Porting CP/M To A Z80 Thing

It is hard to describe the Brother SuperPowerNote. It looks like a big old Z80-based laptop, but it says it is a notebook. The label on it says (with lots of exclamation marks) that it is a word processor, a communications system, a personal scheduler, and a spreadsheet organizer. Brother also promises on the label that it will “Increase your power to perform on the job, on the road or at home!” Plenty of exclamation marks to go around. The label also touts DOS or Windows, but [Poking Technology] didn’t want that. He wanted CP/M. See how he did it in the video below.

This is a very early laptop-style word processor with a floppy and a strange-looking screen. It also had serial and parallel ports, odd for a word processor, and probably justified the “communication system” claim on the label.

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The Geometry Of Transistors

Building things in a lab is easy, at least when compared to scaling up for mass production. That’s why there are so many articles about fusion being right around the corner, or battery technology that’ll allow aviation to switch away from fossil fuels, or any number of other miraculous solutions that never come into being. They simply don’t scale or can’t be manufactured in a cost effective way. But even when they are miraculous and can be produced on a massive scale, as is the case for things like transistors, there are some oddities that come up as a result of the process of making so many. This video goes into some of the intricacies of a bipolar junction transistor (BJT) and why it looks the way it does.

The BJT in this video is a fairly standard NPN type, with three layers of silicon acting as emitter, base, and collector. Typically when learning about electronics devices the drawings of them are simplified two-dimensional block diagrams, but under a microscope this transistor at first appears nothing like the models shown in the textbook. Instead it resembles more of a bird’s foot with a few small wires attached. The bird’s foot shape is a result of attempting to lower the undesirable resistances of the device and improve its performance, and some of its other quirks are due to the manufacturing process. That process starts with a much larger layer of doped silicon that will eventually become the collector, and then the other two, much smaller, layers of the transistor deposited on top of the collector. This also explains while it looks like there are only two layers upon first glance, and also shows that the horizontal diagram used to model the device is actually positioned vertically in the real world.

For most of the processes in our daily lives, the transistor has largely been abstracted away. We don’t have to think about them in a computer that much anymore, and unless work is being done on high-wattage power electronics devices, radios, or audio amplifiers it’s not likely that an average person will run into a transistor. But this video goes a long way to explaining the basics of one of the fundamental building blocks of the modern world for those willing to take a dive into the physics. Take a look at this video as well for an intuitive explanation of the close cousin of the BJT, the field-effect transistor.

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Bluetooth As Proxy For Occupancy

During [Matt]’s first year of college, he found in a roundabout way that he could avoid crowds in the dining hall by accessing publicly available occupancy data that the dining hall collected. Presumably this was data for the dining hall to use internally, but with the right API calls anyone could use the information to figure out the best times to eat. But when the dining hall switched providers, this information feed disappeared. Instead of resigning himself to live in a world without real-time data on the state of the dining hall, he recreated the way the original provider counted occupancy: by using Bluetooth as a proxy for occupancy.

Bluetooth devices like smartphones, fitness sensors, and other peripherals often send out advertising packets into the aether, to alert other devices to their presence and help initiate connections between devices. By sniffing these advertising packets, it’s possible to get a rough estimate of the number of people in one particular place, assuming most people in the area will be carrying a smartphone or something of that nature. [Matt]’s Bluetooth-sniffing device is based on the ESP32 set up to simply count the number of unique devices it finds. He had some trouble with large crowds, though, as the first ESP32 device he chose didn’t have enough RAM to store more than a few hundred IDs and would crash once the memory filled. Switching to a more robust module seems to have solved that issue, and with a few rounds of testing he has a workable prototype that can run for long periods and log at least as many Bluetooth devices passing by as there are within its range.

While [Matt] hasn’t deployed this to the dining hall yet, with this framework in place most of the work has been done that, at least in theory, one of these modules could be easily placed anywhere someone was interested in collecting occupancy data. He has plans to submit his project to the university, to research the topic further, and potentially sell these to businesses interested in that kind of data. This isn’t an idea limited to the ESP32, either. We’ve seen similar projects built using the Raspberry Pi’s wireless capabilities that perform similar tasks as this one.

Thanks to [Adrian] for the tip!

5Ghoul: The 14 Shambling 5G Flaws Used For Disruptive Attacks On Smartphones

A team of researchers from the ASSET Research Group in Singapore have published the details of a collection of vulnerabilities in the fifth generation mobile communication system (5G) used with smartphones and many other devices. These fourteen vulnerabilities are detailed in this paper and a PoC detailing an attack using a software defined radio (SDR) is provided on GitHub. The core of the PoC attack involves creating a malicious 5G base station (gNB), which nearby 5G modems will seek to communicate with, only for these vulnerabilities to be exploited, to the point where a hard reset (e.g. removal of SIM card) of the affected device may be required.

