Turn-by-turn Smart Glasses Give You Direction

[SamsonMarch] designs electronic products by day and — apparently — does it in his spare time, too. His latest is a pair of really cool shades that give him turn-by-turn directions as he walks around town. Unlike some smart glasses, these get around the difficult problem of building a heads-up display by using a very simple interface based on colored LEDs visible to your peripheral vision in the temples of the frames.

The glasses themselves look great; designed in Fusion 360 and cut out of wood, no one would give them a second glance. [Sam] says you could 3D print them, too, but we think the wood looks best even if the stock is a cheap bamboo cutting board. He also cut the lenses out of acrylic.

The slots in the temples are where the action is, though. An iPhone app takes input and talks to Apple services to get directions. A lot of thought went into making the app work even though the phone keeps trying to put it to sleep. Each PCB hosts an RGB LED for indicating left/right turn and destination. They talk to the app using BLE and include accelerometers which put the boards — powered by coin cells — into sleep mode when no movement is detected.

Overall a fun and good looking project. There are even covers to hide the boards during normal use. The files you need to reproduce it are on GitHub. Usually, when we see smart glasses, they have some sort of screen which is harder to do. Of course, it is impossible to avoid comparisons to Google Glass.

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Listening To An IPhone With AM Radio

Electronic devices can be surprisingly leaky, often spraying out information for anyone close by to receive. [Docter Cube] has found another such leak, this time with the speakers in iPhones. While repairing an old AM radio and listening to a podcast on his iPhone, he discovered that the radio was receiving audio the from his iPhone when tuned to 950-970kHz.

[Docter Cube] states that he was able to receive the audio signal up to 20 feet away. A number of people responded to the tweet with video and test results from different phones. It appears that iPhones 7 to 10 are affected, and there is at least one report for a Motorola Android phone. The amplifier circuit of the speaker appears to be the most likely culprit, with some reports saying that the volume setting had a big impact. With the short range the security risk should be minor, although we would be interested to see the results of testing with higher gain antennas. It is also likely that the emission levels still fall within FCC Part 15 limits.

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Is Anything Really Private Anymore?

In the connected age, every day it appears privacy is becoming more and more of an idealistic fantasy as opposed to a basic human right. In our latest privacy debate per [TechCrunch], apparently the FBI is taking some shots at Apple.

You may recall the unfortunate events, leading the FBI to ask Apple to unlock an iPhone belonging to a person of interest. Apple did not capitulate to the FBI’s request on the basis of their fundamental commitment to privacy. The FBI wasn’t really thrilled with Apple’s stance given the circumstances leading to the request. Nevertheless, eventually, the FBI was able to unlock the phone without Apple’s help.

You may find it somewhat interesting that the author of the news piece appears to be more upset with the FBI for cracking the phone than at Apple (and by extension other tech companies) for making phones that are crackable to begin with.

Maybe we should take solace in knowing that Apple stood their ground for the sake of honoring their privacy commitment. But as we saw, it didn’t really matter in the end as the FBI was able to hire a third party to help them unlock the phones and were later able to repeat the process in-house. The article also noted that there are other private companies capable of doing exactly what the FBI did. We understand that no encryption is 100% safe. So it begs the question, “Is anything really private anymore?” Share your thoughts in the comments below.

GitHub On The Go

It is hard to find anyone that does any kind of software development that doesn’t have some interaction with GitHub. Even if you don’t host your own projects there, there are so many things to study and borrow on the site, that it is nearly ubiquitous. However, when you’ve needed GitHub on the run, you’ve probably had to turn to your phone browser and had a reduced experience. GitHub for Mobile is now out of beta and promises a more fluid phone-based GitHub experience.

In addition to working with tasks and issues, you can also review and merge pull requests. The app sends your phone notifications, too, which can be handy. As you might expect, you can get the app for Android or iPhone in the respective stores.

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Google Creates Debuggable IPhone

Apple is known for a lot of things, but opening up their platforms to the world isn’t one of those things. According to a recent Google post by [Brandon Azad], there do exist special iPhones that are made for development with JTAG ports and other magic capabilities. The port is in all iPhones (though unpopulated), but is locked down by default. We don’t know what it takes to get a magic iPhone, but we are guessing Google can’t send in the box tops to three Macbook Pros to get on the waiting list. But what is locked can be unlocked, and [Brandon] set out to build a debuggable iPhone.

