DIY Tachistoscope Feeds Your Hunger For Popcorn And Propaganda

You’ve probably heard of subliminal advertising — the idea is that behaviors can be elicited by flashing extremely brief messages on a movie or TV screen. “BUY POPCORN NOW” is the canonical example, with movies containing such subconscious messaging supposedly experiencing dramatic increases in popcorn sales.

Did it work? Maybe, maybe not, but the idea is intriguing enough to at least explore using this subliminal tachistoscope. [Roni Bandini] seems to have taken this project on as a sort of cautionary tale about brainwashing techniques, not only in motion pictures and TV but in printed media too; he goes pretty hard on the Peronistas’ use of not-so-subliminal messages to mold young Argentinian minds back in the 1940s and 50s.

The tachistoscope [Roni] presents is a little more sophisticated than those ham-fisted propaganda attempts. The Raspberry Pi-powered device downloads a video from YouTube and automatically replaces random frames with a propaganda message inspired by those used by the Peronistas, with the modified video piped to a composite video output for display on a TV.

A digital counter on the tachistoscope keeps track of the total time viewers have been propagandized. For extra fun, the machine has a switch to enable ChatGPT-created political messages to be inserted into the stream; we shudder to think what those might look like. Watch the video below for a sample of the brainwashing, but don’t blame us if you fall in love with [Evita].

We understand that this is more of a statement on the power of propaganda than an actual tool for mind control, but if [Roni] is serious about his brainwashing, some small mods might make it more effective. Thanks to the full frame of text on a black background, the subliminal messages aren’t very subliminal; they might be more subtle if the text was overlaid on the target frame rather than replaced completely. Seems like that should be possible with ffmpeg or something similar.

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Going To Extremes To Block YouTube Ads

Many users of YouTube feel that the quality of the service has been decreasing in recent years — the platform offers up bizarre recommendations, fails to provide relevant search results, and continues to shove an increasing amount of ads into the videos themselves. For shareholders of Google’s parent company, though, this is a feature and not a bug; and since shareholder opinion is valued much more highly than user opinion, the user experience will likely continue to decline. But if you’re willing to put a bit of effort in you can stop a large chunk of YouTube ads from making it to your own computers and smartphones.

[Eric] is setting up this adblocking system on his entire network, so running something like Pi-hole on a single-board computer wouldn’t have the performance needed. Instead, he’s installing the pfSense router software on a mini PC. To start, [Eric] sets up a pretty effective generic adblocker in pfSense to replace his Pi-hole, which does an excellent job, but YouTube is a different beast when it comes to serving ads especially on Android and iOS apps. One initial attempt to at least reduce ads was to subtly send YouTube traffic through a VPN to a country with fewer ads, in this case Italy, but this solution didn’t pan out long-term.

A few other false starts later, all of which are documented in detail by [Eric] for those following along, and eventually he settled on a solution which is effectively a man-in-the-middle attack between any device on his network and the Google ad servers. His router is still not powerful enough to decode this information on the fly but his trick to get around that is to effectively corrupt the incoming advertising data with a few bad bytes so they aren’t able to be displayed on any devices on the network. It’s an effective and unique solution, and one that Google hopefully won’t be able to patch anytime soon. There are some other ways to improve the miserable stock YouTube experience that we have seen as well, like bringing back the dislike button.

Thanks to [Jack] for the tip!

Prompt Injection: An AI-Targeted Attack

For a brief window of time in the mid-2010s, a fairly common joke was to send voice commands to Alexa or other assistant devices over video. Late-night hosts and others would purposefully attempt to activate voice assistants like these en masse and get them to do ridiculous things. This isn’t quite as common of a gag anymore and was relatively harmless unless the voice assistant was set up to do something like automatically place Amazon orders, but now that much more powerful AI tools are coming online we’re seeing that joke taken to its logical conclusion: prompt-injection attacks. Continue reading “Prompt Injection: An AI-Targeted Attack”

Screenshot of ImHex hex editor, with the MOC3 file structure being reverse-engineered inside of it

