Amazon Fire TV Update Bricks Hacked Devices

The Amazon Fire TV is Amazon’s answer to all of the other streaming media devices on the market today. Amazon is reportedly selling these devices at cost, making very little off of the hardware sales. Instead, they are relying on the fact that most users will rent or purchase digital content on these boxes, and they can make more money in the long run this way. In fact, the device does not allow users to download content directly from the Google Play store, or even play media via USB disk. This makes it more likely that you will purchase content though Amazon’s own channels.

We’re hackers. We like to make things do what they were never intended to do. We like to add functionality. We want to customize, upgrade, and break our devices. It’s fun for us. It’s no surprise that hackers have been jail breaking these devices to see what else they are capable of. A side effect of these hacks is that content can be downloaded directly from Google Play. USB playback can also be enabled. This makes the device more useful to the consumer, but obviously is not in line with Amazon’s business strategy.

Amazon’s response to these hacks was to release a firmware update that will brick the device if it discovers that it has been rooted. It also will not allow a hacker to downgrade the firmware to an older version, since this would of course remove the root detection features.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us. We’ve seen this type of thing for years with mobile phones. The iPhone has been locked to the Apple Store since the first generation, but the first iPhone was jailbroken just days after its initial release. Then there was the PlayStation 3 “downgrade” fiasco that resulted in hacks to restore the functionality. It seems that hackers and corporations are forever destined to disagree on who actually owns the hardware and what ownership really means. We’re locked in an epic game of cat and mouse, but usually the hackers seem to triumph in the end.

This Message will Self Destruct… as You Read It?

A group of Harvard chemists have come up with a novel use for fire. Through experimentation, they have been able to build what they call an InfoFuse. As the name implies, it’s essentially a burning fuse that can “transmit” information.

The fuse is made from flash paper, which is paper made from nitrocellulose. Flash paper burns at a relatively constant speed and leaves no smoke or ash, making it ideal for this type of project. The chemists developed a method of conveying information by changing the color of the flame on the paper. You might remember from high school chemistry class that you can change the color of fire by burning different metal salts. For example, burning copper can result in a blue flame. This is the key to the system.

The researchers dotted the flash paper with small bits of metal salts. As the flame reaches these spots, it briefly changes colors. They had to invent an algorithm to convert different color patterns to letters and numbers. It’s sort of like an ASCII table for fire. Their system uses only three colors. The three colors represent eight possible combinations of color at any given time. Just two quick pulses allow the researchers to convey all 26 letters of the English alphabet as well as ten digits and four symbols. In one test, the researchers were able to transmit a 20 character message in less than 4 seconds.

[Ben Krasnow] found the Harvard project and just had to try it out for himself. Rather than use colors to convey information, he took a more simple approach. He started with a basic strip of flash paper, but left large tabs periodically along its length. As the paper burns from end to end, it periodically hits one of these tabs and the flame gets bigger momentarily.

[Ben] uses an optical sensor and an oscilloscope to detect the quantity of light. The scope clearly shows the timing of each pulse of light, making it possible to very slowly convey information via fire. Ben goes further to speculate that it might be possible to build a “fire computer” using a similar method. Perhaps using multiple strips of paper, one can do some basic computational functions and represent the result in fire pulses. He’s looking for ideas, so if you have any be sure to send them his way! Also, be sure to check out Ben’s demonstration video below. Continue reading “This Message will Self Destruct… as You Read It?”

Add CNC to your…Propane Tank??!?

It’s starting to be that time of year again; the Halloween-themed hacks are rolling in.

[John Lauer] needed a propane-powered flame effect for his backyard ICBM “crash site”. Rather than pony up for an expensive, electronically-controlled propane
valve, he made a custom bracket to connect a stepper motor to the propane burner’s existing valve.

With the stepper motor connected up, a TinyG stepper motor controller and [John’s] own graphical interface, ChiliPeppr, take care of the rest.

The hack is almost certainly a case of “everything looks like a nail when you have a hammer” but you have to admit that it works well and probably didn’t take [John] all that much time to whip up. Maybe everyone should have a couple spare stepper motors with driver circuitry just lying around ready to go? You know, just in case.

All the details of the build are in the video. If you’re done watching the flames, skip to around 2:50 where we see the adapter in action and then [John] steps us through its construction.

You may have seen coverage of the TinyG motor controller here before.

Additional thanks to [Alden Hart] for the tip.

