DEF CON 29 - Michael Whiteley Katie Whiteley - Making the DEF CON 29 Badge

Aug 5, 2021 17:35 · 4712 words · 23 minute read

(upbeat electronic music) - Hello and welcome to another episode of BETWEEN TWO PRINTERS.

00:09 - My name’s Katie, and today we’ll be talking with this year’s DEF CON badge makers, MK Factor.

00:15 - Hello, Michael, thank you for being here. - Glad to be here.

00:19 - - To my knowledge, we’re filming this before the badge is completely done, yes? - Yes, about three weeks before DEF CON.

00:25 - - All right, so we can’t be able to answer all of the questions, but we’re gonna try to do our best.

00:30 - So tell us a little bit about MK Factor. - So MK Factor is our badge team and I’m the M in MK Factor.

00:37 - I do a lot of the circuit board design and the code.

00:41 - - So what about the K in MK Factor? Oh, wait, that’s me. (audience laughing) I do graphic design and assembly.

00:50 - In February this year, DEF CON did something they’ve never done before.

00:55 - They have put out a call for badge makers. So what made you decide to apply? - So we’ve made a lot of badges for different conferences and we’ve joked in the past about wouldn’t it be cool to do the DEF CON badge someday? And this was our chance, so we took it.

01:13 - - All right and, that process was definitely an emotional roller coaster.

01:19 - - Yes, it was. - Between the calls and each stage of the process was nerve wracking.

01:28 - - Yeah, it took about a month for DEF CON to decide which team they wanted to do their badge, and a special shout out to Zevlag and Professor Plum for giving us some encouragement throughout this.

01:40 - - We needed it. - Yeah. - Yeah. So when we were awarded the badge, how did you feel? - Scared? (both laughing) It’s a big thing. - Yeah.

01:52 - Kinda just sat there in shock, but it was the end of March and that gave us four months to finish and so we had to get our butts in gear.

02:03 - - Yeah. - We had a couple, not a couple, quite a few snags while producing this badge.

02:11 - Do you wanna name a few? - Yeah, so a lot of supply chain issues this year, for those who aren’t aware, there’s a worldwide chip shortage, which is all kinds of fun.

02:20 - So our main microcontroller, we changed three or four times.

02:26 - We would pick one that was available that fit our needs and design a board around it, send out for prototypes, and before we even got ‘em back, someone would buy all those chips.

02:36 - So in the end- - Yes. - We just decided to pick a chip that we figured would work for us and buy as many as we needed without even testing.

02:46 - - Yeah, we felt kinda like anyone who’s trying to buy a house right now, super cricked.

02:51 - All right, so also another snag we had was key caps.

02:55 - We had chosen which ones we wanted and we found a supplier, and when it came time to order, they disappeared.

03:06 - So we had a big decision to be made, either change the key cap what we wanted, or print our own and make what we wanted.

03:14 - So as you can tell, we chose to make our own.

03:18 - This way, we were able to do our own personal designs and to be able to put DEF CON right onto the key cap.

03:25 - So we have about seven printers going all the time, printing key caps.

03:30 - It’s great fun. (Michael laughs) All right, we also have put together a little film of the process of making this badge.

03:41 - - Roll the video. - Hey, welcome to the making of the DEF CON 29 Badge.

03:50 - All right. Let’s get started. Oh, so pretty, (Michael laughs) love all the colors together.

03:59 - - Yeah, so this is all the DEF CON badges minus the uber.

04:03 - - That one, we’re keeping a secret for now.

04:04 - - Yep, so this is going to be about how we got here, how we made all these, the process, everything.

04:13 - First, let’s talk about the badge you’ve got.

04:16 - So, this is the human badge, obviously four keys, right? They are mechanical keyboard keys, and they’re Blues, because they’re clicky and awesome.

04:29 - On the right side, under the signal bars here is a touch slider.

04:35 - And the default for that is controlling volume on your computer.

04:40 - The other ones are set as some defaults for controlling Discord, but it’s all changeable.

04:46 - You can modify it to be whatever you want. When you plug it into your computer, it will show up as a keyboard as well as a virtual COM port.

04:56 - So you can connect to it with any serial terminal and change settings, change the keys, all that good stuff.

05:03 - - In the booklet, you’ll find some pre-made legends, for you guys can use there to the size of the actual key caps.

