DEF CON Badgelife: The ESP Rules All

Badgelife is the celebration of independent hardware creators, working for months at a time to bring custom electronic badges to conferences around the world. This year at DEF CON, Badgelife is huge. It’s not just because this year was supposed to feature a non-electronic badge, and it’s not because the official badge imploded last month — Badgelife is all about people spending most of the year designing, and manufacturing hardware, culminating in one very special weekend.

[Garrett] owns Hacker Warehouse, a store providing all kinds of neat hacker tools ranging from software-defined radios to lock pick sets to side channel analysis toolkits. This year, [Garrett] decided he wanted to branch out his business and get involved in a little bit of hardware creation. He’s been curious about this for some time and figured a limited edition DEF CON badge made sense. What he wound up with is a beautiful little badge with games, blinkies, graphics, and potential to cause a lot of wireless mischief.

Would you look at that. RF design on an independent badge.

The design of the Hacker Warehouse badge is surprisingly simple compared to the Bender Badges and puzzling crypto badges that are also part of this year’s Badgelife hardware celebration. On board is an ESP8266 with a custom PCB implementation that includes a larger Flash chip. The other side of the board is loaded up with four tact switches in a D-pad arrangement. On top is a 96 x 64 pixel full-color OLED display, and blinkies are provided by fourteen mini WS2812 RGB LEDs. Power is provided by two AA cells and what looks to be a nice fancy switching regulator. This is real hardware, not just a few modules thrown together with a bunch of LEDs.

Oh, what wireless fun

This badge is built around the ESP8266, a very interesting WiFi-enabled microcontroller that has more features than it should. [Garrett] is using the ESP as a WiFi scanner of sorts, allowing anyone with this badge to monitor WiFi channels, APs, packets, and — this is important — deauth packets.

Over the last year, there have been a number of projects around the Internet that take an ESP8266 and spew deauthorization frames into the spectrum. These frames cause a WiFi client to stop using an access point, and basically shuts down all the WiFi in an area. It’s well documented, and people have been doing it for years, but the ESP8266 makes deauth attacks so very, very easy. We’re going to see a lot of deauth frames this year at DEF CON, and the Hacker Warehouse badge will be able to detect them. It can also generate these frames, but that capability is locked for now.

Blinking and glowing

An electronic conference badge isn’t cool unless it has obnoxiously bright and glowy LEDs, and the Hacker Warehouse badge is very cool.

Onboard the Hacker Warehouse badge are 14 RGB LEDs, programmed with 46 different patterns that are certainly bright enough to annoy someone. This is what you need for a badge, and it’s beautiful.

This is a truly fantastic badge that’s also a great development board for the ESP8266. Everything you need for portable WiFi gaming fun is already there — you have blinky LEDs, an OLED, what seems to be a fairly nice power supply, and enough buttons to do something interesting. All you need to do to program this badge is attach a USB to serial adapter to the pre-populated header and you really have something. It’s a great badge, and we can’t wait to see the hacks for this great piece of hardware next week at DEF CON.

“Norman, coordinate!”

If Star Trek taught us anything, it’s clearly that we’re not quite in the future yet. Case in point: androids are not supposed to be little flecks of printed circuits with wires and jacks sprouting off them. Androids are supposed to be gorgeous fembots in polyester kimonos with beehive hairdos, designed to do our bidding and controlled by flashing, beeping, serial number necklaces.

Not willing to wait till the 23rd century for this glorious day, [Peter Walsh] designed and built his own android amulet prop from the original series episode “I, Mudd.” There’s a clip below if you need a refresher on this particularly notable 1967 episode, but the gist is that the Enterprise crew is kidnapped by advanced yet simple-minded androids that can be defeated by liberal doses of illogic and overacting.

The androids’ amulets indicate when they BSOD by flashing and beeping. [Peter]’s amulet is a faithful reproduction done up in laser-cut acrylic with LEDs and a driver from a headphone. The leads for the amulet go to a small control box with a battery pack and the disappointing kind of Android, and a palmed microswitch allows you to indicate your current state of confusion.

You’ll be sure to be the hit of any con with this one, although how to make smoke come out of your head is left as an exercise for the reader. Or if you’d prefer a more sophisticated wearable from The Next Generation, check out this polished and professional communicator badge. Both the amulet and the communicator were entries in the Hackaday Sci-Fi contest.

Continue reading ““Norman, coordinate!””

Two Weeks Until The Greatest 3D Printer Meetup On The Planet

Every year, sometime in March, the world’s preeminent 3D printing enthusiasts gather in the middle of nowhere This is MRRF, the Midwest RepRap Festival. It’s only two weeks away. You need to come. Get your (free) tickets here. I’ll be there, and Hackaday is proud to once again sponsor the festival.

I need to backtrack a bit to explain why MRRF is so great. I go to a lot of cons. Maker Faire is getting old, CES was a horror show. Even DEF CON is losing its charm, and all of these cons have the same problem: there are too many people. MRRF does not have this problem. For one weekend a year, everyone who is anyone in the 3D printing world makes it out to the middle of Indiana. This is a small meetup, but that’s what makes it great. It’s a bunch of dorks dorking around for an entire weekend.

