Frank Drake’s Legacy, Or: Are We All Alone In The Universe?

When Frank Drake began his astronomy career in the late 1950s, this was an incredibly exciting time for the field. Humanity was beginning to unlock the secrets of the Universe using ever more powerful radio frequency and optical telescopes, including the tantalizing prospect of space-based telescopes. Amidst the ramping up Space Race between the US and USSR, there was an ever-growing excitement about humankind’s future among the stars.

As concrete plans for landings and colonies on the Moon, Venus and Mars were proposed and put into action, it also brought to the forefront many existing and new questions about humanity’s place in the Universe. During Frank Drake’s 92 years on planet Earth – until his passing on September 2nd of this year – he was one of the driving forces behind the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), along with other legends like Carl Sagan.

Although to the average person the acronym SETI is most likely to bring to mind popcorn movies about little grey – or green – men, Drake’s Project Ozma, as well as the SETI Institution and the ongoing Breakthrough Listen project are just some of the attempts made by Drake and his colleagues over the decades to answer that one question that may affect the very course of humankind’s future: are we alone in the Universe?

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Remembering Sanjay Mortimer, Pioneer And Visionary In 3D Printing

Over the weekend, Sanjay Mortimer passed away. This is a tremendous blow to the many people who he touched directly and indirectly throughout his life. We will remember Sanjay as pioneer, hacker, and beloved spokesperson for the 3D printing community.

If you’ve dabbled in 3D printing, you might recall Sanjay as the charismatic director and co-founder of the extrusion company E3D. He was always brimming with enthusiasm to showcase something that he and his company had been developing to push 3D printing further and further. But he was also thoughtful and a friend to many in the community.

Let’s talk about some of his footprints.

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Farewell Sir Clive Sinclair; Inspired A Generation Of Engineers

It is with sadness that we note the passing of the British writer, engineer, home computer pioneer, and entrepreneur, Sir Clive Sinclair, who died this morning at the age of 81 after a long illness. He is perhaps best known among Hackaday readers for his ZX series of home computers from the 1980s, but over a lifetime in the technology industry there are few corners of consumer electronics that he did not touch in some way.

Sinclair’s first career in the 1950s was as a technical journalist and writer, before founding the electronics company Sinclair Radionics in the 1960s. His output in those early years was a mixture of miniature transistor radios and Hi-Fi components, setting the tone for decades of further tiny devices including an early LED digital watch at the beginning of the 1970s, miniature CRT TVs in the ’70s and ’80s, and another tiny in-ear FM radio which went on sale in the ’90s.

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John McAfee’s Wild Ride Is Over

John McAfee, the founder of McAfee Associates and pioneer in the antivirus field, was found dead today, June 23, 2021, of an apparent suicide in a Barcelona prison cell.

Born in 1945, the term “colorful” doesn’t begin to describe the life of McAfee. His entree into the nascent computer industry began with a degree in mathematics, followed by choice assignments at places like Xerox PARC, NASA, Univac, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Lockheed. He built up an impressive resume of programming skills until serendipity struck, in the form of one of the earliest computer viruses: the Brain virus. First found in the mid-1980s, Brain infected the boot sector of floppy disks and was originally intended as a somewhat heavy-handed form of copy protection by its authors. The virus rubbed McAfee the wrong way, and he threw himself into writing software to protect PCs from such infections. These were the roots of McAfee Associates, which opened its doors in 1987.

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Alone, But Not Lonely: Remembering Astronaut Michael Collins

With many of the achievements of the Space Race now more than half a century behind us, it’s no wonder that we’re steadily losing the men who rode the rockets of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs into space. They were all very much in their primes at the time, but no matter what you’ve accomplished in life, even if it includes a trip to the Moon, time eventually catches up to you.

Still, it was quite a shock to learn today that astronaut Michael Collins passed away today at the age of 90. Collins made his trip to the Moon aboard Apollo 11, the mission which would see his crewmates Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin descend to the surface in the Lunar Module Eagle and take the historic first steps on its surface in July of 1969.

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Roboticist Grant Imahara Of Mythbusters Fame Dies Of Aneurysm At Age 49

We awake this morning to sad news of the premature passing of Grant Imahara at the age of 49 due to a brain aneurysm. Grant was best known for his role on the wildly popular Mythbusters television show on which he starred and built test apparatus for seasons three through twelve. He landed this role because he was a badass hardware hacker as much as he was an on-camera personality.

Grant received his degree in electrical engineering from USC in 1993 and landed a job with Lucasfilm, finding his way onto the Industrial Light and Magic team to work on blockbuster films like the Star Wars prequels (R2-D2 among other practical effects) and sequels to Terminator and The Matrix. Joining the Mythbusters team in 2005 was something of a move to rapid prototyping. Each of the 22-minute episodes operated on a 10-day build and a film cycle in which Grant was often tasked with designing and fabricating test rigs for repeatable testing with tightly controlled parameters.

After leaving the show, Grant pursued several acting opportunities, including the Kickstarter funded web series Star Trek Continues which we reported on back in 2013. But he did return to the myth busting genre with one season of The White Rabbit Project on Netflix. One of the most genuinely geeky appearances Grant made was on an early season of Battlebots where his robot ‘Deadblow’ sported a wicked spiked hammer. Video of his appearance in the quarter-finals is like a time-capsule in hacker history and guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

Grant Imahara’s legacy is his advocacy of science and engineering. He was a role model who week after week proved that questioning how things work, and testing a hypothesis to find answers is both possible and awesome. At times he did so by celebrating destructive force in the machines and apparatus he built. But it was always done with observance of safety precautions and with a purpose in mind (well, perhaps with the exception of the Battlebots). His message was that robots and engineering are cool, that being a geek means you know what the heck you’re doing, and that we can entertain ourselves through creating. His message lives on through countless kids who have grown up to join engineering teams throughout the world.

