6502 Retrocomputing Goes to the Cloud

In what may be the strangest retrocomputing project we’ve seen lately, you can now access a virtual 6502 via Amazon’s Lambda computing service. We don’t mean there’s a web page with a simulated CPU on it. That’s old hat. This is a web service that takes a block of memory, executes 6502 code that it finds in it, and then returns a block of memory after a BRK opcode or a time out.

You format your request as a JSON-formatted POST request, so anything that can do an HTTP post can probably access it. If you aren’t feeling like writing your own client, the main page has a form you can fill out with some sample values. Just be aware that the memory going in and out is base 64 encoded, so you aren’t going to see instantly gratifying results.

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Blinking A Light With Ping

The Flashing Light Prize is on right now, and that means all our favorite geeks and YouTubers are aspiring to what could be done with a 555. The rules are simple: turn a light bulb on and off somehow. [Sprite_tm] is answering the call, and he’s blinking lightbulbs at the speed of light.

[Sprite]’s method of blinking a light is simple: Use an ESP32 development board to turn on a relay. At the same time, send a packet out to the Internet and through four servers spread across the globe. When the packet goes through servers in Shanghai, the Netherlands, to Hong Kong, to Germany, and finally Japan — and back again — the light bulb turns off. It’s a physical demonstration of the speed of light and the quality of undersea optical fibers.

This route is quite long, and a reasonable estimate for the one-way, great circle path from Shanghai to the Netherlands to Hong Kong to Berlin and finally to somewhere near Osaka is about 36,000 km. A round trip for this light bulb packet is 72,000 km, or about 0.2 light-seconds. There are delays, of course, from fiber and cables not going directly over the Himalayas, delays in routers, and the difference between the speed of light in a vacuum and the speed of light in glass fiber. Still, light is quick, and the light blinks at about 1Hz.

You can check out [Sprite]’s entry video for the Flashing Light Prize below.

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Controlling a Robot Over the Internet Grows Up

Since the beginning of the Internet people have been controlling robots over it, peering at grainy gifs of faraway rec rooms as the robot trundles around. RunMyRobot.com has taken that idea and brought it fully into the teens. These robots use wifi or mobile connections, are 3D printed, and run Python.

The site aims to provide everything to anyone who wants to participate. If you’re just an anonymous visitor, you can still play with the robots, but anyone can also play with the same one, and sometimes a whole bunch of visitors create a cacophony of commands that makes it not fun—but you can always move to a different robot. Logged-in members of the site have the option to take over a robot and not allow anyone else to use it.

If you want to build a robot and add it to the site, the creators show how to do that as well, with a Github code repository and 3D-printable designs available for download, as well as YouTube instructions on how to build either the printed robot or one made with off-the shelf parts. They’re also looking for patrons to help with development, with the first item on their list being a mobile app.

Thanks to [Sim] for the link.

 

Alexa, Sudo Read My Resistor! A Challenge for Hackers

Nothing makes us feel more like we’re on Star Trek then saying “Computer, turn on desk light,” and watching the light turn on. Of course, normal people would have left the wake up word as “Alexa,” but we like “Computer” even if it does make it hard to watch Star Trek episodes without the home automation going crazy.

There’s a lot of hype right now about how voice recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming everything. We’ve even seen a few high-profile types warning that AI is going to come alive and put us in the matrix or something. That gets a lot of press, but we’re not sure we are even close to that, yet. Alexa and Google’s similar offerings are cool, there’s no doubt about it. The speech recognition is pretty good, although far from perfect. But the AI is really far off still.

Today’s devices utilize two rather rudimentary parts to provide an interaction with users. The first is how the devices pattern match language; it isn’t all that sophisticated. The other is the trivial nature of many of the apps, or — as Alexa calls them — skills. There are some good ones to be sure, but for every one useful application of the technology, there’s a dozen that are just text-to-speech of an RSS feed. Looking through the skills available we were amused at how many different offerings convert resistor color codes back and forth to values.

There was a time when building electronics meant learning the resistor color code. With today’s emphasis on surface mount components, though, it is less useful than it used to be. Still, like flossing, you really ought to do it. However, if you have an Amazon Alexa, it can learn the color code for you thanks to [Dennis Mantz].

Don’t have an Alexa? You can still try it in your browser, as we will show you shortly. There are at least eight similar skills out there like this one from [Steve Jernigan] or [Andrew Bergstrom’s] Resistor Reader.

