Joe-Mon Wins at HackIllinois

A project log for Beckman DU 600 Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering process for a 68332 based system

joe.zatarskijoe.zatarski 07/12/2017 at 02:140 Comments

TL;DR: participated in hackathon, worked on Joe-mon, didn't expect to win, won '1517 Grant Prize'.

Well, this is old news considering HackIllinois was back in February, but better late than never I suppose.

HackIllinois is a Hackathon, if you don't know, where college students get together for a weekend and just 'hack' as they call it. Being an Electrical Engineer, I've always been more involved in the hardware side of things, but obviously I like to delve into the software side as well. My first year participating in HackIllinois, I took a crash course in FPGA's and Verilog, and attempted to create an exact clone of the Atari arcade game 'Breakout' in Verilog (the game was entirely TTL originally, no software or CPUs). By the end 60 hours of work, I was exhausted, and I also had what appeared to be a nearly functioning game, but I was having some issues. I later realized that I had far more issues than I realized at the time. As it turns out, you can't trust everything you find on the internet, and the Verilog replacements for 74-series logic I obtained online weren't actually correctly implemented, causing a myriad of issues.

The next year, I participated again. This time, I was working on the Beckman DU600, attempting to port the operating system from 8 bit Atari computers (the 400/800/XL/XE line) to the 68K running on the board. This was way too large of a project, and to make matters worse, the HDD on my laptop began crashing halfway through the weekend, so I had to go back to my apartment to begin the process of saving what I could, while I could. I never did lose any data from that, but I did eventually replace the HDD. 1TB HGST drive with a 3-year warranty. Hopefully this one will last, because otherwise there are no decent consumer HDD manufacturers left in the world. Not for spinning rust anyway....

This last year, I set out to work on the Beckman DU600 again, this time continuing work on Joe-Mon. I was working hard, at the time, on implementing a disassembler. Most of this was admittedly just tedious work to detect and decode each instruction, but I managed to add over 1500 lines or so of assembly (this does include comments and blank lines however) by the end of the weekend, and I estimate I increased coverage of the disassembler from about 25% coverage to about 50% coverage of instructions.

Well, this was the first year I thought I had anything worth actually showing off at the judging, so I got some sleep early sunday morning, and got up to pack up and head to the judging a few hours later.

At the judging, I attracted the attention of quite a few people. An exhibit with a rather large circuit board set up open-frame seems to get people's curiosity.

I didn't really expect to win. I hadn't entered myself into any of the various independent sponsor contests, and I didn't think my project was exactly what the judges were looking for in terms of this hackathon. The judging criteria seemed to suggest they were looking for projects that were actually useful, while mine was not exactly that. Cool, sure. Difficult, sure, but not really useful to many people. Later, this seemed to be confirmed by a conversation with one of the hackathon organizers who seemed to suggest that they thought my project was very cool and that they thought it was worthy of some sort of award, despite not having received one of the hackillinois awards.

So anyway, the award ceremony moved on from the HackIllinois awards to the separate sponsor awards, and to my surprise, I was called up for the 1517 fund award. I guess that despite the criteria for their award suggesting my project should have been something marketable, they made the exception because they thought that I was a bright student with potential. There's a picture of me standing with the other winners of this prize and the people from 1517, Danielle Strachman and Michael Gibson:

Here's the page on the turn-in site, devpost, for my project, showing that I won the '1517 Grant Prize':