Automated Balcony Shade Uses NFC

[Udi] lives in an apartment with a pleasant balcony. He also has three kids who are home most of the time now, so he finds himself spending a little more time out on the balcony than he used to. To upgrade his experience, he installed a completely custom shade controller to automatically open and close his sunshade as the day progresses.

Automatic motors for blinds and other shades are available for purchase, but [Udi]’s shade is too big for any of these small motors to work. Finding a large servo with a 2:1 gear ration was the first step, as well as creating a custom mount for it to attach to the sunshade. Once the mechanical situation was solved, he programmed an ESP32 to control the servo. The ESP32 originally had control buttons wired to it, but [Udi] eventually transitioned to NFC for limit switch capabilities and also implemented voice control for the build as well.

While not the first shade controller we’ve ever seen, this build does make excellent use of appropriate hardware and its built-in features and although we suppose it’s possible this could have been done with a 555 timer, the project came together very well, especially for [Ubi]’s first Arduino-compatible build. If you decide to replicate this build, though, make sure that your shade controller is rental-friendly if it needs to be.

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Hackaday Links: December 13, 2020

Our Sun is getting a bit frisky these days, and has rewarded us with perhaps the best screensaver image ever taken. The incredibly detailed photo of a sunspot was actually taken back in January by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, a 4-meter instrument with adaptive optics that can image the sun from the near-infrared to visible wavelengths and resolve surface details down to 20 km. The photo, with a distinct “Eye of Sauron” look, shows the massive convection cells surrounding the dark sunspot; an accompanying animation shows the movement of plasmas along the tortured lines of magnetic flux that cause the sunspot to form. It’s fascinating to watch, and even more interesting to mull over the technology that went into capturing it.

With the dustup surrounding the youtube-dl DCMA takedown by GitHub fresh on the open-source community’s minds, GitHub Universe 2020 had an interesting discussion about maintaining open-source software projects that’s worth watching. They focused on the challenges that youtube-dl maintainers face in keeping the tool working, and the impact their effort has on the people and groups that rely on them. To underscore that point, they featured a researcher with Human Rights Watch who depends on youtube-dl in her work, and made it quite clear that keeping up with all the API changes that constantly break open source tools like youtube-dl make the role of the maintainers that much more critical.

Speaking of GitHub, here’s a frightening and fascinating new tool: Depix, the password de-pixelizer. Developer Sipke Mellema noticed that his company often used pixelization to obscure passwords in documentation, and wondered if he could undo the process. He wrote up an article describing the pixelization process using a linear box filter and his method for attacking it, which involves generating a De Bruijn sequence in the same font, text size, and colors as the original document and feeding a screenshot of that and the pixellated password into the tool. We suspect it’ll only work for a subset of obfuscated passwords, but it’s still pretty clever.

‘Tis the season for Advent calendars, and the folks at QEMU have posted theirs. Open each of 24 doors on the calendar and you’re rewarded with a downloadable QEMU disk image that implements something fun. Minesweeper, a ray tracer that fits into a boot loader, and of course Conway’s Game of Life. The GW-BASIC image on Day 3 caught our eye — brings back some memories.

For anyone who has ever watched a Pixar film and wondered how all that animation actually works, here’s a great lesson in making art with math. The video is by Inigo Quilez and goes through the basics of rendering images using raymarching SDFs, or signed distance functions. In the beginning, it seemed like it was going to be a little bit like drawing an owl, but his descriptions of the math involved and how each element of the animation is just another formula is fascinating. What’s more, there’s a real-time rendering tool where you can inspect the code and edit it. Alas, my changes only made things worse, but it was still fun and instructive to play with. Check out the video after the break!

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OpenOffice Or LibreOffice? A Star Is Torn

When it comes to open source office suites, most people choose OpenOffice or LibreOffice, and they both look suspiciously similar. That isn’t surprising since they both started with exactly the same code base. However, the LibreOffice team recently penned an open letter to the Apache project — the current keepers of OpenOffice — asking them to redirect new users to the LibreOffice project. Their logic is that OpenOffice has huge name recognition, but hasn’t had a new major release in several years. LibreOffice, on the other hand, is a very active project. We could argue that case either way, but we won’t. But it did get us thinking about how things got here.

It all started when German Marco Börries wrote StarWriter in 1985 for the Zilog Z80. By 1986, he created a company, Star Division, porting the word processor to platforms like CP/M and MSDOS. Eventually, the company added other office suite programs and with support for DOS, OS/2, and Windows, the suite became known as StarOffice.

The program was far less expensive than most competitors, costing about $70, yet in 1999 that price point prompted Sun Microsystems to buy StarOffice. We don’t mean they bought a copy or a license, they bought the entire thing for just under $74 million. The story was that it was still cheaper than buying a license for each Sun employee, particularly since most had both a Windows machine and a Unix machine which still required some capability.

