The Spirit of Hackaday Shines in Shenzhen

Hackaday loves to spread the message of the hardware hacking lifestyle. That’s only possible where there are hardware hackers willing to spend their time getting together to talk the future of the hardware industry, and to celebrate where we are now. We’re honored that you came out en masse for our Shenzhen Workshop and Meetup!

Zero to Product

[Matt Berggren] has presented his Zero to Product  workshop a few times now as part of our Hackaday Prize Worldwide series. This spring that included Los Angeles, San Francisco, and ten days ago it was Shezhen, China.

We partnered with MakerCamp, a week-long initiative that pulled in people from all over China to build a Makerspace inside of a shipping container. Successful in their work, the program then hosted workshops. The one caveat, Shenzhen in June is a hot and sticky affair. Luckly our friends at Seeed Studio were kind enough to open their climate-controlled doors to us. The day-long workshop explored circuit board design, using Cadsoft Eagle as the EDA software to lay out a development board for the popular ESP8266 module.

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True Random Number Generator for a True Hacker

How can you generate random bits? Some people think it’s not easy, others will tell you that it’s pretty damn hard, and then there are those who wonder if it is possible at all. Of course, it is easy to create a very long pseudorandom sequence in software, but even the best PRNG (Pseudorandom Number Generator) needs a good random seed, as we don’t want to get the same sequence each time we switch on the unit, do we? That’s why we need a TRNG (True Random Number Generator), but that requires special hardware.

Some high-end microprocessors are equipped with an internal hardware TRNG, but it is, unfortunately, not true for most low-cost microcontrollers. There are a couple of tricks hackers use to compensate. They usually start the internal free running counter and fetch its contents when some external event occurs (user presses a button, or so). This works, but not without disadvantages. First, there is the danger of “locking” those two events, as a timer period may be some derivative of input scan routine timing. Second, the free running time (between switching on and the moment the unit requests a random number) is often too short, resulting in the seed being too close to the sequence start, and thus predictable. In some cases even, there is no external input before the unit needs a random seed!

Despite what has already been discussed, microcontrollers do have a source of true randomness inside them. While it might not be good enough for crypto applications, it still generates high enough entropy for amusement games, simulations, art gadgets, etc.

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Astronaut Or Astronot: Amazingly Engineered

The latest round of community voting in The Hackaday Prize asked a simple question: which project is most likely to save the planet? The results will be posted on Monday.

Now it’s time to see if we’re giving away a $1000 gift card to the Hackaday Store, or just some prizes to people who have voted. The rules here are simple: I’m randomly selecting one person on Hackaday.io. if and only if that person has voted in the latest round of community voting, they get a thousand dollar gift card to the Hackaday store. If the randomly selected person did not vote, I select three people who have voted in the latest round of community voting. For the last few weeks, we’ve been giving out t-shirts. To sweeten the deal, we’re giving away a SmartMatrix, A Simon Says kit, and an Analog Stepper gauge to three people, just because they’ve voted.

Here’s the video:

Drat, the Hacker number randomly selected for the $1000 gift card hadn’t voted! Oh what could have been. Don’t let this happen to you next week, VOTE!

To soften the bitterness of defeat we dole out a few awesome prizes to those who had. [xanatos333] gets the Simon Says kit, [sylph.ds] gets an Analog Stepper Gauge, and [dougmsbbs] gets a Smartmatrix. Thanks to those who voted, and be sure to vote in the next round:

NEW ROUND OF VOTING

We’ll have to do some math and run a few scripts to figure out which projects the Hackaday.io community deemed most likely to save the planet. Until we put that data together, it’s time to start a new round of voting. This week, we’re looking for projects that are Amazingly Engineered.

Next Friday we’ll select a random person on Hackaday.io, and if they have voted, they get a $1000 gift card! For the apathetic non-voters… nada.