Live2D: Silently Subverting Threat Models

In online spaces, VTubers have been steadily growing in popularity in the past few years – they are entertainers using motion capture tech to animate a special-sauce 2D or 3D model, typically livestreaming it as their avatar to an audience. The tech in question is pretty fun, lively communities tend to form around the entertainers and artists involved, and there’s loads of room for creativity in the VTuber format; as for viewers, there’s a VTuber for anyone’s taste out there – what’s not to like? On the tech side of making everything work, most creators in the VTubing space currently go with a software suite from a company called Live2D – which is where today’s investigation comes in. Continue reading “Live2D: Silently Subverting Threat Models”

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Hackaday Links: March 5, 2023

Well, we guess it had to happen eventually — Ford is putting plans in place to make its vehicles capable of self-repossession. At least it seems so from a patent application that was published last week, which reads like something written by someone who fancies themselves an evil genius but is just really, really annoying. Like most patent applications, it covers a lot of ground; aside from the obvious capability of a self-driving car to drive itself back to the dealership, Ford lists a number of steps that its proposed system could take before or instead of driving the car away from someone who’s behind on payments.

Examples include selective disabling conveniences in the vehicle, like the HVAC or infotainment systems, or even locking the doors and effectively bricking the vehicle. Ford graciously makes allowance for using the repossessed vehicle in an emergency, and makes mention of using cameras in the vehicle and a “neural network” to verify that the locked-out user is indeed having, say, a medical emergency. What could possibly go wrong?

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YouTube As Infinite File Storage

Anyone who was lucky enough to secure a Gmail invite back in early 2004 would have gasped in wonder at the storage on offer, a whole gigabyte! Nearly two decades later there’s more storage to be had for free from Google and its competitors, but it’s still relatively easy to hit the paid tier. Consider this though, how about YouTube as an infinite cloud storage medium?

The proof of concept code from [DvorakDwarf] works by encoding binary files into video files which can then be uploaded to the video sharing service. It’s hardly a new idea as there were clever boxes back in the 16-bit era that would do the same with a VHS video recorder, but it seems that for the moment it does what it says, and turns YouTube into an infinite cloud file store.

The README goes into a bit of detail about how the code tries to avoid the effects of YouTube’s compression algorithm. It eschews RGB colour for black and white pixels, and each displayed pixel in the video is made of a block of the real pixels. The final video comes in at around four times the size of the original file, and looks like noise on the screen. There’s an example video, which we’ve placed below the break.

Whether this is against YouTube’s TOS is probably open for interpretation, but we’re guessing that the video site could spot these uploads with relative ease and apply a stronger compression algorithm which would corrupt them. As an alternate approach, we recommend hiding all your important data in podcast episodes.

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Who Is Responsible For Your Safety?

We recently posted a video where some ingenious metal-shop hackers made a simple jig to create zig-zag oil grooves on the inside of a cylinder, and the comment section went wild. What ensued was a flood of complaints that the video displayed unsafe shop practices, from lack of safety glasses to wearing flip-flops while operating a lathe.

Where the comments went off the rails were people asking Hackaday to remove our discussion of the video, because the commenters thought that we were somehow implicitly encouraging open-toed footwear in the presence of machine tools. We certainly weren’t! We wanted you all to see the clever machining hack, and be inspired to build your own. We figure that you’ve got the safety angle covered.

Now don’t get me wrong – there were safety choices made in the video that I would not personally make. But it also wasn’t my shop and I wasn’t operating the machines. And you know who is ultimately responsible for the safety in my basement shop? Me! And guess who is responsible for safety in your shop.

But of course, none of us know everything about every possible hazard. (Heck, I wrote just that a few weeks ago!) So while we’re sympathetic with the “that’s not safe!” crew, we’re not going to censor inspiring hacks just because something done along the way wasn’t done in the way we would do it. Instead, it’s our job, in the comment section as in Real Life™, to help each other out and share our good safety tips when we can.

You’ll see some crazy stuff in videos, and none of it is to be repeated without thinking. And if you do see something dodgy, by all means point it out, and mention how you would do it better. Turn the negative example around for good, rather than calling for its removal. Use the opportunity to help, rather than hide.

But also remember that when the chips are flying toward your personal eyeballs, it’s up to you to have glasses on. We all do potentially hazardous things all the time, and it’s best to be thinking about the risks and their mitigation. So stay safe out there. Keep on learning and keep on hacking!