Sun in Charge

Sun provided StarOffice 5.2 in 2000 as a free download for personal use, which gave the software a lot of attention. It eventually released much of the code under an open source license producing OpenOffice. Sun contributed to the project and would periodically snapshot the code to market future versions of StarOffice.

This was the state of affairs for a while. StarOffice 6.0 corresponded to OpenOffice 1.0. In 2003, release 1.1 turned into StarOffice 7. A couple of years later, StarOffice 8/OpenOffice 2.0 appeared and by 2008, we had StarOffice 9 with OpenOffice 3.0 just before Oracle entered the picture.

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Fat Bottomed-Keebs, You Make The Clackin’ World Go Round

Depending on the circles you run in, it can seem like the mechanical keyboard community is all about reduced layouts, and keebs without ten-keys are about as big as it gets. But trust us, there’s plenty of love out there for the bigger ‘boards like [Ben]’s tasty fat-bottomed keyboard. Man oh man, what a delicious slab of throwback to the days when keyboards doubled as melee weapons.

More specifically, this is a 199-key modified Sun Type 5 layout. It runs on two Teensy 2.0s — one for the keyboard matrix, and one for everything else. [Ben] made the metal enclosure entirely by hand without a CNC or laser cutter. While I don’t personally care for linear switches, I have mad respect for these, which are vintage Cherry Blacks pulled from various 1980s AT/XT boards. That 10-key island on the left is dedicated to elementary macros like undo/redo, cut/copy/paste, and open/close/save.

We absolutely love the gigantic rotary encoders, which give it a bit of a boombox look. There’s even reuse involved here, because the encoder knobs are made from jam jar lids that are stuffed with homemade Sugru. [Ben] can use them to play PONG on the LCD and other games not yet implemented on the everything-else Teensy.

Here’s another Sun-inspired keeb, but this one has a reverse 10-key layout that matches the DTMF phone dial.

Hackaday Links: July 26, 2020

An Australian teen is in hot water after he allegedly exposed sensitive medical information concerning COVID-19 patients being treated in a local hospital. While the authorities in Western Australia were quick to paint the unidentified teen as a malicious, balaclava-wearing hacker spending his idle days cracking into secure systems, a narrative local media were all too willing to parrot, reading down past the breathless headlines reveals the truth: the teen set up an SDR to receive unencrypted POCSAG pager data from a hospital, and built a web page to display it all in real-time. We’ve covered the use of unsecured pager networks in the medical profession before; this is a well-known problem that should not exactly take any infosec pros by surprise. Apparently authorities just hoped that nobody would spend $20 on an SDR and an afternoon putting it all together rather than address the real problem, and when found out they shifted the blame onto the kid.

Speaking of RF hacking, even though the 2020 HOPE Conference is going virtual, they’ll still be holding the RF Hacking Village. It’s not clear from the schedule how exactly that will happen; perhaps like this year’s GNU Radio Conference CTF Challenge, they’ll be distributing audio files for participants to decode. If someone attends HOPE, which starts this weekend, we’d love to hear a report on how the RF Village — and the Lockpicking Village and all the other attractions — are organized. Here’s hoping it’s as cool as DEFCON Safe Mode’s cassette tape mystery.

It looks like the Raspberry Pi family is about to get a big performance boost, with Eben Upton’s announcement that the upcoming Pi Compute Module 4 will hopefully support NVMe storage. The non-volatile memory express spec will allow speedy access to storage and make the many hacks Pi users use to increase access speed unnecessary. While the Compute Modules are targeted at embedded system designers, Upton also hinted that NVMe support might make it into the mainstream Pi line with a future Pi 4A.

Campfires on the sun? It sounds strange, but that’s what solar scientists are calling the bright spots revealed on our star’s surface by the newly commissioned ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter satellite. The orbiter recently returned its first images of the sun, which are extreme closeups of the roiling surface. They didn’t expect the first images, which are normally used to calibrate instruments and make sure everything is working, to reveal something new, but the (relatively) tiny bright spots are thought to be smaller versions of the larger solar flares we observe from Earth. There are some fascinating images coming back from the orbiter, and they’re well worth checking out.

And finally, although it’s an old article and has nothing to do with hacking, we stumbled upon Tim Urban’s look at the mathematics of human relations and found it fascinating enough to share. The gist is that everyone on the planet is related, and most of us are a lot more inbred than we would like to think, thanks to the exponential growth of everyone’s tree of ancestors. For example, you have 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, who were probably alive in the early 1800s. That pool doubles in size with every generation you go back, until we eventually — sometime in the 1600s — have a pool of ancestors that exceeds the population of the planet at the time. This means that somewhere along the way, someone in your family tree was hanging out with someone else from a very nearby branch of the same tree. That union, likely between first or second cousins, produced the line that led to you. This is called pedigree collapse and it results in the pool of ancestors being greatly trimmed thanks to sharing grandparents. So the next time someone tells you they’re descended from 16th-century royalty, you can just tell them, “Oh yeah? Me too!” Probably.

