DMCA Takedown Issued Over Casio Code That Wasn’t

Earlier this month, we posted coverage of an ingenious calculator hack that took a Casio calculator and put an ESP8266 module and an OLED display in the space occupied by its solar cell. Controlled by a pair of unobtrusive Hall effect devices, the calculator could have been used as an ingenious cheating device but was to us the epitome of a well-executed hack. We may have liked it but it seems the folks at Casio didn’t, because they’ve issued a DMCA takedown notice for the project’s GitHub repository.

This is a picture of Barbra Streisand, who might almost be the patron saint of unintended consequences. Unknown author / Public domain
This is a picture of Barbra Streisand, who might almost be the patron saint of unintended consequences. Unknown author / Public domain.

We’re not lawyers, but if you’d care to visit our original coverage and watch the video in full, you’ll see that the ESP does not in any way tap into the calculator’s functions. The epoxy blob over the Casio processor is intact and no wires connect to the calculator mainboard, so it is difficult to imagine how any Casio code could have found its way into a repository full of ESP8266 code for the Arduino IDE. A quick search for “Hack-Casio-Calculator” on GitHub, at the time of publishing, turned up the relevant code despite Casio’s takedown, and we can’t see what they’re on about. Maybe you can?

Over the years there have been many attempts to use the DMCA on projects in our community. Some have been legitimate, others have been attempts to suppress exposure of woeful security, and still more have been laughably absurd. This one seems to us to edge into the final category, because it is difficult to see how the project described could contain any Casio code at all. It would be entirely legitimate to  issue a DMCA takedown had the epoxy blob been removed and Casio’s code been retrieved from the calculator chip (and we’d certainly cover that story!), but as far as we can see taking a scalpel to a calculator’s case and stuffing a module behind the solar panel window does not come close.

It’s evident that Casio do not like the idea of one of their calculators being turned into a cheating device, and we understand why that might be the case. But to take the DMCA route has served only to bring more publicity to the affair, and those of us with long memories know that this can only lead to one conclusion.

Thanks [Tom] and others for the tip.

An Arduino As A PLL

At the heart of many amateur radio and other projects lies the VFO, or Variable Frequency Oscillator. Decades ago this would have been a free-running LC tuned circuit, then as technology advanced it was replaced by a digital phase-locked-loop frequency synthesiser and most recently a DDS, or Direct Digital Synthesis chip in which the waveform is produced directly by a DAC. The phase-locked loop (PLL) remains a popular choice due to ICs such as the Si5351 but is rarely constructed from individual chips as it once might have been. [fvfilippetti] has revisited this classic circuit by replacing some of its complexity with an Arduino (Spanish language, Google Translate link).

The internals of a PLL frequency synthesiser
The internals of a PLL frequency synthesiser. Image by Chetvorno – CC0

A PLL is a simple circuit in which one oscillator is locked to another by controlling it with a voltage derived from comparing the phase of the two. Combining a PLL with a set of frequency dividers creates a frequency synthesiser, in which a variable frequency oscillator can be locked to a single frequency crystal with the output frequency set by the division ratios. The classic PLL chip is the CMOS 4046 which would have been combined with a pile of logic chips to make a frequency synthesiser. The Arduino version uses the Arduino’s internal peripherals to take the place of crystal oscillator, dividers, and phase comparator, resulting in an extremely simple physical circuit of little more than an Arduino and a VCO for the 40 metre amateur band. The code can be found on GitLab, should you wish to try for yourself.

It would be interesting to see how good this synthesiser is at maintaining both a steady frequency and minimal phase noise. It’s tempting to think of such things as frequency synthesisers as a done deal, so it’s always welcome to see somebody bringing something new to them. Meanwhile if PLLs are new to you, we have just the introduction for you.

A 4-bit Random Number Generator

Randomness is a pursuit in a similar vein to metrology or time and frequency, in that inordinate quantities of effort can be expended in pursuit of its purest form. The Holy Grail is a source of completely unpredictable randomness, and the search for entropy so pure has taken experimenters into the sampling of lava lamps, noise sources, unpredictable timings of user actions in computer systems, and even into sampling radioactive decay. It’s a field that need not be expensive or difficult to work in, as [Henk Mulder] shows us with his 4-bit analogue random number generator.

One of the simplest circuits for generating random analogue noise involves a reverse biased diode in either Zener or avalanche breakdown, and it is a variation on this that he’s using. A reverse biased emitter junction of a transistor produces noise which is amplified by another transistor and then converted to a digital on-off stream of ones and zeroes by a third. Instead of a shift register to create his four bits he’s using four identical circuits, with no clock their outputs randomly change state at will.

A large part of his post is an examination of randomness and what makes a random source. He finds this source to be flawed because it has a bias towards logic one in its output, but we wonder whether the culprit might be the two-transistor circuit and its biasing rather than the noise itself. It also produces a sampling frequency of about 100 kbps, which is a little slow when sampling with he Teensy he’s using.

An understanding of random number generation is both a fascinating and important skill to have. We’ve featured so many RNGs over the years, here’s one powered by memes, and another by a fish tank.

