Retro DEF CON Badge Made From ’80s Parts

DEF CON 25’s theme was retro-tech, and [xres0nance] wasn’t kidding around in the retro badge he built for the convention. The badge was mostly built out of actual parts from the ’80s and ’90s, including the perfboard from Radio Shack—even the wire and solder. Of the whole project just the resistors and 555 were modern parts, and that’s only because [xres0nance] ran out of time.

[xres0nance]  delayed working on the badge until his flight, throwing the parts in a box, and staggering to the airport in the midst of a “three-alarm hangover”. He designed the badge on the plane, downloading datasheets over in-flight WiFi and sketching out circuits in his notebook.

The display is from an old cell phone, and it uses a matrix of diodes to spell out DEFCON without the help of a microcontroller. Each letter is powered by a transistor, with specific pins blocked out to selectively power the segments. He used a shift register timed by a 555 to trigger each letter in turn, with the display scrolling the resulting message.

We publish a lot of posts about con badges. See our DEF CON 2015 badge summary for a bunch of badges that we encountered at in Vegas.

2017’s VCF West is Another Beloved Trip Down Memory Lane

This past weekend, another smashing round of the Vintage Computer Festival was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountainview. As always, VCF West gathers the sages and lords of vintage computers onto a common ground to talk old-school hardware. It also draws in a collection of unique artifacts, many of which either still work, have been brought back to life, or have otherwise been reincarnated through a modern means. [Bil Herd] and I dropped in to join the crowd, and I snagged a few pics of some new faces and pieces that have been added to the experience since last year.

[Foone’s] Digital Media Archiving

Up first on our bucket list was [Foone], a librarian of digital media archiving. Outside of VCF, he runs a digital media backup gig to help folks backup their niche, often-failing, disk formats into something more modern. His drive for doing this backup features a special “reread” capability, where the file is actually reread dozens of time to validate that the right information was pulled from it.

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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.

Hardware

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 UK Unconference Needs You

Hackaday’s first ever conference in the United Kingdom will take place on September 16th. Get your free ticket right now for the Hackaday UK Unconference!

An Unconference is the best way to put your finger on the pulse of what is happening in the hardware world right now. Everyone who attends should be ready to stand and deliver a seven-minute talk on something that excites them right now — this mean you. The easiest thing to do is grab your latest hack off the shelf and talk about that.

Talks may be about a prototype, project, or product currently in progress at your home, work, or university. It could also be an idea, concept, or skill that you’re now exploring. The point is to channel your excitement and pass it on to others in a friendly presentation environment where everyone will cheer as your story unfolds.

Hackaday doesn’t often have the opportunity to organize live events in Europe which is why we’re so happy to partner with DesignSpark, the exclusive sponsor of the Hackaday UK Unconference. DesignSpark is the innovation arm of RS Components and will have some staff on hand at the Unconference. They share our excitement in bringing together the Hackaday community throughout the UK. It is with their support that we are able to book an incredible venue and offer admission at no cost to all attendees. Hackaday events fill to capacity quickly, so get your ticket now before they are gone.

We have already asked a few of our friends in the area if they will be there. Seb Lee-Delisle who wowed us in Belgrade with his laser projection wizardry plans to be there. James Larsson is part of the crew that started the Flashing Light Prize and will be on hand. Phoenix Perry is always on the cutting edge of where people and technology meet and we can’t wait to hear her talk. Mike Harrison of Mike’s Electric Stuff will be around and likely teasing some secret Hackaday hardware he’s spearheading. James Bruton of XRobots (and a Hackaday Prize Judge) is coming, as is Saar Drimer who you may know as the person behind the beautiful hardware art of Boldport. Several Hackaday editors will be there; Elliot Williams, Jenny List, and I will all be on hand. All that’s missing is you.

We’ll flood into the Culture Space at Canada Water on the east side of London starting at 13:00. Tea, coffee, and snacks will be served throughout the afternoon and we’ll provide dinner as well. Anyone who is still standing when we close the doors at 21:00 is invited to join us at the pub afterward (we’ll get the first round).

As always, Hackaday’s success is based on the community of hackers, designers, and engineers that make it up. Please share the link to tickets on your social media and pester your friends to attend. Most importantly, don’t shy away from this speaking opportunity. We want to hear your story and this is the place to tell it. See you in London in just a few short weeks!

UPDATE: Wow, that didn’t take long. The tickets are claimed, but make sure you get on the waitlist. A lot can change in the next five week’s and we’ll be pestering all ticket holders to be there or give their seat up for someone on the waitlist.

Superconference Interview: SpriteTM

SpriteTM, or [Jeroen Domburg], has a bit of a following around these parts. He’s installed Linux on a hard drive the hard way. He can play Snake on his keyboard. He’s cared for several generations of Tamagotchis. In short, there are very few people who have both the technical ability and sense of humor to pull off what [Sprite] does.

At last year’s Supercon, we pulled Sprite aside to talk about his work and his latest hack, the tiniest Game Boy ever. He talked about his Supercon keynote, and how to hack the crypto challenge in last year’s Superconference badge in an hour without solving any of the puzzles. Now, we’re happy to present that interview today, available below.

