Excruciating Quest Turns Chromebook Pixel IPS Into Exquisite Extra Monitor

[Shen] wanted an extra monitor at his desk, but not just any monitor. He wanted something particularly special and unquestionably refined. Like any super-power-possessing engineer he set out to scratch his hacking itch and was sucked into a multi-year extravaganza. For the love of everything hardware we’re glad this one came in on the weekend. If we had spent all that time drooling during a weekday we’d be so far behind.

The final product is a desktop monitor on an articulated arm. It features a Chromebook Pixel’s IPS display in a custom-crafted case everything. The journey started out with two different LCD units, the first from a Dell L502x replacement display using a generic LVDS board. The results were meh; washed out colors and obvious pixellation, with display adjustments that left [Shen] with a grimace on his mug. Installment two was an iPad Retina display. This iteration required spinning his own boards (resulting in [Shen’s] discovery of OSH Park). Alas, 9.7″ was too small coupled with short-cable-requirements making this version a no-go.

chromebook-pixel-ips-driver-boardAnd so we arrive at the meat and potatoes of this one. [Shen] identified the IPS LCD display on Google’s first Chromebook Pixel laptop as the object of his desire. The hack takes him through sourcing custom display cables, spinning rev after rev of his own board, and following Alice down the rabbit hole of mechanical design. Nothing marginal is good enough for [Shen], we discovered this with his project to get real audio out of a computer. He grinds away at the driver board, the case design, the control presentation, and everything else in the project until perfection was reached. This work of art will stand the test of time as a life fixture and not just an unappreciated workhorse.

This one is not to me missed. Head over to [Shen’s] project entry on Hackaday.io (don’t forget to give him a skull for this) and his blog linked at the top. We need to celebrate not only the people who can pull off such amazing work. But also the ones who do such a great job of sharing the story both for our enjoyment, and to inspire us.

Wireless Trackpad Looks Like Fingernail Polish

All hands are on deck over at MIT where a very handy new trackpad has been created that will be able to give users a free hand to do other tasks. The device is called the NailO and attaches to one’s thumbnail, which allows the user an easy and reportedly natural way to use a trackpad while your hands are full, dirty, or otherwise occupied.

The device reportedly works like any normal trackpad, but is about the size of a quarter and attaches to the thumbnail in such a way that it takes advantage of the natural motion of running an index finger over the thumbnail. It communicates via Bluetooth radio, and has four layers which all go hand-in-hand: an artistic covering (to replicate the look of a painted fingernail), the sensors, the circuitry, the battery, and presumably an adhesive of some sort.

Details are quite sparse, but the device is scheduled to make its debut at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Seoul, South Korea very soon. If it can be made less bulky (although it’s somewhat uncomfortable to call something smaller than a quarter “bulky”) this might be, hands down, the next greatest evolution in mouse technology since multi-touch. We have to hand it to MIT for coming up with such a unique wearable!

1337-sp34k Keyboard

What started off as a quick prank-hack to re-map a colleague’s keyboard turned into a deep dive in understanding how keyboards work. [ch00f] and his other work place colleagues are in a habit of pulling pranks on each other. When [ch00f]’s buddy, who is an avid gamer and montage parody 1337-sp34k (leet speak) fan, went off on a holiday, [ch00f] set about re-mapping his friend’s keyboard to make it spit out words his friend uses a lot – “SWAG” “YOLO” and “420”. But remapping in software is too simple, his hack is a hardware remapping!

The keyboard in question used mechanical keys mounted on a keyboard sized PCB. Further, it was single sided, with jumper links used in place of front side tracks. This made hacking easier. The plan was to use keys not commonly used – Scroll Lock, Print Screen, and Pause/Break – and get them to print out the words instead. The signal tracks from these three keys were cut away and replaced with outputs from a microcontroller. The original connections were also routed to the microcontroller, and a toggle switch used to select between the remapped and original versions. This was eventually not implemented due to a lack of space to install the toggle switch. [ch00f] decided to just replace the keyboard if his friend complained about the hack. A bit of work on the ATMega PCB and firmware, and he was able to get the selected keys to type out SWAG, YOLO and 420.

And this is where a whole can of worms opened up. [ch00f] delves in to an explanation on the various issues at hand – keyboard scanning/multiplexing, how body-diodes in switching FET’s affected the scanning, ghosting and the use of blocking diodes. Towards the end, he just had the word SWAG activated by pressing the Pause/Break key. But he does get to the bottom of why the keyboard was behaving odd after he had wired in his hack, which makes for some interesting reading. Don’t miss the video of the hack in action after the break.

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Using I2C Addresses as Chip Selects

I2C has a seven-bit address space, and you’re thinking “when do I ever need more than 127 devices on a pair of wires?” So you order up some parts only to find that they have one, two, or three user-configurable address pins for any given device type. And you need a bunch more than four or eight capacitive sensor buttons on your project. What do you do?

