Can You Hot-Swap Flash Chips In A Consumer Router?

Sometimes, you mess up when toying with the firmware of an embedded device and end up “bricking” what you were working on. [Chris Bellows] had done just that with a consumer router, corrupting the onboard NAND flash to the point where recovery via normal means was impossible. Armed with a working duplicate of the router, he wondered if the corrupted NAND flash could be substituted into the working router while it was running, and reflashed in place – and decided to find out.

Key to achieving the hack was finding a way to remove the existing NAND flash in the working router without crashing the system while doing so. This required careful disconnection of the chip’s power lines once the router had booted up, as well as tying the “Ready/Busy” and “Read Enable” pins to ground. With this done, the chip could carefully be removed with a hot air tool without disrupting the router’s operation. The new chip could then be soldered in place, and flashed with factory firmware via the router’s web interface. At this point, it could be powered down and the chips swapped normally back into their own respective routers, restoring both to full functionality.

It’s a neat hack, and one that shows that it’s sometimes worth taking a punt on your crazy ideas just to see what you can pull off. It also pays to know the deeper secrets of the hardware you run on your own home network.

Enjoy An ASCII Version Of Star Wars In The Palm Of Your Hand For May The 4th

Everyone by now has probably seen the original — and best; fight us — installment of the Star Wars franchise, and likely the ASCII-art animation version of it that improves greatly on the film by eliminating all those distracting special effects, human actors, and the soundtrack. But what we haven’t had until now is a portable player for ASCIIWars, to enjoy the film in all its character-based glory while you’re on the go.

While this tribute to [Simon Jansen]’s amazing ASCII-art achievement might seem like a simple repackaging of the original, [Frank] actually had to go to some lengths to make this work. After getting [Simon]’s blessing, the build started with a WEMOS D1 Mini, a good platform for the project less for its wireless capabilities and more for its 4 MB of flash memory. A 240×360 TFT LCD display was selected to show the film; the scale of the display made most fonts hard to read, so [Frank] used Picopixel, a font designed for legibility on small screens. The animation file is stored on the SPIFFS file system on the D1’s flash memory, and a few lines of code parse it and send it to the display. The final touch is mounting the whole thing is an old slide viewer, which magnifies the display to make it a little easier to see.

As much as we applaud [Frank]’s tribute to [Simon]’s effort, there’s no reason to confine this to the Star Wars universe. If you read up on the history of ASCII art, which goes surprisingly far back, you might be inspired to render another classic film in ASCIImation and put it on a viewer like this. ASCII-Metropolis, anyone?

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Removing Supervisor Passwords And Learning Python

When learning a new programming language, it’s best to have a goal in mind and work towards it. [Timo] thought it was about time to learn python, and he also had a project in mind: removing the BIOS supervisor password from his old Thinkpad. From there it was just a few keystrokes (and some soldering) and he was able to change the BIOS password of this black box from the outside.

The build utilizes a BeagleBone to communicate with the laptop’s EEPROM via the I2C bus. An oscilloscope also monitors the bus to look for a specific window every four-seconds when the computer is not accessing the bus. During that short period, the EEPROM can be read and written to. Once the window opens, the BeagleBone executes the Python script, which attempts to read the EEPROM and can also perform actions such as removing or changing the BIOS supervisor password.

Of course, tinkering with the EEPROM on a laptop has a high risk of bricking the device, and not all laptops use the same security measures or even memory addresses for things like this, so documentation and precision are key. Also, with Thinkpads of this vintage it’s possible to replace the firmware on these chips entirely with a FOSS version called libreboot, and even though the process is difficult, it’s definitely recommended.

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Tesla Recalls Cars With EMMC Failures, Calls Part A ‘Wear Item’

It’s a problem familiar to anyone who’s spent a decent amount of time playing with a Raspberry Pi – over time, the flash in the SD card reaches its write cycle limits, and causes a cavalcade of confusing errors before failing entirely. While flash storage is fast, compact, and mechanically reliable, it has always had a writeable lifespan much shorter than magnetic technologies.

Flash storage failures in the computer behind Tesla’s famous touch screen are causing headaches for drivers.

Of course, with proper wear levelling techniques and careful use, these issues can be mitigated successfully. The surprising thing is when a major automaker fails to implement such basic features, as was the case with several Tesla models. Due to the car’s Linux operating system logging excessively to its 8 GB eMMC storage, the flash modules have been wearing out. This leads to widespread failures in the car, typically putting it into limp mode and disabling many features controlled via the touchscreen.

