An Omnibus In Every Stocking

We know that hackers like to procrastinate. But right now is the limit. This is the last day you can order the Omnibus Volume 2 and have it (most likely) in your hands in time to put one in everyone’s stocking. Tomorrow will be too late.

Take advantage of the promo code which expires at the end of tomorrow. Use coupon code OMNIBUS2015 and get $7 off the price. There were 100 of those codes left at the time of writing.

What is the Omnibus all about? Check out [Brian’s] explanation of what makes the Omnibus so special. This body of work is a huge achievement and I’m proud that we’re able to recognize the effort of everyone here at Hackaday with something you hold in your hands which will live forever.

Hackaday’s Omnibus Vol. 2, Now In Stock

Last month, we announced a preorder for volume two of the Hackaday Omnibus, a collection of content written over the course of this year that is the best we have to offer. Now, there is a warehouse full of deceptively heavy boxes, and the Hackaday Omnibus Vol. 2 is now in stock.

bus9Inside the second edition of the Hackaday Omnibus is 128 pages of actual, real content. There are zero ads, no sponsored content, and absolutely nothing that tells you to go out and buy something. Opening it is an experience unlike anything. Where can you read something for minutes at a time with no interruptions, no email, no Twitter, no Facebook, no text messages, and no ads? You won’t find something like this anywhere else.

The electronics, trade, and tech magazines have a long and storied history. In the 1930s, there were magazines that would teach you how to build a radio. In the 1950s, there were print articles saying fusion power was just fifty years away. The Hackaday Omnibus continues this tradition with relevant content for today: everything from car hacking and open source insulin, to retrospectives on oft-forgotten parts of our digital heritage are included. This is the best we have to offer, and we’re doing it without selling out.

Volume Two of the Hackaday Omnibus isn’t the end for our print endeavours – we’re just getting started. We’re committed to producing the best content in an interruption-free format. Print is dead, after all, and that’s why we put a skull on it.

You can purchase the Hackaday Omnibus Volume Two on the Hackaday Store.

Mudd Hacks: Piloting a College Hardware Hackathon to Success

Software hackathons are an old hat these days. They’re a great scouting opportunity for talented candidates looking for a job, and they provide the battleground for coding enthusiasts to prove themselves by developing a project from start to finish overnight, albeit, with a few kinks. Hardware hackathons are an entirely different beast. By trading APIs for components and Python libraries for soldering irons, they pull the excitement out of the text editor and onto the workbench for everyone to see.

This article was written for the Omnibus vol #02 Order yours now
This article was written for the Omnibus vol #02
Order yours now

While hardware hackathons might be “the next big thing” with you and your four best DIY-pals, the broad range of physical components, from Arduinos to CNC milling time, makes rule-establishment, safety enforcement, and winning criteria far more difficult to constrain within a single night. Enter Muddhacks. This past October, three students from Harvey Mudd College set out to deliver a hardware hackathon that would open their student community’s mind to the thought of tinkering-for-fun in their spare time outside the lab and beyond their homework.

Students [Benjamin Chasnov], [Apoorva Sharma], and [Akhil Bagaria] had just finished their experimental engineering class: E80. Along the way, they designed a custom sensor payload into a meter-long rocket and launched both rocket and payload to measure the rocket’s fundamental frequencies in flight. With a victory behind them, they were ready for their next big project.

10259050_775991065774334_4811918916399282024_o
(Left to right) [Ben], [Apoorva], and [Akhil] stare skyward as their rocket launch sets them hungry for future projects.
As the next semester waned onwards, however, they realized that any big project–no matter how modular–would be a serious time commitment. After some thought, they refactored their idea entirely. Tinkering was a passion shared by each of them; why not spread the love school-wide and bring together a community of engineers-by-night? To resolve their craving for after-hours engineering and to inspire a culture of collaborative tinkering, they set out to bootstrap a hardware hackathon; an event where many projects could be realized by many students in a single night.

