Open-Source Neuroscience Hardware Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, February 19 at noon Pacific for the Open-Source Neuroscience Hardware Hack Chat with Dr. Alexxai Kravitz and Dr. Mark Laubach!

There was a time when our planet still held mysteries, and pith-helmeted or fur-wrapped explorers could sally forth and boldly explore strange places for what they were convinced was the first time. But with every mountain climbed, every depth plunged, and every desert crossed, fewer and fewer places remained to be explored, until today there’s really nothing left to discover.

Unless, of course, you look inward to the most wonderfully complex structure ever found: the brain. In humans, the 86 billion neurons contained within our skulls make trillions of connections with each other, weaving the unfathomably intricate pattern of electrochemical circuits that make you, you. Wonders abound there, and anyone seeing something new in the space between our ears really is laying eyes on it for the first time.

But the brain is a difficult place to explore, and specialized tools are needed to learn its secrets. Lex Kravitz, from Washington University, and Mark Laubach, from American University, are neuroscientists who’ve learned that sometimes you have to invent the tools of the trade on the fly. While exploring topics as wide-ranging as obesity, addiction, executive control, and decision making, they’ve come up with everything from simple jigs for brain sectioning to full feeding systems for rodent cages. They incorporate microcontrollers, IoT, and tons of 3D-printing to build what they need to get the job done, and they share these designs on OpenBehavior, a collaborative space for the open-source neuroscience community.

Join us for the Open-Source Neuroscience Hardware Hack Chat this week where we’ll discuss the exploration of the real final frontier, and find out what it takes to invent the tools before you get to use them.

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, February 19 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got 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 “Open-Source Neuroscience Hardware Hack Chat”

Fake That Fireplace Flicker With Flame Bulbs

Ask anyone who’s ever tuned into Fireplace TV on a cold winter’s night — even though you can’t feel the heat or roast a marshmallow with it, fake fire is almost as soothing as the real thing. And if you have kids or pets, it’s a whole lot safer. But why go to the expense of buying a lighted insert when you could just make your own?

You don’t even need to get fancy with a microcontroller and RGB LEDs, either — just do what [Ham-made] did and dismantle some LED flame bulbs. They already have everything you need, and the flex PCB makes them easy to work with.

[Ham-made] adhered three bulbs’ worth to a piece of foam board with double-stick tape, soldered all the leads together, and wired in a toggle switch and a 2xAA battery pack. The bulbs each had a tilt switch so that the “flames” flow upward regardless of orientation, but [Ham-made] removed those to avoid flickering connectivity and fights with the toggle switch.

Once it was all wired up, [Ham-made] hot-glued some magnets to the foam board and attached it to the underside of the grate to keep it safe from the logs and the ash pit, while still allowing the glow to emanate from the right spot for realism. The only thing missing are the crackles and pops, and [Ham-made] is burning to hear your implementation ideas.

[Ham-made] wasn’t using his fireplace in the traditional way because the house is smallish and centrally heated. But if you rely on yours to keep you warm and cozy, why not make it voice-activated?

I Hear You Offer WiFi

We are swimming in radio transmissions from all around, and if you live above the ground floor, they are coming at you from below as well. Humans do not have a sensory organ for recognizing radio signals, but we have lots of hardware which can make sense of it. The chances are good that you are looking at one such device right now. [Frank Swain] has leaped from merely accepting the omnipresent signals from WiFi routers and portable devices to listening in on them. The audio signals are mere soundwaves, so he is not listening to every tweet and email password, merely a representation of the data’s presence. There is a sample below the break, and it sounds like a Geiger counter playing PIN•BOT.

We experience only the most minuscule sliver of information coming at us at any given moment. Machines to hack that gap are not had to find on these pages so [Frank] is in good company. Magnetosensory is a popular choice for people with a poor sense of direction. Echolocation is perfect for fans of Daredevil. Delivering new sensations could be easier than ever with high-resolution tactile displays. Detect some rather intimate data with ‘SHE BON.’

Continue reading “I Hear You Offer WiFi”

Social Engineering By Railways

Where do you travel every day? Are there any subtle ploys to manipulate your behavior? Would you recognize them or are they just part of the location? Social engineering sometimes gets a bad rap (or is it rep?) in the mainstream, but the public-facing edge of that sword can keep order as it does in Japanese train stations. They employ a whirlwind of psychological methods to make the stations run like clockwork.

The scope of strategies ranges from the diabolical placement of speakers emitting high-frequency tones to discourage youthful loitering to the considerate installation of blue lights to deter suicides. Not every tactic is as enlightened as suicide prevention, sometimes, just changing the grating departure buzzer to a unique tune for each station goes a long way to relieving anxiety. Who wants to stand next to an anxious traveler who is just getting more and more sweaty? Listen below the break to hear what Tokyo subway tunes sound like.

Maybe you can spot some of these tricks where you live or something similar can ease your own commute. Perhaps the nearest subway has a piano for stairs or a 3D printing cyborg.

Continue reading “Social Engineering By Railways”

Hack Your Cat’s Brain To Hunt For Food

This cat feeder project by [Ben Millam] is fascinating. It all started when he read about a possible explanation for why house cats seem to needlessly explore the same areas around the home. One possibility is that the cat is practicing its mobile hunting skills. The cat is sniffing around, hoping to startle its prey and catch something for dinner. Unfortunately, house cats don’t often get to fulfill this primal desire. [Ben] thought about this problem and came up with a very interesting solution. One that involves hacking an electronic cat feeder, and also hacking his cat’s brain.

First thing’s first. Click past the break to take a look at the demo video and watch [Ben’s] cat hunt for prey. Then watch in amazement as the cat carries its bounty back to the cat feeder to exchange it for some real food.

Continue reading “Hack Your Cat’s Brain To Hunt For Food”

Hack Your Customer Service Rep


Hacks come in all forms, and psychological hacks are no different. [Noah Goldstein], a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago, has written a book in which he details scientifically proven methods of persuading others. One of these methods stands out as being particularly useful at alleviating one of the most aggravating aspects of modern life: dealing with customer service representatives over the telephone.

The trick? Be nice, compliment the rep on doing a good job, and offer to write a letter of recommendation. Since it stands to reason that the customer service rep is probably having a crappier day than you (imagine having to talk to a hundred annoyed people five days a week and you’ll get the idea), making the rep feel appreciated is likely to make them want to do more for you in return.

[photo: brycej]

[via BoingBoing]