Nearly-Destroyed Commodore Gets New Life

We all have our shiny, modern computers for interacting with the modern world, but at times they can seem a little monochromatic. Even the differences between something like macOS and Windows for the average user often boil down to which operating system loads an Internet browser. There are obviously more differences than that, but back in the 80s it was much more extreme with interoperability a pipe dream in most cases. What keeps drawing people to maintaining and using computers from that chaotic era is more tangible compared to modern machines, and that is meant quite literally; computers from this era can be saved from an extreme amount of degradation like this Commodore that was nearly completely destroyed before it was re-discovered.

The first step was to restore the case of this Commodore PC20-III, but the restoration of the computer’s internals took a bit more time. First, the entire board was de-soldered, with any rare chips being set aside for future use. Unfortunately the board itself was too corroded and otherwise damaged to be used, but since these were just two-layer boards it could be photographed and then re-created in CAD software to make a near-perfect duplicate of the original. The team at [The Cave] took the opportunity to add patch wires which would have been present in the original machine into the PCB, and made some other upgrades as well like adding sockets to various chips that would have been originally soldered to the board.

The passive components, especially capacitors, were brand new as well and some period-correct components such as a monitor and keyboard finish out the build. The computer boots on the first try, and is quickly put through its paces testing the hard disk drive, using the old floppy drive, and even playing a few video games from the era. The fact that retrocomputers like these are easy (by modern standards) to reverse engineer and restore surely leads to their continued popularity, and we’ve seen everything from C64s to this 128DCR get a similar full restoration.

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Australian Library Uses Chatbot To Imitate Veteran With Predictable Results

The educational sector is usually the first to decry large language models and AI, due to worries about cheating. The State Library of Queensland, however, has embraced the technology in controversial fashion. In the lead-up to Anzac Day, the primarily Australian war memorial holiday, the library released a chatbot intended to imitate a World War One veteran. It went as well as you’d expect.

The highlighted line was apparently added to the chatbot’s instructions later on to help shut down tomfoolery.

Twitter users immediately chimed in with dismay at the very concept. Others showed how easy it was to “jailbreak” the AI, convincing Charlie he was actually supposed to teach Python, imitate Frasier Crane, or explain laws like Elle from Legally Blonde. One person figured out how to get Charlie to spit out his initial instructions; these were patched later in the day to try and stop some of the shenanigans.

From those instructions, it’s clear that this was supposed to be educational, rather than some sort of macabre experiment. However, Charlie didn’t do a great job here, either. As with any Large Language Model, Charlie had no sense of objective truth. He routinely spat out incorrect facts regarding the war, and regularly contradicted himself.

Generally, any plan that includes the words “impersonate a veteran” is a foolhardy one at best. Throwing a machine-generated portrait and a largely uncontrolled AI into the mix didn’t help things. Regardless, the State Library has left the “Virtual Veterans” experience up at the time of writing.

The problem with AI is that it’s not a magic box that gets things right all the time. It never has been. As long as organizations keep putting AI to use in ways like this, the same story will keep playing out.

Keep Tabs On PC Use With Custom Analog Voltmeter

With the demands of modern computing, from video editing, streaming, and gaming, many of us will turn to a monitoring system of some point to keep tabs on CPU usage, temperatures, memory, and other physical states of our machines. Most are going to simply display on the screen but this data can be sent to external CPU monitors as well. This retro-styled monitor built on analog voltmeters does a great job of this and adds some flair to a modern workstation as well.

The build, known as bbMonitor, is based on the ESP32 platform which controls an array of voltmeters via PWM. The voltmeters have been modified with a percentage display to show things like CPU use percentage. Software running on the computers sends this data in real time to the ESP32 so the computer’s behavior can be viewed at a glance. Each voltmeter is also augmented with RGB LEDs that change color from green to red as use increases as well. The project’s creator, [Corebb], also notes that the gauges will bounce around if the computer is under heavy load but act more linearly when under constant load, also helping to keep an eye on computer status.

While the build does seem to rely on a Windows machine to run the software for export to the monitor, all of the code is open-sourced and available on the project’s GitHub page and could potentially be adapted for other operating systems. And, as far as the voltmeters themselves go, there have been similar projects in the past that use stepper motors as a CPU usage monitor instead.

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Build Your Own Class-E Musical Tesla Coil

We’ve all seen a million videos online with singing Tesla coils doing their thang. [Zach Armstrong] wasn’t content to just watch, though. He went out and built one himself! Even better, he’s built a guide for the rest of us, too!

