The Think Tank at the Chicago Unconference

On Saturday the Hackaday community turned out in force to try something new. The first Hackaday Unconference was held in three places at the same time, and I was in Chicago and was amazed at the turnout and variety of presentations. The image above sums up the concept quite well, everyone shows up ready to give an eight minute talk, but as a whole, no one knows what to expect. Well, we should have known to expect awesome and that’s what we got.

As usual, people are excellent… to one another and in adapting to the fluid nature of the day. Pumping Station: One, a renowned Hackerspace in the Avondale neighborhood near downtown Chicago, opened their doors for us. Not knowing how many people to expect we set up two presentation rooms with a third on deck just in case it was needed.

We just barely squeezed everyone in one room for the first track but ended up splitting into two for part of the day. Here you can see that second room filling up. Even so we still had a handful of presentations that didn’t get a chance to shine — we simply must do this again so they can have the chance and because I had such a great time!

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Hackaday Links: March 19, 2017

This is from the Daily Fail, but a working Apple I is going up on the auction block. It’s expected to bring in $317,693 USD. In other news, we’re going to be at the Vintage Computer Festival East at the end of the month. There is usually an Apple I there.

The most popular crowdfunding campaign of the month is Lego tape. It’s an adhesive-backed tape with studs on the top, allowing you to clip Lego pieces into place. How easy would this be to create at home? It’s really just a silicon mold and some 3M stickytape. Anyone up for a home casting challenge?

You guys know the Hackaday Overlords have a Design Lab, right? What’s a Design Lab? It’s a place filled with tools where we allow residents to come in for free, build stuff, give them training, and let them keep all their IP. It’s like a hardware accelerator, but focused on Open Source hardware. It is our gift to the community and we ask nothing in return. But that’s not important right now. We’re doing shots.

2017 will be the first year Maker Faire will have three flagship faires. New York is a given, as is the Bay Area. and A few weeks ago, Chicago grabbed the third flagship faire. If you’ve already bought tickets and scheduled your trip, terrible news: the Chicago Maker Faire has been postponed until late fall.

Flip clocks are cool. What’s a flip clock? The clock in Groundhog Day, or a bunch of flaps, gears, and a synchronous motor that displays the time. You know what’s not cool about flip clocks? They’re usually stuffed in horrible 70s plastic enclosures painted Harvest Gold or Avacado. [bentanme] found a flip clock and stuffed it in a glass jar. It’s kept in place by a few 3D printed parts that ingeniously keep the clock from moving around while still allowing you to see the gears. Neat.

Hackaday Unconference this Saturday (in Triplicate)

This Saturday we’re hosting the Hackaday Unconference — three live events in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco that are going to jumpstart the idea engines and enthusiasm of everyone who attends. We can’t even tell you what the Unconference is about; it’s the people who participate that make the schedule and guide the discussion. Everyone there will be ready to give a talk of at least eight minutes on something that excites them right now. As the day goes on, ideas will feed off of each other and people will give talks and lead discussions they hadn’t even thought of before hearing other presentations of the day. It’s an atmosphere that you’ve never experienced unless you’ve been to an Unconference.

If you are located near one of these events it’s not too late to sign up. We’ve expanded the RSVP limit for Chicago and Los Angeles. And San Francisco has a waiting list that will likely be released at some point this week. So sign up now!!

Those not located nearby can still peek in to see what’s happening. We’ll be covering all three events on Hackaday Twitter,  Hackaday Facebook (including some Facebook Live blips throughout the day), and Hackaday Instagram using the #HackadayUncon hashtag. While you’re looking through all the ways to stay connected with us, you should sign up for the weekly Hackaday.com newsletter to pick up any stories you might have missed and get a few hints of what is ahead.

Chicago to Host Hackaday Unconference

We’re excited to announce that Chicago will play host to the Hackaday Unconference on March 18th. We are happy to expand our unconference plans to include this event at Pumping Station One from 1-8pm on 3/18.

Astute readers will notice that this is the second location we have announced this week. On Monday we shared the news that San Francisco would host an unconference. Hackaday’s [Sophi Kravitz] and [Jordan Bunker] are organizing things in SF. [Brian Benchoff], [Bob Baddeley], and [Mike Szczys] will be in Chicago for this event that takes shape based on what you find most interesting.

We’re excited that PS:One is opening their doors for us. We’ll make sure there’s food, beverage, some exciting hardware-based door prizes, and other select swag.

Hackaday Unconference is Based on You

The Hackaday Unconference is all about finding interesting talks from anyone who attends. If you go, and you definitely should, be ready to stand up and deliver eight minutes on something that you find interesting right now. The day will start by going around and asking everyone for a talk title or topic. We’ll all make a collective decision on the schedule for the day and roll with it as talks are bound to spawn extemporaneous discussion and follow up presentations that build on the most exciting of concepts. Unconferences are interactive and not bound by the traditional presenter/audience divide of a conference.

You may speak about anything you like, but it sometimes deciding what to talk about is easier if there are some constraints. Consider the theme of the Hackaday Unconference to be Build Something That Matters. You hear this a lot from us because we think it is important. There is immense talent and incredible experience found in the Hackaday community and we like to take some time in life to direct that for the good of all people. If you have an idea to direct creative energy toward high ideal, it’s likely to make a great presentation.

Soak Up the Excitement to Propel Your Next Project

Pressure is low, excitement is high, and the potential for something spontaneous and awesome to happen is palpable. The ‘here and now’ aspect of an unconference sets it apart from events where speakers, talk subjects, and slide decks are decided upon weeks ahead of time. RSVPs will fill up. Don’t miss out on this chance to jumpstart your excitement for a current project, or to discover the direction of your next adventure.