Everyone Says Hardware is Hard

For the unitiated, hardware looks hard. Breadboards, LEDs, r`esistors? To those who have never put together a simple circuit before, taking that first leap is a challenge set by a box of components that almost seems to glare back menacingly. The three teammates took this first-timer roadblock as a challenge unto themselves to break down that barrier. Thus, HackWeek was born.

HackWeek was the MuddHacks teams’ answer to get students comfortable gluing modules together to produce a functional project in a short time. How do I make things move? How do I connect things to the internet? What parts do I choose? All of these questions-worth-answering became topics of the three-day event before the hackathon. The idea behind HackWeek was simple: give eager students enough theory and a functional demo that they could probe, tweak, and recompile so that they could feel more comfortable developing their own ideas into projects. On day one, the MuddHacks team brought functional demos of various motors into the hands of eager students. By day two, the three teammates actually assembled a functional hack of their own before the eyes of their listeners: an internet-enabled microwave that could remotely start warming up that cup of ramen on your way back from class.

[Akhil], [Ben], and [Apoorva] bring the Phone-Microwave to life at HackWeek while users try to fire it up remotely.
[Akhil], [Ben], and [Apoorva] bring the Phone-Microwave to life at HackWeek while users try to fire it up remotely.
Unlike software hackathons, a successful hardware hackathon involves parts, and the MuddHacks team was well-prepared to bring the participants the parts that they wanted. With ten days to go before the event, [Ben] took orders from each team’s desired list of parts. With a day to go, all parts arrived before the event and made it to their respective user’s hands in “goodie bags” on the last day of HackWeek. On this last day, teams opened their bags and explored the parts given to them and to other teams while taking advice from the mentors present to offer tips for using various components. This time for “open-exploration” ensured that the following night spent hacking would be more fruitful, now that teams had cleared the starting questions for various parts on the previous day.

On the night of MuddHacks, [Ben], [Apoorva], and [Akhil] had completely turned their original aim to build their own project into a night spent mentoring the projects of others. Throughout the night, they became the “ground crew,” bringing advice to debugging teams and keeping the night culture alive with two waves of snacks. “We felt that if students were going to come to our event, it was our responsibility to keep them both awake and happy,” Apoorva mentioned. Classrooms refilled for the night with students eager to bring their robots, LEDs, and gantries to life, but other parts of the school came to life as well. The machine shops reopened, and old oscilloscopes and test equipment emerged from the engineering stock room for loan to any teams that needed them. Even a few professors happened to wander into classrooms and offer advice.

For [Ben], [Apoorva], and [Akhil], fostering a sense of community in tinkering became their top priority. As they wandered between teams, they encouraged stellar performers to take a brief break and help out another team through a bug. At the night’s end, a number of early-rising professors joined the crowd of students to judge the winners. Oddly enough, the MuddHacks team didn’t spend any money on the prizes–but no one seemed to notice or care. For the eighth of the entire undergraduate student body that attended, these students weren’t coming for the prizes. They came to join that culture of tinkerers–to be a fellow hardware-hacker-by-night–eager to do their part to make the world blink.

For more information head over to muddhacks.com

(Left to right) Erin Paeng, Cherie Ho, and Shaan Gareeb take first place by rewiring an rc helicopter for hand-control with a Leap Motion
(Left to right) Erin Paeng, Cherie Ho, and Shaan Gareeb take first place by rewiring an rc helicopter for hand-control with a Leap Motion

How to Deliver a Hardware Hackathon

When was the last time you burned yourself downloading someone else’s API? Probably never. With a hardware hackathon, comes a new wave of challenges not seen before in the software variant. With one successful hackathon under their belt, we asked the MuddHacks Team to share some insights for other teams looking to assemble their own hardware hackathon. Here’s what they came up with.

