Friday Hack Chat: Crypto Challenge

It’s the middle of August, and that means all the hackers are back from DEF CON, safe in their hoodies, with memories of smoke-filled casinos, interesting talks, and, most importantly, crypto challenges.

This year was an ‘off’ year for DEF CON. There was an official badge, but it wasn’t electronic (which no one expected), and there was no crypto challenge (which no one saw coming). Nevertheless, there was already a vibrant community of badge builders, and the crypto nerds of DEF CON were satisfied by PCB locks from the Crypto and Privacy village, Benders, and Darknet phone dials this year.

How were these crypto challenges constructed? That’s the subject of this week’s Hack Chat. This Friday, we’re going to be sitting down with a member of DEF CON’s Crypto and Privacy village on how these curious codes are constructed, how a winner is determined, and the techniques used to solve these challenges.

This week, we’ll be talking about how crypto challenges actually work, how to put crypto in firmware, on laser-engraved acrylic plates, and in silkscreen on a PCB. We’ll be talking about how crypto challenges are created, and how you solve them. Special attention will be paid to testing a crypto challenge; that is, how do you make sure it’s solvable when you already know how to solve it?

Although this Hack Chat is only going to last an hour, there’s no possible way we could cover all the tips, tricks, and techniques of creating a crypto challenge in that time. If you’d like some further reading, [L0sT] showed up at our 10th anniversary party to tell us he created the puzzles for DEF CON over the last few years.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, August 11th. Don’t know when the Earth’s sun will be directly overhead? Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

New Release Makes EAGLE and Fusion 360 Besties

The latest release of EAGLE builds a bridge between mechanical design and electronic design. Version 8.3 rolls in the ability to synchronize between EAGLE and Fusion 360. You can now jump between mechanical design and PCB layout without the need for extra steps in between. This is the first release of EAGLE that highlights what the Autodesk purchase actually means.

Just over a year ago, Autodesk bought EagleCAD which is one of the more popular PCB design suites for students, electronic hobbyists, and Open Hardware engineers. While there were some questions about the new license structure of EAGLE under the Autodesk banner, there was a promise of a faster development schedule and the possibility for integration of EAGLE with Autodesk’s CAD programs. Now it’s finally time for EAGLE and Fusion 360 to become besties.

The EAGLE and Fusion 360 integration update includes an online library editor with managed libraries. These online libraries are the ‘cloud’ solution to a folder full of custom EAGLE libraries filled with parts. These libraries package 3D models with the EAGLE libraries, simplifying mechanical design. You can place components on your PCB, then pull that layout into Fusion 360 to see how the board will work with your enclosure. Component placements that collide with the enclosure can be adjusted in Fusion before jumping back to EAGLE to fix the routing.

Embedded passive designs. The resistors *are* the PCB.

There are a few other interesting items in the release notes for EAGLE 8.3. At the top of the list is a new ‘board shape’ object. This is more than just a milling layer for a board outline — the board shape object can now be checked with DRC to ensure components aren’t too close to an edge. This also allows for new features like customizable cutouts and embedded passive designs, or putting resistors and caps in the layers of a PCB instead of placing them as discrete components.

With this release, there is a new Single Layer Mode. This mode only highlights the active layer of the PCB, leaving all other layers grayed out. To be honest, this feature should have been in EAGLE ten years ago, but late is better than never.

For the last year, those of us not complaining about the new EAGLE licensing situation have been watching the updates to EAGLE creep out of Autodesk. There has been a lot of speculation on what Autodesk would bring to the table when it comes to electronic design. This is it. It looks like Autodesk is fulfilling their promise to integrate electronic and mechanical design. The latest EAGLE release looks great, especially with the addition of walk-around routing and something resembling push and shove traces added earlier this year, combined with this update for the mechanical side of design projects.

You can check out a promo video from Autodesk of the new EAGLE release below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A BSTRD Preamp

For this year’s Hackaday Prize, [skrodahl] is building a beautiful tube preamp. It’s a masterpiece of glass and free electrons, it already works, and it sounds great.

This circuit is a modified version of the Bastard, an amp published in the Danish magazine Ny Elektronik nearly 20 years ago. The original amp was a true bastard, with a transistor phono stage, a valve line stage, and an input selector that used relays. [skrodahl]’s version only uses the line stage, but part of the name remains as a nod to the original design.

The design of this amp uses octal 6J5 tubes, a 80 VDC, 0.1 A and 6 VDC, 1.5 A power supply. This is actually two projects in one, with the power supply comprising an another entire project.

[skrodahl]’s BSTRD is built, and it works, but the question remains: how does it sound? Unlike so, so many tube amp projects on the Interwebs, [skrodahl] actually has test and measurement gear to figure out what the frequency response and THD measurements actually are. For the frequency response, this amp is dead flat from 10 Hz to 30 kHz. THD is somewhere between 0.35-0.4%, or more than acceptable.

This is a great little project, and an awesome extension to an already popular Open Source project. It’s also a great entry for the Hackaday Prize, and we’re pleased to see it entered in this year’s contest.

