Manhattan Mystery of Creepy Jingles and Random Noises Solved

Here’s a puzzler for you: If you’re phreaking something that’s not exactly a phone, are you still a phreak?

That question probably never crossed the minds of New Yorkers who were acoustically assaulted on the normally peaceful sidewalks of Manhattan over the summer by creepy sounds emanating from streetside WiFi kiosks. The auditory attacks caused quite a stir locally, leading to wild theories that Russian hackers were behind it all. Luckily, the mystery has been solved, and it turns out to have been part prank, part protest, and part performance art piece.

To understand the exploit, realize that New York City has removed thousands of traditional pay phones from city sidewalks recently and replaced them with LinkNYC kiosks, which are basically WiFi hotspots with giant HDTV displays built into them. For the price of being blitzed with advertisements while strolling by, anyone can make a free phone call using the built-in VOIP app. That was the key that allowed [Mark Thomas], an old-school phreak and die-hard fan of the pay telephones that these platforms supplanted, to launch his attack. It’s not exactly rocket surgery; [Mark] dials one of the dozens of conference call numbers he has set up with pre-recorded audio snippets. A one-minute delay lets him crank the speakerphone volume up to 11 and abscond. The recordings vary, but everyone seemed most creeped out by the familiar jingle of the [Mr. Softee] ice cream truck franchise, slowed down and distorted to make it sound like something from a fever dream.

Yes, it’s a minimal hack, and normally we don’t condone the misuse of public facilities, even ones as obnoxious as LinkNYC appears to be. But it does make a statement about the commercialization of the public square, and honestly, we’re glad to see something that at least approaches phreaking again. It’s a little less childish than blasting porn audio from a Target PA system, and far less dangerous than activating a public safety siren remotely.

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Old TV Lends Case to Retro Magic Mirror

Remember the days when the television was the most important appliance in the house? On at dawn for the morning news and weather, and off when Johnny Carson said goodnight, it was the indispensable portal to the larger world. Broadcast TV may have relinquished its hold on the public mind in favor of smartphones, but an information portal built into an old TV might take you back to the old days.

It seems like [MisterM] has a little bit of a thing for the retro look. Witness the wallpaper in the video after the break for proof, as well as his Google-ized Radio Shack intercom project from a few months back. His current project should fit right in, based on an 8″ black-and-white TV from the 70s as it is. TVs were bulky back then to allow for the long neck of the CRT, so he decided to lop off the majority of the case and use just the bezel for his build. An 8″ Pimoroni display sits where the old tube once lived, and replicates the original 4:3 aspect ratio. With Chromium set up in kiosk mode, the family can quickly select from a variety of news and information “channels” using the original tuning knob, while parts from a salvaged mouse turns the volume control into a scroll wheel.

It’s a nice twist on the magic mirror concept, and a little different from the other retro-TV projects we’ve seen, like a retro gaming console or an old-time case for a smart TV.

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Pi Zero Recipe Kiosk

Why do you want to have a tiny $5 Linux system on a chip? Because you can cram it into a discarded LCD monitor and you’ve got a useful device. [zarderxio] did just that, satisfying the age-old dream of the kitchen computer with junk that was lying around in the basement.

There’s not much to this hack. The Raspberry Pi Zero needs a 5V power supply and the screen has 12V, so a step-down converter takes care of that. [zarderxio] hard-wires the monitor out of the Zero straight up to the monitor’s input jack, and hot-glues a USB hub to the outside of the monitor for a keyboard and mouse. (Because if there’s one thing we know, it’s that the Raspberry Pi Zero needs more USB ports: see exhibit A and exhibit B just for example.)

Now you’re all thinking, “USB keyboard and mouse?!?! I want a touchscreen!” Do you really? In the kitchen, with sticky fingers? Well, the screen in [zarderxio]’s junk box didn’t have a touchscreen, and this makes it more flexible, so we’re on the side of the quick hack done. Who knows, maybe he’ll hack yet another Raspberry Pi Zero into a smudge-proof recipe controller?

[via reddit.]

Fixing POST errors with a single key

one_key_keyboard

Instructables user [Mike Craghead] was in the middle of building a very compact public computer kiosk when he ran into a problem with the processor fan. It was too big for the enclosure and had to be swapped out with a fan that did not allow the motherboard to monitor its rotational speed.

Motherboards don’t like this situation very much, and each time the computer was started, it would hang at the BIOS screen waiting for someone to press the F1 key to continue. Knowing that everything was just fine, and that there were no BIOS options which would allow him to ignore the error, he crafted a simple solution to the problem.

Since the computer just needed someone to press the F1 key, he figured he could rig up a small dongle that would always hold down the key for him. After verifying that the OS would ignore the stuck key, he tore apart a keyboard and traced the circuit matrix to identify which pins he had to short in order to represent the F1 key press.

Satisfied with his handiwork, he plugged the board into his computer and found that everything worked just fine. Sure it might not be the most elegant solution to the problem, but it gets the job done at a cost of zero dollars – you can’t beat that!