WOPR: Building Hardware Worth Sharing

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume that anyone reading Hackaday regularly has at least progressed to the point where they can connect an LED to a microcontroller and get it to blink without setting anything on fire. We won’t even chastise you for not doing it with a 555 timer. It’s also not a stretch to say if you can successfully put together the “Hello World” of modern electronics on a breadboard, you’re well on the way to adding a few more LEDs, some sensors, and a couple buttons to that microcontroller and producing something that might come dangerously close to a useful gadget. Hardware hacking sneaks up on you like that.

Here’s where it gets tricky: how many of us are still stuck at that point? Don’t be shy, there’s no shame in it. A large chunk of the “completed” projects that grace these pages are still on breadboards, and if we had to pass on every project that still had a full-on development board like the Arduino or Wemos D1 at its heart…well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty.

Of course, if you’re just building something as a personal project, there’s often little advantage to having a PCB spun up or building a custom enclosure. But what happens when you want to build more than one? If you’ve got an idea worth putting into production, you’ve got to approach the problem with a bit more finesse. Especially if you’re looking to turn a profit on the venture.

At the recent WOPR Summit in Atlantic City, there were a pair of presentations which dealt specifically with taking your hardware designs to the next level. Russell Handorf and Mike Kershaw hosted an epic four hour workshop called Strategies for your Projects: Concept to Prototype and El Kentaro gave a fascinating talk about his design process called Being Q: Designing Hacking Gadgets which together tackled both the practical and somewhat more philosophical aspects of building hardware for an audience larger than just yourself.

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WOPR: Security Loses Some of its Obscurity

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.

The “Hollywood Hacker” Playset

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.

In an attempt bridge the gap, the recent WOPR Summit brought together talks and presentations from all sections of the larger hacking world. The goal of the event was to show that the different facets of the community have far more in common than they might realize, and featured a number of talks that truly blurred the lines. The oscilloscope toting crew learned a bit about the covert applications of their gadgets, and the high-level security minded individuals got a good look at how the silicon sausage gets made.

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.

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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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