Hackaday Links: August 23, 2020

Apple, the world’s first trillion-dollar company — give or take a trillion — has built a bit of libertarian cachet by famously refusing to build backdoors into their phones, despite the entreaties of the federal government. So it came as a bit of a surprise when we read that the company may have worked with federal agents to build an “enhanced” iPod. David Shayer says that he was one of three people in Apple who knew about the 2005 program, which was at the behest of the US Department of Energy. Shayer says that engineers from defense contractor Bechtel, seemed to want to add sensors to the first-generation iPod; he was never clued in fully but suspects they were adding radiation sensors. It would make sense, given the climate in the early 2000s, walking down the street with a traditional Geiger counter would have been a bit obvious. And mind you, we’re not knocking Apple for allegedly working with the government on this — building a few modified iPods is a whole lot different than turning masses of phones into data gathering terminals. Umm, wait…

A couple of weeks back, we included a story about a gearhead who mounted a GoPro camera inside of a car tire. The result was some interesting footage as he drove around; it’s not a common sight to watch a tire deform and move around from the inside like that. As an encore, the gearhead in question, Warped Perception, did the same trick bit with a more destructive bent: he captured a full burnout from the inside. The footage is pretty sick, with the telltale bubbles appearing on the inside before the inevitable blowout and seeing daylight through the shredded remains of the tire. But for our money, the best part is the slo-mo footage from the outside, with the billowing smoke and shredded steel belts a-flinging. We appreciate the effort, but we’re sure glad this guy isn’t our neighbor.

Speaking of graphic footage, things are not going well for some remote radio sites in California. Some towers that host the repeaters used by public service agencies and ham radio operators alike have managed to record their last few minutes of life as wildfires sweep across the mountains they’re perched upon. The scenes are horrific, like something from Dante’s Inferno, and the burnover shown in the video below is terrifying; watch it and you’ll see a full-grown tree consumed in less than 30 seconds. As bad as the loss of equipment is, it pales in comparison to what the firefighters face as they battle these blazes, but keep in mind that losing these repeaters can place them in terrible jeopardy too.

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Bringing An IPod To The Modern NAND Era

Flash storage was a pretty big deal back in the mid ’00s, although the storage sizes that were available at the time seem laughable by today’s standards. For example, having an iPod that didn’t have a spinning, unreliable hard drive was huge even if the size was measured in single-digit gigabytes, since iPods tended to not be treated with the same amount of care as something like a laptop. Sadly, these small iPods aren’t available anymore, and if you want one with more than 8GB of storage you’ll have to upgrade an old one yourself.

This build comes to us from [Hugo] who made the painstaking effort of removing the old NAND flash storage chip from an iPod Nano by hand, soldering 0.15mm enameled magnet wire to an 0.5mm pitch footprint to attach a breakout board. Once the delicate work was done, he set about trying to figure out the software. In theory the iPod should have a maximum addressable space of 64 GB but trying to get custom firmware on this specific iPod is more of a challenge and the drives don’t simply plug-and-play. He is currently using the rig for testing a new 8GB and new 16GB chip though but it shows promise and hopefully he’ll be able to expand to that maximum drive size soon.

The build is really worth a look if you’re into breathing new life into old media players. Sometimes, though all these old iPods really need to get working again is just to be thrown into a refrigerator, as some genius engineer showed us many years ago.

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.

Porting Quake To An IPod Classic Is No Easy Task

We didn’t think we’d see another hack involving the aging iPod Classic here on Hackaday again, yet [Franklin Wei] surprises us with a brand new port of Quake for the sixth-generation iPod released some thirteen years ago. Is Quake the new 90s FPS that’ll get put into every device hackers can get their hands on?

The port works on top of RockBox, a custom firmware for the iPod and other portable media players. This isn’t the first game on the device. A source port of Doom has been available for years. [Franklin] decided to use Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL) to make his job easier. That doesn’t mean this was an easy task though, as [Franklin] describes very interesting bugs that kept him from finishing his work for about two years.

The first problem was that the GCC compiler he was using was apparently not optimizing time-critical sound mixing routines. [Franklin] decided enough was enough and dug into ARM assembly to re-write those parts of the code by hand. He managed to squeeze out a speed increase of about 60%. Even better, he ran into a prime example of a bug that would get triggered by a very specific sound sample length running through his code. Thankfully, with all of that sorted, the port is now released and we can all enjoy cramping our hands around tiny screens to frag some low-poly monsters.

