Hands-On With The Electromagnetic Field 2024 Badge

With every large event in our circles comes a badge, and Electromagnetic Field 2024 is no exception. We’ve told you about the Tildagon when it was announced, it’s a hexagonal badge designed with provision for user-created “Hexpansions”, which can be picked up at future camps. The idea of this badge is to make something with a lifetime beyond the one camp, and we’re interested to have received our badge. It’s unusual for a hacker camp badge in that it costs a little extra rather than just coming with the ticket. Continue reading “Hands-On With The Electromagnetic Field 2024 Badge”

A Telegraph Interface For The Hacker Hotel 2024 Badge

Hacker Hotel is a small Dutch hacker event that takes place, as its name suggests, in a hotel. It’s a welcome high point in the damp of a north-west-European winter, and attendees come to its setting in the wooded Veluwe region in the centre of the country from far and wide. As is the custom with such events it has an electronic badge, and this year’s one had a rather unusual interface. Instead of a keyboard for text input, it replicates a 19th century Crook and Wheatstone telegraph, replacing the five needles of the original with a diamond-shaped grid of LEDs.

At its heart is an Espressif ESP32-C6 microcontroller which provides both a processor powerhouse and the usual array of wireless connectivity. Paired with that is a much more modest CH32V003 microcontroller to handle I/O tasks, and an e-paper screen using displays salvaged from surplus German supermarket shelf labels. That interface is handled by an array of five-way switches, and in a stroke of genius there’s a small relay on board which does nothing but provide a satisfying tactile “click”. Expansion is seen to by an SAO connector, Qwiic, and a USB-C socket. The software meanwhile is a combination of a non-volatile nametag, a complex set of puzzles used in the on-site competition, and a messaging system using the C6’s 802.15.4 mesh networking. A particularly neat feature of this was a Battleships game that could be played with another badge.

While this isn’t the first Hacker Hotel badge with an e-paper display, we like this one for its novel interface, for the mesh connectivity, and for that clicky relay. We’ll definitely be using ours as a name badge for some time to come.

The Electromagnetic Field 2024 Badge Is A Little Different

It’s a problem that faces every designer of an event badge: how to make something that won’t simply become a piece of e-waste once the last attendee has gone home. Various events have had badges with extra sensors, ones designed to be dev boards, and ones that try to do useful software tasks, but this year’s Electromagnetic Field in the UK has a different take. Its badge is designed to be used across multiple events, with the badge itself being a hub for event-specific add-ons.

To achieve this feat, the Tildagon badge is a hexagonal hub with an expansion port on every side. Each of these sports an edge connector, and the corresponding part of the add-on is simply part of the PCB. The ‘hexpansions’ as the add-ons are called, don’t even have to have electronics, at their simplest they can even be cut from a piece of card. The brain of the outfit is an ESP32-C3 sporting a round LCD. Of course, and it has the usual buttons and LEDs.

We applaud the sentiment behind making a badge live beyond the event, and we expect that this won’t be the only take on a reusable badge we’ll see over the coming events. We’re guessing those edge connectors will add to the BoM cost though, which is why this probably will be the first EMF badge for which there will be a modest charge. We look forward to seeing it for real, meanwhile, they also published some technical info alongside the announcement linked above.

Hacker Hotel 2023 Had A Very Cool Badge

One effect of the global pandemic was that there were relatively few events in our sphere for a couple of years. This and that other by-product of COVID-19, the chip shortage, meant that over the past year we’ve been treated to several event badges that should have appeared in 2020 or 2021, but didn’t due to those cancelled events. We were lucky enough to receive probably the last of these delayed badges in mid February, as we made the journey to the central part of the Netherlands to Hacker Hotel 2023.

A Puzzle, A 4-Bit Computer, And An Artwork

The badge takes the form of a rectangular PCB with all parts on the top side. The brains of the operation is an RP2040, and it’s powered by a CR2032 coin cell in a holder.  It’s divided into two parts, the top third which carries the circuitry and the lower two thirds of which as a row of buttons and LEDs. It’s pretty obvious from the start that it has data and address lines of a 4-bit computer, and as well as these there is an evident serial port and a USB socket. The artwork comes form the same artist whose work graced both the previous Hacker Hotel badge and the MCH2022 badge, and the rear of the PCB makes full use of all layers to create a mystical puzzle. The sum is to create a puzzle game intended to entertain the visitor, take them round the venue, and find clues to an eventual solution. I love the design both from an artistic and technical viewpoint, but have to admit that the puzzle aspect isn’t really my thing. Thus here we’ll concentrate on the badge hardware and production, and mention the puzzles only in passing. Continue reading “Hacker Hotel 2023 Had A Very Cool Badge”