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Attack on the Clones: A Review of Two Common ESP8266 Mini D1 Boards

ESP8266-based development boards have proliferated rapidly. One favorite, the WEMOS Mini-D1 is frequently imitated and sold without any branding. As these boards continue to ship to hobbyists and retailers around the world, we thought it might be interesting to conduct a little experiment.

There are a few ESP8266 development boards available, and the most popular seem to be the NodeMCU ‘Amica’ board. Of course, there are dozens of other alternatives including the WiFiMCU, Sparkfun’s ESP8266 Thing, and Adafruit’s HUZZAH ESP8266. Given that, why is this review limited to the Mini D1 boards? Because the Mini D1 is the cheapest. Or was, until it was cloned.

We took a look at some of these ‘clone’ boards to figure out the differences, find out if they work as intended, and perhaps most importantly, are these clone boards shipped out reliably. What are the results? Check that out below.

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How To Hack Your Own Password

[Haseeb] failed the marshmallow test as a kid. He has no self-control. He wastes a lot of time on reddit. There is a solution to this problem — simply lock yourself out of your account. The process is simple, and all you need to do is change your password to something random, change the recovery email address, and click submit. In the blink of an eye, all your imaginary Internet points vanish.

That’s the one guaranteed way to quit reddit. However, [Haseeb] wanted to hold onto those magic Internet points in the event they become worth something. This led to a far more baroque solution. He found a service that would email him at a later date, send an email to himself containing a random password, and quit reddit temporarily. Until that email was delivered, he was officially off reddit. When that email was received, productivity would stop.

A few years pass, and [Haseeb] had some time to kill at his new job. He decided to scrounge up his old password, only to discover he locked himself out of his Reddit account until 2018. What followed is a security exploit of an ’email me in the future’ service, and a great example of how much effort one person will commit to a lifetime of instant gratification.

The email service in question is LetterMeLater, a site that will send an email at some arbitrary point in the future. You can hide the body of the email from yourself, making this a fairly good solution for what [Haseeb] is doing. He was still locked out of his email, though, and emailing the people running LetterMeLater seemed absurd. Dopamine is fun, though, and [Haseeb] eventually found a workaround. This site indexes the body of an email for search. This is great, because the body of the email this site would send [Haseeb] in 2018 contained his reddit password and only his reddit password. With a little bit of code, he can perform substring queries on an email he can’t read. Now, extracting the password is simply a first year CS homework problem.

At this point, the only thing [Haseeb] knows about his password is that it’s a long string of random characters that probably doesn’t include upper-case characters. That’s 26 possible characters, 10 possible numbers, and a character bank that can be determined by searching his email one character at a time. [Haseeb] is essentially playing Hangman against his former self here.

After figuring out an API for LetterMeLater, [Haseeb] whipped up a quick bit of code that finds the password by searching substrings. It’s beautiful and recursive, although he did break it down into finding a suffix of the password then determining the remainder of the password. It took 443 iterations of the code to find the password, and when that was complete he logged into reddit. Math works, although [Haseeb] will have to figure out a way to wean himself off the opiate of the millennials again.

How to Find a Twitter Account

[Ashley Feinberg] is not one to say no to a challenge. When James Comey (the current Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the United States of America) let slip that he has a secret Twitter and Instagram account, [Ashley] knew what she had to do.

At the beginning, [Ashley] knew only a few things: (1) Comey had recently joined twitter and (2) he only allows his “immediate relatives and one daughter’s serious boyfriend” to follow him. As such, [Ashely] deduced that “if we can find the Instagram accounts belonging to James Comey’s family, we can also find James Comey.”

To start, [Ashley] found the Instagram account of Comey’s 22-year-old son, a basketball star at Kenyon College. Not phased by Brien’s locked down Instagram account, [Ashley] requested access to Brien’s account in order to access the “Suggested for You” selections that are algorithmically generated from Brien Comey’s account. Sifting through the provided accounts [Ashley] found one that fit Comey’s profile: locked down with few friends. That account was named reinholdniebuhr. Not sure it was, in fact, James Comey, [Ashley] found Comey’s senior thesis on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and televangelist Jerry Falwell as verification.

With Comey’s Instagram found, [Ashley] moved back to Twitter (something y’all can’t seem to get enough of). With only seven accounts on Twitter using some variation of “Reinhold Niebuhr” as a user name, [Ashley] was quickly able to narrow it down to one account (@projectexile7) via profiling, sealing the deal on an awesome hack filled quest. Can’t get enough of social media? Don’t worry, you never have to be disconnected.