Ask Hackaday: Are Unlockable Features Good for the User?

There are numerous examples of hardware which has latent features waiting to be unlocked by software. Most recently, we saw a Casio calculator which has the same features as its bigger sibling hidden within the firmware, only to be exposed by a buffer overflow bug (or the lead from a pencil if you prefer a hardware hack).

More famously, oscilloscopes have been notorious for having crippled features. The Rigol DS1052E was hugely popular on hacker benches because of it’s very approachable price tag. The model shipped with 50 MHz bandwidth but it was discovered that a simple hack turned it into the DS1102E 100 MHz scope. Tektronix has gotten in on this action as well, shipping modules like I2C, CAN, and LIN analyzation on the scope but requiring a hardware key to unlock (these were discovered to have a horribly insecure unlock method). Similar feature barriers are found on Rigol’s new reigning entry-level scope, the DS1054Z, which ships with protocol analyzation modules (among others) that are enabled only for the first 70 hours of scope operation, requiring an additional payment to unlock them. Most scope manufacturers are in on the game, and of course this is not limited to our tools. WiFi routers are another great example of hardware hosting firmware-unlockable features.

So, the question on my mind which I’d like to ask all of the Hackaday community is this: are unlockable features good for us, the people who use these tools? Let’s take a look at some of the background of these practices and then jump into a discussion in the comments.

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Are Unlockable Features Good for the User?”

Hackaday Links: April 24, 2016

TruckThe Internet Archive has a truck. Why? Because you should never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck filled with old manuals, books, audio recordings, films, and everything else the Internet Archive digitizes and hosts online. This truck also looks really, really badass. A good thing, too, because it was recently stolen. [Jason Scott] got the word out on Twitter and eagle-eyed spotters saw it driving to Bakersfield. The truck of awesome was recovered, and all is right with the world. The lesson we learned from all of this? Steal normal cars. Wait. Don’t steal cars, but if you do, steal normal cars.

In a completely unrelated note, does anyone know where to get a 99-01 Chevy Astro / GMC Safari cargo van with AWD, preferably with minimal rust?

[Star Simpson] is almost famous around these parts. She’s responsible for the TacoCopter among other such interesting endeavours. Now she’s working on a classic. [Forrest Mims]’ circuits, making the notebook version real. These Circuit Classics take the circuits found in [Forrest Mims]’ series of notebook workbooks, print them on FR4, and add a real, solderable implementation alongside.

Everyone needs more cheap Linux ARM boards, so here’s the Robin Core. It’s $15, has WiFi, and does 720p encoding. Weird, huh? It’s the same chip from an IP webcam. Oooohhhh. Now it makes sense.

Adafruit has some mechanical keyboard dorks on staff. [ladyada] famously uses a Dell AT101 with Alps Bigfoot switches, but she and [Collin Cunningham] spent three-quarters of an hour dorking out on mechanical keyboards. A music video was the result. Included in the video: vintage Alps on a NeXT keyboard and an Optimus Mini Three OLED keyboard.

A new Raspberry Pi! Get overenthusiastic hype! The Raspberry Pi Model A+ got an upgrade recently. It now has 512MB of RAM

We saw this delta 3D printer a month ago at the Midwest RepRap festival in Indiana. Now it’s a Kickstarter. Very big, and fairly cheap.

The Rigol DS1054Zed is one of the best oscilloscopes you can buy for the price. It’s also sort of loud. Here’s how you replace the fan to make it quieter.

Here’s some Crowdfunding drama for you. This project aims to bring the Commodore 64 back, in both a ‘home computer’ format and a portable gaming console. It’s not an FPGA implementation – it’s an ARM single board computer that also has support for, “multiple SIDs for stereo sound (6581 or 8580).” God only knows where they’re sourcing them from. Some tech journos complained that it’s, “just a Raspberry Pi running an emulator,” which it is not – apparently it’s a custom ARM board with a few sockets for SIDs, carts, and disk drives. I’ll be watching this one with interest.

Upgrading Rigol’s More Expensive Oscilloscopes

[mosaicmerc] over on hackaday.io has upgraded his Rigol DS2072A oscilloscope to a DS2302A, turning an $800 oscilloscope into one that sells for $2500, with all the bandwidth, storage depth, and options of the more expensive model.

Rigol o-scopes have a long and storied history of unlocking, hacking, and upgrading. The original hack that put Rigol on the map was the DS1052E upgrade that turned a 50MHz scope into a 100MHz scope. The latest low-end Rigol scope, the 1054Z can be unlocked in software to become an 1104Z with 100MHz of bandwidth, SPI, I2C, and RS232 decoders, twice the storage depth, and more triggers. It appears Rigol’s engineers are designing their products to capitalize on the hacker’s proclivity to buy their tools to get the ‘free’ upgrade. This, of course, sounds just slightly insane, but no one seems to mind.