05:14 - - Yup, and the key caps are in two parts. So they do pop open.

05:21 - So, there you can kinda see that a little bit.

05:25 - There are two, there’s a little cap on there you can pop off and then put a little piece of paper in there.

05:33 - - Here are they, separated and they just click back on.

05:39 - - Yep. So as well as being a programmable keypad, there are some interactive things, connect to your fellow attendees over the USB cable.

06:00 - So let’s talk about that real quick. So lanyard looks like this for the people in person and on this end pops out and it is a USB-C cable so that you can connect it to your computer, but also the badges have USB-C and USB-A ports on them.

06:24 - So you can connect between badges, you can plug there, plug this into someone else’s badge, and we’ve got some games and other fun things you can do, as well as some challenges built in there.

06:39 - - All good fun. - Right, so for those of you who got virtual badges, your badges came without final code on them.

06:46 - We did that on purpose because there are challenges and all kinds of stuff associated with the badge, we didn’t you guys to have a two week lead time on everyone else, that’s not very fair.

06:55 - - Spoilers. - So, you guys have very basic code where you can change the keys and stuff like that, but not much else.

07:03 - So to reprogram your badge, normally when you turn it on all the lights light up and everything.

07:09 - If you hold this bottom right button, when you turn it on, it will go into a boot loader mode, and when you connect it to your computer, it will show up as a flash drive.

07:18 - And then you can just drag and drop the new firmware file onto it and it’ll reprogram it.

07:25 - Right, so we kinda talked about this a little bit already, but we didn’t have a lot of time to design this badge, about four months.

07:37 - And right before we got, we knew we were going to do this, we had planned a trip to see some family across country.

07:47 - So- - We drove cross country. (Katie laughs) And this is Michael sitting there figuring out which microcontroller we want to do use.

07:58 - - Yeah, sitting in my mother-in-law’s house with a laptop and an extra screen trying to design a badge.

08:05 - - Going through schematics, figuring out if it’s gonna work, and then I think we looked at two different microcontrollers while we were there - Yeah.

08:13 - - And both were bought out before we could get them.

08:16 - - Yep. - It was great. Super great. (Michael sighs) - So these are some of the early concept designs.

08:26 - - Yeah, we, early on, wanted something that would connect together.

08:35 - And so we first originally thought, oh, we’ll make a, like a circle, right? But that’s done previously before.

08:43 - And then we had the idea of Q’bert and do a tessellating thing.

08:49 - So that’s how we ended up with our original, our design that we’ve chosen.

08:56 - - So this was our first prototype. And there’s Katie soldering it together.

09:02 - - And no burns, so I think that’s a win. (Michael laughs) Yeah, we were excited to see the tessellating happening.

09:12 - - So this one on the right was our second prototype and here a little sneak preview of the uber sketches and things we were working on with that.

09:27 - All right, let’s talk about key caps on these printers. (both laughing) - Our army of printers. (Katie laughs) - Yeah, how we got there.

09:35 - So we mentioned a little bit before, we had a vendor who flaked on us about two months ago, which didn’t leave us with a lot of time to come up with other options.

09:48 - I reached out to a couple dozen different companies that could make key caps, and the story was either they couldn’t do ‘em in time, or they couldn’t do ‘em in anything that was translucent, or they wanted crazy amounts of money for them.

10:05 - So in the end, we decided to print our own.

10:12 - So we bought one printer, - To see if it could work.

10:16 - - Yep, just to try it out. And we figured out what did and didn’t work.

10:20 - See lots of different types of key cap designs, we went through.

10:25 - - The green stuff doesn’t work on cleaning them well - Yeah, it doesn’t do them well at all - It stains them, super cool. - Yep.

10:31 - - Especially if you want clear ones. - Yeah. (Mike laughs) So, in the end, it worked, we bought seven printers total.

10:42 - - And we named them all, - Yes - Because then we could have something to yell at when they were not cooperating.

10:50 - We named all of our, like, all the printers.

10:54 - And then we also named the vats, they hold the resin in them.

10:57 - So that way we know which vats were broken and easier for communication.

11:03 - So all of our vats, we originally had seven.

11:07 - So, of course, we went with seven dwarves and then we ended up getting two more printers and that meant two more vats, so we went with Prince Charming and Snow White.

11:19 - And then our printers’ names are- - We’ve got Seven and Kit, Steve, Kaylee, Kevin, Dave and Jarvis.

