Hackers and Heroes: Rise of the CCC and Hackerspaces

From its roots in phone phreaking to the crackdowns and legal precedents that drove hacking mostly underground (or into business), hacker culture in the United States has seen a lot over the last three decades. Perhaps the biggest standout is the L0pht, a visible 1990s US hackerspace that engaged in open disclosure and was, arguably, the last of the publicly influential US hacker groups.

The details of the American hacker scene were well covered in my article yesterday. It ended on a bit of a down note. The L0pht is long gone, and no other groups that I know of have matched their mix of social responsibility and public visibility. This is a shame because a lot of hacker-relevant issues are getting decided in the USA right now, and largely without our input.

Chaos Computer Club

But let’s turn away from the USA and catch up with Germany. In the early 1980s, in Germany as in America, there were many local computer clubs that were not much more than a monthly evening in a cafeteria or a science museum or (as was the case with the CCC) a newspaper office. Early computer enthusiasts traded know-how, and software, for free. At least in America, nothing was more formally arranged than was necessary to secure a meeting space: we all knew when to show up, so what more needed to be done?

Things are a little different in the German soul. Peer inside and you’ll find the “Vereinsmentalität” — a “club-mentality”. Most any hobby or sport that you can do in Germany has an associated club that you can join. Winter biathlon, bee-keeping, watercolor painting, or hacking: when Germans do fun stuff, they like to get organized and do fun stuff together.

Continue reading “Hackers and Heroes: Rise of the CCC and Hackerspaces”

Metalab Bypasses IR Remote with Audio Circuit

Infra-red (IR) remotes are great, unless you’re in a hackerspace that’s full of crazy blinking lights and random IR emissions of all kinds. Then, they’re just unreliable. Some smart folks at Metalab in Vienna, Austria cut out the IR middle-man with a couple transistors and some audio software. They call the project HDMI Whisperer, and it’s a cute hack.

Metalab’s AV system has a web-frontend so that nobody ever has to stand up unless they want to. They bought an incredibly cheap 5-to-1 HDMI Switch to switch between displaying multiple video streams. But how to connect the switch to the Raspberry Pi server?

Fortunately, the particular switch has a remote-mounted IR receiver that connects to the main unit through a stereo audio jack. Plugging this sensor into a laptop and running Audacity while pressing the buttons on the remote got them audio files that play the remote’s codes. Simply playing these back out of the Raspberry Pi’s audio out and into the switch’s IR input through a tiny transistor circuit does the trick. Now they have a networked five-way HDMI switch for $10.

Given the low data rates of most IR remotes, we could imagine using the same trick for devices that have built-in IR receivers as well. Simply clip out the IR receiver and solder in a couple wires and then inject your “audio” signal directly.

But IR hacks are loads of fun. We’ve seen a bunch here, from the classic camera shutter-release hack to a more general tutorials on cloning IR signals with Arduinos.

Thanks [overflo] for the tip!

Roboexotica 2008


We couldn’t make Roboexotica in Vienna, Austria this year (check out last year’s coverage), so we asked [Bre Pettis] to act as our liaison.

Last night was the opening party of Roboexotica, the worldwide gathering of cocktail robots. It was a blast! Pictured above is Robovox, a 40 foot high robot that you can text message to and it will say what you text to it! Continue reading “Roboexotica 2008”

Case prototyping

[Deviant Ollam], lockpicker and beverage cooling contest host, was recently in Vienna, presumably for DeepSec. While there, he stopped by the Metalab hackerspace and checked out their RepRap rapid prototyping machine. You can see video of his visit above. He had them construct a custom fitted cover for the flash of his point and shoot camera. That’s what we love about rapid prototyping. Many of the projects we cover here solve a particular problem, but would never be considered commercially viable enough to put into production. With the availability of rapid prototyping increasing, hackers can start moving toward producing even more complex objects specific to their needs with a finish closer to commercial products.