Sly Guy Nabs Pi Spy

When one of [Christian Haschek’s] co-workers found this Raspberry Pi tucked into their network closet, he figured it was another employee’s experiment – you know how that goes. But, of course, they did the safe thing and unplugged it from the network right away. The ensuing investigation into what it was doing there is a tour de force in digital forensics and a profile of a bungling adversary.

A quick check of everyone with access to that area turned up nothing, so [Christian] shifted focus to the device itself. There were three components: a Raspberry Pi model B, a 16GB SD card, and an odd USB dongle that turned out to be an nRF52832-MDK. The powerful SoC on-board combines a Cortex M4 processor with the RF hardware for BLE, ANT, and other 2.4 GHz communications. In this case, it may have been used for sniffing WiFi or bluetooth packets.

The next step was investigating an image of the SD card, which turned out to be a resin install (now called balena). This is an IoT web service that allows you to collect data from your devices remotely via a secure VPN. Digging deeper, [Christian] found a JSON config file containing a resin username. A little googling provided the address of a nearby person with the same name – but this could just be coincidence. More investigation revealed a copyright notice on some mysterious proprietary software installed on the Pi. The copyright holder? A company part-owned by the same person. Finally, [Christian] looked into a file called resin-wifi-01 and found the SSID that was used to set up the device. Searching this SSID on turned up – you guessed it – the same home address found from the username.

But, how did this device get there in the first place? Checking DNS and Radius logs, [Christian] found evidence that an ex-employee with a key may have been in the building when the Pi was first seen on the network. With this evidence in hand, [Christian] turned the issue over to legal, who will now have plenty of ammunition to pursue the case.

If you find the opportunity to do some Linux forensics yourself, or are simply interested in learning more about it, this intro by [Bryan Cockfield] will get you started.

Building And Controlling 19 LEDs & Five Buttons From Five Outputs

Numbers are hard enough in English, but [Sadale] decided to take things a step further by building a calculator that works in Toki Pona. The result is Ilo Nanpa, an awesome hardware calculator that works in this synthetic minimal language. This is a bit harder than you might think, because Toki Pona doesn’t have digits in the same way that Neo-Latin languages like English do. Instead, you combine smaller numbers to make bigger ones. One is Wan, Two is Tu, but three is Wan Tu (1+2). As you might expect, this makes dealing and representing larger numbers somewhat complicated.

Ilo Nanpa gets around this in a wonderfully elegant way, and with some impressive behind the scenes work. The calculator has 16 LEDs, nine buttons and a slider switch, but they are all controlled and read through just five IO pins on the STM8S001J3 controller that runs the device.

That’s because {Sadale] did some remarkable work with multiplexing and charlieplexing. Multiplexing is controlling more outputs than there are control inputs by using rows and columns: it is how the LED display you are probably reading this on can be controlled by just a few wires. By switching through these rows and columns at a higher speed than the eye can see, you create the illusion of a single, continuous display.

Charlieplexing takes this a step further by using multiple voltages on a single connection to further split the signal. With the clever use of voltage dividers the directional properties of LEDs and multiple voltage levels, the Ilo Nanpa runs all of the LEDs and senses all of the buttons and the slider from just five pins. That’s a remarkably neat piece of design, and it is worth spending some time looking over the excellent explanation of the process that [Sadale] wrote to see how it is done, and poring over the code for the device to see how he programmed this all into a single low powered chip. And, while you are reading, you might pick up a few words of Toki Pona. Tawa Pona!

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Hackaday Links: January 20, 2019

Let’s say you’re an infosec company, and you want some free press. How would you do that? The answer is Fortnite. Yes, this is how you hack Fortnite. This is how to hack Fortnite. The phrase ‘how to hack Fortnite’ is a very popular search term, and simply by including that phrase into the opening paragraph of this post guarantees more views. This is how you SEO.

Lasers kill cameras. Someone at CES visited the AEye booth, snapped a picture of an autonomous car at AEye’s booth, and the LIDAR killed the sensor. Every subsequent picture had a purple spot in the same place. While we know lasers can kill camera sensors, and this is a great example of that, this does open the door to a few questions: if autonomous cars have LIDAR and are covered in cameras, what’s going to happen to the cameras in an autonomous car driving beside another autonomous car? Has anyone ever seen more than one Cruise or Waymo car in the same place at the same time? As an aside, AEye’s company website’s URL is, nearly beating (they sell pens on Pen Island) as the worst company URL ever.

This is something I’ve been saying for years, but now there’s finally a study backing me up. Lego is a viable investment strategy. An economist at Russia’s Higher School of Economics published a study, collecting the initial sale price of Lego sets from 1987 to 2015. These were then compared to sales of full sets on the secondary market. Returns were anywhere between 10 and 20% per year, which is crazy. Smaller sets (up to about 100 pieces) had higher returns than larger sets. This goes against my previous belief that a Hogwarts Castle, Saturn V, and UCS Falcon-heavy portfolio would outperform a portfolio made of cheap Lego sets. However, this observation could be tied to the fact that smaller sets included minifig-only packaging, and we all know the Lego minifig market is a completely different ball of wax. The Darth Revan minifig, sold as an exclusive for $3.99 just a few years ago, now fetches $35 on Bricklink. Further study is needed, specifically to separate the minifig market from the complete set market, but the evidence is coming in: Lego is a viable investment strategy, even when you include the 1-2% yearly cost of storing the sets.

