Hamvention: The Flea Market

Last weekend was Hamvention, the place you want to be on the third weekend in May. It is the world’s largest gathering of amateur radio enthusiasts, and an exceedingly large flea market containing all sorts of electronica.

The booths of Hamvention include a few notable Open Hardware folk, but for the most part, you’re looking a few big booths from Yaesu, an entire section dedicated to everything ARRL, and a few pop-ups from the usual suspects. Rigol was there, showing off their test equipment and selling the DS1052E oscilloscope for far more than it’s worth. The Rigol Zed is a much better buy, anyway.

As with any gathering of hams, antennas are everywhere. The largest by far was the tower at right. With a little more equipment, this antenna could do a moon bounce. It’s a shame the moon was full this weekend, and everyone went to bed early.

Giant antennas and an amateur radio trade show notwithstanding, the biggest draw is the flea market. You’re looking at about two football fields worth of parking spaces, filled with cars, tents, and collapsible tables and the strangest electronic devices you’ve ever seen. What was that like? Read on below.

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How to Have a Beer with Every Electronics Person

This has got to be the ultimate name-dropping post. I’m tempted just to make a list. Or perhaps it should be like Jeopardy, I’ll list the products or companies and you guess who was there. I am of course talking about the Hackaday Bay Area Maker Faire Meetup last Saturday which started off as a steady stream of Faire-weary exhibitors and suddenly the place was packed to the gills. Luckily we have some photographic evidence of the awesome.

Peter Jansen seen on the right
Peter Jansen seen on the right

If you do something three times you can start saying “always”, right? We always host a meetup on the Saturday night of Bay Area Maker Faire at O’Neill’s Irish Pub in San Mateo. It’s our kind of atmosphere: just enough room to set up hacks you tote along with you, they have Guinness, Lagunitas, and a few in-betweens on tap, you can bring in food from the various eateries that border the bar, and the staff is beyond awesome.

Despite my threat to call-out everyone by name, I’ll keep it to a minimum. It was most excellent meeting Peter Jansen who created the Open Source Science Tricorder, fourth place winner of the Hackaday Prize in 2014. I was glad to see Windell Oskay of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories there since both Windell and Peter are Ph.D. Physicists. Of course it ended up they are able to converse with regular people too.

In the back Erick Schlaepfer was showing off his MOnSter6502 — check out the interview I did with him about it the day before. Astute readers will recognize who he’s showing that to: Hackaday Editor Emeritus Caleb Kraft stopped by on his way to the MAKE staff party. Somehow, although we shared a beer, neither of us thought of taking a picture together — perpetuating the mythos that Caleb is the Tyler Durden to my Tyler Durden. Incidentally, if anyone knows Chuck Palahniuk (or if he reads Hackaday which would be killer) we’d love to have him speak at SuperCon. Email me.

Also on the ‘didn’t get pictures of’ list is Anouk Wipprecht who stopped by later in the evening. I love her work and it was really great to meet her. Oops, and I’m not supposed to be dropping names. Paul Stoffregen (talking to Gerrit Coetzee and me in the bottom left corner of the image at the top of this post). Okay, enough of that.

There seemed to be a critical mass of Amp Hour elites on the scene. I grabbed this image from Chris Gammell’s Twitter. He snapped a still of Tony Long, Alan Yates, and Jeff Keyzer who have all been on the show (or hosted it). Karl Bowers, host of The Spark Gap podcast, photobombs on the left.

This barely brushes the tip of the iceberg. But I figure you get tired of hearing me prattle on. If you attended I’d love to see the photos you snapped, please link them in the comments below. And of course, if you do still want to play name-that-geek-celeb the comments are the place for it.

Thanks to Rich Hogben for taking all of these great photos and posting them up on Hackaday.io. I’d also like to thank Supplyframe for picking up everyone’s first round of drinks that night. Maker Faire has ended, but this evening will always have a special place in my heart. We look forward to seeing everyone there next year!

The Booths Of Hamvention

Hamvention was last weekend in Dayton, Ohio. Last weekend was also the Bay Area Maker Faire, and if you want tens of thousands of people who actually make stuff there’s really only one place to be. Bonus: you can also check out the US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB. The ‘Space’ hangar was closed, so that’ll be another trip next year.

The biggest draw for Hamvention is the swap meet. Every year, thousands of cars pull up, set up a few tables and tents, and hock their wares. Everything from radios from the 1920s to computers from the 1980s can be found at the swap meet. This post is not about the swap meet; I still have several hundred pictures to go through, organize, label, and upload. Instead, this post is about the booths of Hamvention. Everything imaginable could be found at Hamvention, from the usual ARRL folks, to the preppers selling expired MREs, and even a few heros of Open Hardware.

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How The Dis-integrated 6502 Came To Be

I made a bee line for one booth in particular at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire; our friend [Eric Schlaepfer] had his MOnSter 6502 on display. If you missed it last week, the unveiling of a 6502 built from discrete transistors lit the Internet afire. At that point, the board was not fully operational but [Eric’s] perseverance paid off because it had no problem whatsoever blinking out verification code at his booth.

I interviewed [Eric] in the video below about the design process. It’s not surprising to hear that he was initially trying to prove that this couldn’t be done. Unable to do so, there was nothing left to do but devote almost six-months of his free time to completing the design, layout, and assembly.

