Random Parcel Launches Steganographic Compulsion

A mysterious CD arrives in the mail with a weird handwritten code on it. What should you do? Put it in the computer and play the thing, of course!

Some might be screaming at their screens right now… this is how modern horror films start and before you know it the undead are lurking behind you waiting to strike. Seasonal thrills aside, this is turning into an involved community effort to solve the puzzle. [Johny] published the video and posted a thread on reddit.

We ran a similar augmented reality game to launch the 2014 Hackaday Prize solved by a dedicated group of hackers. It’s really hard to design puzzles that won’t be immediately solved but can eventually be solved with technology and a few mental leaps. When we come across one of these extremely clever puzzles, we take note.

This has all the hallmarks of a good time. The audio spectrogram shows hidden data embedded in the file — a technique known as steganography. There are some real contortions to make meaning from this. When you’re looking for a solution any little hit of a pattern feels like you’ve found something. But searching for the decrypted string yields a YouTube video with the same name; we wonder if they’ve tried to recover steganographic data from that source?

[Johny] mentions that this parcel was unsolicited and that people have suggested it’s a threat or something non-sensical in its entirety. We’re hoping it’s a publicity stunt and we’re all disappointed in the end, because solving the thing is the best part and publicity wouldn’t work if there was no solution.

The bright minds of the Hackaday community should be the ones who actually solve this. So get to work and let us know what you figure out!

Spit Out VGA with Non-Programmable Logic Chips

It’s not uncommon to bitbang a protocol with a microcontroller in a pinch. I2C is frequently crunched from scratch, same with simple serial protocols, occasionally complex systems like Ethernet, and a whole host of other communication standards. But VGA gets pretty tricky because of the timing requirements, so it’s less common to bitbang. [Sven] completely threw caution to the wind. He didn’t just bitbang VGA on an Arduino, but he went one step further and configured an array of 7400 logic chips to output a VGA signal.

[Sven]’s project is in two parts. In part one, he discusses choosing a resolution and setting up the timing signal. He proceeds to output a simple(-ish) VGA signal that can be displayed on a monitor using a single gate. At that point only a red image was displayed, but getting signal lock from the monitor is a great proof of concept and [Sven] moved on to more intricate display tricks.

With the next iteration of the project [Sven] talks about adding in more circuitry to handle things like frame counting, geometry, and color. The graphics that are displayed were planned out in a simulator first, then used to design the 7400 chip configuration for that particular graphic display. It made us chuckle that [Sven] reports his monitor managed to survive this latest project!

We don’t remember seeing non-programmable integrated circuits used for VGA generation before. But bitbanging the signal on an Arduino or from an SD card slot is a great test of your ability to calculate and implement precise timings with an embedded system. Give it a try!

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Video from Audio and Pure Data

Although graphical programming languages have been around for ages, they haven’t really seen much use outside of an educational setting. One of the few counterexamples of this is Pure Data, and Max MSP, visual programming languages that make music and video development as easy as dropping a few boxes down and drawing lines between them.

A few years ago, [Thomas] and [Danny] developed a very cool Pure Data audio-visual presentation. The program they developed only generated graphics, but though clever coding they were able to generate a few audio signals from whatever video was coming out of their computer. The project is called TVestroy, and it’s one of the coolest audio-visual presentations you’ll ever see.

The entire program is presented on three large screens and nine CRT televisions. With some extremely clever code and a black box of electronics, the video becomes the audio. Check it out below.

Although this is a relatively old build, [Thomas] thought it would be a good idea to revisit the project now. He’s open sourced most of the Pure Data files, and everything can be downloaded on the project page.

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Numato Opsis: FPGA-based open video platform

Imagine that you’re running a conference and you want to do a professional job recording the speakers and their decks. You’ll need to record one video stream from the presenter’s laptop, and it’d be nice to have another of the presenter taken with a camera. But you also need to have the presenter’s screen displayed on a projector or two for the live audience. And maybe you’d like all of this dumped down to your computer so that you can simultaneously archive the presentation and stream it out over the Internet.

io-ports_png_project-bodyThat’s exactly the problem that the hdmi2usb project tries to solve on the software side for open-source software conventions. And to go with this software, [Tim Ansell] has built the Numato Opsis FPGA video board, to tie everything together. What’s great about the platform is that the hardware and the firmware are all open source too.

