Smart Gun Beaten by Dumb Magnets

[Plore], a hacker with an interest in safe cracking, read a vehemently anti-smart-gun thread in 2015. With the words “Could you imagine what the guys at DEF CON could do with this?” [Plore] knew what he had to do: hack some smart guns. Watch the video below the break.

Armed with the Armatix IP1, [Plore] started with one of the oldest tricks in the book: an RF relay attack. The Armatix IP1 is designed to fire only when a corresponding watch is nearby, indicating that a trusted individual is the one holding the gun. However, by using a custom-built $20 amplifier to extend the range of the watch, [Plore] is able to fire the gun more than ten feet away, which is more than enough distance to be dangerous and certainly more than the few inches the manufacturers intended.

Not stopping there, [Plore] went to the other extreme, creating what he calls an “electromagnetic compatibility tester” (in other words, a jammer) that jams the signal from the watch, effectively preventing a legitimate gun owner from firing their gun at 10 to 20 feet!

Not one to call it quits, [Plore] realised that the gun prevented illicit firing with a simple metal pin which it moved out of the way once it sensed the watch nearby. However, this metal just happened to be ferrous, and you know what that means: [Plore], with the help of some strong magnets, was able to move the pin without any electrical trickery.

Now, we’ve already covered the many hurdles that smart guns face, and this specific investigation of the state of smart gun technology doesn’t make the picture look any brighter. We’re aware that hindsight is always 20/20, so let us know in the comments how you would fix the problems with the Armatix IP1.
Continue reading “Smart Gun Beaten by Dumb Magnets”

Earth Ground And The Grid

The electrical grid transmits power over wires to our houses, and our Bryan Cockfield has covered it very well in his Electrical Grid Demystified series, but what part does the earth ground play? It’s commonly known to be used for safety, but did you know that in some cases it’s also used for power transmission?

Typical House Grounding System

Grounding system normal case
Grounding system normal case

A pretty typical diagram for the grounding system for a house is shown here, along with a few of the current carrying conductors commonly called live and neutral. On the far left is the transformer outside the house and on the far right is an appliance that’s plugged in. In between them is a breaker panel and a wall socket of the style found in North America. The green dashed line shows the normal path for current to flow.

Notice the grounding electrodes for making an electrical connection with the earth ground. To use the US National Electrical Code (NEC) as an example, article 250.52 lists eight types of grounding electrodes. One very good type is an electrode encased in concrete since concrete continues to draw moisture from the ground and makes good physical contact due to its weight. Another is a grounding rod or pipe at least eight feet long and inserted deep enough into the ground. By deep enough, we mean to include factors such as the fact that the frost line doesn’t count as a good ground since it has a high resistance. You have to be careful of using metal water pipes that seemingly go into the ground, as sections of these are often replaced with non-metallic pipes during regular maintenance.

Notice also in the diagram that there are places where the various metal cases are connected to the grounding system. This is called bonding.

Now, how does all this system grounding help us? Let’s start with handling a fault.

Continue reading “Earth Ground And The Grid”

The End of Arduino 101: Intel Leaves Maker Market

This looks like the end of the road for Intel’s brief foray into the “maker market”. Reader [Chris] sent us in a tip that eventually leads to the discontinuation notice (PCN115582-00, PDF) for the Arduino 101 board. According to Intel forum post, Intel is looking for an alternative manufacturer. We’re not holding our breath.

We previously reported that Intel was discontinuing its Joule, Galileo, and Edison lines, leaving only the Arduino 101 with its Curie chip still standing. At the time, we speculated that the first wave of discontinuations were due to the chips being too fast, too power-hungry, and too expensive for hobbyists. Now that Intel is pulling the plug on the more manageable Arduino 101, the fat lady has sung: they’re giving up on hardware hackers entirely after just a two-year effort.

According to the notice, you’ve got until September 17 to stock up on Arduino 101s. Intel is freezing its Curie community, but will keep it online until 2020, and they’re not cancelling their GitHub account. Arduino software support, being free and open, will continue as long as someone’s willing to port to the platform.

Who will mourn the Arduino 101? Documentation was sub-par, but a tiny bit better than their other hacker efforts, and it wasn’t overpriced. We’re a little misty-eyed, but we’re not crying.  You?

