When Your Screen Breaks In The Himalayas

If you’ve ever had the screen break on your laptop, you’ll know it can be rather annoying to have to use an external monitor for a while as you either wait for a replacement panel to arrive from the other side of the world, or wait for that new laptop you were just desperate for an excuse to upgrade to.

Spare a thought, then, for [tom bh] whose laptop screen broke while he was in Ladakh, Northern India. Two days bus ride from the nearest city in which he could hope to source a replacement part, he had to make do with the resources in front of him. A laptop with a broken screen, and his Android phone.

He was fortunate in that a few lines at the top of the screen still worked intermittently. So after logging in blind and finding himself in a shell, he could execute commands and then scroll the results up to the point at which they were visible. He first enabled an SSH server, then connected his phone via USB. A bit of work to find the laptop’s IP address, and he could get himself a laptop shell on his phone with an Android SSH client. He goes into detail about how he was able to use the laptop’s keyboard to emulate a Bluetooth device which he connected to the phone. He could then run a VNC server on the laptop and connect to it with a VNC client on the phone, resulting in a phone-sized laptop display using the laptop’s keyboard as input. Not a perfect physical terminal by any means, but enough for him to continue working.

His writeup is an especially interesting read for its side-by-side evaluation of the various different application choices he made, and contains some useful suggestions as to how anyone might prepare themselves for a dead screen related emergency.

We’ve featured a dead-screen laptop connected as a serial terminal with an Arduino in the past, but unlike this one that only gave its owner a prompt.

Via Hacker News.

DTMF Robot Makes Rube Goldberg Proud

Sometimes you start building, and the project evolves. Layers upon layers of functionality accrue, accrete, and otherwise just pile up. Or at least we’re guessing that’s what happened with [Varun Kumar]’s sweet “Surveillance Car Controlled by DTMF“.

In case you haven’t ever dug into not-so-ancient telephony, Dual-tone, multi-frequency signalling is what made old touch-tone phones work. DTMF, as you’d guess, encodes data in audio by playing two pitches at once. Eight tones are mapped to sixteen numbers by using a matrix that looks not coincidentally like the old phone keypad (but with an extra column). One pitch corresponds to a column, and one to a row. Figure out which tones are playing, and you’ve decoded the signal.

Anyway, you can get DTMF decoder chips for pennies on eBay, and they make a great remote-control interface for a simple robot, which is presumably how [Varun] got started. And then he decided that he needed a cell phone on the robot to send back video over WiFi, and realized that he could also use the phone as a remote controller. So he downloaded a DTMF-tone-generator app to the phone, which he then controls over VNC. Details on GitHub.

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Pong on Industrial Controllers

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are a staple of control automation. Sometime in the 60s or 70s, they replaced a box full of relays to implement the kind of “if-this-then-that” logic that turns thermostats on or directs machinery. Sometime in the 90s or 2000s, some more computing power was added, giving us the Programmable Automation Controller (PAC). And if reading Hackaday has taught us anything, it’s that if you give people a little bit of computing power, they’ll implement Pong (or Snake or Doom!).

We were sent a link where [AbsolutelyAutomation] does just that: implements a remotely-playable Pong on a bit of industrial control. Even if you don’t have a PAC sitting around, the details are interesting.

The first step is to get graphics out of the thing. The PAC in question is already able to speak Ethernet, so it’s “just” a matter of sending the right packets. Perhaps the simplest way to go is to implement the remote framebuffer (RFB) protocol from VNC, and then use a VNC client on the PC to send the graphics. (As they point out [CNLohr] has done this quite nicely on the ESP8266 (YouTube) as well.) So an RFB library was written. [AbsolutelyAutomation] points out that this could be used to make boring things like user-friendly configuration and monitoring screens. (Yawn!)

