Medium Over Message: A CD-ROM Multimedia Bubble Survivor’s Tale

Sometimes in the never-ending progression of technology, people take wrong turns. They pursue dead-ends they believe represent a bright future, often in spite of obvious indications to the contrary. IBM doggedly insisting Micro Channel Architecture was the future of PC hardware, for example, or Nokia’s seeming inability to recognise that the mobile phone experience had changed for ever when the first iPhones and Android devices appeared.

Every once in a while, that collective delusion grips an entire industry. All the players in a particular market nail their colours to a technology, seemingly without heed to what seems with hindsight to have been a completely obvious threat from the alternative that sidelined them. It is a tale of personal experience that prompts this line of thought, for the industry that tempted me away from hardware to a career in electronic publishing in the early 1990s was CD-ROM multimedia.

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Data Exfiltration With Broadcast Radio And CD-ROM Drives

The first music played on personal computers didn’t come out of fancy audio cards, or even a DAC. the first audio system in a personal computer was simply holding an AM radio up to the case and blinking address pins furiously. This worked wonderfully for homebrew computers where EMC compliance hadn’t even become an afterthought, but the technique still works today. [Chris] is playing music on the radio by sending bits over the system bus without using any wires at all.

[Chris]’ code is based on the earlier work of [fulldecent], and works pretty much the same. To play a sound over the radio, the code simply writes to a location in memory when the waveform should be high, and doesn’t when the waveform is low.

Of course the ability to exfiltrate information over an airgap has a few more nefarious purposes, but [Chris] also has another way of doing just that which is undefeatable by a TEMPEST shielded computer. He can send one bit at a time by opening and closing a CD-ROM drive, capturing these bits with a webcam. Is it useful? It’s hard to imagine how this setup could ever capture any valuable data, but it is a proof of concept.

Cheap, Easy To Build Robot For beginners

Robotics kits are a great way to get folks , young and old, interested in hacking and learning the basics. Quite often, the cost puts them off – it’s no fun if you mess things up while learning how to put an expensive kit together. Many kits are too polished and that leads to beginners feeling that they’ll never be able to build something complex like a robot. The Shonkbot is what the team at Bristol Hackspace came up with for a robot that is obvious in its working and encouragingly easy to build, even for kids (with supervision).  To that effect, they completely avoided custom PCBs and laser cut bits. The Shonkbot is built from easily available parts and some commonly available materials. They aimed to build it for £5, but managed £15. With proper planning and time, they guess it can be brought down to £10.

The Shonkbot is built using an Arduino Nano, two stepper motors with their drivers, a 3xAA battery box and some bits and bobs. Assembly takes about an hour for a 10-year-old and then they can reprogram it in another workshop or at home. The “frame” of the Shonkbot is an old CD-ROM or DVD disk. Everything is hot glued to this frame. At the centre of the disk, a Sharpie is inserted and the Arduino code then allows the robot to draw on paper. Upgrades include adding an IR LED, a photo transistor and a buzzer to allow the Shonkbot to detect objects, or communicate with other Shonkbots. Build instructions are detailed in this document, and the code is available from the Github repository. Here is a photo album from their first build workshop which was held recently.

Thanks to [Matthew Venn] from the Bristol Hackspace for sending in this tip. Check the robot in action in the video below.

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