Turning the DEFCON Badge Into a Bitcoin Miner


The DEFCON badge this year was an impressive piece of hardware, complete with mind-bending puzzles, cap sense buttons, LEDs, and of course a Parallax Propeller. [mike] thought a chip as cool as the Propeller should be put to better use than just sitting around until next year so he turned it into a Bitcoin miner, netting him an astonishing 40 hashes per second.

Mining Bitcoins on hardware that doesn’t have much processing power to begin with (at least compared to the FPGAs and ASIC miners commonly used) meant [mike] would have to find some interesting ways to compute the SHA256 hashes that mining requires. He turned to RetroMiner, the Bitcoin miner made for an original Nintendo. Like the NES miner, [mike] is offloading the communication with the Bitcoin network to a host computer, but all of the actual math is handled by a single core on the Propeller.

Saving one core for communication with the host computer, a DEFCON badge could conceivably manage 280 hashes/second, meaning the processing power of all the badges made for DEFCON is about equal to a seven-year-old graphics card.

Hackaday Retro Edition: A 286 on the Internet


While not an issue now with our 64 bit (more accurately 48- or 52-bit) processors, there was a time when 32 bits of addressing space was impossibly large. For several decades, 4 Gigabytes of memory would be the absolute ceiling, and something only madmen or the protagonist of Pi would have to deal with. This convention began, at least for the Intel/PC world, with the 386. Earlier processors like the 8086 and the 286 were quite capable for their time, but doing anything modern with them, especially getting on the Internet, is a quixotic endeavor beyond comparison.

[Caulser] over on the Vintage Computer Forums has done just that. He recently acquired a Zenith Data Systems 286 system and loaded up what is quickly becoming the litmus test for old computers on the Internet: the Hackaday retro edition

When he first received the system, it was loaded up with a rather generous (for the time) 4MB of RAM. The 20MB hard drive was dead, but with a little fiddling about with the BIOS, [Caulser] was able to get the system working with an old Quantum IDE hard drive.

There’s no Windows or even Linux for this machine, so the system is just running MS DOS 5a, mTCP, Arachne, and the relevant drivers for the NIC (that has RJ45 and BNC connectors). After upgrading the RAM to 8MB, the box performs reasonably well without any pesky ads, and given the websites he visited, he’s not dealing with any overwrought Javascript or CSS, either.

Pics of the system below.

If you have an old computer sitting around, try to load our retro site with it. Take a few pictures, and we’ll put it up in one of our Retro Roundups

[Read more...]

Now Let’s See The World’s Largest Arduino


A few days ago we saw what would have been a killer Kickstarter a few years ago. It was the smallest conceivable ATtiny85 microcontroller board, with resistors, diodes, a USB connector, and eight pins for plugging into a breadboard. It’s a shame this design wasn’t around for the great Arduino Minification of Kickstarter in late 2011; it would have easily netted a few hundred thousand dollars, a TED talk, and a TechCrunch biopic.

[AtomSoftTech] has thrown his gauntlet down and created an even smaller ‘tiny85 board. it measures 0.4in by 0.3in, including the passives, reset switch, and USB connector. To put that in perspective, the PDIP package of the ‘tiny85 measures 0.4 x 0.4. How is [Atom] getting away with this? Cheating, splitting the circuit onto two stacked boards, or knowing the right components, depending on how you look at it.

USB [Atom] is using a few interesting components in this build. The USB connector is a surface mount vertical part, making the USB cord stick out the top of this uC board. The reset button is extremely small as well, sticking out of the interior layer of the PCB sandwich.

[AtomSoft] has the project up on OSH Park ($1.55 for three. How cool is that?), and we assume he’ll be selling the official World’s Smallest Arduino-compatible board at Tindie in time.

How To Reverse Engineer, Featuring the Rigol DS1054Z

frontend For a few years now, the Rigol DS1052E has been the unofficial My First Oscilloscope™. It’s cheap, it’s good enough for most projects, and there have been a number hacks and mods for this very popular scope to give it twice as much bandwidth and other interesting tools. The 1052E is a bit long in the tooth and Rigol has just released the long-awaited update, the DS1054Z. It’s a four-channel scope, has a bigger screen, more bells and whistles, and only costs $50 more than the six-year-old 1052E. Basically, if you’re in the market for a cheap, usable oscilloscope, scratch the ~52E off your list and replace it with the ~54Z.

With four channels of input, [Dave Jones] was wondering how the engineers at Rigol managed to stuff two additional front ends into the scope while still meeting the magic price point of $400. This means it’s time for [Dave] to reverse engineer the 1054Z, and give everyone on the Internet a glimpse at how a real engineer tears apart the worth of other engineers.

The first thing [Dave] does once the board is out of the enclosure is taking a nice, clear, and in-focus picture of both sides of the board. These pictures are edited, turned into a line drawing, and printed out on a transparency sheet. This way, both sides of the board can be viewed at once, allowing for a few dry erase marker to highlight the traces and signals.

Unless your voyage on the sea of reverse engineering takes you to the island of despair and desoldering individual components, you’ll be measuring the values of individual components in circuit. For this, you’ll want a low-voltage ohms function on your meter; if you’re putting too much voltage through a component, you’ll probably turn on some silicon in the circuit, and your measurements will be crap. Luckily, [Dave] shows a way to test if your meter will work for this kind of work; you’ll need another meter.

From there, it’s basically looking at datasheets and drawing a schematic of the circuit; inputs go at the left, outputs at the right, ground is at the bottom, and positive rails are at the top. It’s harder than it sounds – most of [Dave]‘s expertise in this area is just pattern recognition. It’s one thing to reverse engineer a circuit through brute force, but knowing the why and how of how the circuit works makes things much easier.

