Interview with the Creators of CHIP, a $9 Single-Board Computer

Single-board computing is hot on the DIY scene right now and riding that knife edge is C.H.I.P., a project currently in crowd-funding which prices the base unit at just $9. I was happy to run into the crew from Next/Thing Company who developed C.H.I.P. They were happy because, well, the project’s reception has been like a supernova. Right now they’re at about $1.5M of their original $50k goal. We spoke about running Linux on the board, what connectors and pinout headers are available, as well as the various peripheral hardware they have ready for the board.

Continue reading “Interview with the Creators of CHIP, a $9 Single-Board Computer”

LED Notification Cube is a Good First Project

Two years ago, [Matt] made a move away from his software hacks and into the physical world. He was part of a pilot program to provide mentorship to children as part of the Maker Education Initiative. This program gave him access to 3D printers, CNC machines, and laser cutters within the New York Hall of Science makerspace. [Matt] chose to build an illuminated notification cube for his first physical project. The idea being that smart phones have so many alerts, many of which are unimportant. His project would help him to visualize and categorize each alert to better understand its importance.

The brain of the system is a Raspberry Pi. [Matt] found a Python library that allowed him to directly control an RGB LED strip based on the LPD8806 chip. He wired the data pins directly to the Pi and used an old 5V cell phone charger to power the LEDs. The strip was cut into smaller strands. Each face of the cube would end up with three strands of two LEDs each, or six LEDs per side. [Matt] found a mount for the Pi on Thingiverse and used a 3D printer to bring it into existence. The sides were made of frosted laser cut acrylic. The frosted look helps to diffuse the light from the LEDs.

Over time [Matt] found that the cube wasn’t as useful as he originally thought it would be. He just didn’t have enough alerts to justify the need. He ended up reprogramming the Pi to pull weather information instead, making use of the exact same hardware for another, more useful purpose.

C.H.I.P. is a Linux Trojan Horse for Nine Bucks

I’m sure you’ve already heard about C.H.I.P, the $9 Linux computer. It is certainly sexy to say nine-bucks but there should really be an asterisk next to that number. If you want things like VGA or HDMI you need an adapter board which adds cost (natively the board only supports composite video output). I also have questions about MSRP once the Kickstarter is fulfilled. But what’s on my mind isn’t cost; this is still going to be in the realm of extremely-inexpensive no matter what shakes out. Instead, I’d like to look at this being the delivery device for wider Linux acceptance.

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The gist of the hardware is a small board with a SoC boasting a 1GHz clock, half a gig of ram, four gigs of flash, one USB, WiFi and Bluetooth. It also has add-ons that make it a handheld and is being promoted as a gaming console. It’s amazing what you get out of these SoC’s for the cost these days, isn’t it?

For at least a decade people have claimed that this is the year of the Linux desktop. That’s not the right way to think. Adults are brand-loyal and business will stick to things that just work. Trying to convert those two examples is a sisyphean effort. But C.H.I.P. is picking up on a movement that started with Raspberry Pi.

These are entry-level computers and a large portion of the user-base will be kids. I haven’t had a hands-on with this new board, but the marketing certainly makes an effort to show how familiar the GUI will be. This is selling Linux and popular packages like LibreOffice without even tell people they’ll be adopting Linux. If the youngest Raspberry Pi users are maturing into their adolescence with C.H.I.P, what will their early adult years look like? At the least, they will not have an ingrained disposition against Open Source Software (unless experiences with Rasbperry Pi, C.H.I.P., and others is negative). At best they’ll fully embrace FOSS, becoming the next generation of code contributors and concept evangelists. Then every year will be the year of the Linux desktop.

Hacking a Thin Client to Gain Root Access

[Roberto] recently discovered a clever way to gain root access to an HP t520 thin client computer. These computers run HP’s ThinPro operating system. The OS is based on Linux and is basically just a lightweight system designed to boot into a virtual desktop image loaded from a server. [Roberto’s] discovery works on systems that are running in “kiosk mode”.

