Sparklecon: Crappy Robots, Better Robots, Hammer Jenga, Tesla Coils

Last weekend was Sparklecon, the premier meetup in Southern California of dorks dorking around, fire, electricity, welding, and general mischief. Just imagine a party of a hundred or so like-minded individuals at a hackerspace. Now imagine the entire party is the after party. That’s a pretty good idea of what happened.

The event was held at the 23b shop in Fullerton, a true hackerspace tucked away in a small industrial park. The people at 23b are using their location to their advantage: no one in the neighborhood really cares what happens after 5pm on a Friday. This allows for some very loud, very bright, and very dangerous hijinks.


There weren’t many pages missing from the Hackaday Omnibus donated to the 23b shop. Oddly, the only pages missing were the articles written by Benchoff.

There was something for everyone at Sparklecon, including:

  • Electric Pickle. Take a stick welder, and put a few hundred amps through a pickle. First, the pickle turns into a sodium light. Then, it turns into a carbon arc light. Best done after dark.
  • FPV drone racing. Flying around and crashing into trees in an abandoned lot. FPV from a few quads were projected onto the side of a building
  • Live music! Analog synths and Game Boys!
  • Tesla coils! This was a 300 amp monster, and completely analog. The spark gap was impressive by itself, but it gets really cool when you steal a fluorescent light from a fixture and stand 20 feet away from the Tesla coil.
  • Hammer Jenga! Cut some 2x4s up and make a tower of Jenga. Get a hammer, some colorful commentators,  a dozen people, and make some competition brackets. Hackaday’s own [Jasmine] was the first champion of the night.
  • Sparklebot Death Battle! It’s like BattleBots, only things break more often and we don’t have [Bil Dwyer].
  • Hebocon! Battling robots, but much crappier than the Sparklebot Death Battle. These robots broke more often.

The main event was, of course, Sparklecon’s own version of Battlebots. There were only four competitors the entire night, but the competition was fierce.

Three of the bots were wedge designs, in keeping with the ramp-ification of battling robots. The lone exception to this was [Charlie]’s Slow Bot, a cube design equipped with a spinning steel blade. The blade moves fast, but Slow Bot doesn’t. It’s a purely defensive design, meant to destroy bots trying for an easy kill. The test video of Slow Bot can be seen here:

The first fight of Slow Bot did not live up to the hype, unfortunately. After Slow Bot’s primary weapon got up to speed, the opposing bot moved in for the kill. The bolts on Slow Bot‘s blade sheared, ending the match, and leaving five or six people looking around the 23b shop for M5 bolts, or some larger bolts and a tap.

Is it all hilarously unsafe? Well, there were some plexiglas shields in front of the crowd, and most people viewed the fights on the projector beaming against the wall, anyway.

Is it worth it to go to Sparklecon? If you like dangerous experiments, soldering wires directly onto AA batteries, fire, electricity, electromagnetic fields, broken robots, and hanging out by a fire, yes. It’s a party at a proper hackerspace, making it the best kind of party ever. If history repeats itself, there will also be an afterparty at 23b following the LayerOne conference in May.

Turning Street Sweeper Bristles into Lock Picking Tools…For Science!


In between writing for Hackaday, most of us (if not all of us) like to design projects on our own, creating whatever might come to mind. I, for instance, enjoy experimenting with lock picking techniques at industrial, gritty, and real warehouses in Southern California learning how to utilize the resources there, turning spare parts into something completely different.

One such skill I learned is how easy it is to make lock picking sets from discarded scraps of metal. The documentation is found on a personal blog of mine called HackerTrips (we cover our own stuff sometimes). It contains several photos and descriptions of the process involved which I picked up thanks to a hackerspace in Fullerton where local makers dream up all kinds of interesting projects.

The project starts out by walking on the streets, which is a rarity these days. This is because the general modes of transportation now are either a car, a bus, a subway, a train, a bike, or a plane, which puts the attention on the destination at hand rather than peering into the fractures of the road. This means that a lot of the time, people don’t notice the hidden treasures found on the side of the street, including the street sweeper bristles that have been knocked off their edges.

Continue reading “Turning Street Sweeper Bristles into Lock Picking Tools…For Science!”

Upgrading a hackerspace’s shelving


Shelving is probably one of the most underappreciated items in the shop. Think about it; would you rather have a place to store boxes, or a fancy new thickness planer, laser cutter, or pick and place machine. The folks over at the 23B hackerspace were growing tired of their disintegrating Ikea shelving unit and decided to make some shelves. They didn’t phone this one in, either: these shelves will be around far longer than you or I.

[Chris], the creator of these wonderfully useful pieces of metal, was inspired by a video featuring [Jamie Hyneman] of Mythbusters fame. An entire 80 foot section of M5 Industries, [Jamie]’s shop, is covered in shelving units constructed out of square steel tubing, put together in a way that’s easy to construct and able to handle amazing amounts of random stuff.

The new shelves for the 23B shop follow a similar design as the shelves over at M5, only a bit smaller in scale. It’s a wonderful beginner’s project for a welding and fabrication class, and more than sturdy enough to handle a few pull-ups.