Getting Funding

Charging participants an entrance fee may solve the problem of funding, but for the thrifty, starving student, entrance fees may also weed out people who had a slight curiosity but weren’t eager to throw a few bucks down to support it. The solution? Bring participants in for free and support the hackathon with external funding. The MuddHacks team reached out to a number of companies and encouraged them to take a sincere look at their website and cause.

Administrivia

The Muddhacks team handled most of their administrative work online. Among the tools they chose were

  • Google Forms for parts orders and feedback
  • Slack and email lists for real-time updates during the event
  • Google Spreadsheets for keeping track of order requests
  • Bootstrap for deploying a website

Assembling Teams

The Muddhacks team mandated that students form teams to enter the hackathon, mostly to foster community and collaboration. They reasoned: “If you already build things for fun on your own, you don’t need a hackathon to get you excited about hardware for the first time.” Most teams self-assembled, but the Muddhacks team also suggests a submission form for stragglers to pair up.

Getting Parts

Ten days before the hackathon, [Ben] put out a call to order parts in a $100 budget range. Each team made part requests, and [Ben] then ordered each of these parts in time for the hackathon. In addition, the Muddhacks team also ordered a collection of additional stock hardware (think: Arduinos and shields).

Setting the Stage

The Muddhacks team received permission to host the night event on the third floor of one of their buildings filled with classrooms. Among points to consider for the setting are:

  • reliable Wi-Fi connectivity
  • power outlet access

Safety

Soldering irons and sleep-deprivation don’t mix well. Among the points to consider for safety are tools that will keep users safe (safetly glasses and ventilation in this case). The MuddHacks team also recommends a safety waiver.

Advertising and Swag

Getting people excited is key. Logos, T-shirts, and Mugs all add to the authenticity of the one-night event. The Muddhacks Team brought in each of these to its participants. In addition, they printed posters, deployed a website and facebook page, and pitched to students directly in their computer science and engineering classes.

Keeping the Night Moving

Feed the masses. The MuddHacks team reminds us that, as the hosts and organizers of the event, it’s your responsibility to make sure that attendees are both awake and enjoying their time. Not only did the team provide two rounds of food, they also walked around and engaged participants that needed some help debugging, effectively becoming an extra set of eyes to track down bugs as mentors throughout the night.

Judging

The MuddHacks team brought in their favorite professors to judge teams’ projects. At this event, the MuddHacks team stresses that all participants deserve to see all projects. Not only can they witness something awesome, they can also engage their peers with questions, effectively learning a few extra tricks that they didn’t discover while working on their own project.

Priming for Next Year

From the MuddHacks Team: “Take pictures!” While the first website and facebook page were filled with images of the tools and the setting, next years website and advertisements could be filled with pictorial proof of the promise to participants of a genuine experience. As the first hackathon closes, they also stress that you, the organizers and founders, learn too; and the best way to do so is to collect feedback with some manner of online form. At the same time, this form could also recruit additional hands for assembling next year’s hackathon.

We hope these tips from a stellar hackathon serve as a starting point for developing one of your own. To learn more about MuddHacks, take a quick visit to their website: MuddHacks.com, or follow them on their Facebook page.


This article was specifically written for the Hackaday Omnibus vol #02. Order your copy of this limited edition print version of Hackaday.

Because Art: Can Machines be Creative?

You’re walking through a gallery and stop to take in two seemingly unrelated pieces hanging side-by-side. One of them is a drawing of a bird, rendered with such precision its feathers could easily pop off the paper. The other is a sketch of what seems to be the same bird, however it’s nearly unrecognizable due to inconsistent line quality and parts that are entirely missing.

This article was written for the Omnibus vol #02 Order yours now
This article was written for the Omnibus vol #02
Order yours now

In staring at the photo-real drawing of the perfect bird, you marvel over the technical ability required to produce it. You also study the sloppy sketch just as long, picking out each one of its flaws, yet decide you like the image of the strange bird because the errors are interesting to you.

