Kickstarting Router-Based Development Boards

[Squonk] is rather famous in the world of repurposed routers, having reverse engineered the TL-WR703N wireless router from TP-Link a few years ago. With that knowledge, he’s developed an open platform for Things on the Internet called Domino. It’s pretty much exactly what you would get by cracking open a router bought on AliBaba, only in a much more convenient package with many more pins broken out.

The Domino builds on [Squonk]’s reverse engineering efforts of the TP-Link TL-WR703N wireless router, the router that has stolen the thunder from the Linksys WRT54G for all those sweet, sweet, embedded hacks. Both the 703N and the Domino are built around the Atheros AR9331. While the router version of this chipset only breaks out a few GPIOs and other interesting pins, the Domino breaks out just about everything – GPIO, JTAG, I2S, UART, SPI, USB, and Ethernet can be found on the device.

The basic Domino can hopefully be had with a $25 pledge to the Kickstarter campaign. That’s a little less than the normal price for a WR-703N, and if you’re putting a router in a hat it might be worth your while. There are a few advanced versions that include an ATMega32u4 microcontroller, making it compatible with the Arduino Yun as well.

Advanced Not-Reading Technology

Yesterday, there was a Hackaday post for a Kickstarter campaign. Because we force everyone to read every Hackaday post, there were some complaints and suggestions that we flag posts about Kickstarter campaigns. The most obvious solution to this problem of forcing people to read what they don’t want to read would be a UserScript or browser extension that automatically removes posts with objectionable tags.

It took 12 hours for [Daniel Ward] to lift you up to salvation, ending the inexorable toil you have all suffered under the thumb of idiotic and incompetent Hackaday editors.

[Daniel] wrote a UserScript for GreaseMonkey or TamperMonkey that looks at the tags for each and every Hackaday post. If a tag matches, “crowd-funding”, “crowdfunding”, or “kickstarter”, the post is removed from your browser.

It’s an astonishing advancement in state of the art, “not reading what you don’t want to read” technology. Bards and troubadours will sing of this day for years. Philosophers and theologians are citing this as evidence of something they’re calling, ‘free will.’ We don’t know who [Will] is, but at least he’s free now.

If that’s not enough, [RoGeorge] came up with an astonishing twist on this life-changing technology. By adding, ‘Arduino’ to the blacklisted tags, all posts tagged ‘Arduino’ are also removed. This can, of course, be extended to any tag. Imagine; a world where you don’t have to read what you don’t want to read. A futuristic utopia. Astounding.

Ask Hackaday: The Latest Advances In Perfboard

It’s no secret the Hackaday tip line gets a lot of email from Kickstarter campaigns and PR firms managing Kickstarter campaigns. Most of these are terrible products. Want a five-pound battery that can’t be recharged? Yeah, stuff like that.

Every once in a while, we come across a tip that’s a completely original idea. There’s a balance between ingenuity and practicality with these ideas, and I can’t figure out where this one sits. It’s a Kickstarter for perfboard, yes, but not like any perfboard you’ve ever seen.

Busboard, or solderable breadboard
Busboard, or solderable breadboard

Before we dig into this, let’s get some definitions straight. Perfboard is a sheet with holes drilled on a 0.1″ grid. The holes are plated on both sides, and each hole is an individual electrical node. Veroboard, or stripboard is a bunch of holes on a 0.1″ grid. These holes are also plated, but all the holes in a column are a single electrical node. You can cut the tracks between holes, but the basic idea here is to reduce the number of wires needed to connect components. Busboard, seen left, is a continuation of Veroboard, and is laid out like a solderless breadboard.

And so we come to the new invention, Perf+, the perfboard reinvented. This perfboard again is a series of plated holes on a 0.1″ grid. Alongside these holes is a plated bus. This bus does not connect to any hole; instead, a little bit of solder is used to connect it to holes on the same row or column. “Selective Veroboard,” you could call it.

Now for the real trick: on one side of the board, the plated busses run vertically. On the other side of the board, the plated busses run horizontally. This means any two holes on the protoboard can be connected as one electrical node simply with a bit of solder.

