turn an Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive into an Fluorescent Scanning Thermal Microscope (FSTM)

Curtesy of Sam Zeloof I came around the fact that I’ve got a good part of a FSTM in a cupboard here.

Apparently my choice of purchasing the HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360 will ultimately pay off!! As we all know Bluray won that format war back in the days.

But now it seems that this below would be useable for something:

Over the life of nuclear fuel, inhomogeneous structures develop, negatively impacting thermal properties. New fuels are under development, but require more accurate knowledge of how the properties change to model performance and determine safe operational conditions.

Measurement systems capable of small–scale, pointwise thermal property measurements and low cost are necessary to measure these properties and integrate into hot cells where electronics are likely to fail during fuel investigation. This project develops a cheaper, smaller, and easily replaceable Fluorescent Scanning Thermal Microscope (FSTM) using the blue laser and focusing circuitry from an Xbox HD-DVD player.

The Design, Construction, and Thermal Diffusivity Measurements of the Fluorescent Scanning Thermal Microscope (FSTM)

As mentioned, Sam Zeloof shows off the actual chip in more detail:

Xbox 360 HD DVD player photodiode chip reverse engineering, includes 49 bits of antifuse trimming from the factory

Hack-The-Planet Podcast: Episode 10

Shownotes

Odometer for the HUD

Since I am back at developing the Head-Up-Display app I was writing about in February (yeah, mornings got darker again!) I want to leave this nice looking Odometer Javascript library here:

Odometer is a Javascript and CSS library for smoothly transitioning numbers. See the demo page for some examples.

Odometer’s animations are handled entirely in CSS using transforms making them extremely performant, with automatic fallback on older browsers.

odometer

Hack-The-Planet Podcast: Episode 009

Hertzian Landscapes

I played with SDR – Software Defined Radio – back in 2013. I’ve still got the equipment around.

Now that I am thinking about it – there is a practical use-case that I will look into in the coming months for sure for it. And just to mention this use case here: With SDR I could create a more versatile 443/886 Mhz receiver.

Anyhow. SDR hardware allows you to access a whole spectrum of radiosignals at once. And a common way to visualize the spectrum is to draw the amplitudes in a line add each new measurement as a new line – color/brightness coded.

What you get is some sort of waterfall diagram that looks like this:

Hertzian Landscapes (2019) is a live visualization of the radio spectrum. Unlike visible light, waves in the radio spectrum cannot be perceived by us directly yet this space is teeming with human activity. Hertzian Landscapes employs a digital receiver to scan large swaths of radio spectrum in near real-time and visualizes thousands of signals into a panoramic electromagnetic landscape. Users can zoom in to specific frequencies by positioning themselves in front of the panorama as if controlling a radio tuner with their body, giving them a sense of walking through the spectrum.
From radio broadcasts to weather satellites and from medical implants to aeronautical navigation, the radio spectrum is divided into hundreds of designated slices each tied to a specific application. Based on a localized frequency database that describes these slices, signals are annotated to provide information about their theoretical type and application.

http://www.hertzianlandscapes.com/

C# PlayStation emulation

After looking into the NES emulation written entirely in C# I came across a similar approach using C# to emulate a full and much more complex PlayStation 1.

Scott Hanselman wrote:

I then stumbled on this very early version of a PSX Emulator in C#.

Now, if you were to theoretically have a Playtation SCPH1001.BIN BIOS and then physically owned a Playstation (as I do) and then created a BIN file from your physical copy of Crash Bandicoot, you could happily run it as you can see in the screenshot below.

Hack-the-Planet Podcast: Episode 006

Episode 006: “Monitoring Release Pipeline” ist fertig und steht bald zum Download und zeit-sourveränem anhören bereit.

Auf der Homepage, im Feed und auf YouTube:

Diesmal unterhält Andreas sich mit mir über:

QuickCharge 3 (QC3) enable your Arduino project

You might have asked yourself how it is that some phones charge up faster than others. Maybe the same phone charges at different speed when you’re using a different cable or power supply. It even might not charge at all.

