A multimeter connected to the EEPROM chip with crocodile clips, showing that there's a 0.652V diode drop between GND and one of the IO pins

Dead EPROM Dumped With Help Of Body Diodes

[Jason P], evidently an enjoyer of old reliable laser printing tech, spilled a drink (nitter) onto his Panasonic KX-P5400 SideWriter. After cleanup, everything worked fine — except that the PSU’s 5 V became 6.5 V during the accident, and the EPROM with LocalTalk interface firmware died, connection between VCC and GND seemingly interrupted inside the chip. Understandably, [Jason] went on Twitter, admitted the error of his ways, and sheepishly asked around for EPROM dumps.

Instead, [Manawyrm] wondered — would the chip have anti-ESD body diodes from GND to IO pins, by any chance? A diode mode multimeter check confirmed, yes! It was time for an outlandish attempt to recover the firmware. [Manawyrm] proposed that [Jason] connect all output pins but one to 5 V, powering the EPROM through the internal VCC-connected body diodes – reading the contents one bit at a time and then, combining eight dumps into a single image.

After preparing a TL866 setup, one hour of work and some PHP scripting later, the operation was a success. Apparently, in certain kinds of cases, dead ROM chips might still tell their tales! It’s not quite clear what happened here. The bond wires looked fine, so who knows where the connection got interrupted – but we can’t deny the success of the recovery operation! Need a primer on dumping EPROMs that are not dead? Here you go.

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An EMMC Gives Up Its Secrets

An increasing phenomenon over the years since mobile phones morphed from simply telephones into general purpose pocket computers has been that of the dead device taking with it some treasured digital resource. In most cases this means the device has died, but doesn’t necessarily mean that that the data has completely gone. Inside the device will be an eMMC flash chip, and if that can be read then the data is safe. This applies to some single board computers too, and thus [Jeffmakes]’ adventures in recovering an eMMC from a dead Raspberry Pi CM4 are particularly interesting.

The whole thing relies on the eMMC presenting the same interface as an SD card, so while it comes in a multi-pin BGA package it can be addressed with surprisingly few wires. Using the PCB from another dead CM4 he traced the relevant connections from eMMC to SoC pads, and was thus able with some very fine soldering to construct an interface for an SD card reader. The disk could then be imaged in its entirety.

This work will be of huge use to experimenters who’ve fried their Compute Modules, but of course the information it contains will also be of use to retrieve those photos from the phone that fell in the bath. It’s not the first time we’ve taken a look at someone’s efforts in this area.

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Hackaday Links: August 7, 2022

If you ever needed proof that class-action lawsuits are a good deal only for the lawyers, look no further than the news that Tim Hortons will settle a data-tracking suit with a doughnut and a coffee. For those of you who are not in Canada or Canada-adjacent, “Timmy’s” is a chain of restaurants that are kind of the love child of a McDonald’s and a Dunkin Donut shop. An investigation into the chain’s app a couple of years ago revealed that customer location data was being logged silently, even when they were not using the app, and even far, far away from the nearest Tim Hortons. The chain is proposing to settle with class members to the tune of a coupon good for one free hot beverage and one baked good, in total valuing a whopping $8.68. The lawyers, on the other hand, will be pulling in $1.5 million plus taxes. There’s no word if they are taking that in cash or as 172,811 coffees and doughnuts, but we think we can guess.

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Floppy disks

Adafruit Hack Chat Helps You Copy That Floppy

You might think the era of the 3.5 inch “floppy” disk is over, and of course, you’d be right. But when has that ever stopped hackers before? Just because these disks are no longer being manufactured doesn’t mean you can’t find them, or that the appropriate drives aren’t readily available. In fact, as [Ladyada] explained during this week’s Floppy Interfacing Hack Chat with Adafruit, the ongoing chip shortages mean its often easier and cheaper to track down old hardware like this than it is modern microcontrollers and other high-tech components.

Hack Chat posterWhat awaits the brave hacker that picks up a box of random floppies and a dusty old drive at the local thrift store? More than you might expect. As the Hack Chat goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that these quaint pieces of antiquated technology can be rather difficult to work with. For one thing there are more formats out there than you’ve probably considered, and maddeningly, not all drives are able to read all types (even if they say they do). That means a disk which might seem like a dud on one drive could work perfectly fine in another, which is why the team at Adafruit recommend having a few on hand if you want to maximize your chances of success.

Now here comes the tricky part: unless you happen to have a 1990s vintage computer laying around, getting these drives hooked up is decidedly non-trivial. Which is why Adafruit have been researching how to interface the drives with modern microcontrollers. This includes the Adafruit_Floppy project, which aims to port the well known Greaseweazle and FluxEngine firmwares to affordable MCUs like the Raspberry Pi Pico. There’s also been promising developments with bringing native floppy support to CircuitPython, which would make reading these disks as easy as writing a few lines of code.

