Bring A Hack Is Back This Thursday!

As the pandemic edges further into its second year, the tedium of life under lockdown is taking its toll. We may be fighting the spread of infection by staying home and having our meetings over video conferencing software, but it’s hellishly boring! What we wouldn’t do for our hackerspaces to be open, and for the chance to hang out and chew the fat about our lockdown projects!

Here at Hackaday we can bring some needed relief in the form of the Hackaday Remote: Bring-A-Hack held via Zoom on Thursday, April 8th, at 1pm Pacific time. We know you’ve been working hard over the last year, and since you’ve been denied the chance to share those projects in person, we know you just can’t wait to sign up. Last year’s Remoticon showed us the value of community get-togethers online, with both the team soldering challenge rounds and the bring-a-hack being particular event highlights, so it’s time for a fresh dose to keep up our spirits.

It doesn’t matter how large or small your project is, if it interests you other readers will also want to see it. Be prepared to tell the world how you made it, what problems you solved, and a bit about yourself, and then step back, take a bow, and be showered with virtual roses from the adoring masses. There’s a sign-up link if you have a project to show off Looks like we’re full up for planned presenations, but still come and bring your hacks for showing in conversation groups. Don’t hold back if you’re worried it’s not impressive enough, a certain Hackaday scribe has submitted an OpenSCAD library she’s working on.

Hiding Behind The Silkscreen: The Carolinacon 2021 Badge Has A Secret

The pandemic may have taken away many of our real-world events, but as they’ve gone online their badge teams have often carried on regardless. One of these comes from Carolinacon, and it’s decided to eschew the bleeding edge of electronic wizardry and instead push slightly at the boundaries of PCB art. It contains a hidden message in a copper layer behind a band of white silkscreen, which is revealed by a set of LEDs on the reverse of the board shining through the translucent FR4.

Electronics-wise it’s a pretty simple design, sporting only an ATtiny microcontroller and a photoresistor alongside the LEDs, and with the secret message being triggered when the badge is placed in the dark. The conference’s pig logo is eye-catching, but it has no pretences towards being a dev board or similar. The technique of LEDs behind copper and silkscreen is an interesting one though, and something that we think could bear more investigation in future designs. It’s pleasing to see that there are still new avenues to be taken in the world of PCB-based art.

This isn’t the first time this event has had an eye-catching badge, we’ve covered one of their previous offerings.

May (No Longer) Contain Hackers: MCH 2021 Has Been Cancelled

In a sad but unsurprising turn of events, MCH, this summer’s large hacker camp in the Netherlands, has been cancelled. Organising a large event in a pandemic would inevitably carry some risk, and despite optimism that the European vaccine strategy might have delivered a safe environment by the summer that risk was evidently too high for the event organisers IFCAT to take on. Our community’s events come from within the community itself rather than from commercial promoters, and the financial liability of committing to hire the site and infrastructure would have been too high to bear had the event succumbed to the pandemic. Tickets already purchased will be refunded, and they leave us with a crumb of solace by promising that alternatives will be considered. We understand their decision, and thank them for trying.

As with all such events the behind-the-scenes work for MCH has already started. The badge has been revealed in prototype form, the call for participation has been completed, and the various other event team planning will no doubt be well  under way. This work is unlikely to be wasted, and we hope that it will bear fruit at the next Dutch event whenever that may be.

It would have been nice to think that by now we could be seeing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but despite the sterling work of scientists, healthcare workers, and epidemiologists, it seems we still have a a way to go before we’ll once more be hanging out together drinking Club-Mate in the company of thousands of others. If the pandemic is weighing upon you, take care of yourselves.

The First Hacker Camp To Show Up On Google Maps

Our summer gatherings at hacker camps are fleeting and ephemeral, anticipated for months but over far too quickly. Afterwards we have only our memories, and perhaps the occasional Hackaday write-up. We think BornHack 2020 in Denmark was the only hacker camp that wasn’t forced to go online-only by the pandemic last year, and now as far as we know it has also become the only one ever that has left its mark for the wider world by being captured for posterity by Google Earth.

Visible in the forest is the sparsely populated and socially distanced main field of what was a considerably smaller camp than normal, as well as in separate clearings the speakers tent and the loud field. Perhaps it doesn’t help as much in explaining to outsiders what a hacker camp is as might a picture of one of the larger ones, but it does at least serve as a visible reminder that we weren’t quite snuffed out last year.

It’s a moment of nostalgia to see BornHack 2020 on Google Maps for those of us who were there, but perhaps the point of all this is to take a moment to consider the likely prospects for similar events in 2021 given the pandemic. Both the British EMF Camp and American Toorcamp had to cancel their events last year and should return in 2022, there’s no word as yet about 2021 from the Serbian BalCCon or the Italian IHC,  our latest update on Luxembourg’s HaxoGreen is that it’s still slated to go ahead with its move to 2021, and currently both BornHack and the Dutch MCH are expecting to run as normal this summer.