Prize Alert: Submit by Monday for Chance at Hundreds

For the past two weeks we’ve been on the lookout for the best 2015 Hackaday Prize entries which are using parts manufactured by Atmel, Freescale, Microchip, and Texas Instruments. All four are sponsors of this years initiative to solve problems faced by a large number of people.

list-banners-in-project-sidebarThe three-week mini-contest will come to a close on Monday and the Hackaday crew will begin to assign 200 prizes to the entries; 50 for each of the curated lists. Prizes include Mooshimeters, DS Logic Analyzers, Stickvise, Bluefruit BLE Sniffers, Cordwood Puzzle kits, and TV-B-Gone kits.

There are two things you need to do in order to be considered for this contest: make sure your project has been submitted as an official 2015 Hackaday Prize entry, and that the project is listed on the list associated with the parts manufacturer you’ve used in your project design. The easiest way to get on the list is to leave a comment on the .Stack thread.

You can check to ensure you’ve met these two requirements by viewing your project page and looking in the left sidebar. The square thumbnail photo at the top will have a black flag with the astronaut logo at “2015”. Below that you will see banners for the lists on which your project is included. You should be on at least one of the following lists: 2015 THP: Atmel Parts2015 THP: Freescale Parts2015 THP: Microchip Parts2015 THP: Texas Instruments Parts.

Don’t miss out on this stage of the contest. You stand a really great chance of being selected as a winner! And for those already on the lists we can offer some advice for rising to the top. Polish up your documentation. Tell us how the parts are used in your design, where you are in the prototyping process, and list the tasks you have yet to accomplish. Share the whole story of what you’re working on. Good luck!

Those looking to discover and be inspired by the existing entries should give Astronaut or Not a try. The side-by-side comparisons are a great way to browse, and could also win you some prizes.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Talking Big Changes At SparkFun With Nathan Seidle

SparkFun, you know them, you love them. They list themselves as “an online retail store” but I remember them for well-designed breakout boards, free-day, videos about building electronics, and the Autonomous Vehicle Competition. This week SparkFun turned my head for a different reason with the announcement that [Nathan Siedle], founder and CEO will be stepping down. He’s not leaving, but returning to the Engineering department while someone else takes the reigns. I spoke with him yesterday about what this means for him, the company, and what SparkFun has planned for the future.

Stepping Down Without Saying Goodbye

[Nate] founded Sparkfun in 2003 while still working on his Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Colorado Boulder. He cites wanting to return to his engineering roots as the reason for his title shift, which won’t happen for at least 9 or 10 months. It’s the concept of leaving the CEO position without leaving the company that raises many questions in my mind.

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The Thrill of Shenzhen — Candyland for Electronics Geeks

Just getting to Shenzhen is an adventure for a different post, but the Hackaday crew made it and spent our first full day in the city last Thursday.

Unlike Wednesday’s experience in Hong Kong, most people you run into do not speak English and the signs generally don’t have English words on them. This makes getting around hard in that it’s difficult to figure out where it is you’re going. It’s equally tough to convey the destination to a taxi driver or translate it into public transportation. I was able to get to the Software Industrial Base via taxi because I had saved the Chinese character address on my phone and showed it to the cab driver. But when the trip ended I had trouble figuring out how much to pay… the meter reads 10 Yuan but there is an additional charge of a few Yuan which I only realized in retrospect. But my driver was very nice about this and helped me with change and a smile.

Visiting Seeed Studio

You might think finding the correct building would be simple. But the Shenzhen Industrial Software Base is a huge complex of similar buildings. A friendly security guard looked at my saved address and used the squares in the sidewalk as a map to non-verbally get me headed the right way. Seeed Studio, our hosts for SZMF, have a beautiful new office which is industrial-modern in its decor. There are glass-walled conference rooms but the majority of the space is open in design as it wraps around the exterior of half a floor in the six or seven story building.

Hitting the Markets

After doing some planning for the Hackaday workshop the next day, [Chris] from Seeed offered to take us to the electronics markets. How do you pass up that offer? We first stopped off at a Korean restaurant for lunch, then hopped a slightly-crowded cab to meet [Matt] and [Alek] who were already at the market.

The Huaqiangbei markets are multi-story buildings filled with booths. We first went into the wrong one, which turned out to be the used equipment building. Vendors specialize in refurbishing electronics. There were floors and floors of booths filled with equipment — often three tiers or more of laptop computers (open and running) wrapping each booth which were about the footprint of a king-sized bed.