There is some very complicated trickery in place to make those cables and power supplies do things in combination with the active devices like phones. Many of this is implemented by standards like “Quick Charge”:

Quick Charge is a technology found in QualcommSoCs, used in devices such as mobile phones, for managing power delivered over USB. It offers more power and thus charges batteries in devices faster than standard USB rates allow. Quick Charge 2 onwards technology is primarily used for wall adaptors, but it is also implemented in car chargers and powerbanks (For both input and output power delivery).

Wikipedia: Quick Charge

So in a nutshell: If you are able to speak the quick charge protocol, and with the right cable and power supply, you are able to get anything between 3.6 and 20V out of such a combination by just telling the power supply to do so.

This is great for maker projects in need of more power. There’s lots of things to consider and be cautious about.

“Speaking” the protocol just got easier though. You can take this open source library and “power up your project”:

The above mentioned usage-code will give you 12V output from the power supply. Of course you can also do…:

Be aware that your project needs to be aware of the (higher) voltage. It’s really not something you should just try. But you knew that.

More on Quick Charge also here.

smart arduino fish pond feeder: TurtleFeeder

We’ve got several quite big fish tanks in our house. Mainly used by freshwater turtles.

say Hi! to Wilma.

These turtles need to be fed every once in a while. And while this is not an issue normally it’s an issue if you leave the house for travel for an extended period of time.

Of course there are humans checking on everything in the house regularly but as much as can be automated should and will be automated in our household. So the requirement wa to have the turtle feeding automated.

To achieve this is would be necessary to have a fixed amount of turtle food be dispensed into the tanks on a plan and with some checks in the background (like water quality and such).

It’s been quite a hassle to come up with a plan how the hardware should look like and work. And ultimately i’ve settled on retrofitting an off-the-shelf fish pond feeder to become controllable through MQTT.

The pond feeder I’ve found and used is this one:

It’s not really worth linking to a specific product detail page as this sort of feeder is available under hundreds of different names. It always looks the same and is priced right around the same.

If you want to build this yourself, you want one that looks like the above. I’ve bought 3 of them and they all seem to come out of the same factory somewhere in China.

Anyway. If you got one you can easily open it up and start modifying it.

Hardware

the wheel is turned by a DC motor and the switch is triggered by the wheels fins
I’ve added a connector to the switch and the motor cables for quick connect

The functional principle of the feeder is rather simple:

  1. turn the feeder wheel
  2. take the micro-switch status in account – when it’s pressed down the wheel must be pushing against it
  3. turn it until the micro-switch is not pressed anymore
  4. turn some more until it’s pressed again

Simple. Since the switch-status is not known on power loss / reboot a calibration run is necessary (even with the factory electronics) every time it boots up.

After opening the feeder I’ve cut the two cables going to the motor as well as the micro-switch cables. I’ve added a 4-Pin JST-XH connector to both ends. So I can reconnect it to original state if desired.

These are all the parts needed:

I am using a Wemos D1 Mini and a couple of additional components apart from the prototype board:

A PN2222 NPN transistor, a rectifier diode 1N4007 and a 220 Ohm resistor.

I’ve connected everything according to this schematic I’ve drawn with Fritzing:

I’ve then prototyped away and put everything on the PCB. Of course with very limited solderig skill:

As you can see the JST-XH connector on Motor+Switch can now be connected easily to the PCB with all the parts.

Make sure you check polarity and that you did correctly hook up the motor and switch.

When done correctly the PCB (I’ve used 40mm x 60mm prototype pcb) and all cables will fit into the case. There’s plenty of room and I’ve put it to the side of it. I’ve also directly connected an USB cable to the USB port of the Wemos D1 Mini. As long as you put at least 1A into it it will all work.

Software

Since the Wemos D1 Mini sports an ESP8266 and is well supported by Arduino it was clear to me to use Arduino IDE for the software portion of this project.

Of course everything, from schematics to the sourcecode is available as open source.

To get everything running you need to modify the .ino file in the src folder like so:

Configuration

What you need to configure:

  • the output pins you have chosen – D1+D2 are pre-configured
  • WiFi SSID + PASS
  • MQTT Server (IP(+Username+PW))
  • MQTT Topic prefix

Commands that can be sent through mqtt to the /feed topic.

