Magnetic Stripes & Stuff

Apparently you can visually read magnetic stripes, if you can somehow see the magnetization patterns encoded on the stripe. I recently found out that this is indeed possible. The density is not that high and following methods will allow us to visualize the encoding.

You could use a “magnetic developer” solution and learn how each bit is encoded:


Or you could use iron (oxide) filings:


In this video linked from the Hackaday article, they also tried it on various magnetic media like cassette tape (yes who remembers those?) and floppy disks:

Also related, here’s a teardown of the Coin Card, an electronic card that can emulate a set of pre-programmed magstripe cards on-the-fly. There are more teardown photos where this came from:


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Interesting 31C3 Talks

31C3 logo "a new dawn"

The 31st Chaos Communication Congress (31C3) ended just 3 days ago, and there were several interesting talks.

They have got live streaming of the event over the web, as well as encourage you to use an external player with RTMP or HLS support. The video streams were very reliable and best of all, it’s available in HD. In comparison, I tried the Apple live event once and it was really crappy. For one, the HLS1 URL is not publicly available , so someone had to dig that out and post it. Even after that, the audio stream was (I believe, unintentionally) a mix of both English and Chinese simultaneously.

The 31C3 video recordings were also uploaded very quickly after the event. This is much quicker than other events such as Black Hat (although as an attendee, you do get a copy of the stuff on a DVD). A really big kudos to the organizers and the video production team!

If you don’t have time to listen to each and every talk, here are a few selected talks that were interesting to me, as well as a short summary to see if it’s worth 30 or 60 minutes of your time.

A full list of talks can be found here:

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Apple’s Lightning Digital AV Adapter

Recently, Panic noticed the odd output resolution and MPEG-like artifacts with the new Lightning digital AV adapter and decided to take a hacksaw to it. They found an ARM processor inside.

Lightning digital AV adapter

image credit: Panic blog

Shortly after, they received an anonymous comment that explains it all:

The reason why this adapter exists is because Lightning is simply not capable of streaming a “raw” HDMI signal across the cable. Lightning is a serial bus. There is no clever wire multiplexing involved. […] We did this to specifically shift the complexity of the “adapter” bit into the adapter itself, leaving the host hardware free of any concerns in regards to what was hanging off the other end of the Lightning cable.

This system essentially allows us to output to any device on the planet, irregardless of the endpoint bus (HDMI, DisplayPort, and any future inventions) by simply producing the relevant adapter that plugs into the Lightning port. Since the iOS device doesn’t care about the hardware hanging off the other end, you don’t need a new iPad or iPhone when a new A/V connector hits the market.

While I understand what they are trying to achieve, I think it’s sad that this new Lightning system can no longer carry the uncompressed HDMI output. Maybe they could have streamed the raw video output in a format close to what HDMI expects, then have the adapter add headers and trailers to the data, but that would still be tricky since the system needs to stop sending frames while the adapter is doing its work. And what about HDCP?

Just one of the many tradeoffs that engineers need to make.

Reducing power usage on the iCufflinks’ ATtiny4

I came across this very nice article which documents steps taken to reduce the power usage on the ATtiny4 used in the iCufflinks.

The process managed to shave off about 315 μA, which boosts battery life quite a bit:

The overall effect this has on the product is that the 24 hour time between battery changes can be upped to 38 hours. That is a pretty good power savings for the day.

It’d be great if this was incorporated into the products.

I do disagree on one thing though, which is cutting away the data points used for the PWM. Unless the output was measured with an oscilloscope and produces the same breathing pattern, I would very much keep the data since the additional space gained is not used for anything else.

If you don’t know what iCufflinks are, watch the video below.