Playing The Pixelflut

Every hacker gathering needs as many pixels as its hackers can get their hands on. Get a group together and you’ll be blinded by the amount of light on display. (We propose “a blinkenlights” as the taxonomic name for such a group.) At a large gathering, what better way to show of your elite hacking ability than a “competition” over who can paint an LED canvas the best? Enter Pixelflut, the multiplayer drawing canvas.

Pixelflut has been around since at least 2012, but it came to this author’s attention after editor [Jenny List] noted it in her review of SHA 2017. What was that beguiling display behind the central bar? It turns out it was a display driven by a server running Pixelflut. A Pixelflut server exposes a display which can be drawn on by sending commands over the network in an extremely simple protocol. There are just four ASCII commands supported by every server — essentially get pixel, set pixel, screen size, and help — so implementing either a client or server is a snap, and that’s sort of the point.

While the original implementations appear to be written by [defnull] at the link at the top, in some sense Pixelflut is more of a common protocol than an implementation. In a sense, one “plays” one of a variety of Pixelflut minigames. When there is a display in a shared space the game is who can control the most area by drawing the fastest, either by being clever or by consuming as much bandwidth as possible.

Then there is the game of who can write the fastest more battle-hardened server possible in order to handle all that traffic without collapsing. To give a sense of scale, one installation at 36c3 reported that a truly gargantuan 0.5 petabytes of data were spent at a peak of rate of more than 30 gigabits/second, just painting pixels! That’s bound to bog down all but the most lithe server implementation. (“Flut” is “flood” in German.)

While hacker camps may be on pause for the foreseeable future, writing a performant Pixelflut client or server seems like an excellent way to sharpen one’s skills while we wait for their return. For a video example check out the embed after the break. Have a favorite implementation? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Dutch Hackerspaces At Ten Years Old: Celebrating A Community With A Special Map

The exotic cruise destination of Hoek van Holland Haven.
The exotic cruise destination of Hoek van Holland Haven.

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece about the evolution of hackerspaces, and mentioned that I’d be attending a party for a hackerspace birthday. As I write this that party was last weekend, and it was celebrating both the birthday of RevSpace in the Hague, and the tenth anniversary of hackerspaces in the Netherlands. After a relaxing ocean cruise across the North Sea and a speedy train ride I found myself in RevSpace with a bottle of Club-Mate in my hand, hanging out with not only the locals but a selection of others from all across northwestern Europe and beyond. RevSpace is an exceptionally well-organised hackerspace with a large membership, so there was plenty to talk about and a lot of interesting projects to look at.

There was a short programme of talks in Dutch, covering hackerspace history and interviewing a panel of hackerspace founders. I am told that these may make their way online with an English translation in due course, and should be worth looking out for. Then there was an epic-scale barbecue, an old-school rave with Gameboy chiptunes and analogue synth EDM among other delights, and the chance for an evening’s socialising with the rest of the attendees. Continue reading “Dutch Hackerspaces At Ten Years Old: Celebrating A Community With A Special Map”

Reflection On A Decade Of Hackerspace Expansion

A few days ago I was invited to a party. Party invites are always good, and if I can make it to this one I’ll definitely go. It’s from a continental European hackerspace, and it’s for their tenth birthday party. As I spent a while checking ferries and flights it struck me, a lot of the spaces in my sphere are about a decade old. I went to London Hackspace’s 10th earlier in the year, and a host of other British hackerspaces aren’t far behind. Something tells me I’ll be knocking back the Club Mate and listening to EDM of some form at more than one such party in the coming year.

For most of the decade since I found the then-recently-established mailing list of my local hackerspace I’ve spent a lot of my time involved in more than one space. I’ve been a hackerspace director, a member, and many roles in between and I’ve seen them in both good times and bad ones. Perhaps it’s time to sit back and take stock of that decade and ask a few questions about hackerspaces. How have they fared, what state are they in now, and where are they going?

