Judge Spotlight: Elecia White

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If you’re a fan of the Embedded podcast you know her voice well. If not, you need to check out the show! Of course we’re talking about [Elecia White], who spent her recent holiday answering our questions.

She’s an accomplished embedded systems engineer — she literally wrote the book on it. We’re delighted that [Elecia] agreed to lend us her skill and experience as a judge for The Hackaday Prize!


judge-spotlight-q5We find that embedded engineers come from all manner of backgrounds. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the field?

judge-spotlight-a5I majored in a combination of applied computer science and theoretical systems engineering: my classes were all about programming, C, Fourier, and control loops. I had no idea I’d built a major that would be perfect for low level embedded development.

After school, I went to Hewlett-Packard. I was in the network server division, monitoring servers, writing drivers, and getting ever closer to the hardware. I moved over to HP Labs’ BioScience division to do real embedded work, though I didn’t understand that at the time (yay for a hiring manager who did!). Once I made a motor move, well, it was all over for me. I loved having my software touch the physical world. Happily, the environment was great and the electrical engineers were very patient.


judge-spotlight-q5Do whimsical embedded challenges ever come to mind? For instance, do you ever flip on the TV and think to yourself: “some day I’m going to reprogram the uC and write something that works!”?

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Go Vintage! Learn to Repair and Restore Mechanical Pocket and Wrist Watches.

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Until recently, watches have been entirely mechanical where each wheel, gear, and mechanism representing a milestone in our understanding of precision manufacturing and timekeeping.

One of the very first watches, created by a locksmith.

One of the very first watches, created by a locksmith.

Today it is nearly impossible to find watchmakers to service or repair vintage mechanical pocket and wristwatches, so we have to do it ourselves. Learn to repair vintage mechanical watches. You can do this and we’ll show you how.

They tick, mechanical watches have a pulse. First created in the 16th century by locksmiths, these early watches could only resolve time down to the hour and for this reason displayed time with only one hour hand.

By the 18th century fusee technology enabled watches to achieve accuracies to within seconds.

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Don’t Freak Out — Your TODO List for August 4th

The registration cut-off for The Hackaday Prize is August 4th. But this is not the day you need to have your project finished. You simply need to register your concept before the cutoff. This video walks you through the process, and we’ve included bullet points and links after the break for your convenience.

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Hackaday Descends on Detroit: Redbull Creation and a Meetup with You

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If you live in a flyover state and never thought you’d see the Hackaday crew gallivanting through your neck of the woods, think again. We’re planning to descend on Detroit, Michigan later next week. The trip started when Red Bull invited [Mike Szczys] to come out and judge the 2014 Red Bull Creation contest. But we wanted to see what Detroit has to offer so [Brian Benchoff] and [Chris Gammell] are going to be in town too.

The Red Bull Creation has been a favorite here on Hackaday for years. Who doesn’t love a 72-hour hackathon that results in all kinds of crazy, spectacular, or horrifying builds? You can see the schedule for Creation here. If you can’t make it out when the teams are at work, the complete projects will be showcased on Saturday at Eastern Market followed by a party hosted at the Omnicorp Detroit hackerspace.

Detroit Meetup — Now with Actual Hacking!

hackaday-detroit-meetupSpeaking of parties, Hackaday is having a Meetup as well, but it’s going to be much more than just a party! On Friday night i3 Detroit hackerspace is opening their doors to us starting at 8pm.

The i3 members have decided to make this a night for hacking and camaraderie. Bring your projects to show off and you can get some hacking done on them too.

The building does share a roof with the legendary Meader, B Nektar. We mention this because they’re awesome, and so that you’ll know this is going to be much more than you’d find if meeting at a plain old bar or a plain old workshop.

Do us a favor and let us know you’re coming. We’ll make sure to bring plenty of swag for anyone who makes a point to stop in!

We Need Your Help Finding Stuff in Detroit

There’s going to be plenty of amazing coverage of Creation, but with three people in town it’s nice to do some field-trips as well. So far we’re planning to visit Marvelous Marvin’s Mechanical Museum and The Henry Ford Museum.