Hiding Malware, With Windows XP

In the nearly four decades since the first PC viruses spread in the wild, malware writers have evolved some exceptionally clever ways to hide their creations from system administrators and from anti-virus writers. The researchers at Sophos have found one that conceals itself as probably the ultimate Trojan horse: it hides its tiny payload in a Windows XP installation.

The crusty Windows version is packaged up with a copy of an older version of the VirtualBox hypervisor on which to run it. A WIndows exploit allows Microsoft Installer to download the whole thing as a 122 MB installer package that hides the hypervisor and a 282 MB disk image containing Windows XP. The Ragnar Locker ransomware payload is a tiny 49 kB component of the XP image, which the infected host will run on the hypervisor unchallenged.

The Sophos analysis has a fascinating delve into some of the Windows batch file tricks it uses to probe its environment and set up the connections between host and XP, leaving us amazed at the unorthodox use of a complete Microsoft OS and that seemingly we have reached a point of system bloat at which such a large unauthorised download and the running of a complete Microsoft operating system albeit one from twenty years ago in a hypervisor can go unnoticed. Still, unlike some malware stories we’ve seen, at least this one is real.

Radio’s Sordid History Of Being Blamed For Everything

In the surreal world of a pandemic lockdown, we are surrounded by news stories that defy satire. The idea that 5G cellular networks are to blame for the COVID-19 outbreak and a myriad other ills has the more paranoid corners of social media abuzz with concerned citizens leaping upon random pieces of street furniture as potential 5G infrastructure.

The unanimous advice of the world’s scientists, doctors, and engineers that it is inconceivable for a phone technology to cause a viral outbreak. Amusingly, 5G has not yet been rolled out to some of the places where this is happening. But with conspiracy theory, fact denial only serves to reinforce the idea, however misguided. Here at Hackaday we have already ventured into the technical and scientific side of the story, but there is another side to it that leaves the pandemic behind and reaches back over the decades. Fear of new technology and in particular radio is nothing new, it stretches back almost as long as the public has had access to it.

Continue reading “Radio’s Sordid History Of Being Blamed For Everything”

Stealing RAM For A Microcontroller From A TFT Display

PC users with long memories will recall the days when the one-megabyte barrier was  a significant problem, and the various tricks of extended and expanded memory used to mitigate it. One of them was to install a driver that mapped surplus graphics card memory as system memory when the display was in DOS text mode, and it was this that was brought to mind when we read about [Frank D]’s microcontroller implementation of Conway’s Game Of Life.

The components were those he had to hand; an STM32F030F4P6 and an RM68130 176 × 220 TFT board. The STM is not the most powerful of chips, with only 16 kB of Flash and 4 kB of RAM. The display has enough on-board memory to support 18 bits of colour information, but when it is running in eight-colour mode it only uses three of them. The 15 bits that remain are thus available to be used for other purposes, and though the arcane format in which they are read required some understanding they could be used to provide a very useful extra 38720 bytes of RAM for the microcontroller just as once happened with those DOS PC graphics cards of old. Interestingly, the same technique should work with other similar displays.

Though this isn’t a new technique by any means we can’t recall seeing it used in a microcontroller project such as this one before. We’ve brought you many Games of Life though, as well as marking John Conway’s passing earlier this year.

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Don’t Worry, This Box Will Protect You From 5G!

As part of an investigation into opposition to 5G mobile phone networks in the English town of Glastonbury the BBC reporter [Rory Cellan-Jones] shared details of a so-called 5G protection device that was advertised as casting a bubble of 5G-free space around its owner. This set [The Quackometer] writing, because as part of his probing into the world of snake-oil, he’s bought just such a unit and subjected it to a teardown.

What he has is a plastic project box with a graphic on top, a switch and green LED on the side, and a battery compartment on its rear. Opening the battery compartment reveals a standard 9 V alkaline cell, but the real interest comes when the cover is removed. There is a copper cylinder with a coil of wire round it, though the wires from the coil to the battery have been cut. The active part of the device is simply a battery powering an LED through a switch, as he puts it the device is a £50 ($61) poor quality torch (flashlight). Of more interest is the copper cylinder, which he identifies as a short piece of copper water pipe with two end caps. He doesn’t open it up, leaving us to expect that whatever mystical component deals with the RF must be concealed within it. This is not the usual Hackaday fare, but we know our readers are fascinated by all new technologies and will provide plenty of speculation as to how it might work in the comments.

The BBC story is worth a read to give a little background. If you are a non-Brit and you have heard of Glastonbury it is probably for the famous summer music festival held on a neighbouring farm, but the town is also famous for its connections with Arthurian legend and in recent decades for having become a centre for New Age mysticism. It has also become something of a hotbed of activism against the spread of 5G mobile networks, and has made the news this week because of concerns over the impartiality of a report condemning the technology released by its local government. If you have an interest in the 5G saga then brace yourselves for this document being used to lend a veneer of official credibility.

We’ve spent a while covering 5G issues, and given that some aspects of the story are shaping up to be a gift to technical journalists that keeps on giving, no doubt we’ll bring you more in due course. Devices such as the one featured here could even supplant audiophile products as a source of technical wonderment!

Thanks [Deus Ex Silicium] for the tip.