Superconference Interview: Ben Krasnow

Ben Krasnow is a consummate prototyper. He’s built a machine that makes the perfect chocolate chip cookie, he has a ruby laser, and he produces his own liquid nitrogen in-house because simply filling up a dewar is too easy. If you need a prototype, Ben is the guy to talk to.

Ben gave a talk at last year’s Hackaday Superconference on prototyping quickly and verifying technical hypotheses. The philosophy can be summed up simply as, ‘Build First, and Ask Questions Later’. This philosophy served him well when he wanted to see if backscatter x-ray machines were actually more effective than metal detectors at TSA checkpoints. The usual bean-counter protocol for answering this question would be to find an x-ray expert, wait weeks, pay tens of thousands of dollars, and eventually get an answer. Ben simply built his own backscatter x-ray machine from parts sourced on eBay.

After the talk, we asked Ben about the limits of this philosophy of building first and asking questions later. With the physical and mental toolset Ben has, it’s actually easy to build something that can get in the ballpark of answering a question. The problem comes when Ben needs to prove something won’t work.

Answering this question is all a matter of mindset. In Ben’s view, if a prototype works, a hypothesis is verified. Even if it’s a complete accident, he’s totally okay with the results. Some of his other colleagues have an opposite mindset — if a quick and dirty prototype doesn’t work, a research hypothesis is verified.

This rapid-proof-of-concept mindset is something we see a lot in the Hackaday audience, and we know there are some of you out there who have a mind and garage that is at least as impressive as Ben’s. We’ve extended the Call for Proposals for the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. If you have a story about rapid prototyping or just making the perfect chocolate chip cookie with robots, we want to hear about it. Tickets are still available for the Superconference in Pasadena, California on November 11th and 12th.

The Latest Hacker Camp Badge Comes From BornHack

If you’re a fan of outdoor hacker camps, or if you’re a SHACamp attendee who’s still coming down from the event high, you may already know about the upcoming BornHack 2017 hacker camp on the Danish island of Bornholm, from the 22nd to the 29th of this month. It’s a smaller camp than many of the others on the calendar, but it makes up for that with a quite reasonable ticket price, a much longer duration, and a location that is a destination in itself.

Today we have news of the BornHack badge announcement, and though the details are a little sketchy it’s safe to say that there should be plenty there to keep attendees occupied. The irregularly-shaped PCB contains a Silicon Labs “Happy Gecko” EFM32 ARM Cortex M0 microcontroller, a 128×64 pixel OLED display, and the usual array of I/O lines. There is no information about its connectivity as it seems the BornHack folks prefer to run a teaser campaign, but we’d be surprised if there wasn’t some kind of wireless module on the reverse.

Barring a transportation miracle it’s unlikely that any of the Hackaday team will be making it to BornHack, but that’s our loss. It may not be one of the larger camps, but it looks to offer no less of the atmosphere you’d expect from a European hacker camp. At the time of writing there are still BornHack tickets to be had, so head on over to their website if you fancy a week at a hacker camp on a Danish island.

Superconference Talk Deadline Extended One Week

Our Call for Proposals for the Hackaday Superconference was scheduled to close yesterday. We are extending that deadline by one week so get your proposal for a talk or a workshop in now.

We want to leave no stone unturned and are intimately familiar with the procrastination habits of busy hackers like you. Now there is no excuse. Put together your pitch now and send it our way. This is the ultimate hardware conference and we’re topics covering Engineering Heroics (how you managed to pull it together to get across the finish line), Prototyping, Research (building custom rigs for University/private industry/giggles), Product Development, Full-Stack Fabrication, and anything else you think fits the vibe of Hackaday.

Accepted talks receive free admission and access to speaker events. There are travel stipends available for exemplary proposals. We also record talks for publication after the Superconference so this is a chance to be famous on Hackaday.

It’s likely that you have an interesting story to tell. Time to get up there and tell it!


The Hackaday SuperConference is November 11-12, 2017 in Pasadena California. There are still tickets available but what remains will sell out quickly when the slate of speakers in announced. Don’t miss out, grab your ticket now.

Hands On With The SHACamp 2017 Badge

The badge has become one of the defining features of a modern hacker camp, a wearable electronic device that serves as both event computer and platform for some mild software and hardware hacking. Some events have had astoundingly sophisticated badges while others are more simple affairs, and the phenomenon has even spawned an ecosystem of unofficial badges which have nothing to do with the event in question.

The SHACamp 2017 badge is the latest to come the way of a Hackaday writer, and certainly contains enough to be taken as representative of the state of hacker camp badges in 2017. It doesn’t have a star turn like CCCCamp 2015’s software defined radio, instead it’s an extremely handy little computer in its own right.