If ever there was an idea you could point to and simultaneously say, “that’s clever” and “I have no idea how to use this,” there you go. I’m pretty sure this idea isn’t better than a piece of stripboard, but it is different. If you have any idea of how to used this new, strange, and otherworldly protoboard for something useful, put a note in the comments.

Hackaday Retro Edition: A New Commodore 64 Case

Some time in the 80s, the plastic injection molds for the Commodore 64C, the Commodore 128, and the Plus/4 were shipped from somewhere in Asia to the great Commodore Mother Brain in West Chester, Pennsylvania. These molds had already produced a million or two cases, but there were some issues with production – too much waste, or something like that. A mechanical engineer took a look at the molds, sent out some recommendations, and moved the 2500 pound molds to a corner of the building.

For some time after a gray day in April, 1994 these molds sat in a West Chester, Pennsylvania warehouse until they were sold off. They made their way to a plastics manufacturer around Dallas, Texas where they sat for twenty years. All things must pass, sometimes several times, and this plastics manufacturer closed down, contacted an auctioneer, and began to sell off some of their equipment.

The hero of our story, [Dallas Moore], owns a small business, buying and selling everything from Barbie dolls to antiques. He found an ad for an auction at a plastics manufacturing plant in the newspaper, and figuring he could find something interesting, headed out to the auction preview.

The auctioneer at this liquidation sale asked [Dallas] what he did, and mentioned there was something pretty cool tucked away in a warehouse full of hardened steel molds. Something about molds for old computers. These were the molds for the Commodore 64C, Commodore 128, and the Commodore Plus/4. A literal crucible of computing history, stacked on a pallet and up for sale.

The auctioneer said one of his friends was interested in the molds, and thought they would make a neat coffee table. Something about this struck [Dallas] the wrong way and for the entire drive home he thought about someone taking history and turning it in to a piece of furniture. He decided to buy these molds and lugged the three 2500 pound pieces of hardened steel to his shop. Not wanting to let a good piece of history go to waste, he contacted another plastics manufacturer, planned a run of a thousand or so Commodore 64C cases in red, white, and blue. [Dallas] is funding the whole production run through Kickstarter.

To me, this is one of the greatest retrocomputing successes in recent memory. There will always be someone putting SD cards in old computers, getting them on the Internet (and especially pointed towards our retro edition), and cloning complete systems in FPGAs. This, though, is a clear example of someone recognizing the historical importance of several thousand pounds of steel, realizing there’s a market out there, and doing the leg work to remanufacture these pieces of history.

I put in my $45 for a red one, and I tipped off [Bil Herd], designer of the C128 and Plus/4, to this Kickstarter. He’s been talking with [Dallas], there I’m sure he’ll chime in on the comments with some retellings of Commodore battle stories.

If it arrives in time, I’ll be bringing my limited-edition red 64C case to the Vintage Computer Festival in Wall, NJ April 17-19. That’s a plug for the event. If you’re in the area, you should come.

EDIT: [Dallas] has a different story of where the molds came from.

ChipWhisperer Hits Kickstarter

Even the most well designed crypto algorithms can be broken if someone is smart enough to connect an oscilloscope to a processor. Over the last 15 years or so, an entire domain of embedded security has cropped up around the techniques of power and side channel analysis. The tools are expensive and rare, but [Colin O’Flynn] and the ChipWhisperer are here to bring a new era of hardware security to the masses.

The ChipWhisperer was the second place winner of last year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s an interesting domain of security research, and something that was previously extremely expensive to study. If you’re looking for a general overview of what the ChipWhisperer does, you might want to check out when we bumped into [Colin] at DEFCON last year.

While the original goal of the ChipWhisperer was to bring the cost of the tools required for power and side channel analysis down to something a hackerspace or researcher could afford, this was still too expensive for a Kickstarter campaign. To that end, [Colin] designed the ChipWhisperer Lite, a cut-down version, but still something that does most of what the original could do.