Imaging Magnetism With A Hall Effect Camera

[Peter Jansen] is the creator of the Open Source Tricorder. He built a very small device meant to measure everything, much like the palm-sized science gadget in Star Trek. [Peter] has built an MRI machine that fits on a desktop, and a CT scanner made out of laser-

cut plywood. Needless to say, [Peter] is all about sensing and imaging.

[Peter] is currently working on a new version of his pocket sized science tricorder, and he figured visualizing magnetic fields would be cool. This led to what can only be described as a camera for magnetism instead of light. It’s a device that senses magnetic fields in two directions to produce an image. It’s cool, and oddly, electronically simple at the same time.

Visualizing magnetic fields sounds weird, but it’s actually something we’ve seen before. Last year, [Ted Yapo] built a magnetic imager from a single magnetometer placed on the head of a 3D printer. The idea of this device was to map magnetic field strength and direction by scanning over the build platform of the printer in three dimensions. Yes, it will create an image of field lines coming out of a magnet, but it’s a very slow process.

Instead of using just one magnetic sensor, [Peter] is building a two-dimensional array of magnetic sensors. Basically, it’s just a 12×12 grid of Hall effect sensors wired up to a bunch of analog multiplexers. It’s a complicated bit of routing, but building the device really isn’t hard; all the parts are easily hand-solderable.

While this isn’t technically a camera as [Peter] would need box or lens for that, it is a fantastic way to visualize magnetic fields. [Peter] can visualize magnets on his laptop screen, with red representing a North pole and green representing the South pole. Apparently, transformers and motors look really, really cool, and this is a perfect proof of concept for the next revision of [Peter]’s tricorder. You can check out a video of this ‘camera’ in action below.

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Inside This Year’s Queercon Badge

At this point, it’s not really correct to describe DEF CON as a single, gigantic conference for security, tech, and other ‘hacky’ activities. DEF CON is more of a collection of groups hosting villages, get-togethers, meetups, and parties where like-minded individuals share their time, company, electronic war stories, and whiskey. One of the largest groups measured by the number of rideable, inflatable unicorns is Queercon, a ‘conference within a conference’ dedicated to LGBT causes, a rager of a party, and a killer conference badge.

The Queercon badge is always a work of art, and this year is no exception. Last year, we took a look at an immaculate squid/cuttlefish badge, and a few years before that, the Queercon badge was a beautiful 3.5″ floppy embedded with far too many RGB LEDs. This year’s Queercon badge was equally as amazing, quite literally pushing badgecraft into another dimension. The folks behind the Queercon badge just wrote up their postmortem on the badge, and it’s an excellent example of how to push PCBs into the space of human interaction.

The development of the 2017 Queercon badge had a really tough act to follow. Last year’s Blooper squid/cuttlefish badge is a high point in the world of functional PCB art, and by January of this year, the team didn’t know where to take badgecraft next.

In the end, the QC badge team decided on a ‘failsafe’ design — it wasn’t necessarily going to be the best idea, but the design would minimize risk and development time.

A single 2017 Queercon badge

The two obvious features of this badge are an incredible number of tiny RGB LEDs, and very strange hermaphroditic edge connectors, allowing these badges to be plugged together into a panel of badges or a cube. What does this badge do? It blinks. If you have five friends, you can make something that looks like the Companion Cube from Portal.


The killer feature for this badge is a vast array of RGB LEDs. Instead of going with WS2812s or APA101s, the Queercon badge team found simple, 0604 RGB LEDs, priced at about $0.026 a piece. There are 73 LEDs in total, all driven by the same TI LED driver used in previous years, combined with two shift registers and 15 FETs to control the LED commons. Although the LED driver is able to address all 219, and even though the badge is powered by a 32-bit ARM Cortex M3 microcontroller, this is pretty much the limit of how many LEDs can be controlled with this setup.

The Queercon badge always has a bit of interconnectedness built in, and this year is no exception. This year the badge uses a strange universal connector mounted along the four sides of the badge. When one badge is plugged into the other, they mate producing a ‘fabric’ of glowing badges. The range of motion on this connector allows for 180 degrees of rotation, but surprisingly most Queercon badge holders only assembled single planes of badges. It took a bit of cajoling from the badgemakers to get people to assemble a cube, and no other weird shapes were constructed out of multiple badges. If anyone likes this idea of interconnected badges, I would like to personally suggest equilateral triangles — this would allow for icosahedrons or hexagon-based solids.

A Game

A badge wouldn’t be complete without a game, and the Queercon badge has it in spades. The UI/UX/graphics designer [Jonathan] came up with a game loosely based on a game called ‘Alchemy’. Every badge comes loaded with a set of basic elements (air, fire, water, earth), represented as pixel art on the 7×7 RGB LED matrix. Combining these elements leads to even more elements — water plus fire equals beer, for example. Think of it as crafting in Minecraft, but with badges.