His guide concerns the construction of a Class-E solid state Tesla coil. These are “underrated” in his opinion, as they’re simple, cheap, and incredibly efficient. Some say up to 95% efficient, in fact! It’s not something most Tesla coil fans are concerned with, but it’s nice to save the environment while making fun happy sparks, after all.

[Zach]’s guide doesn’t just slap down a schematic and call it good. He explains the theory behind it, and the unique features too. He uses an adjustable Schmitt trigger oscillator for the build, and he’s naturally given it an audio modulation capability because that’s a good laugh, too.

If you’ve ever wanted to convince you’re friends you’re incredibly smart and science-y, you can’t go wrong with a singing Tesla coil. This beats out Jacob’s ladder and most other plasma experiments for sheer mad scientist cred.

Have fun out there! Video after the break.

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2024 Home Sweet Home Automation: Spray Bottle Turret Silences Barking

Ah, dogs. They sure like to bark, don’t they? [rrustvold]’s dog likes to bark at the door when a package arrives. Or when someone walks by the house, or whenever the mood strikes, really. To solve the barking issue, at least near the front door, [rrustvold] built a spray bottle turret to teach the dog through classical conditioning.

As you can see from the image, it’s all about pulling the trigger on a standard spray bottle at the right time. This machine only sprays when two conditions are met: it hears noise (like barking) and detects motion (like overzealous tail wagging). It also has heat-seeking abilities thanks to a Raspberry Pi thermal camera.

To do the actual spraying, there’s a DC motor mounted behind the bottle which turns a pulley that’s mounted to its shaft. Around the pulley is a string that wraps around the spray bottle’s trigger. To complete the build, everything is mounted on a lazy Susan so there’s nowhere for Fido to hide-o.

If you’ve a dog whose bite is worse than its bark, consider building a custom dog door to keep it out of the cat box.

The 2024 Home Sweet Home Automation contest has officially wrapped — we’re counting the votes now, so stay tuned for an announcement about the winners shortly.

Hackaday Podcast Episode 268: RF Burns, Wireless Charging Sucks, And Barnacles Grow On Flaperons

Not necessarily the easy way to program an EPROM

Elliot and Dan got together to enshrine the week’s hacks in podcast form, and to commiserate about their respective moms, each of whom recently fell victim to phishing attacks. It’s not easy being ad hoc tech support sometimes, and as Elliot says, when someone is on the phone telling you that you’ve been hacked, he’s the hacker. Moving on to the hacks, we took a look at a hacking roadmap for a cheap ham radio, felt the burn of AM broadcasts, and learned how to program old-school EPROMs on the cheap.

We talked about why having a smart TV in your house might not be so smart, especially for Windows users, and were properly shocked by just how bad wireless charging really is. Also, cheap wind turbines turn out to be terrible, barnacles might give a clue to the whereabouts of MH370, and infosec can really make use of cheap microcontrollers.

Grab a copy for yourself if you want to listen offline.

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This Week In Security: Cisco, Mitel, And AI False Flags

There’s a trend recently, of big-name security appliances getting used in state-sponsored attacks. It looks like Cisco is the latest victim, based on a report by their own Talos Intelligence.

This particular attack has a couple of components, and abuses a couple of vulnerabilities, though the odd thing about this one is that the initial access is still unknown. The first part of the infection is Line Dancer, a memory-only element that disables the system log, leaks the system config, captures packets and more. A couple of the more devious steps are taken, like replacing the crash dump process with a reboot, to keep the in-memory malware secret. And finally, the resident installs a backdoor in the VPN service.

There is a second element, Line Runner, that uses a vulnerability to arbitrary code from disk on startup, and then installs itself onto the device. That one is a long term command and control element, and seems to only get installed on targeted devices. The Talos blog makes a rather vague mention of a 32-byte token that gets pattern-matched, to determine an extra infection step. It may be that Line Runner only gets permanently installed on certain units, or some other particularly fun action is taken.

Fixes for the vulnerabilities that allowed for persistence are available, but again, the initial vector is still unknown. There’s a vulnerability that just got fixed, that could have been such a vulnerability. CVE-2024-20295 allows an authenticated user with read-only privileges perform a command injection as root. Proof of Concept code is out in the wild for this one, but so far there’s no evidence it was used in any attacks, including the one above. Continue reading “This Week In Security: Cisco, Mitel, And AI False Flags”