12/26/2016 at 20:56 •
12/06/2016 at 00:44 •
02/12/2016 at 06:06 •
01/11/2015 at 06:21 •
Just a little teaser poster I'm working on...
10/25/2014 at 07:50 •
DRAFT - Please Ignore | Hackaday article coming up
"The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed," goes the clichéd William Gibson quote. Growing up on all the Cyberpunk literature and spending more-than-healthy amount of time obsessing with Fred Gallagher's Megatokyo series, I always imagined for Japan to be at the very tail of this distribution. The place where Future lives. Though it has been decades since the Bubble have burst, and there is no way this could still be the case, there was something romantic about believing it just might be. So I opted for keeping the dream alive and never actually visited the place.
Not until, a few weeks ago, [Bilke] - one of our crazy sysadmin guys that keeps Hackaday.io alive, made me do it. He found these cheap tickets from LA and next thing you know - we were flying out for a 48-hours-in-Tokyo weekend. With no time to prepare, we reached out to [Akiba] from Freaklabs and [Emery] from Tokyo Hackerspace for some tips. By the time we landed, emails were waiting for us, with our full schedule completely worked out. It's great to know that, no matter where you are, there's always a friendly local hacker willing to help.
Pass the immigration, we took the JR Narita Express line into to the City that Friday evening. Then a Taxi because we couldn't understand a word in katakana and then the JR Yamanote Metro line once we have figured things out. Checked out all the major places we have ever heard of (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Roppongi, Ginza...) and because the jet lag was not letting us sleep anyway.
And then, some time way past midnight, it hit me - Future Shock, but the kind I never expected.
It's as if you were hoping to land somewhere on the opening pages of Neuromancer, but ended up in the middle of Studio Ghibli movie instead. While all the neon and tech gimmicks seem to be there, the future they're portraying feels strangely anachronistic - like a dream from the distant past. Something straight off Nintendo or Sega Corp drafting tables from the mid-80ies. And decades later, still showing no signs of decay. Everything is perfectly tight, clean, well preserved, smiling with a distinct kawaii touch. A retro futuristic utopia.
It's is certainly what I hoped for, but the whole thing quickly grows on you. And you begin to feel at home...
The next day, we got on the Metro and went straight to a place we intentionally skipped the night before - Akihabara Electric City. There we met with [Emery], [Taylan], [James], [Shingo] and [Mariko] from Tokyo Hackerspace and they gave us the grand tour. It was spectacular. The place is a sort of Geek Wonderland where every corner hides a place you never came looking for, but can't resist getting in. You might come to Akihabara looking for electronic components for your latest project but leave as Train Otaku, 1998 Sega Dreamcast owner with a bag full of games, or falling in love with yet another obscure Manga which will end up consuming a better part of your life. Cosplay characters are roaming the streets and moe girls are advertising all sorts of maid cafes. Electronics is everywhere, across large number of small places, each with a slightly different focus. One of the shops we came in was specializing in electronics components and books about the occult! Cthulhu loves the smell of burning silicon.
Hopefully our video with the amazing Tokyo Hackerspace crew will give you a better sense of what it is like to be a hacker living in a place like this.
Shingo & Mariko's Home Studio
Having spent the better part of the day navigating the Akihabara maze and completely depleted by all the sensory overload, we were more than excited when Shingo and Mariko invited us to visit their home studio, for some downtime and beers. It's located in Akihabara, walking distance from all the main attractions, and it's a hacker's dream... apartment doubling as mini fabrication lab, with husband & wife science-geek team relentlessly working on new projects and ideas. We already knew about Shingo's Levistone box, but the place was packed with a history of hacks... from his early aerospace work, via more conventional projects such as random Arduino shields, all the way to his latest DNA Amplifier hardware project based on OpenPCR. They're incredibly friendly and their place is always open for local hackers in need of some fab gear.
The last stop for the day was Tokyo Hackerspace. It was late Saturday night and the place was closed, but we still wanted to take a glimpse. So we hopped on the JR line to Nogizaka station with [Taylan] and [James] and they opened it up for us. It's located in the middle of residential neighborhood in Central Tokyo and given the rental prices and the relatively small hacker community, it's a pure miracle such a thing exists in the first place. We quickly recognized the famous membership fee/donation machine and had some fun with it. Our favorite piece of gear is a cool laser cutter obtained as a stretch goal for their Indiegogo campaign and a favorite project is a Kit Vending Machine - a project to convert old cigarette machine into a kit and project dispenser. Regular weekly "Open House" meetings are on Tuesday evenings, so if you plan on visiting, that's the time to be here.
3331 Arts Chiyoda
Sunday came quickly, but we still had a bit more time on our hands, so we picked another item from Akiba's list - 3331 Arts Chiyoda and hit the JR to Yushima station. It was totally worth the trip! 3331 is a abandoned school converted into a "creative" space that "brings together cutting edge art with the familiar everyday". Rarely you would find such a diverse mix of interesting things in a single location. On the first floor, we attended what turned out to be a theatre play for kids (in Japanese, of course), resembling the real-live rendering of Dragon Ball Z. Right next to it, was a big contemporary art exhibition featuring an interesting installation art piece, controlled by relays, triggered by the vision module processing revolving sheet of paper with Enso-style drawings on it. On the same floor, a massive Dream House-style sound art installation called "DJ John Cage".