[via Golem.de]

Review: TS100 Soldering Iron

Temperature-controlled soldering irons can be cheap, lightweight, and good. Pick any two of those attributes when you choose an iron, because you’ll never have all three. You might believe that this adage represents a cast-iron rule, no iron could possibly combine all three to make a lightweight high-performance tool that won’t break the bank! And until fairly recently you’d have had a point, but perhaps there is now a contender that could achieve that impossible feat.

The Miniware TS100 is a relatively inexpensive temperature-controlled soldering iron from China that has made a stealthy entry to the market, and which some online commentators claim to be the equal of far more expensive professional-grade irons. We parted with just below £50 (around $60) to place an order for a TS100, and waited for it to arrive so we could see what all the fuss was about.

Constituent parts of a TS100 iron.
Constituent parts of a TS100 iron.

The Goods

The iron arrived well-packaged in a smart cardboard container that was well up to the task of protecting it through international air mail. Nestled in foam were the iron handle, a single combined element and bit, and an envelope containing a short instruction leaflet and a click-seal bag with an Allen key and a spare screw to secure the bit. There was no power supply, you supply your own 12 to 24 V DC to power it.

The handle is a plastic wand containing the temperature control electronics about 100 mm (4″) long, and similar in girth to a chunky fountain pen. At its rear is a barrel socket for the DC supply alongside a micro-USB socket for firmware and configuration, on its top are a small OLED display and a couple of buttons, and at its front is a receptacle for the element unit. Meanwhile the element unit is about 105 mm (3.15″) long, with an exposed length to the end of the bit of about 70 mm (2.75″).

The assembled TS100 iron
The assembled TS100 iron

Assembling the iron is simple enough, the element slots into the receptacle and an Allen screw is tightened to hold it in place. The whole assembled unit weighs 30 g, or a shade over an ounce, and has a balance point almost at its centre.

We hadn’t ordered a power supply with our TS100, but you will doubtless be able to buy one if you don’t have one of the right power level and polarity to hand. We used a 19.5 V netbook supply which was far more than capable of delivering the 40 W the instruction leaflet claims for the iron at 19 V. Maximum power is given as 65 W when supplied with 24 V, while minimum is 17 W with 12 V.

In the hand, the iron is light and easy on the fingers. On its own it is similar in weight and feel to holding a fountain pen, and it is easy to see where comparisons with more expensive irons from the likes of Weller come from. However the iron itself is not the whole story, because your choice of power supply and in particular its lead will make a huge difference to how it feels in practice. The Weller will come fitted with an extra-flexible silicone lead probably designed to work at higher temperatures, by comparison the lead on a cheap power supply is likely to be a stiffer and cheaper affair. Our netbook supply had a right-angled plug, and though it wasn’t a nice flexible silicone cable it turned out not to be a significant burden once it was ensured to be out of range of the hot end.

The TS100 ready to use
The TS100 ready to use

Heating up, the TS100 may not be as quick as some irons, but it’s no slouch. It’s quoted as 15 seconds to 300 Celsius at 19 volts in its instruction leaflet, and our iron certainly didn’t disappoint. Setting the temperature is a simple case of using the buttons to move the temperature up and down on the OLED display, and once it remains at a particular temperature it stores that setting in its non-volatile memory.

In Test

To test the iron we assembled a little radio kit, a surface mount design intended for first-time surface mount solderers and thus using fairly substantial 1206 components and SOICs rather than SOPs or smaller integrated circuits. We found the iron perfectly easy to use, but with one caveat: the stock bit is a pencil tip, type “B2” that is fine for the larger surface mount devices but which would in our opinion probably be a little unwieldy for anything smaller than an 0805. Fortunately there is a large range of other bits of all shapes and sizes for the iron, including one with a finer point that surface-mount wizards may want to look at.

One of the features of the TS100 is that its firmware can be easily upgraded over USB, and to that end it is easy to download the latest version and install it. Simply hold down one of the buttons on live USB plug-in to enter firmware upgrade mode, and when it appears as a drive on the computer into which you’ve plugged it, copy the firmware file to the drive and it upgrades itself.