If you’re reader [Marv G], you think outside the box and realize that you can change the addresses on the fly by toggling address pins high and low with your microcontroller. That is, you can use a single I2C address pin for each device as a chip select signal just like you would have with SPI.

That’s it, really. [Marv G] goes through all of the other possible options in his writeup, and they’re all unsavory: multiple I2C busses, a multiplexer, buying different sensors, or changing micros. None of these are as straightforward as just running some more wires and toggling these with your micro.

We’d even go so far as to suggest that you could fan these chip select lines out with a shift register or one of those 1-of-N decoder chips, depending on how many I2C devices you need to chip-selectify. (We’re thinking 74HC595 or 74HC154.)

Along the way, we found this nice list of the number of address pins for a bunch of common peripherals provided by [LadyAda], in case you don’t believe us about how ubiquitous this problem is. How many devices on that list have one (1!!) address pin?

At the end of his post, [Marv G] asks if anyone else has thought of this chip select trick before. We hadn’t. Here’s your chance to play the smart-ass in the comments.

Auto-sleep Hacked in PC Speakers

We can commiserate with [HardwareCoder] who would rather not leave his PC speakers on all the time. The Creative T20 set that he uses turn off when you turn the volume knob all the way down until it clicks. So shutting them off means repositioning the volume each time they’re switched on again. This hack kills two birds with one stone by turning on and off automatically without touching that knob.

The system is based around an ATtiny45 and a few other simple components. It uses two ADCs to monitor the rear input channels of the PC speakers. If no sound is detected for more than one minute, the shutdown pin of the speakers’ amp chip is triggered. That’s not quite where the hack ends. We mentioned it monitors the rear input of the speakers, but it doesn’t monitor the front AUX input. An additional push button is used to disable the auto-sleep when using this front input. There is also a fancy PWM-based heartbeat on an LED when the speakers are sleeping.

[HardwareCoder] was worried that we wouldn’t be interested in this since it’s quite similar to a hack we ran a few years ago. We hope you’ll agree it’s worth another look. He also warned us that the demo video was boring. We watched it all anyway and can confirm that there’s not much action there but we embedded it below anyway.

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Hard Drive Becomes Hard Drive Activity Light; Stores no Data

A while ago [Frank Zhao] built a computer in an aquarium. It’s exactly what you would expect – a bunch of parts stuffed into a container filled with mineral oil. Yes, there’s an i7 and a GTX970 in there, but there’s also a bunch of neopixels and a neat little bubbling treasure chest. That wasn’t enough for [Frank], and he wanted to add a HDD activity monitor. What’s the most absurd activity monitor for an SSD? An old platter-based drive, of course.

The build is relatively simple and something [Frank] put together from spare parts in a day. After cracking open an old PATA hard drive, the voice coil for the hard drive arm was connected to the motherboard’s HDD activity signal through a few MOSFETs. The platter motor is controlled by an MTD6501 motor driver, set to spin up when the circuit is on.

It’s a kludge as far as controlling the components of a hard drive go, but that’s not really the point. It’s just a neat project to show when the SSD in the aquarium computer is being accessed. That said, the activity monitor is currently disconnected because the old HDD is so freakin’ loud. It looks really cool, though.

HDMI Splitter is also a Decrypter

It warms our hearts when the community gets together. [esar] needed to get a decrypted HDMI stream for his home theater system. A tip-off in the comments and a ton of good old-fashioned hacking resulted in a HDMI splitter converted into a full-featured HDMI decrypter. Here’s the story.

His amazing custom Ambilight clone got profiled here, and someone asked him in the comments if it worked when High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) is on. [esar] lamented that it didn’t. Hackaday readers to the rescue. [Alan Hightower] and [RoyTheReaper] pointed [esar] to the fact that HDMI splitters need to decrypt and re-encrypt the signal to pass it on, and pointed him to a trick to knock out the on-board microcontroller. [esar] took off from there.

Unfortunately, taking the micro out of the picture messed with a lot of other HDMI functionality. So [esar] started digging in the datasheets for the HDMI splitter chip, looking for registers relevant to the re-encryption. If he could get in between the microcontroller and the splitter chip on the I2C bus and disable the re-encryption, he’d be set.

If you’re at all interested in I2C hacking or abusing HDMI splitters, you need to read his post because he details all of the tribulations and triumphs. He first tries just brute-forcing the I2C by overwriting a 1 bit with a 0. This (correctly) signals the micro that there’s been a conflict on the bus, so it re-sends the command again. Dead end.

He then found another signal that the receiver could use say that it wasn’t decrypting. He tried sending this continuously to the splitter so that it would stop encrypting. That worked, but only for one channel, some of the time. It turns out that his code was taking too long in his bit-banged I2C code. He fixes this up and all is well? Well, 90% of the way there.

To hammer down the last 10% of the functionality, [esar] buys a couple more splitters, experiments around with another splitter chipset that works with 3D, and solders some more wires to enable the Audio Return Channel. And after a ton of well-documented hard work, he wins in the end.