Joe Grand is Hiding Data in Plain Sight: LEDs that Look Solid but Send a Message

Thursday night was a real treat. I got to see both Joe Grand and Kitty Yeung at the HDDG meetup, each speaking about their recent work.

Joe walked us through the OpticSpy, his newest hardware product that had its genesis in some of the earliest days of data leakage. Remember those lights on old modems that would blink when data is being transmitted or received? The easiest way to design this circuit is to tie the status LEDs directly to the RX and TX lines of a serial port, but it turns out that’s broadcasting your data out to anyone with a camera. You can’t see the light blinking so fast with your eyes of course, but with the right gear you most certainly could read out the ones and zeros. Joe built an homage to that time using a BPW21R photodiode.

Transmitting data over light is something that television manufacturers have been doing for decades, too. How do they work in a room full of light sources? They filter for the carrier signal (usually 38 kHz). But what if you’re interested in finding an arbitrary signal? Joe’s bag of tricks does it without the carrier and across a large spectrum. It feels a bit like magic, but even if you know how it works, his explanation of the hardware is worth a watch!

Continue reading “Joe Grand is Hiding Data in Plain Sight: LEDs that Look Solid but Send a Message”

[Joe Grand’s] Toothbrush Plays Music That Doesn’t Suck

It’s not too exciting that [Joe Grand] has a toothbrush that plays music inside your head. That’s actually a trick that the manufacturer pulled off. It’s that [Joe] gave his toothbrush an SD card slot for music that doesn’t suck.

The victim donor hardware for this project is a toothbrush meant for kids called Tooth Tunes. They’ve been around for years, but unless you’re a kid (or a parent of one) you’ve never heard of them. That’s because they generally play the saccharine sounds of Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers which make adults choose cavities over dental health. However, we’re inclined to brush the enamel right off of our teeth if we can listen to The Amp Hour, Embedded FM, or the Spark Gap while doing so. Yes, we’re advocating for a bone-conducting, podcasting toothbrush.

[Joe’s] hack starts by cracking open the neck of the brush to cut the wires going to a transducer behind the brushes (his first attempt is ugly but the final process is clean and minimal). This allows him to pull out the guts from the sealed battery compartment in the handle. In true [Grand] fashion he rolled a replacement PCB that fits in the original footprint, adding an SD card and replacing the original microcontroller with an ATtiny85. He goes the extra mile of making this hack a polished work by also designing in an On/Off controller (MAX16054) which delivers the tiny standby current needed to prevent the batteries from going flat in the medicine cabinet.

Check out his video showcasing the hack below. You don’t get an audio demo because you have to press the thing against the bones in your skull to hear it. The OEM meant for this to press against your teeth, but now we want to play with them for our own hacks. Baseball cap headphones via bone conduction? Maybe.

Update: [Joe] wrote in to tell us he published a demonstration of the audio. It uses a metal box as a sounding chamber in place of the bones in our head.

Continue reading “[Joe Grand’s] Toothbrush Plays Music That Doesn’t Suck”

Kids Explore Engineering with Cartoon Tech Build

“To the Tortuga!” my husband and I heard the announcement from the backyard. Our two boys, Ben (7) and Miles (3), had become pleasantly obsessed with the coolest brothers in nature – the Kratt Brothers. From the moment that these two energetic animal-loving brothers were discovered by our kids, they’ve been huge fans. Our house has been transported to the Sonora Desert where we saved a Gila Monster, then to the Australian Outback to learn about the Thorny Devil. We even went to swing with the Spider Monkeys in South America and then back to the good ‘ole U.S. of A to harness the speed of the Roadrunner – since we are, after all, a family of runners!

creaturepod-from-show
Creaturepod [Source: WildKratts Wiki]
Our boys have been the Grand Brothers for months and there are no signs of it letting up. At the end of summer, I decided to reward the kids with a Creaturepod, a plastic toy meant to look like the fictional walkie talkie of the same name used on PBS Kids’ Wild Kratts program. They loved it, but soon found that it didn’t do anything on its own. They both have wild imaginations and like to bring to life most of their play, but the toy just wasn’t doing it for them. Being that Chris and Martin Kratt are brothers in real life, and Ben and Miles Grand are brothers in real life, Ben thought it would only be right to have “real life” Creaturepods. Real walkie talkies that he could use to communicate with his friends and have Wild Kratts adventures. This natural interest provided an opportunity to make learning, designing, and building a source of fun for the boys. It is an amazing way to teach that you can change the world around you by having an idea, making a plan, and gathering everyone with the skills needed to complete the project.

Continue reading “Kids Explore Engineering with Cartoon Tech Build”

Mustachioed Nintendo Virtual Boy Gone Augmented Reality

Some people just want to watch the world burn. Others want to spread peace, joy and mustaches. [Joe Grand] falls into the latter group this time around. His latest creation is Mustache Mayhem, a hack, video game, and art project all rolled into one. This is a bit of a change from deconstructing circuit boards or designing electronic badges, but not completely new for [Joe], who wrote SCSIcide and Ultra SCSIcide for the Atari 2600 back in the early 2000’s.

Mustache Mayhem is built into a Nintendo Virtual Boy housing. The Virtual Boy itself was broken, and unfortunately was beyond repair. [Joe] removed most of the stock electronics and added a BeagleBone Black, Logitech C920 webcam, an LCD screen and some custom electronics. He kept the original audio amplifier, speakers, and controller connector. Angstrom Linux boots into [Joe’s] software, which uses OpenCV to detect faces and overlay mustaches. Gameplay is simple: Point the console at one or more faces. If you see a mustache, press the A button on the controller! The more faces and mustaches on-screen at once, the more points, or “mojo” the player gets. The code is up on Github, and can be built with Xcode targeted to the Mac, or directly on the BeagleBone Black.

