Engraving A Puzzle Box? Here’s A Collection Of Single-Line Cryptex Fonts

Here’s a neat resource from [MSRaynsford] that is worth bookmarking for anyone who gets creative with laser engravers, CNC routers, or drawing robots: SVGFonts are single-line symbol fonts that [MSRaynsford] created for his laser-cut and engraved cryptex puzzle boxes. They provide an easy way to engrave text as symbols.

Single-line fonts for engraving that include a runic-looking alphabet, a Greek-inspired set, and two symbol sets based on Flag Semaphore.

CNC engraving of letters and symbols is one of those things that seems simple, but is actually more complex than it may appear. It is often desirable to use a tool to engrave symbols with a single line, in much the same way a person would write them if using a pen. But fonts and art for letters and numbers aren’t normally a single line. Thankfully there is a solution in the form of Hershey text, an extension for which is included in Inkscape. It turns out that Hershey Fonts have their origin back in the 1960s, when the changing landscape of electronics and industry opened new opportunities and demanded new solutions.

That’s why, when [MSRaynsford] needed fonts in different styles and symbols for creating his puzzle boxes, he had to design them himself and they had to be single-line vector art, just like Hershey Text. The small collection includes English letters designed to resemble a runic alphabet, a Greek-inspired series, and two coded alphabets based on flag semaphore.

Grab ’em on GitHub, because you never know when you’ll need to make a quick cryptex.

Remote Screen Viewer Is Text-Only

Have you been slowly falling down a rabbit hole of Stallman-like paranoia of computers ever since installing Ubuntu for the first time in 2007? Do you now abhor anything with a GUI, including browsers? Do you check your mail with the command line even though you’re behind seven proxies? But, do you still want to play Minecraft? If so, this command-line-only screen viewer might just be the tool to use a GUI without technically using one.

This remote screen viewer is built in Python by [louis-e] and, once installed, allows the client to view the screen of the server even if the client is a text-only console. [louis-e] demonstrates this from within a Windows command prompt. The script polls the server screen and then displays it in the console using the various colors and textures available. As a result, the resolution and refresh rate are both quite low, but it is still functional enough to play Minecraft and do other GUI-based tasks as long as there’s no fine text to read anywhere.

The video below only shows a demonstration of the remote screen viewer, and we can imagine plenty of uses beyond this proof-of concept game demonstration. Installing a desktop environment and window manager is not something strictly necessary for all computers, so this is a functional workaround if you don’t want to waste time and resources installing either of those components. If you’re looking for remote desktop software for a more specific machine, though, take a look at this software which enables remote desktop on antique Macs.

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Long-Distance Text Communication With LoRa

Affordable and reliable cell phones have revolutionized the way we communicate over the last two decades or so, and this change was only accelerated by the adoption of the smartphone. This is all well and good if you’re living in a place with cellular infrastructure, but if you’re in more remote areas you’ll have to be a little more inventive. This text-based communications device, for example, lets you send text messages without all of that cumbersome infrastructure.

While [Arthur] didn’t create this project specifically for off-grid use, it’s an interesting project nonetheless. The devices use a physical QWERTY keyboard and a small screen, reminiscent of BlackBerry devices from the late 2000s (partially because they are actually using BlackBerry keyboards). One of the other goals for this project was low power consumption, and between polling the keyboard, the memory LCDs, and receiving and transmitting messages using LoRa, [Arthur] was able to get the current draw down to 12 mA.

Between the relatively common nRF52840 and SX1262 chips, plus the fact that [Arthur] made the schematics available, this makes for an excellent off-grid device for anyone who likes to drive off into the wilderness or lives far enough outside of town that cell phone reception is a concern.

Looking for something a little easier to put together before your upcoming camping trip? This similarly styled LoRa communicator from [MSG] uses off-the-shelf modules to greatly reduce the part count. Another option for off-grid communications is to use existing smartphones paired with a LoRa network like we saw in this project.

IBM PalmTop Running Modern (Modified) Linux

The handheld computing market might seem dominated by smartphones today, but before their mass adoption there were other offerings for those who needed some computing power on-the-go. If a 90s laptop was too bulky, there was always the IBM PalmTop which packed punch for its size-to-weight ratio, and for the era it was created in. [Mingcong Bai] still has one of these antiques and decided to see if it was still usable by loading a customized Linux distribution on it.