11:33 - - Yep, so if you want to know more about that, well, we explain why we chose some of the names.

11:40 - Some, I feel like are a little explanatory so.

11:42 - - Yeah, so another thing with the key caps, we got to customize them.

11:49 - So every key cap has DEF CON embedded in it, right on the front of the key cap.

11:54 - So that’s something we wouldn’t have been able to do with any other manufacturer.

12:00 - One of the other big pluses to this is about a month ago, Dark Tangent came to us and said, “Hey, we’re going to run out of badges before DEF CON starts, what do we do?” And the key caps being one of the main pieces meant that we were producing them ourselves, so making more wasn’t a huge problem, whereas if they were being made by someone else, we would have been up a creek.

12:26 - - Yeah. So that’s when we bought the second two, the six and seven printer - Yep.

12:32 - So Dave and Jarvis. - Yep. So this is what the key caps look like right off the printer.

12:40 - You can see there’s one missing here. So that one didn’t print properly, which is a pain in the butt, ‘cause then you’ve got to clean off the bottom of the vat.

12:49 - - So many times. - So what we do then is, this is a removable metal plate here that’s on a magnetic sheet.

12:58 - So we pull that off and put a new one on and set it to print again.

13:02 - And then this is our cleaning station. - Oh, so fun.

13:08 - So we got each vat, like, bucket is filled with alcohol.

13:13 - We have our first bucket, which is the primary rinse where it gets a lot of more resin into it.

13:22 - - Yep. - So let’s it soak there, helping it release from the metal plate.

13:28 - Then we got a magnetic stirrer on the bottom of our second bucket and it’s a lot more cleaner.

13:34 - So that way it gives an extra wash and then we will put it in a cup and fill it with alcohol, which is from our third bucket, which has a filter to help keep it clean the whole time, and then we’ll cure it.

13:54 - That’s the word - Yep. - I’m looking for.

13:57 - - This is the curing station and then put ‘em out on a drying rack.

14:02 - We got a fan here running to dry them off. - We have fans, everywhere.

14:06 - Ventilation is key when you’re dealing with this much alcohol. - Yeah.

14:09 - - Big fan at the window, the smell of the alcohol and the resin in here is not great.

14:16 - And we’re even using the plant-based eco resin, that’s not as smelly, it’s still a lot - Oh, it smells so bad. (Mike laughs) We originally were curing in water, but that meant we had to completely dry our key caps from the second wash of the alcohol.

14:34 - Otherwise it reacted funny and would make a white, it would make them turn white, instead of clear.

14:41 - - Yeah. - And then we had the realization, well, alcohol is clear like water.

14:46 - So we, we figured out how to reuse the water, so that it wouldn’t have all the particles or reuse the alcohol, so it didn’t have any of the extra particles of cured resin and that’s worked brilliantly.

15:01 - It sped up the process so much more. - Yeah.

15:05 - - So it’s been fun, a lotta learning. - Yeah.

15:09 - So with all that isopropyl alcohol, we use a lot of it to clean these parts and it’s expensive in large quantities.

15:20 - So we created a device (Katie laughs) to clean the alcohol. (Mike laughs) So…

15:28 - - My inner Hawkeye is really proud. - So what we do is we take this, the dirty bucket of resin and alcohol mix.

15:37 - It gets pretty cloudy and nasty after a while, and we put it in this pot and then this bucket is full of water, and we use our sous vide cooker to bring it up to the proper temperature at which the alcohol will boil, come through here.

15:56 - This one’s full of water and it’s got a coil of the coiled copper tube and that cools the steam and then it collects in this bucket, and then we’ve got nice, fresh, clean alcohol.

16:08 - - You can see behind us, we have fresh thing of it right now.

16:12 - - Yep. So we can reclaim about 75% of the alcohol that we use, which helps a ton.

16:20 - - In cost and time, ‘cause running to the store to get the alcohol, that takes time and then you end up buying snacks, so that also takes money so (both laughing) this saves those time and money.

16:32 - - Yeah, so this is in the middle, this is what’s left after most of the alcohol boils off, the resin tends to congeal into this nasty stuff- - Yummy.

16:43 - - Yeah, which we then scoop out and then set it outside for it to dry, and that also cures the resin so that it can be thrown away safely.

16:54 - Speaking of resin, here’s some mostly empty bottles.

