Every once in a while, I find out a cool way to add some functionality to a standard piece of tech I have by feeding it some custom firmware. Custom firmware might be one of the most overlooked ways of enhancing your devices. Don’t let the idea of running third party software scare you. Though you do run the risk of bricking your tech, most of the procedures for installing custom firmware are well documented and take a matter of minutes.
Here are some of my favorites.
I have always had good luck with Philips brand DVD players for reliability, and most of them also tend to support DivX, which I also like. Anyway, most of these DVD players have region free codes, so you can hit some buttons on your remote and instantly play discs from any region. Taking this a step further, you can also find custom firmwares for your DVD players that you can flash via USB or a disc. These firmwares give you more options for subtitles, longer file name display, volume control, display options, CEC functionality and more.
If you have a Philips DVD player, check out this site for some excellent custom firmwares by vb6rocod. If you have another brand, do some Google searches. You never know who is out there messing with DVD players.
As I mentioned in previous articles, I have a Canon 600D. And as I also mentioned, I am a huge fan of the Magic Lantern firmware. The Magic Lantern firmware is atypical in the way that it doesn’t replace the stock firmware. Instead, it runs along side it offering an expansive selection of new features such as HDR video, increased shutter control, and other little gems like microphone levels. Something else that might comfort or annoy you: Magic Lantern runs off your SD card. So, you have to format each SD card you have the way ML wants you to. A pain, but it also ensures that if you need your (or not your) camera to appear stock, you can just pop out the card and be good to go.
The Magic Lantern firmware is available for most Canon DSLRs. While Nikon and Panasonic camera lines don’t have anything as advanced as ML, people are working on firmwares for Nikon cameras. Who knows where things will be in another six months.
About 2 years ago, I put Rockbox on my dying iPod Video. After a while, a bunch of little glitches in the Apple firmware got to become a daily annoyance and there were no updates in sight. Rockbox is simply fantastic. I can add files without having to go through iTunes, I can include my FLAC or Ogg files without needing to transcode, Last.fm support is included, I can completely customize my GUI. Rockbox is not just for your old iPod. It supports a slew of devices from the Archos players to the iRiver. Another little side benefit of having an iPod Video is that I can boot and run either the Rockbox firmware or the stock firmware if I ever needed as there is enough memory to include both of them. I haven’t yet, but it’s good to have that option.
If you are anything like me, you simply amass wireless routers overtime. Okay, you’re probably not like me, but who doesn’t have a WRT54G of some generation somewhere in their house? Why would anyone want to run custom router firmware? The options of course. You can turn a cheap $5 Linksys router from a yard sale into a fully functional high-end device. For example, maybe you want usage graphs, ipv6 support, advances qos, overclocking, daemons, higher TX power, etc.
I currently run an early WRT54G with Tomato and an original Fonera WAP with DD-WRT. If those don’t suit you, check out OpenWrt.
There are tons of other devices that can run custom firmware that I just haven’t got around to toying with or don’t have to play with. For example: the PSP, iPhone, AppleTV, WDTV, etc. all have the capability of running custom firmware to run third party applications and homebrew software. Some other platforms have the ability to work around or through stock firmware such as the original Xbox, Wii, and others. While I still use my softmodded Xboxes once in a while and my letterbomb’d Wii, they aren’t true custom firmware installations (and not the easiest processes either).
Simple hacking of your everyday technology can be a great way to add life to your aging toys, and make the experience of some of your newer ones much more enjoyable. So, load up the SD card and get acquainted with the secret menus. And please, don’t remove the drive before the update is complete.
Ever since January of this year, I have been waiting for the second book in the Wizzywig series to be ready for distribution. The first volume, subtitled “Phreak” follows a young kid named Kevin Phenicle who goes by the handle Boingthump. Let me say, this isn’t some drab piece of writing you would find in the discount bin at your local book outlet. These are graphic novels, containing anything but a boring story about some kiddie hacker acting out a stereotype. This first book I read about Boingthump was a definite, and somewhat unexpected, treat. The bulk of the story was composed of little snippets of this character’s doings. From his first experience with blueboxing to social engineering pizza, the story is rife with creative scenarios that paint a vivid picture of an anykid in the golden age of phreaking. Suffice it to say I was impressed by just how much fact went into the story, and was curious to see where it would go… or where it would take me.
Fast forward to November. I stumbled across Ed Piskor’s website after forgetting about it for a little while. I found out that the second book had been completed and was ready for purchase, so I quickly snagged myself a copy, which arrived in the mail quickly after my purchase. Upon reading the book, I was happy to see much of the same structure as was present in the first. The story bounced back and forth between present day (Kevin has been incarcerated) and his younger days when he started experimenting with computers, and became immersed in a new, exciting, and scary world found through his phone lines.
