Harnessing Your Creativity Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, November 18th at noon Pacific for the Harnessing Your Creativity Hack Chat with Leo Fernekes!

(Note: this Hack Chat was rescheduled from 10/14/2020.)

You’re sitting at your bench, surrounded by the tools of the trade — meters and scopes, power supplies and hand tools, and a well-stocked parts bin. Your breadboard is ready, your fingers are itching to build, and you’ve got everything you need to get started, but — nothing happens. Something is missing, and if you’re like many of us, it’s the one thing you can’t get from eBay or Amazon: the creative spark that makes innovation happen.

Creativity is one of those things that’s difficult to describe, and is often noticed most when it’s absent. Hardware hacking requires great buckets of creativity, and it’s not always possible to count on it being there exactly when it’s called for. It would be great if you could somehow reduce creativity to practice and making it something as easy to source for every project as any other commodity.

While Leo Fernekes hasn’t exactly commoditized creativity, judging from the breadth of projects on his YouTube channel, he’s got a pretty good system for turning ideas into creations. We’ve featured a few of his builds on our pages, like a discrete transistor digital clock, the last continuity tester you’ll ever need, and his somewhat unconventional breadboarding techniques. Leo’s not afraid to fail and share the lessons learned, either.

His projects, though, aren’t the whole story here: it’s his process that we’re going to discuss. Leo joins us for this Hack Chat to poke at the creative process and see what can be done to remain rigorous and systematic in your approach but still make the process creative and flexible. Join us with your questions about finding the inspiration you need to turn parts and skills into finished projects that really innovate.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, November 18 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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Add Creativity To Your BOM: Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 14th at noon Pacific for the Harnessing Your Creativity Hack Chat with Leo Fernekes!

You’re sitting at your bench, surrounded by the tools of the trade — meters and scopes, power supplies and hand tools, and a well-stocked parts bin. Your breadboard is ready, your fingers are itching to build, and you’ve got everything you need to get started, but — nothing happens. Something is missing, and if you’re like many of us, it’s the one thing you can’t get from eBay or Amazon: the creative spark that makes innovation happen.

Creativity is one of those things that’s difficult to describe, and is often noticed most when it’s absent. Hardware hacking requires great buckets of creativity, and it’s not always possible to count on it being there exactly when it’s called for. It would be great if you could somehow reduce creativity to practice and making it something as easy to source for every project as any other commodity.

While Leo Fernekes hasn’t exactly commoditized creativity, judging from the breadth of projects on his YouTube channel, he’s got a pretty good system for turning ideas into creations. We’ve featured a few of his builds on our pages, like a discrete transistor digital clock, the last continuity tester you’ll ever need, and his somewhat unconventional breadboarding techniques. Leo’s not afraid to fail and share the lessons learned, either.

His projects, though, aren’t the whole story here: it’s his process that we’re going to discuss. Leo joins us for this Hack Chat to poke at the creative process and see what can be done to remain rigorous and systematic in your approach but still make the process creative and flexible. Join us with your questions about finding the inspiration you need to turn parts and skills into finished projects that really innovate.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 14 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Continue reading “Add Creativity To Your BOM: Hack Chat”

Ideas To Prototypes Hack Chat With Nick Bild

Join us on Wednesday, July 29 at noon Pacific for the Ideas to Prototypes Hack Chat with Nick Bild!

For most of us, ideas are easy to come by. Taking a shower can generate half of dozen of them, the bulk of which will be gone before your hair is dry. But a few ideas will stick, and eventually make it onto paper or its electronic equivalent, to be played with and tweaked until it coalesces into a plan. And a plan, if we’re lucky, is what’s needed to put that original idea into action, to bring it to fruition and see just what it can do.

No matter what you’re building, the ability to turn ideas into prototypes is what moves projects forward, and it’s what most of us live for. Seeing something on the bench or the shop floor that was once just a couple of back-of-the-napkin sketches, and before that only an abstract concept in your head, is immensely satisfying.

The path from idea to prototype, however, is not always a smooth one, as Nick Bild can attest. We’ve been covering Nick’s work for a while now, starting with his “nearly practical” breadboard 6502 computer, the Vectron, up to his recent forays into machine learning with ShAIdes, his home-automation controlling AI sunglasses. On the way we’ve seen his machine-learning pitch predictor, dazzle-proof glasses, and even a wardrobe-malfunction preventer.

