Rickrolling SSID With ESP32

Reddit user [nomoreimfull] posted code for a dynamic WiFi beacon to r/arduino.  The simple, but clever, sketch is preloaded with some rather familiar lyrics and is configured to Rickroll wireless LAN users via the broadcast SSID (service set identifier) of an ESP32 WiFi radio.

The ESP32 and its smaller sibling the ESP8266 are tiny microcontrollers that featuring built-in WiFi support. With their miniature size, price, and power consumption characteristics, they’ve become favorites for makers, hackers, and yes pranksters for a wide variety of projects. They can be easily programmed using their own SDK or through a “board support” extension to the Arduino IDE.

For the dynamic WiFi beacon, the ESP32 is placed into AP (access point) mode and broadcasts its human readable name (SSID) as configured. What makes the SSID dynamic, or rolling, is that the sketch periodically updates the SSID to a next line of text stored within the code. Of course, in the Rickroll prank this means the next line of lyrics from “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley himself.

Always a favorite prank, we’ve seen Rickrolls take the form of IR remote controls , free WiFi servers, and coin cell throwies.

Rick Astley picture: Wjack12, CC BY-SA 4.0.

PicoCray - Raspberry Pi Pico Cluster

Parallel Computing On The PicoCray RP2040 Cluster

[ExtremeElectronics] cleverly demonstrates that if one Raspberry Pi Pico is good, then nine must be awesome.  The PicoCray project connects multiple Raspberry Pi Pico microcontroller modules into a parallel architecture leveraging an I2C bus to communicate between nodes.

The same PicoCray code runs on all nodes, but a grounded pin on one of the Pico modules indicates that it is to operate as the controller node.  All of the remaining nodes operate as processor nodes.  Each processor node implements a random back-off technique to request an address from the controller on the shared bus. After waiting a random amount of time, a processor will check if the bus is being used.  If the bus is in use, the processor will go back to waiting.  If the bus is not in use, the processor can request an address from the controller.

Once a processor node has an address, it can be sent tasks from the controller node.  In the example application, these tasks involve computing elements of the Mandelbrot Set. The particular elements to be computed in a given task are allocated by the controller node which then later collects the results from each processor node and aggregates the results for display.

The name for this project is inspired by Seymore Cray. Our Father of the Supercomputer biography tells his story including why the Cray-1 Supercomputer was referred to as “the world’s most expensive loveseat.” For even more Cray-1 inspiration, check out this Raspberry Pi Zero Cluster.

History Of The SPARC CPU Architecture

[RetroBytes] nicely presents the curious history of the SPARC processor architecture. SPARC, short for Scalable Processor Architecture, defined some of the most commercially successful RISC processors during the 1980s and 1990s. SPARC was initially developed by Sun Microsystems, which most of us associate the SPARC but while most computer architectures are controlled by a single company, SPARC was championed by dozens of players.  The history of SPARC is not simply the history of Sun.

A Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) design is based on an Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) that runs a limited number of simpler instructions than a Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC) based on an ISA that comprises more, and more complex, instructions. With RISC leveraging simpler instructions, it generally requires a longer sequence of those simple instructions to complete the same task as fewer complex instructions in a CISC computer. The trade-off being the simple (more efficient) RISC instructions are usually run faster (at a higher clock rate) and in a highly pipelined fashion. Our overview of the modern ISA battles presents how the days of CISC are essentially over. Continue reading “History Of The SPARC CPU Architecture”

Webcam VR

Immersive Virtual Reality From The Humble Webcam

[Russ Maschmeyer] and Spatial Commerce Projects developed WonkaVision to demonstrate how 3D eye tracking from a single webcam can support rendering a graphical virtual reality (VR) display with realistic depth and space. Spatial Commerce Projects is a Shopify lab working to provide concepts, prototypes, and tools to explore the crossroads of spatial computing and commerce.

The graphical output provides a real sense of depth and three-dimensional space using an optical illusion that reacts to the viewer’s eye position. The eye position is used to render view-dependent images. The computer screen is made to feel like a window into a realistic 3D virtual space where objects beyond the window appear to have depth and objects before the window appear to project out into the space in front of the screen. The resulting experience is like a 3D view into a virtual space. The downside is that the experience only works for one viewer.

Eye tracking is performed using Google’s MediaPipe Iris library, which relies on the fact that the iris diameter of the human eye is almost exactly 11.7 mm for most humans. Computer vision algorithms in the library use this geometrical fact to efficiently locate and track human irises with high accuracy.

Generation of view-dependent images based on tracking a viewer’s eye position was inspired by a classic hack from Johnny Lee to create a VR display using a Wiimote. Hopefully, these eye-tracking approaches will continue to evolve and provide improved motion-responsive views into immersive virtual spaces.

Will A.I. Steal All The Code And Take All The Jobs?

