Writing A Very Tiny Chess Program

When programming for modern platforms, the restraints are different to those of 30 years ago. Back in the dawn of the microcomputer age, storage and RAM were measured in kilobytes. It simply wasn’t possible to store large amounts of graphical data, and even code had to be pared back at times. [reeabgo] found out some of these limitations first hand, when coding a tiny chess program for the Sinclair ZX81.

[reeabgo]’s project goes by the name ChesSkelet, and is truly tiny. Measuring in at just 377 bytes in its smallest version, the entire program takes up less space than this very article describing it. To achieve these feat requires certain sacrifices, of course. The tiniest edition contains no graphics whatsoever, representing the game state with simple characters and featuring no adornments whatsoever. The full-fat version comes in at 477 bytes and adds quite a lot of functionality. There’s a proper checkerboard, along with move legality checks and pawn promotion.

Unfortunately, advanced chess play isn’t quite possible – castling is not implemented, and the AI doesn’t yet handle check situations properly. Despite this, it’s a solid approximation of the real game, all packed into an impressively small space.

We see plenty of chess hacks around these parts – including the robotic variety.

Eavesdropping On Cosmonauts With An SDR

Usually when we hear about someone making contact with astronauts in orbit, it’s an intentional contact between a ham on the ground and one of the licensed radio amateurs on the ISS. We don’t often see someone lucky enough to snag a conversation between ground controllers and a spacecraft en route to the ISS like this.

For [Tysonpower], this was all about being in the right place at the right time, as well as having the right equipment and the know-how to use it properly. Soyuz MS-12 launched from Baikonur on March 14 with cosmonaut [Aleksey Ovchinin] and NASA astronauts [Nick Hague] and [Kristina Koch] onboard, destined for the ISS after a six-hour flight. The lucky bit came when [Tysonpower] realized that the rendezvous would happen when the ISS was in a good position relative to his home in Cologne, which prompted him to set up his gear for a listening session. His AirSpy Mini SDR was connected to a home-brew quadrifilar helical (QFH) “eggbeater” antenna on his roof. What’s nice about this antenna is that it’s fixed rather than tracking, making it easy to get on the air with quickly. After digging around the aviation bands at about 121 MHz for a bit, [Tysonpower] managed to capture a few seconds of a conversation between [Ovchinin] and Moscow Flight Control Center. The commander reported his position and speed relative to the ISS a few minutes before docking. The conversation starts at about 1:12 in the video below.

We think it’s just cool that you can listen in on the conversations going on upstairs with a total of less than $50 worth of gear. Actually talking to the hams aboard the ISS is another matter, but not a lot more involved really.

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Reverse Engineering A Modern IP Camera

Security cameras used to be analog devices feeding back into a room full of tiny screens and commercial grade VCRs. As technology moved forward, IP cameras began to proliferate. Early models simply presented a video stream and configuration page to the local network. Modern models aimed at the home market differ however. More often than not, configuration is through a strange smartphone app, and video is accessed through third-party servers. It’s all a bit oblique, and so [Alex] decided to take a look under the hood. 

The exploration begins externally, with [Alex] capturing data sent to and from the camera with Wireshark. Straight away, red flags are raised. For as yet unknown reasons, the camera attempts to resolve Google, Facebook and Alibaba servers over DNS. Disassembly then follows, revealing that a serial terminal with root access is available. [Alex] uses this to probe around, uncovering the firmware update script and a way to decrypt said updates.

The work thus is a great example of how to approach hacking a given device from first principles. The overall goal is to find a way to gain complete control over the camera, reprogramming it to serve up video as [Alex] wishes, rather than to a distant third party server. It’s not the first time we’ve seen an IP camera hacked, and we doubt it will be the last. If you’ve got one cracked, be sure to let us know.

Ammo Can Holds A 14,000 Lumen LED Flashlight

For most people, a flashlight is just something you keep in a drawer in the kitchen in case the power goes out. There’s even a good chance your “flashlight” is just an application on your phone at this point. But as we’ve seen many times before from mechanical keyboards to Power Wheels, hardcore niche communities can develop around the most innocuous pieces of hardware; and the lowly flashlight is no different.

Case in point, this 14,000 lumen LED flashlight built by [Bryson Hicks]. Designed around a 100 watt module from Stratus LED, the flashlight uses a number of 3D printed components to make itself at home in a suitably hardcore enclosure: a metal ammo can. With the addition of some modular electronics and a rather slick little control panel, his light is ready to deliver an unreasonable level of brightness anywhere he wishes.

The Stratus LED module includes its own driver, and just needs to be hooked up to a suitably beefy power source to do its thing. [Bryson] went with a 4500 mAh LiPo battery that he says gets him about a one hour runtime at full brightness. For somewhat less intense operation, he’s added a potentiometer which interfaces with the module’s driver board to control the LED output. Considering how fast the light sucks down the juice, adding a small LCD battery charge indicator to the top of the device seems like it was a prudent decision.

