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UltraCheap GPS Units

Recently Chris Nickerson (@indi303) tweeted a really inexpensive GPS tracking unit from Tiger Direct. The unit was regularly ~$120USD on sale for ~ $15. I immediately ordered 3 of them, but had them shipped elsewhere so it took a while for me to get them. I should also mention that I tried to look them up today, and the product is unavailable on both the US and CAN TigerDirect websites, so I assume it was a clearance sale. Anyways, I took one of the units apart to see what kind of deal I ended up getting. Click through to see the details.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I have written code to read a ProxPoint Plus 6800 RFID Reader (Clock & Data output model) from HID. This is going to be a very long post, so click through to read it all.

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**UPDATE: Lauszus has updated the library to work with the Panasonic and JVC Protocols. See the link to his version in the comments below. Big thanks to him for sharing 🙂

Here is the Arduino IR library with working Panasonic protocol support that people have been asking about. I have also included a very basic sketch that will send the “Power” code to turn the TV on/off. Please be VERY AWARE that this is the OLD Panasonic protocol that has been implemented. That’s the reason the video uses my crappy 20″ TV instead of my new bigscreen. I may decide to implement the new protocol one day, but I just have too much on the go right now to pull it off. Enjoy!

Well, I was super-excited to be part of the ThinkHaus great global hackerspace challenge, and right as it was kicking off my father ended up in ICU @ the hospital. I have been spending most of my free time there with my family, but have found a few hrs. to work on the GGHSC. Our project is basically a homebrew PLC that any dummy can program. Think snap-circuits meets legos. Pre-build modules can be snapped together and programmed through a touchscreen HMI with very basic logic (ie: digital output 1 [wired to heater] turns on when analog input 1 is less than 70 deg. C). Of course things won’t be named “digital output 1” but instead would be “heater ON output” and analog input 1 would be named “room temperature,” or whatever the user deems appropriate as a name. Since it’s to benefit education we’re also comming up with an entire curriculum for the project as well as documentation/etc.

My part in this is obviously VERY limited due to my current situation, but I was to be responsible for coding the base unit as well as the touchscreen HMI. Since I had already ordered the 4dsystems uLCD-32PT(GFX) module from sparkfun I decided to play with it and load sample code and start working on the HMI whenever I have time. I got sample code loaded and everything was cool until I tried to use the SD card. As soon as I tried to use it I was getting “Disk not mounted” and “unable to mount” or “Card OUT” depending on which sample program I ran. My card was 4gb, but was formatted for fat16 anyway and should have worked. As I pulled the card in and out while running the USDTEST sample program I noticed that the text on the screen quickly flickered to “Card IN” and back. I found that if I held the card @ just the right spot it would stay @ card IN. The problem was that I cheaped out and bought the least expensive piece of trash uSD card I could possibly find. It seems that the pads on it did not line up properly with the pins in the display module. As soon as I took a SanDisk uSD card it worked like a charm. I just wanted to post this b/c there seem to be several ppl. on the forums complaining that their SD cards don’t work despite being properly formatted. I tried to post to the 4dsystems forum but they require not only email validation, but subsequent manual approval of the account. I’m not exactly what you’d call a patient person, so hopefully when somebody searches for solutions ot this problem they’ll stumble upon this. That’s all for now, but I’ll be sure to post updates when I get cool touchscreen stuffs working 😀


I’m just posting this since the post about my Arduino + MAX-7456 board still seems to be getting a fair bit of attention. I gathered up the code linked to in my original blog post and have uploaded a .zip with the library files as well as a test sketch that uses it. I haven’t taken a close look at this code in a long time, and I never did get around to fixing it like I wanted to. Since I’ve abandoned the Arduino in favor of the Rabbit for my access system solution it became apparent that this wasn’t something I was going to pursue anymore, but I figured I’d release what I did mash together for what it’s worth. It’s a pretty sloppy implementation as I just wanted to test proof-of-concept code to get it working quickly. It works by passing a massive array to a function (1 element for each character location available w/ the MAX-7456, don’t recall what that is right now). I had originally intended to modify the code so that it could work with the string library, keep track of it’s current position and allow a “MoveToLocation(int x)” type procedure to clean stuff up, so feel free to go ahead and do that and share it with everybody 😀

NOTE: Those of you interested in PAL: Go to my original blog post (link above) and look at the code linked. You will see a crapload of DEFINE blocks that are enclosed in comments. One set of comments contains a set of variables used for PAL, the other for NTSC. IIRC you can simply swap the values for PAL to replace the NTSC values in the library and it should work just fine. I think a few little things change, like # of chars that will fit on the screen, so you might have to play with that a bit, but it should be pretty straightforward.