Unfortunately, in our case the curse of the firmware upgrade struck us, and after downloading and unpacking the file we were unable to make our iron accept it. We can confirm that the process failed for us on Ubuntu, Windows, and MacOS computers, so maybe it just wasn’t our lucky day. Fortunately the TS100 is not one of those devices that is easily bricked by a failed firmware upgrade, so we were simply presented with an error file rather than a dead iron. A soldering iron is in essence a hardware device not a software one, and the shipped firmware version is fine for soldering, so that’s what we’re reviewing.

It’s worth pointing out here that the TS100 firmware is billed as open-source, and that the code and schematics are available from the link above. We say billed as open-source though, because while the code is officially freely available it does not seem to be accompanied by any form of open-source licence. This may be of more concern to software libre purists than many readers, but still, it is worth mentioning.

The TS100 config file
The TS100 config file

We’re told that the latest versions of the firmware provide adjustment of the iron parameters other than temperature through a menu system on the device itself, but on our model the older firmware requires the editing of a text file that appears in a drive when you plug the iron’s USB port into a computer without holding a button down to enter firmware upgrade mode. In the file you can find settings for the different temperatures and timings, and adjust them to your taste.

The Bottom Line

After having the TS100 for a few weeks, what’s our verdict? Is it a good iron, does it give those expensive irons a run for their money, and would we recommend that you consider one?

It’s important to consider the soldering iron market as a whole when answering those questions. If you spend a four-figure sum on a soldering station, you will find yourself with an iron that is lighter than the TS100, it will have a shorter reach, a quicker warm-up time, better software control, more available bits, in fact it will beat the TS100 in every way possible. You’ll be using that soldering station hard every day for a decade, and it will still deliver the goods.

If however you spend a low three-figure sum on a soldering station from a quality manufacturer, you’ll get something closer. It’ll probably have a similar choice of bits and a nice extra-flexible silicone cable, and it will probably last longer, but in soldering terms it will be a surprisingly similar experience. Even having to spend a few more dollars on a power supply, a decent soldering station in this range will still cost you over twice as much as the TS100.

At the same price range or lower as the TS100 it’s likely that soldering stations will start to decrease in quality, be from anonymous manufacturers with no replacement bit support, and not have quite such a good user experience. Perhaps an all-in-one iron for a similar price such as the Antex TCS50 we reviewed earlier in the year is a better comparison, and at this point we start to see how the TS100 is redefining this sector. The Antex is a good iron for everyday soldering, it is the same weight as the TS100 and has the same reach. It’s mains-powered and comes with an extra-flexible silicone cable, but when you compare the irons side-by-side it becomes obvious that the Antex is being left behind. Its handle is huge by comparison, and its temperature control is limited to a very basic up/down setting with no configurability.

So if you are a high-end professional user looking for an iron to work with every day, the TS100 is probably not a choice that will displace your top-of-the-range model. But if you are a regular solderer or serious electronics hobbyist who is looking for the best bang for buck, you should definitely consider one as an alternative to a low-end soldering station. And if you are buying at the bottom of the temperature-controlled iron food chain then you should really give the TS100 a serious look. Returning to our point at the start of this review, it’s cheap, lightweight, and certainly good enough.

Meanwhile if you manufacture soldering irons, this one will probably have you worried. We look forward to seeing what the models produced to compete with it have to offer.

The Miniware TS100 soldering iron, along with associated bits and power supplies, can be found online from all the usual vendors of Chinese electronics.

Huge Functionality, Small Package: A Custom Tablet, Raspberry Style

As the adage goes, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” Desirous of a tablet but preferring to eschew consumer models, [Stefan Vorkoetter] constructed his own compact and lightweight Raspberry Pi tablet, covering several extra miles in the process.

The tablet makes use of a Raspberry Pi 3 and the official touchscreen, with the final product marginally larger than the screen itself. Designed with a ‘slimmer the better’ profile in mind, [Vorkoetter] had to modify several components to fit this precept; most obvious of these are the removal of the Pi’s GPIO headers, USB, and Ethernet ports, and removing the USB power out port from the touchscreen controller board so the two could be mounted side-by-side.