If you need to repair your sixth-generation iPod before you can do that though, no need to worry since they seem to not be so hard to service by yourself. And if the battery life and disk space aren’t quite what they used to be, there’s also the option to bulk it up for winter. Check out the Quake port in action after the break.

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Apple Lightning Video Adaptors Run IOS, Dynamically Loaded

Apple has for a very long time been a company that ploughs its own furrow when it comes to peripherals, with expensive proprietary hardware being the order of the day over successive generations of its products. One of its current line of proprietary interfaces is the Lightning connector, best thought of as an Apple-only take on the same ideas that the rest of the world knows as USB-C. There are a whole host of white dangly peripherals that can be hung from your iDevice’s Lightning port, including a pair of display adaptors that allow them to drive an HDMI or VGA monitor.  [Lisa Braun] has subjected one that had failed to a teardown, and her analysis gives some insight into the way Apple creates its peripherals.

Where you might expect these to contain mostly the equivalent of a graphics card, in fact they have a fully-fledged SoC of their own that runs its own OS with the same Darwin kernel as its host. Unexpectedly this is not held upon the adapter itself, instead it is shipped with iOS and loaded dynamically. Thus the file containing it can be retrieved from iOS and unpacked, leading to some interesting analysis. In a fascinating twist for those of us unused to Lightning’s internals, it’s revealed that the device can be driven from a USB port with the appropriate cobbled-together adapter, allowing a full-size MacOS device to interrogate it. This many not be news to readers with a long memory though, we’ve told you in the past about reverse engineering the Lightning connector.

Putting An Out Of Work IPod Display To Good Use

[Mike Harrison] produces so much quality content that sometimes excellent material slips through the editorial cracks. This time we noticed that one such lost gem was [Mike]’s reverse engineering of the 6th generation iPod Nano display from 2013, as caught when the also prolific [Greg Davill] used one on a recent board. Despite the march of progress in mobile device displays, small screens which are easy to connect to hobbyist style devices are still typically fairly low quality. It’s easy to find fancier displays as salvage but interfacing with them electrically can be brutal, never mind the reverse engineering required to figure out what signal goes where. Suffice to say you probably won’t find a manufacturer data sheet, and it won’t conveniently speak SPI or I2C.

After a few generations of strange form factor exploration Apple has all but abandoned the stand-alone portable media player market; witness the sole surviving member of that once mighty species, the woefully outdated iPod Touch. Luckily thanks to vibrant sales, replacement parts for the little square sixth generation Nano are still inexpensive and easily available. If only there was a convenient interface this would be a great source of comparatively very high quality displays. Enter [Mike].

Outer edge of FPGA and circuit

This particular display speaks a protocol called DSI over a low voltage differential MIPI interface, which is a common combination which is still used to drive big, rich, modern displays. The specifications are somewhat available…if you’re an employee of a company who is a member of the working group that standardizes them — there are membership discounts for companies with yearly revenue below $250 million, and dues are thousands of dollars a quarter.

Fortunately for us, after some experiments [Mike] figured out enough of the command set and signaling to generate easily reproduced schematics and references for the data packets, checksums, etc. The project page has a smattering of information, but the circuit includes some unusual provisions to adjust signal levels and other goodies so try watching the videos for a great explanation of what’s going on and why. At the time [Mike] was using an FPGA to drive the display and that’s certainly only gotten cheaper and easier, but we suspect that his suggestion about using a fast micro and clever tricks would work well too.

It turns out we made incidental mention of this display when covering [Mike]’s tiny thermal imager but it hasn’t turned up much since them. As always, thanks for the accidental tip [Greg]! We’re waiting to see the final result of your experiments with this.

The 2000GB IPod You Wished For In The 00’s Is An ISore

Remember those times we all said that we wouldn’t mind it if the iPod was three times as thick but could store a lot more songs and the battery lasted forever? Well, the I-Sore will let us truly consider our stance on the subject.

The iSore would have definitely made some of us the coolest kids on the yard in Jr. High (or at the engineering office) in the 00’s. At first glance we assumed it would be one of those fancy single board computers packaged with a big hard drive masquerading as an iPod. We were surprised to discover that [jimbone] was performing a classic iPod hack.

The ipod’s back is pried off and discarded. A ZIF to SATA adapter connects it to a significantly larger hard drive. The basic battery is replaced with an 8Ah pack. The USB ports are broken out. For the case there are a few options. There’s a 3D printed case, a wooden case, and even one that looks like a Lovecraftian horror.

[jimbone] claims 100 hours of playtime on a single charge. He hasn’t claimed bulking up a bit from carrying it around, but we can make our guesses.