MQTT topics and control

There are overall two MQTT topics:

  • $prefix/feeder-$chipid/state
    This topic will hold the current state of the feeder. It will show a number starting from 0 up. When the feeder is ready it will be 0. When it’s currently feeding it will be 1 and up – counting down for every successfull turn done. There is an safety cut-off for the motor. If the motor is longer active than configured in the MaximumMotorRuntime variable it will shut-off by itself and set the state to -1.
  • $prefix/feeder-$chipid/feed
    This topic acts as the command topic to start / control the feeding process. If you want to start the process you would send the number of turns you want to happen. So 1 to 5 seems reasonable. The feeder will show the progress in the /state topic. You can update the amount any time to shorten / lengthen the process. On the very first feed request after initial power-up / reboot the feeder will do a calibration run. This is to make sure that all the wheels are in the right position to work flawlessly.

So if you want to make it start feeding 3 times:

mosquitto_pub -t house/stappenbach/feeder/feeder-00F3B839/feed -m 3

And if you want to see the state of the feeder:

mosquitto_sub -v -t house/stappenbach/feeder/feeder-00F3B839/state

All in all there are 3 of these going to be running in our household and the feeding is going to be controlled either by Alexa voice commands or through Node-Red automation.

the appropriate case for your hackintosh

It’s been a year since Zenvent posted this:

Created a custom case for my hackintosh, it resembles a minified Power Mac G5. I have uploaded the parts to Thingiverse in case you’d like to make one of your own. 

https://www.zenvent.com/blog/hackintosh/

Hackintosh (a portmanteau of “Hack” and “Macintosh”), is a computer that runs macOS on a device not authorized by Apple, or one that no longer receives official software updates.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hackintosh

Hack-The-Planet Podcast: Episode 003

Wir haben wieder etwas aufgenommen. Der Release heute ab 15 Uhr wie gewohnt hier und hier sogar mit Live-Chat.

Diesmal geht es um:

  1. Scanner Pro auf iOS – https://apps.apple.com/us/app/scanner-pro/id333710667 
  2. Scanbot auf iOS – https://scanbot.io/en/index.html 
  3. Abo-Modelle bei Software und Diensten
  4. RING Kamera und Überwachungssystem – https://de-de.ring.com/
  5. Canary Indoor Camera – https://canary.is/
  6. Surveillance Station – https://www.synology.com/en-global/surveillance
  7. Ring has more than 400 police “partnerships” – https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/08/ring-has-more-than-400-police-partnerships-company-finally-says/
  8. Jumbo Privacy – https://blog.jumboprivacy.com/ – App Store: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/jumbo-privacy/id1454039975?ls=1
  9. Tim Berners-Lee Projekt “Solid”: https://solid.mit.edu/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_(web_decentralization_project)https://solid.inrupt.com/how-it-works 
  10. Ubuntu – https://ubuntu.com/
  11. Throw-Away Remote VNC Linux Desktop in a Docker container – https://www.schrankmonster.de/2019/08/27/a-throw-away-linux-desktop-in-a-container/ 
  12. Virtual Network Computing – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_Network_Computing
  13. Stephen Wolfram – https://blog.stephenwolfram.com/
  14. Speed of Light in Medium – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_of_light

paint it (very) black

You might, or might not be aware of my passion for black clothing. I like the simplicity and absence of noise.

Anyway. You might not be aware of the wonderful world of black as-in paint.

Apparently the current record holder in blackness (measured in percent absorption of visible light) is a product called “Vanta Black”.

Wikipedia: Wrinkled aluminium foil with a portion—equally wrinkled—coated in Vantablack

Vantablack is a material developed by Surrey NanoSystems in the United Kingdom and is one of the darkest substances known, absorbing up to 99.96% of visible light (at 663 nm if the light is perpendicular to the material).
The name is a compound of the acronym VANTA (vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays) and the color black.

Wikipedia: Vantablack

Unfortunately this blackest-of-black coating is not readily available for purchase. Export rules apply and so it’s usually not sold to civilians at all.

“What is the next best thing?”, you ask. Well it’s BLACK 2.0.

a throw-away remote VNC linux desktop in a docker container

I am running most of my in-house infrastructure based on Docker these days…

Docker is a set of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) products that use operating-system-level virtualization to deliver software in packages called containers. Containers are isolated from one another and bundle their own software, libraries and configuration files; they can communicate with each other through well-defined channels.