An Adafruit PowerBoost 1000C handles charging the 6200 mAh battery — meaning up to six hours(!) of YouTube videos — via a micro USB, but only after [Vorkoetter] attached a pair of home-made heatsinks due to negligible air flow within the case. A modified USB audio adapter boosts the Pi’s audio capabilities, enabling the use of headphones, a mic, and a built-in speaker which is attached to the tablet’s back cover.

Continue reading “Huge Functionality, Small Package: A Custom Tablet, Raspberry Style”

Linux Fu: Better Bash Scripting

It is easy to dismiss bash — the typical Linux shell program — as just a command prompt that allows scripting. Bash, however, is a full-blown programming language. I wouldn’t presume to tell you that it is as fast as a compiled C program, but that’s not why it exists. While a lot of people use shell scripts as an analog to a batch file in MSDOS, it can do so much more than that. Contrary to what you might think after a casual glance, it is entirely possible to write scripts that are reliable and robust enough to use in many embedded systems on a Raspberry Pi or similar computer.

I say that because sometimes bash gets a bad reputation. For one thing, it emphasizes ease-of-use. So while it has features that can promote making a robust script, you have to know to turn those features on. Another issue is that a lot of the functionality you’ll use in writing a bash script doesn’t come from bash, it comes from Linux commands (or whatever environment you are using; I’m going to assume some Linux distribution). If those programs do bad things, that isn’t a problem specific to bash.

One other limiting issue to bash is that many people (and I’m one of them) tend to write scripts using constructs that are compatible with older shells. Often times bash can do things better or neater, but we still use the older ways. For example:

Continue reading “Linux Fu: Better Bash Scripting”

Hackaday Eclipse Meetups

Hackaday is all over this eclipse. There are thousands of members of the Hackaday community headed to a narrow swath of the United States on August 21st to revel in an incredibly rare, scientifically predictable life experience: a total eclipse of the sun.

Do not do it in solitude, get together and celebrate! Check out the Hackaday Eclipse Meetups page which shows where meetups are happening. And adding your own is simple. It’s a great day to meet up with other Hackaday readers and celebrate the day that the moon passed perfectly between you and the sun.

You can’t just stare directly at the sun, you need some eclipse glasses. We’re printing up some in black, adorned with the Jolly Wrencher and sending them out to all organized meetups, so get your event page up today and you’re on the list for a little bit of sweet swag. Look for the button on the Eclipse page that says “Host a meetup”.

I’m Too Cool to Watch an Eclipse

If you don’t get what all the hubbub is, you’re missing out. A total eclipse of the sun is an amazing life experience in so many ways. First off, they’re incredibly rare. There hasn’t been a total eclipse visible in the continental United States since 1979. The majority of the North American readership hasn’t even had the chance to see one in their lifetimes.

This eclipse shadow visualization is incredible. See the entire transit and learn how they produced this from available data

But of course it goes beyond the value of mere scarcity. Being able to understand, and predict an eclipse conveys a great deal about the progress of humanity. For millennia, a solar eclipse was a shocking (perhaps horrifying) experience. But through the scientific process of observation, the advances of record keeping, and the work of untold numbers of early astronomers we learned. Solar and Lunar eclipses were events that challenged thinking and became some of the earliest scientific discoveries.

This type of advancement hasn’t stopped. Even this year the application of the newest technology is present. Just one example that will turn your head is the shadow simulation that we saw in January. The moon isn’t a perfect sphere, and the combination of its landscape and that of the Earth means the outer fringes of totality will not be straight lines, but an undulating path. It’s a small detail realized in a profound way by a citizen scientist so that we may all enjoy it. Isn’t being alive now absolutely stunning?

Boil it Down for Me

So no, watching a rock cast a shadow won’t blow your mind. But understanding that the movement of this shadow isn’t random, that we didn’t always understand it, and that there are huge forces at work here will humble your modern brain and leave you awestruck. It’s a rare chance to observe with your own senses the evidence of huge masses governed by gigantic gravitational forces at incomprehensible distances through the simple act of a shadow racing across the landscape.

Be there, and make it a celebration of science, humanity, and your own life experience. Share your eclipse meetup now!