Retrotechtacular: Double For Nothing

If you are in the market for web hosting in 2021 and you sign up with one of the cloud computing providers, you’ll soon see how the different resources are priced. Storage and bandwidth are cheap, while CPU time is expensive. This reflects the state of a modern computer, in which a typical disk drive now holds a terabyte or more and rising by the year while a new processor is becoming a bottleneck whose performance hasn’t increased as much as the manufacturers would like over models from years ago.

Twice As Much Hardware From A Bit Of Software?

In the early 1990s though it was a different matter. A 486 or early Pentium processor was pretty powerful compared to the DOS or Windows 3.1 software it was expected to run, and it was the memory and disk space attached to it that limited performance… and cost an arm and a leg. There was a period in about 1995 when a supposed fire in a chip factory somewhere sent RAM prices into the hundreds of dollars per megabyte, briefly causing an epidemic of RAM raiding in which criminals would break into offices and take only the SIMs from the computers.

A solution to this problem came perhaps surprisingly from the software industry. Disk Doubler was a DOS driver that promised more disk space, achieving this seemingly impossible feat by compressing the disk to fit more data on it. Processor power swapped for disk space was a reasonable trade at the time so it became extremely popular, and eventually Microsoft incorporated their own disk compression into DOS. In some cases it could even speed up a computer with a slow disk drive, as I found out as a student with a 286 packing an MFM drive.

Something For Nothing, Perhaps It’s Too Good To Be True.

If compression could increase disk space then couldn’t it do the same for RAM? The industry came to the rescue once more with an array of RAM doubler products, first applying the disk doubling technique to on-disk virtual memory, and then doing the same with the contents of the memory itself. The first approach worked at the expense of a system slow-down, while the second, not so much. In fact it was little more than a scam, with software products promising much but delivering absolutely nothing behind the scenes.

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Today’s Twitter Hack Is New Take On “Nigerian Prince” Scam

Don’t send bitcoin to celebrities… or to random people for that matter. This afternoon a number of high profile Twitter accounts were taken over, including Joe Biden, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Apple, Jeff Bezos, and Kanye West, and the event appears to be ongoing. Each displayed a message saying they wanted to “give back” by doubling the bitcoin that they are sent. The messages all appear to have the same bitcoin wallet address.

This is reminiscent of the “Nigerian prince” scams, a form of advance-fee scam where an email asks for help with a small sum of money in order to obtain a larger sum. Those usually come in as spam emails which most people are wise to at this point. However, blindly following celebrities on Twitter may still deliver a good dose of naïveté when those platforms are misused.

Bitcoin transactions can be viewed publicly and this wallet is showing 11.8 BTC in and 5.8 BTC out in a total of 288 transactions. The net is roughly 6 bitcoin or $55k USD at the time of writing. Twitter’s response appears to have locked down all verified accounts from publishing new tweets. They retain the ability to retweet and delete existing tweets.


Main image screenshot sources:

Flash Memory: Caveat Emptor

We all love new tech. Some of us love getting the bleeding edge, barely-on-the-market devices and some enjoy getting tech thirty years after the fact to revel in nostalgia. The similarity is that we assume we know what we’re buying and only the latter category expects used parts. But, what if the prior category is getting used parts in a new case? The University of Alabama in Huntsville has a tool for protecting us from unscrupulous manufacturers installing old flash memory.

Flash memory usually lasts longer than the devices where it is installed, so there is a market for used chips which are still “good enough” to pass for new. Of course, this is highly unethical. You would not expect to find a used transmission in your brand new car so why should your brand new tablet contain someone’s discarded memory?

The principles of flash memory are well explained by comparing them to an ordinary transistor, of which we are happy to educate you. Wear-and-tear on flash memory starts right away and the erase time gets longer and longer. By measuring how long it takes to erase, it is possible to accurately determine the age of chip in question.

Pushing the limits of flash memory’s life-span can tell a lot about how to avoid operation disruption or you can build a flash drive from parts you know are used.

Obsolescence As A Service

Yet another Internet of Things service has left its customers in the lurch. IoT devices (mostly lightbulbs) made sold by Greenwave Systems stopped talking to the outside world on July 1. More specifically, the server to which they all connected (ahem, “the cloud”) has been turned off, which rules out using the bulbs with Internet-based services like IFTTT, which was a major selling point of the Things in the first place.

[Edit: We were contacted by Greenwave, and they pointed out that they merely sold the IoT devices in question. They are made by TCP, which is also responsible for cancelling the service. And TCP has a history of doing this sort of thing before.]