Graphics done, it’s easy to add a Pong layer over the top, using the flowchart-based programming interface that makes homage to the PLC/PAC’s usual function as an industrial controller. (Oddly enough, it seems to compile to a Forth dialect to run on the PAC.) And then you’re playing. There’s code and a (PDF) writeup available if you want more info. If you don’t have a PAC to run it on, the manufacturers have a simulator for you.

We’ve never worked with a PLC/PAC, but we know the hacker spirit when we see it. And making something that’s usually located in the boiler room play video games is aces in our book. This sparks a memory of an industrial control hacking room at DEF CON a few years back. Maybe this is the inspiration needed to spend some time in that venue this year.

We know we’ve got controls engineers out there. What’s the strangest thing you’ve programmed into a PLC?

Streaming Video on an Apple IIc

Some of the projects we feature solve a problem. Others just demonstrate that they can be done. We’re guessing that it’s the latter that motivated [Joshua Bell] to write a VNC client for an Apple IIc. To fully appreciate how insane this is, have a look at the video below the break.

There’s more than one thing amazing about this hack. Somehow, [Joshua]’s VNC program runs entirely in the memory of an Apple IIc, as he demonstrates at the beginning of the video by downloading all of the code into the Apple over a serial cable. After the initial bootstrap, he runs the code and you see (in full four-color splendour!) a low-res Windows XP appear on the IIc.

2440964467_decb0daf10_oWhat’s more incredible, but is unfortunately not demonstrated in the video, is that he appears to have not just mirrored the PC’s screen on the Apple, but has actually managed to get a one-frame-per-second bi-directional VNC working at 115,200 baud. In this snapshot from his flickr gallery, he appears to be playing Karateka on the IIc and watching it on his laptop.

If you’ve got a IIc kicking around, and you want to show it yet more new tricks, don’t neglect this browser written for the Apple IIc. Or if you’ve only got an Apple IIc+ and you’re totally ticked off that the beep is different from that of the IIc, you can always go on an epic reverse-engineering quest to “repair” it.

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Linux picture frame serves as wireless Raspberry Pi display

Here’s a novel approach to adding a display to your Raspberry Pi. Instead of using a wired display — either via the HDMI (which can feed a DVI port with a simple hardware adapter) or the composite video out — [Chris Bryden] decided to use Bluetooth to provide a wireless display. This really depends on the hardware that you have available. He snapped up a hackable digital picture frame for a song and used the 320×240 display for this project.

You can see the USB nub plugged into the RPi in the image above. It’s a Bluetooth dongle and there’s with a matching one on the digital frame. With the two networked in such a way [Chris] got to work setting up a VNC that would let him pull up the X desktop over the network.

This ends up being one of the best uses we’ve seen for the Bluetooth protocol, and the small screen offers a huge advantage over the use of a simple character display.

A hacker’s marginal security helps return stolen computer

Gather round and hear the story of how a hacker outsmarts a criminal. [Zoz] was robbed and they got his desktop computer. Gone, right? Nope. Because of a peculiar combination of his computer’s configuration, and the stupidity of the criminal, he got it back. He shares the tale during his Defcon 18 talk (PDF), the video is embedded after the break.

[Zoz’s] first bit of luck came because he had set up the machine to use a dynamic DNS service, updated via a script. Since the criminal didn’t wipe the hard drive he was able to find the machine online. From there he discovered that he could SSH into it, and even use VNC to eavesdrop on the new owner. This, along with a keylogger he installed, got him all the information he needed; the guy’s name, birth date, login and password information for websites, and most importantly his street address. He passed along this juicy data to police and they managed to recover the system.

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Nexus one gets Linux

Considering how hackable the Nexus One is already, we can only imagine a whole new host of interesting things thanks to Ubuntu running on the device. [Max Lee] set his heart out on getting not just Ubuntu on the Nexus One, but also Debian, and he wrote a perfect install guide to help out those wanting to give it a shot.

He cheated a little bit by having Ubuntu run in the background while the X11 interface is simply VNCed, but he still did an awesome job with plenty of pictures and details to help you achieve Ubuntu on your Nexus One.