Hardware Setup for 5Ghoul PoC testing and fuzzer evaluation. (Credit: Matheus E. Garbelini et al., 2023)
Hardware Setup for 5Ghoul PoC testing and fuzzer evaluation. (Credit: Matheus E. Garbelini et al., 2023)

Another attack mode seeks to downgrade the target device’s wireless connection, effectively denying the connection to a 5G network and forcing them to connect to an alternative network (2G, 3G, 4G, etc.). Based on the affected 5G modems, the researchers estimate that about 714 smartphone models are at risk of these attacks. Naturally, not just smartphones use these 5G modem chipsets, but also various wireless routers, IoT devices, IP cameras and so on, all of which require the software these modems to be patched.

Most of the vulnerabilities concern the radio resource control (RCC) procedure, caused by flaws in the modem firmware. Android smartphones (where supported) should receive patches for 5Ghoul later this month, but when iPhone devices get patched is still unknown.

A dark brown bench suspended between two white and grey rectangular pillars. They are capped in the same brown HDPE material. Aluminum uprights go to a curved solar panel roof that looks somewhat similar to a paragliding chute. The bench is inside a clean-looking workshop with two large toolboxes against a plywood half wall.

Public Power, WiFi, And Shelter

In the US, we’re starting to see some pushback against hostile architecture, and in this vein, [benhobby] built a swanky public power and Wi-Fi access point.

This beautiful piece of infrastructure has 400 watts of solar plugged into 1.2 kWh of battery storage, and can dispense those electrons through any of its 120 VAC, USB-C, or USB-A plugs. The uprights are 3″ aluminum tubing attached to a base consisting of cinder blocks and HDPE panels. Power receptacles are housed in 3D printed enclosures with laser cut acrylic fronts. Three outdoor lights illuminate the stop at night, triggered by a photosensor.

The electronics and battery for the system, including the networking hardware, are in a weatherproof box on each side that can be quickly disconnected allowing field swaps of the hardware. Troubleshooting can then take place back at a workshop. One of the units has already been deployed and has been well-received. [benhobby] reports “There’s one in the wild right now, and it gets plenty of visitors but no permanent tenants.”

Want to see some more interesting hacks for public infrastructure? Check out this self-cooling bus stop, this bus bloom filter, or this public transit display.

PCIe For Hackers: External PCIe And OCuLink

We’ve seen a lot of PCIe hacks on Hackaday, and a fair few of them boil down to hackers pulling PCIe somewhere it wasn’t meant to be. Today, we routinely can find PCIe x1, x2 and x4 links sitting around in our tech, thanks to the proliferation of things like NVMe SSDs, and powerful cheap SoCs that make PCIe appear at your fingertips.

In the PCIe For Hackers series, we’ve talked about PCIe and how cool it is, all the benefits it has for hackers, gave you layout and interconnection rules, and even went into things like PCIe switches and bifurcation. However, there’s one topic we didn’t touch much upon, and that’s external PCIe links.

Today, I’d like to tell you about OCuLink – a standard that hackers might not yet know as an option whenever we need to pull PCIe outside of your project box, currently becoming all that more popular in eGPU space. Essentially, OCuLink is to PCIe is what eSATA is to SATA, and if you want to do an eGPU or an external “PCIe socket”, OCuLink could work wonders for you.

Respectable Capabilities

Just like any high-speed standard, PCIe has some tight requirements when things get fast. Even though PCIe is known to be not as sensitive to lower-quality links due to its link training and generation downgrade abilities, at higher link speeds, even through-hole vs SMD sockets can make a difference. So, if you want to go high-throughput, you want proper cabling and connectors, intended for out-of-chassis use – and OCuLink gives you all of this, at a low price.

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The Trans-Harmonium Is A Strange Kind Of Radio-Musical Instrument

Pianos use little hammers striking taut strings to make tones. The Mellotron used lots of individual tape mechanisms. Meanwhile, the Trans-Harmonium from [Emily Francisco] uses an altogether more curious method of generating sound — each key on this keyboard instrument turns on a functional clock radio.

Electrically, there’s not a whole lot going on. The clock radios have their speaker lines cut, which are then rejoined by pressing their relevant key on the keyboard. As per [Emily]’s instructions for displaying the piece, it’s intended that the radio corresponding to C be tuned in to a local classical station. Keys A, B, D, E, F, and G are then to be tuned to other local stations, while the sharps and flats are to be tuned to the spaces in between, providing a dodgy mix of static and almost-there music and conversation.

It’s an interesting art piece that, no matter how well you play it, will probably not net you a Grammy Award. That would be missing the point, though, as it’s more a piece about “Collecting Fragments of Time,” a broader art project of which this piece is a part.

We do love a good art piece, especially those that repurpose old hardware to great aesthetic achievement.

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