon HD6790 6 hours to solve, which amounted to approximately half a trillion guesses in order to find the address! 

He then took his shiny new Bitcoin address and created a QR code from it using an web-based generator. [ch00f] then increased the resolution of the image in Photoshop and imported it into a CNC program called CamBam. A converted CNC Taig mill got to work tracing out the code with a 0.049″ carbide end. The total milling time was just over 2 hours. A bit of black spray paint, some sanding, and a few layers of clear coat later and the keychain is done!

[via Reddit]

Mains Frequency Display

mains frequency

[James] lives in the UK where the frequency of electricity is suppose to be 50Hz, but it tends to fluctuate based on supply and demand. He decided he wanted a display to track this.

Now, the National Grid Website shows a real-time graph of the last 60 minutes. But that’s way too easy. Time to bust out the soldering iron!

Armed with pencil and paper [James] scribbled down some ideas on how to count the frequency — he settled on counting 200 cycles, which means that at 50.000Hz, it would take exactly 4 seconds. The next problem was getting a timing source that was accurate enough for the job. An ATtiny84 wouldn’t do the trick (too inaccurate), nor would an external crystal (too expensive) — But a real-time clock? That’s the ticket! He’s using a DS3231 RTC chip, which at +/- 2ppm 32.768kHz is more than precise enough.

Some math, programming, and soldering later and the display is complete! He’s even added an up/down arrow to show the most recent trend of the electricity.

Nice one [James]! Last year [Ch00f] did a similar project, where he tore down a 194 discrete transistor clock kit to see how it worked — as an aside, he needed to know how accurate the 60Hz coming out of his wall was!

An Engineer’s Emergency Business Card

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We’ve seen lots of circuit board business cards before, but none quite like this. [Saar] calls it the Engineer’s Emergency Business Card.

Since he actually makes a living from making circuit boards, it made sense for him to make a truly functional card. But unlike some of the fancier cards we’ve seen, you can’t plug it into your computer, or even open a beer with it! In fact, all it does is light up when a voltage is applied across the main pins.

But wait — why are all the components in through holes? Well, according to [Saar], that’s because it’s designed to be the electrical engineers emergency kit!

When all hope is lost, the MacGuyver engineer could snap out one of the components and save the day. Recall the countless times you desperately needed a 1 KOhm resistor to fix an amplifier at a party, only to see the girl you were trying to impress slip away with an OCaml programmer? Never again with this little kit. You even have 2 cm of solder in there to make sure the connection’s electrically solid!

We love it. Whether or not anyone will ever successfully use it in an emergency situation such as [Saar's] hypothetical one is another question altogether. But we do have to give him creativity points for it, the artistic traces look awesome!