Join us on Wednesday, February 2 at noon Pacific for the Floppy Interfacing Hack Chat with Adafruit’s Limor “Ladyada” Fried and Phillip Torrone!
When a tiny fleck of plastic-covered silicon can provide enough capacity to store a fair percentage of humanity’s collected knowledge, it may seem like a waste of time to be fooling around with archaic storage technology like floppy disks. With several orders of magnitude less storage capacity than something like even the cheapest SD card or thumb drive, and access speeds that clock in somewhere between cold molasses and horse and buggy, floppy drives really don’t seem like they have any place on the modern hacker’s bench.
Or do they? Learning the ins and out of interfacing floppy drives with modern microcontrollers is at least an exercise in hardware hacking that can pay dividends in other projects. A floppy drive is, after all, a pretty complex little device, filled with electromechanical goodies that need to be controlled in a microcontroller environment. And teasing data from a stream of magnetic flux changes ends up needing some neat hacks that might just serve you well down the line.
So don’t dismiss the humble floppy drive as a source for hacking possibilities. The folks at Adafruit sure haven’t, as they’ve been working diligently to get native floppy disk support built right into CircuitPython. To walk us through how they got where they are now, Ladyada and PT will drop by the Hack Chat. Be sure to come with your burning questions on flux transitions, MFM decoding, interface timing issues, and other arcana of spinning rust drives.
Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 2 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.
Continue reading “Floppy Interfacing Hack Chat With Adafruit”
[lexie] is a librarian, and librarians live in the real world. They’re not concerned with vague digital notions about the size of data, but practical notions of space. Thus, she created a tool to answer an important question: how long do your shelves need to be if you’re storing all your information on 3.5″ floppy disks?
It’s a great question, and one we find ourselves asking, well, pretty much never. [lexie]’s tool is also built using modern web technologies, and 3.5″ floppy disks were never really used for bulk storage, either. It just makes the whole thing all the more frivolous, and that makes it more fun.
You can key in any quantity from megabytes to exabytes and the tool will spit out the relevant answer in anything from millimeters to miles as appropriate. Despite the graphics on the web page, it does assume rational shelving practices of placing disks along the shelves on their thinner 4 mm edge.
We’d love to see a expanded version that covers other storage methods, like tape, hard drives, or burnt media. It could actually become pretty useful for those building their own mass storage farms at home. With CHIA cryptocurrency that could become more popular, even if it does run us all out of hard drives along the way. Altnernatively, you might consider hooking up a floppy controller for your Raspberry Pi.
Most of us can say that we have taken an obsolete hard drive out of a computer and felt it was a waste to toss it in the e-waste pile. Some of us have children’s drawings hung on the fridge with actuator magnets, or maybe a vast spreadsheet suspended on a steel filing cabinet. Let us not forget that there is also a high-speed, low-noise motor in there. On some models it is separate from the PCB, so grab an Electronic Speed Controller (ESC), your microcontroller of choice, and make yourself a salvaged HDD centrifuge like [Cave Man] has. His build uses the tray as a chassis, but he modeled and printed a new face in the same style as the original.
On top, he has an OLED screen for displaying the requested speed, measured speed, and runtime. Next to the display is a four-button pad with a customized legend for setting parameters. The video after the break shows the machine running through its paces. This version accommodates the tiny capillary tubes, microhematocrit tubes, for processing raw blood. This test can calculate the packed cell volume, which professionals use to determine things from dehydration to anemia.
There are other builds out there where people have modified an old drive into the kind of centrifuge that accepts larger diameter tubes, but this was a shining example of what is possible. One good turn deserves another, so we recommend a desktop bio-lab companion, or enlist some LEGO Mindstorms to help out.
Continue reading “A New Spin On A Medical Test”
Every person who reads these pages is likely to have encountered a neodymium magnet. Most of us interact with them on a daily basis, so it is easy to assume that the process for their manufacture must be simple since they are everywhere. That is not the case, and there is value in knowing how the magnets are manufactured so that the next time you pick one up or put a reminder on the fridge you can appreciate the labor that goes into one.
[Michael Brand] writes the Super Magnet Man blog and he walks us through the high-level steps of neodymium magnet production. It would be a flat-out lie to say it was easy, but you’ll learn what goes into them and why you don’t want to lick a broken hard-drive magnet and why it will turn to powder in your mouth. Neodymium magnets are probably unlikely to be produced at this level in a garage lab, but we would love to be proved wrong.