With the issue affecting important subsystems such as the heater, defroster, and warning systems, the NHTSA wrote to the automaker in January requesting a recall. Tesla’s response acquiesced to this request with some consternation, downplaying the severity of the issue. Now they are claiming that the eMMC chip, ball-grid soldered to the motherboard, inaccessible without disassembling the dash, and not specifically mentioned in the owner’s manual, should be considered a “wear item”, and thus should not be subject to such scrutiny. Continue reading “Tesla Recalls Cars With EMMC Failures, Calls Part A ‘Wear Item’”

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Hackaday Links: February 7, 2021

What’s that they say about death and taxes? Apparently that maxim doesn’t apply to Flash, at least when it comes to the taxman. As we noted last week, the end of the Adobe Flash era took with it a scheduling and routing app for the railway system in a Chinese city. This time around, it’s the unfortunately acronymed SARS, for South African Revenue Services, having Flash woes. They still have several online tax forms that haven’t been migrated to HTML5, so to keep the revenue flowing they built their own Flash-enabled browser. Taxpayers are free to download and use the browser while SARS works on getting the rest of their forms migrated. It sort of reminds us of those plans the Internal Revenue Service has to ensure tax collection continues after a nuclear apocalypse — death and taxes indeed.

Trouble for Nintendo in the EU? It looks that way, as consumer groups have made the case to EU regulators that Nintendo’s wildly popular Switch consoles are showing unacceptably premature obsolescence with the notorious “Joy-Con drift” issue. The problem, which manifests as players being unable to control a game due to constant movement despite no inputs on the joystick-like controller, requires a repair, one that Nintendo initially only did for free as warranty service for consoles less than a year old. For consoles out of the warranty period, Nintendo was charging €45, which is approximately the same as what a new controller would cost. This didn’t sit well with regulators, and now they’re breathing down Nintendo’s neck. They now offer free repairs for up to two years, but they’re still under the EU microscope. The interesting bit in the linked document is the technical reason for the problem, which is attributed to premature PCB wear — possibly meaning the traces wear away — and inadequate sealing of the Joy-Con mechanism against dust intrusion.

Last year looked as though it was going to be an exciting one with respect to some of our nearest solar and galactic neighbors. For a while there, it looked like the red giant Betelgeuse was going to go supernova, which would have been interesting to watch. And closer to home, there were some signs of life, in the form of phosphine gas, detected in the roiling atmosphere of our sister planet, Venus. Alas, both stories appear not to have panned out. The much-hoped-for (by me) Betelgeuse explosion, which was potentially heralded by a strange off-cycle dimming of the variable star, seems now to be due to its upper atmosphere cooling by several hundred degrees. As for Venus, the phosphine gas that was detected appears actually to have been a false positive triggered by sulfur dioxide. Disappointing results perhaps, but that’s how science is supposed to work.

Amateur radio often gets a bad rap, derided as a hobby for rich old dudes who just like to talk about their medical problems. Some of that is deserved, no doubt, but there’s still a lot of room in the hobby for those interested in advancing the state of the art in radio communications. In this vein, we were pleased to learn about HamSCI, which is short for Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation. The group takes to heart one of the stated primary missions of amateur radio as the “ontinuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.” To that end, they’ll be holding HamSCI Workshop 2021, a virtual conference that will be focused on midlatitude ionospheric science. This appears to be a real science conference where both credentialed scientists and amateurs can share ideas. They’ve got a Call for Proposals now, with abstracts due by February 15. The conference itself will be on March 19 and 20, with free admission. The list of invited speakers looks pretty impressive, so if you have any interest in the field, check it out.

And finally, we got a tip this week about a collection of goofy US patents. Everything listed, from the extreme combover to baby bum-print art, is supposedly covered by a patent. We didn’t bother checking Google Patents, but some of these are pretty good for a laugh. We did look at a few, though, and were surprised to learn that the Gerbil Shirt is not a garment for rodents, but a rodent-filled garment for humans.

