True Networked KVM Without Breaking The Bank

For administering many computers at once, an IP KVM is an invaluable piece of equipment that makes it possible to get the job done over the network without having to haul a keyboard, monitor, and mouse around to each computer. The only downside is that they can get pricey, unless of course you can roll one out based on the Raspberry Pi and the PiKVM image for little more than the cost of the Pi itself.

The video linked below shows how to set all of this up, which involves flashing the image and then setting up the necessary hardware. The build shows an option for using HDMI over USB, but another option using the CSI bus would allow for control over options like video resolution and color that a USB HDMI dongle doesn’t allow for. It also makes it possible to restart the computer and do things like configure BIOS or boot from removable media, which is something that would be impossible with a remote desktop solution like VNC.

The creator of PiKVM was mentioned in a previous post about the creation of the CSI bus capture card, and a Pi hat based on this build will be available soon which would include options for ATX controls as well. Right now, though, it’s possible to build all of this on your own without the hat, and is part of what makes the Pi-KVM impressive, as well as its very low cost.

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Modern Network Adapter For Retro Computers

Universal Serial Bus, or USB, is so ingrained in modern computing that it’s hard to imagine a time without it. That time did exist, though, and it was a wild west of connector types, standards, and interfacing methods. One of the more interesting interfaces of the time was the SIO system found in 8-bit Atari computers which ended up sharing a lot of the features of modern USB, and its adaptability is displayed in this modern project which brings WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, and SD card slots to any old Atari with an SIO port.

The project is called FujiNet and it uses the lightweight protocol of SIO to add a number of modern features to the 8-bit machine. It’s based on an ESP32, and the chip performs the functions of a network adapter by bridging WiFi and Bluetooth to the Atari. It does this by simulating drives that would have potentially been used on the Atari in its time, such as a floppy disk drive, an RS232 interface, or a modem, and translating them to the modern wireless communication protocols. It even has the ability to emulate a printer by taking the output of the print job from the Atari and converting it to PDF within the device itself.

Not only does this bring a lot of functionality to the Atari, which you may be able to use to view sites like retro.hackaday.com, but the FujiNet is housed in a period-appropriate 3D-printed case that matches the look and feel of the original Atari. If you need a more generic solution for your retrocomputing networking adventures that isn’t limited to SIO, we recommend grabbing a Raspberry Pi to handle that.

Thanks to [Gavin] for the tip!

Take Security Up A Notch By Adding LEDs

All computers are vulnerable to attacks by viruses or black hats, but there are lots of steps that can be taken to reduce risk. At the extreme end of the spectrum is having an “air-gapped” computer that doesn’t connect to a network at all, but this isn’t a guarantee that it won’t get attacked. Even transferring files to the computer with a USB drive can be risky under certain circumstances, but thanks to some LED lights that [Robert Fisk] has on his drive, this attack vector can at least be monitored.

Using a USB drive with a single LED that illuminates during a read OR write operation is fairly common, but since it’s possible to transfer malware unknowingly via USB drives, one that has a separate LED specifically for writing operations will help alert a user to any write operations that might be trying to fly under the radar. A recent article by [Bruce Schneier] pointed out this flaw in USB drives, and [Robert] was up to the challenge. His build returns more control to the user by showing them when their drive is accessed and in what way, which can also be used to discover unique quirks of one’s chosen operating system.

[Robert] is pretty familiar with USB drives and their ups and downs as well. A few years ago he built a USB firewall that was able to decrease the likelihood of BadUSB-type attacks. Be careful going down the rabbit hole of device security, though, or you will start seeing potential attacks hidden almost everywhere.

PoE Powers Christmas Lights, But Opens Up So Much More

Addressable LEDs are a staple of homemade Christmas decorations in our community, as is microprocessor control of those LEDs. So at first sight [Glen Akins]’ LED decorated Christmas tree looks pretty enough, but isn’t particularly unusual. But after reading his write-up you’ll discover there’s far more to the project than meets the eye, and learn a lot about the technologies behind it that has relevance far beyond a festive light show.

