Hackaday Links: May 21, 2017

It’s time to talk about something of supreme importance to all Hackaday readers. The first trailer for the new Star Trek series is out. Some initial thoughts: the production values are through the roof, and some of this was filmed in Jordan (thank the king for that). The writers have thrown in some obvious references to classic Trek in this trailer (taking a spacesuit into a gigantic alien thing a la TMP). There are a few new species, even though this is set about 10 years before waaaait a second, those are the Klingons?

In other news, [Seth MacFarlane] is doing a thing that looks like a Galaxy Quest series. We can only hope it’s half as good as a Galaxy Quest series could be.

The Dayton Hamvention should have been this week, but it’s never going to happen again. The Hara Arena, the traditional venue for the biggest amateur radio meet on the continent (thankfully) closed this year. Last year it was looking old and tired. This year, Hamvention moved to Xenia, Ohio, and it looks like we’re still getting the best ham swap meet on the planet. Remember: if you  drove out to Hamvention, the Air Force museum is well worth the visit. This year they have the fourth hangar open, full of space craft goodness.

Last week we saw an Open Source firmware for hoverboards, electric unicycles, and other explodey bits of self-balancing transportation. [Casainho], the brains behind this outfit, recently received an eBike controller from China. As you would expect, it’s based on the same hardware as these hoverboards and unicycles. That means there’s now Open Source firmware for eBikes.

Last year, [Cisco] built a cute little walking robot. Now it’s up on Kickstarter.

This week saw the announcement of the Monoprice Mini Delta, the much-anticipated 3D printer that will sell for less than $200. For one reason or another, I was cruising eBay this week and came upon this. They say yesterday’s trash is tomorrow’s collectors’ item, you know…

A new Tek scope will be announced in the coming weeks. What are the cool bits? It has a big touchscreen. That’s about all we know.

The ESP32 is the next great wonderchip, and has been for a while now. The ESP32 also has a CAN peripheral stuffed in there somewhere, and that means WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled cars. [Thomas] has been working on getting a driver up and running. There’s a thread on the ESP32 forum, a Hackaday.io page, and a GitHub page.

What do you do when you have a nice old Vacuum Fluorescent Display and want to show some stats from your computer? You build a thing that looks like it’s taken from a cash register. This is a project from [Micah Scott], and it has everything: electronics 3D modeling, magnets, print smoothing, creating snap-fit parts, and beautiful old displays.

Here’s something that randomly showed up in our Tip Line. [Mark] recently found some unused HP 5082-7000 segment displays in a collection of electronic components (pics below). According to some relevant literature, these were the first LED display package available, ever.  They were released in 1969, they’re BCD, and were obviously very expensive. [Mark] is wondering how many of these were actually produced, and we’re all interested in the actual value of these things. If anyone knows if these are just prototypes, or if they went into production (and what they were used for), leave a note in the comments.

HP Laptops Turn Up Keylogger Where You Wouldn’t Expect It

Keyloggers are nasty little things that have the potential to steal the credit card numbers of you and everyone you care about. Usernames and passwords can be easily stolen this way, so they’re a useful tool for the black hats out there. One would generally expect to find a keylogger in a dodgy movie torrent or perhaps a keygen for pirated software, but this week a keylogger was found in an audio driver for an HP laptop.

The logger was found by Swiss security researchers modzero. The Conexant HD Audio Driver Package version and earlier apparently logs keystrokes in order to monitor things like the laptop’s volume up and down keys. The real killer here is that it feels the need to log all keystrokes detected to a readily accessible file, for reasons we can’t possibly fathom. It’s a huge security risk, but it doesn’t stop there – the driver also exposes the keystrokes through an API as well, creating an even wider attack surface for malicious actors. One can in principle access the keystroke log remotely.

There’s no word from the company yet, but we really want to know – why save the keystrokes to a file at all? Code left over from debugging, perhaps? Speculate in the comments.

Printer Scrap Becomes FPGA Devboard

These days, if you want to start learning about FPGAs, it can be a daunting experience. There’s a huge variety of different platforms and devboards and it can be difficult to know where to start. [RoGeorge] decided to take a different tack. Like a 16-year-old drag racer, he decided to run what he brung – a printer control panel cum FPGA development board (Romanian, get your Google Translate on).

[RoGeorge] was lucky enough to score a couple of seemingly defective control panels from HP Laserjets discarded by his workplace. Seeing potentially good parts going to waste, like keypads and LCDs, he decided to investigate them further – finding a 50,000 gate Xilinx Spartan IIE running the show. Never one to say no to opportunity, [RoGeorge] dived in to learning how to work with FPGAs.

The forum posts are a great crash course in working with this sort of embedded FPGA platform. [RoGeorge] covers initial mapping of the peripherals on the board & finding a JTAG connector and programming solution, before moving on to basic FPGA programming and even covers the differences between sequential programming on microcontrollers and the parallel operation of FPGAs. Even if you don’t intend to get down and dirty with the technology, spend half an hour reading these posts and you’ll be far more knowledgeable about how they work!