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Return Of The MITERS Journal

After a long hiatus, the MIT Electronic Research Society, better known as MITERS, has released their summer 2019 edition of the MITERS Journal, officially known as Volume 43 Issue 1.

The latest edition features a throwback to the first journal published in 1976, showing that some things just never change:

“What is MITERS? MITERS is the MIT Electronic Research Society, a non-profit, student-run laboratory for MIT’s EE hackers. The Society provides work space, tools, low-cost parts and information to any number of the MIT community. We have a few good ‘scopes, various and sundry pieces of test equipment, a b’zillion power supplies, and Bertha, our beloved PDP-7 computer. (No snickers from the peanut gallery, please. Bertha is very sensitive.) We also have the most incredible plunder-trove on campus.”

– 1976 Journal 1 Number 1

The space remains a member-run project space and maker shop, providing the MIT community with access to tools, knowledge, and room to build projects. Continue reading “Return Of The MITERS Journal”

Fablab Saigon Celebrates A Belated Arduino Day

Okay, we’ve just left May and stepped into June, why are we talking about Arduino Day — traditionally a March 16th event where makers congregate and share projects? I live in Ho Chi Minh City, and the event tends to take place in mid-May, but the enthusiasm and collaborative spirit are just as strong. Organized by the awesome local maker group Fablab Saigon with the venue provided by Intek Institute, there were some neat projects on display along with some talks from local companies.

The first thing that struck me about the event was how young the maker movement is here – most attendees were still in high school or early university. By contrast, I was 23 when I first learned to use AVR microcontrollers with assembly language (by the time Arduino started to get traction the boat effectively missed me). I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a relic, at least until we all started talking excitedly about robots (I had brought a couple). It seems that geeking out about electronics is the great equalizer which knows no age limits.

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From Dirt To Space, Backyard Iron Smelting Hackerspace Style

When I went to a hacker camp in the Netherlands in February I was expecting to spend a few days in a comfortable venue with a bunch of friends, drink some beer, see a chiptune gig, and say “Ooh!” a lot at the exciting projects people brought along. I did all of those things, but I also opened the door to something unexpected. The folks from RevSpace in the Hague brought along their portable forge, and before long I found myself working a piece of hot rebar while wearing comically unsuitable clothing. One thing led to another, and I received an invite to come along and see another metalworking project of theirs: to go form ore to ornamental technology all in one weekend.

From Dirt To Space is a collaboration between Dutch hackerspaces with a simple aim: to take iron ore and process it into a component that will be launched into space. The full project is to be attempted at the German CCCamp hacker camp in August, but to test the equipment and techniques a trial run was required. Thus I found myself in a Le Shuttle car transporter train in the Channel Tunnel, headed for the Hack42 hackerspace in Arnhem where all the parties involved would convene.

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SauceBot Uses G-Code To Apply Condiments With Precision

You just can’t please some people. Take a 3D-printer disguised as a condiment dispenser to a public event and next thing you know people actually expect you to build a 3D-condiment dispenser for the next time. How can you help but oblige?

We have to admit to more than a little alarm when [ShaneR] sent us this tip, as on first reading it seemed to endorse the culinary sin of putting ketchup on barbecue. But then we watched the video below and realized this dispenser is only applying ketchup and mustard to hot dogs, and while some purists would quibble with the ketchup, we’ll let that slide. The applicator, dubbed SauceBot by the crew at Connected Community HackerSpace in Melbourne, appears to be purpose-built entirely from laser-cut acrylic, including the twin peristaltic pumps for extruding the ketchup and mustard. We’re not sure the Z-axis is entirely necessary for dispensing onto hot dogs, but since this was a community outreach event, it makes sense to go all in. The video below shows it in use at a fundraiser, and while the novelty of it probably sold quite a few dogs, it’s safe to say the food service industry won’t be alarmed that this particular robot will be stealing jobs anytime soon.

Seriously, if your hackerspace is going to have public events with food, something like this could really get the conversation started. Then again, so might a CD execution chamber.