Supercon 2022: Michael Whiteley Saves The Badge

Michael Whiteley (aka [compukidmike]) is a badgelife celebrity. Together, he and his wife Katie make up MK Factor. They have created some of the most popular electronic conference badges. Of course, even experts make mistakes and run into challenges when they dare to push the envelope of technology and delivery schedules. In his Supercon 2022 talk, There’s No Rev 2: When Badgelife Goes Wrong, Mike shares details from some of his worst badge snafus and also how he managed to gracefully pull them back from the edge of disaster.

Living the Badgelife

Attendees at the world’s largest hacker convention, DEF CON in Las Vegas, had already become accustomed to receiving and wearing very cool and novel admission tokens, more properly known as badges. Then in 2006, at DEF CON 14, everything changed. Designed by Joe Grand, the first electronic DEF CON badge was a circuit board featuring a tiny PIC microcontroller, two LEDs, and a single pushbutton. Badgelife was born.

DEF CON 30 Humans Sampling Board

Mike begins his war stories with one about the DEF CON 30 badge. This was a herculean project with 25,000 badges being produced on a short timeline in the ever-changing chaos of a semiconductor supply-chain meltdown. Even though many regard it as one of the best DEF CON badges ever made, the DC30 badge posed a number of challenges to its creators. Microcontrollers were in short supply during 2021 and 2022 forcing the badge team to keep an eye on component vendor supplies in order to snipe chips as soon as they appeared in stock. The DC30 badge was actually redesigned repeatedly as different microcontrollers fluctuated in and out of supply. Continue reading “Supercon 2022: Michael Whiteley Saves The Badge”

DC Zia 30-in-ONE Badge for DEF CON 30

Nostalgic 30-in-ONE Electronics Badge For DEF CON 30

[hamster] and the DC Zia crew offered up a throwback 30-in-ONE Learn Electronics indie badge for DEF CON 30. The badge is inspired by the Radio Shack “100-in-1” style project kits that so many of us cut our teeth on back in the 70s and 80s.

DC Zia is a hacker group loosely associated with New Mexico who have been working together to make an indie badge for DEF CON each year.  If you aren’t familiar with the badgelife community of hardware hackers and programmers who make electronic indie conference badges, check out our BadgeLife Documentary.

The 30-in-ONE badge is provided in the form of a kit, so the learning and fun begins with assembling the badge. From there, an included booklet guides the badge holder through building and experimenting with 30 different circuits.

The included components include resistors, capacitors, LEDs, transistors, switches, transformer, speaker, OLED display, battery box, and a bundle of jumper wires for making any desired circuit connections.  The documented circuits have compelling titles such as the Electric Cat, Light Theremin, Grandfather Clock, and Frequency Counter.

Flashback to what DC Zia, and other groups, were up to five years prior in our expose on The Hardware Badges of DEF CON 25.

Continue reading “Nostalgic 30-in-ONE Electronics Badge For DEF CON 30”

The 2022 Supercon Badge Is A Handheld Trip Through Computing History

Over the last several years, there’s been a trend towards designing ever more complex and powerful electronic event badges. Color displays, sensors, WiFi, USB, Bluetooth — you name it, and there’s probably a con badge out there that has packed it in. Even our own 2019 Supercon broke new ground with the inclusion of a Lattice LFE5U-45F FPGA running a RISC-V core. Admittedly, observing this unofficial arms race has been fascinating. But as we all know, a hacker isn’t defined by the tools at their disposal, but rather the skill and imagination with which they wield them.

So this year, we’ve taken a slightly different approach. Rather than try and cram the badge with even more state of the art hardware than we did in 2019, we’ve decided to go back to the well. The 2022 Supercon badge is a lesson in what it means to truly control a piece of hardware, to know what each bit of memory is doing, and why. Make no mistake, it’s going to be a challenge. In fact, we’d wager most of the people who get their hands on the badge come November 4th will have never worked on anything quite like it before. Folks are going to get pulled out of their comfort zones, but of course, that’s the whole idea.

Continue reading “The 2022 Supercon Badge Is A Handheld Trip Through Computing History”