It’s Raining Chinese Space Stations: Tiangong-1

China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, is expected to do an uncontrolled re-entry on April 1st, +/- 4 days, though the error bars vary depending on the source. And no, it’s not the grandest of all April fools jokes. Tiangong means “heavenly palace”, and this portion of the palace is just one step of a larger, permanent installation.

But before detailing just who’ll have to duck when the time comes, as well as how to find it in the night sky while you still can, let’s catch up on China’s space station program and Tiangong-1 in particular.

Continue reading “It’s Raining Chinese Space Stations: Tiangong-1”

Dumb Down Your Xiaomi Smart Lamp With A Custom Firmware

Undoubtedly, the ESP8266’s biggest selling point is its WiFi capability for a ridiculously low price. Paranoid folks probably await the day its closed-source firmware bits will turn against humanity in a giant botnet, but until then, hobbyists and commercial vendors alike will proceed putting them in their IoT projects and devices. One of those devices is the Yeelight desk lamp that lets you set its color temperature and brightness via mobile app.

[fvollmer] acquired such a lamp, and while he appreciated its design and general concept, he wasn’t happy that it communicates with external servers. So he did the only reasonable thing and wrote his own firmware that resembles the original functionality, but leaves out the WiFi part. After all, the ESP8266 has still a lot to offer in its core essence: a full-blown 32-bit microcontroller with support for the most common, hobbyist-friendly SDKs.

The lamp’s color temperature and brightness are set with a rotary encoder / push button combo switch, and the LEDs themselves are controlled via PWM. All things considered, it’s a rather straightforward endeavour, for which [fvollmer] chose the standalone C SDK. And in the end, it’s not like he’s unreasonably cautious to keep some control over his household items.

Eavesdropping on a VGA Monitor’s Conversations

Did you ever wonder what your monitor and your computer are talking about behind your back? As it turns out, there’s quite a conversation going on while the monitor and the computer decide how to get along, and sniffing out VGA communications can reveal some pretty fascinating stuff about the I²C protocol.

To reverse engineer the configuration information exchanged between a VGA monitor and a video card, [Ken Shirriff] began by lopping a VGA cable in two. The inside of such cables is surprisingly complex, with separate shielding wires for each color and sync channel and a host of control wires, all bundled in multiple layers of shielding foil and braid to reduce EMI. [Ken] identified the clock and data lines used for the I²C interface and broke those out into a PocketBeagle for analysis using the tiny Linux machine’s I²C tools.

With a Python script to help decode the monitor’s Extended Display Identification Data (EDID) data, [Ken] was able to see everything the monitor knows about itself — manufacturer, serial number, all the supported resolution modes, and even deprecated timing and signal information left over from the days when CRTs ruled the desktop. Particularly interesting are the surprisingly limited capabilities of a VGA display in terms of color reproduction, as well as [Ken]’s detailed discussion on the I²C bus in general and how it works.

We always enjoy these looks under the hood that [Ken] is so good at, and we look forward to his reverse engineering write-ups. His recent efforts include a look at core memory from a 50-year old mainframe and reverse engineering at the silicon level.