But we need more suggestions. Stuff that’s off the beaten path and Hackaday worthy. To get you thinking, we loved visiting Apex Electronic when we were in Los Angeles. What’s in or close to Detroit that should be on the hacker approved list of attractions? Leave your suggestion in the comments.

Judge Spotlight: Dave Jones

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This week’s Judge Spotlight features [Dave Jones] who posted a video reponse to our slate of questions. If you’ve spent much time around here chances are you know of [Dave] quite well. He is the man behind the EEVblog and also hosts The Amp Hour podcast along with [Chris Gammell].

It’s great to pick [Dave's] brain a bit. He’s seen a lot during his career, with insights on professional engineering from the point of view of job seeker, employer, job interviewer, and more. His time with the EEVblog and Amp Hour have furthered his experience with looks inside of all manner of equipment, adventures in crowd funding, and interactions with a multitude of hardware start-ups. Check out his video, as well as a list of the questions with timestamps, after the jump.

We’re sure you know by now, he’s judging The Hackaday Prize which will award a trip to space and hundreds of other prizes for showing off your connected device built using Open Design.

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Magic in the Midwest: Maker Faire Kansas City

What did you do over the weekend? I spent both days at Maker Faire Kansas City and it was awesome. This is the fourth year the Faire has been held in Union Station, a stunning Kansas City landmark that celebrates its centennial this fall.

The Things

As you might imagine, there were 3D printers galore. One of my favorites was the One Up family from Q3D. These acrylic beauties start at $199 and offer a heated bed plate option.

Maker Juice Labs, purveyors of 3D printing inks for SLA brought a LittleSLA printer which they demonstrated by making some very nice key chains.

Little SLA does it stereolithographically.

Little SLA does it stereolithographically.

SeeMeCNC had their Rostock Max V2 printer cooking up some huge prints, and Oni Technology, a local KC company, had their H Bot cranking.

Locally-made Oni H Bot.

Locally-made Oni H Bot.

At the Modio booth, my companion and I constructed heroes and monsters from a rainbow-colored pile of 3D-printed body parts and weapons. With Modio’s iPad app, you can create characters from the existing parts library, modify those parts, and print them on any 3D printer. All of the parts are designed to snap together. Modio recently teamed up with MakerBot and hopes to port their app from the iPad to the iPhone and Android in the near future.

I managed to resist the inexplicable Hostess booth and their free piles of Twinkies, Cup Cakes, and Coffee Cakes. They had a display that promised banana Twinkies and some Greek yogurt oddities, but only had the regular stuff on hand. On Sunday, I saw many people lugging around entire boxes of free Donettes and other goodies.

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Open Design. It is The Way.

there-is-power-in-open-design2It seems like I’m constantly having the same discussions with different people about the Open Design aspect of The Hackaday Prize. I get arguments from both sides; some attest that there should be no “openness” requirement, and others think we didn’t set the bar nearly high enough. Time to climb onto my soap box and throe down some sense on this argument.

Open Design is Important

When you talk about hardware there is almost always some software that goes into making a finished product work. Making the information about how a product works and how it is manufactured available to everyone is called Open Design; it encompasses both Open Hardware and Open Source Software. Open Design matters!

First of all, sharing how something is designed and built goes much further than just allowing others to build their own. It becomes an educational tool and an innovation accelerator (others don’t need to solve the same problems over and over again). When using a new chip, protocol, or mechanical part you can learn a lot by seeing how someone else already did it. This means faster prototyping, and improvements on the design that weren’t apparent to the original creator. And if it breaks, you have a far easier time trying to diagnose and repair the darn thing! We all benefit from this whether we’re creating something or just using an end product because it will work better, last longer, and has the potential to be less buggy or to have the bugs squashed after the fact.

There is also peace-of-mind that comes with using Open Design products. The entries in The Hackaday Prize need to be “connected devices”. With open design you can look at the code and see what is being done with your information. Can you say that about Nest? They won’t even allow you to use the thermostat in a country that hasn’t been pre-approved by decree from on high (we saw it hacked to work in Europe a few years back). Now it has been rooted so that you can do with it what you please.

