A Wild Hackaday Belgrade Confirms Status as One of World’s Greatest Hardware Cons

Hackers, Designers, and Engineers flooded into Dom Omladine on Saturday for what can only be described as an epic celebration of hardware culture. This is the second time Hackaday has organized a huge conference in Belgrade, and lightning really did strike twice.

A Gathering of New Friends and Old

We got things started off with a meetup the night before the conference. The first Hackaday Belgrade was held in 2016 and we didn’t reserve a bar on Friday night — we ended up taking over one just through sheer numbers. This year we called ahead for a large outdoor space, then made good use of it.

Everyone was giddy with anticipation of the next day to come. There is always a sizzling energy of meeting up in real life. Most of this group hangs out on Hackaday.io, but only some of them have met in person. Add to that the reunions of those who became friends at the previous Hackaday Belgrade and at other cons around Europe and you have the feeling of coming home. These really are your people.

Yes, a Conference. But the Cool Kind

Hackaday conferences are more than just parties… they’re conferences. If you approach it the right way you can get your employer on board with you attending because you’re going to meet incredible people, learn lots of stuff, and come back excited to take on the Universe. Actually, bring your boss along for the ride too!

This year we had thirteen incredible talks. As is our practice, we started off with a super-technical talk as Rachel Wong (aka @konichiwakitty) discussed her Ph.D research which involves growing eye tissue in the lab. But like all incredibly brilliant minds, she has a creative outlet which she also covered as part of her Keynote address. Rachel has a passion for building wearables that are reaching for the future by embracing things we really do need in our garments and gear.

From drone monitoring networks to robot soldering machines, and concepts for designing meaningful hardware to using code to automate tedious PCB layout, there was plenty in these talks for everyone.

I really enjoyed Elliot Williams’ talk on Logic Noise for his live demos using simple logic chips to build up complex music. Marcel van Kervinck took us on a journey of TTL computer design. And Sophi Kravitz’s talk on building non-rigid airships had at least two people at the con get inspired and spin their own blimp design during the conference! There was a live-feed of the talks so keep your eye on Hackaday as we pull those out to be featured individually.

Some of the demo hardware: Acoustic levitation for lab work

The workshops were standing room only as people who weren’t able to grab a ticket audited the course. We had three hands-on session that built wearable circuitry, brough art to PCB design, and dove into the world of FPGAs.

Welcome, Here’s Your Neck-Mounted Retro Computer

Everyone through the door received a custom electronic badge to hack on during Hackaday Belgrade. Voja Antonic designed the hardware and oversaw the manufacture. We had excellent yield which is great because we had nearly (if not more than) 100% attendance at the conference. We ended the day with just 5 badges to spare!

Hackaday Belgrade badge and user guide put to use

These handheld computers are truly hot! The badges each have 55 really clicky keys. With at least 350 people in the room, that’s approaching 20k momentary push switches and at one point, a brief “silence” fell and all that could be heard were clicking buttons. That and we asked everyone to play the Mario Overworld tune at the same time as hundreds of badges rose in a glorious chorus. There’s also a 16-page user manual to go along with them which included sample code to get started.

Hacking went on throughout the day but as the talk session wrapped up we transformed the hall into a Hacker Village. Tables were brought in and immediately filled. Live music filled the room as Bogdan Rosu and Richard Hogben each played IDM sets. If you’ve been watching Hackaday videos you’ve heard their work and their performances this night were epic.

There was food, there was beer, and there were the tools of our lifestyle; laptops, programmers, jumper wires, blinky add-ons, and the excitement that goes along with all of them. The badge hacking presentations began at midnight and the place was still alive with excitement. It is truly great to see how supportive our community is of exploring hardware and trying things out. Publish your badge hacks and stories from the conference on Hackaday.io as we’ll be featuring those in the coming days and want to make sure we have all the juicy details.

Why Belgrade?

Keep your eye on Hackaday as there is much more coverage to come on this wonderful event. Many have asked: “Why Belgrade?”. It’s a fantastic city and the engineering community in the area is passionate about getting together to learn and share ideas. This includes the Supplyframe engineers who live in Belgrade and did the heavy lifting to organize and staff Hackaday Belgrade. You all did an amazing job and everyone at the con owes you a debt of gratitude, thank you so much! We also want to thank Supplyframe and SevenBridges, our sponsors for the event.

To all who attended, it wouldn’t have happened without you! I can speak for everyone on the Hackaday crew in saying the culture we share is energizing, encouraging, and humbling. It’s exactly the kind of recharge everyone looks for to keep life interesting! We’ll see you at the next one. Now over the next five months we have our sights set on the Hackaday Superconference. See you there!

Retro Computer Badge for Hackaday Belgrade Has Everything You Wished for Back in the Day

The hardware badge for the Hackaday Belgrade conference is a Retro Computer that you wear around your neck. I have one in my hands and it’s truly a work of art. It’s beautiful, it’s fun to play with, and it will be an epic platform for a glorious weekend of badge hacking! Check out the first look video, then join me below as I drill down into the details.