The setup for the attack is incredibly simple. The attacker first stops the virtual desktop image from loading. Then, the connection settings are edited. The host field is filled with garbage, which will prevent the connection from actually working properly. The real trick is in the “command line arguments” field. The attacker simply needs to add the argument “&& xterm”. When the connection is launched, it will first fail and then launch the xterm program. This gives the attacker a command shell running under the context of whichever user the original software is running as.

The next step is to escalate privileges to root. [Roberto] discovered a special command that the default user can run as root using sudo. The “”hpobl” command launches the HP Easy Setup Wizard. Once the wizard is opened, the attacker clicks on the “Thank You” link, which will then load up the HP website in a version of Firefox. The final step is to edit Firefox’s default email program association to xterm. Now when the attacker visits an address like “mailto:test@test.com”, Firefox (running as root) launches xterm with full root privileges. These types of attacks are nothing new, but it’s interesting to see that they still persist even in newer software.

Building Super Small Linux Computers From Scratch

Conventional wisdom says small, powerful embedded Linux like the Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, or the Intel Edison are inherently manufactured devices, and certainly not something the homebrew tinkerer can produce at home. [hak8or] is doing just that, producing not one, but two completely different tiny Linux computers at home.

The first is based on Atmel’s AT91SAM9N12 ARM processor, but the entire board is just about two inches square. On board is 64 MB of DDR2 DRAM, a USB host and OTG port, and not much else. Still, this chip runs a stripped down Linux off of a USB drive.

The second board is based on the Freescale i.MX233. This board is similar in size and capabilities, but it’s not exactly working right now. There’s an issue with the DRAM timings and a capacitor underneath the SD card is a bit too tall.

The real value of [hak8or]’s project is the incredible amount of resources he’s put into his readme.mds for these repos. If you’ve ever wanted to build an embedded Linux device, here’s your one-stop shop for information on booting Linux on these chips.

Remote Controlled Wildlife Camera with Raspberry Pi

If you are interested in local wildlife, you may want to consider this wildlife camera project (Google cache). [Arnis] has been using his to film foxes and mice. The core components of this build are a Raspberry Pi and an infrared camera module specifically made for the Pi. The system runs on a 20,000 mAh battery, which [Arnis] claims results in around 18 hours of battery life.

[Arnis] appears to be using a passive infrared (PIR) sensor to detect motion. These sensors work by detecting sudden changes in the amount of ambient infrared radiation. Mammals are good sources of infrared radiation, so the sensor would work well to detect animals in the vicinity. The Pi is also hooked up to a secondary circuit consisting of a relay, a battery, and an infrared light. When it’s dark outside, [Arnis] can enable “night mode” which will turn on the infrared light. This provides some level of night vision for recording the furry critters in low light conditions.

[Arnis] is also using a Bluetooth dongle with the Pi in order to communicate with an Android phone. Using a custom Android app, he is able to connect back to the Pi and start the camera recording script. He can also use the app to sync the time on the Pi or download an updated image from the camera to ensure it is pointed in the right direction. Be sure to check out the demo video below.

If you like these wildlife cameras, you might want to check out some older projects that serve a similar purpose. Continue reading “Remote Controlled Wildlife Camera with Raspberry Pi”

Magic Lantern Brings Linux to Canon EOS Cameras

On April 1st the Magic Lantern team announced a proof of concept that lets you run Linux on a Canon EOS camera. Because of the date of the post we’ve poured over this one and are confident it’s no joke. The development has huge potential.

The hack was facilitated by a recent discovery that the LCD screen on the camera can be accessed from the bootloader. In case you don’t recognize the name, Magic Lantern is an Open Source project that adds features to these high-end cameras by utilizing the bootloader with binary files on the SD card. It’s long been a way of hacking more features in but has always been complicated by the fact that you must figure out how to play nicely with the existing firmware. Commanding the LCD was the last part of the hardware that had previously not been driven directly from Magic Lantern.

Now that the Linux kernel is in the picture, ground-up features can be built without dealing with the stock firmware in any way (and without overwriting it). We’re excited to see where this one goes. Currently it’s just a proof that you can boot Linux, it’s not actually functional yet. Here’s your chance to polish those kernel porting skills you’ve been holding in reserve.