Hacking embedded day 2014

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Once again our gracious sponsor Enea hosted an embedded hacking day arranged through foss-sthlm – the third time in three years at the same place with the same host. Fifty something happy hackers brought their boards, devices, screens, laptops and way too many cables to the place on a Saturday to spend it in the name of embedded systems. With no admission fee at all. Just bring your stuff, your skills and enjoy the day.

This happened on May 24th and on the outside of the windows we could identify one of the warmest and nicest spring/summer days so far this year in Stockholm. But hey, if you want to get some fun hacks done we mustn’t let those real-world things hamper us!

the room

All attendees were given atshirt tshirt and then they found themselves a spot somewhere in the crowd and the socializing and hacking could start. I got the pleasure of loudly interrupting everyone once in a while to say welcome or point out that a talk was about to begin…

We also collected random fun hardware pieces donated to us by various people for a hardware raffle. More about that further down.

Talk

To spice up the day of hacking, we offered some talks. First out was…

Bluetooth and Low Power radio by  Mats Karlsson and during this session we got to learn a bunch about hacking extremely low power devices and doing radio for them with Arduinos and more.

Mats talks bluetooth

We hadn’t much more than started but the clock showed lunch time and we were served lunch!

Contest

Readers of my blog and previous attendees of any of the embedded hacking days I’ve been organizing should be familiar with the embedded Linux contests I’ve made.

Lately I’ve added a new twist to my setup and I tested it previously when I visited foss-gbg and ran a contest there.

Basically it is a complicated maze/track that you walk through by answering questions, and when you reach the goal you have collected a set of words along the way. Those words should then be rearranged to form a question and that final question should be answered as fast as possible.

Daniel explains

Since I already blogged and publicized my previous “Parallell Spaghetti Decode” contest I of course had a new map this time and I altered the set questions a bit as well, even if participants in the latter can find similarities in the previous one. This kind of contest is a bit complicated so for this I hand out the play field and the questions on two pieces of paper to each participant.

After only a little over seven minutes we had a winner, Yann Vernier, who could walk home with a brand new Nexus 7 32GB. The prize was, as so much else this day, donated by Enea.

Hardware Raffle

I donated my Arduino Nano (never even unpacked) and a Raspberry Pi with SD-card that I never use. Enea pooled in with a Parallella board and we got an RFduino and a Texas Instrument Stellaris ARM-based little round robot. The Parallella board was the by far most popular device (as expected really) with the Stellaris board as second. Only 12 people signed up for the Rpi…

Parallella board

Everyone who was interested in one of the 5 devices signed up on a list, marking each thing of interest.

.Stellaris

We then put little pieces of paper with numbers on them in a big bowl and I got to draw 5 numbers (representing different individuals) who then won the devices. It of course turned out we did it in a complicated way that I had did some minor mistakes in to add to the fun. In the end I believe it was at least a fair process that didn’t give any favors or weight in any particular way. I believe we got 5 happy winners.

Workshop

“How to select hardware” was the name of the workshop I lead. Basically it was a one hour group discussion around how to buy, find, order, deal with, not do, avoid when looking for hardware for your (hobby) project. Discussions around brands, companies, sites, buying from China or Ebay, reading reviews, writing reviews, how people do when they buy things when building stuff of their own.

Workshop attendees

I think we had some good talks and lots of people shared their experiences, stories and some horror stories. Hopefully we all brought a little something with us back from that…

muffins

After that we refilled our coffee mugs and indulged in the huge and tasty muffins that magically had appeared.

Something we had learned from previous events was to not “pack” too many talks and other things during the day but to also allow everyone to really spend time on getting things done and to just stroll around and talk with others.

Instead of a third slot for a talk or another workshop we had a little wishlist in our wiki for the day, and as a result I managed to bully Björn Stenberg to the room where he then described his automated system for his warming cupboard (värmeskåp) which basically is a place to dry clothes. Björn has perfected his cupboard’s ability to dry clothes and also shut off/tell him when they are dry and not waste energy by keep on warming using damp sensors, Arduinos and more.

