Hackaday Links: July 2, 2017

A few months ago, we had a Hack Chat with Chip Gracey, the guy behind Parallax, the Basic Stamp, the Propeller, and the upcoming Propeller II. Now we’ve finally got around to editing that transcript. There’s a lot of awesome stuff in here, from learning a Hardware Design Language to the actual costs of fabbing silicon.

Rigol, the manufacturers of every hackerspace’s favorite oscilloscope, announced a new chipset. The current lineup of Rigol scopes top out at around 1GHz. In a prototype scope based on this chipset, Rigol demonstrated 4GHz bandwidth and 20GS/s with one Billion point memory depth. What this means: Rigol will be making very powerful scopes in the near future.

Hackaday had a meetup this week in New York City. The June workshop at Fat Cat Fab Lab featured speakers involved with twitter bots, 8-bit art, one of the guys behind Beautiful Soup, and a talk on a completely self-sustainable record label. Want to attend one of these meetups? Check out the calendar.

Repairs of retrocomputers are always interesting, but usually the same. Wipe off some dust, possibly replace a cap or two, retrobrite the case, and you’re done. This is not the usual retrocomputer repair. [Drygol] found a C64 that was apparently stored in a swamp for several years. The power switch fell off when he touched it. Somehow, miraculously, the circuit worked and [Drygol] rewarded the board with a new enclosure, dyed keycaps, an SD2IEC mod, and a kernel switch mod.

Guess what’s back? A pen computer with a color sensor on one end, and an ink mixer in the other. The Scribble Pen is the Internet’s infamous crowdfunded color-sensing pen, and the scammer behind it is looking for another funding round. Has anything changed since we tore this thing apart three years ago? No, it’s still a scam. I’ve been keeping tabs on the guy behind it, he’s still not in prison, and there are still idiots on this planet.

The ‘A’ stands for ‘Arts’.

The Benchy is everyone’s favorite tugboat and 3D printer benchmarking tool. They usually float, sideways. However, [MakeShift] somehow figured out how to add weight to the keel and turn the cutest little tugboat into a real, remote controlled boat. You could probably model a proper hull for the bottom of this boat, and it would be one of the few 3D prints where the actual design would be subject to US Copyright.

Is the fidget spinner fad dying? Square, the startup built around turning old AUX to cassette adapters into POS terminals seems to think so. They’ve been graphing their sales figures for fidget spinners, and there has been a marked decline since school let out for the summer. Will the trend pick back up in September? Who cares.

Help Wanted: Open Source Oscilloscope on Rigol Hardware

We’ve often heard (and said) if you can’t hack it, you don’t own it. We noticed that [tmbinc] has issued a call for help on his latest project: developing new firmware and an FPGA configuration for the Rigol DS1054Z and similar scopes. It isn’t close to completion, but it isn’t a pipe dream either. [tmbinc] has successfully booted Linux.

There’s plenty left to do, though. He’s loading a boot loader via JTAG and booting Linux from the USB port. Clearly, you’d want to flash all that. Linux gives him use of the USB port, the LCD, the network jack, and the front panel LEDs and buttons. However, all of the actual scope electronics, the FPGA functions, and the communications between the processor and the FPGA are all forward work.

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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.

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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.