Grant was the headliner at the first Hackaday Superconference in San Francisco back in 2015. I’ve embedded the fireside chat below where you can hear in his own words what inspired Grant, along with numerous stories from throughout his life.

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RIP Danal Estes, Developer Of Multitool 3D Printing Infrastructure

Last week, [Danal Estes] passed away. This comes as a shock to many of us who had the pleasure of interacting with him online. Not only was [Danal] an active contributor to the 3D printing community, he was simply a warm-hearted character who was just fun to get along with. I met [Danal] online less than a year ago. But I owe him a debt in helping transform a set of design files that I posted online into a full blown community of hardware enthusiasts.

Here’s my best shot at recounting some of this fellow human’s legacy as seen from the fellow tool changing 3D printing enthusiasts who knew him.

Getting to Know an Online Community Builder

I first met [Danal] online last September through Thingiverse when he posted a make of Jubilee, a tool changing machine design that I posted a few weeks prior. At a time when Jubilee was just a set of files and instructions on the internet, I was stoked that someone in the world was out there building a duplicate. To get to know these people better and work out any pinch points in their assembly process, I started a Discord Chat Server. [Danal] was the first to join and start telling his story in pictures.

As a community of curious people on Discord grew, questions about the machine started to arise. How big was it? How did the tool changing work? I tried answering as many as I could, putting an FAQ blurb on Thingiverse, But a few weeks in, something else happened: [Danal] started answering the questions. Not only that, he was greeting nearly every single person who introduced themselves on the server. I didn’t understand the value of a simple “welcome aboard!” that follows someone’s first post in a budding online community, but [Danal] did. So he did just that. He made you feel welcome to have landed in this corner of the internet. In a world full of engineers who don’t like repeating themselves, [Danal] seemed to get that his repeat interaction was new for the person on the other end; and that made it worth doing.

Danal’s first tool changes

As the days passed, questions continued, and [Danal] continued to fill people in with answers to questions–even repeat questions. All the while, he posted progress pictures of his own machine. In a way, the rest of the community seemed to be holding their breath during this time, watching [Danal] post status reports; waiting for some conviction that these files actually turned into something that worked. Then, less than a month later, [Danal] posted a video of his first successful tool change. It did work! Almost certainly inspired by [Danal’s] success, a few more folks started building machines of their own. But [Danal] was the first person to duplicate a Jubilee.

More than twenty machines have been built in the wild since I posted the project files back in September. I believe that the inspiration to start draws from the success of people who have finished before, which chains down to the inspiration drawn from the success of the first person to finish: [Danal Estes]. I owe him one for that: for inspiring a community of folks to follow in this adventure.

Commoditized Automatic Nozzle Alignment

[Danal] did more than affirm the machine design to a new Jubilee community. Over the short span of the project, [Danal] put his software hat on and developed an automated machine-vision based tool alignment system that he called TAMV. It turns out that tool tip calibration is one of the gnarly problems for any multi-nozzle 3D printer. Tools must be aligned relative to each other such that each of the unique materials they print are aligned in the resulting print. The current ways of doing this are cumbersome and manual. Either you measure offsets by printing a vernier scale or by taking pictures with an upwards-facing microscope. [Danal] took this gnarly problem as an opportunity to automate the process completely, so he did.

In just two months, [Danal] returned with an announcement on the Jubilee Discord to present TAMV, aka: Tool Align Machine Vision. By mounting an upwards facing webcam to the front of his Jubilee, [Danal] simply ran his one-button script, and his machine automatically calibrated each available tool both automatically and better than most humans could with the prior methods. It did this by sequentially picking up tools, putting them in the camera field of view, and then measuring their offsets. What’s more, he released the entire code base as open-source, literally transforming a gnarly problem into a thing of the past with a commodity solution made usable with a simple installation script and setup instructions that he also wrote.

Here on Hackaday, it’s humbling to read about the amazing feats folks are overcoming all from the comfort of their home workbenches. But it’s invigorating to see that same feat unfolded in a way that lets us unpack it, learn from it, build on top of it. The act of documenting work you’ve already done with the intent that others could follow it is an act of grace. [Danal] was gracious.

A Shared Story Told in Projects

As [Danal] became one of the most active community members on Discord, we started to learn more about his other projects. For [Danal], 3D printers were as much a side project as they were tools in a family of other tools for creative projects. Armed with these machines, [Danal] put them to work on machines for flight, from extraordinary remote control aircraft (3D printed of course) that could barely work their wingspan through a doorway to the consoles of real world aircraft that could carry a pilot.

It was always a pleasure to get a slice of [Danal’s] adventures. Getting to hear about his excitement in projecting was food for a growing community of hobbyists eager to get back to our workbenches. And the framing of his adventures was warm enough to make you feel not just that you wanted a bit of this lifestyle for yourself, but that you could have it too. I hope that this part of [Danal’s] legacy is something that we online folk can continue: the shared courtesy and warm attitude to newcomers in a hardware hacking community.

Thanks, man; I already miss you.