Second-Hand Television SHINEs, Takes Down Entire Village’s Internet

We occasionally get stories on the tips line that just make us want to know more. This is especially true with tech stories covered by the mass media, which usually leave out the juicy tidbits that would just clutter up the story for the majority of non-technical readers. That leaves us to dig a little deeper for the satisfying details.

The latest one of these gems to hit the tips line is the tale of a regular broadband outage in a Welsh village. As in, really regular — at 7:00 AM every day, the internet customers of Aberhosan suffered a loss of their internet service. Customers of Openreach, the connectivity arm of the British telco BT, complained about the interruptions as customers do, and technicians responded to investigate the issue. Nobody was able to find the root cause, and despite replacing nearly all the cables in the system, the daily outages persisted for 18 months.

In the end, Openreach brought in a crack team from their Chief Engineer’s office to investigate. Working against COVID-19 restrictions, the team set up a spectrum analyzer in the early morning hours, to capture any evidence of whatever was causing the problem. At the appointed hour they saw a smear of radio frequency interference appear, a high-intensity pulse of noise at just the right frequency to interfere with the village’s asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) broadband service.

A little sleuthing led to the home of a villager and a second-hand TV, which was switched on every day at 7:00 AM. The TV was found to be emitting a strong RF impulse when it was powered up, strong enough to knock out the ADSL service to the entire village. Openreach categorized this as SHINE, or single high-level impulse noise. We’d never heard of this, but apparently it’s common enough that BT warns customers about it and provides helpful instructions for locating sources with an AM radio.

We’ll say one thing for the good people of Aberhosan: they must be patient in the extreme to put up with daily internet outages for 18 months. And it’s funny how there was no apparent notice paid by the offending television’s owner that his or her steady habit caused the outage. Perhaps they don’t have a broadband connection, and so wouldn’t have noticed the borking.

In any case, the owner was reportedly “mortified” by the news and hasn’t turned the TV on since learning of the issue. This generally seems to be the reaction when someone gets caught inadvertently messing up the spectrum — remember the Great Ohio Key Fob Mystery?

Thanks to [Kieran Donnelly] for spotting this for us.

Build Your Own Dial-Up ISP – Now With Modem Pool!

When it was the only viable option, the screech and squeal of dial-up internet was an unwelcome headache to many. But now that its time has passed, it’s gained a certain nostalgia that endears it to the technophiles of today. [Doge Microsystems] is just one such person, who has gone all out to develop their very own dial-up ISP for multiple clients.

The retro network is based on an earlier single-device experiment, with a Raspberry Pi 3B acting as the dial-up server. It’s hooked up to four modems, three of which are connected over USB-serial adapters implementing hardware flow control.

Obviously, four analog phone lines are hard to come by in this day and age, so [Doge] uses Asterisk along with a series of Linksys SIP devices to create their own PBX network.  Each modem gets a phone line, with four left over for clients to dial in.

To connect, users can either call a certain modem directly, or dial a special number which rings the whole pool. Thanks to mgetty, each modem is set up to answer on a different number of rings to allow the load to be shared. Once connected, a PPP daemon handles connecting the user to the Internet at large.

While it’s unlikely we’ll all be ringing [Doge]’s house to get our next YouTube fix, owning your own dial-up ISP is certainly an admirable feat. We’d love to see it deployed in the field sometime, perhaps at a hacker conference or Burning Man-type event. Of course, if you’ve got your own old-school network pumping data, be sure to let us know! Video after the break.

Continue reading “Build Your Own Dial-Up ISP – Now With Modem Pool!”

Connecting New York City To The Backbone: Meet NYC’s Mesh Network

Access to fast and affordable internet is a big issue in the USA, even in a major metropolis such as New York City. Amidst a cartel of ISPs who simply will not deliver, a group of NYC inhabitants first took it upon themselves to ease this situation by setting up their own mesh-based internet connections way back in 2013. Now they will be installing a new Supernode to take the installation base far beyond the current 300 buildings serviced.

As a community project, NYC Mesh is run as a non-profit organization, with its community members supporting the effort through donations, along with partnerships with businesses. Its router hardware consists out of off-the-shelf equipment (with a focus on the Ubiquiti NanoStation NSM5) that get flashed with custom firmware containing the mesh routing functionality.

As this article by Vice mentions, NYC Mesh is one of 750 community-led broadband projects in the US. Many of those use more traditional fixed wiring with distribution lines, but NYC Mesh focuses fully on wireless (WiFi) links with wireless mesh networking. This has the obvious benefit that given enough bandwidth on the Supernodes that hook into the Internet exchange points (IXP) and an efficient mesh routing protocol, it’s quick and easy to hook up new clients and expand the network.

The obvious downsides of using WiFi and RF in general is that they are not immune to outside influences, such as weather (rain), RF interference (including from other WiFi stations) and of course fairly limited range if there’s no direct line of sight. In a densely populated city such as NYC this is not much of an issue, with short hops between roof tops.

Automatic Soap Dispenser Hides Arduino Board

If you’ve been hanging out here at Hackaday for awhile, you’ve certainly seen projects that were based around the concept of putting a miniature computer inside the carcass of some other piece of electronics. In fact at this point it’s something of a running joke, certainly we must have seen an Arduino or Raspberry Pi shoehorned into every type of consumer gadget ever built by this point. But if you thought this would be another example of that common trope by the headline, you might be in for something of a surprise.

[zapta] didn’t put an Arduino inside this GOJO LTX-7 soap dispenser, it was already in there to begin with. That’s right, apparently we’ve hit the point that even cheap soap dispensers are now running on programmable microcontrollers. While we can’t blame those of you who are no doubt groaning and/or rolling their eyes thanks to this particular case of computational gluttony, it does mean we’re able to report with a straight face something which frankly would have passed as an April Fool’s joke in previous years: the development of an open source soap dispensing firmware.

