Launching Fireworks with Raspberry Pi this Fourth of July

It’s that time of year again in the United States, and the skies will soon be alight with pyrotechnic displays, both professional and amateur. Amazing fireworks are freely available, sometimes legally, sometimes not. For the enthusiasts that put on homebrew displays, though, the choice between watching your handiwork or paying attention to what you’re doing while running the show is a tough one. This Raspberry Pi fireworks show controller aims to fix that problem.

[netmagi] claims his yearly display is a modest affair, but this controller can address 24 channels, which would be a pretty big show in any neighborhood. Living inside an old wine box is a Raspberry Pi 3B+ and three 8-channel relay boards. Half of the relays are connected directly to breakouts on the end of a long wire that connect to the electric matches used to trigger the fireworks, while the rest of the contacts are connected to a wireless controller. The front panel sports a key switch for safety and a retro analog meter for keeping tabs on the sealed lead-acid battery that powers everything. [netmagi] even set the Pi up with WiFi so he can trigger the show from his phone, letting him watch the wonder unfold overhead. A few test shots are shown in the video below.

As much as we appreciate the DIY spirit, it goes without saying that some things are best left to the pros, and pyrotechnics is probably one of those things. Ever wonder how said pros pull it off? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look.

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Linux-Fu: Keeping Things Running

If you’ve used Linux from the early days (or, like me, started with Unix), you didn’t have to learn as much right away and as things have become more complex, you can kind of pick things up as you go. If you are only starting with Linux because you are using a Raspberry Pi, became unhappy with XP being orphaned, or you are running a cloud server for your latest Skynet-like IoT project, it can be daunting to pick it all up in one place.

Recently my son asked me how do you make something run on a Linux box even after you log off. I thought that was a pretty good question and not necessarily a simple answer, depending on what you want to accomplish.

There’s really four different cases I could think of:

  1. You want to launch something you know will take a long time.
  2. You run something, realize it is going to take a long time, and want to log off without stopping it.
  3. You want to write a script or other kind of program that detaches itself and keeps running (known as a daemon).
  4. You want some program to run all the time, even if you didn’t log in after a reboot.

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These Sands Of Time Literally Keep Time

Hour glasses have long been a way to indicate time with sand, but the one-hour resolution isn’t the best. [Erich] decided he would be do better and made a clock that actually wrote the time in the sand. We’ve seen this before with writing time on a dry erase board with an arm that first erases the previous time and then uses a dry erase marker to write the next time. [Erich]’s also uses an arm to write the time, using the tip of a sea shell, but he erases the time by vibrating the sandbox, something that took much experimentation to get right.

To do the actual vibrating he used a Seeed Studio vibration motor which has a permanent magnet coreless DC motor. Interestingly he first tried with a rectangular sandbox but that resulted in hills and valleys, so he switched to a round one instead. Different frequencies shifted the sand around in different ways, some moving it to the sides and even out of the sandbox, but trial and error uncovered the right frequency, duration, and granular medium. He experimented with different sands, including litter for small animals, and found that a powder sand with small, round grains works best.

Four white LEDs not only add to the nice ambience but make the writing more visible by creating shadows. The shells also cleverly serve double duty, both for appearance and for hiding things. Shells cause the arms to be practically invisible until they move (well worth viewing the video below), but the power switch and two hooks for lifting the clock out of the box are also covered by shells. And best of all, the tip that writes in the sand is a shell. There’s plenty more to admire about the cleverness and workmanship of this one.

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One Man, A Raspberry Pi, and a Formerly Hand Powered Loom

[Fred Hoefler] was challenged to finally do something with that Raspberry Pi he wouldn’t keep quiet about. So he built a machine assist loom for the hand weaver. Many older weavers simply can’t enjoy their art anymore due to the physical strain caused by the repetitive task. Since he had a Pi looking for a purpose, he also had his project.

