THP Hacker Bio: fl@C@

fl@a@ avatar and project imageNow that we’re starting to get serious about The Hackaday Prize we thought we’d take a look at the lives of some of the hackers who have submitted entries. Meet fl@C@, who is working on a Raman Spectrometer which is largely 3D printed and uses a Raspberry Pi. He was kind enough to answer all of our questions, some serious and some not so.

01-thp-bio

Creating. It’s probably no surprise that I have many hobbies…but hardware hacking is my life. I got my first taste with my dads Imsai 8080 (showing my age, but I was fairly young!)..Then it was an Apple][.. I really dove into that. I built my own from a bare pcb to a working machine when I was around 11 or 12. Just moved up from there.. Really went nuts when I got a job at a surplus electronics store in the silicon valley.. I rarely took home a paycheck.. I have a few other hobbies, I’m a private pilot…love flying. I built a pretty cool device that allowed me to datalog my flights, my heartrate, keep track of the fuel, it speaks and connects to the comm to remind me when to switch tanks, etc.. I’ll have to put that up on the project page.

What is Your Profession?Well…For my day job, I am a Network Engineer.. I can’t really say for which company, but it’s big.

What is Your Passion?

My Passion is Going Big

I would say my passion is going big..if it’s worth doing…..it’s worth overdoing. I love coming up with ideas that would make a difference. The spectrometer I am working on is actually only a small part of a larger project I am working toward. There are never enough hours, or dollars to cover all of my ideas…but I always work as hard as I can to get there.. TLDR- I’m excited every day to wake up and make another step towards changing the world.

Piece of Equipment You'd Go "Office Space" On?I work from home, but in the office… it’s definitely the snack machine. Seriously? We can’t build a machine that dispenses snacks without getting them stuck?

Favorite Operating System?I’d say linux. I’ve been a fan of ubuntu for a while.. lately I’ve been playing with xubuntu. I don’t care for messing with computers..lol. xubuntuI love electronics, hardware, software and all that.. but I do not geek out over PC hardware..I consider them another tool…they need to work when I need them to work. lol

Favorite Bench Equipment?Not sure if you want a breakdown of what gear I have….I have quite a bit and a pretty elaborate lab setup..but I’m really a bit of a minimalist when it comes to day to day use.. I use my scope when it’s appropriate..my logic analyzer (saelae logic rocks) pretty often.. but I’d say my go to device is usually my DMM since it’s what I tend to use most often…I have a few, but I like to use the one that connects up to my PC so I can make screenshots, and/or see it from a distance..

Favorite Piece of Silicon?mbed-pinoutI would have to default to the mBed for this one..for general purpose. I started out like most people probably with the basic stamp waaaay back…and went through a few others..and settled on the mBed when there was just one device, but now they have so many platforms that you can fit to whatever need..and some of them are dirt cheap. I’m using the ST Nucleo041RE for the spectrometer project, and it’s only $10 at mouser. I have just started peering into FPGA stuff, I hope to get some more time to work with them very soon, I see lots of potential.. I never really used Arduino’s until the past year or two when I got into quadcopters..they have a purpose..and are ok for quick and dirty stuff since you can source a pro mini on ebay for like 3 bucks..

Favorite Programming Language?Python has become my best friend. C++ is great and all, I’ve been forced to use VB6 for work…where they even use winbatch……. But python works.. and it’s easy to crank something out quickly, and you can build some pretty robust stuff with it..

Three Projects Before You Die?Well, I have a couple that come to mind immediately that I honestly would love to share with the world…but won’t just yet.. =) So, I’ll go with what is left…hopefully it’s plenty for now..

  1. I’d love to build a fusor. I built my first tesla coil when I was 17.. I’d love to take the hobby fusor to the next step..
  2. A Moon Rover. Seriously. And the vehicle to get it there. I think we all agree rockets and gasoline both need to go away. Mankind needs to reach out beyond what we’re confortable with.
  3. A fully autonomous multirotor. I actually started this project..have it all layed out..but it’s not high enough on my priority list to make it the rest of the way..I have probably 80% of the parts new in a box..I’ve started doing a writeup on it..and hope to get it up soon.

