The Internet, or at least our corner of it, has been abuzz over the last few days with the news of a DEF CON talk by [Sick.Codes] in which he demonstrated the jailbreaking of the console computer from a John Deere tractor. Sadly we are left to wait the lengthy time until the talk is made public, and for now the most substantive information we have comes from a couple of Tweets. The first comes from [Sick.Codes] himself and shows a game of DOOM with a suitably agricultural theme, while the second is by [Kyle Wiens] and reveals the tractor underpinnings relying on outdated and un-patched operating systems.
You might ask why this is important and more than just another “Will it run DOOM” moment. The answer will probably be clear to long-term readers, and is that Deere have become the poster child for improper use of DRM to lock owners into their servicing and deny farmers the right to repair. Thus any breaches in their armor are of great interest, because they have the potential to free farmers world-wide from this unjust situation. As we’ve reported before the efforts to circumvent this have relied on cracked versions of the programming software, so this potential jailbreak of the tractor itself could represent a new avenue.
As far as we’re aware, this has so far taken place on the console modules in the lab and not in the field on a real tractor. So we’re unsure as to whether the door has been opened into the tractor’s brain, or merely into its interface. But the knowledge of which outdated software can be found on the devices will we hope lead further to what known vulnerabilities may be present, and in turn to greater insights into the machinery.
Were you in the audience at DEF CON for this talk? We’d be curious to know more. Meanwhile the Tweet is embedded below the break, for a little bit of agricultural DOOM action.
OK, so maybe [satanistik] is overreaching with his project title “Save the Coffee, Save the World” but keeping an otherwise working coffee machine out of the landfill by hacking around its broken display is nonetheless a worthy pursuit. The juice must flow!
The busted display used a SSD1303 controller OLED module, for which the SSD1305Z is an almost-compatible module. Almost. The one glitch is that the screen is filled in the opposite direction by default. Digging through the manuals, there is a screen-direction bit to set, and tracing out the communication with a logic analyzer, it’s set the wrong way with every screen refresh. If only he could flip that one bit while it’s in transit. Time to man-in-the-middle!
While we certainly would have put a microcontroller in the game, [satanistik] goes old-school. A two-IC logic solution can do exactly the same thing, trading wires for code. The final iteration of the converter board is correspondingly spartan, but it does its one job.
So if you’ve got a Nivona coffee machine with a bum display, or perhaps an Agilent U1273A multimeter, or any other piece of equipment that needs a hard-to-find SSD1303 controller, now you have a ready-made solution. But if not, and you find yourself looking for a display that you can’t find, let this serve as an example to you – with a little (fun) effort, you can hack it back.
In our drawers, there’s gonna be quite a few old devices that we’ve forgotten about, and perhaps we ought to make them work for us instead. [Jonatron] found a Nook Simple Touch in his drawer – with its E-ink screen, wireless connectivity and a workable Android version, this e-reader from 2011 has the guts for always-on display duty. Sadly, the soft touch covering on the back disintegrated into a sticky mess, as soft touch does, the LiIon battery has gone flat, and the software support’s lackluster. Both of these are likely to happen for a lot of tablets, which is why we’re happy [Jonatron] has shared his story about this e-reader’s revival.
The soft touch layer on the back didn’t go away with help of alcohol, but by sheer luck, an acetone bottle was nearby, and an acetone scrub helped get rid of the unpleasant stickiness. The tablet’s charging circuitry turned out to be unsophisticated – the tablet wouldn’t boot from MicroUSB input, and [Jonathan] wired up 5 volts from a USB cable straight into the battery input. Mind you, this might not be advised, as Lithium-Ion battery range is from 3 volts to 4.2 volts and a regulator would be called for, but [Jonatron] says it’s been working just fine.
Usually, you could just put a webserver on your local network and serve a page with useful information, adding code to refresh the page periodically – but the Nook’s browser didn’t support automatic refreshes. Not to be stopped, [Jonatron] wrote an app for the Nook’s Android install instead; rooting was required but went seamlessly. The Android install is old, and Android Studio for it is no longer downloadable, so he used an older development toolkit somehow still available online. There’s still a small Python-written webserver running on a spare Pi, conditioning the data for the app to fetch. Following best hacker traditions, both the app and the server are open-sourced! With help of a 3D printed stand, this tablet now displays train departure schedules – perfect application for an old e-reader like this.
Got a Nook Simple Touch in a drawer? Now you know you can easily convert it into a hackable E-ink display! We’ve seen numerous tablet restorations before, replacing charger ICs and eMMC drives, turning them into videophones to chat with our relatives and smart home controllers, and there’s even repair databases to help you in your revival efforts. We’ve been getting quite a few projects like these in our last Hackaday Prize installment, Hack It Back, and we hope to see more such rebuilds for our Wildcard round!
When Datamedia announced their new DT80 terminal as a VT100 killer back in 1979, they were so confident of its reliability, they threw in a full one-year warranty. Now, decades later, that confidence is once more put to the touch after [RingingResonance] fished one such terminal out of a creek by an old illegal dumping site. Not knowing what to expect from the muck-ridden artifact, his journey of slowly breathing life back into the device began.