We see these magnets everywhere, from homemade encoder disks, cartesian coordinate tables, to a super low-power motor.
Magnetic storage is quickly becoming an antiquated technology but IBM may have given it a few more years. Currently, magnetic storage is still manufactured as hard disk drives (HDDs) but you won’t find a tape drive in a modern consumer computer. That’s not likely to change but IBM is pushing the envelope to make a tape drive that will be smaller and more economical than other massive storage options. In many ways, they’re the antithesis of solid state drives (SSDs) because tape drives are slow to retrieve data but capable of holding a lot inexpensively.
Three advances are responsible for this surge in capacity. Firstly, the tape “grains,” where each bit is recorded, have been shrunk by sputtering metal to a film instead of painting it on. Secondly, better servo control allows the reading mechanisms to read those tiny grains with the necessary accuracy. Lastly, stronger computation is used to read the data by using error detection and correction because when your tape is traveling four meters per second, it takes a long time to go back and double-check something.
IBM’s tape drive won’t replace your hard drive but it could back it up daily, many times over.
Check this out if your wetware needs a memory boost or this if your breakfast needs a memory boost.
[rossumur]’s first computer was an Atari 400, and after riding a wave of nostalgia and forgetting the horrible keyboard found in the Atari 400, he decided it was time to miniaturize the venerable Atari 810 disk drive by putting an entire library of Atari games on a single microSD card.
SD cards have been slowly but surely replacing disk drives for just about every old computer system out there. You no longer need 400k disks for your old mac, and your Commodore 64 can run directly off an SD card. The Atari 8-bits have been somewhat forgotten in this movement towards modern solid state storage, and although a solution does exist, this implementation is a pretty pricey piece of hardware.
[rossumur]’s hardware for giving the Atari 8-bit computers an SD card slot is just one chip – an LPC1114 ARM Cortex M0. This, along with an SD card slot, 3.3V regulator, a LED and some caps allows the Atari to talk to SD card and hold the entire 8-bit Atari library on a piece of plastic the size of a fingernail.
Designing a circuit board doesn’t have the street cred it once did, and to give his project a little more pizzazz he chose to emulate the look of the very popular miniaturized Commodore 1541 disk drive with a tiny replica of the Atari 810 disk drive. This enclosure was printed at Shapeways, and with some enamel hobby paint, [rossumur] had a tiny, tiny 810 drive.
While this build does require the sacrifice of a somewhat rare and certainly old Atari SIO cable, it is by far the best solution yet seen for bringing a massive game library to the oft-forgotten Atari 8-bit home computers.
Thanks [lucas] for the tip.
There are a lot of malware programs in the wild today, but luckily we have methods of detecting and removing them. Antivirus is an old standby, and if that fails you can always just reformat the hard drive and wipe it clean. That is unless the malware installs itself in your hard drive firmware. [MalwareTech] has written his own frightening proof of concept malware that does exactly this.
The core firmware rootkit needs to be very small in order to fit in the limited memory space on the hard drive’s memory chips. It’s only a few KB in size, but that doesn’t stop it from packing a punch. The rootkit can intercept any IO to and from the disk or the disk’s firmware. It uses this to its advantage by modifying data being sent back to the host computer. When the computer requests data from a sector on the disk, that data is first loaded into the disk’s cache. The firmware can modify the data sitting in the cache before notifying the host computer that the data is ready. This allows the firmware to trick the host system into executing arbitrary code.
[MalwareTech] uses this ability to load his own custom Windows XP bootkit called TinyXPB. All of this software is small enough to fit on the hard drive’s firmware. This means that traditional antivirus cannot detect its presence. If the owner of the system does get suspicious and completely reformats the hard drive, the malware will remain unharmed. The owner cannot even re-flash the firmware using traditional methods since the rootkit can detect this and save itself. The only way to properly re-flash the firmware would be to use an SPI programmer, which would be too technical for most users.
There are many more features and details to this project. If you are interested in malware, the PDF presentation is certainly worth a read. It goes much more in-depth into how the malware actually works and includes more details about how [MalwareTech] was able to actually reverse engineer the original firmware. If you’re worried about this malicious firmware getting out into the wild, [MalwareTech] assures us that he does not intend to release the actual code to the public.