When I start up a new project, one that’s going to be worth writing up later on, I find it’s useful to get myself into the right mindset. I’m not a big planner like some people are — sometimes I like to let the project find its own way. But there’s also the real risk of getting lost in the details unless I rein myself in a little bit. I’m not alone in this tendency, of course. In the geek world, this is known as “yak shaving“.
The phrase comes obliquely from a Ren and Stimpy episode, and refers to common phenomenon where to get one thing done you have to first solve another problem. The second problem, of course, involves solving a third, and so on. So through this (potentially long) chain of dependencies, what looks like shaving a yak is obliquely working on cracking some actually relevant problem. Continue reading “Yak Shaving: Hacker Mode vs Maker Mode”→
Showing any sort of ‘hacking’ on either the big screen or the small often ends in complete, abject failure. You only need to look at Hackers with its rollerblading PowerBooks, Independance Day where the aliens are also inexplicably using PowerBooks, or even the likes of Lawnmower Man with a VR sex scene we keep waiting for Oculus to introduce. By design, Mr Robot, a series that ended its first season on USA a month ago, bucks this trend. It does depressed, hoodie-wearing, opioid-dependant hackers right, while still managing to incorporate some interesting tidbits from the world of people who call themselves hackers.
In episode 0 of Mr Robot, we’re introduced to our hiro protagonist [Elliot], played by [Rami Malek], a tech at the security firm AllSafe. We are also introduced to the show’s Macbeth, [Tyrell Wellick], played by Martin Wallström]. When these characters are introduced to each other, [Tyrell] notices [Elliot] is using the Gnome desktop on his work computer while [Tyrell] says he’s, “actually on KDE myself. I know [Gnome] is supposed to be better, but you know what they say, old habits, they die hard.”
While this short exchange would appear to most as two techies talking shop, this is a scene with a surprisingly deep interpretation. Back in the 90s, when I didn’t care if kids stayed off my lawn or not, there was a great desktop environment war in the land of Linux. KDE was not free, it was claimed by the knights of GNU, and this resulted in the creation of the Gnome.
Subtle, yes, but in one short interaction between [Elliot] and [Tyrell], we see exactly where each is coming from. [Elliot] stands for freedom of software and of mind, [Tyrell] is simply toeing the company line. It’s been fifteen years since message boards have blown up over the Free Software Foundation’s concerns over KDE, but the sentiment is there.
There’s far more to a hacker ethos than having preferred Linux desktop environments. Hacking is everywhere, and this also includes biohacking, In the case of one Mr Robot character, this means genetic engineering.
In one episode of Mr Robot, the character Romero temporarily gives up his power in front of a keyboard and turns his mind to genetics. He “…figured out how to insert THC’s genetic information code into yeast cells.” Purely from a legal standpoint, this is an interesting situation; weed is illegal, yeast is not, and the possibilities for production are enormous. Yeast only requires simple sugars to divide and grow in a test tube, marijuana actually requires a lot of resources and an experienced staff to produce a good crop.
The promise of simply genetically modifying yeast to produce THC is intriguing; a successful yeast-based grow room could outproduce any plant-based operation, with the only input being sugar. Alas, the reality of the situation isn’t quite that simple. Researchers at Hyasynth Bio have only engineered yeast to turn certain chemical precursors into THC. Making THC from yeast isn’t yet as simple as home brewing an IPA, but it’s getting close, and a great example of how Mr Robot is tapping into hacking, both new and old.
Why Aren’t We Arguing More About This?
The more we ruminate on this show, the more there is to enjoy about it. It’s the subtle background that’s the most fun; the ceiling of the chapel as it were. We’re thinking of turning out a series of posts that works through all the little delights that you might have missed. For those who watched and love the series, what do you think? Perhaps there are other shows worthy of this hacker drill-down, but we haven’t found them yet.
A 14-year-old in Dallas, Texas has been arrested for bringing a clock to his school. [Ahmed Mohamed] could be any one of us. He’s a tinkerer, pulling apart scrap appliances and building projects from the parts. He was a member of the his middle school robotics team. The clock was built from a standard four digit seven segment display and a circuit board. [Ahmed] built the circuit inside a Vaultz hard pencil case like this one. He then did what every other experimenter, inventor, hacker, or maker before him has done: He showed off his creation.
Unfortunately for [Ahmed] one of his teachers immediately leapt to the conclusion that this electronic project was a “hoax bomb” of some sort. The police were called, [Ahmed] was pulled out of class and arrested. He was then brought to a detention center where he and his possessions were searched. [Ahmed] is now serving a three-day suspension from school. His clock is considered evidence to be used in a possible criminal case against him.
If this situation doesn’t get your blood boiling, then we don’t know what does. Not only is there a glaring racial issue here, but also an issue of allowing kids to bring their projects to school. We hope you’ll join us in expressing outrage at this whole debacle, as well as supporting [Ahmed] in any way you can. Let’s join together as a community to make sure a few small-minded individuals don’t break the spirit of this budding hardware hacker.
For anyone out there who would like to support [Ahmed]’s education even when his school won’t, [Anil Dash] is will be in contact with the family later today. We’re offering a gift card for the hackaday store and we would assume other contributions would also be welcome. -Ed.
Author’s note: I’m keeping spoilers out of this article, but they will surely show up in the comments.
