Hackerspace Tours: MuCCC

Our trip to Germany wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a proper European hackerspace, and the Munich Chaos Computer Club was more than accommodating in allowing us to invade their space.

Before even walking in the door, you’re greeted with one of the coolest displays you’ve ever seen. Half of the front of their building is a gigantic flipdot display. It’s astonishing in person, and although no dots were flipped during our visit, we can imagine the noise would be deafening. Simply awesome.

Walking in the door, you’re greeted with the general meeting area, conference room, couches, and a Twilight Zone pinball machine. The machine didn’t quite work when we arrived, but within five minutes, [Sprite_TM] was behind the backglass and had everything fixed within an hour.

The back room and basement have the usual assortment of tools – a 3D printer, CNC, lathe, and electronics workbench. If you need a key made, head to the basement. You’ll also find an ATM in the basement. The story with that is that the news station in Munich wanted to do a story on how easy it was to get USB access to the Windows system in an ATM. The station couldn’t do it – but they faked it – and put the ATM up on eBay. Not much money later, the ATM found its way to the space’s basement.

MuCCC is more than just a space with tools, though: in the european hackerspace tradition, there are frequent presentations and talks that would fit in at an academic conference. Last Tuesday, [nicolas] presented a few techniques to protect cryptographic keys from physical integrity attacks, i.e. an evil maid attack or a SWAT team invading your router closet. It’s a daemon that listens to an AVR loaded up with sensors through a GPIO pin. If there is physical intrusion in the device – barometric pressure or light – keys resident in memory can be erased.

You can check out a gallery of pics from the space below.

Thalmic Labs Shuts Down Free Developer Access Update: It’s Back Again

The Thalmic Myo is an electronic arm band with an IMU and myoelectric sensors, able to measure the orientation and muscle movements of an arm. This device has uses ranging from prosthetics to Minority Report-style user interfaces. Thalmic is also a Y Combinator company, with $15 million in funding and tech press gushing over the possible uses of this futuristic device. Truly, a remarkable story for the future of user interfaces and pseudo-medical devices that can get around most FDA regulations.

A few months ago, Thalmic released a firmware update to the Myo that blocks raw access to the myoelectric sensors. Anyone wanting to develop for the Myo now needs to submit an application and pay Thalmic and their investors a pound of flesh – up to $5000 for academic institutions. The current version of the firmware only provides access to IMU data and ‘gestures’ – not the raw muscle data that would be invaluable when researching RSI detection, amputee prosthetics, or a hundred other ideas floating around the Thalmic forums.

Thalmic started their company with the idea that an open SDK would be best for the community, with access to the raw sensor data available in all but the latest version of the firmware. A few firmware revisions ago, Thalmic removed access to this raw data, breaking a number of open source projects that would be used for researchers or anyone experimenting with the Thalmic Myo.  Luckily, someone smart enough to look at version numbers has come up with an open library to read the raw sensor data. It works well, and the official position of Thalmic is that raw sensor data will be unavailable in the future. If you want to develop something with the Myo, this library just saved your butt.

Thalmic will have an official statement on access to raw sensor data soon.

Quick aside, but if you want to see how nearly every form of media is crooked, try submitting this to Hacker News and look at the Thalmic investors. Edit: don’t bother, we’re blacklisted or something.

Update: Thalmic has updated their policy, and will be releasing a firmware version that gives access to the raw EMG sensor data later on. The reasons for getting rid of the raw sensor data is twofold:

  • Battery life. Streaming raw data out of the armband takes a lot of power. Apparently figuring out ‘gestures’ on the uC and sending those saves power.
  • User experience. EMG data differs from person to person and is hard to interpret.


Because You can’t go to germany without seeing model trains

As with all our extracurricular adventures, we needed to visit a few hackerspaces while in Munich. The first one was MCSM/Make Things Munich, formerly the Siemens Club for model engines. We’ve been to a few hackerspaces and have the passport stamps to prove it, and we can say without a doubt this space is unique.

MCSM was a hackerspace before the concept of hackerspaces existed. Originally, this was the Siemens Club for Model Engines, filled with engineers from the Siemens plant tinkering with model trains, model boats, and models of anything that moves. One of the members that guided us through the space, [Carlos Morra] told us when he joined, he alone dropped the average age of the space’s membership by a decade.

