Mouse Finds New Home In Pinball Machine

Restoring pinball machines is an excellent hobby, and can even be more than that as we see businesses like bars and museums focusing on them as a main attraction. There’s all kinds of intrigue to be found, from esoteric mechanical systems to classic electronics and unique artwork. For those building new pinball machines, though, one way to bypass a lot of the hassle of finding antiquated parts is to build a digital machine with an analog feel, like this machine which repurposes a computer mouse in an interesting way.

One of the important design considerations with a more modern system like this is to preserve the mechanical components that the player interacts with, in this case the plunger. This pinball machine is really just a large screen driven by a computer, but the plunger is a spring-loaded one from an old analog machine. Attached to the end of the plunger inside the cabinet is a cloth strap which passes underneath an old optical mouse. When the plunger is pulled and released, the mouse registers the position of the plunger and sends that information to the computer controlling the pinball display.

We really appreciate a KISS-style design like this in general. Mice are a proven, reliable technology and the metal components of the plunger are unlikely to ever wear out, which means that at least this part of the new pinball machine is unlikely to need much maintenance over the lifespan of the cabinet itself. For other ways of preserving the original feel of old machines, take a look at this build which incorporates all kinds of tricks within a MAME cabinet.

Screenshot of the PS4 screen, showing a "Waiting to receive disc image file..." notification on the left, and a Windows commandline window with nc running on the right, sending an .iso file to some IP address - presumably the PS4

Subverting PS4 And PS5 Through The PS2 Emulator

Game console hacking remains a fascinating area, and we’re glad when someone brings the spoils of exploration for us to marvel at. This time, we’re looking at the [mast1c0re] hack story by [cturt] – an effort to find bugs in PS2 emulation toolkit present on Sony PlayStation 4 and 5 consoles, proving fruitful in the end. What’s more, this exploit seems unpatchable – not technically, but under the Sony’s security practices, this emulator falls under the category of things they refuse to patch when identified.

In this story, we’re taken on a journey through the PS2 emulator internals, going through known-exploitable PS2 games and learning about a prospective entry point. Circling around it, collecting primitives and gadgets, bypassing ASLR on the way there, the emulator is eventually escaped, with a trove of insights shared along the way. As a demonstration, [cturt] successfully loaded a different PS2 game from outside the PS2 emulator, transferring it to the PS4 over WiFi! Continue reading “Subverting PS4 And PS5 Through The PS2 Emulator”

Laser Zaps Cockroaches Over One Meter

You may have missed this month’s issue of Oriental Insects, in which a project by [Ildar Rakhmatulin] Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh caught our attention. [Ildar] led a team of researchers in the development of an AI-controlled laser that neutralizes moving cockroaches at distances of up to 1.2 meters. Noting the various problems using chemical pesticides for pest control, his team sought out a non-conventional approach.

The heart of the pest controller is a Jetson Nano, which uses OpenCV and Yolo object detection to find the cockroaches and galvanometers to steer the laser beam. Three different lasers were used for testing, allowing the team to evaluate a range of wavelengths, power levels, and spot sizes. Unsurprisingly, the higher power 1.6 W laser was most efficient and quicker.

The project is on GitHub (here) and the cockroach machine learning image set is available here. But [Ildar] points out in the conclusion of the report, this is dangerous. It’s suitable for academic research, but it’s not quite ready for general use, lacking any safety features. This report is full of cockroach trivia, such as the average speed of a cockroach is 4.8 km/h, and they run much faster when being zapped. If you want to experiment with cockroaches yourself, a link is provided to a pet store that sells the German Blattela germanica that was the target of this report.

If this project sounds familiar, it is because it is an improvement of a previous project we wrote about last year which used similar techniques to zap mosquitoes.

Continue reading “Laser Zaps Cockroaches Over One Meter”

Infrared controller and receiver board

Your Own Home IR Cloner

Many devices use infrared (IR) as a signalling medium like, for example, RGB LED strip controllers
modules and some TV controllers. Often times these signals aren’t meant for secure applications which means the functionality can be reproduced by simply replaying back the received signal verbatim. Sometimes, enterprising hackers want to reverse engineer the IR signals, perhaps to automate some tasks or just to get a better understanding of the electronics we use in our everyday life. To help in this effort, [dilshan] creates an open source hardware IR cloner device, capable of snooping IR signals and retransmitting them.

The IR cloner is a sweet little IR tool that can be used to investigate all sorts of IR signals.
In addition to the source code and design files, [dilshan] has also taken care to create detailed documentation as an addendum to the video on assembly and usage. Continue reading “Your Own Home IR Cloner”

Fermenter on the desk, with the front door opened and some tempeh disks visible inside of it

Hackaday Prize 2022: An Easy-To-Build Fermenter For Tempeh

[Maud Bausier] and [Antoine Jaunard] believe we should all know about tempeh — a traditional Indonesian food made out of legumes fermented with fungi. To simplify the process a bit: you get some soybeans, add a tempeh starter fungi culture to them, ferment them a while, and out comes the tempeh. It’s a great source of proteins that’s relatively easy to grow on your own. One catch, though — you do need a certain kind of climate to have it develop properly. This is why [Maud] and [Antoine] are bringing a tempeh fermenter design to this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Ready tempeh disks cut into long pieces, showing the cross-section of some. It looks pretty tasty!This fermenter’s controller drives a heating element, which adheres to a pre-programmed fermentation cycle. It also has a fan for airflow and keeping the heat uniform.