New technology often brings with it a bit of controversy. When considering stem cell therapies, self-driving cars, genetically modified organisms, or nuclear power plants, fears and concerns come to mind as much as, if not more than, excitement and hope for a brighter tomorrow. New technologies force us to evolve perspectives and establish new policies in hopes that we can maximize the benefits and minimize the risks. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is certainly no exception. The stakes, including our very position as Earth’s apex intellect, seem exceedingly weighty. Mathematician Irving Good’s oft-quoted wisdom that the “first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need make” describes a sword that cuts both ways. It is not entirely unreasonable to fear that the last invention we need to make might just be the last invention that we get to make.

Artificial Intelligence and Learning

Artificial intelligence is currently the hottest topic in technology. AI systems are being tasked to write prose, make art, chat, and generate code. Setting aside the horrifying notion of an AI programming or reprogramming itself, what does it mean for an AI to generate code? It should be obvious that an AI is not just a normal program whose code was written to spit out any and all other programs. Such a program would need to have all programs inside itself. Instead, an AI learns from being trained. How it is trained is raising some interesting questions.

Humans learn by reading, studying, and practicing. We learn by training our minds with collected input from the world around us. Similarly, AI and machine learning (ML) models learn through training. They must be provided with examples from which to learn. The examples that we provide to an AI are referred to as the data corpus of the training process. The robot Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit”, like any curious-minded student, needs input, more input, and more input.

Continue reading “Will A.I. Steal All The Code And Take All The Jobs?”

Tiny Tapeout 3

Tiny Tapeout 3: Get Your Own Chip Design To A Fab

Custom semiconductor chips are generally big projects made by big companies with big budgets. Thanks to Tiny Tapeout, students, hobbyists, or anyone else can quickly get their designs onto an actual fabricated chip. [Matt Venn] has announced the opening of a third round of the Tiny Tapeout project for March 2023.

In 2022, Tiny Tapeout 1 piloted fabrication of user designs onto custom chips referred to as application-specific integrated circuits or ASICs. Following success of the pilot round, Tiny Tapeout 2 became the first paid version delivering guaranteed silicon. For Tiny Tapeout 2, there were 165 submissions. Most submissions were designed using a hardware description language such as Verilog or Amaranth, but ASICs can also be designed in the visual schematic capture tool Wokwi.

Each submitted design must fit within 150 by 170 microns. That footprint can accommodate around one thousand standard cells, which is certainly enough to explore a digital system of real interest.  Examples from Tiny Tapeout 2 include digital neurons, FPGAs, and RISC-V processor cores.

Once the 250 designs are submitted, they’ll be combined into a large grid along with a controller. The controller will receive input signals and pump the inputs via a scan chain through the entire grid to each design. The results from each design continue through the scan chain to be output from the grid. Since all 250 designs will be combined on to one chip, each designer will receive everybody else’s design along with their own. This shared process opens a huge opportunity for experimentation.

To get started on your own ASIC design right away, visit Tiny Tapeout. Also check out the talk [Matt] gave at Supercon 2022: Bringing Chip Design to the Masses along with his Zero to ASIC videos. And we’re not saying anything official, but he’ll probably be giving a workshop at Hackaday Berlin.

Continue reading “Tiny Tapeout 3: Get Your Own Chip Design To A Fab”

Supercon 2022: Michael Whiteley Saves The Badge

Michael Whiteley (aka [compukidmike]) is a badgelife celebrity. Together, he and his wife Katie make up MK Factor. They have created some of the most popular electronic conference badges. Of course, even experts make mistakes and run into challenges when they dare to push the envelope of technology and delivery schedules. In his Supercon 2022 talk, There’s No Rev 2: When Badgelife Goes Wrong, Mike shares details from some of his worst badge snafus and also how he managed to gracefully pull them back from the edge of disaster.

Living the Badgelife

Attendees at the world’s largest hacker convention, DEF CON in Las Vegas, had already become accustomed to receiving and wearing very cool and novel admission tokens, more properly known as badges. Then in 2006, at DEF CON 14, everything changed. Designed by Joe Grand, the first electronic DEF CON badge was a circuit board featuring a tiny PIC microcontroller, two LEDs, and a single pushbutton. Badgelife was born.

DEF CON 30 Humans Sampling Board

Mike begins his war stories with one about the DEF CON 30 badge. This was a herculean project with 25,000 badges being produced on a short timeline in the ever-changing chaos of a semiconductor supply-chain meltdown. Even though many regard it as one of the best DEF CON badges ever made, the DC30 badge posed a number of challenges to its creators. Microcontrollers were in short supply during 2021 and 2022 forcing the badge team to keep an eye on component vendor supplies in order to snipe chips as soon as they appeared in stock. The DC30 badge was actually redesigned repeatedly as different microcontrollers fluctuated in and out of supply. Continue reading “Supercon 2022: Michael Whiteley Saves The Badge”