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Hackaday Links: January 31, 2021

There are an awful lot of machines on the market these days that fall under the broad category of “cheap Chinese laser cutters”. You know the type — the K40s, the no-name benchtop CO2 cutters, the bigger floor-mount units. If you’ve recently purchased one of these machines from one of the usual vendors, or even if you’re just thinking about doing so, you’ll likely have some questions. In which case, this “Chinese Laser Cutters 101” online class might be right up your alley. We got wind of this though its organizer, Jonathan Schwartz of American Laser Cutter in Los Angeles, who says he’s been installing, repairing, and using laser cutters for a decade now. The free class will be on February 8 at 5:00 PM PST, and while it’s open to all, it does require registration.

We got an interesting tip the other day that had to do with Benford’s Law. We’d never heard of this one, so we assumed was a “joke law” like Murphy’s Law or Betteridge’s Rule of Headlines. But it turns out that Benford’s Law describes the distribution of leading digits in large sets of numbers. Specifically, it says that the leading digit in any given number is more likely to be one of the smaller numbers. Measurements show that rather than each of the nine base 10 digits showing up about 11% of the time, a 1 will appear in the leading digit 30% of the time, while a 9 will appear about 5% of the time. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and the tip we got pointed to an article that attempted to apply Benford’s Law to image files. This technique was used in a TV show to prove an image had been tampered with, but as it turns out, Hollywood doesn’t always get technical material right. Shocking, we know, but the technique was still interesting and the code developed to Benford-ize image files might be useful in other ways.

Everyone knew it was coming, and for a long time in advance, but it still seems that the once-and-for-all, we’re not kidding this time, it’s for realsies shutdown of Adobe Flash has had some real world consequences. To wit, a railroad system in the northern Chinese city of Dalian ground to a halt earlier this month thanks to Flash going away. No, they weren’t using Flash to control the railroad, but rather it was buried deep inside software used to schedule and route trains. It threw the system into chaos for a while, but never fear — they got back up and running by installing a pirated version of Flash. Here’s hoping that they’re working on a more permanent solution to the problem.

First it was toilet paper and hand sanitizer, now it’s…STM32 chips? Maybe, if the chatter on Twitter and other channels is to be believed. Seems like people are having a hard time sourcing the microcontroller lately. It’s all anecdotal so far, of course, but the prevailing theory is that COVID-19 and worker strikes have lead to a pinch in production. Plus, you know, the whole 2020 thing. We’re wondering if our readers have noticed anything on this — if so, let us know in the comments below.

And finally, just because it’s cool, here’s a video of what rockets would look like if they were transparent. Well, obviously, they’d look like twisted heaps of burning wreckage on the ground is they were really made with clear plastic panels and fuel tanks, but you get the idea. The video launches a virtual fleet — a Saturn V, a Space Shuttle, a Falcon Heavy, and the hypothetical SLS rocket — and flies them in tight formation while we get to watch their consumables be consumed. If the burn rates are accurate, it’s surprising how little fuel and oxidizer the Shuttle used compared to the Saturn. We were also surprised how long the SLS holds onto its escape tower, and were pleased by the Falcon Heavy payload reveal.

Extensive Modification Of DSLR Includes High Quality Audio

Modern DSLR cameras are incredible pieces of technology that can take excellent high-quality photos as well as record video and audio. However, as they become jacks of all trades they risk being masters of none, and the audio quality in modern DSLRs certainly reflects that old cliche. To get true high-quality audio while recording with a camera like this Canon 80d, you’ll either need a secondary audio recording device or you’ll need to interface one directly into the camera itself.

This build from [Tony] aka [Carnivore] goes into the inner workings of the camera to add an audio mixer to the camera’s audio input, allowing for multiple audio streams to be recorded at once. First, he removed the plastic around the microphone port and attached a wire to it that extends out of the camera to a 1/8″ plug. While he had the case open he also wired a second shutter, added a record button to a custom location on the front of the camera, and bypassed a switch which prevents the camera from operating if the battery door isn’t closed.

With those modifications in place, he removed the internal flash from the camera before closing the body. A custom 3D printed mount was placed in the vacant space which now houses the audio mixer, a SR-AX100 from Saramonic. This plugs in to the new microphone wire from earlier in the build, allowing the camera to have an expanded capacity for recording audio.

While [Tony] has a fairly unique use case for all of these modifications to an already $1000 camera, getting into the inner workings of DSLRs isn’t something to shy away from if you need something similar done. We’ve even seen modifications to cameras like these to allow for watercooling during video recording.

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