Third floor hides a cool little place called "Soldering Café", an open space where people where interested in electronics can share tools and work on their projects. It's also a great place for hackers to meet and collaborate with all the crazy artists that are roaming the halls of 3331. Next to it - a SoftBank Robotics Corp. Workshop, where developers can have endless hours of fun writing control code for SoftBank's humanoid robots.
In the basement, a long line of Anime Otaku, patiently waiting to enter the Sakka Zakka new artist showcase.
The clock was ticking and it was almost time for us to leave, but I felt bad we didn't get the chance to sample the famous Akihabara nightlife. Akiba recommended checking out Club Mogra, supposedly an electronica/chiptunes otaku/nerd culture central, but we were supposed to leave the town that night and there was no way we could do it. Still, I checked out the club's website and it turned out there was a show starting at 3PM. I couldn't fathom what kind of party starts that early, but we decided to check it out anyway.
Somewhere around 4PM, we reached the location. Unassuming little entrance with nothing more than a door with "Mogra" sticker on it and a security guard. Not expecting much, we got in, and went downstairs, into the basement. At the end of the staircase was a girl in a Manga cosplay costume. She smiled and opened the door for us.
I was blown away.
The place was packed. DJs were playing some sort of chiptune/jungle with anime theme songs layered on top and everyone dancing and partying like crazy. Walls were covered by projections of 8-bit intros and random anime scenes. I saw Ghost in the Shell clip whiz and was completely overtaken by the experience. This finally was the kind of dystopian future I was hoping for - Sunday afternoon, deep underground, people dancing into oblivion lamenting over distant 8-bit worlds that never existed.
At 6PM it was finally the time to head out and we grabbed the Narita Express back to the airport. As the city was fading in the background, I realized that, even though Tokyo might not seem as futuristic as it once was, it's something even more unique - a place where future arrived prematurely. And in a unique Japanese way, people found a way to live with it in harmony.
For a geek building hardware, there's hardly a better place to be.
05/11/2014 at 07:23 •
Like it or not, a whole new wave of Hardware Startups is coming our way. Crowdfunding campaigns are making it possible for everyone with an idea to "test the waters", tech-savvy Angel investors are eager to help successful ones cross over, and Venture Capitalists are sitting on the other side, always on the lookout for potential additions to their "hardware portfolio". It's these billion-dollar acquisitions that made everyone jump on the bandwagon, and there's no going back. At least for now.
That's all great, and we want to believe that good things will come out of this whole frenzy. But instead of staying on the sidelines, we thought we should get involved and start asking some hard questions. After all, these guys didn't think they will be able to get away with just some nicely produced videos and a couple of high-res photos, right?
For our first issue, we picked a relatively innocent target - Spark.io, guys behind the Spark Core development board. By embracing Open Source and Open Hardware as the core part of their strategy, Spark has so far been a positive example in the sea of otherwise dull (and potentially creepy) IoT "platforms". So we thought we should give Zach Supalla, CEO of Spark a call...
"I had a problem that was very real to me, which was my parents communicating, and I saw a way to solve this problem with connectivity," Zach says explaining the motivation behind their original project called SparkSocket - connected lighting product inspired by helping his father overcome challenges associated with hearing loss. They ran a Kickstarter for this one, but only managed to get halfway to their funding target.
"The feedback that we had received from the market was that our product was not good enough," Zach said.
After iterating on product ideas and joining the HAXLR8R incubator program in Shenzhen, they eventually came up with an idea for the Spark Core and ran a Kickstarter, this time with great success. They have been shipping boards since the end of last year, and most of us probably already had a chance to play with one. We were curious about the choice of CC3000 as a WiFi module.
"This might still be true, but at the time of our launch, this was the only affordable WiFi module that you can purchase in low quantities extremely easily. For instance, there are other companies that make affordable WiFi modules, when you get to scale - Broadcom and Qualcomm are two of note. One of the challenges with them is that it's difficult to gain access to these chips in low quantities. And to be meaningfully Open Source, that was important for us," Zach said.
In terms of what other modules were taken into consideration, he says that "The main ones that we were evaluating at the time were RN171, GainSpan solution and the CC3000. And the main part of it was being affordable. There are some features that CC3000 doesn't have that others did but when it comes to providing something that's cost-effective solutions its a trade-off you inevitably must make. CC3000 doesn't add up to 802.11n, it doesn't do SoftAP setup, although they have their own thing SmartConfig, which is pretty slick, but has its quirks also."
On the communication side, Spark is using a slightly modified version of CoAP. "What we didn't like about MQTT is two things: one, we wanted it to do request-response model and MQTT is pub-sub and second, it didn't define the payload which felt to us like it's not solving enough of the problem. CoAP had much more of that defined and it felt like a more complete solution," Zach says.