A few weeks ago I started hearing about a new show on the USA network, Mr. Robot. The synopsis for the show was “Mr. Robot is a psychological thriller that follows a young programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer by day and a vigilante hacker by night.” Yeah, that sounds like another Hollywood crapfest. Cue crazy GUIs and virtual reality flybys representing hacking scenes. After watching the pilot though, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was hooked for the entire 10 week first season.
Let’s start with the hacking, which is the whole reason this article is here on Hackaday. Show creator [Sam Esmail] isn’t a hacker himself, but he is tech savvy enough to see how poorly hacking has been portrayed on TV and in the movies. He knew he could do it better. The solution was good consultants, in the form of [Michael Bazzell] and others. The team helped shape the show into a rather realistic portrayal of hacking techniques. Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), the main character, is the “vigilante” hacker described in the synopsis. Within the first 10 minutes of the pilot, he is turning a child pornographer in to the police. How does he catch the creeper? Tor exit node exploits, of course.
The onion routing protocol is not as anonymous as you think it is. Whoever’s in control of the exit nodes is also in control of the traffic, which makes me the one in control.
This is an accurate description of some of the exploits which have been demonstrated on the tor network. There aren’t any VR hacking scenes to be found either. In fact, several characters watch and make fun of the “flu shot” scene in Hackers. In this show, the command line isn’t hidden, it’s celebrated. We see every command the characters type, from netstat to CAN bus dumps. In one scene, Elliot even fires up a windows virtual machine so he can run DeepSound on his Kali Linux box.
The hacking isn’t all software either. Everyone’s favorite Linux single board computer is featured prominently in the first season. We can’t knock a show where a character looks at another and says “Ok, we all know what a Raspberry Pi is, what’s your point?”
While still weary from our TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon, The Hackaday crew had a chance we couldn’t pass up: A tour of Adafruit Industries. Adafruit isn’t open to the public, so an opportunity to see the inner workings of one of the largest companies in the hacker/maker industry was really something special.
Coming in off the hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan streets, we found ourselves in a nondescript white marble lobby. The contrast and colors made me think of a scene out of THX1138. A short elevator ride opens to a second lobby area with a large door. We weren’t alone though – a security camera stands silent witness. Any thoughts of Big Brother were quelled when the door was thrown open by none other than [Phil Torrone], welcoming us to Adafruit.
If you’ve seen any of the photos or videos of Adafruit’s offices, you know what to expect – a large, open space broken by the columns keeping the building’s 10 stories upright. It’s the perfect blank canvas upon which to build a company. Since we were there late on a Sunday afternoon, things were relatively quiet. Only a handful of the 80 Adafruit employees were at their stations. Those on hand were packing and scanning in orders, in preparation for what would be a busy Monday. It’s a bit hard to be standing in Adafruit, knowing that you’re within arm’s reach of every part, module, or device you’ve ever wanted, and not want to jump right in on a project. With 10 of us there that may have made a bit of a dent in Adafruit’s bottom line, though.
[Phil] shows off Adafruit’s Fona module
The Circuit Playground characters
The tour started at [Phil’s] desk. Tucked in among a copy of Dune, a very respectable graphic novel collection, and the two most recent editions of The Art of Electronics was United States Export Controls, 7th Edition. Considering the amount of shipping to far-flung countries the company has to do each day, one must stay on top of little things like ITAR and other export laws.
Throughout the tour, [Phil] made it clear that he views his job as a simple one: Do everything possible to allow [Limor] to crank out designs. [Phil] keeps the business running so she can keep on engineering open source hardware. [Phil’s] touches shine through though, in the product logos, and the characters which appear in Adafriut’s Circuit Playground. If those videos strike you as kid stuff, that’s exactly what they are designed to be. During his tenure at Make, [Phil] was one of four people who ran the first Makerfaire in 2006. He still gets e-mails from people who attended it as kids and were inspired to enter the fields of engineering or computer science. Both [Phil] and [Limor] have their sights set on inspiring the next generation of hackers.
Next up on our tour was the wearables department, domain of the one and only Becky Stern. We were all struck by how incredibly neat and organized the area was. There was a well-labelled place for everything, and everything was in its place. On display was a grey hoodie with a bandolier of ninjaflex 3D printed bullets, all lit by RGB LEDs.
Click past the break for the rest of Hackaday’s Tour of Adafruit Industries!
Now 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.
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.
Well…For my day job, I am a Network Engineer.. I can’t really say for which company, but it’s big.
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.
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?
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. I 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
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..
I 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..
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..
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..
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..
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.
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.
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…
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…
I 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..
A 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.
Live Out Loud Every Day
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!
We generated the screen full of code seen above literally by bashing a hand on the keyboard repeatedly like a monkey. You know, just like how hackers are portrayed in the movies? Hacker Typer makes you look like you know what you’re doing even though you’re too lazy to do something real. It’s a pointless website that’s none-the-less worth a few moments of your time just for the sake of amusement. You’ll be greeted with a set of options. The first lets you decide what pre-determined text will appear as you type. The rest are for page title, foreground and background colors, and number of characters that will appear with each keystroke.
The default features start off with three characters generated for each keystroke, another annoying staple of Hollywood film making. Oh well, even movies that try really hard to get things right end up getting under the skin of someone. Case in point, the Linux shell readout from Tron Legacy.