[Joe’s] goal for the project was to make a ridiculous game that looks like it could have come out in the 90’s. He also used Mustache Mayhem as a fun way to learn some new skills which will come in handy for more serious projects in the future.

We caught up with [Joe] for a quick interview about his new creation.

How did you come up with the idea for Mustache Mayhem?

blockI was selling a bunch of my video game collection at PRGE (Portland Retro Gaming Expo) a few years ago and had a broken Virtual Boy that no one bought. A friend of mine was at the table and said I had to do something with it. I thought “People wear cosplay and walk around at conventions, so what if I could do something with the Virtual Boy that you could walk around with?” That was the seed.

A few months later, Texas Instruments sent me the original production release of the BeagleBone Black (rev. A5A). Eighteen months after that I actually started the project. The catalyst was to do something for an upcoming Portland, OR art show (Byte Me 4.0), which is an annual event that shows off interactive technology-based artwork. I wrote up a little description and got accepted. I had less than 2 months to actually get things working and it ended up taking about a month of full-time work. It was much more work than I expected for such a silly project. I originally was going to do something along the lines of walking around in a Doom-like perspective and shooting people when their faces were detected.

That would be pretty darn cool. How did you get from Doom to Mustaches? 

I saw a TI BeagleBoard demo called “boothstache” which drew mustaches on faces and tweeted the pictures. I thought that doing something non-violent with mustaches would be more suitable (and funny) to actually show my kids. I also secretly wanted to use this project as a way to experiment with Linux, write some code, and learn about face detection and image processing with OpenCV, which I plan to use for some actual computer security research in the future. Mustache Mayhem turned out to be a super cool project and I’m really happy with it. I sort of feel guilty spending so much time on it, since it’s basically just a one-off prototype, but I just got so obsessed with making it exactly as I wanted.

You mentioned on your website that Mustache was “designed to challenge the paradigms of personal privacy and entertainment.” What exactly did you mean there?

Continue reading “Mustachioed Nintendo Virtual Boy Gone Augmented Reality”

Joe Grand Talks Deconstructing Circuit Boards

With the exception of [Eric Evenchick], the Hackaday crew are safely back from Defcon and not missing in the desert. This means we can really start rolling out all the stuff we saw this weekend, beginning with an interview with [Joe Grand], creator of the JTAGulator, early member of l0pht, and generally awesome dude.

The focus of [Joe]’s many talks this year was reverse engineering circuit boards. Most of these techniques involved fairly low-tech methods to peel apart circuit boards one layer at a time: sandpaper and milling machines are the simplest techniques, but [Joe] is also using some significantly more uncommon methods. Lapping machines get a mention, as do acoustic microscopy, CAT scans, and x-rays. [Joe]’s Defcon talk isn’t up on the intertubes yet, but his BSides talk about techniques that didn’t work is available.

In case you forgot, [Joe] is also a judge for a little contest we’re running, and we asked what he’s looking for in a truly spaceworthy entry. [Joe]’s looking for projects with a lot of effort put into them. Don’t get us wrong, project that require no effort can be extremely popular, but documentation is king. [Joe] thinks well documented projects are evidence project creators are building something because they want to build it, and not because they want to win a prize. That’s intrinsic motivation, kiddies. Learn it.

Judge Spotlight: Joe Grand

judge-spotlight-joe-grand

We’ve been fascinated by [Joe Grand] for years. His early talks at DEFCON, and extensive work designing badges for it, helped to put the conference on our radar. We’ve seen many pieces of hardware come from his company Grand Idea Studio over the years, and of course there was the television show Prototype This! which must have been way too awesome for some TV exec to allow it to continue.

We asked [Joe], who is a judge for The Hackaday Prize, a few a questions. He sent back the video response embedded below. He talks about what he’s doing these days, the hacker community in Boston, shows off some hardware he uses when teaching about security, and much more.

Continue reading “Judge Spotlight: Joe Grand”

Team Van Gogh uses OpenXC to create art from your drive

vangogh

In this video, [Joe Grand] takes us through [Team Van Gogh’s] entry in the OpenXC hackathon event. In what could possibly be the greatest road trip in history, [Joe Grand, Ben Krasnow, TechNinja, and Super Awesome Sylvia] all pile into a car. With them they bring a host of dev boards, wires, a CB Radio, and of course Sylvia’s WaterColorBot.

As their name implies, [Team Van Gogh] took a more artistic approach to the challenge than other teams.  OpenXC steering, gear shift, accelerator and brake data is sent through a ChipKit to an RS-232 link into [TechNinja’s] laptop. The laptop translates the data into commands for the WaterColorBot. With this system, a simple Sunday drive can become abstract art.

The team also showed the concept of what could be done if OpenXC was extended to send data back to the vehicle – something Ford doesn’t support. Their example works when a phone call comes in by using the system to lower the volume on a CB radio standing in for car’s Bluetooth system.

Most of this challenge was completed with simulated data from the OpenXC vehicle interface. The team only had a few minutes to work the bugs out in a real vehicle. However, they proved their concepts well enough to win the grand prize.

Continue reading “Team Van Gogh uses OpenXC to create art from your drive”