Spark's approach to solving problems seems to be pretty open and hacker-friendly. Instead of trying to specify and define standards for everything in advance, they adopt a "learning" approach. "When we're not sure about an answer for something, let's just leave it open and see what people do, and see if the community starts to fall into a pattern, and then let's just adopt that pattern."
A good example of this was device-to-device communication using Spark. While device-to-cloud communication seems to be fairly well specified (after all, that is the core use-case), device-to-device aspect was left fairly open. In figuring out ways to address this, community seems to have converged into a particular pattern over time. Instead of doing this type of communication over the cloud (that might introduce latency unacceptable for real-time applications), devices use the "cloud" only for authenticating socket open requests. After this, all communication is done locally. Spark guys are now promoting this as an "official" design patterns for device-to-device communication and will probably end up building protocol-level support for it.
An aspect of Spark that we particularly appreciate is that, at least so far, their "cloud" infrastructure is only focused on one core and truly valuable use case - scalable messaging between devices. Usually this part is where there's much handwaving and magic involved, but in their case it seems pretty straightforward. And that's a good thing. They will also be open sourcing Spark Cloud in the next couple of months, so we'll be able to judge internals at that point too.
Even more important is their attitude towards the question of who owns the data that gets pushed into the cloud. "You have IoT 'platforms' that have the perspective that they really own the data and you as a manufacturers of the product are 'renting' the data. I think our perspective is much more of - you made the product - it's your data. And we're here to help facilitate you having access to that. So we're putting in place products that feed your data back to you. But it's not data that we own," Zach says.
So far everything that Spark guys say checks out. They're doing all the right things; they have a healthy attitude towards privacy and data ownership; they're embracing Open Hardware, Open Software and actively involving community in the process. But as they keep moving forward, they will face a lot more pressure to monetize. And with that some of these core values might get challenged...
So I guess we'll just have to keep an eye on them.
03/12/2014 at 09:47 •
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(all stickers posted on poster-designated locations. no vandalism here)
03/01/2014 at 07:05 •
South by Southwest 2014 is approaching, bringing along the usual tech-startup-launch frenzy, streets filled with party buses and endless hordes of geeks drinking themselves into oblivion. Although Interactive traditionally draws from software crowds (most of which with hopes of becoming the next Twitter or Foursquare), hardware is getting to be too-big-to-ignore and year after year more and more hardware-related events are starting to pop up. After all, SXSW is about about revolutionary things and new technologies that are shaping our future. And we all know hardware is where it's at.
So here it is, SXSW2014 guide for the Hardware-minded ...
---------- more ----------SXSW Create
For the third year in the row, SXSW is putting out a free and open to public sub-event called SXSW Create, dedicated to hacker, maker and DIY scene. Event is taking place at the City Terrace of the Long Center, March 7-9 and is open between 11AM and 6PM every day.
SparkFun will be there hosting a hands-on e-textiles workshop every day as well as number of great talks and demos. Epilog Laser will be showing off their gear for all the hobbyists to drool on while Texas Instruments will be doing new product trainings as well as giving away free product samples, cupcakes and coffee :) The list of participants goes on, so drop by and check it out.
Stage Two is a one-day event taking place between 2PM and 6PM on Sunday, March 9th at Pincer Terrace of The Long Center, focusing on consumer electronics industry. This one is a series of 5-minute lightning talks by who's who of new hardware startup scene (Pebble, Sphero, Grant St., Dragon Innovation...) mixed with a lot of SXSW-style afternoon drinking, tacos and live music. Complete list of speakers is listed on the event page.
Talks are the heart of SXSW. Though we can spend all day being cynical about the motivational crap that sometimes goes on there, some of the talks are truly spectacular and make the whole thing worthwhile. Here are some that might be of interest to the hardware crowd :
- Hardware Isn't Hard, It's Complicated - two and half hour long in depth look at all of the hardware product development stages.
- Why Software Companies Should Care About Hardware - general talk about challenges and opportunities in creating successful hardware
- Exploring the Future of Virtual Reality with Oculus - everyone loves Oculus VR. This is the chance to grill the core team with all of your questions
- Open Source Licences for Makers & Humans - licenses matter, especially with Open Hardware. This seems like a good forum to talk about it
- Democratizing the Internet of Things is An Urgency - Aayah Bdeir is going to talk about various issues related to ongoing explosion in IoT.
- The Complete Hardware Crash Course - workshop on creating the fully functional device using Firefly Open Source Wearable/IoT platform.
- Elevating Everyday DIY to the Tech Level - TI is hosting a 4-hour workshop on building a special 3D printer using DLP development kits and MCU LaunchPad.
- Hackaday will be giving away stickers, stamps and t-shirts and might even host a event or one of these busses that drive around the city at night. If you spot Jolly Wrenches flag somewhere, that's us. Keep an eye on @hackaday twitter for more info.
- Hardware Happiness Hour is on at 4PM on Saturday, March 8. Get your drinks and hang out with the hardware startup geeks.
[We'll keep updating the list as things come up. Stay tuned ... ]