Hackaday Links: May 6th 2018

Way back in the day, if you were exceptionally clever, you could just solder more RAM to your computer. You did this by taking a DIP, stacking it on top of an existing RAM chip, bending out the enable pin, and soldering everything down. Wire the enable pin to an address pin, and you have more RAM. [Eric] wanted to get a game running on a Tandy 1000A, but that computer just doesn’t have enough RAM. The solution was to stack the RAMs. It’s a human centipede of deadbugging skills.

We’ve mentioned this before, but I just received another copy of either the best or worst press release I’ve ever seen. Dateline George Town, Cayman Islands: Onstellar is a cryptocurrency-based social network focusing on the paranormal. Apparently, you can use a blockchain to talk about UFOs. It gets better, though: Onstellar will be exhibiting at the world’s largest UFO conference at the beginning of June, in the middle of the Mojave, where a bunch of Air Force and Navy planes are flying all the time. It seems like you would want to have a UFO conference where there’s a lower rate of false positives, right?

A Biohacker has died. Aaron Traywick was found dead in a sensory deprivation chamber in Washington DC this week. Traywick found fame as the CEO of Ascendance Biomedical and by skirting the FDA by self-medication; he recently injected himself with a ‘research compound’ that he said could cure herpes. He was planning CRISPR trials in Tijuana.

You’ve heard of Bad Obsession Motorsports, right? It’s a YouTube channel of two blokes in a shed stuffing a Celica into a Mini. It is the greatest fabrication channel on YouTube. They haven’t uploaded anything in six months, but don’t worry: the next episode is coming out on May 18th. Yes, this is newsworthy.

As further evidence that Apple hardware sucks, if you plug both ends of a USB-C PD cable into a MacBook, it charges itself.

Defcon China is this week. Let me set the scene for you. Last year, at the closing ceremonies for Defcon (the Vegas one), [DT] got up on stage and announced 2018 would see the first Defcon in China. The sound of four thousand raised eyebrows erupted. We’re interested to see how this one goes down. Here are the talks It’s a bit light, but then again this is only the first year.

The Swiss Guard is now 3D printing their helmets. The personal army of the Pope also wears funny hats, and they’re replacing their metal helmets with 3D printed ones. Of note: these helmets are printed in PVC. The use of PVC has been repeated in several high-profile publications, leading me to believe that yes, these actually are printed in PVC, or everyone is getting their information from an incorrect Vatican press release This is odd, because PVC will give everyone within a five mile radius cancer if used in a 3D printer, and you wouldn’t use PVC anyway if ABS and PLA are so readily available. If you’re wondering if injection molding makes sense, giving each new recruit their own helmet means producing about thirty per year; the economics probably don’t work.

Upgrade Your Mac With A Touchscreen, For Only A Dollar

Imagine how hard it could be to add a touch screen to a Mac laptop. You’re thinking expensive and difficult, right? How could [Anish] and his friends possibly manage to upgrade their Mac with a touchscreen for only a dollar? That just doesn’t seem possible.

The trick, of course, is software. By mounting a small mirror over the machine’s webcam, using stiff card, hot glue, and a door hinge. By looking at the screen and deciding whether the image of a finger is touching its on-screen reflection, a remarkably simple touch screen can be created, and the promise of it only costing a dollar becomes a reality. We have to salute them for coming up with such an elegant solution.

They have a video which we’ve put below the break, showing a few simple applications for their interface. Certainly a lot less bother than a more traditional conversion.

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Apple One, On FPGA

Today, Apple is known for iPhones, iPads, and a commitment to graphical user interfaces. But that wasn’t how it all started. The original Apple was a single board computer built around a 6502. In 1976, you could snag one for $666.66, but you needed to supply your own TV, power supply, and keyboard. [Alangarf] didn’t have an Apple 1, but he did have a 6502 CPU core for FPGAs from [Andrew Holme] that he fleshed out to an Apple I clone with a VGA output and PS/2 keyboard port. The project works with either an iCE40 board or a Terasic DE0 board. You could probably port it to other similar FPGAs.

This is much more practical than trying to find an original, as Apple bought a lot of the old boards back and destroyed them. According to the Apple-1 Registry there are only about 71 of the boards still in existence, and that’s with the annotation that 4 of those may be lost and 8 might be duplicates. We’ve heard that of those there are only six that actually still work.

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All Your iPhone Are Belong To Us

Apple’s commitment to customer privacy took the acid test after the San Bernadino shooting incident. Law enforcement demanded that Apple unlock the shooter’s phone, and Apple refused. Court cases ensued. Some people think that the need to protect the public outweighs the need for privacy. Some people think that once they can unlock one iPhone, it won’t stop there and that will be bad for everyone. This post isn’t about either of those positions. The FBI dropped their lawsuit against Apple. Why? They found an Israeli firm that would unlock the phone for about $5,000. In addition, Malwarebytes — a company that makes security software — reports that law enforcement can now buy a device that unlocks iPhones from a different company.

