An Android Phone Makes A Better Server Than You’d Think

There was a time a few years ago when the first Android phones made it to market, that they seemed full of promise as general purpose computers. Android is sort of Linux, right, or so the story went, so of course you must be able to run Linux on an Android phone and do all sorts of cool stuff with it.

As anyone who tried to root an Android phone from 2010 will tell you, it was a painful and unrewarding process. There was normally a convoluted rooting process followed by somehow squeezing your own Linux filesystem tree onto the device, then chroot-ing into it. You’d then have to set up a VNC server and VNC into it, and eventually you’d feel immensely proud of your very slow tiny-screen Linux desktop that you’d slaved over creating. It was one of those things that’s simple in theory, but extremely convoluted in practice.

But six years have passed since those days, phones have gotten much faster and so has the software for tasks such as rooting, so maybe it’s time to return to the topic of Linux on an Android device. [Pete Scargill] gave it a try when a friend gave him a Chinese quad-core Android phone with a broken screen. He proceeded to put a Debian installation on it, upon which he runs his collection of server processes.

Rooting the phone was straightforward process using the KingRoot app, a sideloaded version as it seems there’s a bogus copy on the Play Store. Then bringing a Linux system to it could be achieved with the LinuxDeploy app. The result is surprisingly useful, after some installation steps upon which he goes into detail.

You might ask what would be the point of this exercise, given that you can do the same thing much more easily with a single board computer such as a Raspberry Pi. But to buy a Pi, SD card, screen, and UPS, as he points out you’d have to spend a lot more than you would for a second-hand phone from eBay — or a free, slightly broken, one from friends or family.

If getting more from your Android phone is your thing, perhaps you’d like to know about installing Busybox on it. We’ve also advocated for using old Android phones for ARM dev.

Printer Vulnerabilites Almost as Bad as IoT

Recently ZDNet and Gizmodo published articles outlining a critical flaw in a large array of personal printers. While the number of printers with this flaw is staggering, the ramifications are even more impressive. Ultimately, any of these printers could have documents sent to them stolen even if the document was only intended to be printed as a hard copy.

Luckily the people responsible for this discovery are white-hat in nature, and the release of this information has been made public so the responsible parties can fix the security flaws. Whether or not the “responsible party” is the manufacturer of the printer, though, is still somewhat unclear because part of the exploit takes advantage of a standard that is part of almost all consumer-grade printers. The standard itself may need to be patched.

Right now, however, it doesn’t seem clear exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes. We all remember the DDoS attack that was caused by Internet of Things devices that were poorly secured, and it seems feasible that networked printers could take some part in a similar botnet if a dedicated user really needed them. At the very least, however, your printed documents might not be secure at all, and you may be seeing a patch for your printer’s firmware in the near future.

 

FORTRAN for the Web

There’s an old saying: “I don’t know what programming language scientists and engineers will use in the 22nd century, but I know it will be called FORTRAN.” FORTRAN was among the first real programming languages and, along with LISP, one of the oldest still in common use. If you are one of those that still loves FORTRAN, you no longer have to be left out of the Web development craze thanks to Fortran.io.

Naturally, the Fortran.io site is served by — what else — FORTRAN. The system allows for Jade templates, SQLite databases, and other features aimed at serving up web pages. The code is hosted on GitHub, and you can find several examples there, as well.

If you’ve ever wanted to do formatted I/O to a web page, here’s your chance. Come to think of it, why not? We’ve seen servers in BASIC and even in Linux shell script. Of course, today’s FORTRAN isn’t the one we learned back in the 1970’s (we assume if you didn’t learn about FORTRAN in the 1970’s, you quit reading this post a while back… prove us wrong and show us your FORTRAN projects).

Apple II Web Server Written In BASIC

The Apple II was the machine that many say launched Apple as a company. As with many popular computers of the 1980s, the Apple II maintains a steady following to this day who continue to develop new hardware and software to keep the platform alive.

[deater] had scored an Uthernet II Ethernet interface for his Apple IIe, based off the venerable W5100 chipset. He decided to have some fun and wrote a webserver for the Apple II in BASIC. The program sets up the Ethernet card with a series of PEEKs and POKEs, and then listens out for incoming packets before responding with the requisite data loaded from floppy disk.

The server can deal with HTML, text, and even JPEG and PNG images. It’s even compliant with RFC 2324. It does suffer from some limitations however — the disk format used can only hold 140 kB, it can only serve an 8kB file at a time, and due to using a lot of string manipulation in the code, is painstakingly slow.