The fermenter itself is a small desktop machine with a laser-cut case helped by some CNC-cut and 3D-printed parts, electronics being a simple custom PCB coupling a Pi Pico with widely-available modules. This is clearly a project for someone with access to hackerspace or fab lab resources, but of course, all of the files are on GitHub.

Once built, this design allows you to grow tempeh disks in home conditions on a small scale. It seems the design is mostly finalized, but if you’d like to hear news about this project, they have a blog and a Mastodon feed with some recent updates.

We’ve covered a whole lot of fermentation-related hacks over these years. Most of them have been alcohol-related, but every now and then we see people building fermentation equipment for other food materials, like vinegar, yogurt and sourdough. Now, having seen this fermenter, we’ve learned of one more food hacking direction to explore. This project is one of 10 finalists for our latest Hackaday Prize round, Climate-Resilient Communities. It’s a well-deserved win, and we can’t wait to see where it goes!

Big Brother Or Dumb Brother? Bus Drivers In Beijing Are Forced To Wear “Emotional Monitors”

Humans aren’t always great at respecting each other’s privacy. However, common sense says there’s a clear boundary when it comes to the thoughts in one’s own head and the feelings in one’s heart.

For bus drivers in Beijing though, it seems that’s no longer the case. These professional drivers are now being asked to wear emotional monitors while on the job, raising concerns from both legal and privacy advocates. But the devices aren’t really anything more than workout monitors, and whether they can actually make good on their Orwellian promise remains to be seen.

In Your Head, In Your Head!

The monitoring wristbands have been rolled out to some of Beijing’s long-distance bus drivers. Credit: Cypp0847, CC-BY-SA-4.0

When George Orwell wrote 1984, it was only 1949. However, he was able to foresee a world in which surveillance was omnipresent and inescapable. He also envsioned the concept of thoughtcrime, where simply contemplating the wrong things could get you in serious trouble with the authorities.

As we all know, Orwell was way off – these predictions didn’t become reality until well into the 2000s. In the latest horrifying development, technologies now exist that claim to be able to monitor one’s emotional state. Now, China’s transportation sector is rushing to push them on their workforces.

Long-distance bus drivers in Beijing are now being told to wear electronic wristbands when on the job. These wristbands claim to be able to capture the wearer’s emotional state, monitoring it on behalf of the employer. The scheme was the idea of the Beijing Public Transport Holding Group. The state-run organization claims the technology is intended for the safety of the public, and a trial of the wristbands began in July this year. Continue reading “Big Brother Or Dumb Brother? Bus Drivers In Beijing Are Forced To Wear “Emotional Monitors””

A man removing a module from a 1960s computer

Ancient Nuclear Plant Computer Finds New Home In Bletchley Museum

Although technology keeps advancing every year, safety-critical systems in factories and power plants typically stay with the technology that was available when they were built, in the spirit of “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke”. When it comes to safety, there are probably few systems more critical than nuclear power plants, and as a result one power station in Dungeness, in the south-east of England, was controlled by the same Ferranti Argus 500 computer from the early 1970s until the reactor was shut down in 2018.

The national Museum of Computing in Bletchley was lucky enough to be allowed to scavenge the old computer from the decommissioned plant, and volunteers at the museum have managed to get it running again in its new home. They describe the process in the video embedded below, and demonstrate a few features of this rather unique piece of 1970s technology.

The computer consists of several large cabinets that house enormous PCBs full of diode-transistor logic (DTL) chips, made by Ferranti itself. It comes with 32 kilo-words, or 96 kilobytes, of magnetic core memory, and was designed to run programs stored on punched tape. However, the paper tape reader was removed at some point in the computer’s life and replaced with a PC-based system that emulates the tape reader’s output through its parallel port. This was probably sometime during the 1990s, judging from the fact that the runs OS/2.

Setting up the computer in its new home was complicated by the fact that hundred of cables had to be disconnected in order to move the system out of the power plant. With the help of decades-old documentation, and the experience of one volunteer who used to be a Ferranti engineer, they eventually got it into a state where it could run programs again.

Ultimately, the Argus 500 will be turned into a live exhibit that will simulate a power station alongside another computer that was rescued from a different nuclear plant. Depending on the availability of some parts that are still missing, this might happen later this year, or perhaps next year. In any case, the museum already has a collection that’s well worth visiting if you’re in the area. The story of how they rescued a neglected IBM 360 also makes for fascinating reading. Continue reading “Ancient Nuclear Plant Computer Finds New Home In Bletchley Museum”