Control Alexa Echo from anywhere in the World

If you are not within ear-shot of your Alexa Echo, Dot or Tap device and need to command it from anywhere in the world, you’d most likely use the handy mobile app or web interface to control it. For some strange reason, if you’d rather use voice commands from anywhere in the world, you can still do it using apps such as Alexa Listens or Reverb, among many others. We’d be the first ones to call these out and say “It’s not a hack”. But [pat dhens] approach is above reproach! He has posted details on how to Remote Control the Alexa Echo from Anywhere in the World. Short version of the hack — he’s using a Raspberry Pi with a speaker attached to it which commands his Alexa Tap using a text-to-speech converter program.

The long version is short as well. The user uses a VPN, such as OpenVPN, to log in to their home network where the Alexa device is located. Then, use VNC to connect to the Raspberry Pi to access its shell. Finally, the user issues a text command which is converted to speech by the ‘festival‘ program on the Raspberry Pi. The output goes to an external speaker via the Raspberry Pi’s 3.5 mm audio out jack. And that’s all there is to it. You’ve just issued a voice command to your Alexa from across the world.

Maybe it will save your vocal chords from damage due to excessive hollering, we guess. He’s even made a short video to prove that it works. Now all it needs is a microphone to listen to Alexa, convert speech-to-text, and then transmit it back to you across the world to complete the cycle.

We’re not sure, but he thinks this hack will lead him to world domination. Good Luck with that.

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Better Linux Through Coloring

Cyber security is on everyone’s minds these days. Embedded devices like cameras have been used by bad guys to launch attacks on the Internet. People worry about data leaking from voice command devices or home automation systems. And this goes for the roll-your-own systems we build and deploy.

Many network-aware systems use Linux somewhere — one big example is pretty much every Raspberry Pi based project. How much do you think about security when you deploy a Pi? There is a superior security system available for Linux (including most versions you’d use on the Pi) called SELinux. The added letters on the front are for “Security-Enhanced” and this project was originally started by the NSA and RedHat. RedHat actually has — no kidding — a coloring book that helps explain some of the basic concepts.

We aren’t so sure the coloring book format is really the right approach here, but it is a light and informative read (we didn’t stay in the lines very well, though). Our one complaint is that it doesn’t really show you anything in practice, it just explains the ideas behind the different kind of protections available in SELinux. If you want to actually set it up on Pi, there’s a page on the Pi site that will help. If you have an hour, you can get a good overview of using SELinux in the video below.

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Banana Phone Blocks Robocalls

Despite the implementation of the National Do Not Call Registry in the US (and similar programs in other countries), many robocallers still manage to get around the system. Whether they’re operating outside the law somehow (or they simply don’t care about it) there are some ways you can take action to keep these annoying calls from coming through. [Alex] is among those to take matters into his own hands and built a specialty robocall-blocking device.

Based on a Raspberry Pi, the “Banana Phone” is able to intercept incoming calls on standard land lines or VoIP phones. After playing a short message, the caller is asked to input a four-digit code. Once the code is correctly entered, the caller is presumed to be human, added to a whitelist, and then the Pi passes them on to the recipient. There are, however, some legitimate robocallers such as emergency services regarding natural disasters or utility companies regarding outages. For these there is a global whitelist that the Pi checks against and forwards these robocalls on to the recipient automatically.

This project was originally an entry into a contest that the Federal Trade Commission put on a few years ago for ideas about how to defend against robocalls. We covered it back then, but now there are full build instructions. Even though the contest is long over, the Banana Phone is still in active development so if you have a spare Pi lying around you can still set this up yourself. There are some other interesting ways to defend against robocalls as well, like including the “line disconnected” tone in your voicemail, for example.

Hackaday Links: March 5, 2017

Statistically, more celebrities died in 2016 than would be expected. 2017 is turning out to be a little better, but we did recently lose the great [Bill Paxton]. Game over, man. Game over. A few years ago, [Benheck] built his own pinball machine. It’s Bill Paxton Pinball. A great build, and worth revisiting, just like another viewing of Aliens and Apollo 13.

Some of the most popular 3D-printable objects are [flowalistik]’s low-poly Pokemon series. They’re great models, even though he missed the most obvious Pokemon. Of [flowalistik]’s low-poly Pokemon models, the Bulbasaur is a crowd favorite. Because this model is constructed from flat planes joined at an angle, it’s possible to make a huge low-poly Bulbasaur on a laser cutter or a CNC router. Go home Bulbasaur, you’re drunk. We are eagerly awaiting details on how this grass and poison-type tank was made.

