We Have a Problem: Earthquake Prediction

Nepal | 25 April 2015 | 11:56 NST

It was a typical day for the 27 million residents of Nepal – a small south Asian country nestled between China and India. Men and women went about their usual routine as they would any other day. Children ran about happily on school playgrounds while their parents earned a living in one of the country’s many industries. None of them could foresee the incredible destruction that would soon strike with no warning. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the country at its core. 9,000 people died that day. How many didn’t have to?

History is riddled with earthquakes and their staggering death tolls. Because many are killed by collapsing infrastructure, even a 60 second warning could save many thousands of lives. Why can’t we do this? Or a better question – why aren’t we doing this? Meet [Micheal Doody], a Reproductive Endocrinologist with a doctorate in steel rodphysical biochemistry. While he doesn’t exactly have the background needed to pioneer a novel approach to predict earthquakes, he’s off to a good start.

He uses piezoelectric pressure sensors at the heart of the device, but they’re far from the most interesting parts. Three steel balls, each weighing four pounds, are suspended from a central vertical post. Magnets are used to balance the balls 120 degrees apart from each other. They exert a lateral force on the piezo sensors, allowing for any movement of the vertical post to be detected. An Arduino and some amplifiers are used to look at the piezo sensors.

The system is not meant to measure actual vibration data. Instead it looks at the noise floor and uses statistical analysis to see any changes in the background noise. Network several of these sensors along a fault line, and you have yourself a low cost system that could see an earthquake coming, potentially saving thousands of lives.

[Michael] has a TON of data on his project page. Though he’s obviously very skilled, he is not an EE or software guy. He could use some help with the signal analysis and other parts. If you would like to lend a hand and help make this world a better place, please get in touch with him.

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Using a Laser Cutter to Decap ICs

The black blob IC is of a particular annoyance to the modern hacker. There is no harm in peeking under the hood to see how the IC works. But when it’s covered in a mountain of seemingly indestructible epoxy, this can be a bit difficult. And such was the case for [Jamie], who had found an old electronic pocket dictionary whose main PC board boasted not one, but two of the black blob ICs.

ICThe lack of traces between the two pushed [Jamie’s] curiosity past the tipping point. He didn’t have access to any nitric acid which is used in the customary chemical decapping process. He did, however, have access to a laser cutter. It turns out that decapping ICs with a laser cutter is not only possible, it’s not that difficult.

100% power at 300mm per seconds on a cheap 40 Watt “eBay” laser cutter is all it takes. Three passes did the trick for [Jamie], but this will be dependent on the thickness of the black blob epoxy. Each case will likely be unique.

Got a laser cutter? Then take a peek at a few black blob ICs and let us know what you find.

Thanks to [ex-parrot] for the tip!

How Those Hackers Took Complete Control of That Jeep

It was an overcast day with temperatures in the mid seventies – a perfect day to take your brand new Jeep Cherokee for a nice relaxing drive. You and your partner buckle in and find yourselves merging onto the freeway just a few minutes later.  You take in the new car smell as your partner fiddles with the central touch screen display.

“See if it has XM radio,” you ask as you play with the headlight controls.

Seconds later, a Taylor Swift song begins to play. You both sing along as the windows come down. “Life doesn’t get much better than this,” you think. Unfortunately, the fun would be short lived. It started with the windshield wipers coming on – the dry rubber-on-glass making a horrible screeching sound.

“Hey, what are you doing!”

“I didn’t do it….”

You verify the windshield wiper switch is in the OFF position. You switch it on and off a few times, but it has no effect. All of the sudden, the radio shuts off. An image of a skull and wrenches logo appears on the touchscreen. Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” begins blaring out of the speakers, and the four doors lock in perfect synchronization. The AC fans come on at max settings while at the same time, you feel the seat getting warmer as they too are set to max. The engine shuts off and the vehicle shifts into neutral. You hit the gas pedal, but nothing happens. Your brand new Jeep rolls to a halt on the side of the freeway, completely out of your control.

Sound like something out of a Hollywood movie? Think again.

[Charlie Miller], a security engineer for Twitter and [Chris Valasek], director for vehicle safety research at IOActive, were able to hack into a 2014 Jeep Cherokee via its wireless on-board entertainment system from their basement. A feature called UConnect, which allows the vehicle to connect to the internet via a cellular connection, has one of those things you might have heard of before – an IP address. Once the two hackers had this address, they had the ‘digital keys’ to the Jeep. From there, [Charlie] and [Chris] began to tinker with the various firmwares until they were able to gain access to the vehicle’s CAN bus. This gives them the ability to control many of the car’s functions, including (under the right conditions) the ability to kill the brakes and turn the steering wheel. You probably already have heard about the huge recall Chrysler issued in response to this vulnerability.

But up until this weekend we didn’t know exactly how it was done. [Charlie] and [Chris] documented their exploit in a 90 page white paper (PDF) and spoke at length during their DEF CON talk in Las Vegas. That video was just published last night and is embedded below. Take look and you’ll realize how much work they did to make all this happen. Pretty amazing.

