Friday Hack Chat: CircuitPython with Adafruit Engineers

What the heck is CircuitPython? Get that question answered along with many more during this Friday’s Hack Chat. Three engineers from Adafruit join us as [Ladyada], [Tony DiCola], and [Scott Shawcoft] lead a CircuitPython discussion at Noon PST on 1/27/17.

CircuitPython is Adafruit’s new extension on the MicroPython codebase. It adds support for SAMD21 processors in MicroPython and reworks the API for better support across platforms and better documentation. Does this still sound like jibberish? The Python programming language has been extended to microcontrollers. CircuitPython is furthering that work and this Hack Chat is the perfect opportunity to talk with the people who are doing that work. They will also be doing a giveaway of five CircuitPlayground m0 Express boards (brand new, not yet released hardware).

Don’t miss this Hack Chat! Here’s a handy web tool to help convert Friday, January 27 at noon PST to your local time.

Here’s How to Take Part:

Buttons to join the project and enter Hack Chat

Hack Chats are live community events that take place in the Hack Chat group messaging. Visit that page (make sure you are logged in) and look for the “Join this Project Button” in the upper right. Once you are part of the project, that button will change to “Team Messaging” which takes you to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait for Friday, join Hack Chat whenever you like and see what the community is currently talking about.

C64 Keyboard Emulation Over Serial

There’s a lot of reasons you might want to emulate the keyboard on your Commodore 64. The ravages of time and dust may have put the original keyboard out of order, or perhaps you need to type in a long program and don’t fancy pecking away with the less-than-stellar feedback of the standard keys. [podstawek] has come up with the solution: a Commodore 64 keyboard emulator that works over serial.

It’s a simple concept, but one that works well. A Python script accepts incoming keypresses or pre-typed text, then converts them into a 6-bit binary code, which is sent to an Arduino over the serial connection. The Arduino uses the 6-bit code as addresses for an MT8808 crosspoint switch.

MT8808 Functional Diagram from Datasheet

The MT8808 is essentially an 8×8 matrix of controllable switches, which acts as the perfect tool to interface with the C64’s 8×8 keyboard matrix. Hardware wise, this behaves as if someone were actually pressing the keys on the real keyboard. It’s just replacing the original key switches with an electronic version controlled by the Arduino.

[podstawek] already has the setup working on Mac, and it should work on Linux and Windows too. There’s a little more to do yet – modifying the script to allow complex macros and to enable keys to be held – so check out the Github if you want to poke around in the source. Overall it’s a tidy, useful hack to replace the stock keyboard.

The C64 remains a popular platform for hacking — it’s even had a Twitter client since 2009.

TruffleHog Sniffs Github for Secret Keys

Secret keys are quite literally the key to security in software development. If a malicious actor gains access to the keys securing your data, you’re toast. The problem is, to use keys, you’ve got to write them down somewhere – oftentimes in the source code itself. TruffleHog has come along to sniff out those secret keys in your Github repository.

It’s an ingenious trick — a Python script goes through the commit history of a repository, looking at every string of text greater than 20 characters, and analyzing its Shannon entropy. This is a mathematical way of determining if it looks like a relatively random string of numbers and letters. If it has high entropy, it’s probably a key of some sort.

Sharing source code is always a double-edged sword for security. Any flaws are out for all to see, and there are both those who will exploit the flaws and those who will help fix them. It’s a matter of opinion if the benefits outweigh the gains, but it’s hard to argue with the labor benefits of getting more eyes on the code to hunt for bugs. It’s our guess though, that a lot of readers have accidentally committed secret keys in a git repository and had to revert before pushing. This tool can crawl any publicly posted git repo, but might be just as useful in security audits of your own codebase to ensure accidentally viewable keys are invalidated and replaced.

For a real world example of stolen secret keys, read up on this HDMI breakout that sniffs HDCP keys.

Air Conditioner Speaks Serial, Just Like Everything Else

Like so many other home appliances, it’s likely that even your air conditioner has a serial interface buried inside it. If you’re wondering why, it’s because virtually every microcontroller on the planet has a UART built in, and it’s highly useful for debugging during the development process, so it makes sense to use it. Thus, it was only a matter of time before we saw a hacked airconditioner controlled by a Raspberry Pi.

[Hadley] was growing frustrated with the IR remote for his Mitsubishi air conditioner; it can issue commands, but it’s a one way interface – there’s no feedback on current status or whether commands are received, other then the occasional beep or two. Deciding there had to be a better way, [Hadley] grabbed a Saleae Logic Analyser and started probing around, determining that the unit spoke 5 V TTL at 2400 bps with even parity. The next step was to start talking back.

Continue reading “Air Conditioner Speaks Serial, Just Like Everything Else”

Python Solution To A Snake Cube Puzzle

Puzzles provide many hours of applied fun beyond any perfunctory tasks that occupy our days. When your son or daughter receives a snake cube puzzle as a Christmas gift — and it turns out to be deceptively complex — you can sit there for hours to try to figure out a solution, or use the power of Python to sort out the serpentine conundrum and use brute-force to solve it.

Continue reading “Python Solution To A Snake Cube Puzzle”

Counting Laps and Testing Products with OpenCV

It’s been about a year and a half since the Batteroo, formally known as Batteriser, was announced as a crowdfunding project. The premise is a small sleeve that goes around AA and AAA batteries, boosting the voltage to extract more life out of them. [Dave Jones] at EEVblog was one of many people to question the product, which claimed to boost battery life by 800%.

Batteroo did manage to do something many crowdfunding projects can’t: deliver a product. Now that the sleeves are arriving to backers, people are starting to test them in the wild. In fact, there’s an entire thread of tests happening over on EEVblog.

One test being run is a battery powered train, running around a track until the battery dies completely. [Frank Buss] wanted to run this test, but didn’t want to manually count the laps the train made. He whipped up a script in Python and OpenCV to automate the counting.

The script measures laps by setting two zones on the track. When the train enters the first zone, the counter is armed. When it passes through the second zone, the lap is recorded. Each lap time is kept, ensuring good data for comparing the Batteroo against a normal battery.

The script gives a good example for people wanting to play with computer vision. The source is available on Github. As for the Batteroo, we’ll await further test results before passing judgement, but we’re not holding our breath. After all, the train ran half as long when using a Batteroo.

SKiDL: Script Your Circuits in Python

SKiDL is very, very cool. It’s a bit of Python code that outputs a circuit netlist for KiCAD.

Why is this cool? If you design a PCB in KiCAD, you go through three steps: draw the schematic, assign footprints to the symbolic parts, and then place them. The netlist ties all of these phases together: it’s a list of which parts are connected to which, the output of schematic capture and the input for layout. The ability to generate this programmatically should be useful.

For instance, you could write a filter circuit generator that would take the order, cutoff, and type of filter as inputs, and give you a spec’ed netlist as output. Bam! In your next design, when you need a different filter, you just change a couple of variables. Writing your circuits as code would make arranging the little sub-circuits modular and flexible, like functions in code.

At the very least, it’s an interesting alternative to the mouse, click, drag, click paradigm that currently dominates the schematic capture phase. Just as some of you like OpenSCAD for 3D modelling, some of you will like SKiDL for circuit design.

We’ve become so accustomed to the circuit diagram as the means of thinking about circuits that we’re not sure that we can ever give up the visual representation entirely. Maybe designing with SKiDL will be like sketching out block diagrams, where each block is a bit of Python code that generates a circuit module? Who knows? All we know is that it sounds potentially interesting, and that it’ll certainly be mind-expanding to give it a try.

Give it a shot and leave feedback down in the comments!