Get your ticket now for Hackaday Belgrade, our premier European hardware conference at the end of this month. It’s a day filled with talks, works, food, fun, and of course everyone through the door gets one of these incredible badges. The best part is the community that turns out for this event and that includes the Hacker Village that takes hold in the evening. We’ll be hacking the badges until the wee hours of the morning alongside hardware demos, presentations, lightning talks, and live IDM and DJ sets.

Continue reading “Retro Computer Badge for Hackaday Belgrade Has Everything You Wished for Back in the Day”

PCB Take on Stars, Moons, and Ringed Planets is Gold

Remember when PCBs were green and square? That’s the easy default, but most will agree that when you’re going to show off your boards instead of hiding them in a case, it’s worth extra effort to make them beautiful. We’re in a renaissance of circuit board design and the amount of effort being poured into great looking boards is incredible. The good news is that this project proves you don’t have to go nuts to achieve great results. This stars, moons, and planets badge looks superb using just two technical tricks: exposed (plated) copper and non-rectangular board outline.

Don’t take that the wrong way, there’s still a lot of creativity that [Steve] over at Big Mess o’ Wires used to make it look this great. The key element here is that copper and solder mask placements have extremely fine pitch. After placing the LEDs and resistors there’s a lot of blank space which was filled with what you might see in the night sky through your telescope.  What caught our eye about this badge is the fidelity of the ringed planet.

The white ink of silk screen is often spotty and jagged at the edges. But this copper with ENIG (gold) plating is crisp through the curves and with razor-sharp tolerance. It’s shown here taken under 10x magnification and still holds up. This is a trick to keep under your belt — if you have ground pours it’s easy to spice up the look of your boards just by adding negative-space art in the solder mask!

[Steve] mentions the board outline is technically not a circle but “a many-sided polygon” due to quirks of Eagle. You could have fooled us! We do like how he carried the circle’s edges through the bulk of the board using silk screen. If you’re looking for tips on board outline and using multiple layers of art in Eagle, [Brian Benchoff] published a fabulous How to do PCB art in Eagle article. Of course, he’s gone deeper than what the board houses offer by grabbing his own pad printing equipment and adding color to white solder mask.

The art was the jumping off point for featuring this badge, but [Steve] is known for his technical dives and this one is no different. He’s done a great job of recounting everything that popped up while designing the circuit, from LED color choice to coin cell internal resistance and PWM to low-power AVR tricks.

Hackaday Links: April 8, 2018

SiFive raised $50 Million in funding. SiFive is a semiconductor working on two fronts: they want to democratize silicon prototyping, and they’re the people making the HiFive series of microcontrollers and SoCs. The HiFives are built on the RISC-V instruction set, a Big-O Open instruction set for everything from tiny microcontrollers to server CPUs. With RISC-V, you’re not tied to licensing from ARM or their ilk. Recently SiFive introduced an SoC capable of running Linux, and the HiFive 1 is a very fast, very capable microcontroller that’s making inroads with Nvidia and Western Digital. The new round of funding is great news for anyone who wants Open Source hardware, and the silicon prototyping aspect of it is exceptionally interesting. Great news for SiFive.

Guess what’s in just a few weekends? The Vintage Computer Festival Southeast. The VCFSE is Hotlanta’s own vintage computer festival, with a whole host of speakers, exhibits, and consignment to tickle those vintage dopamine receptors. On deck for the speakers is [Michael Tomczyk], one of the people responsible for the VIC-20, and [Scott Adams], no the other [Scott Adams], creator of adventure-style games for personal computers but not that adventure-style game. The exhibits will include Japanese retro computers, simulating an ENIAC and a mechanical keyboard meetup. If you’re around Georgia, this is an event worth attending.

Conference season is just around the corner, and you know what that means. It’s time to start ramping up for #badgelife. What is badgelife? It’s a hardware demoscene of electronic conference badges. This year, the badgelife scene has stumbled upon something everyone can get in on. Add-ons! They’re electronic hats (or shields, or capes) for all the badges. Physically, it’s a 2×2 pin header. Electronically, it’s power, ground and I2C. Want to prototype your own add-on? Good news, there’s a development board.

The Titius-Bode law states the semi-major axes of planets follow a geometric progression. The (simplified, incorrect) demonstration of this law states Mercury orbits at 0.25 AU, Venus at 0.5 AU, Earth at 1 AU, Mars at 2 AU, and continues to the outer planets. The Titius-Bode law is heavily discredited in the planetary science community, and any paper, talk, or manuscript is rejected by scientific editors out of hand. The Titius-Bode law is the planetary science equivalent of flat Earth conspiracy theories and Nazi moon bases; giving any consideration to the idea confirms you’re a moron. This week, some consulting firm posted something that is the Titius-Bode law on their blog. Why? So it could be submitted to Hacker News for that sweet SEO. This submission was upvoted to the top position, and is a wonderful springboard to argue an interesting point on media literacy. I posit the rise of news aggregators (facebook, twitter, digg, reddit, and HN), is the driving force behind ‘fake news’ as lay people become the gatekeepers. Prove me wrong.