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Ferrofluid Clock is a Work of Art

It is not usually too difficult to separate functionality from art. Consider a clock. It’s a machine that has a clear and distinct function. It provides information. Nothing could be more different from a clock on a wall than a piece of artwork.  A painting, for instance has no clear function and provides no information. It’s just…art. It’s nice to look at. If we were to ask you to build a functioning, information providing clock that is also a piece of artwork, you would surely have your hands full. Where would you even start? If your name was [Zelf Koelma], you’d grab a bottle of ferrofluid and build us a beautiful, almost mesmerizing clock.

clock_01There’s little to no information on the details of how the clock works other than the use of ferrofluid. But it’s not hard to guess that it uses dozens of electromagnets and an Arduino. You can even pick one up for a cool $8,300 if you’re lucky enough to get a spot on the list, as he’s only making 24 of them.

Want to make one of your own? Pick up some ferrofluid and keep us updated. We’d love to hear from you in the comments on how you’d implement a build like this one. We had a fun time hearing your ideas when we covered the clock made of clocks.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Nuclear Powered Random Number Generator

Random number generators come in all shapes and sizes. Some are software based while others, known as true random number generators, are hardware based. These can be created from thermal noise, the photoelectric effect and other methods. But none of these were good enough for [M.daSilva]. He would base his off of the radioactive decay of Uranium 238, and construct a working nuclear powered random number generator.


Because radioactive decay is unpredictable by nature, it makes for an excellent source for truly random data. The process is fairly simple. A piece of old fiestaware plate is used for the radioactive source. Put it in a lead enclosure along with a Geiger tube. Then wire in some pulse shaping circuitry and a microcontroller to count the alpha particles. And that’s about it. [M.daSilva] still has to do some statistical analysis to ensure the numbers are truly random, along with making a nice case for his project. But all in all, it seems to be working quite well.

Be sure to check out the video for quick rundown of [M.daSilva’s] project. If randomness is your thing, make sure you check out entropy harvested from uninitialized RAM, and the story behind the NIST randomness beacon.

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Quantum Mechanics in your Processor: Quantum Computing

Not long after [Hitler] took control of Germany, his party passed laws forbidding any persons of Jewish descent from holding academic positions in German Universities. This had the effect of running many of the world’s smartest people out of the country, including [Albert Einstein]. Einstein settled into his new home in Princeton, and began to seek out bright young mathematicians to work with, for he still had a bone to pick with [Niels Bohr] and his quantum theory. It wasn’t long until he ran into an American, [Nathan Rosen] and a Russian, [Boris Podolsky]. The trio would soon lay before the world a direct challenge that would strike at the very core of quantum theory’s definition of reality. And unlike the previous challenges, this one would not be so easily dismissed by [Bohr].

Need a bit of catching up? You can check out Complimentarity as well as Tunneling and Transistors but  that is just some optional background for wrapping your head around Quantum Computing.

The EPR Argument

On May 4th, 1935, the New York Times published an article entitled “Einstein Attacks Quantum Theory”, which gave a non technical summary of the [Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen] paper. We shall do something similar.

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Quantum Mechanics in your Processor: Tunneling and Transistors

By the turn of the 19th century, most scientists were convinced that the natural world was composed of atoms. [Einstein’s] 1905 paper on Brownian motion, which links the behavior of tiny particles suspended in a liquid to the movement of atoms put the nail in the coffin of the anti-atom crowd. No one could actually see atoms, however. The typical size of a single atom ranges from 30 to 300 picometers. With the wavelength of visible light coming in at a whopping 400 – 700 nanometers, it is simply not possible to “see” an atom. Not possible with visible light, that is. It was the summer of 1982 when Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, two researchers at IBM’s Zurich Research Laboratory, show to the world the first ever visual image of an atomic structure. They would be awarded the Nobel prize in physics for their invention in 1986.

The Scanning Tunneling Microscope

IBM’s Scanning Tunneling Microscope, or STM for short, uses an atomically sharp needle that passes over the surface of an (electrically conductive) object – the distance between the tip and object being just a few hundred picometers, or the diameter of a large atom.

[Image Source]
A small voltage is applied between the needle and the object. Electrons ‘move’ from the object to the needle tip. The needle scans the object, much like a CRT screen is scanned. A current from the object to the needed is measured. The tip of the needle is moved up and down so that this current value does not change, thus allowing the needle to perfectly contour the object as it scans. If one makes a visual image of the current values after the scan is complete, individual atoms become recognizable. Some of this might sound familiar, as we’ve seen a handful of people make electron microscopes from scratch. What we’re going to focus on in this article is how these electrons ‘move’ from the object to the needle. Unless you’re well versed in quantum mechanics, the answer might just leave your jaw in the same position as this image will from a home built STM machine.

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