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Hackaday Links: December 26, 2021

At the time of this writing, the James Webb Space Telescope was perched upon its ride to space, ready for its much-delayed launch from the ESA spaceport in French Guiana. The $10 billion space observatory suffered one final delay (knocks on wood) when predictions of high winds aloft pushed it back from a Christmas Eve launch to a Christmas Day departure, at 12:20 UTC. Given the exigencies of the day, we doubt we’ll be able to watch the launch live — then again, past experience indicates we’ll still be wrapping presents at 4:20 PST. Either way, here’s hoping that everything comes off without a hitch, and that astronomers get the present they’ve been waiting many, many Christmases for.

In other space news, things are getting really interesting on Mars. The ESA announced that their ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has detected signs of water in the Valles Marineris. The satellite found a large area of increased hydrogen concentration in the top meter of Martian soil; the assumption is that the hydrogen comes from water, meaning that as much as 40% of the material in the region scanned may be water. If so, that’s a huge find, as we thought most of Mars’ water was locked in the polar regions. The Mariner Valley stretches more than 4,000 km just below the equator, and so may prove to be an important resource for future explorers.

Meanwhile, in Jezero crater, Perseverance has decided to upstage its rotorcraft sidekick for a change by finding signs of organic molecules on Mars. It’s not the first time organic compounds have been found — Perseverance’s cousin Curiosity found some too, ESA’s Mars Express mission spotted methane from on high, and then there were the equivocal but intriguing results from the Viking missions in the 1970s. But the latest evidence is really great news for the scientists who picked Jezero crater as a likely place to search for signs of past life on Mars. The organics found are not proof of life by any means, as there are many ways to make organic molecules abiotically. But then again, if you’re going to find evidence of life on Mars, you’ve got to start with detecting organics.

Back on Earth, getting your laptop stolen would be bad enough. But what if it got yoinked while it was unlocked? Depending on who you are and what you do with that machine, it could be a death sentence. That’s where BusKill could come in handy. It’s a hardware-software approach to securing a laptop when it — or you — suddenly goes missing. A dongle with a breakaway magnetic lanyard gets plugged into a USB port, and the other end of the lanyard gets attached to your person. If you get separated from your machine, the dongle sends customizable commands to either lock the screen or, for the sufficiently paranoid, nuke the hard drive. The designs are all up on GitHub, so check it out and think about what else this could be useful for.

If you like the look of low-poly models but hate the work involved in making them, our friend and Hack Chat alumnus Andrew Sink came up with a solution: an online 3D low-poly generator. The tool is pretty neat; it uses three.js and runs completely in-browser. All you have to do is upload an STL file and set sliders to get rid of as many triangles as you want. Great stuff, and fun to play with even if you don’t need to decimate your polygons.

And finally, what have you done with your oscilloscope for the last three years? Most of us can’t answer that except in the vaguest of terms, but then there’s DrTune, who took three years’ worth of screencaps from this Rigol DS1054z and strung them together into a 60-second movie. He swears he didn’t purposely sync the video to the soundtrack, which is “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Rimsky-Korsakov, but in some places it’s just perfect. See if you can guess what DrTune has been working on by watching the waveforms fly by. And watch for Easter eggs.

Grab An Image From Your O-scope The Easy Way

The Rigol DS1054Zed is the oscilloscope you want. If you don’t have an oscilloscope, this is the scope that has the power and features you need, it’s cheap, and the people who do hardware hacks already have one. That means there’s a wealth of hardware hacks for this oscilloscope. One small problem with the ‘Zed is the fact that capturing an image from the screen is overly complicated, and the official documentation requires dedicated software and a lot of rigolmarole. Now there’s a simple python script that grabs a screen cap from a Rigol scope.

The usage of this python script is as simple as plugging the DS1054Z into your USB port and running the script. A PNG of whatever is on the screen then appears on your drive. Testing has been done on OS X, and it probably works on Linux and Windows. It’s a simple tool that does one job, glory and hallelujah, people are still designing tools this way.

This work was inspired by the efforts of [cibomahto], who spent some time controlling the Rigol with Linux and Python. This work will plot whatever is being captured by the scope in a window, in Linux, but sometimes you just need a screencap of whatever is on the scope; that’s why there were weird Polaroid adapters for HP scopes in the day.

Yes, it’s a simple tool that does one job, but if you need that tool, you really need that tool. [rdpoor] is looking for a few people to test it out, and of course pull requests are accepted.

Rigol MSO5000 Hacked, Features Unlocked

Rigol’s test gear has something of a history of being hacked. Years ago the DS1022C oscillocope was hacked to increase bandwidth, and more recently the DS1054Z was hacked to unlock licensed features. Now, it’s the MSO5000’s turn.

Over on the EEVBlog forums a group has been working on hacking another Rigol, the MSO5000, a 70 MHz oscilloscope which can be upgraded to 350 MHz via software licensing. Various other features including a two channel, 25 MHz arbitrary waveform generator are also built-in, but locked out unless a license key is purchased. The group have managed to enable all the locked options without license keys.

The hack is quite simple. The Linux system running on the scope has a default root password of, you guessed it, “root”. After logging in over SSH with these credentials, the user just needs to modify the startup file to add the “-fullopt” flag to the “appEntry” application. This starts the application in a fully unlocked state, which gives access to all the features.

The MSO5000 costs about $1000, and the bandwidth option alone adds over $3000 to the price. If you’re willing to risk your warranty, and you have the skills to edit a file with vi, this hack provides a serious upgrade for free.

If you have a DS1022C you’ll find our reporting on its hack here, and likewise DS1054Z owners will find theirs here.

