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Interviews: Ask Andrew "bunnie" Huang About Hardware and Hacking 58

samzenpus (5) writes Andrew "bunnie" Huang holds a Ph.D in electrical engineering from MIT and is one of the most famous hardware and software hackers in the world. He is a contributing writer for MAKE magazine, and has worked on a number of projects ranging from autonomous robotic submarines to peel-and-stick electronics. We recently covered one of his latest projects, an open source hardware laptop called Novena which features entirely NDA-free components. Bunnie has agreed to take a break from his work and hack away at any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Interviews: Ask Andrew "bunnie" Huang About Hardware and Hacking

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously, that's the first question I have whenever I see his name. I just can't get past it. What's the story behind that nickname? Please tell me so I can focus on his good works instead.

    • by azav ( 469988 )

      Seriously. I can't get past that nickname. Whenever I hear it, I immediately think the guy is a joke.

      A better nickname would be good for him.

      • by LoRdTAW ( 99712 )

        What's in a name?

        Seriously, why would the name turn you off to his work? I know bunnie is a cutesy-wootsy name but it has no bearing on who he is or what he does. Maybe he likes rabbits. Maybe its what his mother calls him. Maybe it was a nickname he earned on the mean streets of Boston during his time at MIT. Either way, who really cares?

        • Maybe he likes Reggae [wikipedia.org]?

        • by azav ( 469988 )

          Let me introduce you to the president of our Fortune 100 company, Mr. Davis "Fluffy Bunny Poopie Uppums Dumpling Pants" Stonebaum.

          Bunnie is a pet name for someone's girlfriend. It's not even bunny spelled right. That's not a guy's name. That's not a nickname any guy would like to have. That's not professional.

          Let me introduce you to the president of our Fortune 100 company, Mr. Davis "Fatass" Stonebaum.

          Let me introduce you to the president of

          • Or it shows that he takes things a hell of a lot less seriously than you do.

            I think we could use taking stuff less seriously as a society.

          • by xvan ( 2935999 )
            What makes you think that he chose it himself?
          • That's not a guy's name.

            oe noes. He doesn't 100% conform to the standard middle of the road ideal of gender norms. Clearly someone like that can't be trusted to design a laptop. Because that's for men with a wife, 2 kids, 2 cars and a big lawn in suburbia, who would never ever *EVER* do something their work collegues or friday night ar buddies might deem not 100% masciline.

            It shows odd judgement.

            And the fact that he built a laptpo for hmself doesn't? (note: odd, not bad).

            These are flags to stay away from

    • by stox ( 131684 )

      Because the only thing that can stop him is the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

  • What is the most important thing you wish you had learned earlier about manufacturing in China?

    • by tchdab1 ( 164848 )

      And speaking of learning, where have you learned things that you could not easily or ever have figured out on your own? Which environment or learning experience do you look back on with gratitude?

  • The Novena costs way too much. It has a noble goal but is not accessible to anyone but those who either have a niche purpose for it or have money to burn. Why so expensive? Is it the lack of mass manufacturing?
    • I assume that economies of scale aren't helping; but some of the parts aren't inexpensive: that FPGA is ~$50, even in quantity, and the application processor isn't far behind.
  • by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @12:53PM (#47213635) Journal

    No disrespect intended, but let's say we stop some random people on the street and ask them to name a famous hardware hacker. I bet that question isn't showing up on Family Feud anytime soon!

    What can we do to increase the public awareness (and create more hardware hackers)? I was thinking perhaps high schools could have shop classes for nerds -- instead of working on engines, wood working, etc, it would be hardware and software.

    • No disrespect intended, but let's say we stop some random people on the street and ask them to name a famous hardware hacker. I bet that question isn't showing up on Family Feud anytime soon!

      A random person on the street might be able to name the person who first developed Linux.... but probably not. That doesn't mean Linus isn't well-known in tech circles.

      I'd heard of bunnie for his work cracking the original Xbox. Here [wikipedia.org] is his Wikipedia page.

      • by Change ( 101897 )
        His book, Hacking the Xbox, is now available for free: http://www.nostarch.com/xboxfr... [nostarch.com] The chapter on the methods he used to actually bypass the system's boot security was fascinating.
        • ...and Andrew/bunnie doesn't answer them, I can. I'm very briefly mentioned in the book under a different Internet name that I'd rather not say here.

          I was the person who figured out how to dump the second version of the MCPX's secret boot ROM without having to repeat the HyperTransport bus tap craziness that Andrew did in the first place. Namely, the A20M# attack, which was much easier to do. (If Andrew hadn't done his original attack, though, we wouldn't have had the knowledge necessary to pull off my a

      • A random person in the street can name you multiple Kardashians but won't be able to name you the vice president.

        So no, a random person on the street won't know who Linus Torvalds is.

    • I was thinking perhaps high schools could have shop classes for nerds -- instead of working on engines, wood working, etc, it would be hardware and software.

      There is something to be said for mastering traditional tools and materials. Stone, Wood, Metal and Glass. Paving a walk. Building a fence, a deck, a table.

