Hacker Abroad: Massive Conference Brings Big News of Hackaday Prize China

My first full day in China was spent at Electronica, an absolutely massive conference showcasing companies involved in electronics manufacturing and distribution. It’s difficult to comprehend how large this event is, filling multiple halls at the New International Expo Center in Shanghai.

I’ve seen the equipment used for PCB assembly many times before. But at this show you get to see another level below that, machines that build components and other items needed to build products quickly and with great automation. There was also big news today as the 2019 Hackaday Prize China was launched. Join me after the break for a look at this equipment, and more about this new development for the Hackaday Prize.

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First WOPR Summit Finds the Winning Move

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.

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Hacker Abroad: A Very Long Way to China

It turns out that Shanghai is a very long way from my home in Wisconsin. I’ve traveled here for Electronica China, and although it made for an incredibly long travel “day”, it turned out to be quite enjoyable. I hacked some hardware on the plane ride, I took a maglev to my hotel, met up with Sophi for drinks, and explored the neighborhood for some Shanghai breakfast. Continue reading “Hacker Abroad: A Very Long Way to China”

Introducing The Shitty Add-On V1.69bis Standard

The last few years have seen a rise of artistic PCBs. Whether these are one-off projects with a little graphic on the silkscreen or the art of manufacturing and supply chains, these fancy PCBs are here to stay. Nowhere is this more apparent than the loose confederation of Badgelife enthusiasts, a hardware collective dedicated to making expressive and impressive electronic baubles for various hacker conferences. Here, hundreds of different hardware badges are created every year. It’s electronic art, supported by a community.

Some of these badges aren’t technically badges, but rather small, blinky add-ons meant to connect to a main badge, and these add-ons are all backed by a community-derived standard. The Shitty Add-On Standard is how you put smaller PCBs onto bigger PCBs. It is supported by tens of thousands of badges, and all of the people who are spending their free time designing electronic conference badges are using this standard.

It’s been more than a year since the Shitty Add-On standard was created, and in that time the people behind the work have seen the shortcomings of the first edition of the standard. Mechanically, it’s not really that strong, and it would be neat if there were a few more pins to drive RGB LEDs. This has led to the creation of the latest revision of the Shitty Add-On Standard, V.1.69bis. Now, for the first time, this standard is ready for the world to see.

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Ask Hackaday: How Do You Draw Schematics?

The lingua franca of electronic design is the schematic. I can pick up a datasheet written in Chinese (a language I do not read or speak) and usually get a half-decent idea of what the part is all about from the drawings. Unfortunately, even as my design experience has grown over the years, I haven’t quite learned to think in schematics — I need to see it on paper (or on a screen) to analyze a circuit. Whether it’s literally on the back of an envelope or sketched in the condensation on the shower stall, actually drawing a design or idea makes a huge difference in being able to understand it. And, if you’ve ever tried to explain a circuit without a schematic — in an on-line forum or over the phone, for instance — you know how difficult it is.

So, given the importance of the schematic for design and communication, you’d think choosing a tool to draw them would be an easy task. Not so. There are dozens of choices, from dedicated schematic drawing programs to using the schematic-capture facilities of simulation or PCB design tools, or even old-fashioned pencil-and-paper and its modern equivalents. Each one has its pros and cons, and may be better suited to one specific application, but you have to choose something.

So, readers of Hackaday, what do you use to convey your electronic design ideas to the world?

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The CD Is 40, The CD Is Dead

The Compact Disc is 40 years old, and for those of us who remember its introduction it still has that sparkle of a high-tech item even as it slides into oblivion at the hands of streaming music services.

There was a time when a rainbow motif was extremely futuristic. Bill Bertram (CC BY-SA 2.5)
There was a time when a rainbow motif was extremely futuristic. Bill Bertram (CC BY-SA 2.5)

If we could define a moment at which consumers moved from analogue technologies to digital ones, the announcement of the CD would be a good place to start. The public’s coolest tech to own in the 1970s was probably an analogue VCR or a CB radio, yet almost overnight they switched at the start of the ’80s to a CD player and a home computer. The CD player was the first place most consumers encountered a laser of their own, which gave it an impossibly futuristic slant, and the rainbow effect of the pits on a CD became a motif that wove its way into the design language of the era. Very few new technologies since have generated this level of excitement at their mere sight, instead today’s consumers accept new developments as merely incremental to the tech they already own while simultaneously not expecting them to have longevity.
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Es’hail-2: Hams Get Their First Geosynchronous Repeater

In the radio business, getting the high ground is key to covering as much territory from as few installations as possible. Anything that has a high profile, from a big municipal water tank to a roadside billboard to a remote hilltop, will likely be bristling with antennas, and different services compete for the best spots to locate their antennas. Amateur radio clubs will be there too, looking for space to locate their repeaters, which allow hams to use low-power mobile and handheld radios to make contact over a vastly greater range than they could otherwise.

Now some hams have claimed the highest of high ground for their repeater: space. For the first time, an amateur radio repeater has gone to space aboard a geosynchronous satellite, giving hams the ability to link up over a third of the globe. It’s a huge development, and while it takes some effort to use this new space-based radio, it’s a game changer in the amateur radio community.

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