His biggest requirement was cost. There are lots of assistive looms on the market, but the starting price for those is around ten thousand dollars. So he set the rule that nothing on the device would cost more than the mentioned single board computer. This resulted in a BOM cost for the conversion that came in well under two hundred dollars. Not bad!

The motive parts are simple cheap 12V geared motors off Amazon. He powered them using his own motor driver circuits. They get their commands from the Pi, running Python. To control the loom one can either type in commands into the shell or use the keyboard. There are also some manual switches on the loom itself.

In the end [Fred] met his design goal, and has further convinced his friends that the words Raspberry Pi are somehow involved with trouble.

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Hacking a Thin Client to Gain Root Access

[Roberto] recently discovered a clever way to gain root access to an HP t520 thin client computer. These computers run HP’s ThinPro operating system. The OS is based on Linux and is basically just a lightweight system designed to boot into a virtual desktop image loaded from a server. [Roberto’s] discovery works on systems that are running in “kiosk mode”.

The setup for the attack is incredibly simple. The attacker first stops the virtual desktop image from loading. Then, the connection settings are edited. The host field is filled with garbage, which will prevent the connection from actually working properly. The real trick is in the “command line arguments” field. The attacker simply needs to add the argument “&& xterm”. When the connection is launched, it will first fail and then launch the xterm program. This gives the attacker a command shell running under the context of whichever user the original software is running as.

The next step is to escalate privileges to root. [Roberto] discovered a special command that the default user can run as root using sudo. The “”hpobl” command launches the HP Easy Setup Wizard. Once the wizard is opened, the attacker clicks on the “Thank You” link, which will then load up the HP website in a version of Firefox. The final step is to edit Firefox’s default email program association to xterm. Now when the attacker visits an address like “mailto:test@test.com”, Firefox (running as root) launches xterm with full root privileges. These types of attacks are nothing new, but it’s interesting to see that they still persist even in newer software.

The Pi 2 Means Faster GPIO

The Raspberry Pi is a great machine to learn the ins and outs of blinking pins, but for doing anything that requires blinking pins fast, you’re better off going with a BeagleBone. This has been the conventional wisdom for years now, and now that the updated Raspberry Pi 2 is out, there’s the expectation that you’ll be able to blink a pin faster. The data are here, and yes, you can.

The method of testing was connecting a PicoScope 5444B to a pin on the GPIO pin and toggling between zero and one as fast as possible. The original test wasn’t very encouraging; Python maxed out at around 70 kHz, Ruby was terrible, and only C with the native library was useful for interesting stuff – 22MHz.

Using the same experimental setup, the Raspberry Pi 2 is about 2 to three times faster. The fastest is still the C native library, topping out at just under 42 MHz. Other languages and libraries are much slower, but the RPi.GPIO Python library stukk sees a 2.5x increase.

Transcend DrivePro 200 Hack to Stream and Script; Begs for More

Transcend markets their DrivePro 200 camera for use as a car dashcam. We’re a bit surprised at the quality and apparent feature set for something relegated to a rather mundane task as this. But [Gadget Addict] poked around and found a nice little nugget: you can live stream the video via WiFi; the framerate, quality, and low-lag are pretty impressive. In addition to that, the next hack is just waiting for you to unlock it.

As it stands right now you turn on the camera’s built-in WiFi AP, telnet into two different ports on the device (sending it into smartphone connected mode) and you’ll be able to live stream the view to your computer using RTSP. Great, that in itself is a good hack and we’re sure that before long someone will figure out an automatic way to trigger this. [GA] also found out how to get the thing into script mode at power-on. He hasn’t actually executed any code… that’s where you come in. If you have one of these pull it out and get hacking! It’s a matter put putting files on the SD storage and rebooting. Crafting this file to enable shell access would open up an entire world of hacks, from things like time-lapse and motion sensing to special processing and filtering in real time. We think there’s huge potential so keep us up-to-date as you find new ways to pwn this hardware.

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