Hackaday Visits The Clark Magnet High School


Thought Hackaday’s trip to LA was all about hackerspaces, parties, and rummaging through piles of awesome junk? Nope. We’re also tasked with some community outreach that brought us to the Clark Magnet High School in Glendale, CA.

This isn’t your usual high school. Each year, it accepts around 300 new freshmen (grade 9) from the other high schools in the Glendale district. Selection is done through a lottery system, ensuring it’s not just the kids “on the good side of the tracks” or whose parents are active in the PTA that are selected; about 52% of the students at Clark can be classified as at or below the poverty line.

The curriculum? Instead of stopping at the classical comprehensive high school education, the students at Clark Magnet are focused primarily on the STEM fields. They’re also the home base for Team 696, a FIRST robotics team that has done very well in robotics competitions. A few mentors from JPL and IBM help the students out on their projects, and the head of Clark’s engineering program, [David Black], as well as the principal, were once students themselves.

As far as their engineering program goes, they have a very impressive setup; their workshop features a Haas minimll with a 10-tool carousel, a huge CNC wood router, more than one 3D printer, a small woodshop, a CAD classroom – in short, enough tools to make just about anything. Because Clark Magnet is in sunny California, they’ve been able to get a few grants and build a 358kW peak solar array behind the football field. It’s enough to keep the lights on, and the electric bill down, allowing them to hire an additional teacher or two.

In addition to an impressive engineering/shop class, there’s also an audio and video production suite filled with Mac Pros, cameras, mixing boards and 96 Terabytes of storage. It’s not an exaggeration to say this high school is better equipped than some colleges.

Clark also does some other very interesting stuff outside of class; they’ve launched and recovered high altitude balloons, traveled to elementary schools to play with Lego robots, and some students also have impressive home-built projects they bring in to tinker with. We saw a homebrew quadcopter and a very awesome Mecanum wheel robot that we expect to see in the Hackaday tip line shortly.

Despite how awesome the Clark engineering department is, and how capable the students are, they’ve said the FIRST robotics team has been getting a lot of flak from the rest of the maker community. Apparently some people see an amazing engineering program as a waste of resources. From our short time at Clark, we think nothing could be further from the truth. These students are quickly becoming experts at CAD design and CNC operations. They’re competent embedded programmers and well on their way to becoming awesome engineers. Students who don’t want to build a robot or program firmware get involved in project planning, marketing, and all the rest of the business that goes into running a initiative of this size. It’s a truly awesome program, and I have to say I’m a little bit jealous I didn’t graduate from Clark.

Gallery of pics and two videos below: going over the workshops at Clark and a robot project. Our fanboyism for Clark also demands we link to the (very small and very resonable) Kickstarter the FIRST robotics team is using for their 2014 budget.

[Read more...]

Hacking high school exams and foiling them with statistics


A few weeks ago, [Debarghya Das] had two friends eagerly awaiting the results of their High School exit exams, the ISC national examination, taken by 65,000 12th graders in India. This exam is vitally important for each student’s future; a few points determines which university will accept you and which will reject you. One of [Debraghya]‘s friends was a little anxious about his grade and asked if it was possible to hack into the board of education’s servers to see the grades before they were posted. [Debraghya] did just that, and was able to download the exam records of nearly every student that took the test.. Looking even closer at the data, he also found evidence these grades were changed in some way.

Getting the grades off the CISCE board of education’s servers was very simple; each school has a separate code, and each student is given an individual number. With the simplest javascript magic, [Debraghya] discovered that individual grades could be accessed by pointing a script to /[4 digit school ID]/[3 digit student ID] on the CISCE server. There was absolutely no security here, an impressive oversight indeed.

After writing a small script and running it on a few machines, [Debraghya] had the exam results, names, and national IDs of 65,000 students. Taking a closer look at the data, he plotted all the scores and came up with a very strange-looking graph (seen above). It looked like a hedgehog, when nearly any test with a population this large should be a continuous curve.

[Debraghya] is convinced he’s discovered evidence of grade tampering. Nearly a third of all possible scores aren’t represented in the data, but scores from 94 to 100 are accounted for, making the hedgehog shape of the graph statistically impossible. Of course [Debraghya] only has the raw scores, and doesn’t know exactly how the tests were scored or how they were manipulated. He does know the scores were altered, though, either through normalizing the raw scores or something stranger and more sinister.

While scraping data off an unencrypted server isn’t much of a hack, despite what the news will tell you, we’re awfully impressed with [Debraghya]‘s analysis of the data and his ability to blow the whistle and put this data out in the open. Without any information on how these scores were changed, it doesn’t really change anything, and we’ll welcome any speculation in the comments.

Skittles, The Robotic Blimp

Blimp 4_0

Funky Shiitake Mushrooms, a high school design team from Fremont, CA, have created a low cost airship they call Skittles the Second. Skittles is a remote control robotic blimp, complete with 4 reversible propellers, wireless video, and 2.4 a GHz remote control. Somewhere between a regular RC  blimp and a Predator Drone, Skittles and FSM have managed to gain a large number of awards including winning the Digital Open grand prize. The ship performs amazingly, and can perform a full 360 in just over one second. There is a video after the break.

For the future, the group plans to give the ship autonomous capabilities, in order to avoid losing another drone in strong wind. Fortunately, after that happened to Skittles the first, they were able to hunt it down after it had floated 3 miles down the road. Since they are all high school students under 17, we would say they have a lot of potential. I, for one, welcome our new robotic blimp overlords.

[Read more...]

Visiting the FIRST robotics regional this friday

Just a quick heads-up. I’ll be checking out the FIRST robotics competition in Kansas City this friday. It’s a robotics comp between teams of high school students – and the prizes include quite a few scholarships. I know we’ve got some readers who are in the competition. If you see a guy with a Hack-A-Day sweatshirt/T-shirt on, say hi and I might hook you up with some stickers. My day job will be providing real-time video streaming of the event, so feel free to check that out.

Tesla gone wild

I’ve gotten quite a few good submissions lately, so don’t get mad if you’re not up. I can’t resist high voltages, so this Tesla coil project capable of 30 inch lightning bolts built by [PlasmaFire] caught my eye. Not too bad for a high school project.

From his description: The Tesla Coil that I built runs on normal house current (120VAC, 60Hz), fed through line filters to two Franceformer 9060 P-E neon sign transformers that output 9000 volts at 60ma each. After going through a high-voltage Terry-style RFI filter, the power is stored in a 4.0-joule capacitor bank. This energy is dumped into a copper-coil primary. The secondary, made from cast acrylic and motor winding wire, and a topload, made from dryer duct, aluminum foil tape, and a wood disc, complete the overall assembly.

(oh, and just for fun: the cylon roomba. Thanks [tod])