[Read more...]

Watch That Windows Update: FTDI Drivers Are Killing Fake Chips


The FTDI FT232 chip is found in thousands of electronic baubles, from Arduinos to test equipment, and more than a few bits of consumer electronics. It’s a simple chip, converting USB to a serial port, but very useful and probably one of the most cloned pieces of silicon on Earth. Thanks to a recent Windows update, all those fake FTDI chips are at risk of being bricked. This isn’t a case where fake FTDI chips won’t work if plugged into a machine running the newest FTDI driver; the latest driver bricks the fake chips, rendering them inoperable with any computer.

Reports of problems with FTDI chips surfaced early this month, with an explanation of the behavior showing up in an EEVblog forum thread. The new driver for these chips from FTDI, delivered through a recent Windows update, reprograms the USB PID to 0, something Windows, Linux, and OS X don’t like. This renders the chip inaccessible from any OS, effectively bricking any device that happens to have one of these fake FTDI serial chips.

Because the FTDI USB to UART chip is so incredibly common,  the market is flooded with clones and counterfeits. it’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip.

The workaround for this driver update is to download the FT232 config tool from the FTDI website on a WinXP or Linux box, change the PID of the fake chip, and never using the new driver on a modern Windows system. There will surely be an automated tool to fix these chips automatically, but until then, take a good look at what Windows Update is installing – it’s very hard to tell if your devices have a fake FTDI chip by just looking at them.

Function Generator with Zero CPU Cycles


No one is sitting around their workbench trying to come up with the next great oscilloscope or multimeter, but function generators still remain one of the pieces of test equipment anyone – even someone with an Arduino starter pack – can build at home. Most of these function generators aren’t very good; you’re lucky if you can get a sine wave above the audio spectrum. [Bruce Land] had the idea to play around with DMA channels on a PIC32 and ended up with a function generator that uses zero CPU cycles. It’s perfect for a homebrew function generator build, or even a very cool audio synthesizer.

The main obstacles to generating a good sine wave at high frequencies are a high sample rate and an accurate DAC. For homebrew function generators, it’s usually the sample rate that’s terrible; it’s hard pushing bits out a port that fast. By using the DMA channel on a PIC32, [Bruce] can shove arbitrary waveforms out of the chip without using any CPU cycles. By writing a sine wave, or any other wave for that matter, to memory, the PIC32 will just spit them out and leave the CPU to do more important work.

[Bruce] was able to generate a great-looking sine wave up to 200 kHz, and the highest amplitude of the harmonics was about 40db below the fundamental up to 100 kHz. That’s a spectacular sine wave, and the perfect basis for a DIY function generator build.

The Hoverboard You Can Build At Home


Press embargoes lifted today, heralding the announcement of the world’s first hoverboard. Yes, the hovering skateboard from Back to the Future. It’s called the Hendo hoverboard, it’s apparently real, and you can buy one for $10,000. If that’s too rich for your blood, you can spend $900 for a ‘technology demonstrator’ – a remote-controlled hovering box powered by the same technology.

Of course the world’s first hoverboard is announced to the world as a crowd funding campaign, so before we get to how this thing is supposed to work, we’ll have to do our due diligence. The company behind this campaign, Arx Pax Labs, Inc, exists, as does the founder. All the relevant business registration, biographical information, and experience of the founder and employees of Arx Pax check out to my satisfaction. In fact, at least one employee has work experience with the innards of electric motors. At first glance, the company itself is actually legit.

The campaign is for a BttF-style hoverboard, but this is really only a marketing strategy for Arx Pax; the hoverboards themselves are admittedly loss leaders even at $10,000 – the main goal of this Kickstarter is simply to get media attention to the magnetic levitation technology found in the hoverboard. All of this was carefully orchestrated, with a ‘huge event’ to be held exactly one year from today demonstrating a real, working hoverboard. What’s so special about demoing a hoverboard on October 21, 2015?

next year

I defy anyone to come up with a better marketing campaign than this.

The meat of the story comes from what has until now been a scientific curiosity. Everyone reading this has no doubt seen superconductors levitated off a bed of magnets, and demonstrations of eddy currents are really just something cool you can do with a rare earth magnet and a copper pipe. What [Greg Henderson] and Arx Pax have done is take these phenomena and turned them into a platform for magnetic levitation.

According to the patent, the magnetic levitation system found in the Hendo hoverboard works like this:

  • One or more electric motors spin a series of rotors consisting of an arrangement of strong permanent magnets.
  • The magnets are arranged in a Halbach array that enhances the magnetic field on one side of the array, and cancels it on the other.
  • By placing the rotors over a conductive, non-ferrous surface – a sheet of copper or aluminum, for example – eddy currents are induced in the conductive surface.
  • These eddy currents create a magnetic field that opposes the magnetic field that created it, causing the entire device to levitate.

That’s it. That’s how you create a real, working hoverboard. Arx Pax has also developed a method to control a vehicle equipped with a few of these hover disks; the $900 ‘Whitebox’ technology demonstrator includes a smart phone app as a remote control.

If you’re still sitting in a steaming pile of incredulity concerning this invention, you’re in good company. It’s a fine line between being blinded by brilliance and baffled by bullshit, so we’re leaving this one up to you: build one of these devices, put it up on hackaday.io, and we’ll make it worth your while. We’re giving away some gift cards to the Hackaday store for the first person to build one of these hoverboards, preferably with a cool body kit. The Star Wars landspeeder has already been done, but the snowspeeder hasn’t. Surprise us.


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