Retrotechtacular: Max Headroom Takes Chicago In Audacious TV Hack

Those of you with long memories and a compulsive TV viewing habit might remember [Max Headroom], a quirky piece of TV ephemera from the late 1980s and early 1990s. [Max] was a supposedly computer generated TV show host and VJ with a pseudomechanical stutter, a slightly blocky rendered head, and a moving background of rendered lines. He looks a little quaint for viewers with a few decades viewing experience of CGI, but in his day he was cutting-edge cypberpunk TV.

He also made unscheduled showings on two Chicago TV stations in an audacious hack that has never been explained and whose culprit has never been found.

The real [Max Headroom] (Fair use) Via Wikimedia commons.
The real [Max Headroom] (Fair use) Via Wikimedia Commons.
If you were a bored British teenager and future Hackaday writer vegging out in front of your parents’ TV on an April night in 1985, you’d have caught [Max]’s genesis. He strung upon us by rising out of a title screen full of static in the Channel 4 TV movie [Max Headroom]: 20 Minutes into the Future.

The plot is a trip in itself. An investigative journalist seeking to uncover the sinister owners of his network (they run speeded-up adverts with the unfortunate side-effect of causing overweight viewers to explode) is pursued, causing a road accident in which he is injured by a collision with a safety barrier. Hence the name: [Max Headroom]. The network try to cover it up by producing a computerized facsimilie of the reporter which turns out to be an embarassing failure. They scrap the computer and it falls into the hands of a pirate TV station operating from a decrepit campervan, the Alphabetti-eating proprietor of which turns the character it contains into a TV sensation. Meanwhile the reporter escapes, recovers, and prevails over the villains.

The [Max] character proved to be something of a hit, with a TV spin-off series, VJing, adverts, and more. But that wasn’t the whole story of his appearances, back to that unexplained hack of Chicagoland TV.

The Chicago fake [Max Headroom].
The Chicago fake [Max Headroom].
On the night of the 22nd of November 1987, viewers of WGN were watching a sports program when the screen went blank and they were treated to a few seconds of a slightly home-made [Max Headroom] dancing in front of  those trademark moving lines. A couple of hours later on WTTW a rerun of a [Doctor Who] episode was again interrupted with the same fake [Max], this time speaking for a while before, if his performance wasn’t already bizarre enough, being spanked by a woman whose face is off camera.

As a piece of television history it’s an intriguing mystery, though since so little is known about the mechanism through which it was achieved it hasn’t achieved the notoriety in the technical world that you might expect. The stations involved conducted full investigations at the time and failed to locate a culprit, perhaps they should have been looking for that old campervan with the antennae on its roof.

It is very unlikely that a similar stunt could be performed today, with entirely digital TV studios and easy access to encryption technologies for external links to transmitter sites. But in the 1980s a studio would still have been an analogue affair so there would have been more opportunities to insert an unauthorized feed. Next year sees the 30th anniversary of the event, it would be fascinating if the perpetrator would mark it by anonymously revealing how it was achieved. Of course, we’d love to hear how you would have done it in the comments below. Surely we have readers who are intimately familiar with the television broadcasting equipment of the time.

Below the break we’re showing you both fake [Max] intrusions into the Chicago airwaves. First is the short outing on EGN, below that the longer one on WTTV.

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How a Muslim Immigrant from Bangladesh Became America’s Master Builder

If the United States has a national architectural form, it is the skyscraper. The notion of building a tower to the heavens is as old as Genesis, but it took some brash 19th century Americans to develop that fanciful idea into tangible, profitable buildings. Although we dressed up our early skyscrapers in Old World styles (the Met Life Tower as an Italian campanile, the Woolworth Building as a French Gothic cathedral), most foreigners agreed that the skyscraper suited only our misfit nation. For decades, Americans were alone in building them. Even those European modernists who dreamed of gleaming towers along Friedrichstraße and Boulevard de Sébastopol had to cross the Atlantic for a chance to act on their ambitions. By the start of World War II, 147 of the 150 tallest habitable buildings on the planet were located in the United States. 

No building style better represented America’s industriousness, monomaniacal greed, disregard of tradition, and eagerness to attempt feats that more established cultures considered obscene. And while those indelicate traits prompted Americans to develop the skyscraper, it was our openness and multiculturalism that brought us our greatest skyscraper builder: a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant named Fazlur Rahman Khan.

Khan was born on April 3rd, 1929 in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Dacca, British India at the time). His father, a mathematics instructor, cultivated young Fazlur’s interest in technical subjects and encouraged him to pursue a degree at Calcutta’s Bengal Engineering College. He excelled in his studies there and, after graduating, won a Fulbright Scholarship that brought him to the University of Illinois. In the United States, Khan studied structural engineering and engineering mechanics, earning two master’s degrees and a PhD in just three years. After a detour in Pakistan, Khan returned to the United States and was hired as an engineer in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), one of the most prominent architecture and engineering firms in the world.

Though he was born in a nation with no history of highrise construction, Dr. Fazlur Rahman Khan had worked his way to a position where he would revolutionize the field of structural engineering and build America’s proudest landmarks.

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Crazy Whirlwind Pre-Hackaday Prize Launch Tour

The Hackaday Prize was about to launch but the date wasn’t public yet. I decided to do a pre-launch tour to visit a few places and to drop in on some of the Hackaday Prize Judges. It started in Chicagoland, looped through San Francisco for a hardware meetup and Hardware Con, then finished with visits to [Ben Krasnow’s] workshop, [Elecia White’s] studio, and the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories.

The Prize is now running and it’s time for you to enter. Look at some of the awesome hacking going on at the places I visited and then submit your own idea to get your entry started. Join me after the break for all the details of the adventure.

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