Grab a shortwave radio, go up on your roof at night, turn on the radio, and if the ionosphere is just right, you’ll be able to tune into some very, very strange radio stations. Some of these stations are just a voice — usually a woman’s voice — simply counting. Some are Morse code. All of them are completely unintelligible unless you have a secret code book. These are number stations, or radio stations nobody knows much about, but everyone agrees they’re used to pass messages from intelligence agencies to spies in the field.
A few years ago, we took a look at number stations, their history, and the efforts of people who document and record these mysterious messages used for unknown purposes. These number stations exist for a particular reason: if you’re a spy, you would much rather get caught with an ordinary radio instead of a fancy encryption machine. Passing code through intermediaries or dead drops presents a liability. The solution to both these problems lies in broadcasting messages in code, allowing anyone to receive them. Only the spy who holds a code book — or in the case of the Cuban Five, software designed to decrypt messages from number stations — can decipher the code.
Number stations are a hack, of sorts, of the entire concept of broadcasting. For all but a few, these number stations broadcast complete gibberish. Only to the person holding the code book or the decryption software do these number stations mean anything. However, since the first number stations went on the air over one hundred years ago, broadcasting has changed dramatically. We now have the Internet, and although most web services cannot be considered a one-to-many distribution as how broadcasting is defined, Twitter can. Are there number stations on Twitter? There sure are. Are they used by spies or agents of governments around the world? That’s a little harder to say.
Continue reading “Number Twitters”
[Ashley Feinberg] is not one to say no to a challenge. When James Comey (the current Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the United States of America) let slip that he has a secret Twitter and Instagram account, [Ashley] knew what she had to do.
At the beginning, [Ashley] knew only a few things: (1) Comey had recently joined twitter and (2) he only allows his “immediate relatives and one daughter’s serious boyfriend” to follow him. As such, [Ashely] deduced that “if we can find the Instagram accounts belonging to James Comey’s family, we can also find James Comey.”
To start, [Ashley] found the Instagram account of Comey’s 22-year-old son, a basketball star at Kenyon College. Not phased by Brien’s locked down Instagram account, [Ashley] requested access to Brien’s account in order to access the “Suggested for You” selections that are algorithmically generated from Brien Comey’s account. Sifting through the provided accounts [Ashley] found one that fit Comey’s profile: locked down with few friends. That account was named reinholdniebuhr. Not sure it was, in fact, James Comey, [Ashley] found Comey’s senior thesis on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and televangelist Jerry Falwell as verification.
With Comey’s Instagram found, [Ashley] moved back to Twitter (something y’all can’t seem to get enough of). With only seven accounts on Twitter using some variation of “Reinhold Niebuhr” as a user name, [Ashley] was quickly able to narrow it down to one account (@projectexile7) via profiling, sealing the deal on an awesome hack filled quest. Can’t get enough of social media? Don’t worry, you never have to be disconnected.
[Robin Bussell]’s NixieBot is a mash up of new age electronics and retro vintage components and he’s got a bunch of hacks crammed in there. It’s a Nixie tube clock which displays tweets, takes pictures of the display when it encounters tweets with a #NixieBotShowMe hash tag, and then posts requested pictures back to twitter. If a word is eight characters, it takes a snapshot. If it’s a longer message, NixieBot takes a series of pictures of each word, converts it to an animated GIF, and then posts the tweet. In between, it displays random tweets every twenty seconds. You can see the camera setup in the image below and you should check out the @nixiebot twitter feed to see some of the action.
For the display, he’s using eight big vintage Burroughs B7971 Nixie Tubes. These aren’t easy to source, and current prices hover around $100 each if you can find them. The 170V DC needed to run each tube comes from a set of six 12V to 170V converter boards specifically designed to drive these tubes. Each board can drive at least a couple of nixies, so [Robin]’s able to use just four boards for the eight tubes. Each nixie is driven by its own “B7971 SmartSocket“, a dedicated PIC16F690 micro-controller board custom designed for the purpose. A serial protocol makes it easy to daisy-chain the SmartSockets to build multi character displays.
Continue reading “NixieBot Films Your Tweets”
The internet of things is this strange marketing buzzword that seems to escape from the aether and infect our toasters and refrigerators. Now even a hamster is not safe.
[Mifulapirus]’s hamster, Ham, was living a pleasant hamster life. Then his owner heard about another hamster named Sushi, whose running wheel stats were broadcasted to the internet. Not to be left behind, Ham’s wheel was soon upgraded. Now Ham is burdened by the same social pressures our exercise apps try to encourage us to use. No, we are most certainly not going to tell our friends about two fourteen minute miles with a twenty minute coffee break in the middle, MapMyRun, we are not.
The feat of techno enslavement for the little hamster was accomplished with a custom board, an esp8266, and an arduino as described in the instructable. The arduino can be left out of the project now that the libraries have been ported to the esp8266. A hall effect sensor detects when the 3D printed hamster wheel is spinning.
If you’d like to check in on Ham, the little guy is alive and well, and the twitter is here. It looks like it’s been upgraded since the original article was posted. Now it shows when Ham is awake and running around the cage doing hamster errands.
Got aliens in your attic? Squirrels in the skirting board? You need a trap, and [John Mangan] has come up with an interesting way to let you know that you have caught that pesky varmint: the IoT Critter Twitter Trap. By adding a ball switch, Electric Imp and a couple of batteries to a trap, he was able to set the trap to notify him when it caught something over Twitter. To do this, he programmed the Electric Imp to send a message over when a varmint trods on the panel inside the trap, slamming its door shut. The whole thing cost him less than $60 and can be seen in action after the break.
This is a pretty neat hack. I used to help with a Feral Fix program, where feral cats would be trapped, neutered and returned to the wild. This involved baiting the trap, then waiting hours in the cold nearby for the ferals to get comfortable enough to climb inside and trigger the trap. [John’s] version would only work indoors (as it uses WiFi), but it wouldn’t be that difficult to add a cell phone dongle or other RF solution to extend the range. With this hack, I could have at least waited somewhere warmer, while the trap would ping me when it was triggered.
Continue reading “Critter Twitter Trap Traps Critters, Pings Twitter”
We all have different ways of expressing excitement about new family members. [viscomjim] expressed his joy at the arrival of his first grandchild by building a twitter-enabled mirror/mood light. While we’d like to rage that this Internet of Things “thing” that people are doing has gone too far, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen.
For the brains of his device [viscomjim] used an ESP8266 module. [Viscomjim] etched his grandchild’s name into the mirror and put some Neopixels behind it. When one of his family members tweets to the light’s channel they can change the color of the light to interact with their newest family member. We’re not so certain the Internet won’t find this and turn it into baby’s first 24 hour rave.
If you’d like to get in on the ESP8266 action, you’ll find the Huzzah board a good start, and we’ve got a special Hackaday edition in the store. Just sayin’.