If that’s not enough to convince you, take a look at the previous coverage Hackaday has done from MRRF. The PartDaddy, an 18-foot-tall 3D printer will be there. The world’s largest 3D printed trash can will not. Prusa is coming in from Prague, E3D is coming in from England. Judging from past years, this is where the latest advancements in home 3D printing first appear. This is not an event to miss.

You might be wondering why the world’s greatest 3D printer festival is in the middle of nowhere. Goshen, Indiana is the home of SeeMeCNC, builders of the fantastic Rostock Max 3D delta bot. MRRF is hosted by the SeeMeCNC guys. If you’re exceptionally lucky, you’ll get to go over to the shop and see a demo of their milling machine that cools parts by ablation.

Bring Your Palm VII To ShmooCon This Weekend

We’re not even halfway through January, and already the conference season is upon us. This weekend, Hackaday will be attending Shmoocon at the Hilton in Washington, DC. I’ll be there getting the full report on Russian hackers, reverse engineering, and what the beltway looks like with an ice storm during morning rush hour.

What’s in store for Shmoocon attendees? The schedule looks really cool with talks on something like inline assembly in Python, tools for RF reverse engineering, manufacturing and selling a U2F token, emulating ARM firmware, and so much more. Want to attend Shmoocon? Too bad! Tickets sold out in less than 10 seconds, and we’re totally not going to talk about the BOTS Act at all. If you’re clever you can still pick up a barcode on Craigslist for $300-400, but I wouldn’t recommend that.

As we did last year, Hackaday is going to have a lobbycon with Dunkin Saturday morning at 08:30, although which lobby is still up in the air. Check out the Hackaday Twitter for a few real-time updates. This is a bring-a-hack event, and I’ll be showing off how to add 18dBi of gain to a standard ESP8266 module. Show off what you’re working on and get a donut.

Reinventing VHDL Badly

A few years ago, Philip Peter started a little pet project. He wanted to build his own processor. This really isn’t out of the ordinary – every few months you’ll find someone with a new project to build a CPU out of relays, logic chips, or bare transistors. Philip is a software developer, though, and while the techniques and theory of building hardware haven’t changed much in decades, software development has made leaps and bounds in just the past few years. He’s on a quest to build a CPU out of discrete components.

Search the Internet for some tips and tricks for schematic capture programs like KiCad and Eagle, and you’ll find some terrible design choices. If you want more than one copy of a very specific circuit on your board, you have to copy and paste. Circuit simulation is completely separate from schematic capture and PCB design, and unit testing – making sure the circuit you designed does what it’s supposed to do – is a completely foreign concept. Schematic capture and EDA suites are decades behind the curve compared to even the most minimal software IDE. That’s where Philip comes in. By his own admission, he reinvented VHDL badly, but he does have a few ideas that are worth listening to.

Continue reading “Reinventing VHDL Badly”

Hackaday At Hamvention

There are a few interesting Hackaday gatherings going on next weekend. The first is the Bay Area Maker Faire. Most of the Hackaday and Tindie crew will be in San Mateo next weekend, and we’re giving away free tickets to the Faire – a $70 value, free to Hackaday readersHackaday is crashing a pub on Saturday night. There’s also a super-secret meetup on Sunday. Don’t tell anyone.

On the other side of the country, there’s an even better convention for people who build stuff.. It’s Hamvention, the largest amateur radio meetup in North America. I’m going to be there. Find me and pick up some Hackaday swag. I’ll be posting to the Hackaday Twitter all weekend.

A wooden modem and proof I can find cool stuff.
A wooden modem and proof I can find cool stuff.

The main purpose of my visit is to document the immense swap meet. There will be over a thousand vendors hocking their wares, from antique radios to gauges and other electronic paraphernalia. It is the biggest draw to Hamvention, and by every account I’ve heard, it’s impossible to look at everything.

It might be impossible to look at everything, but apparently I’ve very good at separating the wheat from the chaff at ham swaps. During my last visit to the W6TRW swap meet in Redondo Beach, I found an UltraSPARC laptop (!), and a wooden modem from the mid 60s. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it will be my job to document all the oddities of Hamvention.

Depending on how many people I meet at Hamvention, there might be a semi-official Hackaday get together after the show. The US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson would be cool, but Ihop or Denny’s would be far more realistic. Look for the guy in the Hackaday hoodie flying a Hackaday flag and he’ll give you some sweet stickers and swag.

Designing a High Performance Parallel Personal Cluster

Kristina Kapanova is a PhD student at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Her research is taking her to simulations of quantum effects in semiconductor devices, but this field of study requires a supercomputer for billions of calculations. The college had a proper supercomputer, and was getting a new one, but for a while, Kristina and her fellow ramen-eating colleagues were without a big box of computing. To solve this problem, Kristina built her own supercomputer from off-the-shelf ARM boards.

Continue reading “Designing a High Performance Parallel Personal Cluster”