Lots of updates

Well, I’ve neglected this blog for far too long now, and I figure it’s time for an update. A lot has happened in recent months. I landed my dream job designing industrial control systems, moved back to Hamilton and have been back at the ThinkHaus hackerspace. I have been taking the Penetration Testing With Backtrack course from Offensive Security and am enjoying the hell out of it! I have learned so much from this course it’s unreal, and it inspired me to set up my own home pentest network with custom vulnerable web-apps, programs and operating systems running on VMs. The eventual plan is to transfer these boxes to ThinkHaus and have a pentest lab we can VPN into for CTF fun.

Some of the more major things that I’ve been involved in lately (which I will post about seperately) include:

  1. Delivering the first ThinkHaus intro to Arduino course
  2. Writing working code, and figuring out how to decode the data from a HID RFID reader model: ProxPoint Plus 6800 w/ clock & data output
  3. Started designing a door controller for RFID access to ThinkHaus. Design is being carried out using a Rabbit RCM5600W microcontroller with an onboard web-server. The plan is to have a web-based admin console to control stand-alone door controllers and, eventually, to create a Master application that can act as one central administration point for a network of nodes. I’m also going to be rigging up an SD Card for logging and modifying the Rabbit FAT/SD libraries to allow me to use them with the 5000Core.
  4. Tomorrow I’m heading to my buddy’s place to rig his coffee maker up to a rabbit controller so that he can start it from work, or set it to turn on before his alarm goes off. Will post pics/code of the build.
  5. I’m sure I’ll think of stuff I forgot later and just post as it comes to me.. 😀

That’s all the time I have for now. Stay tuned for updated detailed posts about each of the above. I plan to release the slides I used to teach my course, the source code for Arduino to interface w/ the HID RFID reader and the rabbit code/schematics for our door controller once it’s done.


Well, I’m all settled in to the new place and I was able to reconnect w/ the Think|Haus hackerspace. Some of the members there are entering a team in Maker Faire’s upcoming Power Racing Series. Essentially it’s a bunch of grown people who take old children’s Power Wheels toys and modify them with larger DC motors. Although not an official team member I have begun assisting with the design and production of the motor controller circuit. For obvious reasons I’m not going to be posting any specifics or schematics until after the contest, but it’s shaping up to be a really fun project just to goof around with. More details available on the official Think|Haus site. It feels good to be back 😀


Taking A Break

Unfortunately I’m going to be taking a break from any project work and/or posts for the next few weeks. I’ve accepted a job with a company that I’ve been trying to get in with for a few years now and I’m going to be moving to a new city. Somebody has decided to pay me to do this kind of stuff for a living, so I couldn’t be happier. However, I’ve got tons of packing, shopping and prep to do before I move so it’ll likely be at least 2-3 weeks before I’m settled in and posting again. The good news is that I’ll get to hook back up with the hackerspace I was a part of so hopefully we’ll have some awesome group projects to post about.


I received my Chameleon AVR dev-kits yesterday and immediately started going through the manual. On top of processor-specific data sheets, e-books, sample code and other documents there is a ~300page manual written specifically on the Chameleon design and operation. The Chameleon comes pre-loaded with a little test application/game. I decided to film it briefly in order to demo what the board is capable of. Here is the default game displayed on a TV via NTSC, audio is through the TV but the mic on my camcorder isn’t great so it’s a bit low and input to the game was via PS2 keyboard.

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…still waiting.

I just received a shipping notice yesterday for my Chameleons. Ordered 4/16, shipped on 5/3… and they were in stock. Luckily, going by the description, they’re jam-packed with so much awesome that I’m not that bothered by the delay, I just can’t wait to get them 🙂 That being said my new Emotiv project should start to take shape shortly. I’ll probably post some general pics/videos of the chameleons and some of the default/test projects before I move on to my Emotiv game, so stay tuned for a quick review once I get it.

In other news, I got a quote back on those VGA displays from Kopin… and they’re pretty much out of their minds. I fully understand that companies charge more for a quantity of 1 than they do of 1000, but when I saw a fully finished product that made use of TWO Kopin VGA displays sell in its entirety for under $350, I figured 50% of that would be about what I’d pay for the display, possibly a bit less since I figured this other company would charge extra for all of the other parts/components as well as R&D. To my dismay, ordering 1 kopin display directly from them would cost me over $400 (400+taxes+duties to be exact), which is MORE than purchasing a finished product containing TWO of these things elsewhere. What was even more interesting was that the website clearly lists the driver IC in both a TQFP and BGA package and in the quote I was sent, I was informed that it was ONLY available in BGA. Long story short, I’ve decided to order the finished product and rip it apart. Not only will it save me TONS on the cost but it will also provide me with a PCB that I can work with since I’ve never hand-fabbed and soldered a board for a BGA chip before.

Sorry for so much “nothing” for so long, I hope to have some more “awesome” posted shortly 🙂