Hackaday Links: July 12, 2020

Based in the US as Hackaday is, it’s easy to overload the news with stories from home. That’s particularly true with dark tales of the expanding surveillance state, which seem to just get worse here on a daily basis. So we’re not exactly sure how we feel to share not one but two international stories of a dystopian bent; one the one hand, pleased that it’s not us for a change, but on the other, sad to see the trend toward less freedom and more monitoring spreading.

The first story comes from Mexico, where apparently everything our community does will soon be illegal. We couch that statement because the analysis is based on Google translations of reports from Mexico, possibly masking the linguistic nuances that undergird legislative prose. So we did some digging and it indeed appears that the Mexican Senate approved a package of reforms to existing federal copyright laws that will make it illegal to do things like installing a non-OEM operating system on a PC, or to use non-branded ink cartridges in a printer. Reverse engineering ROMs will be right out too, making any meaningful security research illegal. There appear to be exceptions to the law, but those are mostly to the benefit of the Mexican government for “national security purposes.” It’ll be a sad day indeed for Mexican hackers if this law is passed.

The other story comes from Germany, where a proposed law would grant sweeping surveillance powers to 19 state intelligence bodies. The law would require ISPs to install hardware in their data centers that would allow law enforcement to receive data and potentially modify it before sending it on to where it was supposed to go. So German Internet users can look forward to state-sponsored man-in-the-middle attacks and trojan injections if this thing passes.

OK, time for a palate cleanser: take an hour to watch a time-lapse of the last decade of activity of our star. NASA put the film together from data sent back by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a satellite that has been keeping an eye on the Sun from geosynchronous orbit since 2010. Each frame of the film is one hour of solar activity, which may sound like it would be boring to watch, but it’s actually quite interesting and very relaxing. There are exciting moments, too, like enormous solar eruptions and the beautiful but somehow terrifying lunar transits. More terrifying still is a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) captured in June 2011. A more subtle but fascinating phenomenon is the gradual decrease in the number of sunspots over the decade as the Sun goes through its normal eleven-year cycle.

You’ll recall that as a public service to our more gear-headed readers that we recently covered the recall of automotive jack stands sold at Harbor Freight, purveyor of discount tools in the USA. Parts for the jack stands in question had been cast with a degraded mold, making the pawls liable to kick out under load and drop the vehicle, with potentially catastrophic results for anyone working beneath. To their credit, Harbor Freight responded immediately and replaced tons of stands with a new version. But now, Harbor Freight is forced to recall the replacement stands as well, due to a welding error. It’s an embarrassment, to be sure, but to make it as right as possible, Harbor Freight is now accepting any of their brand jack stands for refund or store credit.

And finally, if you thought that the experience of buying a new car couldn’t be any more miserable, wait till you have to pay to use the windshield wipers. Exaggeration? Perhaps only slightly, now that BMW “is planning to move some features of its new cars to a subscription model.” Plans like that are common enough as cars get increasingly complex infotainment systems, or with vehicles like Teslas which can be upgraded remotely. But BMW is actually planning on making options such as heated seats and adaptive cruise control available only by subscription — try it out for a month and if you like it, pay to keep them on for a year. It would aggravate us to no end knowing that the hardware supporting these features had already been installed and were just being held ransom by software. Sounds like a perfect job for a hacker — just not one in Mexico.

Sunny Custom Keyboard Illuminates The Past

Ever wonder why keyboard number pads and telephone dials have reversed layouts? Theories abound, but the most plausible one is that, shrug, it just happened that way. And now we’re stuck with it.

Well, that answer’s not good enough for [Jesse], so he punched up his own keyboard design that combines the golden years of function-rich Sun and IBM keyboards with Ma Bell’s DTMF number arrangement. That’s right, Sundial has 24 function keys total, and the number pad matches Ma Bell’s all the way down to the asterisk/zero/octothorpe pattern on the bottom row. How do we know what the unlabeled ones are, you ask? It’s all mapped out in this layout editor. We love that it has all the key lock indicator lights, because that practice should’ve never faded out in the first place.

Though inspired by this beautiful unicorn of an Arduino keyboard we covered a few months ago, the Sundial uses a Teensy 2.0 to translate [Jesse]’s Cherry MX clone-driven wishes into software commands. It’s also painstakingly hand-wired, so here’s the build log for you to drool over. Just cover up your keyboard first.