All of Nick’s stuff is cool, to be sure, but there’s a method to his productivity, and we’ll talk about that and more in this Hack Chat. Join us as we dive into Nick’s projects and find out what he does to turn his ideas into prototypes.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, July 29 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “Ideas To Prototypes Hack Chat With Nick Bild”

Fail Of The Week: Bright Idea For LED Signs Goes Bad

Typically when we select a project for “Fail to the Week” honors, it’s because something went wrong with the technology of the project. But the tech of [Leo Fernekes]’ innovative LED sign system was never the problem; it was the realities of scaling up to production as well as the broken patent process that put a nail in this promising project’s coffin, which [Leo] sums up succinctly as “The Inventor’s Paradox” in the video below.

The idea [Leo] had a few years back was pretty smart. He noticed that there was no middle ground between cheap, pre-made LED signs and expensive programmable signboards, so he sought to fill the gap. The result was an ingenious “LED pin”, a tiny module with an RGB LED and a microcontroller along with a small number of support components. The big idea is that each pin would store its own part of a display-wide animation in flash memory. Each pin has two terminals that connect to metal cladding on either side of the board they attach to. These two conductors supply not only power but synchronization for all the pins with a low-frequency square wave. [Leo]’s method for programming the animations — using a light sensor on each pin to receive signals from a video projector — is perhaps even more ingenious than the pins themselves.

[Leo]’s idea seemed destined for greatness, but alas, the cruel realities of scaling up struck hard. Each prototype pin had a low part count, but to be manufactured economically, the entire BOM would have to be reduced to almost nothing. That means an ASIC, but the time and expense involved in tooling up for that were too much to bear. [Leo] has nothing good to say about the patent game, either, which his business partners in this venture insisted on playing. There’s plenty of detail in the video, but he sums it up with a pithy proclamation: “Patents suck.”

Watching this video, it’s hard not to feel sorry for [Leo] for all the time he spent getting the tech right only to have no feasible way to get a return on that investment. It’s a sobering tale for those of us who fancy ourselves to be inventors, and a cautionary tale about the perils of participating in a patent system that clearly operates for the benefit of the corporations rather than the solo inventor. It’s not impossible to win at this game, as our own [Bob Baddeley] shows us, but it is easy to fail.

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Willem Kolff’s Artificial Organs

In my youth I worked for a paid ambulance service, and while we all lived for the emergency calls, the routine transports were the calls that paid the bills. Compared with the glamor and excitement of a lights-and-siren run to a car wreck or heart attack, transports were dull as dirt. And dullest of all were the daily runs from nursing homes to the dialysis center, where rows of comfy chairs sat, each before a refrigerator-sized machine designed to filter the blood of a patient in renal failure, giving them another few days of life.

Sadly, most of those patients were doomed; many were in need of a kidney transplant for which there was no suitable donor, while some were simply not candidates for transplantation. Dialysis was literally all that stood between them and a slow, painful death, and I could see that at least some of them were cheered by the sight of the waiting dialysis machine. The principles of how the kidneys work have been known since at least the 1800s, but it would take until 1945 for the efforts of a Dutch doctor, using used car parts and sausage casings, to make the predecessor of those machines: the first artificial kidney.

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Julius Lilienfeld And The First Transistor

Here’s a fun exercise: take a list of the 20th century’s inventions and innovations in electronics, communications, and computing. Make sure you include everything, especially the stuff we take for granted. Now, cross off everything that can’t trace its roots back to the AT&T Corporation’s research arm, the Bell Laboratories. We’d wager heavily that the list would still contain almost everything that built the electronics age: microwave communications, data networks, cellular telephone, solar cells, Unix, and, of course, the transistor.

But is that last one really true? We all know the story of Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley, the brilliant team laboring through a blizzard in 1947 to breathe life into a scrap of germanium and wires, finally unleashing the transistor upon the world for Christmas, a gift to usher us into the age of solid state electronics. It’s not so simple, though. The quest for a replacement for the vacuum tube for switching and amplification goes back to the lab of  Julius Lilienfeld, the man who conceived the first field-effect transistor in the mid-1920s.

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Inventor Services – Maybe Right For You – Maybe

You’ve no doubt been exposed to the ads for various inventor services; you have an idea, and they want to help you commercialize it and get the money you deserve. Whether it’s helping you file legal paperwork, defending your idea, developing it into a product, or selling it, there’s a company out there that wants to help. So which ones are legit, which ones are scams, and what do you really need to make your millions?

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