Flip Your Desktop Over to Boot Linux

[Andy France] built his computer into a Windows XP box. (Yes, this is from the past.) He needed to run windows most of the time, but it was nice to boot into Linux every now and then. That’s where the problem lay. If he was running Linux on his Windows XP case mod, he’d get made fun of. The only solution was to make a Linux sleeve for his computer. He would slide the sleeve over the case whenever he ran Linux, and hide his shame from wandering eyes. Once his plan was fully formed, he went an extra step and modified the computer so that if the sleeve was on, it would automatically boot Linux, and if it was off it would boot Windows.

The Linux sleeve could only slide on if the computer was flipped upside down. So he needed to detect when it was in this state. To do this he wired a switch into one of the com ports of his computer, and attached it to the top of the case mod. He modified the assembly code in the MBR to read the state of the switch. When the Linux sleeve is on (and therefore the computer is flipped over) it boots Linux. When the sleeve is off, Windows. Neat. It would be cool to put a small computer in a cube and have it boot different operating systems with this trick. Or maybe a computer that boots into guest mode in one orientation, and the full system in another.

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My Payphone Runs Linux

For the 20th anniversary of the Movie “Hackers” [Jamie Zawinski], owner of DNA Lounge in San Francisco, threw an epic party – screening the movie, setting up skating ramps and all that jazz. One of the props he put up was an old payphone, but he didn’t have time to bring it alive. The one thing he didn’t want this phone to do was to be able to make calls. A couple of weeks later, he threw another party, this time screening “Tank Girl” instead. For this gathering he had enough time to put a Linux computer inside the old payphone. When the handset is picked up, it “dials” a number which brings up a voice mail system that announces the schedule of events and other interactive stuff. As usual, this project looked simple enough to start with, but turned out way more complicated than he anticipated. Thankfully for us, he broke down his build in to bite sized chunks to make it easy for us to follow what he did.

This build is a thing of beauty, so let’s drill down into what the project involved:

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Android Set Top Box Lets You Stream and Record via HDMI Input

While on the hunt for some hardware that would let him stream video throughout his LAN [danman] got a tip to try the €69 Tronsmart Pavo M9 (which he points out is a re-branded Zidoo X9). With some handy Linux terminal work and a few key pieces of software [danman] was able to get this going.

The Android box was able to record video from the HDMI input with pre-installed software found in the main menu as [danman] explains on his blog. File format options are available in the record menu, however none of them were suitable for streaming the video (which was the goal, remember?).

[danman] was able to poke around the system easily since these boxes come factory rooted (or at least the Tronsmart variant that [danman] uses in his demo did). Can anyone with a Zidoo X9 verify access to the root directory?

Long story short, [danman] was able to get the stream working over the network. Although he did have to make some changes to the stream command he was issuing over ssh. He finds the fix in the ffmpeg documentation which saves you the trouble of reading through it but you’ll have to check out his blog post for that (pro tip: he links to a sweet little .apk reverse engineering tool as well).

We’ve seen set top box hacks before, however, streaming and recording HDMI at this price is a rare find. If you’ve been hacking up the same tree let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to send in those tips!

25 Years of Hardware Manufacturing in Plovdiv

Plovdiv, Bulgaria has a long history of design and innovation going back at least 6000 years to cultures like the Thracians, Celts, and Romans. In the last decade it is also an important center for open hardware innovation — reviving the lost glory of the computer hardware industry from the former “Soviet bloc countries”. One of the companies in the region that has thrived is a 5000 square-meter microelectronics factory which you may have heard of before: Olimex.

Olimex has over 25 years of experience in designing, prototyping, and manufacturing printed circuit boards, components, and complete electronic products. Over the last decade it has evolved into a shining example of an open hardware company. We recently had the chance to visited Olimex and to meet its CEO, Tsvetan Usunov.

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LiteBSD Brings 4.4BSD to PIC32

A few years ago [Serge Vakulenko] started the RetroBSD project–a 16-bit port of the old 2.11BSD operating system to the Microchip PIC32 microcontroller. This was impressive, but version 2 of BSD is, to most people, old news and somewhat difficult to use compared to modern BSD and Linux operating systems.

[Serge] has been at it again, however, and now has a port of 4.4BSD–LiteBSD–running on the PIC32MZ. According to [Alexandru Voica] there is about 200K of user space memory in the basic build, and by removing some OS features, you could double or triple that figure.

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32C3: Running Linux On The PS4

At the 2010 Chaos Communication Congress, fail0verflow (that’s a zero, not the letter O) demonstrated their jailbreak of the PS3. At the 2013 CCC, fail0verflow demonstrated console hacking on the Wii U. In the last two years, this has led to an active homebrew scene on the Wii U, and the world is a better place. A few weeks ago, fail0verflow teased something concerning the Playstation 4. While this year’s announcement is just a demonstration of running Linux on the PS4, fail0verflow can again claim their title as the best console hackers on the planet.

Despite being able to run Linux, there are still a few things the PS4 can’t do yet. The current hack does not have 3D acceleration enabled; you won’t be playing video games under Linux with a PS4 any time soon. USB doesn’t work yet, and that means the HDD on the PS4 doesn’t work either. That said, everything to turn the PS4 into a basic computer running Linux – serial port, framebuffer, HDMI encoder, Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, and the PS4 blinkenlights – is working.

Although the five-minute lightning talk didn’t go into much detail, there is enough information on their slides to show what a monumental task this was. fail0verflow changed 7443 lines in the kernel, and discovered the engineers responsible for the southbridge in the PS4 were ‘smoking some real good stuff’.

This is only fail0verflow’s announcement that Linux on the PS4 works, and the patches and bootstrap code are ‘coming soon’. Once this information is released, you’ll need to ‘Bring Your Own Exploit™’ to actually install Linux.

Video of the demo below.

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