What I’m most impressed about (besides just pulling it off in the first place) is the level of perfection [Eric] achieved in his design. He has virtually no errors whatsoever. In the video you’ll hear him discuss an issue with pull-up/pull-down components which did smoke some of the transistors. The solution is an in-line resistor on each of the replacement transistors. This was difficult to photograph but you can make out the soldering trick above where the 3-pin MOSFET is propped up with it’s pair of legs on the board, and the single leg in the air. The added resistor to fix the issue connects that airborne leg to its PCB pad. Other than this, there was no other routing to correct. Incredible.

The huge schematic binder includes a centerfold — literally. One of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle was working out the decode ROM. What folds out of this binder doesn’t even look like a schematic at first glance, but take a closer look (warning, 8 MB image). Every component in that grid was placed manually.

I had been expecting to see some tube-based goodness from [Eric] this year. That’s because I loved his work on Flappy Bird on a green CRT in 2014, and Battlezone on a tube with a hand-wound yoke last year. But I’m glad he stepped away from the tubes and created this marvelous specimen of engineering.

Relive the Hackaday Belgrade Conference

The Hackaday Belgrade Conference was an amazing success. For proof, you need look no farther than the slate of talks that we have been publishing over that past several weeks. Each looks at different angles of the hardware universe; what does it mean to create hardware, where have we been, where are we going, and where does inspiration for the next great design come from?

The talks have now all been published and collected into one video playlist; it was an intense day of talks all caught in one streaming frenzy. But if you can’t make it through in one sitting, I’ve also listed the individual talks after the break so you that you may pick and choose.

There are, however, two talks that have just been published this afternoon. These are the opening remarks presented by Aleksandar Bradic and the closing remarks which I presented. When we meet people we’re often asked about what is going on behind the scenes. It’s really easy to think that nobody cares about what it takes to pull together a conference, run an amazing engineering challenge, or how we decide what we think matters when looking to the future. Alek covers the back story of how Supplyframe and Hackaday came together, as well as what led us to choose Belgrade for this conference. I discuss what I think is a core virtue of Hackaday; the free and open sharing of information and ideas. It’s a concept I believe in, and the most noble of reasons for documenting your work so that others may build upon your knowledge and skill.

Hackaday | Belgrade went beyond what we even considered possible. It joins the 2016 SuperConference (whose talk videos have also been published) as a shining example of our strong, active, and engaged community who want to spend their time enabling everyone — hackers, designers, and engineers alike — to succeed.

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Evolving Storytelling to Marry the Ancient Skills with the Digital Age

Storytelling is an art. It stretches back to the dawn of man. It engages people on an emotional level and engages their mind. Paulina Greta Stefanovic, a user experience researcher and interaction designer is on the cutting edge of bringing our technology together with the best human aspects of this long tradition.

The information age is threatening storytelling — not making it extinct, but reducing the number of people who themselves are storytellers. We are no longer reliant on people in our close social circles to be exquisite story tellers for our own enjoyment; we have the luxury (perhaps curse?) of mass market story-telling.

Paulina’s work unlocks interactive storytelling. The idea isn’t new, as great storytellers have always read their audience and played to their engagement. Interactive storytelling in the digital age seeks to design this skill into the technology that is delivering the story. This is a return from passive entertainment.

This breaks down into interactive versus responsive. At its simplest, think of responsive as a video that has a pause button. You can change the flow of the story but you can’t make the story your own. Surprisingly, this is a new development as the ability to pause playback is but a few decades old. So you can pause a responsive medium, but true interactive experiences involve creation — the audience is immersed in the story and can make substantive changes to the outcome during the experience.

This equates to a power transfer. The creator of the media is no longer in complete control, ceding some to the audience. We are just at the start of this technology and it looks like the sky is the limit on what we can do with algorithmic interactions.

Video games are the forerunners of this change. They already have branching stories that let the users make choices that greatly affect the storyline. This industry is huge and it seems obvious that this active aspect of story consumption is a big part of that success. Even more intriguing is a “drama management system” (a new term to me but I love it) that results in a story whose ending nobody knows until this particular audience gets there. What a concept, and something I can’t wait to see for myself!

If you find these concepts as interesting as I do, check out Paulina’s talk below, which she presented at the Hackaday Belgrade conference.

Electromagnetic Field’s Badge Hanging in the Balance

Making conference badges is a tough job. Unless you’re sitting on a gold mine, you have to contact a whole bunch of sponsors for help, work the parts that you can get into a coherent design, and do it all on the quick for a large audience. The EMF team is this close to getting it done, but they need some sponsorship for the assembly. If you know anyone, help them out! If they can’t line something up in the next two weeks, they’ll have to pull the plug on the badge entirely.

Electromagnetic Field is a summer-camp hacker convention / festival that takes place in England and is now in its third iteration. As with other big cons, the badge is a good part of the fun.

The 2016 EMF badge looks to be amazing. It’s powered by an ST STM32L4 low-power micro, a color LCD screen, a TI CC3100 WiFi radio module onboard, and a ridiculous number of other features including a gyro and magnetometer, and a giant battery. It’s also a testbed for the brand-new MicroPython, which aims to bring everyone’s favorite scripting language to embedded processors. In fact, they’ve largely built the MicroPython WiFi drivers for the badge.

If they can’t get a sponsor, all is not lost because everything is open source. We’ll all reap the benefits of their hard work. But that’s not the point. The point is that hundreds of hackers will be standing around in a field outside of London without the most audacious badge that we’ve seen designed dangling from their necks.
If you know anyone who can help, get in touch?

Thanks [schneider] for the tip!