Skill You Wish Everyone Would Learn?

Learn the Value of Knowing Where and How to Find the Information [You] need

I wish that everyone would learn the value of knowing where and how to find the information they need to accomplish a goal. Schools typically force you to memorize facts and information that is often worthless. I would like for people to learn instead how to be adaptive in their approach to problems, and understand that there is always more than one answer.. and there is a huge resource out there that will enable you to make educated decisions and reach grander goals. We live in a great time with that…and in that way, the internet is underutilized…

How Did You Pick Your THP Project Idea?The timing was right…I thought this was an interesting and unique project..I had promised myself to try to be more open and share..this project was perfect since it has 3d parts people can print themselves, a raspberryPi, a sorta arduino and a cool laser…plus I figured there are several people out there that could either benefit from a low cost raman spectrometer, or at least benefit from some part of it..be it the parts I designed or just the understanding of how it works and what they’re used for…

Any Tough Stuff You Need Advice On?raman-spectrometer-laserI always keep an open mind, and consider any advice given.. There have been many aspects of this project that created a challenge.. This is my first serious venture into 3d printing this much stuff…I’ve never really worked with lasers and optics in such a way.. Avoiding spending thousands on optics was a major challenge. I have been doing all the research I can to understand the best approach to imaging…My first idea was to modify a webcam to take long exposures since the light reaching the camera will be fairly faint..after looking into that, it’s not just a lot of work and difficult to reproduce…but the cameras that others have modified are ancient and next to impossible to find. I wanted to go with a camera that anyone could find…the raspiCam kept surfacing as the best choice…so, the next challenge was how to get the long exposure…the raspiCam driver doesn’t really allow for 10-30 second exposures… so the next idea was to take several shots, and stack them to build a usable image.. so my latest approach is to take a 90fps video for a couple seconds, split that into individual frames, and stack those.. If anyone has suggestions in this area, I’d love to hear them.. I planned on using either mathematica or qtoctave from python, etc..

THP Project You'd Like Someone Else to Build?1280px-Apollo15LunarRoverA Moon Rover. =) It’d probably most definately be a team effort.. But I think as a community, the skills are out there. And the google XPrize shouldn’t be the only game in town.. I think things are building up to this kind of stuff anyway, but someone’s got to be first.

Your Life in Exactly 5 Words?

Live Out Loud Every Day

What Else Ya' Got?I’d just like to say…putting this project on this site was a major debate for me. I grew up with parents that had secret clearances, and privacy was central. I’ve been trying to build up the courage to share my work and ideas with the world because I think it benefits everyone. This project is my first to share, and for it to be featured here, and for me to be honored with being the first the be featured is really amazing. I appreciate this whole community, I’ve learned a lot from it over the years and I hope to be able to give back and contribute more soon!

THP Judge: Ian from Dangerous Prototypes

ian-dangerous-prototypesAs we start to get into the swing of The Hackaday Prize we want to take some time to talk to the judges.

[Ian Lesnet] is an accomplished hardware developer. He is, of course, near and dear to our hearts as a Hackaday writer emeritus.

During his time here he came up with an idea for an amazing tool that would let you work with components using a multitude of protocols before heading off to write your firmware. The tool was called the Bus Pirate and [Ian] built an formidable Open Hardware community up around this and several other tools and unique ideas.

[Hackaday] Why do you think people should put together an entry for The Hackaday Prize?

[Ian] There’s never a bad time to hack something together, but with an incentive like SPACE!!! how can you refuse?

[Hackaday] If you could enter, what style of project would you build and where would you try to go with the idea?