When you lean forward to read the title card posted on the wall between them, you’re shocked to learn that the two drastically different images were made by the same artist; not the person them self, but a machine they built to create both drawings in two different styles.

As an illustrator, I’m fascinated by drawing machines because their purpose is to emulate an act which has always been a highly personal form of self expression for me. Drawing machines and their creators are in a sense my peers.

Continue reading “Because Art: Can Machines be Creative?”

The Antikythera Mechanism

It’s no secret that a great deal of Western civilization was informed by the ancient Greeks. They revolutionized mathematics and geometry, developing astronomy along the way. They built ornate statues, beautiful temples to the gods, and amphitheaters for live entertainment with astonishing acoustics. The influence of the ancient Greeks shaped almost every field of human knowledge, from the arts and architecture to politics, philosophy, science, and technology.

This article was written for the Omnibus vol #02
Order yours now

Like the Babylonians, the Greeks paid close attention to the night sky. Our nearest celestial neighbor, the Moon, was particularly important to them from a planning perspective. For instance, debts might be due on the new Moon. By heeding the Moon’s phases and taking note of eclipse cycles, they found that their harvests were more fruitful, and they had fewer incidents at sea.

As savvy and well-rounded as ancient Hellenistic culture appears to have been, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that the Greeks could have created some kind of computing machine to make their Moon-centered scheduling easier. Based on fragments from in a shipwreck that was discovered in 1900, it seems they did exactly this. Based on scientific dating of the coins and pottery found in the wreck and inscriptions on the bronze remnants, historians and scientists believe the Greeks created a mechanical computer capable of calculating the positions of the Sun and the Moon on any given day. This marvelous device is known as the Antikythera mechanism.

The mechanism was housed in a wooden box and controlled with a knob on one side. It is believed that the front of the box was a display made up of a set of concentric rings with graduations, and that each ring corresponded with one celestial body. Pointers attached perpendicularly to output gears moved around the rings as the knob was turned, showing the paths and positions of these celestial bodies over time. This Earth-centric planetarium also displayed the phase of the Moon as well as the positions of the five major planets known to the ancient Greeks—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Continue reading “The Antikythera Mechanism”

Pre-order this Graphically Stunning Print Edition of Hackaday

Now is your chance to hold a piece of Hackaday in your hands. Last year we announced our first ever print edition. We continue that tradition with a much bigger offering. Hackaday Omnibus vol #02 gathers the best content from Hackaday over the last year. This includes in-depth original content, incredible art, the events that mattered over the last 12 months, and a few cryptic easter eggs.

omnibus-vol2-on-your-coffee-table[Joe Kim], Hackaday’s Art Direct, really outdid himself with the cover this year. Inspired by an epic movie, the illustration includes a shoutout to almost every article found within. Of course there is a lot more of his work inside, along with the efforts of dozens of writers, artists, editors, and more.

All 128 pages of Omnibus vol #02 were painstakingly laid out by [Aleksandar Bradic] who enlisted the help of a dedicated core of Hackaday.io members to help pore over the final drafts, ensuring the presentation is immaculate. Along the way some of them teamed up to roll in those easter eggs that I previously mentioned. We don’t even know what all of it means, you should be the first to solve the mystery.

Most of the 31 articles that grace these pages have run past the front page of Hackaday. But there are a few that were written specifically for the print edition. These will be published on our front page starting in 90 minutes and continuing for a few weeks. It is important to us to share these great works without the need to purchase anything. But the Omnibus is truly one of the coolest pieces of tech literature that you can own. It deserves a place on your coffee table, reception area at work, and as a gift for all who love to know how things work, how things were built, and the legacy of knowledge that has come from generations of hacking.

We’re only running a single printing of this gorgeous volume. Make sure you get one of your own by placing a pre-order now. Be one of the first 500 using coupon code OMNIBUS2015 and get it for just $10! Show that you support great content and help make future projects like this possible.