Vintage Computer Fest: Berlin 2015

Berlin was a good city to be a geek in last weekend. Alongside the Berlin Maker Faire, there was the 2015 meeting of the Vintage Computing Festival: Berlin (VCFB). Each VCFB has a special theme, and this year it was analogue computers, but there was no lack of old computers large and small, teletext machines, vintage video game consoles, and general nerdy nostalgia.

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Hackaday at Berlin Maker Faire

The first-ever Berlin Maker Faire was last weekend, and Hackaday was there. Berlin’s a city with an incredible creative vibe, so it’s no surprise that there was good stuff on display. What was surprising, though, was how far many of the presenters traveled to be there. I wandered around with a camera and a notebook, and here’s what we saw.

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Conference Badges are the Newest Form of Hardware Art

About four decades ago, many European truck drivers started placing electronic LED badges in their windshields. Most of them were simple; nothing more than an animated heart pierced by an arrow. It became a common distraction in the highway night panorama of that time, at least until it became illegal. Most motorists became accustomed to seeing them, and the idea of the truck drivers making a statement with electronics always stuck with me. Now I have the chance to help people make a similar statement. Conference badges are not just a way to identify those who have registered, but a fashion statement and a mark of pride for conference organizers. They’ve become an art form, and engineers always want to stretch the limits of what is possible.

Every September, we have BalCCon, an international hacker’s conference at Novi Sad, Serbia. I was asked to design a badge for the 2016 event, and this is the first (well, the second) release. It is based on the PIC18LF24K50 and consists of a circle of LEDs which randomly displays pre-defined patterns. Every badge has its own infrared transceiver (LED-receiver pair), so the fun begins when two or more badges spot each other: they go from Adagio to full on Rondo, losing their default, dull visual pattern for a more dynamic, attention grabbing one, but most importantly – they synchronize. This means that, in a group of people, all badges will play the same pattern in unison. Every badge can spread the pattern code, so the whole group, however large, soon becomes synchronized. But if one of them “gets lost” somehow, it will try to learn it back from a neighbor or it might even launch into its own, randomly generated one. Sometimes it manages to spread it further and you get to witness a battle for light show domination.

This isn’t merely a story of designing badges, but of design choices that come in on budget while achieving a look that will delight those who end up wearing the hardware.

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2015 RedBull Creation Ends with Flaming Tire Swing of Death

Holy *#$&. That just about sums up the 2015 RedBull Creation Competition. It was fantastic. Where else could you ride a gasoline engine powered tire-swing-of-death, complete with fireball launcher? Well… maybe Burning Man…

Anyway, was it a hackathon? No, this was a build-a-thon. A few Arduinos and Atmel’s may have been used, but the majority of the projects were serious mechanical marvels. The teams had 72 hours to compete, with the very broad theme of “Serious Fun”.

And did they make some serious fun. From human-sized hamster wheels, to glass smashing recycling machines, and even an arcade style carnival game housed in a dumpster, not one team had a similar idea about Serious Fun. It was awesome.

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2015 RedBull Creation Competition is Underway!

I’m here as a judge at the 2015 RedBull Creation Competition in Detroit — it’s a super intense 72 hour build off where makers, engineers, and artists can come to show us what they’ve got. This year’s theme is pretty broad: Serious Fun.

The event is at Recycle Here and is open to the public, so if you’re in the area, come check it out! A massive recycling depot warehouse has been temporarily transformed into a giant workshop. Teams have access to some serious tools including heavy duty welding equipment, industrial forming tools like pipe benders, brake presses, your standard drill presses, cutting equipment and of course laser cutters and 3D printers.

There are two competition categories — Open Class, which was free for anyone to join with a team, and Invite Only. The six Invite Only teams are working in the Recycle Here workshop, and the teams competing in the open category are scattered across the city, making use of their own workshops or hackerspaces. The theme was only just announced yesterday, and the 72 hour countdown has been ticking away ever since.  I can’t wait to see what awesome interactive projects can be built in time to show off to the public this weekend.

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Becoming A Zombie with the Hackable Electronic Badge

Last week, Parallax released an open hackable electronic badge that will eventually be used at dozens of conferences. It’s a great idea that allows badge hacks developed during one conference to be used at a later conference.

[Mark] was at the Hackable Electronics Badge premier at the 2015 Open Hardware Summit last weekend, and he just finished up the first interactive hack for this badge. It’s the zombie apocalypse in badge form, pitting humans and zombies against each other at your next con.

The zombie survival game works with the IR transmitter and receiver on the badge normally used to exchange contact information. Upon receiving the badge, the user chooses to be either a zombie or survivor. Pressing the resistive buttons attacks, heals, or infects others over IR. The game is your standard zombie apocalypse affair: zombies infect survivors, survivors attack zombies and heal the infected, and the infected turn into zombies.

Yes, a zombie apocalypse is a simple game for a wearable with IR communications, but for the Hackable Electronics Badge, it’s a great development. There will eventually be tens of thousands of these badges floating around at cons, and having this game available on day-one of a conference will make for a lot of fun.

Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Zürich on Thursday

Join us for a Meetup Thursday the 24th of September in Zürich, Switzerland. We’re co-hosting a meetup with FabLab Zürich and we are excited to see you!

Doors open at 18:00 on Thursday, 24 September. We’ll have some food and drink, project show and tell, and time to hang out and get to know each other. This is a free event but please RSVP to let us know you’re coming.

Bring the project you are working on to show off, everyone loves to see projects regardless of what stage they’re in. Many times, showing your project and talking about it pushes your project forward; “oh hey, I have an extra RN42 BT module you can have” or “I already wrote a driver for that chip and it’s on github”. Showing your project to others can also inspire someone else to make their own project based on your awesome idea. I’ve been motivated many times to start a project because of what I saw someone else make.

Germany Too!

This Zurich meetup isn’t the only chance to connect with Hackaday in Europe. Next week, we’ll be in Berlin! We’re co-hosting a Berlin Meetup with Vintage Computer Festival organizers in the evening after Berlin Maker Faire and the Vintage Computing Festival. VCF have planned food and drink, a live band or two… chip tunes! It will be on October 3rd, and [Elliot], [Sophi] and [Bilke] will all be there.