Fear and Loathing at DEFCON 22

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Nothing says “Welcome to Vegas” like a massive turbulence on a plane full of drunk people who, instead of holding on to their seats, frantically laugh and shout “we’re all going to die!” At 105 Fahrenheit outside, the heat was getting into everyone’s head. After a bumpy touchdown, the in-flight entertainment system rebooted, and a black terminal screen flashed onto everyone’s face:

RedBoot(tm) bootstrap and debug environment [RAM]
(MAS eFX) release, version ("540060-212" v "0.1.02") - built 12:00:35,
Nov 19 2004

Now, that was a beautiful sight – an IFE system that hadn’t been updated for almost a decade. For people who didn’t come here to participate in a big zero-sum game that is Vegas, this was a sign.

DEFCON was waiting for us right outside of that front cabin door.

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Interview: Inventing the Unix “sudo” command

sudo_final

It was just one of these nights. We were sitting at the O’Neil’s San Mateo Pub, taking a break after a long day at the Maker Faire. Hackaday was hosting an informal drink-up and a steady stream of colorful characters has just started flowing in. That’s when we met [Robert Coggeshall].

It started off as a normal discussion – he runs Small Batch Assembly and does a lot of interesting things in the maker space. Then he brought up a fascinating detail – “Oh, did you know I also co-invented sudo back in the 80’s?”

If you ever did as much as touch a Unix system, you’ll know this is a big deal. What came as an even bigger surprise was that something like sudo had to be “invented” in the first place. When thinking about the base Unix toolkit, there is always this feeling that it all emerged from some primordial soup of ideas deep inside of Bell Labs, brought to life by the infinite wisdom of [Ken Thompson] and the rest of the gang. Turns out that wasn’t always the case. We couldn’t miss asking [Bob] for an interview, and he told us how it all came about…

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Hardware Startup Review: Spark

The Hardware Startup Review - Spark - Hackaday-01

Like it or not, a whole new wave of Hardware Startups is coming our way. Crowd Funding campaigns are making it possible for everyone with an idea to “test the waters”, tech-savvy Angel investors are eager to help successful ones cross over, and Venture Capitalists are sitting on the other side, always on the lookout for potential additions to their “hardware portfolio”. It’s these billion-dollar acquisitions that made everyone jump on the bandwagon, and there’s no going back. At least for now.

That’s all great, and we want to believe that good things will come out of this whole frenzy. But instead of staying on the sidelines, we thought Hackady should get involved and start asking some hard questions. After all, these guys didn’t think they’d be able to get away with some nicely produced videos and a couple of high-res photos, right?

For our first issue, we picked a relatively innocent target – Spark, the team behind the Spark Core development board. By embracing Open Source and Open Hardware as the core part of their strategy, Spark has so far been a positive example in the sea of otherwise dull (and potentially creepy) IoT “platforms”. So we thought we should give [Zach Supalla], CEO of Spark a call.

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Building the Internet of “Thing” at FTF2014

It’s official: all the hype around IoT is starting to get a bit annoying. Not because there’s anything wrong with building Internet-connected devices, but because so many people are trying to jump on the bandwagon with the same old “Future: brought to you by Megacorp #07″-mindset. Recycled visions of estranged professionals, with their homes, offices, business meetings and hotel rooms, all powered by the latest “one IoT platform to rule them all” – are back on. Even though the mythical “Smart” refrigerator didn’t changed the world back in 2001, I guess that there’s no harm in trying it again. After all, we have seen this working out great in software, with redos of dot-com era ideas turning into massive successes a decade later.
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Heroes of Hardware Revolution: Bob Widlar

Bob Widlar (1937-1991) is without a doubt one of the most famous hardware engineers of all time.  In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the person who single-handedly started the whole Analog IC Industry. Sure, it’s Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby who invented the concept of Integrated Circuits, but it’s Widlar’s genius and pragmatism that brought it to life. Though he was not first to realize the limitations of planar process and designing ICs like discrete circuits, he was the first one to provide an actual solution – µA702, the first linear IC Operational Amplifier. Combining his engineering genius, understanding of economic aspects of circuit design and awareness of medium and process limitations, he and Dave Talbert ruled the world of Analog ICs throughout the 60s and 70s. For a significant period of time, they were responsible more than 80 percent of all linear circuits made and sold in the entire world.

Bob Widlar

 

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Hackaday’s Guide to Shanghai

We happened to be in Shanghai for Electronica trade fair this year and had a great time exploring heavy industrial gear and fantasizing about all the things we could do with it. However, we simply couldn’t ignore the fact that there was a whole city out there that we’re completely missing out on. So after less than a day of being surrounded by businesspeople and Miss Universe-dressed promoters, we decided to pack our bags and hit the streets.

The question was, where should we go? Finding interesting things in a city that keeps shapeshifting (the whole Shanghai skyline did not exist 20 years ago) can be a challenge. Fortunately, our friend [David Li] gave us a list:

  1. Xin Che Jian
  2. Jiu Xing market
  3. Beijing Lu electronic market
  4. Qiujiang Lu CNC/lasercut market
  5. DFRobot.com

…and off we were.

 

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The Gathering: Shanghai’s Hackaday Community

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 12.33.00 AMIt happened! The Gathering crossed the Pacific and landed in Shanghai on Thursday, March 20th. It took place at the venue ironically called ‘Abbey Road’ (it’s the only one we could find on such a short notice) and more than 150 people showed up. The whole scene had a huge Chatsubo feel too it – an eclectic mix of local and expat hackers and engineers, professors, students and all sorts of industry mercenaries from around the world. And everyone with skull-and-wrenches t-shirt or a sticker on.

I can only imagine what Chinese police would think if they happened to drop by. Not to mention if they asked how in the world did all these ‘anarchist’ t-shirts enter the country.

But that’s another story…

We met a lot of exciting people and heard all sorts of weird tales, such as the (off-the-record) one about the real reasons behind certain well-known laptop manufacturer’s batteries bursting into flames. We also got a lot of great advice on smuggling electronic components out of China and other everyday tips & tricks.

d8d27574b02a11e38f1d121190b145cb_8My favorite conversation was with [Alexander Klink] on his research in Denial of Service attacks using algorithmic complexity of collision resolution in (a priori known) hash functions. Though the original paper is more than two years old, its takeaways can still have a huge impact on all sorts of software and hardware devices out there.

The general theme of the night was how exciting it is to live in a place like Shanghai, where rapid urban growth and access to manufacturing resources meets a blossoming technology and art scene. It is even more so thanks to places like Xin Che Jian, which make being a “hacker” a socially acceptable thing on the other side of the Great Firewall.

That said, reading all of Hackaday content still requires a proxy.

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