Continuing The Dialog: “It’s Time Software People and Mechanical People Had a Talk”

A while back I wrote a piece titled, “It’s Time the Software People and Mechanical People Sat Down and Had a Talk“. It was mostly a reaction to what I believe to be a growing problem in the hacker community. Bad mechanical designs get passed on by what is essentially digital word of mouth. A sort of mythology grows around these bad designs, and they start to separate from science. Rather than combat this, people tend to defend them much like one would defend a favorite band or a painting. This comes out of various ignorance, which were covered in more detail in the original article.

There was an excellent discussion in the comments, which reaffirmed why I like writing for Hackaday so much. You guys seriously rock. After reading through the comments and thinking about it, some of my views have changed. Some have stayed the same.

It has nothing to do with software guys.

being-wrong-quoteI definitely made a cognitive error. I think a lot of people who get into hardware hacking from the hobby world have a beginning in software. It makes sense, they’re already reading blogs like this one. Maybe they buy an Arduino and start messing around. It’s not long before they buy a 3D printer, and then naturally want to contribute back.

Since a larger portion of amateur mechanical designers come from software, it would make sense that when I had a bad interaction with someone over a design critique, they would be end up coming at it from a software perspective. So with a sample size too small, that didn’t fully take into account my positive interactions along with the negative ones, I made a false generalization. Sorry. When I sat down to think about it, I could easily have written an article titled, “It’s time the amateur mechanical designers and the professionals had a talk.” with the same point at the end.

Though, the part about hardware costs still applies.

I started out rather aggressively by stating that software people don’t understand the cost of physical things. I would, change that to: “anyone who hasn’t designed a physical product from napkin to market doesn’t understand the cost of things.”

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It’s Time the Software People and Mechanical People Sat Down and Had a Talk.

With the advances in rapid prototyping, there’s been a huge influx of people in the physical realm of hacking. While my overall view of this development is positive, I’ve noticed a schism forming in the community. I’m going to have to call a group out. I think it stems from a fundamental refusal of software folks to change their ways of thinking to some of the real aspects of working in the physical realm, so-to-speak. The problem, I think, comes down to three things: dismissal of cost, favoring modularity over understanding, and a resulting insistence that there’s nothing to learn.

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Hacking and Philosophy: Surveillance State


If you don’t live under a rock (though you may want to now) you probably saw yesterday’s article from Spiegel that revealed the NSA has its own catalog for spy gadgets. Today they released an interactive graphic with the catalog’s contents, and even if you’re not a regular reader of Hacking & Philosophy, you’re going to want to take a look at it. I recommend glancing over IRATEMONK, in the “Computer Hardware” category. As the article explains, IRATEMONK is

An implant hidden in the firmware of hard drives from manufacturers including Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung that replaces the Master Boot Record (MBR).

It isn’t clear whether the manufacturers are complicit in implanting IRATEMONK in their hardware, or if the NSA has just developed it to work with those drives. Either way, it raises an important question: how do we know we can trust the hardware? The short answer is that we can’t. According to the text accompanying the graphic, the NSA

…[installs] hardware units on a targeted computer by, for example, intercepting the device when it’s first being delivered to its intended recipient, a process the NSA calls ‘interdiction.’

We’re interested to hear your responses to this: is the situation as bleak as it seems? How do you build a system that you know you can trust? Are there any alternatives that better guarantee you aren’t being spied on? Read on for more.

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Future Tech and Upgrading your Brain


A few weeks ago [Jacob Merz] sent me an email about his sensory expansion project, which allows the wearer to “hear” infrared light by mapping it to specific tones. Although a rough prototype, [Jacob’s] device reflects a larger realm of technological possibilities: the development of a type of “peripheral” for the human body. EDIT: Updated gallery to include new photos and added link to Jacob’s new site.

You’re going to want to listen to [David Eagleman’s] TEDx Alamo talk particularly around 10 minutes in, where he talks about the sonic glasses.  [Eagleman] claims that the human brain, if given a consistent input that corresponds to the real world, can decipher the signal into usable information. The sonic glasses, which provide a type of sonar to the blind wearer, eventually just…work. Your brain can “learn” its own drivers for input devices.

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Hacking and Philosophy: Crackdown Part III


“Law and Order” may be my favorite chapter of Hacker Crackdown: it covers the perspective of the early 90’s seizures and arrests from the perspective of law enforcement. While the chapter has its flaws, I highly recommend it; [Sterling] treats both sides with patience and understanding, revealing how similarly adrift everyone was (and to some extent, remains) in the uncertainty of cyberspace. I also recommend the [Gail Thackeray] / [Dead Addict] joint talk from DEFCON 20 as an accompanying piece to this chapter, as it bridges the twenty-year gap between Crackdown‘s publication and today—and [Thackeray] herself is the focus of this chapter.

As always, everyone is welcome in our weekly discussion, even if you haven’t been keeping up with our progress through Hacker Crackdown. You can download it for free as an audiobook, too! Onward for more!

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Hacking and Philosophy: Crackdown Part II


This week we’re back with Hacker Crackdown: Part II! The caliber of last week’s comments was exceptional, but the level of participation planed off, and I’ll risk a guess: The Mentor’s Manifesto was more likely encountered as part of any given reader’s childhood—or, if not, easily skimmed at just over one page long—and therefore drew more interest. Crackdown, however, is perhaps less familiar. You also needed to read over 50 pages for last week (100 for this week). I list these things not as an apology or a rationalization, but as an attempt to better serve the community by providing accessible content. If you can’t commit to a lengthy reading, that shouldn’t exclude your participation.

This week, I’m adjusting the format to focus on key quotations from the text. Never even heard of Hacker Crackdown? No problem! Stick with us after the break where you’ll find all the relevant issues in a brief outline, then join us in our discussion!

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Hacking and Philosophy: Hacker Crackdown Part I


This week’s installment of Hacking & Philosophy hits the books with [Bruce Sterling’s] Hacker Crackdown. If you’re joining us for the first time, you should check out last week’s conversation over The Mentor’s “Hacker Manifesto.” Don’t stop with the article, though, or you’ll miss out on the best part!

The contributions from our community are phenomenal, and it’s worth the effort to work through the comments. There are even a few replies from [The Mentor] himself.

Unfortunately, I can’t feature all of the excellent responses for lack of room, but I will recommend a handful that I feel are uniquely important after the break. Onward for more!

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