So how does one upload a new Arduino sketch to their GOJO soap dispenser? It’s not like the thing has a USB port on the side for convenient hacking. As explained by [zapta], it involves stripping the dispenser all the way down until the electronics board is free, and then adding in a programming header to make subsequent firmware fiddling a bit easier. Writing a new firmware to the ATTiny48 powered board will require an external ISP (the Atmel AVRISP MKII was used for this hack, though any should work), but it’s otherwise pretty painless.

[zapta] has done an excellent job documenting the different components on the board, and reverse engineered enough of the critical aspects (such as the motor controller and proximity sensor) to write a new open source firmware which can be flashed to the GOJO LTX-7. Beyond allowing you to “Open Source All the Things”, using this new firmware does have some practical advantage in that you can configure how much soap is dispensed per activation. Going further, we’d be exceptionally interested in hearing about anyone who manages to come up with a firmware that enables some hitherto impossible soap dispensing trickery.

We’ve seen hacks involving dispensers of all types, from Halloween games that spit out candy to gadgets which let dogs get their own treats, but a soap dispenser hack is something truly new for us. More proof that there’s still plenty of hardware out there just waiting to be hacked!

One Man’s Journey To Becoming His Own ISP

America is a BIG country. There are pockets all across the land where broadband Internet is slow-to-nonexistent, and many individuals are left with wireless cell service as their only means of internet connection. This is the situation [Brandt Kuykendall] found himself in upon moving his family to Dillon Beach, CA. So he started up his own fiber ISP. (YouTube, embedded below.)

“Cell phone service was really our only option, but that proved to be extremely expensive. My wife came home with the bill (of) $707, and that was the last straw.”

Despite being a mere two hours from the technological hub of San Francisco [Brandt] found himself dissatisfied with the level of service he was receiving from his provider. However, instead of shredding his current contract altogether he decided to go directly to the source. He tracked down the location of the AT&T cell tower in his area and made every call he could in order to find out who was in charge of “opening up the taps”. Months of negotiation between AT&T and [Brandt] ensued and eventually resulted in a fiber line being installed directly into his garage.

The story didn’t stop there, because [Brandt] took it upon himself to spread the wealth by providing his neighbors with Wi-Fi access to the fiber optic line in exchange for a small monthly fee. Employing the use of industrial-grade small cell transmitters he essentially created a point-to-point network along his neighbors’ roofs. [Brandt’s] garage serves as the network monitoring hub enabling him to diagnose any traffic issues. What began as one man seeking decent internet speeds burgeoned into a journey to becoming his own ISP which now serves over 100 other residents of the Dillon Beach area.

Continue reading “One Man’s Journey To Becoming His Own ISP”

Classroom Gadget Turned Arduino Compatible

Cheap second-hand hardware is usually a fertile ground for hacking, and by looks of this project, the digital classroom aids that were all the rage a few years back are no exception. [is0-mick] writes in to tell us how he managed to hack one of these devices, a SMART Reponse XE, into an Arduboy compatible game system. As it turns out, this particular gadget is powered by an ATmega128RFA, which is essentially an Arduino-compatible AVR microcontroller with a 2.4GHz RF transceiver tacked on. This makes it an extremely interesting platform for hacking, especially since they are going for as little as $3 USD on eBay.

There’s no USB-Serial converter built into the SMART Response XE, so you’ll need to provide your own external programmer to flash the device. But luckily there’s a labeled ISP connector right on the board which makes it pretty straightforward to get everything wired up.

Of course, getting the hardware working was slightly more complicated than just flashing an Arduino Sketch onto the thing. [is0-mick] has provided his bootloader and modified libraries to get the device’s QWERTY keyboard and ST7586S controlled 384×160 LCD working.

Playing games is fun, but when his friend [en4rab] sent him the SMART Response XE to fiddle with, the goal was actually to turn them into cheap 2.4 GHz analyzers similar to what was done with the IM-ME. It seems they’re well on their way, and [is0-mick] invites anyone who might be interested in filling in some of the blanks on the RF side to get involved.

Continue reading “Classroom Gadget Turned Arduino Compatible”

MicroPython Learns A New Trick – ISP For AVRs

One of the reasons why the Arduino became so popular was the ability to program it with ease. It meant the end of big parallel programmers that would cost an arm and a leg. The latest installment of CircuitPython from [Lady Ada] and the team over at Adafruit is a library for programming AVR microcontrollers without a dedicated PC.

For the uninitiated, in-system programming or ISP for AVR controllers employ the SPI bus to write the compiled binary to the flash memory of the controller. The discount on the number of pins used itself is a benefit though getting the timings right was a bit tricky in the good old days. Most dedicated ISPs handle this nicely, though they are normally slaves to a host PC where an ‘upload’ button initiates the process.

With CircuitPython (a derivative of MicroPython), programming microcontrollers does not require going through the code-compile-flash cycle. It can be run on a number of processors, however, AVRs are not among them so this neat little library offers the next best thing. Wire-up an Atmega328P or ATmega2560 to a board like the ESP8266 that does run CircuitPython, and you can write firmware on the fly.

There is a complete tutorial on the subject thanks to [Phillip Torrone] and [Lady Ada] which includes some demo files for testing out the functionality. This opens up a lot of possibilities where OTA firmware updates for an AVR co-processor. We expect to see some keychain AVR programmers in the near future taking a hint from the ESP8266 based Two-Factor Authentication featured previously.