There are two parts to the ChipWhisperer Lite – the main section contains a big microcontroller, a big FPGA, and a high gain, low noise amplifier. This is the core of the ChipWhisperer, and it’s where all the power analysis happens. The other part is a target board containing an XMega microcontroller. This is where you’ll run all your encryption algorithms, and where you’ll find out if they can be broken by power analysis. The main board and target board are held together by a break-away connection, so if you want to run a power analysis on another board, just snap the ChipWhisperer in half.

[Colin] is offering up a ChipWhisperer Lite for around $200 USD – far, far less than what these tools cost just a year ago. We’re looking forward to a successful campaign and all the neat findings people with this board will find.

Ask Hackaday: Bringing Your Design to Market

While many of us have made and documented our open source projects, not many of us have tried to sell our design to the masses. [Scott] developed, marketed, and “bootstrapped” a cool looking MIDI controller. Now, before you get your jumpers in a bunch – the project is completely open source. [Scott] documented the entire process of not only the design, but the trials and tribulations of bringing it to market as well. Calculating costs, FCC testing and the many other challenges of bringing a consumer electronics device to market are all detailed in his blog. Join me while we look at the highs and lows of his interesting and eventually worthwhile journey.

Putting yourself into a game where orders are in the tens of thousands, with hundreds of thousands of dollars changing hands is not easy when you’re just a guy with an idea and a soldering iron. [Scott] was up for the challenge, however. He quickly realized that much of the margin is spent on advertising and to cover risk. On his last order, some of the paint was chipping off. He had to fix the paint and repackage everything – all at his cost.

He also talks about the learning process of product design along the way. His original idea was to make a volume controller, but couldn’t sell a single one. He was forced to redesign the software into the MIDI controller as it exists today. He tried to launch a Kickstarter, but was rejected. This turned out to be a good thing, however, because he would have wound up kickstarting a product that didn’t work.

For advertising, he relied on Google and made some extremely detailed tutorials for his product. Many of them can be used for other MIDI controllers, and often come up in Google searches. Smart. Very smart.

Be sure to check out the video below, where [Scott] gets into some capacitive touch design theory, and talks about how not to cut your final product in half while on the CNC.

Have any of you ever tried to mass produce and sell one of your designs? Let us know in the comments!

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Bringing Your Design to Market”

Hackaday Links: The Last One Of 2014

The guy behind the Microslice, a tiny Arduino-controlled laser cutter, has a new Kickstarter out. It’s called the Multibox PC, and it’s exactly what you need if you want to turn a Raspi, Banana Pi, HummingBoard, or Odroid U3 into an all-in-one desktop. 14″ 1366 x 768 LCD, and speakers turns dev boards into a respectable little Linux box.

If you’re learning to design schematics and lay out PCBs, you should really, really think about using KiCAD. It’s the future. However, Eagle is still popular and has many more tutorials. Here’s another. [Mushfiq] put together a series of tutorials for creating a library, designing a schematic, and doing the layout.

Another kickstarter wristwatch. But wait, this thing has a circular display. That’s really cool. It’s a 1.4″ 220×220 pixel, 262k color display. No, the display doesn’t use a polar coordinate system.

[Jari] wrote a digital logic simulator, Atanua, started selling licenses, and figured out it wasn’t worth developing on his own anymore. As promised, Atanua is now open source. If you want to look at the finances behind Atanua, here you go.

In 1970, you didn’t have a lot of options when it came to memory. One of the best options was Intel’s 1405 shift register – 512 bits of storage. Yes, shift registers as memory. [Ken Shirriff] got his hands on a memory board from a Datapoint 2200 terminal. Each of the display boards had 32 of these shift registers. Here’s what they look like on the inside

There’s a lot of talk about North Korean hackers, and a quick review of the yearly WordPress stats for Hackaday puts a tear in our eye. This year, there were fifty-four views from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. That’s just great. It’s awesome to see the hacker ethos make it to far-flung lands and through highly restricted firewalls. There’s still a long road ahead of us, though, and we’ll redouble our efforts on bringing the hacker mindset to Tuvalu and Saint Helena in the year 2015.