IMG_20150619_184322523Back on track we made it to a brand new building which was seemingly built already completely packed with booths. The place has everything, generally divided up by floor. The top two floors are mostly LEDs of every kind, or drivers for them. We were on the hunt for addressable LEDs, but there didn’t seem to be any legendary bargains available. This may have been an issue of volume because I later heard from a friend that he acquired 25-meters of 12V WS2812 strips for a song.

Next it was the hunt for the “baby phone”. This is an Android phone built to look like a miniature iPhone. They’re cute. The blocks, and blocks, and blocks of walking, backtracking, running into acquaintances who joined the hunt, and finally ascending shady stairs and dingy aisles did pay off. Ta-da, [Sophi’s] new phone!

We hopped the subway to get back from the markets. I love trying out public transportation in different cities and this didn’t disappoint. The stations are so clean, and after 85 degrees F and 80 percent humidity all day the air conditioning is heavenly.

Awesome Subways

Shenzhen-Subway-Token-cropped
Image Source: WhereAmI.org (also an interesting Shenzhen read)

You purchase a token which is a green plastic disc about the size of two american quarters stacked on top of one another. Very light weight and very tech-oriented. Each is an RFID (or some other non-contact) tag. Tap it on your way in, drop it in the slot on your way out. Midway during our return trip we realized we were changing the location for Hackaday’s Saturday Shenzhen Meetup. We got off the train, rode the other way, switched lines, and popped out in a beautiful part of Shenzhen. Everything in this city seems to be new and under construction. NYPD Pizza is in the middle of a very partially completed complex but has the hip, trendy, divebar-neveau that made for an awesome meetup. Check back on that yarn which deserves it’s own post.

A bit exhausted, we made it back to the hotel for a bit of dinner and relaxation. But who could pass up the opportunity to head to an outdoor BBQ party marking the end of Hacker Camp? This creation, started by Hackaday Alumni and Dangerous Prototypes founder [Ian Lesnet], invites engineers and hardware creators to come tour Shenzhen and pick up as much manufacturing knowledge as possible in between epic evenings of socializing.

Dripping wet BBQ Party

Again, figuring out where to go is really hard! We jumped on the subway and made it to the correct stop, but getting to the BBQ alley in what feels like a residential neighborhood required a aimless wandering, and bumping into two different people who had already been to the party.

The atmosphere was sticky and blazing hot. Everyone was dripping with sweat and drinking a very large beverage. Check out this hi-res album for the proof. There were a few restaurants, an open-air bar, and a bodega with bombers of Tsingtao for under a buck (USD). To me it seemed to be a dead end street, but every few minutes a honking motorbike was waddled through the shoulder-to-shoulder crush of sweaty bodies. Hardened ex-pats and locals drank beer from glasses, but the foreign visitors seemed to stick with bottles.

This definitely registered as one of the most exciting days of my life. I love the adventure. The city feels safe and friendly — but travel (especially at night) adds a thrill.

An Interview With The CEO Of MakerBot

A few days ago, we posed a question to the Hackaday community. If you could ask the CEO of MakerBot a question, what would it be?

It’s an interesting proposition; there is no company serving the maker community – and those of us who refuse to call ourselves part of the maker community – more hated than MakerBot. They’ve patented ideas uploaded to Thingiverse. They’ve turned their back on the open hardware community they grew out of, They’re undercutting their own resellers, and by all accounts, they don’t know how to make a working extruder. MakerBot was the company that would show the world Open Hardware could be successful, but turned into a company that seemed to reject Open Hardware and Open Source more than any other.

Needless to say, the readers of Hackaday responded. Not with actual questions for the MakerBot CEO, mind you, but oh how you responded. This effort by MakerBot was likened to the hail Mary thrown by Radio Shack  a few years ago. We know how that turned out.

Nevertheless, questions were collected, The MakerBot CEO was interviewed by Lady Ada, and a summary compiled. You can check that interview, originally posted on the Adafruit blog, below.

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