Join Hackaday at MakeIt NYC this Thursday

New York is coming on strong as a hardware epicenter — exciting hardware culture can be found at every turn. Tomorrow, we’re bringing food and fun to one such event, the monthly MakeIt NYC meetup.

MakeIt is hosted by PCB.ng, a Brooklyn based PCB manufacturer and board stuffer whose mission it is to make electronics manufacturing available to everyone. [Sophi Kravitz] will be on hand and speaking about Hackaday.io and the Hackaday Prize. There are many other talks lined up, including The LED Artist (amazing work if you haven’t seen), Microchip who will show off their new Chip-KIT Wi-Fire,  Thimble (an electronics subscription service delivering monthly hardware kits), and Botfactory’s Squink, a desktop electronics manufacturing machine.

In addition to the planned talks we’re always interested in seeing the projects you’re working on. Bring along anything that fits in a pocket or a backpack. We’ll see you there!

Get Your Hackaday Belgrade Tickets Now

We have just opened up registration for Hackaday | Belgrade — a hardware conference on April 9th. Get your ticket now and make arrangements to visit Belgrade this Spring. Tickets are inexpensive, travel costs from other parts of Europe are very reasonable, the weather will be beautiful, and the all-day madness that we have planned will make you wish it were a week instead of just sixteen hours. These tickets will sell out so please share this post with your friends so they are not left ticketless.

Packed with Amazing People

mike
If you don’t recognize the name you will almost certainly recognize his internet persona: Mike’s Electric Stuff. He’s been regularly featured on the front page of Hackaday as he churns out a unique body of work like tearing down Flir’s low-end gear to discover it’s identical to their high-end offerings.

Hackaday is a global community and that is what makes Hackaday | Belgrade spectacular. We are still accepting proposals for talks through February 15th but haven’t yet made all of the decisions regarding presenters — you should submit a proposal! We’ll publish an article about all of the presenters once we have wrapped up the call for proposals. Expect to hear back about this around February 22nd.

One thing I am very excited about is that Mike Harrison will be at the conference. His talk will cover his exploration of an absurdly expensive and complicated relic which was used in the 1950’s for large-format video projection. Mike’s ability to unlock understanding of complex (and awesome) electronics is quite amazing; this talk is not to be missed. But Mike is just one of a dozen presenters from all over Europe. Several members of the Hackaday crew will be on hand and the venue will be packed with hundreds of fellow hardware hackers. You won’t want to miss this.

You Will Hack This Badge

hackaday-belgrade-badge-prototypeThis is the first Hackaday event where we have an active electronic badge. Voja Antonic has been hard at work with the design and just published the first details a few days ago.

The central feature of the badge is an 8×16 LED matrix driven by a PIC microcontroller. It’s running a USB bootloader which will let you flash your own custom code without needing a programmer. We were speaking with some of our friends over at Microchip regarding the bootloader and they offered to supply all the microcontrollers for the badge, an offer we were happy to accept.

Voja has already programmed the first demo application seen here, it’s Tetris written in assembly language. Impressive!

We were overwhelmed by the popularity of badge hacking at the Hackaday SuperConference last November. You can bet that badge hacking will be one of the most popular activities at Hackaday Belgrade. I have written a hardware emulator to work on some animations. It uses the SDL2 library to display the LED matrix and take three button inputs (the final badge design will have four buttons arranged in up/down/left/right configuration). Our hope is to host a demoscene competition that is open to anyone, whether you can attend the conference or not. More on that later.

Live Music and Hacking

As the evening sets in and the talks wind down, we have lined up bands and DJs to take the stage and carry us well into night. You won’t have to stop the badge hacking or anything else that you’re into, but you won’t have to solder in silence either.

As you can tell, this conference goes way beyond talks. This is hardware culture and you’ve just got to be there. Running from 10am until 2am, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied for one day. But make sure to hang out on the event page to get inside information on other non-formalized social events that will happen the night before and the day after. See you in Belgrade!

Sparklecon: Crappy Robots, Better Robots, Hammer Jenga, Tesla Coils

Last weekend was Sparklecon, the premier meetup in Southern California of dorks dorking around, fire, electricity, welding, and general mischief. Just imagine a party of a hundred or so like-minded individuals at a hackerspace. Now imagine the entire party is the after party. That’s a pretty good idea of what happened.

The event was held at the 23b shop in Fullerton, a true hackerspace tucked away in a small industrial park. The people at 23b are using their location to their advantage: no one in the neighborhood really cares what happens after 5pm on a Friday. This allows for some very loud, very bright, and very dangerous hijinks.

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There weren’t many pages missing from the Hackaday Omnibus donated to the 23b shop. Oddly, the only pages missing were the articles written by Benchoff.

