As we’ve seen time and time again, the word “hacker” takes on a different meaning depending on who you’re talking to. If you ask the type of person who reads this fine digital publication, they’ll probably tell you that a hacker is somebody who likes to learn how things work and who has a penchant for finding creative solutions to problems. But if you ask the average passerby on the street to describe a hacker, they might imagine somebody wearing a balaclava and pounding away at their laptop in a dimly lit abandoned warehouse. Thanks, Hollywood.
Naturally, we don’t prescribe to the idea of hackers being digital villains hell-bent on stealing your identity, but we’ll admit that there’s something of rift between what we call hacking versus what happens in the information security realm. If you see mention of Red Teams and Blue Teams on Hackaday, it’s more likely to be in reference to somebody emulating Pokemon on the ESP32 than anything to do with penetration testing. We’re not entirely sure where this fragmentation of the hacking community came from, but it’s definitely pervasive.
Two of these talks which should particularly resonate with the Hackaday crowd were Charles Sgrillo’s An Introduction to IoT Penetration Testing and Ham Hacks: Breaking into Software Defined Radio by Kelly Albrink. These two presentations dealt with the security implications of many of the technologies we see here at Hackaday on what seems like a daily basis: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Software Defined Radio (SDR), home automation, embedded Linux firmware, etc. Unfortunately, the talks were not recorded for the inaugural WOPR Summit, but both presenters were kind of enough to provide their slides for reference.
At the climax of 1983’s “WarGames”, the War Operation Plan Response (WOPR) computer famously opines “The only winning move is not to play” when presented with a barrage of no-win scenarios depicting global thermonuclear war. While the stakes aren’t quite as high when it comes to putting on a brand new hacker convention, there’s certainly enough pitfalls that most of us would take WOPR’s advice and never even try. But for those who attended the inaugural WOPR Summit in Atlantic City, it was clear that not only did the team behind it have the tenacity to play the game, but that they managed to prove their supercomputer namesake wrong.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement going forward, but it was hard not to be impressed by such a strong initial showing. The WOPR Summit organizers not only had to contend with the myriad of things that could go wrong, but they had to deal with what actually did go wrong; such as a sizable storm hitting the New Jersey coast just as the event got rolling. Yet from the attendees perspective the weekend-long event went off without a hitch, and everyone I spoke to was excited for what the future holds for this brand-new East Coast event.
It’s never easy to capture 20+ hours worth of talks, workshops, and hands-on projects into a few articles, but we do our best for the good readers of Hackaday. Below you’ll find just a few of the highlights from the first-ever WOPR Summit, but it’s nothing quite like attending one of these events in person. This far out we don’t know when and where the next WOPR Summit will take place, but you can be sure that Hackaday will be there; and so should you.
There was a time when owning a home computer was kind of a big deal. In the days before the popularization of the Internet, so-called “computer shows” were the best way to meet with others to swap advice, information, and hardware. Of course today, things are very different. The kind of people who are building their computers just buy the parts online, and everyone else is probably using a $200 laptop from Walmart that isn’t worth spending the time or money on to upgrade.
So while the Trenton Computer Festival (TCF) may have started in 1976 as a way for people to buy early computers like the Altair 8800, over the years it has morphed into something much closer to the modern idea of a “con”. Those who visit the 44th TCF on March 23rd at the College of New Jersey will likely spend most of their time at the festival attending the 40+ talks and workshops that will be happening in a span of just six hours. But anyone who’s got some cash to burn can still head over to the flea market area where they’ll be able to buy both modern and vintage hardware.
Talks run the gamut from Arduino to quantum computing, and if you don’t see something that piques your interest in this year’s program, one might wonder how you found yourself reading Hackaday in the first place. If you manage to find some spare time between all the talks, the New Jersey chapter of the The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers (TOOOL) will be there giving a hands-on lock picking class, and if you don’t mind taking the crash course, you can even get your ham radio license. All for the princely sum of just $20 at the door.
In fact, there’s so much going on at TCF that it can be somewhat overwhelming. As I found out during my visit last year, the number of simultaneous events means you’ll almost certainly have some difficult decisions to make. I’ll be making the trip out to the College of New Jersey campus again this year for TCF, and will have plenty of Hackaday stickers and buttons to give out to anyone who manages to stop me while I dash between talks.
VCF celebrates the great hardware that has sprung up during the technological march of the last fifty years. The VCF series has been around for many years with events in Mountain View, CA and Wall, NJ, but this one is new. VCF Pacific Northwest was founded in 2018 and Hackaday’s own Dan Maloney had a great time at the inaugural event.
Keeping vintage computers running is a trick in itself and this where you can meet those who have made it a mission and a hobby as they set up exhibit tables and show off the rare, exotic, and of course nostalgic equipment. There are exhibits with PDP-8 PDP-10, and an emulated PDP-6 (because only 23 were sold and none remain). You’ll find a Gigatron TTL computer, several flavors of Atari, and some slightly newer equipment like the Indego RISC-based workstation. There are exhibits on recreating classic computers, and buidling your own single-board computers from open source designs. The event is being held in a museum and this gives you the opportunity to check out their collection.
This year’s lineup of speakers is amazing. Joe Decuir will be speaking on Saturday morning. His long list of inventions and contributions to computing (and video gaming) make it hard to decide what to mention first. He’s well known for his time at Atari, but also developed the Amiga, and worked on USB and a laundry list of other standards.
Hackaday is once again proud to be a sponsor of VCF Pacific Northwest, VCF East, and VCF West.
Imagine a weekend of opulence in which you meet your companion at the railway station and whisk away across the continent in a 190mph express train for a relaxing couple of days enjoying the ambience of a luxury resort hotel in the fresh surroundings of a woodland in midwinter. Break out the Martinis, it’s a scene of elegance and sophistication from a byegone era! This is the general idea of Hacker Hotel 2019, and I had a wonderful time!
On a recent February weekend I broke out the Club-Mate instead stea of a Martini. My companion for the Eurostar and Thalys trip was my local hackspace friend Matt “Gasman” Westcott with his keytar in a bulky suitcase for a chiptune gig, and we were heading for the Netherlands. It’s a pivot from the summer’s hacker camps as over 200 hackers fill a resort hotel for the weekend, scoring comfortable beds instead of dust or mud!
This meetup is happening at X.factory, a maker hub run by Seeed Studios. Sophi Kravitz and Mike Szczys will be in town for the meetup and will both speak, along with a project talks from members of the Hackaday Community. Snacks and beverages will be served, and as always, if you have a project you’re working on bring it along! Having a piece of hardware is a great way to start a conversation, and this is the perfect place to draw inspiration, seek advice from your peers, and find team members to join in your projects!
Come and celebrate a love for design, electronics, learning new things, and meeting new people. We hope to see you at X.factory next week!
Join Sean and Mike at Trung Nguyên Legend Café from 7-10 pm on Sunday, March 24th for a bring-a-hack style meetup. If you have a hardware project you’ve been working on, come and show it off as an excellent conversation starter. If not, that’s fine too. We’ve also lined up three short talks spanning topics from robotics to analog electronics. Of course if you’re excited about giving a talk, let us know in the comments below and we’ll work on squeezing you in.
Hackaday tries to host live events in all corners of the world, and it’s exciting to add Vietnam to the list. Head on over to the event page for more info, and we look forward to seeing you there! Of course if you happen to be on the other side of the world this coming weekend, there’s a Hackaday Mini-Unconference happening in Cambridge, UK!