World’s Oldest Computer Festival is This Weekend

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.

Small sampling of the talks at TCF 2019

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.

Hackaday Visits World’s Oldest Computer Festival: TCF 43

I was fortunate enough to visit the Trenton Computer Festival last weekend. The show struck a very interesting mix of new and old, commercial and educational. Attendees were writing programs in BASIC on an Apple I (courtesy of the Vintage Computer Federation) not more than five feet from where students were demonstrating their FIRST robot.

The one-day event featured over fifty demonstrations, talks, and workshops on topics ranging from a crash course in lock picking to the latest advancements in quantum computing. In the vendor room you could buy a refurbished laptop while just down the hall talks were being given on heady topics such as using neural networks and genetic algorithms for day trading on the stock market.

Recent years have seen a widening of the content presented, but TCF’s longevity means there is a distinct “vintage” vibe to the show and the culture surrounding it. Many of the attendees, and even some of the presenters, can proudly say they’ve been attending since the very first show in 1976.

There was simply too much going on to see everything. At any given time, there were eleven talks happening simultaneously, and that doesn’t include the demonstrations and workshops which ran all day. I documented as many highlights from this year’s TCF as I could for those who haven’t had a chance to visit what might be the most low-key, and certainly oldest, celebration of computing technology on the planet. Join me after the break for the whirlwind tour.

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Picking locks with Toool

What Maker Faire would be complete without teaching children the joys of jiggling and twisting locks until they’ve opened? Toool, the open organisation of lockpickers made their way to New York this weekend to show off their bumping skills and get the kids interested in manipulating small mechanical devices.

The guys from Toool had a very cool setup – just a bunch of tables and chairs with a few picks and torsion wrenches. There were a few classic Master Locks on the table, but also a series of six tumbler locks each labeled with a number 1 through 6 signifying how many pins were in the lock. The idea is to get someone started on a one-pin lock, and eventually have them work their way up to the full six pins.

In the video after the break, one of the more animated guys from Toool explains why they were there, and also shows off picking a Master Lock twice in under 30 seconds. Seriously, people: educate yourself on locks before buying one.

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Toorcamp: The Lock Picking Village

The Open Organization Of Lockpickers (TOOOL) ran the lock picking village at Toorcamp. They gave great workshops on how lock picking works, provided a lot of examples of security flaws in popular locks, and let everyone practice with their locks and tools. Lock picking is a bit addictive, and I spent quite a bit of time at the village.

TOOOL is an international organization that aims to advance the general public knowledge about locks and lockpicking. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about locks, you can check out their list of chapters to see if there’s one in your area, or send them an email to see if there’s other lock picking enthusiasts near you. Their detailed slides that were used for the village are also available.

[Eric] from TOOOL worked on building a lock picking installation called the Labyrinth of Locks. The first prototype of this consists of locks enclosed in 3D printed enclosures, and lit by LEDs. The goal was to string them up in the woods and challenge people to find and pick the locks. MakerBot Industries printed the orange and flower shaped enclosures that the LEDs and locks were mounted into.

This is a first prototype, and [Eric] plans to expand on the idea and use it at other lock picking events he attends. It’s a neat way to mix lock picking and an art installation into an interactive activity.

Impressioning at LockCon

impressioning

[Steffen Wernéry] has published a video of the impressioning contest at LockCon. We learned about key impressioning at this year’s HOPE conference. You start the process by inserting a key blank into the lock. By turning the lock until it stops and then moving the key up and down you create marks on the blank’s face. Take a file to those marks to remove the extra material and then repeat the process. Once the pins are set properly, they’ll stop leaving marks on the blank. It takes a lot of skill to do this right, but you end up with a perfectly functional key. [Barry Wels] managed to win the competition in 5:30 with second place coming in at 6 minutes.

LockCon coming soon

The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers (TOOOL) is planning a new annual gathering for lockpickers. October 9-12th they will hold the first ever LockCon in Sneek, Netherlands. The event was spawned from the Dutch Open lockpicking championships, but they’ve decided to expand beyond just competition into a full conference. This year the conference is limited to just 100 lockpickers, technicians, manufacturers, hackers, and law enforcement members. They’ll compete in picking competitions, safe manipulation, and key impressioning.

On a related note: Organizer [Barry Wels] just became the first non-German to win an SSDeV competition with his key impressioning skills. We covered key impressioning when we saw his talk about high security keys at The Last Hope. He says it’s only been about two years worth of study and 500 keys to become a master. He managed to open the lock in 5:13 filing two whole keys during that time.

[photo: Rija 2.0]