16:58 - So once we’ve dumped everything out that we can, we leave them upside down for a few days so that everything collects in the bottom and then we can pour it all back into one bottle, so we don’t waste any.

17:12 - - Yep. It’s lots of fun just sitting there holding the bottles over each other. (Michael laughs) So we’re great.

17:19 - But it’s amazing how much you’ll actually get out from doing that and so that helps with cost as well.

17:25 - - Yeah, especially with how much resin we’re using.

17:27 - We’re making 54,000 key caps, and using- - Too many.

17:32 - - I think we bought 80 bottles of resin, it’s a lot- - And not like the little bottles. - The big one liter bottles.

17:39 - It’s a crazy amount. - But we’re almost there.

17:42 - - Yeah. - Of course our kids have been helping.

17:46 - They love to help him play with the 3D printers and help us assemble badges.

17:50 - - It’s like Christmas all the time. We have packages showing up all the time.

17:55 - (both laughing) - All right. - So pretty.

18:01 - - Assembly, (Katie laughs) so these panels on the left, these are actually the first panels we got from our assembly house.

18:07 - This is how they come to us, and so we’ve gotta break ‘em apart, break off the rails on the sides, break ‘em apart and then break off all these little tabs in between that hold them together. So- - We don’t have any like flesh left on our fingertips anymore but it’s alright. - Yeah (Mike laughs) So one of the things we ran into with the first boards is, these little spring contacts here, there’s three on each board and they connect to the touch slider on the top.

18:39 - And if you notice these ones up here are a little bit shorter, they were damaged in shipping.

18:44 - So what happened is, the panels sitting on top of each other, squishing it against each other and rubbing around during shipping, squished those enough to permanently compress them.

18:55 - So they’re too short to work anymore. So we worked with our assembly house and they came up with a really awesome way to ship these boards to us without them getting damaged.

19:07 - - Thank you so much. We truly greatly appreciate all you do to keep them safe for travel.

19:16 - We really, really appreciate it. - Yeah, this connector up here is a little wonky.

19:22 - So another thing they did is add some little epoxy glue dots underneath these connectors to keep them down because we’ve got two sides of the assembly.

19:32 - So we do all this stuff on the top and then they flip over the boards and run all the bottom parts.

19:37 - And so these ones were so heavy, they were starting to fall out a little.

19:42 - And I also want to give a shout out to PCBX who did our assembly.

19:47 - They’ve been amazing to work with. They’ve been able to fix things and change processes to make things work better and having done overseas assembly, it’s really, really nice to have someone in the States who I can actually talk to and they respond within minutes rather than half a day.

20:07 - And there’s no language barrier. It’s really, really nice to have someone in the States that’s local and knows what they’re doing.

20:14 - - And he’s very upfront with what he wants, and what he needed, and we are really grateful to them.

20:20 - - Yeah. - Do you wanna do it? (Katie laughs) - Yeah, and these edge connectors, for another fun thing, we found out too late.

20:31 - So even though we followed the manufacturer footprint exactly what was happening is the surface tension of the solder on these pads and the ones underneath were pushing these off the edge of the board just enough to where this little lip falls down off the front, and so the connectors are angled down just a little bit, which, it doesn’t really matter, they work just fine.

20:55 - It’s just not perfect. (Mike laughs) - We don’t have OCD issues, it’s fine. (Katie laughs) - This is one of those things where if we had more time, we would have run some test boards and panels ahead of time, nut with such a short schedule, we didn’t have that option.

21:09 - So they’re all like this, but they work and it’s just fine.

21:14 - - I’m pretty happy. - Yeah. - They’re done. (Katie laughs) - Yeah.

21:19 - So all the assembly is happening in our little house. (Michael laughs) - Welcome to my mess. (Katie laughs) - So this is a bucket of boards that have the tops put on them and they’ve been programmed.

21:30 - They’re waiting to get all the key switches and key caps on ‘em.

21:34 - - All our bubble wrap - that we have from- - Yeah.

21:37 - - Protecting the boards. - Yep. - Shows how much he cares for the boards as much as us.

21:44 - - Yeah. So here’s our- - late night programming sessions.

21:52 - Yeah, this was a very long night. So yeah, you can see our programming stations, piles of boards ready to have their tops put on ‘em.

22:01 - So one thing in here with those little spring contacts, because they’re so fragile, we gotta immediately, separate the panels, program ‘em, get them over here, put the tops on ‘em.

