FTDI Drivers Break Fake Chips, Again

Just over a year ago, FTDI, manufacturers of the most popular USB to serial conversion chip on the market, released an update to their drivers that bricked FTDI clones. Copies of FTDI chips abound in the world of cheap consumer electronics, and if you’ve bought an Arduino for $3 from a random online seller from China, you probably have one of these fake chips somewhere in your personal stash of electronics.

After a year, we have the latest update to FTDI gate. Instead of bricking fake chips, the latest FTDI drivers will inject garbage data into a circuit. Connecting a fake FTDI serial chip to a computer running the latest Windows driver will output “NON GENUINE DEVICE FOUND!”, an undocumented functionality that may break some products.

FTDI gate mk. 1 merely bricked fake and clone chips, rendering them inoperable. Because fakes and clones of these chips are extremely common in the supply chain, and because it’s very difficult to both tell them apart and ensure you’re getting genuine chips, this driver update had the possibility to break any device using one of these chips. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, FTDI backed down from their ‘intentional bricking’ stance, and Microsoft removed the driver responsible with a Windows update. Still, the potential for medical and industrial devices to fail because of a random driver update was very real.

The newest functionality to the FTDI driver released through a Windows update merely injects unwanted but predictable data into the serial stream. Having a device spit out “NON GENUINE DEVICE FOUND!” won’t necessarily break a device, but it is an undocumented feature that could cause some devices to behave oddly. Because no one really knows if they have genuine FTDI chips or not – this undocumented feature could cause problems in everything from industrial equipment to medical devices, and of course in Arduinos whose only purpose is to blink a LED.

Right now, the only option to avoid this undocumented feature is to either use Linux or turn off Windows Update. Since the latter isn’t really a great idea, be prepared constantly roll back the FTDI driver to a known good version.

Lady Ada Turns NeXT Equipment Into Something Useful

From the late 80s to the early 90s, [Steve Jobs] wasn’t at Apple. He built another company in the meantime, NeXT Computer, a company that introduced jet black workstations to universities and institutions, developed an incredible emphasis on object-oriented programming, and laid the groundwork for the Unix-ey flavor of Apple’s OS X. Coincidently, there is a lot of old NeXT gear at the Adafruit clubhouse – not that there’s anything wrong with that, we all have our own strange affectations and proclivities. Recently, [Lady Ada] turned one of the strangest components of the NeXT computer ecosystem into something useful: a computer speaker.

The item in question for this build is the NeXT ‘sound box’. When not using the very special NeXT monitor, the NeXT computer connects the monitor, keyboard, and speakers through this odd little box. There are two versions of the NeXT sound box, and peripherals from either version are incompatible with each other. ([Jobs] was known for his sense of design and a desire for a simplified user experience, you know.)

In [Lady Ada]’s initial teardown of the sound box, she discovers a few interesting things about this peripheral. There’s an I2S DAC inside there, connected to an unobtanium DB19 connector. Theoretically, that I2S device could be used to drive the speaker with digital audio. The only problem is the DB19 connector – they’re rare, and [Steve] from Big Mess o’ Wires bought the world’s supply.

Without these connectors, and since it’s only an hour-long show, [Lady Ada] went with the most effective hack. She grabbed a USB audio dongle/card, added a small amplifier, and soldered a few wires onto the power and ground pins of an IC. It’s simple, effective, fast, and turns an awesome looking 30-year-old peripheral into a useful device.

ESP-Micro is a Tiny Development Board

The ESP-8266 packs a lot of networking power into a small package. Some would say too small, which is why they often come on a slightly larger carrier PCB. The PCB is usually little more than a breakout with an optional 3.3V regulator. [Frazer Barnes] went one step further: he put an equally tiny USB to serial bridge, an oscillator, and some power management on an ESP-8266 breakout board.

You can program the ESP-8266 via the serial port, so having a built-in USB port is handy. Of course, you might not need it in the final product, but with the board being 25x30mm, you can probably cram it into most projects. [Frazer] posted a bit about the project on Hackaday.io, and has a GitHub project, although right now the upload of the design files is pending.

There’s no shortage of ESP-8266 projects. We saw a small Zigbee to ESP8266 board last year, and also the antidote for a tiny carrier board that includes an LCD, switches, and more. We also have tons of breakouts on Hackaday.io: here’s one with all the bells and whistles, and a similar, stripped-down version. All open-everything, and ready to go.