The PalmTop sported modest hardware even for its time with an Intel 486SL running at 33 MHz with 20 MiB of RAM. This one also makes use of a 1 GB CompactFlash card for storage and while [Mingcong Bai] notes that it is possible to run Windows 95 on it, it’s not a particularly great user experience. A Linux distribution customized for antique hardware, AOSC/Retro, helps solve some of these usability issues. With this it’s possible to boot into a command line and even do some limited text-based web browsing as long as the Ethernet adapter is included.

While the computer is running at its maximum capacity just to boot and perform basic system functions, it’s admirable that an antique computer such as this still works, especially given its small size and limited hardware functionality. If you’re curious about more PalmTop-style computers, take a look at the first one ever produced: the HP-200LX.

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Textmeter Tells Its Tale

One time-proven method to make a lesson memorable is to make it a story, but that is not easy if your core material is the repair log of a rotted out analog ammeter. Most folks don’t need a 300A meter on their drill press, so [Build Comics] converted it to a text display and describes the procedure like they are writing a comic book. He is using HDLO-3416 LED cluster arrays for that dated-but-legible industrial feel, and everything looks right at home in a box made from oak and steel. Even the USB cord even gets a facelift by running it inside a fabric shoelace. In our own lives, covering charging cables is a hack on its own because we don’t want to fumble with the wrong charger when it is time to sleep or drive. Glow-in-the-dark cord upgrades, anyone?

We don’t have a pre-operation picture of the subject, but the innards suggest that it comes from the bottom of an industrial scrap pile. There is a cross-hatch pattern on the front plate, which hinted at 3D printing, but if you look closely at the early images, you can see that it is original. There is a nodeMCU board to fetch the date information and control the four alphanumeric displays. Except for the red lights, all the new hardware hides behind wood or steel, so this old workhorse’s aesthetic lives on and has a story to share that is a delight to read.

If you enjoy reading [Build Comics] and their adventurous recollections, we forecast you’ll enjoy this weather display, or maybe it is time to check out their clock, but we want to plant the seed of literary build logs.

Distorted Text Says A Lot

Getting bounced to a website by scanning a QR code is no longer an exciting feat of technology, but what if you scanned the ingredient list on your granola bar and it went to the company’s page for that specific flavor, sans the matrix code?

Bright minds at the Columbia University in the City of New York have “perturbed” ordinary font characters so the average human eye won’t pick up the changes. Even ordinary OCR won’t miss a beat when it looks at a passage with a hidden message. After all, these “perturbed” glyphs are like a perfectly legible character viewed through a drop of water. When a camera is looking for these secret messages, those minor tweaks speak volumes.

The system is diabolically simple. Each character can be distorted according to an algorithm and a second variable. Changing that second variable is like twisting a distorted lens, or a water drop but the afterimage can be decoded and the variable extracted. This kind of encoding can survive a trip to the printer, unlike a purely digital hidden message.

Hidden messages like these are not limited to passing notes, metadata can be attached to any text and extracted when necessary. Literature could include notes without taking up page space so teachers could include helpful notes and a cell phone could be like an x-ray machine to see what the teacher wants to show. For example, you could define what “crypto” actually means.

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Hide Secret Messages In Plain Sight With Zero-Width Characters

Fingerprinting text is really very nifty; the ability to encode hidden data within a string of characters opens up a large number of opportunities. For example, someone within your team is leaking confidential information but you don’t know who. Simply send each team member some classified text with their name encoded in it. Wait for it to be leaked, then extract the name from the text — the classic canary trap.

Here’s a method that hides data in text using zero-width characters. Unlike various other ways of text fingerprinting, zero width characters are not removed if the formatting is stripped, making them nearly impossible to get rid of without re-typing the text or using a special tool. In fact you’ll have a hard time detecting them at all – even terminals and code editors won’t display them.

To make the process easy to perform, [Vedhavyas] created a command line utility to embed and extract a payload using any text. Each letter in the secret message is converted to binary, then encoded in zero-width characters. A zero-width-non-joiner character is used for 0, and a zero-width-space character for 1.

[Vedhavyas’] tool was inspired by a post by [Tom], who uses a javascript example (with online demo) to explain what’s going on. This lets you test out the claim that you can paste the text without losing the hidden data. Try pasting it into a text editor. We were able to copy it again from there and retrieve the data, but it didn’t survive being saved and cat’d to the command line.

Of course, to get your encoding game really tight, you should be looking at getting yourself an enigma wristwatch

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