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.

Killer USB Drive is Designed to Fry Laptops

[Dark Purple] recently heard a story about how someone stole a flash drive from a passenger on the subway. The thief plugged the flash drive into his computer and discovered that instead of containing any valuable data, it completely fried his computer. The fake flash drive apparently contained circuitry designed to break whatever computer it was plugged into. Since the concept sounded pretty amazing, [Dark Purple] set out to make his own computer-frying USB drive.

While any electrical port on a computer is a great entry point for potentially hazardous signals, USB is pretty well protected. If you short power and ground together, the port simply shuts off. Pass through a few kV of static electricity and TVS diodes safely shunt the power. Feed in an RF signal and the inline filtering beads dissipate most of the energy.

To get around or break through these protections, [Dark Purple]’s design uses an inverting DC-DC converter. The converter takes power from the USB port to charge a capacitor bank up to -110VDC. After the caps are charged, the converter shuts down and a transistor shunts the capacitor voltage to the data pins of the port. Once the caps are discharged, the supply fires back up and the cycle repeats until the computer is fried (typically as long as bus voltage is present). The combination of high voltage and high current is enough to defeat the small TVS diodes on the bus lines and successfully fry some sensitive components—and often the CPU. USB is typically integrated with the CPU in most modern laptops, which makes this attack very effective.

Thanks for the tip, [Pinner].

TwitterPrinter Keeps Track of 2015 Hack-A-Day Prize

[Mastro Gippo] is getting to be somewhat of a Hackaday legend. He didn’t win the 2014 Hackaday prize but was in attendance at the event in Munich, and to make sure he keeps up with this year’s Prize, he built this old-school printer that prints all of the updates from the Hackaday Prize Twitter account.

The device uses the now-famous ESP8266 module for connecting the printer to the Internet. It doesn’t scrape data straight from Twitter though, it looks at [Mastro Gippo]’s own server to avoid getting inundated with too many tweets at once. The program splits the tweets into a format that is suitable for the printer (plain text) and then the printer can parse the data onto the paper. The rest of the design incorporates a 3.3V regulator for power and some transistors to turn the printer on and off. Be sure to check out the video of the device in action after the break!

[Mastro Gippo] notes that this eliminates the need to have a smartphone in order to keep up with the 2015 Hackaday Prize, which is ironic because his entry into the Trinket Everyday Carry Contest was a smarter-than-average phone. We’ll be expecting something that doesn’t waste quite as much paper for his official contest entry, though!

Continue reading “TwitterPrinter Keeps Track of 2015 Hack-A-Day Prize”

Using RC Transmitters With Flight Simulators

It’s winter, and that means terrible weather and very few days where flying RC planes and helicopters is tolerable. [sjtrny] has been spending the season with RC flight simulators for some practice time. He had been using an old Xbox 360 controller, but that was really unsuitable for proper RC simulation – a much better solution would be to use his normal RC transmitter as a computer peripheral.

The usual way of using an RC transmitter with a computer is to buy a USB simulator adapter that emulates a USB game pad through a port on the transmitter. Buying one of these adapters would mean a week of waiting for shipping, so [sjtrny] did the logical thing and made his own.

Normally, a USB simulator adapter plugs in to a 3.5mm jack on the transmitter used for a ‘buddy box’, but [sjtrny] had an extra receiver sitting around. Since a receiver simply outputs signals to servos, this provides a vastly simpler interface for an Arduino to listen in on. After connecting the rudder, elevator, aileron, and throttle signals on the receiver to an Arduino, a simple bit of code and the UnoJoy library allows any Arduino and RC receiver to become a USB joystick.

[sjtrny] went through a second iteration of hardware for this project with a Teensy 3.1. This version has higher resolution on the joystick axes, and the layout of the code isn’t slightly terrible. It’s a great project for all the RC pilots out there that can’t get a break in the weather, and is also a great use for a spare receiver you might have sitting around.

Dial is a Simple and Effective Wireless Media Controller

[Patrick] was looking for an easier way to control music and movies on his computer from across the room. There is a huge amount of remote control products that could be purchased to do this, but as a hacker [Patrick] wanted to make something himself. He calls his creation, “Dial” and it’s a simple but elegant solution to the problem.

Dial looks like a small cylindrical container that sits on a flat surface. It’s actually split into a top and bottom cylinder. The bottom acts as a base and stays stationary while the top acts as a dial and a push button. The case was designed in SOLIDWORKS and printed on a 3D printer.

The Dial runs on an Arduino Pro mini with a Bluetooth module. The original prototype used Bluetooth 2.0 and required a recharge after about a day. The latest version uses the Bluetooth low energy spec and can reportedly last several weeks on a single charge. Once the LiPo battery dies, it can be recharged easily once plugged into a USB port.

The mechanical component of the dial is actually an off-the-shelf rotary encoder. The encoder included a built-in push button to make things easier. The firmware is able to detect rotation in either direction, a button press, a double press, and a press-and-hold. This gives five different possible functions.

[Patrick] wrote two pieces of software to handle interaction with the Dial. The first is a C program to deal with the Bluetooth communication. The second is actually a set of Apple scripts to actually handle interaction between the Dial and the various media programs on his computer. This allows the user to more easily write their own scripts for whatever software they want. While this may have read like a product review, the Dial is actually open source! Continue reading “Dial is a Simple and Effective Wireless Media Controller”

“Superfan” Gaming Peripheral Lets You Feel Your Speed

Virtual reality has come a long way but some senses are still neglected. Until Smell-O-Vision happens, the next step might be feeling the wind in your hair. Perhaps dad racing a sportbike or kids giggling on a rollercoaster. Not as hard to build as you might think, you probably have the parts already.

HAD - Superfan4Off-the-shelf devices serve up the seeing and hearing part of your imaginary environment, but they stop there. [Jared] wanted to take the immersion farther by being able to feel the speed, which meant building his own high power wind generator and tying it into the VR system. The failed crowdfunding effort of the “Petal” meant that something new would have to be constructed. Obviously, to move air without actually going on a rollercoaster requires a motor controller and some fans. Powerful fans.

A proponent of going big or going home, [Jared] picked up a pair of fans and modified them so heavily that they will launch themselves off of the table if not anchored down. Who overdrives fans so hard they need custom heatsinks for the motors? He does. He admits he went overboard and sensibly way overbudget for most people but he built it for himself and does not care.

Continue reading ““Superfan” Gaming Peripheral Lets You Feel Your Speed”