22:13 - Then they can go in buckets and go through the rest of the process.

22:16 - - Been a lot safer. - But until they’ve got that top board on ‘em, it’s really easy to break ‘em. - Yeah.

22:23 - - Some more pictures, me programming badges.

22:27 - So these tests jigs have actually worked really well. So- - They’ve put up with some abuse. - - Yeah, so we’ve got the normal, you know, pogo pins here and then four brass pins to locate the badges on there, so we can just shove it down on there.

22:45 - These over here are some little, they go in the side connectors to test those.

22:51 - So as you push the board down, those rotate down into place and push those connectors in.

22:58 - To program ‘em, we’re using these little APNL dev boards, and we kinda hijacked the internal debug stuff. (Katie coughs) So normally it’s connected between the debug chip and the main microcontroller on that board, but we needed to get that off the board.

23:16 - So the board has this little connector for connecting an external fancier debugger to this board, to the chip, we basically cut the lines between the chip on there and the internal debug stuff, and added a little switch so I can switch it back and forth and then connect that debug connector out to our test jig to program our boards.

23:38 - - Kinda Frankensteined it, it’s fine. - Not the way it’s meant to be used, but it works really well.

23:42 - And these dev boards are pretty cheap compared to production style programmers.

23:47 - - And they do pretty good, they’ve handled the workload so far, which is really nice. - Yeah, yeah.

23:55 - Some of our family helping. - So to get our first batch out, we called the troops in, helps that he’s the eldest of eight, so (Katie laughs) yay big families.

24:06 - - Yeah, I spent a crazy weekend getting all the first batch of virtual badges out.

24:12 - - You’re welcome. - It was nuts. (Katie laughs) - Little more of the family. - Yep.

24:20 - - It was definitely not quiet. (Katie laughs) - All right, so we kinda talked about the lanyards a little bit.

24:30 - They’re really awesome and they came individually packaged.

24:32 - - Which was awesome. - Yeah, we were not expecting that So that’s amazing - Yeah Then that saves us a ton of time.

24:40 - - Yeah. - They’re super soft, I really like ‘em.

24:44 - - Yeah. - So this is a little close-up of the lanyard there, this was the test or sample one that they sent us before we ordered ‘em.

24:55 - And for those curious, I did open it up. to see what’s inside.

25:01 - The wires are actually braided down the lanyard which is really nice.

25:06 - So it’s not a flat flex cable in there that’s gonna break, these are more like what’s in headphone wires.

25:13 - - Just be gentle. - Yeah. - Still durable, but no yanky. (both laugh) - This is what 10,000 coin cell batteries looks like.

25:23 - - It’s kinda beautiful innit? (Kate laughs) - Yeah, the scale of this project is ridiculous.

25:29 - Here’s 40,000 key switches. It’s just a crazy number.

25:34 - This was before we added onto the quantity.

25:37 - So now we’ve got 54,000 of these. - There are boxes everywhere. (Kate laughs) - Yep, so we alternate between these two things.

25:47 - - Constantly. (Mike laughs) You may have seen me yawn when not meaning to, but that’s where we’re at at this point.

25:55 - - Yeah, so much. (Kate laughs) So, as many badge makers know, the never ending project. - Yeah.

26:05 - - and who else did not sing it? Cause I sing it every time I see. (both laugh) - Yeah, this project we’re in this, the three months now and it feels like it’ll never end, but by the time you guys see this, it’ll be done.

26:20 - - And we’ll feel more like this. - Yeah, you see us at the con like this, you know why.

26:25 - - Don’t ask why we’re crying, just be, think it’s okay.

26:28 - Give us candy and say, we’re pretty. (both laugh) - It’s been a heck of a project, but it’s been good and we’re excited to do it.

26:41 - - Do it and to be done. - Yeah. We hope you enjoy and thank you for letting us be your badge makers this year.

26:48 - - Yeah. - Welcome back, that looked like a lot of work, Michael.

26:54 - - Definitely is. - Well, I would like to thank MK Factor for being here and taking time out of their busy schedule to talk with us.

27:02 - - Thank you for having us. - So join us next time on BETWEEN TWO PRINTERS where we will talk about the different ways of decompressing after making a DEF CON badge.

27:12 - See you next time. - Bye-bye. (upbeat electronic music).