The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed there are cell-site simulators (Stingrays, IMSI-catchers, or otherwise known as your own private cell phone base station) around Washington DC. It’s unknown who is operating these simulators, or even where they are. There are two things to read between the lines with this information: Duh, there are rogue Stingrays in DC. Holy crap duh. I bet there are also some around midtown Manhattan. You can buy the stuff to do this on eBay. Personally, I’ve found half a dozen Stingrays or other rogue cell stations this year (guess where?). Second, why is this a news item now? Is this a signal that the DHS will start clamping down on stuff you can buy on eBay? Hop to it, people; cellular hardware is a great way to make a liquid nitrogen generator.

Badgelife: From 1 To 100

Blame it on the falling costs of printed circuit boards, the increased accessibility of hardware design tools, the fact that GCC works on microcontrollers now, whatever the ‘maker movement’ is, or any one of a number of other factors. There’s a hardware demoscene now. Instead of poking bits, writing code, and dividing by zero to create impressive multimedia demonstrations on a computer, there is a small contingent of very creative people who are building their own physical hardware, just for the hell of it. They’re pushing boundaries of what can be done with hardware design, demonstrating manufacturing know-how, and turning a (small) profit while doing it. This is badgelife, the tiny subculture dedicated to creating custom electronic conference badges.

At Hackaday, we’ve been doing a deep dive into the rigors of this demoscene of hardware, and last week we had the pleasure of hosting a meetup with some of the big players of the badgelife community as guests of honor. There were, of course, talks discussing the trials and tribulations of designing, manufacturing, and shipping hundreds of pieces of hardware on a limited budget with not enough time. If you want to know how hard electronic design and manufacturing can be, you want to check out these talks below. Continue reading “Badgelife: From 1 To 100”

What Actually Happens At A Hardware Hacking Con

The Hackaday Superconference was last weekend, and it was the greatest hardware con on the planet. What can you build out of a conference badge? If you answered “a resin-based 3D printer” you would have won a prize. If you decided to put your badge in a conference water bottle and make a stun gun you’d receive adoration of all in attendance. Yeah, it got that crazy.

Yes, there’s a Supercon badge in that bottle and it’s now a stun gun.

At other tech conferences, you’ll find gaggles of nerds sitting around a table with MacBooks and Thinkpads. The Superconference is different. Here, you’ll find soldering irons, tackle boxes filled with components, and loose WS2812s scattered about the floor. The smell of solder flux wafts through the air. You detect a hint of ozone.

The depth and breadth of hacks that came out of this were simply stunning. We a binocular virtual reality hack, an internet trolling badge, blinky add-on boards, audio add-on boards, a film festival was shot on the badge, and much more which you’ll find below.

We have started a Badge Hacks list and want to see details of all of the hacks. So if you were at Supercon be sure to publish them on Hackaday.io and send a DM to be added to the list.

Starting Up An Extra Day of Hacking

To get all of this creativity rolling we did something a bit different for this year’s Superconference. Instead of opening the doors up on Saturday morning, we set up a badge hacking area and party on Friday afternoon. The drinks flowed like the meniscus on a properly soldered lead, and by 2pm on Friday, everyone was hacking firmware on the incredible camera badge for this year’s con.

We didn’t stop on Friday. The Superconference is a hardware hacking conference, and that meant we brought out the soldering irons, experimented with melting aluminum with gallium, reflowed a few boards, and created a few deadbug LED cubes. This went on all weekend.

Continue reading “What Actually Happens At A Hardware Hacking Con”

The Perils of Developing the Hackaday Superconference Badge

In case you haven’t heard, the best hardware conference in the world was last weekend. The Hackaday Superconference was three days of hardware hacking, soldering irons, and an epic hardware badge. Throw in two stages for talk, two workshop areas, the amazing hallwaycon and the best, most chill attendees you can imagine, and you have the ultimate hardware conference.

Already we’ve gone over the gory details of what this badge does, and now it’s time to talk about the perils of building large numbers of an electronic conference badge. This is the hardware demoscene, artisanal manufacturing, badgelife, and an exploration of exactly how far you can push a development schedule to get these badges out the door and into the hands of eager badge hackers and con attendees.

The good news is that we succeeded, and did so in time to put a completed badge in the hand of everyone who attended the conference (and we do have a few available if you didn’t make it to the con). Join me after the break to learn what it took to make it all happen and see the time lapse of the final kitting process.

Continue reading “The Perils of Developing the Hackaday Superconference Badge”