There was something for everyone at Sparklecon, including:

  • Electric Pickle. Take a stick welder, and put a few hundred amps through a pickle. First, the pickle turns into a sodium light. Then, it turns into a carbon arc light. Best done after dark.
  • FPV drone racing. Flying around and crashing into trees in an abandoned lot. FPV from a few quads were projected onto the side of a building
  • Live music! Analog synths and Game Boys!
  • Tesla coils! This was a 300 amp monster, and completely analog. The spark gap was impressive by itself, but it gets really cool when you steal a fluorescent light from a fixture and stand 20 feet away from the Tesla coil.
  • Hammer Jenga! Cut some 2x4s up and make a tower of Jenga. Get a hammer, some colorful commentators,  a dozen people, and make some competition brackets. Hackaday’s own [Jasmine] was the first champion of the night.
  • Sparklebot Death Battle! It’s like BattleBots, only things break more often and we don’t have [Bil Dwyer].
  • Hebocon! Battling robots, but much crappier than the Sparklebot Death Battle. These robots broke more often.

The main event was, of course, Sparklecon’s own version of Battlebots. There were only four competitors the entire night, but the competition was fierce.

Three of the bots were wedge designs, in keeping with the ramp-ification of battling robots. The lone exception to this was [Charlie]’s Slow Bot, a cube design equipped with a spinning steel blade. The blade moves fast, but Slow Bot doesn’t. It’s a purely defensive design, meant to destroy bots trying for an easy kill. The test video of Slow Bot can be seen here:

The first fight of Slow Bot did not live up to the hype, unfortunately. After Slow Bot’s primary weapon got up to speed, the opposing bot moved in for the kill. The bolts on Slow Bot‘s blade sheared, ending the match, and leaving five or six people looking around the 23b shop for M5 bolts, or some larger bolts and a tap.

Is it all hilarously unsafe? Well, there were some plexiglas shields in front of the crowd, and most people viewed the fights on the projector beaming against the wall, anyway.

Is it worth it to go to Sparklecon? If you like dangerous experiments, soldering wires directly onto AA batteries, fire, electricity, electromagnetic fields, broken robots, and hanging out by a fire, yes. It’s a party at a proper hackerspace, making it the best kind of party ever. If history repeats itself, there will also be an afterparty at 23b following the LayerOne conference in May.

Hackaday Europe: Call for Proposals

Hackaday is coming to Europe in April. The world’s most superb conference on hardware creation starts with you. Please submit your proposal to present a talk or workshop at 2016 Hackaday | Belgrade, Hackaday’s first-ever European conference.

Put it on your calendar: Saturday, April 9th in Belgrade, Serbia. We have a lineup spanning from 10am to 2am, and we’re building on the best of the inaugural SuperConference we held last November: a single track of hardware talks which will run concurrently with a set of hands-on workshops. The surprise hit from that conference was badge hacking, which will be expanded and extended into the wee hours of the morning. While that is in progress, a party with two stages will spin up with performances by Infinite Jest, Grupa TI, and DJ sets.

Tickets go on sale the first week of February. Voja Antonic, who does amazing work with PCBs and badge designs, is building the conference badge. The cost of the admission will be just enough to cover the cost of the badge. We’re keeping the admission cost so low to help offset your travel costs. Belgrade is gorgeous in April, and getting there from other parts of Europe is very affordable. This event will sell out so get organized and make sure you and your fellow hardware hackers get tickets early.

Many of the Hackaday crew will be on hand. We’re likely to have a less-formal meetup (hangover brunch?) on Sunday. Check out the Hackaday | Belgrade planning page to discuss this and learn more about the conference as it comes together. See you in Belgrade!

Shmoocon 2016: Efficient Debugging For OS X

Developers love their macs, and if you look at the software that comes with it, it’s easy to see why. OS X is a very capable Unix-ey environment that usually comes on very capable hardware. There is one, huge, unbelievable shortcoming in OS X: the debugger sucks. GDB, the standard for every other platform, doesn’t come with OS X and Apple’s replacement, LLDB is very bad. After crashing Safari one too many times, [Brandon Edwards] and [Tyler Bohan] decided they needed their own debugger, so they built one, and presented their work at last weekend’s Shmoocon.

Building a proper tool starts with a survey of existing tools, and after determining that GDB was apparently uninstallable and LLDB sucked, their lit review took a turn for the more esoteric. Bit Slicer is what they landed on. It’s a ‘game trainer’ or something that allows people to modify memory. It sort of works like a debugger, but not really. VDB was another option, but again this was rough around the edges and didn’t really work.

The problems with the current OS X debuggers is that the tools used by debuggers don’t really exist. ptrace is neutered, and the system integrity protection in OS X El Capitan has introduced protected locations that can not be written to by root. Good luck modifying anything in /Applications if you have any recent Mac.