Before you get too excited, the machine is running on a local network only, so you can’t check it out from here. However, [deater] has kindly released the source code if you wish to run it for yourself.

If you’re thirsty for more 8-bit action, check out this Apple II playing animated GIFs.

IP Over QR Codes

We’ve seen networks built over some interesting mediums, but QR codes has to be a new one. [Eric Seifert] decided to try to use QR codes to make an IP connection. He used these visual codes to create a bi-directional connection between two camera-equipped computers. He’s a persistent chap, because it works: in one of his videos, he shows an SSH connection between two devices.

He faced a number of challenges on the way. Although there is plenty of code to read QR codes, the data that can be encoded and read from them is limited. There is a binary mode that can be used with QR codes, but it is really inefficient. [Eric] decided to use base32 coding instead, packing the data into each frame as alphanumeric text. Each QR code image that is created and received is numbered, so the system can keep track and request any lost images. He also had some problems with keeping the data consistent between the encoded and decoded versions, so he had to add some packing to the data before it would work.  It uses Python-pytun to create a TUN/TAP device that carries the data.

The speed of the connection is rather slow: in his demo video, the two computers take over a minute to exchange keys for an SSH connection, and [Eric] measured the speed of the connection at about 100 bits per second. But even getting something like this working at all is a significant achievement. He has published his code on GitHub.

We’ve featured the work of [Eric] before: he created a data connection using an iPod FM transmitter.

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A Rebel Alliance for Internet of Things Standards

Back when the original Internet, the digital one, was being brought together there was a vicious standards war. The fallout from the war fundamentally underpins how we use the Internet today, and what’s surprising is that things didn’t work out how everyone expected. The rebel alliance won, and when it comes to standards, it turns out that’s a lot more common than you might think.

Looking back the history of the Internet could have been very different. In the mid eighties the OSI standards were the obvious choice. In 1988 the Department of Commerce issued a mandate that all computers purchased by government agencies should be OSI compatible starting from the middle of 1990, and yet two years later the battle was already over, and the OSI standards had already lost.

In fact by the early nineties the dominance of TCP/IP was almost complete. In January of 1991 the British academic backbone network, called JANET (which was based around X.25 colored book protocols), established a pilot project to host IP traffic on the network. Within ten months the IP traffic had exceeded the levels of X.25 traffic, and IP support became official in November.

“Twenty five years ago a much smaller crowd was fighting about open versus proprietary, and Internet versus OSI. In the end, ‘rough consensus and running code’ decided the matter: open won and Internet won,”

Marshall Rose, chair of several IETF Working Groups during the period

This of course wasn’t the first standards battle, history is littered with innumerable standards that have won or lost. It also wasn’t the last the Internet was to see. By the mid noughties SOAP and XML were seen as the obvious way to build out the distributed services we all, at that point, already saw coming. Yet by the end of the decade SOAP and XML were in heavy retreat. RESTful services and JSON, far more lightweight and developer friendly than their heavyweight counterparts, had won.

“JSON appeared at a time when developers felt drowned by misguided overcomplicated XML-based web services, and JSON let them just get the job done,”

“Because it came from JavaScript, and pretty much anybody could do it, JSON was free of XML’s fondness for design by committee. It also looked more familiar to programmers.”

Simon St. Laurent, content manager at LinkedIn and O’Reilly author

Yet, depending on which standards body you want to listen to, ECMA or the IETF, JSON only became a standard in 2013, or 2014, respectively and while the IETF RFC talks about semantics and security, the ECMA standard covers only the syntax. Despite that it’s unlikely many people have actually read the standards, and this includes the developers using the standard and even those implementing the libraries those developers depend on.

We have reached the point where standardization bodies no longer create standards, they formalize them, and the way we build the Internet of Things is going to be fundamentally influenced by that new reality.

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ESP Clock Needs More Power

[Victor-Chew] is tired of setting clocks. After all, here we are in the 21st century, why do we have to adjust clocks (something we just did for daylight savings time)? That’s why [Victor] came up with ESPClock.

Based on a $2 Ikea analog clock, [Victor] had a few design goals for the project:

  • Automatically set the time from the network
  • Automatically adjust for daylight savings time
  • Not cost much more than a regular clock
  • Run for a year on batteries

The last goal is the only one that remains unmet. Even with a large battery pack, [Victor’s] clock runs out of juice in a week or so. You can see some videos of the clock syncing with network time, below.

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