Relativity Space got a launchpad. Relativity Space is an aerospace startup that’s building a rocket capable of lobbing my car into Low Earth Orbit with a methalox engine. They’re doing it with 3D printing. [Bryce Salmi], one of the hardware engineers at Relativity Space, recently gave a talk at the Hackaday Superconference about printing an entire rocket. The design is ambitious, but if there’s one device that’s perfectly suited for 3D printing, it’s a rocket engine. There are a lot of nonmachinable tubes going everywhere in those things.

Lathe’s Tool Holder Holds a Rotary Tool

What is better than a tool? Two. What is better than two? Two tools tooling together. [tintek33] wanted a rotary tool to become an attachment on his mini lathe, the video is also below the break. Fortunately, Dremels and Proxxons are built to receive accessories, or in this case, become one. Even if the exact measurements do not apply to your specific hardware, we get to see the meat of the procedure from concept to use.

We start with where the rotary tool should be and get an idea of what type of bracket will be necessary. The design phase examines the important dimensions with a sketch and then a CAD mock-up. Suitably thick material is selected, and the steps for pulling the tool from the raw stock are shown with enough detail to replicate everything yet there is no wasted time in this video. That is important if you are making a quick decision as to whether or not this is worth your hard work. Once the brace is fully functional and tested, it is anodized for the “summer ocean” blue color to make it easy to spot in the tool heap. Some complex cuts are made and shown close-up.

Thank you [jafinch78] for your comment on Take a Mini Lathe for a Spin and check out [tintek33] using his mini lathe to make a hydraulic cylinder for an RC snow plow.

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Radio Telescopes Horn In With GNU Radio

Who doesn’t like to look up at the night sky? But if you are into radio, there’s a whole different way to look using radio telescopes. [John Makous] spoke at the GNU Radio Conference about how he’s worked to make a radio telescope (PDF) that is practical for even younger students to build and operate.

The only real high tech part of this build is the low noise amplifier (LNA) and the project is in reach of a typical teacher who might not be an expert on electronics. It uses things like paint thinner cans and lumber. [John] also built some blocks in GNU Radio that made it easy for other teachers to process the data from a telescope. As he put it, “This is the kind of nerdy stuff I like to do.” We can relate.

The telescope is made to pick up the 21 cm band to detect neutral hydrogen from the Milky Way. It can map the hydrogen in the galaxy and also measure the rotational speed of the galaxy using Doppler shift. Not bad for an upcycled paint thinner can. These are cheap enough, you can even build a fleet of them.

This would be a great project for anyone interested in radio telescopes or space. However, it is particularly set up for classroom use. Students can flex their skills in math, engineering, programming, and — of course — astronomy and physics.

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CNC Mill Repairs iPhone 7

Modern smartphones are highly integrated devices, bringing immense computing power into the palm of one’s hand. This portable computing power and connectivity has both changed society in innumerable ways, and also tends to lead to said powerful computers ending up dropped on the ground or into toilets. Repairs are often limited to screen replacement or exchanging broken modules, but it’s possible to go much further.

The phone is an iPhone 7, which a service center reported had issues with the CPU, and the only fix was a full mainboard replacement. [The Kardi Lab] weren’t fussed, however, and got to work. The mainboard is installed in a CNC fixture, and the A10 CPU is delicately milled away, layer by layer. A scalpel and hot air gun are then used for some further cleanup of the solder pads. Some conductivity testing to various pads is then carried out, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

At this point, a spare A10 CPU is sourced, and a stencil is used to apply solder paste or balls – it is not immediately obvious which. The new chip is then reflowed on to the mainboard, and the phone reassembled. The device is then powered on and shown to be functional.

It’s an impressive repair, and shows that modern electronics isn’t so impossible to fix – as long as you have the right tools to hand. The smart thing is, by using the CNC machine with a pre-baked program, it greatly reduces the labor required in the removal stage, making the repair much more cost-effective. The team are particularly helpful, linking to the tools used to pull off the repair in the video description. We’ve seen similar hacks, too – such as upgrading an iPhone’s memory.  Video after the break.

[Thanks to Nikolai for the tip!]

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Cloning Knobs For Vintage Testing Equipment

Knobs! Shiny candy-colored knobs! The last stand of skeuomorphism is smart light switches! Everyone loves knobs, but when you’re dealing with vintage equipment with a missing knob, the odds of replacing it are slim to none. That’s what happened to [Wesley Treat] when he picked up a vintage Philco tube tester. The tester looked great, but a single knob for a rotary switch was missing. What to do? Clone some knobs! You only need some resin and a little bit of silicone.

The process of copying little bits of plastic or bakelite is fairly standard and well-tread territory. Go to Michaels or Hobby Lobby, grab some silicone and resin, make a box, put your parts down, cover them in silicone, remove the parts, then put resin in. For simple parts, and parts with flat bottoms like knobs, this works great. However, there’s something weird about the knob on this old Philco tube tester. Firstly, it doesn’t fit a standard 1/4″ shaft — it’s a bit bigger. There’s also no set screw. Instead, this knob has a stamped spring aligning it with the flat part of the D-shaft in this rotary switch. This means a copy of this knob wouldn’t be useful to anyone else, and that no other knob would work with this tube tester.

However, a bit of clever engineering would make a copy of this knob fit the existing switch. Once the resin was cured, [Wesley] drilled out the hole, then sanded a dowel down to fit into the flat of the D-shaft. It took a little kergiggering, but the knob eventually fit onto one of the rotary switches. Not bad for a few bucks in silicone and resin.

You can check out the entire build process below.

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