[Ian] We like to make electronics hardware that helps debug stuff, but lately we’re rocking more potentially deadly machines that do things. I’d finish up our death chomp robot that slices and dices reels of components into handy kit-sized lengths, while printing values and part numbers on the back paper. Definitely not a winner, but it looks great when it’s chewing parts!

[Hackaday] Is there anything that participants can do with their project write-ups to make your life easier as an adjudicator?

[Ian] Writing and English classes are a special hell for me, but there are some good tips for clear communication. I always start with an overview – “tell them what you’re going to tell them”. This usually means a description of the hack, the major components used, and how they work together. The introduction should have enough info that another hacker can piece everything together without digging through the whole writeup. An overview illustration or hand drawing explaining the methodology is really helpful for visualizing a complex hack.

[Hackaday] You have vast experience with Open Hardware projects. I think one of the tough things for beginners is navigating the Open Hardware licenses available. Do you have any advice for noobs to learn more about licenses and perhaps on narrowing them down?

[Ian] If you want the world to be a better place put all your work in the Public Domain (Creative Commons Zero) for anyone to use however they want. That’s the license with the least bullshit attached. If you have a billion dollar secret idea by all means keep it in your closet and show it to no one, because that’s about the only thing that will protect it from innovators and imitators. Other licenses fall somewhere in the middle, but for our stuff we’ve decided to go Public Domain wherever possible.

[Hackaday] We’ve seen a lot of collaborative projects come out of DP. Do you have any advice you can share for finding collaborators for a hardware project?

[Ian] The best advise I’ve heard (not mine) is to wait until a project is done to decide ownership share. Hackers are quick to settle on equal ownership, but during the project (or the long haul support period) collaborators may loose interest or be unable to continue as planned. With equal ownership remaining team members must finish the whole project just get a portion of the future gains. It demotivates the remaining team members and kills momentum. By waiting to see how things play out you’ll have a much better idea how to divide ownership for a successful long term collaboration.

[Hackaday] Can you name a favorite piece of bench equipment and tell us why it is at the top of your list?

[Ian] For years I used $10 “fire starter” soldering irons, even for surface mount soldering. An adjustable iron is a nice thing to have though, along with a bright light and head magnifier. A hot air rework station is the tool I can’t live without. It’s for fixing mistakes, which I make constantly, and when it dies everything crashes to a halt.

[Hackaday] What do you think of the evolution of the kit and small-run electronics industry over the last decade? Where would you like to see it go, and do you have any insights about what will get it there, or possible barriers that stand in the way?

[Ian] It’s huge now. Crowd source funding sites alone have become home to how many cool hacks, designs, and projects? Local, short-run assembly houses using a fairly standard set of components would make it a lot easier to get into hardware without 1337 soldering skillz.


SpaceWrencherThe Hackaday Prize challenges you to build the future of connected devices. Build the best and claim a trip into space or one of hundreds of other prizes.

Interview: Inventing the Unix “sudo” command

sudo_final

It was just one of these nights. We were sitting at the O’Neil’s San Mateo Pub, taking a break after a long day at the Maker Faire. Hackaday was hosting an informal drink-up and a steady stream of colorful characters has just started flowing in. That’s when we met [Robert Coggeshall].

It started off as a normal discussion – he runs Small Batch Assembly and does a lot of interesting things in the maker space. Then he brought up a fascinating detail – “Oh, did you know I also co-invented sudo back in the 80’s?”

If you ever did as much as touch a Unix system, you’ll know this is a big deal. What came as an even bigger surprise was that something like sudo had to be “invented” in the first place. When thinking about the base Unix toolkit, there is always this feeling that it all emerged from some primordial soup of ideas deep inside of Bell Labs, brought to life by the infinite wisdom of [Ken Thompson] and the rest of the gang. Turns out that wasn’t always the case. We couldn’t miss asking [Bob] for an interview, and he told us how it all came about…

[Read more...]