Exploiting some debug registers, it is possible to debug the A11 CPU at any point in its execution. [Brandon’s] tool single steps the system reset and makes some modifications to the CPU after key instructions to prevent the lockdown of kernel memory. After that, the world’s your oyster. KTRW is a tool built using this technique that can debug an iPhone with a standard cable.

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Faster Computers Lead To Slower Experiences?

Ever get that funny feeling that things aren’t quite what they used to be? Not in the way that a new washing machine has more plastic parts than one 40 years its senior. More like “my laptop can churn through hundreds of gigaflops, but when I scroll it doesn’t feel great.” That perception of smoothness might be based on a couple factors, including system latency. A couple years ago [danluu] had that feeling too and measured the latency of “devices I’ve run into in the past few months” (based on this list, he lives a more interesting life than we do). It turns out his hunch was objectively correct. What he wrote was a wonderful deep dive into how and why a wide variety of devices work and the hardware and software contributors to latency.

Let’s be clear about what “latency” means in this context. [danluu] was checking the time between a user input and some response on screen. For desktop systems he measured a keystroke, for mobile devices scrolling a browser. If you’re here on Hackaday (or maybe at a Vintage Computer Festival) the cause of the apparent contradiction at the top of the charts might be obvious.

Q: Why are some older systems faster than devices built decades later? A: The older systems just didn’t do much! Instead of complex multi-tasking operating systems doing hundreds of things at once, the CPU’s entire attention was bent on whatever user process was running. There are obvious practical drawbacks here but it certainly reduces context switching!

In some sense this complexity that [danluu] describes is at the core of how we solve problems with programming. Writing code is all about abstraction. While it’s true that any program could be written directly in machine code and customized to an individual machine’s hardware configuration, it would be pretty inconvenient for both developer and user. So over time layers of sugar have been added on top to hide raw hardware behind nicer interfaces written in higher-level programming languages.

And instead of writing every program to target exact hardware configurations there is a kernel to handle the lowest layers, then layers adding hotplug systems, power management, pluggable module and driver infrastructure, and more. When considering solutions to a programming problem the approach is always recursive: you can solve the problem, or add a layer of abstraction and reframe it. Enough layers of the latter makes the former trivial. But it’s abstractions all the way down.

[danluu]’s observation is that we’re just now starting to curve back around and hit low latency again, but this time by brute force! Modern solutions to latency largely look like increasingly exotic display technologies and complex optimizations which reach from UI draw functions all the way down to the silicon, not removing software and system infrastructure. It turns out the benefits of software complexity in terms of user experience and ease of development are worth it most of the time.

For a very tangible illustration of latency as applied to touchscreen devices, check out the Microsoft Research video after the break (linked to in [danluu]’s piece).

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CNC Mill Repairs IPhone 7

Modern smartphones are highly integrated devices, bringing immense computing power into the palm of one’s hand. This portable computing power and connectivity has both changed society in innumerable ways, and also tends to lead to said powerful computers ending up dropped on the ground or into toilets. Repairs are often limited to screen replacement or exchanging broken modules, but it’s possible to go much further.

The phone is an iPhone 7, which a service center reported had issues with the CPU, and the only fix was a full mainboard replacement. [The Kardi Lab] weren’t fussed, however, and got to work. The mainboard is installed in a CNC fixture, and the A10 CPU is delicately milled away, layer by layer. A scalpel and hot air gun are then used for some further cleanup of the solder pads. Some conductivity testing to various pads is then carried out, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

At this point, a spare A10 CPU is sourced, and a stencil is used to apply solder paste or balls – it is not immediately obvious which. The new chip is then reflowed on to the mainboard, and the phone reassembled. The device is then powered on and shown to be functional.

It’s an impressive repair, and shows that modern electronics isn’t so impossible to fix – as long as you have the right tools to hand. The smart thing is, by using the CNC machine with a pre-baked program, it greatly reduces the labor required in the removal stage, making the repair much more cost-effective. The team are particularly helpful, linking to the tools used to pull off the repair in the video description. We’ve seen similar hacks, too – such as upgrading an iPhone’s memory.  Video after the break.

[Thanks to Nikolai for the tip!]

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