Hacklet #9 Bugs and Fire

9 This week on the Hacklet, we’re spending some time looking at bugs and fire! honeybeeFirst up we have [Noel] who is saving the bees with Bee-O-Neo-Tweet-O. Bees are incredibly important, both to Earth’s ecosystem and the food chain we humans need to survive. Unfortunately bees are also sensitive to some of the chemicals humans dump into the atmosphere. Sometimes it results in colored honey, but more often than not it’s detrimental to the bees.

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticide that has been causing problems to hives near where they are used. [Noel] is banking on sensors created with bismuth electrodes to detect the chemical near the entrance to hives. The data can be collected by beekeepers all over the world and sent to a central server. He’s using an Arduino Yun as a WiFi connected base station. Each individual hive has an Adafriut Trinket and a 433MHz radio link to send data to the base. [Noel] is even hoping to detect individual bees by the sound of their wings beating.

hivemonitor

[Ken] is keeping his own bees, and wants to monitor more than just chemicals. His honeybee hive monitoring system keeps track of the temperature and weight (and thus the honey produced) by his hives. Rather than buy an expensive load cell setup, [Ken] modified a standard digital bathroom scale to suit his needs. The insects connect to the IOB (Internet of Bees) with a bit of help from the Apitronics platform and a BeagleBone Black. Ken even added a solar-powered weather station with the Apitronics system.

bug-killa[Mike] is taking a slightly different approach. He doesn’t want to save the bugs, he wants to kill the ones that bug him! [Mike] doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, so he’s created Lazy Killer 9000 for easy bug killing. Lazy Killer uses the business end of an electrified fly swatter to do its work. This project wouldn’t be complete without an Arduino, so [Mike] is adding one, as well as a WiFi shield. The entire system will have a friendly interface to turn the juice on. One of the best features of Lazy Killer is the internet connected kill count. [Mike] knows that there aren’t any bugs in the vacuum of space, so he’s entered Lazy Killer in The Hackaday Prize.

fire-charger

From bugs, we move on to Fire! [mr.jb.swe] needed a reliable portable power source. He found it in LiFePO4 batteries, but still needed a way to charge them. Toward that end he’s created The Multicharger, a watt meter and charger which can be powered from solar, wind, or thermometric power. A Powerpot X provides the fire and the power to charge the batteries. [mr.jb.swe’s] charger converts that into the standard constant current->constant voltage charging system needed by lithium chemistry batteries. The Multicharger isn’t a complete battery management system yet, but it’s well on its way.

Unitycandle candles have become a staple at wedding ceremonies.[Quinn] has taken things to the next level and beyond with this take on the classic unity candle. This candle throws fireballs 30 feet into the sky! We covered the candle back in June, but [Quinn] has been busy since then. With over 20 updates, [Quinn] has created one of the most well documented projects on Hackaday.io. Of course, being that this project is dealing with propane and monstrous fires, [Quinn] mentions you shouldn’t try unless you really know what you’re doing. Don’t set any brides on fire! That’s it for this week’s Hacklet! Tune in next week, same hack time, same hack channel, for more of the best of Hackaday.io!

The Party was Bumping, then the Fire Dragon Showed Up

Epic Party.

I don’t use that label lightly. After the Red Bull Creation’s day of show and tell was over — winners having been presented with trophies and stuffed with barbecue over at Bert’s — people started to trickle into OmniCorp Detroit for the party.

Like all of the best parties we didn’t really see it coming. I grabbed a folding chair on the street out front with a beer in my hand and enjoyed a rotating variety of interesting people to talk with. Brian Benchoff trys out the team choice trophy -- a modified toddler's tricycle [Brian] rolled up riding one of the trophies, a modified toddler’s tricycle that proves his future with a travelling circuit is still viable. They roped off the area and set up huge speakers for the DJ. Then two guys game lumbering down the street sharing the work of hauling a tub full of ice and 12-ounce clear glass bottles with colored liquid inside. Turns out they just opened a distillery down the street and decided to donate some vodka infusions for the festivities. Yum!

Upstairs, a couple hundred square feet of area was ringed by a bar (with wide variety of kegs, slushy drinks, and one of those hot dog rollers), couches, a few work benches, a second DJ booth, and a photobooth. We only got one picture before the smoke machine reduced visibility.

Unlike a lot of ragers I’ve been at, it was easy to start up a conversation with just about anyone. Living expenses are so low in Detroit and artists are flocking to the area. This is who made up most of the group. Fascinating people who are working on a multitude of different projects and have stories of building community on their streets while rehabbing houses that cost $1-2.5k to purchase but didn’t come with most of what you’d assume a house should.

