Circuit Playground – An electronics reference app from Adafruit

It’s not everyday that we review software around here, but the folks at Adafruit recently put together an iOS app that I figured might be of interest. Their iPad/iPhone compatible application is called “Circuit Playground”, and it includes all sorts of handy electronics reference tools. For the context of this review, it should be noted that I paid for the application myself, and that I have had no communication with the Adafruit team regarding my assessment of the app.

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Augmented reality using Pez dispensers

[Johan] really got himself out of a bind with this one.

After his son started playing AppMates, he desperately wanted the requisite figures to complete the experience. AppMates is an iPad game where a child drives a small plastic car around a virtual environment displayed on the touchscreen. Unfortunately for [Johan]’s son, the officially licensed Cars characters would take at least three months to make it to his home in Sweden. [Johan] did the next best thing and made his own.

[Johan] took a pair of Cars Pez dispensers and took off the figure. The bottom of the character was covered with a bit of plastic from the base of the Pez dispenser and a little bit of conductive foam and was added to the body. Now [Johan]’s son can drive his toys around Radiator Springs just like he could with the official figurines. There’s also the aspect of not making a child wait months for a bit of plastic, so we’ll call this one a win for [Johan].

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iPad 2 gets a home in hacked iDJ Live console

[DJ FileSpnR] did a number on this IDJ Live hardware to make room for an integrated iPad. Those that have seen the hardware before may not even recognize it. In stock condition the controller has two turn-table actuators with cross-fader control in between them. The iPad perches on top like a book, making it a fairly bulky setup.

In its hacked format, the device is much more mobile. The physical turntables have been removed, and the center console was moved to one side. This leaves just enough room to fit the iPad 2 (the original iPad is probably too thick for this to work). A cresent of the original turn table bezel has been retained to clamp the iPad in place, and to protect the dock connector at the same time. Now the touchscreen serves as turntable control, with physical sliders to the right which mange the cross-fading.

Check out the video after the break where the DJ explains his alterations and demonstrates the finished project.

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Retractable iPad dock for the kitchen

[Evan Flint] and his wife use a lot of online recipes in the kitchen. Rather than printing them out, they bought an iPad as a cooking companion. But in their cramped kitchen he needed to find a place for the high-end hardware that is out-of-the-way yet accessible. Some head scratching and parts bin diving led to this under-cabinet iPod dock.

The dock itself is a cradle made out of sheet aluminum. After cutting to shape, [Evan] bent up the sides and bottom to center the iPad. Since this is not a permanent fixture he needed to make the cradle collapsible. He used a CAD program to design the base tray to let the cradle lay flat, while giving several options to the angle when it is in use. Once the cooking is done just fold it up and the drawer slides make for easy under-cabinet storage.

Because he doesn’t own the house he didn’t want to make permanent alterations to the cabinet. But he does lament the unfinished look of the drawer slides. We’d just grab some pre-finished oak crown molding from the home store and wrap the entire thing. The left-edge of molding could slide out with the cradle when in use.

Playing DVDs on an iPad

[Harrison Jackson] figured out how to add DVD playback to an iPad. It doesn’t require a jailbreak, or any hardware modifications to your prized tablet. The work is done with some server-side processing and played back through the browser.

The popular open-source multimedia player VLC has the ability to encode from the command line during playback. [Harry’s] option flag mastery of the program allows him to convert a DVD to a 320×240 format that is iPad friendly. But this alone doesn’t get the video any closer to being on the iDevice. You’ll need to be running a webserver that can stream video. This example is on OSX, but since he’s using an Apache server it should be simple to reproduce on any Unix variant. Once you’ve enabled m3u8 files in the Apache mime-types, the iPad browser can be pointed to the file address VLC is kicking out and you’ll be watching a movie in no time.

We’ve wondered about replacing our home theater front-end with an ATV 2 running XBMC but the thought of having no optical drive in the living room requires some contemplation. If this becomes a feasible option (that isn’t downscaled from DVD quality) it will be a no-brainer to make that jump.

Don’t miss the demo video after the break. Full instruction are in the comment section of that clip.

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Shoulder surfing with openCV

shoulder_surfing_with_shoulder_pad

While it seems that many people are wise to shoulder surfing, keeping a lookout for anyone spying on their passwords, [Haroon] wrote in to remind us that the threat is just as real today as it ever was.

The subjects of his research are touch screen phones and tablets, which utilize on-screen keyboards for data entry. He says that while nearly all password entry boxes on these devices are obscured with the traditional line of asterisks, the keyboards themselves are quite an interesting vulnerability.

Since touch screen technology can be finicky at times, most vendors ship their devices with some sort of key press verification system. On the iPhone and iPad, for instance, each key is highlighted in blue following a button press. This functionality makes it quite easy for shoulder surfers to casually steal your password if you’re not paying attention.

But what if you are well aware of your surroundings? [Haroon] has developed a piece of software he calls shoulderPad, which is based on openCV that does the surfing for him. The application can monitor a video stream, live or recorded, extracting the user’s password from the highlighted button presses. His demonstrations show the recording taking place at a relatively close distance, but he says that it would be quite easy to use surveillance footage or zoom lenses to capture key presses from afar.

He does say that the button highlighting can be easily disabled in the iPhone’s options pane, which should negate this sort of attack for the most part.

Continue reading to see a quick video of shoulderPad in action.

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Experimental music iPad dock

You can buy nice audio breakout equipment for your iPod if you don’t mind breaking the bank. This is partly because the demand is not incredibly high so commercial breakout hardware doesn’t benefit from volume discounts. But it’s also because Apple charges licensing fees for third-party accessories (often referred to as the “Apple Tax”). [Reed Ghazala] decided to side-step the whole situation by building his own accessory which he calls the iPad Audio Desk.

It all starts with a breakout board. The PodBreakout Mini provides an easy to solder interface for the iPad, and ensures that the repetitive act of plugging and unplugging the connection doesn’t break a solder connection. From there [Reed’s] enclosure finishing skills take over. The shape and curve of the aluminum sheet give the look befitting an expensive tablet device. Along the back you can see the jacks for line-in, line-out, video, mic/guitar, and headphones that make the dock useful. It wouldn’t be hard to make one… but it might be hard to make one look this great. See for yourself after the break.

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