How do you come up with new ideas? As much as it sometimes seems like they arrive in a flash out of the blue, they don’t just come out of nowhere. Indeed, we all have well-stocked mental toolboxes that say “this thing can be used to do that” and “if you want to get there, start here”.
One incredibly fertile generator of “new” ideas is simply putting old ideas next to each other and realizing that a chain of two or three can get you to someplace new. It just happened to me while listening to Mike and myself on this week’s Hackaday Podcast.
Here’s the elevator pitch. You take something like the player-pianoesque MIDI barrel piano that we featured last Thursday, and mix it together with the street-painting bicycle trailer that we featured on Friday. What do you get? A roll of paper that can be drawn on by normal kids, rolled up behind a bicycle, with a tank that they can pressurize with a bike pump, that will spray a pixelated version of their art as they roll down the sidewalk.
Now how can I make this real? One of my neighbors has a scrap bike trailer…
But see what I mean about ideas? I just took two existing ideas and rubbed them together, and in this case, they emitted sparks. And I’ve got a mental catalogue of all of the resources around me, some of which fell right into place. This role as fountain of good proto-ideas is why I started reading Hackaday fifteen years ago, and why it’s still a daily must-read for folks like us everywhere. A huge thank you to everyone who’s sharing! Read more Hackaday!
John Conway passed away this week. Even if you don’t know much about mathematics, you will probably know nearly everyone’s favorite cellular automata ruleset: Conway’s “Game of Life”. It’s so much a part of our cultural history, that proto-hacker Eric Scott Raymond suggested using the glider as the hacker emblem.
The idea that a very simple set of rules, applied equally and everywhere, could result in “life” was influential in my growth as a young hacker, and judging from the comments on our article about Conway, I’m not alone. But I won’t lie: I was a kid and thought that it could do much more than make pretty patterns on the screen. I was both right and wrong.
Although amazingly complex machines can be built in Conway’s Life, just check out this video for proof, in the end no grand unifying theory of cellular automata has emerged. As a research topic Conway’s chosen field of mathematics, cellular automata is a backwater. It didn’t really go anywhere. Or did it?
Implementing Conway’s Life in BASIC on a Tandy Color Computer was one of the first things that launched me on my geeky path. It ranks with MENACE: the matchbox-based machine learning algorithm from the 1960’s and an introduction to Markov Chains in the form of a random text generator in my young algorithmic life, all of which I incidentally read about in Martin Gardner’s column in “Scientific American”. Conway’s Life, along with some dumb horse-race game, also taught me about bad random-number generators: the screen would populate the same “randomly” every time on the old CoCo.
So maybe Conway didn’t want to be remembered just for his “Life” because it was a bit of a mathematical dead-end. But in terms of its impact on the world, an entire generation of hackers, and my own personal life, it was able to fill up significantly more than a screen full of pixels. Here’s to Conway, his “Life”, and everyone else who is inspiring the next. You’re not just gliders, you’re glider guns!
[Game of Life example shown in this article is John Conway’s Game of Life – 1.0 written in Python by Nick Jarvis and Nick Wayne]
For most of us, hacking is a hobby, something to pass a few idle hours and satisfy our need to create. Precious few of us get to live the dream of being paid to tinker; most of us need some kind of day job to pay the bills and support our hacking habits. This necessarily creates an essential conflict, rooted in the fact that we all only have 24 hours to spread around every day: I need to spend my time working so I can afford to hack, but the time I spend working to earn money eats away at my hacking time. That’s some catch, that Catch-22.
From that primary conflict emerges another one. Hacking is a hugely creative process, and while the artist or the author might not see it that way, it’s true nonetheless. Unless we’re straight-up copying someone else’s work, either because they’ve already solved the same problem we’re working on and we just need to get it done, or perhaps we’re just learning a new skill and want to stick to the script, chances are pretty good that we’re hitting the creative juices hard when we build something new. And that requires something perhaps even more limiting than time: inspiration. How you manage inspiration in large part dictates how productive you are in your creative pursuits.
Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Managing Inspiration”
Every once in a while, we stumble on an amazing resource that’s not exactly new, but it’s new to us. This is the case, in spades, with The Engines of Our Ingenuity, a radio show that’s been running since 1988!
Each episode covers an invention or engineering marvel, and tells the story of how it came to be, and puts each device into its historical and cultural context. Want to get the lowdown on how we safely bring fire into the kitchen? Or the largest land transport vehicle, NASA’s crawler? And what’s up with lobsters anyway?
Continue reading “The Engines Of Ingenuity”
In what is being hailed as the next great advancement in 3D printing, scientists have been able to get a 3D printed shape to change form when it is exposed to water, bringing 3D printing squarely into the realm of the fourth dimension. Although the only examples we’ve seen so far are with relatively flat prints (which arguably subtracts one “D” from the claim) the new procedure is one which is groundbreaking for the technology.
The process uses cellulose fibers which, when aligned in a particular way and exposed to water, swell in order to change shape. This is similar to how a bimetallic strip in a thermostat works, but they really took their inspiration from biological processes in plants that allow them to change shape according to environmental conditions. It’s hard to tell if this new method of printing will forever alter the landscape of 3D printing but, for now, it’s an interesting endeavor that will be worth watching. The video after the break shows a fast-motion print using the technique, followed by a demo of the print submersed in water.
We often see new technological advancements that use biology as a springboard for new ideas, and this one is no different. There have been building structures inspired by pinecones and this Processing hack inspired by squid. Biology is all around us, and any of it could be used for inspiration for your next project!
Continue reading “Take Your 3D Printing To The Next Dimension”