The story found in these books is not your cookie cutter hacker epic. Take your Hackers, your Die Hard 4, your Swordfish, and throw them out the window. Ed takes careful attention to detail, nothing here is a stretch of the imagination and you can see he has done his homework in the creation of these novels. Reading along, you’ll be able to see all he has done simply by what is alluded to. No Hollywood garbage trying to make hacking seem glamorous or news stories spewing out tales that this underground world is full of all kinds of dangerous people who can make a computer explode. Ed gives the honest, gritty perspective the genre has hardly ever been represented by.
Summing things up, I don’t know anyone who is showing the world of phreak/hack culture in this fashion. Ed has truely honed his craft, and the fact that he himself is only an admirer of this culture, and not a participant only ampliphies his qualities. If you liked the first one, you probably already have the second, and are waiting patiently for the third and fourth. For those of you who haven’t jumped on the wagon yet, you can purchase both books directly from Ed at his website. There are also previews of both of the books, so you can read a few panels before deciding.
Also, I happen to be “in” the second installment as an angry fellow on page 10.
So in my summer time, oh so long ago, I picked up with my N64 shenanigans again for the first time in years. Probably about seven years to be more specific. While the software is a lot more advanced then it was back then, we had another innovation called Windows XP which doesn’t really like the software, and a step back, Windows 2K really doesn’t like it. So I had a bit of success on Windows XP with some loopholes, and actually less success then I was supposed to have one one of my surviving Windows 98 boxes. Everything comes down to how the kernel locks down the parallel port of the computer. Windows 98 loves to give away the access, Windows 2K likes to hold onto the access, and Windows XP likes to hold onto it, but let you borrow it if you want to.
So the way it works, through the parallel port of my printer, I hook up a cord that goes to my gameshark, which sits between the N64 console and the game (With the software I have, Goldeneye was used). If you have ever used any console based cheat device, like a Game Genie, you know the kind of in-between cartridge I am talking about.
The Back of the GameShark, showing the SharkPort
So, after I connect everything and set it up, I went to the software side. The first thing I needed was DLPortIO which unlocks the parallel port for the purpose of writing data to devices on connected to the port. It comes with its own basic writing functions, but I only needed it to open access to the port, which it happily did. I then retrieved GE Face Mapper from http://rarewitchproject.com/ which is an excellent website that pushes the limits on games made by the company Rareware years after they come out. I also kept a copy of N64 Utils v3 on hand just in case my Gameshark decided to freak out and delete its own software. It was also useful for retrieving screen caps.
It might not look too nice, but this is one of the outcomes of a texture replacement
So I unlocked my ports, and booted up facemapper and started my N64. I turned on the code generator function of the Gameshark to use some of the in-game features, and loaded up Goldeneye, selecting the first level, “Dam”. Once there, I did a ram dump using the GE Face Mapper, which showed me which bitmaps of enemies’ were loaded in the level, and allowed me to replace them with my own bitmaps, overwriting their places in the RAM. After doing that, I was able to dump the screen capture (as you saw above) back onto my computer.
There is plenty more canned software to do texture recreations, but also do things like compeltely redesign levels to load and play on the console. However, my hardware limitations halted these ideas quickly. So unless I can get some stable incarnation of Windows 98 on a nice box, don’t think about it any time soon.
I had heard about the fon early in December I believe. For some reason, I wasn’t smart enough to order a load of free ones to toy with. For those of you who don’t know, the la fon, or fonera as it can be called, is a wireless router designed solely to be set up giving free wireless access to anyone and everyone that happens to connect. It creates 2 wifi networks. One public and one private WEP encrypted dealy for access to all your private whatnot. The reason most people flocked to these was because they were being given out for free by the company that makes them. So you got a free wireless router, and you could sign up a bunch of times and order a dozen of them. For some reason, I overlooked the link and got one right on the deadline before they stopped the free offer. And because of this act of karma, the power supply for my fon doesn’t work so I had to splice a D-Link psu together to get something workable. By the way, their tech support is lacking. They claim one day wait and I’m on the fourth day with nothing.
Anyways, the problem that many people had with these devices is that as soon as they plug a fon into the internet, the company locks it down and you can only use it for the fon service. There is an answer to this. Disgruntled or just perhaps curious people discovered a way to run DD-WRT on the fon making it a fully accessible wifi router. If you get all the files needed to do this ahead of time, its quite a simple procedure. Because I suck at gathering necessary materials, it took me near 5 hours to complete the install. Bear in mind that if you have ever used SSH , telnet, and know your local ip, this shouldn’t take you more than half an hour. There’s the golden question of “Is this worth it?”. Depends on your situation in particular. Am I gonna use this day to day? Probably not. If I need to set up a quick wifi for my laptop at a lan party, this small box may be just what I need.
Hopefully soon, fon will offer another free giveaway. I could use some more of these to screw with, along with one to actually use with their service. Its an interesting idea all in its own that I hope will catch on. For more information and perhaps the opportunity to obtain one of these suckers, check out The main fon website.