The decoration is powered exclusively from power-over-Ethernet, with a PIC microcontroller translating Art-Net DMX-over-Ethernet packets into commands for the LED string. The control board is designed from the ground up and includes all the PoE circuitry, and the write-up  gives a very thorough introduction to this power source that takes the reader way beyond regarding PoE as simply another off-the-shelf black box. Along the way we see all his code, as well as learn a few interesting tidbits such as the use of a pre-programmed EEPROM containing a unique MAC address.

So if your house has CAT5 wiring and you want an extra dimension to your festive splendour, you’ve officially got a whole year to build your own version. He’s featured here before, with his buzzer to break the Caps Lock habit.

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Optical Communication Using LEDs Alone

We’re all used to the humble LED as a ubiquitous source of light, but how many of us are aware that these components can also be used as photodiodes? It’s something [Giovanni Blu Mitolo] takes us through as he demonstrates a simple data link using just a pair of LEDs and a couple of Arduinos. It’s a showing off his PJON networking layer, and while you’d need a bit more than a couple of LEDs on breadboards for a real-world application, we still think it’s a neat demonstration.

PJON itself is very much worth a look, being an implementation of a robust and error-tolerant network for Arduinos and other small microcontroller platforms. It has a variety of communication strategies for various different media, and as this LED demonstration shows, its strength is that it’s capable of working through media that other networks would balk at. Whether it’s controlling home automation through metal heating ducts or providing an alternative to LoRa at 433 MHz, it’s definitely worth a second look. We’ve mentioned it before, but remain surprised that we haven’t seen it more often since. Take a look, the video is below the break.

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Nintendo Switch Doubles As Network Switch

Coming straight to you from the “Department of Redundant Redundancies” comes this clever hack that turns a Switch into a switch. More specifically, a network switch. Not even a half bad one either, judging by the speed tests [Cynthia Revström] performed after setting it all up. We wouldn’t advise you dump your existing network gear in favor of a repurposed game system, but perhaps in a pinch…

Despite what you might be thinking, there’s no hardware modifications at work here. This is a fully functional Nintendo Switch that’s just had two USB to Ethernet adapters plugged into it. The secret ingredient is the addition of some Penguin Power, up and running on Nintendo’s latest and greatest thanks to a project called switchroot.

With Linux running on the system, all [Cynthia] had to do was make sure that the USB to Ethernet adapters were supported, and fiddle around with the brctl and ip commands to configure a bridge between the interfaces to get the packets moving. Putting the Switch between the main network and a test computer showed it had a throughput of just over 90 Mbps, which is about all that could be expected from the USB-connected network interfaces.

From here it wouldn’t have taken much more effort to get the system working as a wireless router and providing services like DHCP and NAT to clients. But since Nintendo didn’t see fit to call it the Router, that would’ve offered minimal meme value. There’s always next generation.

Seeing the Nintendo Switch do a surprisingly good job running as an Ethernet switch is even more surprising given the fact that it struggles to function with accessories that are actually intended for it. Though to be fair, the migration to USB-C has been a little rockier than most of us would have hoped.

Ethernet, Over DC Power

We’re used to extending our network connections and being no longer constrained in our use of Ethernet by proximity to a switch or hub. Our houses routinely contain wireless networks, and of course powerline-Ethernet units passing data over our mains wiring. [Peter Franck] had a similar problem but without the mains power, for a distributed sprinkler system he needed to send Ethernet over DC cables.

The solution is a surprisingly simple one, taking one of those powerline Ethernet units and converting it by removing its mains power section. These devices contain the Ethernet and powerline modem chip with its associated circuitry, and a small switch-mode power supply. He’s removed the power supply and put in a capacitive coupling to the DC cabling, resulting in a relatively inexpensive DC powerline network device.

Powerline Ethernet devices are not without their own issues, for instance they are not popular with radio amateurs due to their effect on the RF noise floor. We’d therefore be curious to see what the RF emissions are like for this hack, but we still think it’s a useful weapon in the armoury as well as something to do with all those surplus powerline Ethernet bricks.