All containers are run by a single operating-system kernel and are thus more lightweight than virtual machines.

Wikipedia: Docker

And given the above definition it’s fairly easy to create and run containers of things like command-line tools and background servers/services. But due to the nature of Docker being “terminal only” by default it’s quite hard to do anything UI related.

But there is a way. By using the VNC protocol to get access to the graphical user interface we can set-up a container running a fully-fledge Linux Desktop and we can connect directly to this container.

I am using something I call “throw-away linux desktop containers” all day every day for various needs and uses. Everytime I start such a container this container is brand-new and ready to be used.

Actually when I start it the process looks like this:

As you can see when the container starts-up it asks for a password to be set. This is the password needed to be entered when the VNC client connects to the container.

And when you are connected, this is what you get:

this is what you see after connecting to the desktop container by VNC

I am sharing my scripts and Dockerfile with you so you can use it yourself. If you put a bit more time into it you can even customize it to your specific needs. At this point it’s based on Ubuntu 18.04 and starts-up a ubuntu-mate desktop environment in it’s default configuration.

When you log into the container it will log you in as root – but effectively you won’t be able to really screw around with the host machine as the container is still isolating you from the host. Nevertheless be aware that the container has some quirks and is run in extended privileges mode.

Chromium will be pre-installed as a browser but you will find that it won’t start up. That’s because Chromium won’t start up if you attempt a start as root user.

The workaround:

“–no-sandbox” parameter for Chromium

Now get the scripts and container here and build it yourself!

Circuit Board Design in your browser

Once every while when you make things you actually need to make things. Things like PCBs – printed circuit boards to hold and wire your chips.

bold claim

Maybe you want to give EasyEDA a try as it’s in-browser experience is better than anything I had come across so far. Granted I am not doing PCBs regularly but nevertheless – whenever I tried with the programs I’ve got recommended it wasn’t as straight forward as it is with this tool.

Hack-The-Planet Podcast: Episode 0

A friend of mine started something and I have the honor to be part of it. The world now has one additional podcast to listen to. It’s in german though. For now at least.

We are still working on the website, the feed and the audio mixing and recording quality. So bear with us.

And now: Episode 0 is upon us!

Tool: Partition Recovery and Undelete – Testdisk

Mass storage hardware breaks all the time. Sometimes it’s hardware that breaks, but sometimes it’s the software that breaks. If it’s the software (or own talent) that made the data go boom, TestDisk is a tool you should know about.

DISCLAIMER: If the data you are trying so recover is actually worth anything you might want to reserve to a professional data recovery service rather than trying to train-on-the-job.

Apart from the availability of pre-compiled packages for most operating systems you can also grab a bootable LiveCD when everything seems gone and lost.

The process itself is rather exciting (if you want the data back) and may require a fresh pair of pants upfront, throughout and after.

Thankfully there’s a great wiki and documentation of how to go about the business of data recovery.

TestDisk is powerful free data recovery software! It was primarily designed to help recover lost partitions and/or make non-booting disks bootable again when these symptoms are caused by faulty software: certain types of viruses or human error (such as accidentally deleting a Partition Table). Partition table recovery using TestDisk is really easy.

  • TestDisk can
    • Fix partition table, recover deleted partition
    • Recover FAT32 boot sector from its backup
    • Rebuild FAT12/FAT16/FAT32 boot sector
    • Fix FAT tables
    • Rebuild NTFS boot sector
    • Recover NTFS boot sector from its backup
    • Fix MFT using MFT mirror
    • Locate ext2/ext3/ext4 Backup SuperBlock
    • Undelete files from FAT, exFAT, NTFS and ext2 filesystem
    • Copy files from deleted FAT, exFAT, NTFS and ext2/ext3/ext4 partitions.

TestDisk has features for both novices and experts. For those who know little or nothing about data recovery techniques, TestDisk can be used to collect detailed information about a non-booting drive which can then be sent to a tech for further analysis. Those more familiar with such procedures should find TestDisk a handy tool in performing onsite recovery.