Because everything’s open and it’s got an FPGA on board doing the video processing, you’re basically free to do whatever you’d like with the content in transit, so it could serve as an FPGA video experimenter board. It also looks like they’re going to port code over so that the Opsis could replace the discontinued, but still open source, Milkimist One video effects platform.

One thing that’s really cute about the design is that it reports over USB as being a camera, so you can record the resulting video on any kind of computer without installing extra drivers. All in all, it’s an FPGA-video extravaganza with a bunch of open-source software support behind it. Very impressive, [Tim]!

Arduino Video Over 2 Wires for Under $50: Mesa-Video

If you want video support on your project, you might start from a device like a Raspberry Pi that comes with it built in. [Kevinhub88] doesn’t accept such compromises, so he and his Black Mesa Labs have come up with a whole new way to add video support to devices like the Arduino and other cheap controllers. This project is called Mesa-Video, and it can add digital video at a resolution of up to 800 by 600 pixels to any device that has a single serial output.

The video is created by an FT813, a low cost GPU from FTDI that offers a surprising amount of video oomph from a cheap, low power chip (he has demoed it running from a lemon battery), meaning that he is hoping to be able to sell the Mesa-Video for under $50.

UPDATE: [KevinHub88] let us know that he didn’t actually power the device from a lemon battery, as you would need a lot of lemons to make 50mA at 5V. Apologies for any confusion!

However, Mesa-Video is just the beginning. [Kevinhub88] wanted to get around the problem of stacking shields on Arduinos: add more  than one and you get problems. He wanted to create an interface that would be simpler, faster and more open, so he created the Mesa-Bus. This effectively wraps SPI and I2C traffic together over a simple, fast serial connection that doesn’t require much decoding. This means that you can send power and bi-directional data over a handful of wires, and still connect multiple devices at once, swapping them out as required. You could, for instance, do your development work on a PC talking to the prototype devices over Mesa-Bus, them swap the PC out for an Arduino when you have got the first version working in your dev environment. Is the Arduino not cutting it? Because Mesa-Bus is cross-platform and open source, it is easy to swap the Arduino for a Raspberry Pi without having to change your other devices. And, because all the data is going over a simple serial connection in plain text, it is easy to debug.

It’s an ambitious project, and [Kevinhub88] has a way to go: he is currently working on getting his first prototype Mesa-Bus devices up and running, and finalizing the design of the Mesa-Video. But it is an impressive start and we’ll be keeping a close eye on this work. Hopefully he can avoid that head crab problem as well because those things are as itchy as hell.

Transfer Data via YouTube

The original steganography technique dates back to 440 BC (according to Wikipedia) when a Greek wrote secret messages on a piece of wood, covered it in wax, and then wrote innocent text on the wax. The term, in general, means hiding a message in something that looks harmless. The LVDO project (and a recent Windows fork) says it is steganography, but we aren’t quite sure it meets the definition. What it does is converts data into a video that you can transfer like any other video. A receiver that knows what LVDO parameters you used to create the video can extract the data (although, apparently, the reproduction is not always completely error-free).

The reason we aren’t sure if this really counts as steganography is that–judging from the example YouTube video (which is not encoded)–the output video looks like snow. It uses a discrete cosine transform to produce patterns. If you are the secret police, you might not know what the message says, but you certainly know it must be something. We’d be more interested in something that encodes data in funny cat videos, for example.

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DDR-ing a Simon Game with a Raspberry Pi

Since 1998 we’ve been privileged to partake in an arcade game known as Dance Dance Revolution, but before that, way back in the 70’s, was the Simon game. It’s essentially a memory game that asks the player to remember a series of lights and sounds. [Uberdam] decided to get the best of both worlds and mixed the two together creating this giant foot controlled Simon game. (English translation.)

The wood platform that serves as the base of the project was fitted with four capacitive sensors, each one representing a “color” on the Simon game. When a player stomps on a color, a capacitive sensor sends a signal to a relay which in turn notifies the Raspberry Pi brain of the input. The Pi also takes care of showing the player the sequence of colored squares that must be stepped on, and keeps track of a player’s progress on a projector.

This is a pretty good way of showing how a small, tiny computer like the Raspberry Pi can have applications in niche environments while also being a pretty fun game. We all remember Simon as being frustrating, and we can only imagine how jumping around on a wooden box would make it even more exciting. Now, who can build a robot that can beat this version of Simon?

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