With the goal of an easy-to-use debugger that was readily scriptable, [Brandon] and [Tyler] decided to write their own debugger. They ended up writing the only debugger they’ve seen that is built around kqueue instead of ptrace. This allows the debugger to be non-invasive to the debugged process, inject code, and attach to multiple processes at once.

For anyone who has every stared blankly at the ‘where is GDB’ Stack Overflow answers, it’s a big deal. [Brandon] and [Tyler] have the beginnings of a very nice tool for a very nice machine.

Hackaday at SCaLE 14x

Next weekend we’ll be at the fourteenth annual Southern California Linux Expo, a fantastic four-day event that covers everything from Apache to PHP, installing Ubuntu on old laptops, people who have their control key just to the right of their left hand pinky as god intended, and something about how much Linux sucks.

The event will feature 150 exhibitors, 130 sessions, tutorials, amateur radio tests, and features keynotes from Mark Shuttleworth, Cory Doctorow, and Sarah Sharp. It is the largest community-run open source and free software conference in North America.

The Hackaday crew will be there makin’ it rain stickers, but that’s not all: Supplyframe, the Hackaday overlords, is sponsoring Game Night at SCaLE. Saturday night will be filled with vintage video games, Nerf artillery, Settlers of Catan, Fireball Island (if someone can find it), and a hacker show and tell. This year is the inaugural SCaLE museum. The theme is Rise of the Machines: A Living Timeline, and will display historic engineering, computing devices, and clever gadgets.

If you’re in the area on Thursday, We’ll also be having a meet and greet at the soon-to-be-finished Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena. We only recently got the paperwork to have people in the space, so if you’d like to have a few drinks, have a few snacks, and look at a Tormach, come on over.

Shmoocon 2016: Reverse Engineering Cheap Chinese Radio Firmware

Every once in a great while, a piece of radio gear catches the attention of a prolific hardware guru and is reverse engineered. A few years ago, it was the RTL-SDR, and since then, software defined radios became the next big thing. Last weekend at Shmoocon, [Travis Goodspeed] presented his reverse engineering of the Tytera MD380 digital handheld radio. The hack has since been published in PoC||GTFO 0x10 (56MB PDF, mirrored) with all the gory details that turn a $140 radio into the first hardware scanner for digital mobile radio.

Tytera
The Tytera MD-380 digital radio

The Tytera MD380 is a fairly basic radio with two main chips: an STM32F405 with a megabyte of Flash and 192k of RAM, and an HR C5000 baseband. The STM32 has both JTAG and a ROM bootloader, but both of these are protected by the Readout Device Protection (RDP). Getting around the RDP is the very definition of a jailbreak, and thanks to a few forgetful or lazy Chinese engineers, it is most certainly possible.

The STM32 in the radio implements a USB Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU), probably because of some example code from ST. Dumping the memory from the standard DFU protocol just repeated the same binary string, but with a little bit of coaxing and investigating the terrible Windows-only official client application, [Travis] was able to find non-standard DFU commands, write a custom DFU client, and read and write the ‘codeplug’, an SPI Flash chip that stores radio settings, frequencies, and talk groups.

Further efforts to dump all the firmware on the radio were a success, and with that began the actual reverse engineering of the radio. It runs an ARM port of MicroC/OS-II, a real-time embedded operating system. This OS is very well documented, with slightly more effort new functions and patches can be written.

In Digital Mobile Radio, audio is sent through either a public talk group or a private contact. The radio is usually set to only one talk group, and so it’s not really possible to listen in on other talk groups without changing settings. A patch for promiscuous mode – a mode that puts all talk groups through the speaker – is just setting one JNE in the firmware to a NOP.

The Tytera MD-830 ships with a terrible Windows app used for programming the radio
The Tytera MD-380 ships with a terrible Windows app used for programming the radio

With the help of [DD4CR] and [W7PCH], the entire radio has been reverse engineered with rewritten firmware that works with the official tools, the first attempts of scratch-built firmware built around FreeRTOS, and the beginnings of a very active development community for a $140 radio. [Travis] is looking for people who can add support for P25, D-Star, System Fusion, a proper scanner, or the ability to send and receive DMR frames over USB. All these things are possible, making this one of the most exciting radio hacks in recent memory.

Before [Travis] presented this hack at the Shmoocon fire talks, intuition guided me to look up this radio on Amazon. It was $140 with Prime, and the top vendor had 18 in stock. Immediately after the talk – 20 minutes later – the same vendor had 14 in stock. [Travis] sold four radios to members of the audience, and there weren’t that many people in attendance. Two hours later, the same vendor had four in stock. If you’re looking for the best hardware hack of the con, this is the one.