In the grip of a savage third wave of the pandemic where this is being written, it’s by no means a foregone conclusion that 2020’s cancellations may not repeat themselves. International borders remain difficult to cross without exacting quarantine requirements. If you make it to a camp this year you may be one of the lucky few, and in the increasingly likely event that we don’t, we’ll be suitably envious. Don’t loose hope, we shall all meet again… eventually.

If you fancy a closer look at BornHack 2020, have a read of our write-up.

A Four-Year-Old Event Badge Makes An Environmental Sensor

By now we’re all used to the requirements imposed by the pandemic, of social distancing and wearing masks indoors. But as [polyfloyd] and the rest of the board at Bitlair hackerspace in Amersfoort in the Netherlands were concerned, there are still risk factors to consider when inside a building.  Without fresh air the concentration of virus-bearing droplets can increase, and the best way they could think of to monitor this was to install a set of CO2 sensors. To run them they didn’t need to buy any new hardware, instead they turned to a set of event badges, from 2017s SHA hacker camp.

This badge sported an ESP32 module with an e-ink screen, and of most interest for this project it still has a supported software platform and comes with a handy expansion connector on the rear. The commonly-available MH-Z19 infra-red CO2 sensor and BME280 humidity sensor fit on a PCB that follows the shape of the badge with a protrusion at the top on which they appear as an integrated unit. Processing those readings is a MicroPython badge app that issues warnings via MQTT and plots a CO2 graph on the screen. Everything is available, both the hardware in a GitHub repository and the software as a badge.team app.

We applaud anyone who makes use of an event badge for a project, and especially so for using one years after the event. The SHA badge and its descendants are uniquely suited to this through their well-supported platform, so if you have one in a drawer we’d urge you to pull it out and give it a try.

Remoticon Video: Learning The Basics Of Software-Defined Radio (SDR)

Have you dipped your toe into the SDR ocean? While hacker software-defined radio has been a hot topic for years now, it can be a little daunting to try it out for the first time. Here’s your change to get your legs under you with the SDR overview workshop presented by Josh Conway during the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon.

Josh’s presentation starts with a straightforward definition of SDR before moving to an overview of the hardware and software that’s out there. Hardware designs for radios can be quite simple to build, but they’ll be limited to a single protocol — for instance, an FM radio can’t listen in on 433 Mhz wireless doorbell. SDR breaks out of that by moving to a piece of radio hardware that can be reconfigured to work with protocols merely by making changes to the software that controls it. This makes the radio hardware more expensive, but also means you can listen (and sometimes transmit) to a wide range of devices like that wireless doorbell or automotive tire pressure sensors, but also radio-based infrastructure like airplane transponders and weather satellites.

This is the quickstart you want since it explains  a lot of topis at just the right depth. The hardware overview covers RTL-SDR, ADALM-PLUTO, HackRF, KerberosSDR, and BladeRF (which we just featured over the weekend used on the WiFi procotol). For software, Josh recaps GQRX, SDR#, SDRAngel, ShinySDR, Universal Radio Hacker, Inspectrum, SigDigger, RPITX, GnuRadio Companion, and REDHAWK. He also takes us through a wide swath of the antenna types that are out there before turning to questions from the workshop attendees.

If SDR is still absent in your toolbox, now’s a great time to give it another look. Once you’ve made it through the ‘hello world’ stage, there’s plenty to explore like those awesome RF Emissions testing tricks we as in another Remoticon talk.

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Remoticon Video: Pigweed Brings Embedded Unit Testing, Library Integration To Commandline

When it comes to embedded engineering, toolchains are the worst. Getting a new toolchain up and running correctly is often hard, and often prone to breaking when the IDE or other software is upgraded. A plethora of different toolchains for different hardware makes things even more murky, and if you want to get into time-saving tricks like automated testing, you’re in for a wild ride.

Those pain points led to the creation of the Pigweed project. As Keir Mierle demonstrates in this workshop from the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon, Pigweed is a set of libraries to make working with embedded development more hacker-friendly. The collection is accessed via commandline, and coordinates work with existing libraries to deliver unit testing, linting, static analysis, logging, and handling key-value stores, all alongside more commonly called-for tasks like compiling and flashing.

Demonstrated on a Teensy microcontroller and an STM32 Discovery board, the presentation drives home the utility of Pigweed, a Google project that was released as open source back in March of 2020. Graphical IDEs for these platforms are nowhere in sight, yet test firmware is built and flashed to these devices with relative ease. Unit testing, traditionally a sticky subject for on-chip applications, is demonstrated both emulated on the computer side, and running on the boards themselves. As the capabilities of microcontrollers have ballooned in recent years, writing tests for existing functions and confirming them during new development is becoming a must-have in your skillset.

There’s much more shown off here, so grab the workshop repository to follow along. It’s still considered experimental, and the irony of having to learn the intricacies of the Pigweed toolchain to ease the pain of other toolchains is not lost on us. However, most people reading will have their own affinity for the ability to use unified tools and commandline automation; this is a fascinating way to deliver a number of powerful software development techniques to low-level hardware projects.

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