But wait, surely this is a solved problem? Why not just pick up a cheap USB floppy drive from the A to Z online retailer we all love to hate? Unfortunately, these gadgets are something of a mixed bag. [Ladyada] pulls one apart on camera to show that what you’re actually getting with one of these units is a new old stock laptop floppy drive hooked up to a dodgy purpose-built chip that connects to the original 26-pin flex cable and offers up a USB interface. That would be great, if it wasn’t for the fact that the chip is exceedingly selective about what kind of disks it will read. If you’re only worried about bog standard IBM-formatted disks they can work in a pinch, but like they say, you get what you pay for.

So is it all just academic? Is there really any reason to use a floppy disk in 2022? The fine folks at Adafruit would argue that the skills necessary to read usable data out of a stream of magnetic flux changes may very well come in handy in unexpected ways down the road. But even if not, there’s at least one good reason to cultivate the technology required to reliably read from these once ubiquitous storage devices: archiving the data stored on these disks before they invariably succumb to so-called “bit rot” and are potentially lost to history.

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Controller Swaps Can Save An HDD If You Do It Right

Hard drives are fragile and reliable all at once. It’s entirely possible to have a hard drive fail, even if your data is still in perfect condition on the magnetic platters inside. [Keith Sherry] was recently trying to recover data for a friend off a damaged hard drive, and demonstrated that modern twists on old tricks can still work.

The drive in question was an old 160GB disk that itself was being used as a backup. Of course, a backup you haven’t tested is no backup at all, and this one failed in the hour it was most needed.

The suspicion was that the controller board was the culprit, and that swapping the board out might bring things back to life. Back in the day, this was a common hacker trick. However, it often fails with modern drives, which store a great deal of drive-specific calibration data on the controller board. Without this specific data, another controller will be unable to access the data on the drive, and could even cause damage.

However, as [Keith] demonstrates, there is a way around this. A controller from a similar drive was sourced, albeit from a SATA version of the drive versus the original which used USB. A single chip is then removed from the original controller, containing the calibration data specific to that drive. Soldering this chip onto the new controller got everything up and running, and the files could be recovered.

If your data is invaluable, it’s likely worth paying a professional. As [Keith] demonstrates though, the old tricks can still come in handy as long as your techniques are up to date. DIYing your own data recovery can be done, it’s just risky is all.

Oh, and don’t forget — once you’ve recovered the files, throw the drive away. Don’t keep using it! Video after the break.

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DEC microVAX with tape drive

Bake It To ReMake It: Cooking Old Magnetic Tape To Recover Data

Those of us old enough may remember the heyday of the text adventure game genre from the first time around. London-based Magnetic Scrolls was an early pioneering company producing titles for the first Amiga and Atari ST platforms. Fast-forward to 2017 and [Hugh Steers], the original co-founder and core developer for Magnetic Scrolls has formed an initiative to revive and re-release the original games on modern platforms. Since the 1980s-era DEC MicroVAX used originally for development is not particularly rare in retro computing circles, and media containing source code was found in someone’s loft space, reviving the games was not a tall order.

First, he needed to recover a copy of the original source code from the backup tapes. But there was a problem, it turns out that the decaying tapes used a unstable polyurethane-based binder to stick the oxide material (which is what stores the data) to the backing tape, and this binder can absorb water over the years.

Not much happens until you try to read the tape, then you trip over the so-called sticky-shed syndrome. Secondly you may find that a small amount of the oxide layer sheds from the tape, coating the read head, rollers and guides inside the complicated tape mechanism. This quickly results in it gumming up, and jamming, potentially chewing up the tape and destroying it permanently.

This was further exacerbated by the behaviour of the DEC TK50Z tape drive, which needed to shuttle the whole length of the tape as part of its normal operation.

A temporary solution was to bake the tape in an oven to drive out the moisture and reduce the stickiness enough to run it through the drive safely. Then only the oxide-shedding problem remained. The TK50Z drive was swapped for a TZ30 which shuttles the tape less, but also critically with a simple hack, would allow the heads to be cleaned with IPA between read passes. This was enough to keep the gumming up at bay and allow enough data to be read from the tapes to recover several games worth of code, ready for the re-releasing process.

The video after the break shows [Rob Jarratt] working through the process of the data recovery.

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Reading Floppies With An Oscilloscope

There’s a lot of data on magnetic media that will soon be lost forever, as floppies weren’t really made to sit in attics and basements for decades and still work. [Chris Evans] and [Phil Pemberton] needed to read some disks that reportedly contained source code for several BBC Micro games, including Repton 3. They turned to Greaseweazle, an interface board that can dump just about any kind of floppy disk if it is attached to the right drive. The problem is that Greaseweazle couldn’t read the disks due to CRC errors. Time to break out the oscilloscope and read the disk manually, which is what they did.

Greaseweazle provides a nice display of read sectors and shows timing coming from the floppy read head. The disk in question looked good with reasonably clean timing clocks except in the area of one sector. At that point, the clocks degenerated into noise. Looking on the disk, it was easy to see why. The actual media had a small dent in it.

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