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A Tale Of Two Raft Races

It’s the height of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and hackers and makers everywhere are letting their hair down and enjoying the hot weather on the water. By coincidence last weekend there were two very different raft races in the European hackspace community, at the SHACamp2017 gathering in the Netherlands the villages competed in a cardboard raft race, while on the other side of the English Channel the various hackspaces in and around London came together in a raft race using more conventional materials.

Some of the SHA entries needed a little help.
Some of the SHA entries needed a little help.

The SHA race came about through the happy confluence of a surplus of disposable cardboard tents, a sunny afternoon, and the inviting waters of the Nuldemauw. The aim of the contest was for hacker camp villages to make it from the bank to the end of the boat dock, a distance of about 100m, in a boat made from cardboard there and then at the camp. Meanwhile the London spaces met at City Road Basin in London with their more robust watercraft for a series of races, the aim of which seems to have been to be the first to get their crew disembarked at the other end of the course. and sitting in a chair on the bank.

Full steam ahead for South London Makerspace. Toby *Spark (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Full steam ahead for South London Makerspace. Toby *Spark (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In both races the inventiveness of the entrants showed itself in a wide range of boat designs. As you might expect those craft with a wider beam fared better than the far less stable narrower ones, with capsizes a feature at each location. Clear winners in the Netherlands were a pair of German teenagers in a very stable wide raft, while in London it was South London Makerspace’s catamaran that scooped the crown. There is a video of the London race which we’ve placed below the break.

The hackspace and makerspace spirit is at its strongest when bonds are forged between members of different spaces. Skills and capabilities are shared, collaboration opportunities abound. The sight of a bunch of European makers getting wet might serve more as entertainment than edification, but behind it lies an important facet of hackspace culture. If you’ve not yet been the spaces closest to yours, do so. You never know, one day you might end up on a capsizing raft because of it.

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Superconference Interview: Akiba

Akiba sits at a very interesting intersection of technology and culture. He is well known for his experience with manufacturing in Shenzhen — but he has a few other unique dimension I’ll get to in a minute. His experience manufacturing in China goes far beyond the electronics you might expect and covers, well, everything that could possibly be made. His talk, Shenzhen in 30 Minutes, at last year’s Hackaday Superconference is a crash course in the area, the culture, and the business side of things.

After his talk Sophi Kravtiz caught up with Akiba for an interview and it is surprising to learn that he was a bit nervous for the talk. Obviously he pulled it off without a hitch and we hope this inspires you to give a talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference in Pasadena on Nov 11 and 12. The call for proposals closes this Monday so spend some time this weekend and submit your proposal.

Now about those other dimensions. In the interview, Akiba and Sophi discuss two other areas where he has an incredibly unique viewpoint. The first is his founding of a hacker collective in the rural areas outside of Tokyo. Hacker Farm has been growing like crazy of the last three or four years. It seems that people come to visit and realize renting in the area is so cheap they can’t leave. This led to a culture boom around the camp; a self-feeding engine that attracts more visitors (and often visiting chefs who literally feed the group handsomely) and grows the collective.

They’re working on new applications of technology for farming in the area. One aspect of this is water level sensors for the rice farmers in the area which he wrote about at length for Hackaday. Wildlife turns out to be a huge challenge here — apparently spiders will exploit any hole or crevice to build a web which usually renders the sensor worthless. The group is also beginning experiments with the “three sisters” of gardening: corn, beans, and squash and plan to use this as a test bed for all kinds of agricultural automation.

Although touched on only briefly at the end of the interview, Akiba also works with wearable technology at an extreme level. He builds lighting and other interactivity into suits for the Wrecking Crew Orchestra. It’s always a treat to hear his experience dealing with wear and tear, communications latency, and a user interface for the dancers themselves.

Retro DEF CON Badge Made From ’80s Parts

DEF CON 25’s theme was retro-tech, and [xres0nance] wasn’t kidding around in the retro badge he built for the convention. The badge was mostly built out of actual parts from the ’80s and ’90s, including the perfboard from Radio Shack—even the wire and solder. Of the whole project just the resistors and 555 were modern parts, and that’s only because [xres0nance] ran out of time.

[xres0nance]  delayed working on the badge until his flight, throwing the parts in a box, and staggering to the airport in the midst of a “three-alarm hangover”. He designed the badge on the plane, downloading datasheets over in-flight WiFi and sketching out circuits in his notebook.

The display is from an old cell phone, and it uses a matrix of diodes to spell out DEFCON without the help of a microcontroller. Each letter is powered by a transistor, with specific pins blocked out to selectively power the segments. He used a shift register timed by a 555 to trigger each letter in turn, with the display scrolling the resulting message.

We publish a lot of posts about con badges. See our DEF CON 2015 badge summary for a bunch of badges that we encountered at in Vegas.