Joe Grand on Hacking, Badgelife and AltiumLive

Judy Warner
|  Created: August 14, 2019  |  Updated: February 5, 2021

Today we have an extra-special guest named Joe Grand of Grand Idea Studio. Joe started hacking software and hardware at the ripe old age of seven! He ended up becoming a part of hacker history and you’re going to love hearing about it. He’s also co-founder of The Badgelife movement, and co-host of a Discovery TV channel called ‘Prototype This.’ We’re delighted to announce that he’s agreed to be a keynote speaker at AltiumLive, October 9 to 11 in San Diego. Registrations are now open and we encourage you to sign up now because space is limited. 

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Show Highlights:

  • Joe got involved with computers in 1982 and has always been fascinated by computers and electronics. When he discovered the hacker community, he fell in love and was able to make a career of it.
  • They started filming ‘Prototype This’ in 2006/2007 with the producers of ‘Myth Busters’ with the aim of following the real-life engineering of building projects, showing engineering to the masses in fun ways to share the process and even explain technical concepts to grandparents. 
  • Joe started using Altium Designer® in the very early days and still does so to design his badges.  
  • The Badgelife phenomenon started at Def Con through Jeff Moss, known as Dark Tangent. It also led to the idea to present training at conferences, ushering in Joe’s training program ‘Hardware Hacking’ which he still teaches to this day.
  • Many people are starting to make and sell badges, it’s almost a gateway to a professional engineering career.
  • Joe demonstrates his flex substrate badge for Def Con China. This is where he learned to use the Altium teardrop function.
  • The Def Con USA badge included blind vias and via in pads which Joe had never worked with and once again Altium Designer came to the rescue. They went from six prototypes to 28 650 pieces in one week.
  • Joe’s pseudonym is Kingpin - why do hackers have pseudonyms? Most of them grew up in the hacker world, where connecting to bulletin boards required a nickname, it was about having an anonymous identity in the hacker world back then.
  • The hacker world now has many different branches and is more focused on not taking everything at face value, asking questions and being curious.
  • Joe relates his experience with the group called ‘L0pht’ where they were called before the US Senate to testify on the state of computer security in government.
  • Joe will bring a world view of a hacker in engineering to AltiumLive in his keynote address: ‘When Hacking and Engineering Collide’ to include design tips, projects, and crazy contraptions built for television to mention a few.

Links and Resources:

Grand Idea Studio
Twitter (@joegrand)
A History of Badgelife, Def Con’s Unlikely Obsession with Artistic Circuit Boards
For Hackers, Anonymity Was Once Critical. That’s Changing
Def Con China Tree
L0pht Heavy Industries 
L0pht Senate Testimony Video
AltiumLive San Diego Keynote Speakers


Learn, connect, and get inspired at AltiumLive 2019: Annual PCB Design Summit. 

About Author

About Author

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry for over 25 years. She has a background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing, focusing on Mil/Aero applications. 

She has also been a writer, blogger, and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, PCB007 Magazine, PCB Design007, PCD&F, and IEEE Microwave Magazine, and an active board member for PCEA (Printed Circuit Engineering Association). In 2017, Warner joined Altium as the Director of Community Engagement. In addition to hosting the OnTrack Podcast and creating the OnTrack Newsletter, she launched Altium's annual user conference, AltiumLive. Warner's passion is to provide resources, support, and advocate for PCB Design Engineers worldwide.

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