Improved hourglass entropy

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[Wardy] built himself a high quality entropy source with parts he had lying around. It’s based on the hourglass entropy project we saw in a links post earlier this month. Just like that project, he is bouncing a laser off of the falling sand and reading the result. But he brings a few innovations to the party, and has test results to back up his work.

The first change is an obvious one; motorize the hourglass so that you don’t need to flip it by hand. We thought this might mess with the laser alignment but the clip after the break proved us wrong. He changed up the sensor, using an LED connected to the base of an NPN transistor. The next change was to mount the light sensor at an angle to the laser rather than straight on. This picks up reflections of the laser and not the direct beam itself, resulting in a wider range of readings.

He used an Ethernet shield to get the system on the network. It’s pushing 420k random numbers per second and was tested with the DieHarder suite. It didn’t get a very high score, but it did pass the test.

[Read more...]

Hackaday Links: January 17th, 2013

Free-formed VFD clock

links-free-formed-vfd-clock [James] doesn’t need a circuit board or even some protoboard to get the job done. He free-formed all the circuits for his VFD clock. Right now this is the only project hosted on his blog so click around to see how he got to this point.

DIY LED traffic light

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Here’s a scratch-build traffic light which [Jarle] uses to display information about his server. If you’re unable to find your own storm damaged original this is a pretty easy way to build one.

FPGA space attack game

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This game is running on an FPGA, but it’s not written in HDL. Instead, [Johan] wrote the game in C to run on a soft processor loaded on the gate array.

Hourglass entropy

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This is a fascinating idea for generating random numbers. [Gijs] is shining a laser onto a light dependent transistor. The beam of the laser is broken by the falling sand of an hourglass. This technique could be use as an entropy source for random number generation.

GPS clock source for a digital timepiece

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It seems like massive overkill, but you can’t beat the time accuracy of using a GPS module as a clock source. We don’t expect that [Jay] kept the clock in one piece after finishing the project. It’s just a good way to practice decoding the GPS data.

Is entropy slowing down your Android device?

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[Lambgx02] got tired of his Android device getting bogged down and decided to dig down to the cause of the issue. His investigation led him to believe that entropy is causing the slowdown. He believes that his workaround reduces 90% of the lag on the average Android device.

So how is it possible that entropy is causing the problem? It seems there is a bottleneck when an app requests a random number from the Linux kernel running at the lowest level of the device. Android is set up to use /dev/random for all random number requests, but [Lambgx02] says that location has a very shallow pool of numbers available. When they run out the kernel has to reload with a new seed and this is blocking the app that requested the data from continuing.

His solution was to write his own app that seeds /dev/random once every second using a number from /dev/urandom. He mentions that this might cause a security vulnerability as seeding the random data in this way is not quite as random. There may also be issues with battery life, so make sure to monitor performance if you give it a try.

[via Reddit]

Using a 555 timer and ADC as a random seed

Most toolchains for embedded system include support for random number generation. But if you’ve read the manual you’ll know that this is really just pseudo random number generation (PRNG). When calling this function the same numbers will always return in the same order unless a different random number seed is supplied in advance. [Gardner] put together a simple and cheap solution for deriving better random number seeds. He reads a voltage from a 555 timer using the ADC on the microcontroller. At first glance it may not seem like a great source of randomness, but he performed some testing and the results look quite promising.

The project is aimed at Arduino-based circuits, but any chip with an ADC will work. The 555 timer is used as a free running oscillator. We know that this not be very stable when compared to even the worst of crystal oscillators, but that’s what makes it work so well as a random seed source. Add to this the low parts count and small size of the additional circuitry and you’ve got a winning combination. So keep this in mind when you need a random number but don’t necessarily need rock solid entropy.

[via Reddit and Freetronics]

Hardware based randomness for Linux

True randomness can be hard to come by in the digital world. [Andy Green] is making it easier to get true entropy by using this random USB dongle. The Whirlygig uses a CPDL to gather data from a set of of oscillators. The oscillators have a constantly fluctuating frequency due to temperature changes; if they run faster they generate more heat which in turn slows them down. This, along with the variable latency associated with polling a USB device, gives great depth of randomness. The device is detected and mounted under ‘/dev/hw_random’ and can then be fed into ‘/dev/random’ using the rng-tools package. [Andy's] done a lot of testing, both on the hardware, and on the quality of randomness. We didn’t see an option to order this but he’s got hardware and firmware repositories so that you can throw one together yourself.

[Thanks Zunk]

A random USB… hourglass

[Peter] thought of a creative, way to generate random entropy for under $100.

The USB Hourglass combines a sand timer with a rotating mechanism and an optical beam through the center of the timer to observe the falling sand. The amount of light reaching a detector is digitized at frequent intervals and processed by a microcontroller to determine when to rotate the hourglass. The digitized light levels are also sent by USB to a host PC where they can be used as a source of random entropy. Power is supplied over the USB cable.

With the USB Hourglass, the user can look at the sand falling through the center of the hourglass and monitor the randomness in the USB output data. And one can read the code line-by-line, compile it, and upload it to the microcontroller using only open-source and widely supported tools.