Unbinare is a small Belgian company at the forefront of hacking e-waste into something useful, collaborating with recycling and refurbishing companies. Reverse-engineering is a novel way to approach recycling, but it’s arguably one of the most promising ways that we are not trying at scale yet. At Hackaday Remoticon 2021, Maurits Fennis talked about Unbinare’s efforts in the field and presented us with a toolkit he has recently released as a part of his work, as well as described how his background as an artist has given him insights used to formulate foundational principles of Unbinare.
Unbinare’s tools are designed to work in harmony with each other, a requirement for any productive reverse-engineering effort. OI!STER is a general-purpose salvaged MCU research board, with sockets to adapt to different TQFP chip sizes. This board is Maurits’s experience in reverse-engineering condensed into a universal tool, including a myriad of connectors for different programming/debugging interfaces. We don’t know the board’s full scope, but the pictures show an STM32 chip inside the TQFP socket, abundant everywhere except your online retailer of choice. Apart from all the ways to break out the pins, OI!STER has sockets for power and clock glitching, letting you target these two omnipresent Achilles’ heels with a tool like ChipWhisperer.
Many Hackaday readers have an interest in older technologies, and from antique motorcycles to tube radios to retrocomputers, you own, conserve and restore them. Sometimes you do so using new parts because the originals are either unavailable or downright awful, but as you do so are you really restoring the item or creating a composite fake without the soul of the original? It’s a question the railway film and documentary maker [Chris Eden-Green] considers with respect to steam locomotives, and as a topic for debate we think it has an interest to a much wider community concerned with older tech.
Along the way the film serves as a fascinating insight for the non railway cognoscenti into the overhaul schedule for a working steam locomotive, for which the mainline railways had huge workshops but which presents a much more significant challenge to a small preserved railway. We wrote a year or two ago about the world’s first preserved railway, the Welsh Tal-y-Llyn narrow gauge line, and as an example the surprise in the video below is just how little original metal was left in its two earliest locomotives after their rebuilding in the 1950s.
The film should provoke some thought and debate among rail enthusiasts, and no doubt among Hackaday readers too. We’re inclined to agree with his conclusion that the machines were made to run rather than gather dust in a museum, and there is no harm in a majorly-restored or even replica locomotive. After all, just as a retrocomputer is as much distinguished by the software it runs, riding a steam train is far more a case of sights and smells than it is of knowing exactly which metal makes up the locomotive.
At this point, you’ve almost certainly heard the tale of Eric Lundgren, the electronics recycler who is now looking at spending 15 months in prison because he was duplicating freely available Windows restore discs. Of no use to anyone who doesn’t already have a licensed copy of Windows, these restore discs have little to no monetary value. In fact, as an individual, you couldn’t buy one at retail if you wanted to. The duplication of these discs would therefore seem to be a victimless crime.
Especially when you hear what Eric wanted to do with these discs. To help extend the functional lifespan of older computers, he intended on providing these discs at low cost to those looking to refurbish Windows computers. After each machine had its operating system reinstalled, the disc would go along with the computer in hopes the new owner would be able to utilize it themselves down the road.
It all sounds innocent enough, even honorable. But a quick glance at Microsoft’s licensing arrangement is all you need to know the whole scheme runs afoul of how the Redmond giant wants their operating system installed and maintained. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but when Eric Lundgren decided to use Microsoft’s product he agreed to play by their rules. Unfortunately for him, he lost.