Hacking when it Counts: Surviving the Burma Death Railway

In the early days of World War II, the Japanese army invaded Burma (now Myanmar) and forced an end to British colonial rule there. Occupying Burma required troops and massive amounts of materiel, though, and the Japanese navy was taking a beating on the 2,000 mile sea route around the Malay Peninsula. And so it was decided that a railway connecting Thailand and Burma would be constructed through dense tropical jungle over hilly terrain with hundreds of rivers, including the Kwae Noi River, made famous by the Hollywood treatment of the story in The Bridge on the River Kwai. The real story of what came to be known as the Burma Death Railway is far grislier than any movie could make it, and the ways that the prisoners who built it managed to stay alive is a fascinating case study in making do with what you’ve got and finding solutions that save lives.

Nutrition from Next-to Nothing

POWs in camp. [Source: The Thai-Burma Railway and Hellfire Pass]
Labor for the massive project was to come from the ultimate spoil of war – slaves. About 250,000 to 300,000 slaves were used to build the Burma-Siam Railway. Among them were about 60,000 Allied prisoners of war, primarily Australian, Dutch, British and American. POWs were singled out for especially brutal treatment by the Japanese and Korean guards, with punishment meted out with rifle butt and bamboo pole.

With the POWs was Doctor Henri Hekking, who had been born and raised in the former Dutch East Indies colony of Java (now Indonesia). He had spent his early years with his grandmother, a master herbalist who served as “doctor” for the native villagers. Inspired by his oma’s skill and convinced that the cure for any endemic disease can be found in the plants in the area, Dr. Hekking returned to Java as an officer in the Dutch army after completing medical school in the Netherlands.

After his capture by the Japanese, Dr. Hekking did everything he could to help his fellow POWs despite the complete lack of medical supplies, all the while suffering from the same miserable treatment. Hekking realized early on that the starvation rations the POWs endured were the main cause of disease in the camps; a cup of boiled white rice doesn’t provide much energy for men building a railway by hand in jungle heat, and provides none of the B vitamins needed by the body.

Continue reading “Hacking when it Counts: Surviving the Burma Death Railway”

Pan Flute Hero


The latest creation in the never-ending collection of “____ Hero” instruments is this Raspi-infused pan flute, built by [Sven Andersson] and his team at the 2013 WOW Hackathon. The flute itself consists of varying lengths of bamboo from a local flower shop, cut short enough to be hand-held while still hiding the Pi from the front side. In the spirit of other ‘Hero’ instruments, the pan flute has no real musical functionality. Each pipe houses what appears to be an electret microphone breakout board, which they kept in place by sealing off the end of the pipe with glue.

The sensors connect to the GPIO connector on the Raspi, which communicates to a local TCP/IP server the team ran as a controller hub. The game is also their original creation, written entirely in LUA. They turned to Spotify to find suitable material for the player to experience, creating playlists with actual pan flute songs and using the libspotify SDK to access the music. You can see the end result of the project in a short demo video below.

Continue reading “Pan Flute Hero”

Bamboo Bike

Reddit user [tkgarrett101] recently did away with expensive exotic materials for his bike frame and opted for a somewhat less processed form of natural building material, bamboo! The bike consists of a regular metal bike frame with a majority of the structural beams cut and replaced with bamboo poles. The bamboo is fit snug first with some expanding gorilla glue then tied in place with  hemp string and fiberglass resin. Instead of running cables along the frame the bike has coaster breaks brakes and a two speed hub, this also preserves the simplistic look of the whole ensemble. [tkgarrett101] says his bike is not so cheap, the overall parts cost was around 800 bucks (USD)! Plus it weighs a whole lot for a fixed gear. Plus the alignment is a bit off on the seat post. Either way this thing would surely turn some heads!

Too rich for your blood? Check out this cardboard bike, or if that green isn’t bright enough for you how about some glowbars for night visibility.

via Reddit