Inside the space, you’ll find the usual tools and equipment – lathes, CNC mills, an electronics workbench, and a bunch of old but still valuable equipment. Most of this equipment was salvaged from the Siemens plant. The organization for this space, though, cannot be compared to anything I’ve ever seen. There are floor to ceiling cabinets filled with everything you can imagine, all carefully indexed and sorted.

Of course, being formerly called the Model Engine club, there will be an immense train layout. I counted at least five gauges of track in two sprawling layouts, one of which was easily 15 square meters. It’s a true hackerspace built from a model train club, how can it get better than that?

Pictures below.

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RasPiCommPlus, An Expansion Board For Expansion Boards

The easiest way to connect a GSM module to a Raspberry Pi would be to buy a breakout module, install some software, and connect to a mobile network with a Pi. Need GPS, too? That’s a whole other module, with different software. The guys behind RasPiCommPlus are working on a better solution – a breakout board for breakout boards that takes care of plugging a ton of modules into a Pi and sorts out the kernel drivers to make interfacing with these modules easy.

Right now, the team has a GPS and GSM module, digital in and out modules, an analog input module, and RS-232 and -485 modules. They’re working on some cool additions to the lineup, including a breakout for Sharp memory displays, a 9-axis IMU, a stepper motor driver, and a 1-wire breakout module.

Some of the RasPiCommPlus team showed up to the Hackaday Munich party and were kind enough to sit down for a demo video. You can check that out below.

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Bridging Networks With The Flip Of A Switch

The TP-Link TL-WR703n is the WRT54G for the modern era – extremely hackable, cheap, and available just about everywhere. Loaded up with OpenWRT, it’s capable of bridging networks: turning Ethernet into WiFi and vice versa. This requires reconfiguring the router, and after doing this enough times, [Martin] was looking for a better solution. The SOC inside the WR703n has two exposed GPIO pins, allowing [Martin] to choose between WiFi access point or client and between bridged or NAT/DHCP.

According to the OpenWRT wiki, there are a few GPIOs available, and after connecting these pins to a DIP switch, [Martin] could access these switches through the firmware. The hard part of this build is building the script to change the settings when the system boots. This script looks at the state of the GPIOs and changes the WiFi into client or access point mode and tries not to muck about with the DHCP somewhere off in the cloud. Yes, we just used cloud in its proper context.

The only other hardware to complete this build was a simple USB to serial converter that should be shoved into the corner of everyone’s workbench. Not bad for an extremely minimal soldering and configuration required for a something that’s extremely useful.

Hackaday Links: November 16, 2014

There have been a few people asking us to do our full teardown of a crowdfunding campaign, this time for Bleen. We’ll get to that, but here’s the TL;DR version: 208 people just threw money away, and right now Indiegogo is ~$3000 richer for doing nothing.

Insipired by a Hacklet, [Chris] documented his retro console build. He started out like most people do with a Raspberry Pi, but found emulating newer consoles like the N64 consumed too much processor time. He moved his build over to custom-assembled hardware with an AMD Micro-ATX board, a drive, and a USB gamepad. It’s beautiful, and much, much more powerful than a Raspberry Pi.

SD card in your Pi died? Of course it did. The problem is you’re not shutting down your Pi correctly. [satya] whipped up a quick project to fix that. One button, a bit of Python, and a shell script is all you need for a one-button shutdown for your Raspberry Pi.

A while ago, [Jan] built an ARM-based modeling MIDI synth that sounds a lot like the old Junos of the 80s. It’s build around the one 8-pin DIP ARM that’s being manufactured, placed between a MIDI jack and a 1/4″ jack. That’s pretty much all the components. [Gritty] plugged it into a Teensy that’s connected to a sequencer. It sounds awesome.

Everyone loves the Spark Core – there are a few floating around the office here. Now there’s a new Spark. It’s called the Photon, and they’re packaging it as a module. There’s an STM32F2 microcontroller and a BCM43362 Wi-Fi transceiver packaged in a nice, FCC certified module. Very cool.

The Computeum, One Of The Biggest Computer Museums in Germany

QWERTZ Everywhere

I cannot say in words how perfect the venue for our Hackaday Munich party was. Not only was there a gigantic collection of vintage video games just around the corner, there was also a freaking warehouse full of mainframes, tubes, transistors, and some of the old retrocomputers you may have used in the 80s and 90s.

It’s called the Computeum, and without a doubt it is one of the most complete computer museums in Germany. There are fantastic computer museums in the states, but these don’t hold a candle to the pure amount of big iron and silicon found at the Computeum.

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