To prevent you from cooking anyone’s eyes at close range, the light requires you to first “arm” it by flipping the military style protected switch. Once the switch is in the on position, an illuminated push button is used to actually turn the LED module on and off. You can also snap the toggle switch back into the closed and covered position if you needed to kill the light in a hurry.

This isn’t the first preposterously bright LED flashlight we’ve seen around these parts. There’s something of an arms-race between hackers and makers to develop increasingly bright lights they can carry around, on the off chance they need to illuminate an entire neighborhood.

An Air Quality Monitor That Leverages the Cloud

Air quality has become an increasing concern in many urban areas, due to congestion and our ever-increasing energy use. While there are many organisations that task themselves with monitoring such data, it’s also something anyone should be able to take on  at home. [Chrisys] is doing just that, with some impressive logging to boot.

The build starts with a Raspberry Pi Zero W, which offers the requisite computing power and Internet connectivity in a compact low-power package. For determining air quality, the Bosch BME680 sensor is used. This offers temperature, pressure, and humidity readings, along with the ability to sense the presence of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These can be harmful to human health, so it’s useful to have an idea of the levels in your home.

The hardware is incredibly refined. It’s simple enough for the newbie, but just begs for the more experienced hacker to expand on.

On the software side, data is accessible through the Balena cloud service. Sensor readings are stored in an InfluxDB instance, with Grafana providing the visually attractive graphs and monitoring. It’s all very slick and Web 2.0, and can be accessed from anywhere through a web browser.

The project is a great example of combining a basic DIY Raspberry Pi setup with the right software tools to create a polished and effective end product. Of course, if you’re looking for something more portable, this project might be more your style. 

WOPR: Security Loses Some of its Obscurity

As we’ve seen time and time again, the word “hacker” takes on a different meaning depending on who you’re talking to. If you ask the type of person who reads this fine digital publication, they’ll probably tell you that a hacker is somebody who likes to learn how things work and who has a penchant for finding creative solutions to problems. But if you ask the average passerby on the street to describe a hacker, they might imagine somebody wearing a balaclava and pounding away at their laptop in a dimly lit abandoned warehouse. Thanks, Hollywood.

The “Hollywood Hacker” Playset

Naturally, we don’t prescribe to the idea of hackers being digital villains hell-bent on stealing your identity, but we’ll admit that there’s something of rift between what we call hacking versus what happens in the information security realm. If you see mention of Red Teams and Blue Teams on Hackaday, it’s more likely to be in reference to somebody emulating Pokemon on the ESP32 than anything to do with penetration testing. We’re not entirely sure where this fragmentation of the hacking community came from, but it’s definitely pervasive.

In an attempt bridge the gap, the recent WOPR Summit brought together talks and presentations from all sections of the larger hacking world. The goal of the event was to show that the different facets of the community have far more in common than they might realize, and featured a number of talks that truly blurred the lines. The oscilloscope toting crew learned a bit about the covert applications of their gadgets, and the high-level security minded individuals got a good look at how the silicon sausage gets made.

Two of these talks which should particularly resonate with the Hackaday crowd were Charles Sgrillo’s An Introduction to IoT Penetration Testing and Ham Hacks: Breaking into Software Defined Radio by Kelly Albrink. These two presentations dealt with the security implications of many of the technologies we see here at Hackaday on what seems like a daily basis: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Software Defined Radio (SDR), home automation, embedded Linux firmware, etc. Unfortunately, the talks were not recorded for the inaugural WOPR Summit, but both presenters were kind of enough to provide their slides for reference.

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Casting Car Emblems Via 3D Printing

Casting is a process that can be quite demanding for the first timer, but highly rewarding once the basic techniques are mastered. It then becomes possible to quickly and reliably produce metal parts en masse, and with impressive tolerances if the right method is chosen. [VegOilGuy] has been experimenting with lost PLA casting, and decided to see if it could be applied to car emblems. 

The process begins with 3D models of various car emblems, primarily sourced from Thingiverse. These are printed in PLA, with sprues added to assist with the casting process. The parts are sanded to avoid unsightly print lines on the finished product, and any voids filled with wax. The various emblems are then assembled onto a casting tree, with extra sprues added to improve metal flow with wax and further PLA parts.

The investment mold is then created with plaster, and baked to remove water and melt out the PLA. This is crucial, as any water left in the mold can react explosively with the molten aluminium bronze.  The mold is then filled with metal and then allowed to cool. The plaster mold is destroyed, and the parts can then be removed. Final processing involves a trip through a rock tumbler before final polish with sandpaper.

[VegOilGuy] gets impressive results, with the parts looking excellent in their bronze colour. This is an unconventional color for a car emblem, but it’s noted that this material is an excellent candidate for chrome plating to get a more OEM finish.

You might find your lost PLA casting experiments could benefit from the help of a microwave, too. Video after the break.

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