Little is known about how the device — from a company called Grayshift — works. However, Malwarebytes has some unverified data from an unnamed source. Of course, the exploit used to break the iPhone security is secret because if Apple knew about it, they’d fix it. That’s happened before with a device called IP-box that was widely used for nefarious purposes.

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Apple Passwords: They All ‘Just Work’

When the Macintosh was released some thirty-odd years ago, to Steve Jobs’ triumphant return in the late 90s, there was one phrase to describe the simplicity of using a Mac. ‘It Just Works’. Whether this was a reference to the complete lack of games on the Mac (Marathon shoutout, tho) or a statement to the user-friendliness of the Mac, one thing is now apparent. Apple has improved the macOS to such a degree that all passwords just work. That is to say, security on the latest versions of macOS is abysmal, and every few weeks a new bug is reported.

The first such security vulnerability in macOS High Sierra was reported by [Lemi Ergin] on Twitter. Simply, anyone could login as root with an empty password after clicking the login button several times. The steps to reproduce were as simple as opening System Preferences, Clicking the lock to make changes, typing ‘root’ in the username field, and clicking the Unlock button. It should go without saying this is incredibly insecure, and although this is only a local exploit, it’s a mind-numbingly idiotic exploit. This issue was quickly fixed by Apple in the Security Update 2017-001

The most recent password flaw comes in the form of unlocking the App Store preferences that can be unlocked with any password. The steps to reproduce on macOS High Sierra are simply:

  • Click on System Preferences
  • Click on App Store
  • Click the padlock icon
  • Enter your username and any password
  • Click unlock

This issue has been fixed in the beta of macOS 10.13.3, which should be released within a month. The bug does not exist in macOS Sierra version 10.12.6 or earlier.

This is the second bug in macOS in as many months where passwords just work. Or don’t work, depending on how cheeky you want to be. While these bugs have been overshadowed with recent exploits of Intel’s ME and a million blog posts on Meltdown, these are very, very serious bugs that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. And, where there are two, there’s probably more.

We don’t know what’s up with the latest version of the macOS and the password problems, but we are eagerly awaiting the Medium post from a member of the macOS team going over these issues. We hope to see that in a decade or two.

Extracting A Vector Font From A Vintage Plotter

There is a huge variety of hardware out there with a font of some form or other baked into the ROM. If it’s got a display it needs a font, and invariably that font is stored as a raster. Finding these fonts is trivial – dump the ROM, render it as a bitmap, and voilà – there’s your font. However, what if you’re trying to dump the font from a vintage Apple 410 Color Plotter? It’s stored in a vector format, and your job just got a whole lot harder.

The problem with a vector font is that the letters aren’t stored as individual images, but as a series of instructions that, when parsed correctly, draw the character. This has many benefits for generating characters in all manner of different sizes, but makes the font itself much harder to find in a ROM dump. You’re looking for both the instructions that generate the characters, as well as the code used to draw them, if you want a full representation of the font.

The project begins by looking at what’s known about the plotter. The first part of any such job is always knowing where to look, of course. It’s quickly determined that the font is definitely stored in the main ROM, and that there is no other special vector drawing chip or ROMs on board. The article then steps through the search process, beginning with plaintext searches of the binary dump, before progressing to a full disassembly of the plotter firmware. After testing out various assumptions and working methodically, the vector data is found and eventually converted into a modern TrueType font.

In the end, the project is successful, and it’s a great guide on how to approach similar projects. The key is to lay out everything you know at the start, and use that to guide your search step by step, testing and discarding assumptions until you hit paydirt. We’ve seen similar works before, like this project to dump the voice from an ancient Chrysler Electronic Voice Alert.

Dig Into the Apple Device Design Guide

Millions of people worldwide have just added new Apple gadgets to their lives thanks to the annual end of December consumerism event. Those who are also Hackaday readers are likely devising cool projects incorporating their new toys. This is a good time to remind everybody that Apple publishes information useful for such endeavors: the Accessory Design Guidelines for Apple Devices (PDF).

This comes to our attention because [Pablo] referenced it to modify an air vent magnet mount. The metal parts of a magnetic mount interferes with wireless charging. [Pablo] looked in Apple’s design guide and found exactly where he needed to cut the metal plate in order to avoid blocking the wireless charging coil of his iPhone 8 Plus. What could have been a tedious reverse-engineering project was greatly simplified by Reading The… Fine… Manual.

Apple has earned its reputation for hacker unfriendliness with nonstandard fasteners and liberal use of glue. And that’s even before we start talking about their digital barriers. But if your project doesn’t involve voiding the warranty, their design guide eliminates tedious dimension measuring so you can focus on the fun parts.

Dimensioned drawing of Apple iPad Pro

This guide is packed full of dimensioned drawings. A cursory review shows that they look pretty good and aren’t terrible at all. Button, connector, camera, and other external locations make this an indispensable tool for anyone planning to mill or print an interface for any of Apple’s hardware.

So let’s see those projects! Maybe a better M&M sorter. Perhaps a time-lapse machine. Or cure your car’s Tesla envy and put a well-integrated iPad into the dashboard.