Bjorn's controller box

With that we were in the final sprint for the day. The last commits were made. The final bragging comments described blinking leds. Cables were detached. Bags were filled will electronics. People started to drop off.

Only a few brave souls stayed to the very end. And they celebrated in style.

Jämtlands IPA

I had a great day, and I received several positive comments and feedback from participants. I hope we’ll run a similar event again soon, it’d be great to keep this an annual tradition.

The pictures in this blog post are taken by: me, Jon Aldama, Annica Spangholt, Magnus Sandberg and Jämtlands bryggerier. Thanks! More pictures can also be found in Enea’s blog posting and in the Google+ event.

Thanks also to Jon, Annica and Sofie for the hard hosting work during the event. It made everything run smooth and without any bumps!

Parallel Spaghetti – decoded

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Here’s the decoding procedure for the Parallel Spaghetti Decode challenge.

Step 1, the answers to all the questions. You will notice that I did have some fun in D6 and E2, but since they were boxes that weren’t on the right track anyway I thought you’d still enjoy them.

Step 2, let me illustrate how the above answers will take you through the maze. The correct path is made up out of yellow boxes and the correct answers are shown with red arrows leading forward. Click it for full resolution version.

The parallel spaghetti challenge correct track shown

Step 3, those different colors in the “Word” column give you the words used for the two questions. If you rearrange them, the two questions become:

which tr command line option specifies delete characters

and

what curl command line option specifies POST requests

So, it took about 14 minutes at our event for Oscar Andersson to bring the correct answer to me:

-d

Parallel Spaghetti Decode Challenge

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

At the embedded hacking event in GBG yesterday I organized a small contest for the attendees. I’ve done something similar several times before, so I wanted to make it a bit different this time to spice things up a bit. A straight-forward N questions in a row and then a puzzle to get the final question was too easy. I wanted to create a maze or a play-field that you would need to traverse somehow in order to reach the final goal. But it is hard to create a maze that you don’t immediately spot the way through or that you can somehow “cheat” and find the way in other means rather than to actually answer the questions and do right by using your skills… Then I realized that with just a couple of things added, I could fulfill my goals and still get a fun contest. So, let me start by taking you through the first slide that details the rules:

The contest rules

Ok, so to make the rules be a bit clearer we take a look at a simplified example play field so that we understand what we’re about to play on:

A small example play-field

A short summary:

  1. start on a green box
  2. follow the arrow in the direction that your answer to the question of the box leads you. There’s a compass rose there to help you remember the directions! :-)
  3. each box you visit has a word associated with it, collect the words along the path
  4. when you reach the red box you’ve read the goal and you’re done
  5. then you re-arrange all the box words you’ve collected and create a final question
  6. answer that questions, the fastest to answer wins!

Everything clear? To help the participants, we had both the playfield and the associated questions printed out on two sheets of paper that we handed out together with a pen. The amount of data is just a bit too much to be able to show on a single screen and it may help to use a pen etc to remember the track you take and which words to remember etc. If you want to repeat the exact same situation, you do the same! I did a special black-and-white version of the playfield to make it more printer-friendly. You may want to fire this up in full resolution to get the best experience:

full-spaghetti-playfield-maze

The question sheet looks like this, but click it for the full PDF:

All questions for the challenge

I posted the answers and everything in a separate post!

Embedded and Raspberry Pis in GBG

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Kjell Ericson's blinking leds

On November 20, we’ll gather a bunch of interested people in the same room and talk embedded Linux, open source and related matters. I’ll do a talk about real-time in Linux and I’ll run a contest in the same spirit as I’ve done before several times.

Sign-up here!

Pelagicore is hosting and sponsoring everything. I’ll mostly just show up and do what I always do: talk a lot.

So if you live in the area and are into open source and possibly embedded, do show up and I can promise you a good time.

(The photo is actually taken during one of our previous embedded hacking events.)