Then the fire dragon showed up

Inside was packed and outside was starting to get crowded. Then the fire dragon showed up. Named Gon KiRin, it’s the collaboration between [Teddy Lo] and [Ryan C. Doyle] who was on Team Detroitus and is artist in residence at Recycle Here!, the build venue for the Red Bull Creation. Couch on the back above the propane tankThe beast is built on the frame of a 1960’s dump truck and most of the building materials were found on the sides of the highway. The huge propane tank on the back allows it to breathe fire. I love that three daisy-chained 9-volts and two bare wires are the control mechanism for this. One thing became readily apparent; you don’t stand in front of Gon KiRin while it’s breathing fire.

The crowd piled onto the couches on top of the tail and at either rear hip. The dragons back also bore a continually rotating set of people. After midnight the guests really started to flood in. [Caleb] and I tried to close down the party but a few hours after midnight it didn’t seem to be getting any slower.

Capping off the weekend like this really proves that you need to get your team into next year’s Red Bull Creation. I got in the easy way — judges don’t have to stay up for 72 hours building stuff. Despite the sleep deprivation for contestants I didn’t come across anyone who wasn’t having a blast during the build, while goofing off, or trying to stay awake as this party got moving.

Bravo Detroit, you’re now on my short list of best party towns. Who else wants to be added to that list? Hackaday’s going to be in Las Vegas for DEFCON in a few weeks. Anyone know of parties planned that weekend and how we can get in?

[Furze] Sets Fire to Everything with Pyro Gloves

Pyro Build

Crazyman [Colin Furze] is back, and this time he’s setting everything on fire with his Pyro gloves. Though Hackaday readers are already a discerning bunch, this is a build we get submissions for all the time and feature fairly often. It would take an exceedingly impressive build to outshine the other fire hazards. But, as with his pneumatic Wolverine claws and his electromagnetic boots, [Furze] knows how to build the insane and then put on a good show.

The Pyro build is part of [Furze’s] 3-part celebratory X-Men extravaganza, a nod to the realm of superheroes coinciding with the release of the new X-Men film. [Furze] began with a custom reservoir cylinder that fitted with two solenoid valves: one for a pilot light and another for the big blasts. He’s also affixed a Piezo element and a AA battery, which sits in a cozy little container. The bulkier bits of the assembly sit in a backpack, hooking up, as expected, to the wrist-mounted devices. This flame cannon, however, is unique among the ones we’ve encountered here.

Continue reading “[Furze] Sets Fire to Everything with Pyro Gloves”

Geek Group Fire Update

gg-gap2

The Geek Group is in the process of cleaning up after their fire. Their small capacitor/spark gap room sustained the most damage, with the interior nearly completely incinerated, along with some structural damage to the walls and roof.  The gap room was isolated from the much larger high voltage lab by red plastic welding curtain. The curtain was fire-retardant, but when it did finally burn, it was extremely sooty. With the curtain burning, soot covered the high voltage lab. The rest of the building escaped fire damage, but nearly all of it is covered in a fine layer of soot. The group has been and are attacking the soot problem head on, with shop-vacs, rags, and elbow grease. Several of their sponsors have also promised supplies to cover the remediation.

[Chris] and [Paul] have also been doing some sleuthing as to the root cause of the fire. While the cause will never be known beyond a shadow of a doubt, they have a pretty good idea of the chain of events. Gemini, the group’s 200 kVA Tesla coil had been run about 1/2 hour before smoke was detected. The fire was concentrated in Gemini’s spark gap room. Close inspection of the rotary spark gap showed that the stationary electrodes all seemed to have sustained a mechanical impact. It appears that either while the gap was running, or as it was spinning down, one of the flying electrodes moved enough to impact the stationary electrodes. These electrodes are 3/8″ and 1/2″ tungsten, and often glowed white-hot while the gap was in operation. One set screw held each electrode in to the 12″ rotor. The set screw of one flying electrode was found to be loose, and the electrode it retained probably impacted the stationary electrodes. It’s not a far leap to guess that hot metal from these impacts could have landed in the capacitor array, smoldered, and eventually caught aflame.

A single loose screw most likely caused the entire chain of events leading up to the fire. [Chris] and [Paul] had observed the spark gap throwing out hot bits of metal even during normal operation, and had planned an encapsulation box. However, disaster struck before it was built. This is not to say that The Geek Group operates an unsafe shop. The important thing here is that no one was hurt. Everyone in the building was evacuated quickly and safely.

A quick note about the comments – we know The Geek Group and [Chris] tend to be polarizing topics. However, we’d like to at try to keep the comments constructive.

Continue reading “Geek Group Fire Update”