  • by werepants ( 1912634 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @12:54PM (#47213645)
    This sounds like multiple questions but it is really just clarification on one:

    What advice would you give to a person who wanted to make a living in the "Maker" tradition - being able to spend your days designing, engineering, and building on technically interesting and creative maker projects? I'm most interested in the career aspect, assuming that you've already obtained a preliminary education: would you look for a job with a similarly minded engineering firm, launch a kickstarter, start a hackerspace, hack together some things and try to sell them through a webstore, work as a freelance engineer, or something else entirely?
  • There should be a colon after "one of his latest projects." The following clause specifies the preceding clause: it explains what "one of his latest projects" is. Because it's a restrictive clause, it's followed by a colon rather than a comma. Notice the preceding clause was non-restrictive: many things may be followed by a colon rather than a comma, so a comma is used to show the relationship between the two clauses. If we omit "because" from the sentence, we have an independent clause; either a semi

  • by Anonymous Coward

    At what point will we be seeing a 100% complete open hardware platforms, replaceable~ for modern OTS offerings? By that, I mean from silicon manufacture to FOSS binary. 100% open design, manufacture, and source code.

    I'd like to think this endeavour isn't more than a thought experiment.

  • Where do you see small scale chip manufacturing, up to and including custom multi core CPU's, going in the near future?

  • How avid of a hacker were you when you were in high school and how supportive do you feel your friends and family were of your hobby?
  • Do you see manufacturers of the future attempting to put restrictions on hardware hacking, either more technical or legal? Will manufacturers order CPUs without I2C pins, or toy drones with UEFI secure boot operating systems? Have other countries put restrictions on hardware hacking that have affected you?

  • Do you plan to use an x86 CPU in a future design?

    I love the idea of a laptop that is a portable hardware hacking platform. Its a trifecta of PC + FPGA dev board + open source design in one portable box. I can carry one system and it has everything I need. But the limitation that seems to hamstring it is the ARM CPU which is unable to run the Xilinx tools. This means we have to lug an x86 laptop to run the Xilinx tools if we want to make changes to the HDL code. That or use a remote server/workstation to bui

  • by Joe Gillian ( 3683399 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @02:22PM (#47214883)

    I haven't read your book (I will when I get off work) but I'm curious as to how exactly people discover these hacks. I mean, there's some really weird ones out there that make me question how people even thought to do them, such as hacking a PSP battery into service mode in order to load custom firmware or manually opening a PS2's disc tray to bypass the copy protection that only activated when the button to open or close the DVD drive was pressed. I know with the Xbox, there was a software hack (I don't know if it's the same one you found) with save files from certain games, but only specific versions of those games.

    So my question is, how do you go about looking for exploits?

  • One follow-up question.

    With the current console generation giving the manufacturers the ability to do things like force firmware updates when trying to run games or check for updates constantly (WiiConnect24 or Spotpass on the 3DS), and most importantly the ability to update their firmware to remove exploits, it could be argued that today's consoles are the most secure in terms of prevention from hacks that don't rely on inside information.

    At the same time, none of the current-gen consoles or handhelds has

  • One of my first forays into the realm of hardware hacking was following along as you recorded your exploration of the original Xbox console [xenatera.com]. I was fascinated by the hardware, but enjoyed your analysis and methods even more. It was you that got me interested in hardware and hacking. (Aside: Thank you very much for releasing your book as a freely-available download [nostarch.com] and for the open-letter about Aaron and MIT)

    What was the most memorable experience for you of your Xbox expose? Was there a particular part of

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You actually have an amazing collection of questions there. I doubt the powers that be would put this forward to bunnie as they are all in one post.

      Would be great if you put them in sepatate posts

    • by nmb3000 ( 741169 )

      I don't agree that multiple question marks necessarily == multiple questions, but I'll take the advice of my anonymous friends and restructure my question:

      During your original Xbox expose, was there a memorable experience you had that stands out -- perhaps a particular part of the hardware that you found especially well-designed (or laughably poor), or maybe a method that yielded unexpected success (or failure)?

    • by nmb3000 ( 741169 )

      And the second half of my question:

      I remember you posting the voicemail of the Microsoft employee asking you to remove the images of the Xbox ROM from your website -- something I got a good laugh out of. What other kind of fallout from Microsoft that you have to deal with?

  • Why do you insist on using proprietary EDA software to build open hardware? Don't you think it defeats the purpose? Can you elaborate on the state of open tools like KiCad and what they are missing to qualify for complex projects like the Novena?
  • In technical matters, it seems like I'm always having the experience of encountering people that have seemingly incredible technical abilities, and I aspire to learn more and become more capable. Learning robotics, for instance, you just want to make a light blink, then control a servo, then make a chassis drive, then combine sensor input into a fully autonomous vehicle and eventually you aspire to build a reverse-kinematics biped that destroys all humans. As I learn more, I just move on to newer and more c
  • Hi I'm currently in my bachelor degree for game development and simulation which is basically game programming and I was wonder how can I get started in hacking? I want to learn how to hack to provide better security and it sounds like fun
  • As a father I'm wondering, how did your parents nurture and support your inquisitiveness as a child?
  • I am planning a short trip to Shenzhen/Hong Kong to see all the HW development/manufacturing going on in that area. What are the best places to visit (factories, stores, malls, make/hacker spaces) and how to make the most out of them considering that I speak no Chinese? Thanks!

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.