Embedded hacking contest #2, decoded

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Okay, so here are the correct answers to the embedded hacking #2 contest (click for larger pictures):

The contests correct answers marked

The fact that you get the clues as hexadecimal uppercase ASCII was pretty quickly clear to everybody. I found it interesting to hear how people attacked the problem of decoding the hex into letters. Most people seem to have made a lookup-table fairly soon, and at least one contestant I talked to made a mistake in his table that turned W into X instead! This year’s winner did the conversion completely without a written down table…

So all the pieces are decoded like this:

The final question

Of course, now a pedant would argue that FORK() isn’t correct, but I decided to use all uppercase just to make the conversion slightly easier. At least I think converting only uppercase ASCII as hex is easier. So the question is “What does fork() return in the child process?”

The answer to the question is 0 (zero). Short and simple. See fork’s man page.

Linus Nielsen Feltzing is the happy winner!

After 13 minutes and 20 seconds since I clicked start on the timer, Linus Nielsen Feltzing approached me with a little note with the correct answer and we had a winner!

The very happy Linus was very disappointed in the previous competition when he was very close to winning but was beaten just within seconds by last time’s winner.

Now, the Chromebook that Enea donated to the winner of the contest was handed over to Linus. (The Samsung Cortex-A15 version.)

Embedded hacking contest #2

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

eneaI created another contest for the Embedded hacking event we just pulled off again, organized with foss-sthlm and Enea. Remember that I made one previously at our former hacking day?

The lesson from that time was that the puzzle ingredient then was slightly too difficult so people had to work a bit too long. It made many people give up and the ones who didn’t had to spend a significant time on solving it.

This time, I decided to use the same basic principle: ask N questions that all provide hints for the (N+1)th question, so that the first one to give me the answer to that final question is the winner. It makes it very easy for me to judge and it is a rather neat competition style game. I decided 10 questions should be enough.

To reduce some of the complexity from last time, I decided to provide the individual clues in the correct chronological order but instead add another twist: they aren’t in plain text! But since they’re chronological, the participants can go back and quite “easily” try other alternatives if there are some strange words appearing in the output. I made sure that all alternatives always have fine English alternatives so that if you pick the wrong answer it might still sound or look like English for a while…

I was very happy to see over 30 persons in the room that decided to accept the challenge. I suspect the prize did its part in attracting people to give it a go.

The rules in slightly longer terms as I put them (click it to see a higher resolution version):

the rules

And I clarified how the questions work:

the-questions

I then started my timer, and I showed all the questions on the projector to everyone. I gave them around 40 seconds per question. It thus took almost seven minutes to go through them and then I left a final slide up showing all questions:

The 10 questions

To allow readers to give this contest a go first before checking the answers. See the full answer and explanation.

A room full of competitive hackers

Embedded Linux Contest

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

During our embedded Linux hacking event in Stockholm on October 20th I ran a little contest for the ones who wanted to participate. I created it entirely by myself to allow as many people as possibly to participate with them knowing me or me knowing them etc limiting the fun.

For your amusement I include the full contest here. If you want to try it out, then make sure you don’t attempt to google for any answers or otherwise use a machine/computer as a help.

img1

img2

img3

Here I just want to mention that, as is shown in the above example question, ‘ace‘ is the correct character sequence and the letters should then be kept in that order in the final question. Also note that a character sequence can legally contain a dash as well. You will get 16 similar sequences of 1 to 3 letters, and those 16 sequences should be moved around to form the 17th question.

img4

… at this point I fired off all the questions one by one at about 15-20 seconds per question. In this blog post I’ll take a shortcut and instead show you the final page I made that showed all questions at once, which I then left displayed for the remainder of the competition  time. Click the image to get a full resolution version that is perfectly readable:

all questions at once

the winners of the contestMy take away from this contest is that it was harder than I anticipated and took a longer time to crack than I thought. I gave away a few additional clues and hints as the time went by, but in the end I believe there were several persons who were very close to breaking it at almost the same time. In the end, Klas and Jonas presented the correct answer first and won the bottle of Champagne. I’m sure you appreciate their efforts after having tried this yourself!

The answers? Are you really sure? The correct answers and the final question with its answer is available

I had a great time creating the competition and I believe the competitors appreciated it.

Additional trivia: I created the letter sequences for the other alternatives by writing other English phrases and chopped them up, so that they were from actual English and hence possibly more believable.