Yule-Inspired Tool Time With [Becky Stern]

And now for something completely different: [Becky Stern]’s musical tour of her favorite tools around the Adafruit factory is the best holiday tune we’ve heard since The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping”. Of course, good tools are near and dear to us as well, and we found ourselves nodding frequently in agreement and smiling as broadly as [Billie, Ruby, and Gus], the anthropomorphic LED backup singers.

In other Adafruity news, it looks like their new Samsung SM482 pick and place machine was given the gift of eyes as big as pizza pies. What tools would you like to see under the tree, leaning against the Festivus pole, or all wrapped up a safe distance from the menorah this year? Do tell.

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‘Gibson Girl’ emergency beacon built from a Wind-Up Flashlight

Batteries flat and no cellphone coverage and you need to communicate hundreds of miles?  No problem. [Peter Parker VK3YE] has created a wind-up ham radio transmitter built into a discount store crank-handle flashlight (or torch). No batteries – all power comes from you turning the hand crank. This design was inspired by the ‘Gibson Girl’ emergency beacon transmitter used during Second World War. But what used to be an very large, full body cranking box is now tiny and simple to crank. Let’s take a look at he video and the build details after the break.

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Hobbit Sword Glows Blue, Vanquishes Unprotected Wifi

Whilst the original Sting glowed blue as a defensive alert, Spark’s “WarSting” is all about aggression. The project hacks a toy Hobbit sword and teaches it to glow blue when vulnerable WiFi is detected. Once alerted, combat ensues. If its bearer slashes, the sword will battle the helpless network, swinging and clanging until it acquires an IP from the defeated DHCP server. Once conquered, the sword publishes a “Vanquished” message to Spark’s cloud, teaching the sword to ignore it from thenceforth.

While “wardriving” has not really been a thing since the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, the last time we saw someone do something similar the hardware was limited to detecting WiFi, not connecting.

Spark CEO [Zach] chose the particular sword because it could be disassembled without being cut apart and already came equipped with easily-hackable LEDs, motion control, and sound effects. Naturally he added one of his own products – the Spark Core – to the hilt to graft WiFi features onto the weapon (a cheaper alternative would be an MCU of your choice and the new ESP8266). The project then hijacks the LED lighting, sound, and hit detection sensor. Our readers can probably come up with some more imaginative actions to take once connected, though the project’s existing code for the Core is published on Github. As-is, in many jurisdictions even merely connecting to an unsecured WiFi these days is unlawful so beware your local restrictions.

Lots of companies could simply advertise the easy way and while obviously an ad, the WarSting is still a creative and fun hack.

See the video below for the sword in action and a Spark’s lore regarding the hack. Thanks [Chris] for the tip.

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Touching Light with Haptic Feedback

Many of us have gone on a stationary romp through some virtual or augmented scape with one of the few headsets out in the wild today. While the experience of viewing a convincing figment of reality is an exciting sensation in itself, [Mark Lee] and [Kevin Wang] are figuring out how to tie other senses into the mix.

The duo from Cornell University have built a mechanical exoskeleton that responds to light with haptic feedback. This means the wearer can touch the sphere of light around a source as if it were a solid object. Photo resistors are mounted like antenna to the tip of each finger, which they filed down around the edges to receive a more  diffused amount of light. When the wearer of the apparatus moves their hand towards a light source, the sensors trigger servo motors mounted on the back of the hand to actuate and retract a series of 3D printed tendons which arch upward and connect to the individual fingers of the wearer. This way as the resistors receive varying amounts of light, they can react independently to simulate physical contours.

One of the goals of the project was to produce a working proof of concept with no more than 100 dollars worth of materials, which [Mark] and [Kevin] achieve with some cash to spare. Their list of parts can be found on their blog along with some more details on the project.

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Crypto Photography and Custom Firmware

Imagine a camera that took encrypted pictures. If your camera is stolen, the only thing on the memory card would be random data that can only be unlocked with a key. If you hire a photographer, those images cannot be copied without the key. At the very least, it’s an interesting idea made impressive because this actually exists.