Considering the layers of mud and roots already growing all over the main board, one can only assume how long the terminal has actually been in there. But cleaning it from all that was only the beginning: some components were missing, others turned out to be broken, including some of the ROMs, which [RingingResonance] speculates may have been caused by lightning which determined the DT80’s fate in the first place.
That’s when the adventure really started though, digging deep into the terminal’s inner life, eventually writing a debugger and own firmware for it. That code, along with all other research, notes, and links to plenty more pictures can be found in the GitHub repository, and is definitely worth checking out if you’re into the technologies of yesteryear.
Despite the DT80’s claimed superiority, the VT100 prevailed and is the terminal that history remembers — and emulates, whether as tiny wearable or a full look-alike. But this fall into oblivion was also part of [RingingResonance]’s motivation to keep going forward restoring the DT80. Someone had to. So if you happen to have anything to contribute to his endeavours or share with him, we’re sure he will appreciate you reaching out to him.
The first thing to do is carefully file away the crimp of the metal can until one can release the ring and plate that hold the terminals. Once that is off, the internals can be pulled from the metal can for disposal. Since the insides of the old cap won’t be re-used, [lens42] recommends simply drilling a hole, screwing in a lag bolt to use as a handle, and pulling everything out. There’s now plenty of space inside the old can to hold modern replacements for the capacitor, and one can even re-use the original terminals.
That leaves the job of re-crimping the old can around the terminal ring to restore a factory-made appearance. To best do this, [lens42] created a tapered collar. Gently hammering the can forces the bottom into the taper, and the opening gradually crimps around the terminal ring. It’s also possible to carefully hammer the flange directly, but the finish won’t be as nice. This new crimp job may not look exactly the same as before, but once the cap is re-installed into the original equipment, it won’t be possible to tell it has been modified in any way.
If this sounds a bit intimidating, don’t worry. [lens42] provides plenty of pictures. And if this kind of thing is up your alley, you may want to check out the Caps Wiki, an effort to centralize and share details about tech repair, especially for vintage electronics.
Laptop computers may be ubiquitous today, but there was a time when they were the exclusive preserve of rich businesspeople. Back in the early ’90s, the significant added cost of portability was something that few were willing to pay. As a result, not many laptops from those days survive; for those that do, keeping them running can be quite a challenge due to their compact construction and use of non-standard components.
[Adalbert] ran into these problems when he got his hands on a Toshiba T3200SXC from 1991. As the first laptop ever to feature a color TFT display, it’s very much worth preserving as an historical artifact. Sadly, the original display was no longer working: it only displayed a very faint image and went completely blank soon after. Leaky capacitors then destroyed the power supply board, leaving the laptop completely dead. [Adalbert] then began to ponder his options, which ranged from trying to repair the original components to ripping everything out and turning this into a modern-computer-in-an-old-case project.
In the end he went for an option in between, which we as preservationists can only applaud: he replaced the display with a modern one of the correct size and resolution and built a new custom power supply, keeping the rest of the computer intact as far as possible. [Adalbert] describes the overall process in the video embedded below and goes into lots of detail on his hackaday.io page.
Connecting a modern LCD screen was not as difficult as it might seem: where the old display had an RGB TTL interface with three bits per color, the new one had a very similar system with six bits per color. [Adalbert] made an adapter PCB that simply connected the three bits from the laptop to the highest three bits on the screen. A set of 3D-printed brackets ensured a secure fit of the new screen in the classic case.
For the power supply [Adalbert] took a similar approach. He designed a PCB with several DC/DC converters that fit easily inside the computer’s case, leaving enough space to add a battery. This made the old Toshiba more portable than it ever was — believe it or not, the original T3200SXC could only be used with a mains connection.
Once the laptop was restored to working order, [Adalbert] added a few finishing touches: a sound card and speakers made it suitable as a gaming platform, and a network card gave it rudimentary online capabilities. The end result is a T3200SXC that looks and feels exactly the way it did when it was new, but with a few added features. That’s a really satisfying result: many classic laptop projects add modern computing hardware, or even completely replace the original contents. You might also want to check out [Adalbert]’s unusual 3D printer based PCB manufacturing technique that he used for the new power supply.
Companies don’t treat equipment in the same way that we, hobbyists, do. When it comes to reassessing equipment state, there’s calculations to be done – how many failures it’s experienced, what’s the rate of the support contract for it (often increasing as equipment ages), and whether it’d be more price-efficient to just buy a new one. Hobbyists aren’t tied to commercial support contracts that prohibit DIY repair, however. We can investigate things and try our luck, and in many cases, the repair will be super simple and satisfying! Today’s lucky repair story is about [Gregor], who has acquired a written-off ±$40k Stratasys 3D printer for peanuts, and repaired it with $1 in parts.
The error code shown on the display indicated an extruder changer error — yes, this is a dual extruder printer! Earlier, [Gregor] noted that some of the chamber lighting LEDs failed, very likely because of the constant heat in the chamber. After investigating the infrared LED responsible for extruder change detection, it indeed had failed as well, presumably for the same reason. After the installation of a new SMD LED, the error message went away. Thus concludes the story of [Gregor] getting himself a new professional-grade printer! He also documents other possible failure modes, some just as easy to fix. In short, if you ever spot a Stratasys Dimension printer for sale, you might want to consider it!