It’s not the first time we’ve seen IoT companies renege on their promises to provide service, and it’s surely not going to be the last. We’re preaching to the choir here, but when even Google is willing to take the PR hit to effectively brick your devices, the only protection that you’ve got against obsolescence is an open protocol.

At least the users of Greenwave’s TCP’s devices will continue to be able to control them from within the home. That, plus some clever hacking, will make them workable into the future. But it’s not like the convenience that was sold with the devices.

Boo to shady IoT companies! But thanks to [Adrian] for the tip.

Network Security Theatre

Summer is nearly here, and with that comes the preparations for the largest gathering of security researchers on the planet. In early August, researchers, geeks, nerds, and other extremely cool people will descend upon the high desert of Las Vegas, Nevada to discuss the vulnerabilities of software, the exploits of hardware, and the questionable activities of government entities. This is Black Hat and DEF CON, when taken together it’s the largest security conference on the planet.

These conferences serve a very important purpose. Unlike academia, security professionals don’t make a name for themselves by publishing in journals. The pecking order of the security world is determined at these talks. The best talks, and the best media coverage command higher consultancy fees. It’s an economy, and of course there will always be people ready to game the system.

Like academia, these talks are peer-reviewed. Press releases given before the talks are not, and between the knowledge of security researchers and the tech press is network security theatre. In this network security theatre, you don’t really need an interesting exploit, technique, or device, you just need to convince the right people you have one.

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Ask Hackaday: Why Don’t We Have Flexible Displays Yet?

A few times a month we receive extremely well crafted crowdfunding campaigns in our tip line that make us doubt our sense of reality. While this article therefore isn’t a hack, we felt it would be a good place to start a discussion around OLED flexible displays.

As the dedicated Wikipedia article states flexible displays have been around for a few years already. In 2013, the Samsung Galaxy Round was unveiled as the world’s first mobile phone with a 5.7″ flexible display. The phone (and the screen) were curved in shape but the phone itself was solid. The same goes for the recent Samsung Gear S smart watch.

Yet for only $350 in a $50k goal crowdfunding campaign the Portal flexible wearable smartphone seems to have all the answers. It is scratch & shatter proof, water-resistant, flexible, includes a ‘Portal proprietary flexible battery’, the ‘Fastest multi-core CPU’, gyro, compass, barometer, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS…. Specifications are even subject to change to ensure the best available components… and it is 89% funded. As they mention,

building a smartphone or a tech company isn’t rocket science.

We also found a 70% funded €100k crowdfunding campaign for a watch bracelet (right click to translate) that will include GPS, Bluetooth, NFS (not a typo), a uSD card, a 4 lines LED screen and a battery for a few days autonomy… how surprising that no major manufacturer thought of that.

This leads us to the title of this post: why don’t we have truly flexible displays yet? We’ll let our readers discussion this point in the comments section below…

SOAP: The Home Automation Router And Kickstarter Scam

How would you like a 7″ tablet with a Quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor, USB 3.0, 32 GB of storage, 802.11ac, four ports of Gigabit LAN, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, SATA, HDMI, built-in Zigbee and RFID modules, a camera, speaker and microphone, all for $170? Sound too good to be true? That’s because it probably is. Meet SOAP, the home automation router with a touchscreen, that’s shaping up to be one of the largest scams Kickstarter has ever seen.

There have been a few threads scattered over the web going over some of the… “inconsistencies” about the SOAP kickstarter, mainly focusing on the possibility of fake Facebook likes and Twitter followers. There’s also the question of their development process: they started building a router with an Arduino, then moved on to a Raspberry Pi, a Beaglebone, Intel Atom-powered Minnowboard, the Gizmo Board, PandaBoard, and Wandboard. If you’re keeping track, that’s at least six completely different architectures used in their development iterations. Anyone who has ever tried to build something – not even build a product, mind you – will realize there’s something off here. This isn’t even considering a reasonably accurate BOM breakdown that puts the total cost of production at $131.

The most damning evidence comes from screenshots of the final board design. These pics have since been removed from the Kickstarter page, but they’re still available on the Google cache. The SOAP team claims they’re putting USB 3.0 ports on their board, but the pics clearly show only four pins on each of the USB ports. USB 3.0 requires nine pins. A closer inspection reveals these screenshots are from the files for Novena, [Bunnie Huang]’s open source laptop.

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