But I contest that it would have been better to have shipped with options like this in the first place. Don’t want to use Nest’s online platform? Fine, let the consumer own the hardware they pay for! My wager since the day they announced Google’s acquisition of Nest is that this will become the “router” for all the connected devices in your home. I don’t want the data from my appliances, entertainment devices, exercise equipment, etc., being harvested, aggregated, and broadcast without having the ability to look at how the data is collected, packaged, and where it is being sent. Open Design would allow for this and still leave plenty of room for the big G’s business model.

I find it ironic that I rant about Google yet it would be pretty hard to deny that I’m a fanboy.

Decentralize the Gatekeeper

I’m going to beat up on Google/Nest a bit more. This is just an easy example since the hardware has the highest profile in the field right now.

If Nest controls the interface and they retain the power to decide whose devices can participate the users lose. Imagine if every WiFi device had to be blessed by a single company before it would be allowed to connect to any access points? I’m not talking about licensing technology or registering a MAC address for a chip. I’m talking about the power, whether abused or not, to shut any item out of the ecosystem based on one entity’s decisions.

If connected devices use a known standard that isn’t property of one corporation it unlocks so many good things. The barrier for new companies to put hardware in the hands of users is very low.

Let’s consider one altruistic part of this; Open Design would make small run and single unit design a possibility. Think about connected devices specialized for the physically challenged; the controller project makes specialized controls for your Xbox, what about the same for your oven, dishwasher, the clock on your wall, or your smart thermostat?

The benefits really show themselves when a “gatekeeper” goes out of business or decides to discontinue the product line. This happened when the Boxee servers were shut down. If the source code and schematics are available, you can alter the code to use a different service, build up your own procotol-compliant home server, or even manufacture new devices that work with the system for years to come. There are already pleas for belly-up manufacturers to open-source as the last death throw. Hacking this stuff back into existence is fun, but isn’t it ridiculous that you have to go to those lengths to make sure equipment you purchased isn’t turned into a doorstop when they shut the company lights off?

home-automation-from-1985To drive the point home, consider this Home Automation System from 1985 [via Reddit]. It’s awesome, outdated, and totally impossible to maintain into the future. I’m not saying we should keep 30-year-old hardware in use indefinitely. But your choices with this are to source equally old components when it breaks, or trash everything for a new system. Open Design could allow you to develop new interfaces to replace the most used parts of the system while still allowing the rest of the hardware to remain.

Why not disqualify entries that aren’t Open Hardware and Open Source Software?

Openness isn’t a digital value

Judging preferences are much better than disqualifying requirements. This is because ‘openness’ isn’t really a digital value. If you publish your schematic but not your board artwork is that open? What if you’re using parts from a manufacturer that requires a Non-Disclosure Agreement to view the datasheet and other pertinent info about the hardware?

In addition to deciding exactly where the threshold of Open or Not-Open lies, we want to encourage hackers and companies to try Open Design if they never have before. I believe that 1% open is better than 0% open, and I believe that there is a “try it, you’ll like it” experience with openness. If this is the case, The Hackaday Prize can help pollinate the virtue of Open Hardware far and wide. But only if we act inclusively and let people work their way toward open at their own pace.

There are more benefits to Open than there are drawbacks.

open-hardware-is-goodThe biggest worry I hear about open sourcing a product is that it’ll get picked up, manufactured, and sold at a cut-throat rate.

If you build something worth using this is going to happen either way. The goal should be to make a connection with your target users and to act ethically. Open Design allows the user to see how your product works, and to add their own features to it. Most of the time these features will appeal to a very small subset of users, but once in a while the community will develop an awesome addition to your original idea. You can always work out a way to include that in the next revision. That right there is community; the true power of open.

So yeah, we’re giving away a trip to space and hundreds of other prizes. But these are really just a carrot to entice hackers, designers, and engineers to feed the hungry world of Open Hardware and Open Source Software.