And if you give up, think about writing an article of you actually digging deeper:

Wireless Network Mapping – data source and data sink

When you work with wireless networks and you do programming and mobile app development that works with things like user location you might find this useful.

Take thousands of users and you’ve got the worlds wifi networks mapped…

WiGGLE (Wireless Geographic Logging Engine) is a project which takes wireless network data + location and puts it into a big database. On top of storage it’s giving you access to that data.

We consolidate location and information of wireless networks world-wide to a central database, and have user-friendly desktop and web applications that can map, query and update the database via the web.

https://wigle.net/faq

So what’s my use-case? Apart from the obvious I will make use of this by finding out more about those fellow travelers around me. Many people probably to the same as me: Travel with a small wifi / 4g access point. Whenever this accesspoints shows up in scans the path will be traceable.

I am curious to see which access point around me is in the million-mile club yet…

IP-over-DNS

Picture yourself in this situation. You connect to a network and nothing works. Except for this:

It is quite common to have DNS working in networks while everything else is not. Sometimes the network requires a log-in to give you access to a small portion of the internet.

Now, with the help of a tool called iodine, you can get access to the full internet with only DNS working in your current network:

iodine lets you tunnel IPv4 data through a DNS server. This can be usable in different situations where internet access is firewalled, but DNS queries are allowed. 

It runs on Linux, Mac OS X, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD and Windows and needs a TUN/TAP device. The bandwidth is asymmetrical with limited upstream and up to 1 Mbit/s downstream. 

iodine

Setting it up is a bit of work but given that you are anyway having access to a well connected server on the free portion of the internet it can be easily done.

Of course the source is on github.

IoP – the internet of pets – predictive maintenance of a cat

In the interesting field of IoT a lot of buzz is made around the predictive maintenance use cases. What is predictive maintenance?

The main promise of predictive maintenance is to allow convenient scheduling of corrective maintenance, and to prevent unexpected equipment failures.

The key is “the right information in the right time”. By knowing which equipment needs maintenance, maintenance work can be better planned (spare parts, people, etc.) and what would have been “unplanned stops” are transformed to shorter and fewer “planned stops”, thus increasing plant availability. Other potential advantages include increased equipment lifetime, increased plant safety, fewer accidents with negative impact on environment, and optimized spare parts handling.

Wikipedia

So in simpler terms: If you can predict that something will break you can repair it before it breaks. This improvse reliability and save costs, even though you repaired something that did not yet need repairs. At least you would be able to reduce inconveniences by repairing/maintaining when it still is easy to be done rather than under stress.

You would probably agree with me that these are a very industry-specific use cases. It’s easy to understand when it is tied to an actual case that happened.

Let me tell you a case that happened here last week. It happened to Leela – a 10 year old white British short hair lady cat with gorgeous blue eyes:

Ever since her sister had developed a severe kidney issue we started to unobtrusively monitor their behavior and vital signs. Simple things like weight, food intake, water intake, movement, regularities (how often x/y/z).

I’ve built hardware to allow us to do that in the most simple and automated way. In the case of getting to know their weight we would simply put the kitty litter box on a heavily modified persons scale. I wrote about that already back int 2016.

When Leela now visits her litter box she is automatically weighed and it’s taken note that she actually used it.

A lot of data is aggregated on this and a lot of things are being done to that data to generate indications of issues and alerts.

This alerted us last weekend that there could be an issue with Leelas health as she was suddenly visiting the litter box a lot more often across the day.

We did not notice anything with Leela. She behaved as she would everyday, but the monitoring did detect something was not right.

What had happened?

The chart shows the hourly average and daily total visits to the litterbox.

On the morning of March 9th Leela already had been to the litter box above average. So much above average that it tripped the alerting system. You can see the faded read area in the top of the graph above showing the alert threshold. The red vertical line was drawn in by me because this was when we got alerted.

Now what? She behaved totally normal just that she went a lot more to the litter box. We where concerned as it matched her sisters behavior so we went through all the checklists with her on what the issue could be.

We monitored her closely and increased the water supplied as well as changed her food so she could fight a potential bladder infection (or worse).

