The Biohacking Movement and Open Source Insulin

In March of 2014, I knew my eight year old daughter was sick. Once borderline overweight, she was now skeletally thin and fading away from us. A pre-dawn ambulance ride to the hospital gave us the devastating news – our daughter had Type 1 diabetes, and would be dependent on insulin injections for the rest of her life.

This news hit me particularly hard. I’ve always been a preparedness-minded kind of guy, and I’ve worked to free myself and my family from as many of the systems of support as possible. As I sat in the dark of the Pediatric ICU watching my daughter slowly come back to us, I contemplated how tied to the medical system I had just become. She was going to need a constant supply of expensive insulin, doled out by a medical insurance system that doesn’t understand that a 90-day supply of life-saving medicine is a joke to a guy who stocks a year supply of toilet paper. Plus I had recently read an apocalyptic novel where a father watches his 12-year old diabetic daughter slip into a coma as the last of her now-unobtainable insulin went bad in an off-grid world. I swore to myself that I’d never let this happen, and set about trying to find ways to make my own insulin, just in case.

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Mediated Matter at the MIT Media Lab

Few things have managed to capture the imagination of hackers and engineers around the world the way Synthetic Biology did over the last couple of years. The promise of “applying engineering principles to designing new biological devices and systems” just seemed way too sci-fi to missed out on, and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. All of a sudden, the field which used to be restricted to traditional research organizations and startups found itself crowded with all sorts of enthusiasts, biohackers, and weirdos alike. Competitions such as the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) paved the way, and the emergence of community spaces like GenSpace and BioCurious finally made DNA experimentation accessible to anyone who dares to try. As it often happens, the Sci-Fi itself did not go untouched, and a whole new genre called “Biopunk” emerged, further fueling people’s imagination and extrapolating worlds to come.

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25th Chaos Communication Congress schedule

The team behind 25C3 has published the first draft of this year’s schedule. The annual Chaos Communication Congress is happening December 27th to 30th in Berlin, Germany. There are plenty of interesting talks already in place. We’re spotting things we want to attend already: The conference starts off with how to solar power your gear, which is followed by open source power line communication. A TOR-based VPN, an open source BIOS, rapid prototyping, holographic techniques, and running your own GSM network are on the bill too.

We’ll have at least three Hack a Day contributors in attendance. Last year featured two of our favorite conference talks: [Drew Endy]’s Biohacking and the MiFare crypto1 RFID crack. We hope to see you there.

25C3: Nothing to hide announced


Germany’s Chaos Computer Club has announced the theme for their annual Chaos Communication Congress: “Nothing to hide“. Like last year’s “Full steam ahead!“, it’s open to many interpretations. People striking down privacy laws often say citizens shouldn’t mind since they have “Nothing to hide”. The phrase is also connected to the inability to hide data, as the CCC demonstrated this year by publishing the German Home Secretary’s fingerprint. On a more positive side, “Nothing to hide” is also about the free exchange of information that happens at hacker conventions. The Congress is in its 25th year and promises to be as good as ever. At last year’s 24C3, we saw great talks like [Drew Endy]’s biohacking talk and the original MiFare crypto presentation. 25C3 will be held in Berlin December 27th to 30th. The wiki is already up and they’ve published a call for participation, if you’re interested.

24C3 Hacking DNA

[Drew Endy]’s Programming DNA talk was by far the most interesting talk we saw at Chaos Communication Congress. No, DNA doesn’t have much to do with computers, but he points out that hacking principles can be applied just the same. Right now engineers are reversing genetic code and compiling building blocks for creating completely arbitrary organisms. This talk was designed to bootstrap the hacking community so that we can start using and contributing standard biological parts to an open source collection of genetic functions.

You should definitely watch the video to get a good idea of where biohacking is at today. You can find a higher quality version of the video in the archives.