Starbucks was responsible for sponsoring a portion of Queercon this year, so ten special badges were loaded up with a fifth element: coffee. Elements derived from the coffee element required a Starbucks sponsor badge.

As we all expect from a DEF CON badge, there was a crypto challenge and contest. The full write up is available here, with the solution somewhat related to a cube of badges.

A Complete Success

When the badges came back from the fab house, the failure rate for this year’s Queercon badge was 0.7%. That’s an amazing yield for any independent hardware badge, and is honestly one of the most impressive aspects of this year’s Queercon. Failure modes during the con were probably related to spilling a drink on a badge, although there was a rash of failed CPUs. This is probably related to ESD, and during the con rework of failed badges was basically impossible because of drunk soldering in a dimly lit hotel room.

If there’s one failure of this year’s Queercon, it’s simply that it’s becoming too popular. From last year, Queercon saw 200% growth for the main party, which meant not everyone got a badge. That’s unfortunate, but plans are in the works for more inventory next year, providing DEF CON 26 isn’t cancelled, which it is. A shame, really.

Hackaday Links: August 6th, 2017

We get a lot of Kickstarter pitches in our email, but this one is different. First of all, it’s over. No biggie there. Secondly, it’s a laser-cut hurdy gurdy. What’s a hurdy gurdy? It’s a musical instrument that uses a wheel to vibrate strings. It has drone strings and a rudimentary keyboard for the melody. Think of it as ‘string bagpipes’ and you’re not that far off. This means you can laser cut (or 3D print, someone get on it) a hurdy gurdy, and that’s just awesome.

I wrote the previous paragraph without referencing Donovan. You’re welcome, Internet.

[Spencer] found a few very small seven-segment flip display units. This, of course, meant he had to build a clock. Right now [Spencer] is in the PCB design stage of the project, with the hope of finishing it before school starts. There is still an open question here: where do you get really tiny flip segment displays?

Perhaps we’ve said too much about the number one badge at this year’s DEF CON, but this is really the project that just keeps giving. [Hyr0n] thought it would be a great idea to have a shirt printed with the design of this year’s official Hackaday DEF CON badge. This seemed simple enough — all he needed to do was send the design off to a custom printed t-shirt place on the Internet and wait a week or two. This is where things got a little nuts. [Hyr0n] stole my intellectual property. My very intellectual property. Here’s a great tip for when a t-shirt place puts your order on hold because of a copyright: just say it’s creative commons, they’ll send it right on through.

The DIY-VT100 is a miniature VT100 (and VT102) terminal, because sometimes you need a standalone serial terminal. Soon, it’s going to be a Crowd Supply campaign. Who’s going to be the first to 3D print a look-alike VT100 enclosure for this little thing? Where can you get pre-bromiated filament?

We all know what the Atari 2600 is, but what is the Atari 2700? It’s an exceptionally rare prototype that used wireless controllers. One was found in a thrift store recently. [L064N] bought it for $30, and sold it on eBay for $3000.

Here’s a weird thing [Yann] sent in. The Rise mP6 was a non-Intel, non-AMD, non-Cyrix, non-VIA, x86 compatible CPU sold in the late 90s.  What’s cool about it? Three parallel MMX instructions, and an easter egg hidden in the microcode. The principal engineer on the project, [Chris Norrie], decided he wanted to hide his name in the CPU, and managed to do it without anyone else catching on. If you put ‘NZ’ into eAX and execute CPUID, it returns “* Chris Norrie *”. That’s a hack, and it’s amazing.

Hackaday Prize Best Product Finalist: PewPew

This year for the Hackaday Prize, we’re doing something very, very cool. We’re encouraging hardware entrepreneurs to come up with the next big electronic thing. We’re giving the Best Product in the Hackaday Prize $30,000, and an opportunity to work in a lab filled with tools to turn that prototype into a marketable reality.

Last week, we announced the twenty finalists of the Hackaday Prize Best Product competition. There’s still a lot of work these hackers and tinkerers need to do before the final judging round, but until then we can start taking a look at what are already some of the finest products in this year’s Hackaday Prize.

For his entry into the Best Product finals, [Radomir] is working on a game machine. Consider this an educational toy. Game programming is hard, and some talent is required to go from the main loop to handling buttons to pushing pixels. This project is the minimal game machine. It’s a FeatherWing for Adafruit’s family of micro dev boards meant to teach PyGame programming.

On this board is an 8×8 matrix of bi-color LEDs, a few switches, resistors, and a chip that turns those LEDs into something that can be memory mapped. It’s simple, but that’s the point: it’s a minimum viable product to teach game programming.

Right now, the business plan is to develop games and examples for this add-on board, build a community, write a few tutorials, and sell a few of these boards on Tindie. From there, it’s just a matter of growing, and there are already plans for a PewPew wing with a TFT screen, an STM32 processor, and a tile and sprite engine built in. This could very well be the beginnings of a very cool educational toy, and we’re happy to have it as a finalist in the Best Product competition of the Hackaday Prize.