Header image: EEVBlog.

Hybrid Interface Brings Touchscreen To Rigol Scope

With pervasive smartphones and tablets, the touch interface is assumed for small LCD screens, and we’ve likely all poked and pinched at some screen, only to find it immune to our gestures. Manufacturers have noticed this and begun adding touch interfaces to instruments like digital oscilloscopes, but touch interfaces tend to be an upgrade feature. But thanks to this hybrid oscilloscope touchscreen interface, even the low-end scopes can get in on the action.

It only makes sense that [Matt Heinz] started with one of the most hackable scopes for this build, which was his Master’s thesis project. Using an Android tablet as an auxiliary interface, [Matt] is able to control most of the main functions of the scope remotely. Pinching and expanding gestures are interpreted as horizontal and vertical scaling, while dragging the displayed waveform changes its position and controls triggering. While it’s not a true touchscreen scope, the code is all open source, so can a true aftermarket Rigol touchscreen be far away?

Rigol hacks abound here — you can talk to them in Linux, increase the bandwidth, or just get a look at their guts.

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Hackaday Links: July 2, 2017

A few months ago, we had a Hack Chat with Chip Gracey, the guy behind Parallax, the Basic Stamp, the Propeller, and the upcoming Propeller II. Now we’ve finally got around to editing that transcript. There’s a lot of awesome stuff in here, from learning a Hardware Design Language to the actual costs of fabbing silicon.

Rigol, the manufacturers of every hackerspace’s favorite oscilloscope, announced a new chipset. The current lineup of Rigol scopes top out at around 1GHz. In a prototype scope based on this chipset, Rigol demonstrated 4GHz bandwidth and 20GS/s with one Billion point memory depth. What this means: Rigol will be making very powerful scopes in the near future.

Hackaday had a meetup this week in New York City. The June workshop at Fat Cat Fab Lab featured speakers involved with twitter bots, 8-bit art, one of the guys behind Beautiful Soup, and a talk on a completely self-sustainable record label. Want to attend one of these meetups? Check out the calendar.

Repairs of retrocomputers are always interesting, but usually the same. Wipe off some dust, possibly replace a cap or two, retrobrite the case, and you’re done. This is not the usual retrocomputer repair. [Drygol] found a C64 that was apparently stored in a swamp for several years. The power switch fell off when he touched it. Somehow, miraculously, the circuit worked and [Drygol] rewarded the board with a new enclosure, dyed keycaps, an SD2IEC mod, and a kernel switch mod.

Guess what’s back? A pen computer with a color sensor on one end, and an ink mixer in the other. The Scribble Pen is the Internet’s infamous crowdfunded color-sensing pen, and the scammer behind it is looking for another funding round. Has anything changed since we tore this thing apart three years ago? No, it’s still a scam. I’ve been keeping tabs on the guy behind it, he’s still not in prison, and there are still idiots on this planet.

The ‘A’ stands for ‘Arts’.

The Benchy is everyone’s favorite tugboat and 3D printer benchmarking tool. They usually float, sideways. However, [MakeShift] somehow figured out how to add weight to the keel and turn the cutest little tugboat into a real, remote controlled boat. You could probably model a proper hull for the bottom of this boat, and it would be one of the few 3D prints where the actual design would be subject to US Copyright.

Is the fidget spinner fad dying? Square, the startup built around turning old AUX to cassette adapters into POS terminals seems to think so. They’ve been graphing their sales figures for fidget spinners, and there has been a marked decline since school let out for the summer. Will the trend pick back up in September? Who cares.

Help Wanted: Open Source Oscilloscope On Rigol Hardware

We’ve often heard (and said) if you can’t hack it, you don’t own it. We noticed that [tmbinc] has issued a call for help on his latest project: developing new firmware and an FPGA configuration for the Rigol DS1054Z and similar scopes. It isn’t close to completion, but it isn’t a pipe dream either. [tmbinc] has successfully booted Linux.

There’s plenty left to do, though. He’s loading a boot loader via JTAG and booting Linux from the USB port. Clearly, you’d want to flash all that. Linux gives him use of the USB port, the LCD, the network jack, and the front panel LEDs and buttons. However, all of the actual scope electronics, the FPGA functions, and the communications between the processor and the FPGA are all forward work.

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Ask Hackaday: Are Unlockable Features Good For The User?

There are numerous examples of hardware which has latent features waiting to be unlocked by software. Most recently, we saw a Casio calculator which has the same features as its bigger sibling hidden within the firmware, only to be exposed by a buffer overflow bug (or the lead from a pencil if you prefer a hardware hack).

More famously, oscilloscopes have been notorious for having crippled features. The Rigol DS1052E was hugely popular on hacker benches because of it’s very approachable price tag. The model shipped with 50 MHz bandwidth but it was discovered that a simple hack turned it into the DS1102E 100 MHz scope. Tektronix has gotten in on this action as well, shipping modules like I2C, CAN, and LIN analyzation on the scope but requiring a hardware key to unlock (these were discovered to have a horribly insecure unlock method). Similar feature barriers are found on Rigol’s new reigning entry-level scope, the DS1054Z, which ships with protocol analyzation modules (among others) that are enabled only for the first 70 hours of scope operation, requiring an additional payment to unlock them. Most scope manufacturers are in on the game, and of course this is not limited to our tools. WiFi routers are another great example of hardware hosting firmware-unlockable features.

So, the question on my mind which I’d like to ask all of the Hackaday community is this: are unlockable features good for us, the people who use these tools? Let’s take a look at some of the background of these practices and then jump into a discussion in the comments.

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