Raspberry Pi Zero – Turning the Pi into a USB Gadget, over USB

[gbaman] has figured out a simpler way to program the new Raspberry Pi Zero over USB without modifying the board. Why is this useful? One example which appealed to us was setting the Zero’s USB port up as a mass storage device. Imagine plugging in your Pi powered robot, dragging and dropping a Python script into the mass storage device that shows up, and pressing a button on the robot to run the new script. Pretty fancy for $5.00.

You can get the PI to emulate a whole range of devices from a USB MIDI controller to a simple USB serial interface. We’re excited to see what uses people come up with. Unfortunately the Pi Zero is still out of stock most everywhere as we wait for the next production run to finish. Though if you’ve got one, why not check out a few of our thoughts and experiences with the device!

[gbaman] based his work off the work done by [Dave-0] and others over at the Raspberry Pi forums. [LadyAda] also has a version of this hack, which we covered, that involves soldering a header to the pi and using a UART adapter.

[via Hacker News]

Yet Another Pi Zero USB Hub

The Raspberry Pi Zero was back in stock at Adafruit this week – for about eight minutes. That means a few more people get Pi Zeros, many more will put them up on eBay, and everyone is working on their own version of a Pi Zero USB hub. The latest version of a Pi Zero hub comes from [Nate], and he’s doing this one right. His Pi USB adapter adds four USB ports and features not found in other DIY USB hubs like fuses and ESD protection.

As with other Pi Zero USB hub add-ons, this build relies on a USB hub controller, a few passives, and not much else. The chip used in this hub is the FE1.1s chip, a highly integrated 4-port hub controller that can be found through the usual Chinese resellers. This hub controller doesn’t require much, just a 12MHz crystal, a few passives, and four USB jacks.

Of particular interest is how [Nate] is connecting this hub to the Pi Zero. He’s left the option open for using either a USB cable, or soldering the USB’s differential pairs directly between the Pi and the hub. In either case, the hub should work, and with the addition of the zeners, fuses, and other parts that keep the hub from frying itself, [Nate] might have a very nice project on his hands.

Hackaday Links: December 27th, 2015

PCBs can be art – we’ve known this for a while, but we’re still constantly impressed with what people can do with layers of copper, fiberglass, soldermask, and silkscreen. [Sandy Noble] is taking this idea one step further. He took C64, Spectrum, and Sinclair PCBs and turned them into art. The results are incredible. These PCBs were reverse engineered, traced, and eventually turned into massive screen prints. They look awesome, and they’re available on Etsy.

$100k to bring down drones. That’s the tagline of the MITRE Challenge, although it’s really being sold as, “safe interdiction of small UAS that pose a safety or security threat in urban areas”. You can buy a slingshot for $20…

[styropyro] mas made a name for himself on Youtube for playing with very dangerous lasers and not burning his parent’s house down. Star Wars is out, and that means it’s time to build a handheld 7W laser. It’s powered by two 18650 cells, and is responsible for more than a few scorch marks on the walls of [styropyro]’s garage.

Everybody is trying to figure out how to put Ethernet and a USB hub on the Pi Zero. This means a lot of people will be launching crowdfunding campaigns for Pi Zero add-on boards that add Ethernet and USB. The first one we’ve seen is the Cube Infinity. Here’s the thing, though: they’re using through-hole parts for their board, which means this won’t connect directly to the D+ and D- USB signals on the Pi Zero. They do have a power/battery board that may be a little more useful, but I can’t figure out how they’re doing the USB.

[Keith O] found a fascinating video on YouTube and sent it into the tips line. It’s a machine that uses a water jet on pastries. These cakes start out frozen, and come out with puzzle piece and hexagon-shaped slices. Even the solution for moving cakes around is ingenious; it uses a circular platform that rotates and translates by two toothed belts. Who would have thought the latest advancements in cutting cakes and pies would be so fascinating?

It’s time to start a tradition. In the last links post of last year, we took a look at the number of views from North Korea in 2014. Fifty-four views, and we deeply appreciate all our readers in Best Korea. This year? For 2015, we’ve logged a total of thirty-six views from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. That’s a precipitous drop that deserves an investigation. Pyongyang meetup anyone?