The process of upgrading the Rigol DS2072A scope is documented over on the EEVBlog, and requires only a USB cable and a computer with the Labview Runtime Engine installed. It’s literally as simple as pressing a few buttons; a far cry from the previous keygen method that was also engineered over on the EEVBlog.

A Better Spectrum Analyzer for your Rigol Scope

The Rigol DS1000 series of oscilloscopes are popular with hobbyists for good reason: they provide decent specs at a low price. However, their spectrum analysis abilities are lacking. While these scopes do have a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) function, it’s limited and nearly useless for RF.

A FFT plotted by the PyDSA tool and a Rigol oscilloscope[Rich] wanted a spectrum analyzer for amateur radio purposes, but didn’t want to build his own sampling hardware for it. Instead, he wrote PyDSA, a software spectrum analyzer for Rigol DS1000 oscilloscopes. This tool uses the USB connection on the scope to fetch samples, and does the number crunching on a far more powerful PC. It’s able to plot a 16,000 point FFT at two sweeps per second when run on a decent computer.

PyDSA is a Python script that makes use of the Virtual Instrument Software Architecture (VISA) interface to control the scope and fetch the sample data. Fortunately there’s some Python libraries that take care of the protocol.

[Rich] is now able to use his scope to measure amateur radio signals, which makes a nice companion to his existing Teensy based SDR project. If you have a Rigol, you can grab the source on Github and try it out.

Safe Cracking With Signal Analysis

[Dave Jones] over at EEVblog got his hands on a small safe with an electronic lock and decided to try his hand at safe cracking. But rather than breaking out the thermal drill or shaped charge, he hooked up his Rigol scope and attempted a safe cracking via signal analysis (YouTube link).

We have to say that safes Down Under seem much stouter than most of the inexpensive lock boxes we’ve seen in the US, at least in terms of the quality (and quantity) of the steel in the body of the safe. Even though [Dave] was looking for a way in through the electronics, he still needed to deal with all that steel to get himself out of a face-palm moment that resulted in a lockout. Once that was out of the way, he proceeded to capture usable signals from the internal microcontroller using the only two available contacts – the 9 volt battery connections. While he did get signals, he couldn’t find any signatures that would help determine the six digits in the PIN, and as he points out, even if he did, brute-forcing through the one million permutations to find the right code would take too long, given the wrong-code lockout feature of the lock.

Even though he failed to hack into this particular safe, there’s still plenty to be learned from his methods. And who’s to say that other similar locks aren’t a little more chatty about their internals? Maybe you could even manage to EMP your way past the lock.

Increasing The Brightness Of A Philips LivingColors Lamp

[Martin] recently purchased a Philips LivingColors lamp. It’s a commercial product that basically acts as mood lighting with the ability to change to many different colors. [Martin] was disappointed with the brightness of his off-the-shelf lamp. Rather than spend a few hundred dollars to purchase more lamps, he decided to modify the one he already had.

[Martin] started by removing the front cover of his lamp. He found that there were four bright LEDs inside. Two red, one green, and one blue. [Martin] soldered one wire to the driver of each LED. These wires then connected to four different N-channel MOSFET transistors on a piece of protoboard.

After hooking up his RIGOL oscilloscope, [Martin] was able to see that each LED was driven with a pulse width modulated signal. All he had to do was connect a simple non-addressable RGB LED strip and a power source to his new driver board. Now the lamp can control the LED strip along with the internal LEDs. This greatly extends the brightness of the lamp with minimal modifications to the commercial product. Be sure to check out the video below for a complete walk through. Continue reading “Increasing The Brightness Of A Philips LivingColors Lamp”

Controlling A Rigol With Linux

The Rigol DS1052E is the de facto oscilloscope for any tinkerer’s bench. It’s cheap, it’s good enough, and it’s been around for a long time; with the new 1054 zed model out now, you might even be able to pick up a 1052E on the cheap.

[wd5gnr1] came up with a really interesting piece of software that allows a Linux system to control most of the functions on this popular scope. With just a USB cable, you can read and log all the measurement of the scope, save waveforms in CSV format, and send data to gnuplot and qtiplot.

Since the 1052E has been around for such a long time, there’s a bunch of software out there that takes advantage of the nifty USB port on the front of this scope. If you need a cheap spectrum analyzer, here ‘ya go, and tools for the .WFM files native to this scope even exist for Windows. [wd5gnr1] even says his tool can probably be ported to Windows, but ‘just use Linux.’