By Monday she did still not behave different to a degree that anyone would have been suspicious. Nevertheless my wife took her to the vet. And of course a bladder infection was diagnosed after all tests run.

She got antibiotics and around Wednesday (13th March) she actually started to behave much like a sick cat would. By then she already was on day 3 of antibiotics and after just one day of presumable pain she was back to fully normal.

Interestingly all of this can be followed up with the monitoring. Even that she must have felt worse on the 13th.

With everything back to normal now it seems that this monitoring has really lead us to a case of “predictive cat maintenance”. We hopefully could prevent a lot of pain with acting quick. Which only was possible through the monitoring in place.

Monitoring pets is seemingly becoming a thing – which lead to my rather funky post title declaration of the “Internet of Pets”. I know about a certain Volker Weber who even wrote in the current c’t magazine about him monitoring his dogs location.

Health is a huge topic for the future of devices and gadgets. Everyone will casually start to have more and more devices in their daily lifes. Unfortunately most of those won’t be under your own control if you do not insist on being in control.

You do not have to build stuff yourself like I did. You only need to make the right purchase decisions according to things important to you. And one of these things on that checklist should be: “am I in full control of the data flow and data storage”.

If you are not. Do not buy!

By coincidence the idea of having the owner of the data in full control of the data itself is central to my current job at MindSphere. With all the buzz and whistles around the Industry IoT platform it all breaks down to keep the actual owner of the data in control and in charge. A story for another post!

can your kitchen scale do this trick? – ESP8266+Load Cell+MQTT

Ever since we had changed our daily diet we started to weigh everything we eat or cook. Like everything.

Quickly we found that those kitchen scale you can cheaply buy are either not offering the convenience we are looking for or regularly running out of power and need battery replacements.

As we already have all sorts of home automation in place anyway the idea was born to integrate en ESP8266 into two of those cheap scales and – while ripping out most of their electronics – base the new scale functionality on the load cells already in the cheap scale.

So one afternoon in January 2018 I sat down and put all the parts together:

ESP8266 + HX711 + 4 Load Cells
my notes of the wiring… this might be different for your load cells…

After the hardware portion I sat down and programmed the firmware of the ESP8266. The simple idea: It should connect to wifi and to the house MQTT broker.

It would then send it’s measures into a /raw topic as well as receive commands (tare, calibration) over a /cmd topic.

Now the next step was to get the display of the measured weights sorted. The idea for this: write a web application that would connect to the MQTT brokers websocket and receive the stream of measurements. It would then add some additional logic like a “tare” button in the web interface as well as a list of recent measurements that can be stored for later use.

the web app. I am not a web designer – help me if you can! ;-)

An additional automation would be that if the tare button is pressed and the weight is bigger than 10g the weight would automatically be added to the measurements list in the web app – no matter which of the tare buttons where used. The tare button in the web app or the physical button on the actual scale. Very practical!

Here’s a short demo of the logic, the scale and the web app in a video:

You can grab the sourcecode for the Arduino ESP8266 firmware as well as the source code for the web application here.

Apple Airplay for SONOS (in Docker)

We’ve got a couple of SONOS based multi-room-audio zones in our house and with the newest generation of SONOS speakers you can get Apple Airplay. Fancy!

But the older hardware does not support Apple Airplay due to it’s limiting hardware. This is too bad.

So once again Docker and OpenSource + Reverse-Engineering come to the rescue.

AirConnect is a small but fancy tool that bridges SONOS and Chromecast to Airplay effortlessly. Just start and be done.

It works a treat and all of a sudden all those SONOS zones become Airplay devices.

There is also a nice dockerized version that I am using.

Converting ひらがな to “hiragana” and カタカナ to “katakana” – Romaji command line tool

I had this strange problem that my car was not able to display japanese characters when confronted with them. Oh the marvels of inserting a USB stick into a car from 2009.

stupid BMW media player without proper font

Now there’s no real option I know of without risking to brick the car / entertainment system of the car to get it to display the characters right.

Needless so say that my wifes car does the trick easily – of course it’s an asian car!

Anyway. I wrote a command line tool using some awesome pre-made libraries to convert Hiragana-Katakana characters to their romaji counterpart. 

You can find it on github: https://github.com/bietiekay/romaji