Hardware Startup Review: Spark

The Hardware Startup Review - Spark - Hackaday-01

Like it or not, a whole new wave of Hardware Startups is coming our way. Crowd Funding campaigns are making it possible for everyone with an idea to “test the waters”, tech-savvy Angel investors are eager to help successful ones cross over, and Venture Capitalists are sitting on the other side, always on the lookout for potential additions to their “hardware portfolio”. It’s these billion-dollar acquisitions that made everyone jump on the bandwagon, and there’s no going back. At least for now.

That’s all great, and we want to believe that good things will come out of this whole frenzy. But instead of staying on the sidelines, we thought Hackady should get involved and start asking some hard questions. After all, these guys didn’t think they’d be able to get away with some nicely produced videos and a couple of high-res photos, right?

For our first issue, we picked a relatively innocent target – Spark, the team behind the Spark Core development board. By embracing Open Source and Open Hardware as the core part of their strategy, Spark has so far been a positive example in the sea of otherwise dull (and potentially creepy) IoT “platforms”. So we thought we should give [Zach Supalla], CEO of Spark a call.

[Read more...]

Interview with [Damien George], Creator of the Micro Python project

upython

[Damien George] just created Micro Python (Kickstarter alert!), a lean and fast implementation of the Python scripting language that is optimized to run on a microcontroller. It includes a complete parser, compiler, virtual machine, runtime system, garbage collector and was written from scratch. Micro Python currently supports 32-bit ARM processors like the STM32F405 (168MHz Cortex-M4, 1MB flash, 192KB ram) shown in the picture above and will be open source once the already successful campaign finishes. Running your python program is as simple as copying your file to the platform (detected as a mass storage device) and rebooting it. The official micro python board includes a micro SD card slot, 4 LEDs, a switch, a real-time clock, an accelerometer and has plenty of I/O pins to interface many peripherals. A nice video can be found on the campaign page and an interview with the project creator is embedded after the break.

[Read more...]

Hackaday Interview with Amal Graafstra, Creator of xNT Implant Chip

Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled devices are starting to appear in our everyday lives. Shown in the picture above is the xNT (fundraiser warning), a 2mm x 12mm fully NFC Type 2 compliant 13.56MHz RFID tag encased in a cylindrical Schott 8625 bioglass ampule. It was created by [Amal Graafstra], who therefore aims to produce the world’s first NFC compliant RFID implant. The chip used is the NTAG203, which is (for the sake of simplicity) a 144bytes EEPROM with different protection features.

We can only start thinking of the different possibilities this chip will create in the near future, but also wonder which precedent this may set for future NFC enabled humans. Embedded after the break is the presentation video of xNT but also an interview I conducted with [Amal Graafstra], who has already been living for 8 years with RFID tags in each hand.

[Read more...]

An interview with [David] of Ultimaker

cura

After interviewing the creator of Slic3r and the folks at Shapeways, [Andrew] is back again with his adventures in 3D printer videography and an interview with [David Braam] of Ultimaker

About a year ago, [David] looked at the state of the art in 3D printer control and Replicator G. While Replicator G, along with Pronterface and Repetier-Host both convert 3D models into G-code files as well as control the printer while its squeezing plastic out onto a bed. [David] thought the current state of these RepRap host programs were janky at best, and certainly not the best user experience for any home fabricator. This lead him to create Cura, a very slick and vastly improved piece of host software for the Ultimaker.

Cura isn’t just a fancy front end on an already existing slicer engine; [David] created his own slicing algorithm to turn .STL files into G-code that’s immensely faster than skeinforge. Where skeinforge could take an hour to slice a complex model, Cura does the same job in minutes.

There are also a bunch of cool features available in Cura: you can rotate any part before sending it to the printer, as well as pulling voxels directly from your Minecraft world and sending them to your printer. Very, very cool stuff, and if you’re running a Ultimaker or any other RepRap, you might want to check it out.

[Read more...]