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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Capture the Flag with Lightsabers

There’s a great game of capture-the-flag that takes place every year at HITCON. This isn’t your childhood neighborhood’s capture-the-flag in the woods with real flags, though. In this game the flags are on secured servers and it’s the other team’s mission to break into the servers in whatever way they can to capture the flag. This year, though, the creators of the game devised a new scoreboard for keeping track of the game: a lightsaber.

In this particular game, each team has a server that they have to defend. At the same time, each team attempts to gain access to the other’s server. This project uses a lightsaber stand that turns the lightsabers into scoreboards for the competition at the 2015 Hacks In Taiwan Conference. It uses a cheap OpenWRT Linux Wi-Fi/Ethernet development board, LinkIt Smart 7688 which communicates with a server. Whenever a point is scored, the lightsaber illuminates and a sound effect is played. The lightsabers themselves are sourced from a Taiwanese lightsabersmith and are impressive pieces of technology on their own. As a bonus the teams will get to take them home with them.

While we doubt that this is more forced product integration advertisement from Disney, it certainly fits in with the theme of the game. Capture-the-flag contests like this are great ways to learn about cyber security and how to defend your own equipment from real-world attacks. There are other games going on all around the world if you’re looking to get in on the action.

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Open Source… Windows?

There’s a lot to be said for open source software. The ability to change code to suit one’s needs, the fact that security vulnerabilities can be easier to find, and the overall transparency are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the strengths of using open source software. And, while Microsoft is no Apple when it comes to locking down their source code, their operating system is still, unfortunately, closed.

Don’t despair, though! There is a project out there that aims to change this. No, they’re not stealing anything or breaking into any computers to obtain Microsoft’s code. They’re writing their own version of Windows called ReactOS that aims to be binary-compatible with Windows. The software has been in development for over a decade, but they’re ready to release version 0.4 which will bring USB, sound, networking, wireless, SATA, and many more features to the operating system.

While ReactOS isn’t yet complete for everyday use, the developers have made great strides in understanding how Windows itself works. There is a lot of documentation coming from the project regarding many previously unknown or undocumented parts of Windows, and with more developers there could be a drop-in replacement for Windows within a few years. It’s definitely worth a shot if you fondly remember the frontier days of Linux where doing things like reading information on a CD required extensive experience using the terminal. If this is a little too much, though, there are other unique operating systems out there to investigate.

Thanks for the tip, [Matt]!

VOCore Tutorial Gets You Started with Tiny Router

[Vadim] wrote up this short but sweet tutorial on getting started with the Vocore (tiny) OpenWRT-router-on-a-stamp. If you need more computing power than you can get with an ESP8266, and you want an open-source Linux-plus-Wifi solution in a square inch of board space, the Vocore looks pretty sweet.

We covered the Vocore a while ago. It has 28 GPIOs, all accessible from system calls in OpenWRT. It becomes much more computer-like if you add a dock that breaks out the USB and Ethernet functionality, but that also doubles the price.

IMG_5299_tnGetting started with a no-frills Linux box (chip?) can be intimidating. So it’s a good thing that [Vadim] details a first setup of the Vocore over WiFi and SSH, and then takes you through a button-and-LED style ‘Hello World’ application that makes simple use of the GPIOs.

He says he’s going to interface it eventually with a TI CC110 sub-gig radio unit, but that’s going to involve writing some drivers and will take him some time. We’d love to see how to connect peripherals, so we’re waiting with bated breath.

[Vadim] also helpfully included an un-bricking script for the Vocore, which restores the default firmware and gets you out of whatever hole you’ve managed to dig yourself into. Basically, you connect to the device over a USB-Serial adapter, run his script, and you should be set.

Any of you out there using a Vocore? Or other OpenWRT routers? Give [Vadim]’s tutorial a glance and let us know what you think.

Raspberry Pi Halloween Voice Changer

[Dave Shevett] has spent a lot of time (more than a year) expanding his Technomancer costume along with the companion (Arduino-driven) magic staff. He found, however, he needed a way to get his voice out from behind the mask. If you are going to go through that much trouble, you might as well augment your voice at the same time, right?

[Dave’s] voice changer uses a Raspberry Pi which isn’t all that complicated. The Pi uses Linux, and Unix–the predecessor to Linux–has a long history of having little tools you can string together to do big jobs. So once you have a Pi and a sound card, the rest is just some Linux command line wizardry.

There’s a battery and a small portable amplifier to get that booming voice. Since you don’t want to lug a keyboard and monitor around to handle every reboot, [Dave] set the Pi up to run his voice-changing scripts on each reboot.

This is a great example of why old Unix programmers make small tools and use the shell to join them together. [Dave’s] voice changer is pretty much just some off the shelf parts and a  script so simple it hardly qualifies as programming in any real sense. In fact, it is essentially one line of “code”:

play "|rec --buffer 2048 -d pitch -300 echos 0.8 0.88 100 0.6 150 .5 band 1.2k 1.5k"

Sure, there is some street cred in embedded development to doing everything the hard way, but with the advent of cheap embedded Linux systems, why not take advantage of the tools where you can?

If you want a more roll-your-own approach, you can pick up your Arduino or break out an audio mixer (but good luck getting it in your costume).