While we very much doubt many people could — or would — take four conference badges and rick roll the entire Superconference for the badge hacking session, we’re still looking for eager and capable presenters. The Call for Proposals is now open for the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. If you have a story of hardware heroics, creativity in CPLDs, a passion for prototyping, or an ambition for technological art, we want you to share your story. Even if you don’t, that’s fine, too: tickets are still available for the Superconference in Pasadena, California on November 11th and 12th.

Eclipse 2017: Where Will You Be When the Sun Goes Away?

In less than a month, on August 21, 2017, the Moon will cast its shadow upon the Earth, a relative pinprick at only 60 miles across. The shadow will begin in the Pacific Ocean off North America, make landfall south of Portland, Oregon, and rake diagonally across the United States. Charging southeastward at about 2000 miles an hour, the path of totality will touch 12 states before racing off into the Atlantic Ocean around Charleston, South Carolina.

Those are the dry facts of the eclipse, the wheres and the whens of an event that hasn’t been visible to a majority of the US population in 47 years. But beyond the science and the natural wonder of the celestial alignment lies a simple question: Where will you be when the sun goes away?

An Eclipse from a Volcano

Bullseye! The center of totality passes right through North Menan Butte in Rexburg, ID.

For me, the answer is simple: I’ll be smack dab in the middle of totality on top of an extinct volcano in eastern Idaho. To see an eclipse is pretty cool; to watch the mechanics of the heavens work above you while standing in a unique geological feature will be far cooler.

It will take me eight hours to drive to Menan Buttes with my family from our home in the Panhandle; Idaho is an enormous state. We’ll be camping on private land outside the southern butte, probably in pretty rustic conditions and without a lot of rough camping experience. OK, none. But I don’t care because I want to see totality, and the 92% totality we’d see if we stayed home just won’t cut it.

While most people will likely have their eyes cast heavenward with their cheap cardboard and plastic eclipse glasses or shade 14 welding lens when the big moment arrives, my eyes will be locked on the ground to the west of our vantage point. Menan Butte stands about 500′ above the flat, featureless Snake River plain, and I intend to watch the moon’s shadow racing across the planet toward us. That’s the draw for me, and I hope I get to see it.

That’s not to say I won’t look skyward once the shadow is upon us, gazing in wide wonder at the incandescent dance of our sun’s atmosphere against the suddenly dark sky. I’ll bask in the unnatural twilight, listen to the gasps and cheers of my fellow watchers, and feel the sudden temperature drop, which should be quite marked in the east Idaho drylands. We’ll have about two minutes of totality before the shadow races east toward the vast majority of the US population, and I plan to enjoy every second of it.

Hackaday Eclipse Meetups

Aside from just watching the eclipse, there’s plenty else to do. Hackaday.io members across the country are hosting Hackaday Eclipse Meetups, where like minded folks can mix and mingle before the eclipse. If you know where you’ll be to watch the eclipse — like an extinct volcano, for instance — and you don’t mind sharing the experience with some of your fellow enthusiasts, be sure to post a meetup on the Eclipse Meetups page. Make your event page and we’ll send you some eclipse glasses with the Jolly Wrencher on the side of them for you and your guests.

Have you started thinking of what you’re going to bring with you to the viewing? There are a lot of eclipse projects, from pinhole cameras to watch the eclipse safely, to the Ham operators who will be taking advantage of localized ionospheric changes to make long-distance contacts. Those of us with telescopes might want to build a low-cost solar filter. Someone will likely be trying to prove General Relativity somewhere along the path of totality, and we’d love to see the rig for that. And there will no doubt be petabytes of photographs and videos taken with everything ranging from smartphones to professional cinematic cameras. We’d love to hear what you’re planning and see your setups. And even if you’ve got something cool that’s not eclipse related, bring it along. It’s always a good time to talk shop for hackers.

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This Weekend: Vintage Computer Festival West

Next weekend is the Vintage Computer Festival West, held at the Computer History Museum. Hackaday is once again proud to sponsor this event that brings together the people and hardware that drove the information revolution. [Bil Herd] and [Joshua Vasquez] will be on hand representing the Hackaday Crew.

This year’s talks show an impressive lineup of people. [Bil Herd] will be on stage with a collection of other engineers who secured Commodore’s place in history. The Computer History Museum has a very active restoration program for original computer hardware. Friend of Hackaday, [Ken Shirriff], has been working on a restoration of the Xerox Alto and is on the panel giving a talk about the process. And just to cherry-pick one more highlight, there’s a talk on system debugging before you even turn the thing on — a topic that can save you from having a very bad day with very ancient hardware.

A great part of VCF is that the exhibits are often either hands-on or demonstrations so you can actually play around with hardware which most people have never even seen in person. Add to that the collection at the Computer History Museum plus some extra exhibits they have planned for the event and you’re likely to run out of time before you make your way through everything.

Since we’ve mentioned the Computer History Museum, we also have some upcoming news. A bit later this month, Hackaday Contributor-at-Large [Voja Antonic] has been invited to visit the museum, record his oral history, and deliver to their collection an original Galaksija computer — wildly successful first as a kit and then as a manufactured computer which he built in Yugoslavia 1983. Congratualtions [Voja]!