For the last few months, [Matthew Cremona] has been building a huge bandsaw mill in his backyard. It’s built for cutting logs into lumber, and this thing is massive. He’s been posting build log videos for the last few months, but this week he’s finally gotten to where we want him to be: he’s cutting gigantic logs. In the coming weeks, he’s going to be cutting a maple crotch that’s 60 inches (1.5 meters) across.

It’s still a bit early, but here are the details for the 2017 Open Hardware Summit. It’s October 5th in Downtown Denver. If you want to speak at OHS, here you go. If you want to sponsor OHS, here you go. Tickets are over on Eventbrite.

What happens when you give away a new Raspberry Pi Zero W to the fifth caller? This. In other news, Adafruit somehow acquired a real New York City payphone. I’ve heard they were replacing these with WiFi hotspots, which means there are a ton of payphones in a warehouse somewhere? Can anyone hook us up?

Wireless Doorbell Hacked Into Hands-on MQTT Tutorial

The project itself is very simple: getting push notifications via MQTT when a wireless doorbell sounds. But as [Robin Reiter] points out, as the “Hello, world!” program is a time-honored tradition for coders new to a language, so too is his project very much the hardware embodiment of the same tradition. And the accompanying video build log below is a whirlwind tour that will get the first-timer off the ground and on the way to MQTT glory.

The hardware [Robin] chose for this primer is pretty basic – a wireless doorbell consisting of a battery-powered button and a plug-in receiver that tootles melodiously when you’ve got a visitor. [Robin] engages in a teardown of the receiver with attempted reverse engineering, but he wisely chose the path of least resistance and settled on monitoring the LEDs that flash when the button is pushed. An RFduino was selected from [Robin]’s ridiculously well-organized parts bin and wired up for the job. The ‘duino-fied doorbell talks Bluetooth to an MQTT broker on a Raspberry Pi, which also handles push notifications to his phone.

The meat of the build log, though, is the details of setting up MQTT. We’ve posted a lot about MQTT, including [Elliot Williams]’ great series on the subject. But this tutorial is very nuts and bolts, the kind of thing you can just follow along with, pause the video once in a while, and have a working system up and running quickly. There’s a lot here for the beginner, and even the old hands will pick up a tip or two.

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iPad Tossed Out for RetroPie Arcade Cabinet Redux

The naming and remixing in this project can get a little confusing to those unfamiliar with the different elements involved, but what [John Gerrard] has done is take a stylish mini arcade cabinet intended as a fancy peripheral for an iPad and turned it into an iPad-free retro arcade gaming cabinet. He also designed his own power controller for graceful startup and shutdown.

The project started with a peripheral called the iCade (originally conceived as a fake product for April Fool’s) and [John] observed it had good remix potential for use as a mini retro gaming cabinet. It was a good starting point: inexpensively purchased off eBay with suitable arcade-style joystick and buttons, a nice layout, and plenty of hacking potential. With a small variety of hardware from familiar sources like eBay and Aliexpress, [John] rounded up most of what he needed.

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Interactive Game Board Helps Toddler Learn Colors and Shapes

Most parents would do anything to enrich their kids’ worlds and teach them what they need to know. Hacker parents often take it one step further by modifying the kid’s world to allow them to work past a disability. To wit we have an interactive game board to help a toddler learn her shapes and colors.

The toddler in question is [Becca], and her needs are special because of the progressive nature of the blindness that will result from her Usher Syndrome. [Becca] will need visual acuity testing much earlier than most toddlers, but a standard eye chart is meaningless to kids before they get their letters. This is where Lea shapes come in – a set of four shapes that are used to make visual testing a game and help practitioners assess what a child can and cannot see.

[Jake] and his wife [Beth] were advised to familiarize [Becca] with the shapes, but all she wanted to do was eat the printed sheet. In order to make the task more entertaining, [Jake] built an interactive board where brightly colored Lea shapes trigger the room lights to change to the same color as the block when it’s inserted into the correct spot on the board, as a visual reward. Reed switches, magnets, and an Arduino comprise the game logic, and the board communicates to the Philips Hue smart bulbs over an NRF24L01. The video below also shows some cool under-bed lights and a very engaged [Becca] learning her shapes and colors.

As we expected when we last covered his efforts to help [Rebecca], [Jake] has leveraged the Raspberry Pi he used as a hub for the stairwell lighting project. We’re looking forward to seeing what else he comes up with, and to see how [Becca] is thriving.

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