Art Eavesdrops on Life and Pagers

Before cell phones, pagers were the way to communicate on the go. At first, they were almost a status symbol. Eventually, they became the mark of someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t carry a cell phone. However, apparently, there are still some users that clutch their pagers with a death grip, including medical professionals. In an art project called HolyPager, [Brannon Dorsey] intercepted all the pager messages in a city and printed them on a few old-style roll printers. The results were a little surprising. You can check out the video below.

Almost all the pages were medical and many of them had sensitive information. From a technical standpoint, [Brannon’s] page doesn’t shed much light, but an article about the project says that it and other art projects that show the hidden world or radio waves are using our old friend the RTL-SDR dongle.

Pagers use a protocol — POCSAG — that predates our modern (and well-founded) obsession with privacy and security. That isn’t surprising although the idea that private medical data is flying through the air like this is. Decoding POCSAG isn’t hard. GNU Radio, for example, can easily handle the task.

We’ve looked at pager hacking in the past. You can even run your own pager network, but don’t blame us if you get fined.

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Generate Random Numbers The Hard Way

Your job is to create a random number generator.

Your device starts with a speaker and a membrane. On this membrane will sit a handful of small, marble-size copper balls. An audio source feeds the speaker and causes the balls to bounce to and fro. If a ball bounces high enough, it will gain the opportunity to travel down one of seven copper tubes. Optical sensors in each of the tubes detect the ball and feed data to an Ardunio Mega. When the ball reaches the end of the tube, a robotic hand will take the ball and put it back on the speaker membrane. The magic happens when we write an algorithm such that the audio output for the speaker is a function of how many balls fall down the pipes.

The above is a rough description of [::vtol::]’s art piece: kinetic random number generator. We’re pretty sure that there are easier ways to get some non-determinstic bits, but there may be none more fun to watch.

[::vtol::] is a frequent flyer here on Hackaday Airlines. Where else would you showcase your 8-bit Game Boy Photo Gun or your brainwave-activated ferrofluid monster bath? Would it shock you to find out that we’ve even covered another kinetic random number generator of his?  Fun stuff!

Mike Harrison at the Superconference: Flying LCD Pixels

Mike Harrison, perhaps better known to us as the titular Mike of YouTube channel mikeselectricstuff, is a hardware hacking genius. He’s the man behind this year’s Superconference badge, and his hacks and teardowns have graced our pages many times. The best thing about Mike is that his day job is designing implausibly cool one-off hardware for large-scale art installations. His customers are largely artists, which means that they just don’t care about the tech as long as it works. So when he gets together with a bunch of like-minded hacker types, he’s got a lot of pent-up technical details that he just has to get out. Our gain.

He’s been doing a number of LCD installations lately. And he’s not using the standard LCD calculator displays that we all know and love, although the tech is exactly the same, but is instead using roughly 4″ square single pixels. His Superconference talk dives deep into the behind-the-scenes cleverness that made possible a work of art that required hundreds of these, suspended by thin wires in mid-air, working together to simulate a flock of birds. You really want to watch this talk.

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Joe Kim: Where Technology and Art Collide

The rewards of being a writer for Hackaday are many, but aside from the obvious perks like the secret Hackaday handshake and admission to the private writer’s washroom, having the opportunity to write original content articles is probably the best part of the job. It gets even better, though, because after you submit an article, you’ll eventually get an email from Supplyframe Art Director Joe Kim with a Dropbox link to the original art he has created to accompany your piece. No matter where I am when that email comes in, I click on the link immediately, eager to see what Joe has come up with. And I’m never disappointed.

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AsciiCam: Make ASCII Art with your Phone

We admit it, we have a nostalgic soft spot for ASCII Art. Pictures made form characters, printed on an old-fashioned line printer. They’ve been a hacker standby since the 1960’s. Times have moved on though. These days we’re all carrying supercomputers in our pockets.  Why not use them to create more great ASCII art? That’s exactly what [Brian Nenninger] did with AsciiCam. AsciiCam lets you use your Android phone’s camera to create ASCII images.

Using the software is simple. Just launch it and you’re greeted with an ASCII preview of the camera image. Users can select from a 16 color palette and full 24 bit color. Monochrome modes are also available. You can also choose from black text on a white background or white text on black.

The great thing about AsciiCam is the fact that it is open source. You can download the full source code from Github. If you just want to run the software, it’s available through the Google Play Store. This is a labor of love. The first Github commits were six years ago, and [Bran] is still working — the most recent commits were made only a few days back. AsciiCam is also a good example for neophyte Android programmers.

Want to know more about ASCII art? Check out Al’s history of ASCII art, or this talk about both ASCII and ANSI creations.

Interactive Visual Programming With vvvv

Did you ever feel the urge to turn the power of image processing and OCR into music? Maybe you wanted to use motion capture to illustrate the dynamic movement of a kung-fu master in stunning images like the one above?  Both projects were created with the same software.

vvvv -pronounced ‘four vee’, ‘vee four’ and sometimes even ‘veeveeveevee’- calls itself ‘a multi purpose framework’, which is as vague and correct as calling a computer ‘a device that performs calculations’. What can it do, and what does the framework look like? I’d like to show you.

Since its first release in 1998 the project has never officially left beta stage. This doesn’t mean the recent beta releases are unstable, it’s just that the people behind vvvv refrain from declaring their software ‘finished’. It also provides an excuse for some quirks, such as requiring 7-zip to unpack the binaries and the UI that takes some getting used to. vvvv requires DirectX and as such is limited to Windows.

With the bad stuff out of the way, let’s take a look what vvvv can do. First, as implied by the close relationship with DirectX, it’s really good at producing graphics. An example for interactive video is embedded below the break. With its data flow/ visual programming approach it also lends itself to rapid prototyping or live coding. Modifications to a patch, as programs are called in this context, immediately affect the output.

The name ‘patch’ harkens back to the times of analog synthesizers and working with vvvv has indeed some similarities with signal processing that will make the DSP nerds among you feel right at home.

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The Grafofon: An Optomechanical Sequencer

There are quick hacks, there are weekend projects and then there are years long journeys towards completion.  [Boris Vitazek]’s grafofon falls into the latter category. His creation can best be described as electromechanical sequencer synthesizer with a multiplayer mode.
The storage medium and interface for this sequencer is a thirteen-meter loop of paper that is mounted like a conveyor belt. Music is composed by drawing on the paper or placing objects on it. This is usually done by the audience and the fact that the marker isn’t erased make the result collaborative and incremental.
 These ‘scores’ are read by a camera and interpreted by software.This is a very vague description of this device, for a reason: the build went on over six years and both hard- and software went through several revisions in that time. It started as a trigger for MIDI notes and evolved from there.
In his write up [Boris] explains the technical aspects of each iteration. He also tells the stories of the people he met while working on the grafofon and how they influenced the build. If this look into the art world reminds you of your local hackerspace, it is because these worlds aren’t that far apart.

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