[Doug] recently got his hands on a Samsung NX300, a nice camera for the price that conveniently runs Linux and is kinda open-sourced by Samsung. With special firmware, [Doug] created public/private key encryption for this camera, giving only the person with the private key the ability to unlock the pictures taken with this camera.

[Doug] started his build by looking at the firmware for this camera, figuring out how to take everything apart and put it back together. With a few modifications that included encryption for all images taken with this camera, [Doug] repackaged the firmware and upgraded the camera.

The encryption firmware is available on the site, but considering how easily [Doug] was able to make this hack happen, and a great walkthrough of how to actually do it raises some interesting possibilities. The NX300 is a pretty nice camera that’s a little bit above the Canon PowerShot cameras supported by CHDK. It also runs Linux, so if you’re looking for something cool to do with a nice camera, [Doug] has a very good resource.

Counting Transistors In The Playstation

Over in Russia there are a few people doing extremely in-depth technical teardowns, and the latest is one of the most ambitious ever seen. The PSXDEV team is tearing into the heart of the original PlayStation (Google translatrix), looking at 300,000 transistors, and re-implementing the entire console in a logic level simulator.

While the CPU in the PSX is unique to that specific piece of hardware, a lot of this custom silicon can be found in other places. The core – a RISC LSI LR33300 – is documented in a few rare tomes that are somehow available for free on the Internet. Other parts of this chip are a little stranger. There is a bizarre register that isn’t documented anywhere, a Bus Unit that handles the access between various devices and peripherals, and a motion picture decompressor.

The reverse engineering process begins by de-encapsulating the CPU, GPU, sound processing unit, and CD-ROM controller, taking very high magnification photos of the dies, and slowly mapping out the semiconductors and metals to figure out what cells do what function, how they’re connected, and what the big picture is. It’s a painstaking process that requires combing through gigabytes of die shots and apparently highlight gates, wires, and busses with MS Paint.

The end result of all this squinting at a monitor is turning tracings of chips into logic elements with Logisim. From there, the function of the CPU can be understood, studied, and yes, eventually emulated down to the gate level. It’s an astonishing undertaking, really.

If this sort of thing sounds familiar, you’re right: the same team behind PSXDEV is also responsible for a similar effort focused on the Nintendo Entertainment System. There, the CPU inside the NES – the Ricoh 2A03 – was torn down, revealing the 6502 core, APU, DMA, and all the extra bits that made this a custom chip.

Thanks [Rasz] for the tip.

Wire Wrap 101

You might notice that many of my writings start with “Back in the day”. Not wanting to disappoint I will say that back in the day we used to use wire wrap technology when we needed a somewhat solid, somewhat reliably assembly. Given a readable schematic a good tech could return a working or near-working unit in a day or two depending on the completeness and accuracy of the schematic.

wire-wrap2

Properly done a wire wrap assembly is capable of fairly high speed and acceptable noise when the alternative option of creating a custom PCB would take too long or not allow enough experimentation.  Wire wrap is also used in several types of production, from telco to NASA, but I am all about the engineer’s point of view on this.

My first wire wrap tool and wire wrap wire came from Radio Shack in the mid 1970’s.  I still have the wire, because frankly its kind of cheap wire and I use it when it’s the only thing I can reach quickly when I need to make a jumper on a PCB. The tool is still around also, given the fact that I can’t find it at the moment the one shown here is my new wire wrap tool which is good for low quantity wrapping, unwrapping and stripping.

ww-tool2The skinny little wrap tool is okay for hobbyist as the wraps are fine with a little practice.  But I do recommend investing in high-quality wire.  A common wire available is Kynar® coated, a fluorinated vinyl that performs well as an insulator.

Before I go too much further, here’s the video walkthrough of wire wrap, its uses, and several demonstration. But make sure you also join me after the break where I cover the rest of the information you need to start on the road to wire wrap master.

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