In the end, [RoGeorge] showed how to teach yourself to work with FPGAs for the price of a couple of programming cables – not a mean feat by any means. It’s a testament to the hacker spirit, and reminds us of [SpriteTM]’s efforts in hacking hard drive controllers.

Nuts About Volts

Among multimeters one instrument stands far and above the rest. An object desired for its accuracy, resolution and shear engineering beauty. I speak of course of the HP 3458A. That’s right, not Keysight, not even Agilent (though of course it goes by those brands too). The 3458A was released in 1989, when HP was still… well… HP. An elegant meter from a more civilized age. As the HP Journal documents, the 3458A was a significant engineering feat and has remained in production (and largely unchallenged) for the last 26 years.

keyBut what, you might ask, makes the 3458A such a significant and desirable instrument? It’s all in the digits. The 3458A is one of the few 8.5 digit multimeters available. It is therefore sensitive to microvolt deflections on 10 volt measurements. It is this ability to distinguished tiny changes on large signals that sets high precision multimeters apart. Imagine weighing an elephant and being able to count the number of flies that land on its back by the change in weight. The 3458A accomplishes a similar feat.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: The 70s Called. They Want This Calculator

For those of us who grew up during TI’s calculator revolution, the concept of reverse polish notation (RPN) might be foreign. For other more worldly calculator users, however, the HP calculator was ubiquitous. Hewlett-Packard peaked (at least as far as calculators are concerned) decades ago and the market has remained dominated by TI since. Lucky for those few holdouts there is now a new microcode emulator of these classic calculators.

Called the NP25 (for Nonpariel Physical), the calculator fully emulates the HP-21, HP-25C and HP-33C. It’s a standalone microcode emulator, which means that these calculators work exactly as well as the original HP calculators of the 70s did. The new calculators, however, are powered by a low power MSP430G2553 processor and presumably uses many, many fewer batteries than the original did. It has an LED display to cut power costs as well, and was built with the goal of being buildable by the average electronics hobbyist.

Even if you didn’t grow up in the 70s with one of these in your desk drawer, it’d still be a great project and would help even the most avid TI user appreciate the fact that you don’t have to use RPN to input data into calculators anymore. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This isn’t the only calculator we’ve featured here, either, so be sure to check out another free and open calculator for other calculator-based ideas.

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Hacklet 70 – Calculator Projects

Hackers, makers, and engineers have long had a love affair with number crunching. Specifically with the machines that make crunching numbers easier. Today it may be computers, smart watches, and smartphones, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 50’s and 60’s, Slide rules were the rage. Engineers would carry them around in leather belt pouches. By the early 70’s though, the pocket calculator revolution had begun. Calculators have been close at hand for hackers and engineers ever since. This week’s Hacklet celebrates some of the best calculator projects on Hackaday.io!

calc1We start with [Joey Shepard] and RPN Scientific Calculator. No equals sign needed here; [Joey] designed this calculator to work with Reverse Polish notation, just like many of HP’s early machines. Stacks are pretty important for RPN calculators, and this one has plenty of space with dual 200 layer stacks. The two main processors are MSP430s from Texas Instruments. The user interface are a 4 line x 20 character LCD and 42 hand wired buttons. The two processors are pretty ingenious. They communicate over a UART. One processor handles the keyboard and display, while the other concentrates on crunching the numbers and storing data in an SRAM. The case for this calculator is made from soldered up copper clad board. It’s mechanically strong especially since [Joey] added a bead of solder along each joint. If you want to learn more about this technique check out this guide on FR4 enclosures.

[Joey] definitely improved his solder skills with this project. Every wire and connection, including the full SRAM address and data bus were wired by hand on proto boards. We especially like the sweet looking laser cut keyboard on this project!
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Imaging And Emulating An HP-IB disk drive

If you look on the back of old, old test equipment, you’ll find a weird-looking connector that’s either labeled IEEE-488, GPIB, or HP-IB. It’s a very old interface designed by HP for their test equipment, and it was licensed to other manufacturers for everything from power supplies to logic analyzers. Hewlett-Packard also made computers and workstations once upon a time, and it’s no surprise this interface also made it into these boxes. They even had external hard drives that operated over the HP-IB interface.

[Chris] has a few of these old computers, and wanted to see if he could emulate one of these HP-IB hard drives. There is a project to emulate these hard drives, but the electrical connection is a bit tricky; you need an IEEE-488 card, and those really aren’t made anymore.

Nevertheless, [Chris] found an old ISA IEEE-488 last year, and installed it in the PC system he’s using for all his retro explorations. After getting the card and cable to fit in the case of his PC, [Chris] connected a real HP-IB disk to his modern computer running HPDrive, made an image, and connected an old HP 150 computer. The image was read by the HP 150, and [Chris] had a vintage computer running off an emulated drive.