Monthly Archives: March 2014

Experiencing a 5.1 earthquake at a California hackerspace

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Woke up on a couch yet again; this time it was at a house on a top a mountain looking over the Los Angeles skyline. The fridge was cleaned out empty with only condiments lining the inner sliding door. Hunger sets in as lettuce and various herbs were freshly picked from the balcony garden to make a sandwich.  Energy is floating through the atmosphere just waiting to be captured.

With gas being pumped into the 20 gallon tank of my Toyota camry, awareness that the oil reserves of this world are running out seeps into my consciousness. I push passed the thought and jump into the vehicle on my way to find out if power can be cleanly generated instead of being monitored. A schematic of an adapted Tesla device lays in a transparent folder in my hand’s grasp ready for a local team to help build it.

The 1st stop in search of power is Mag Laboratory in Pomona, CA. There is a music festival happening at the warehouse so there will be more people than normal hanging out. One of the co-founders is there setting up the audio equipment. Individuals are scattered about talking about how inspirational this place is. I drop the 35 page document on a coffee table and continue talking to new friends. The bands are ready to go. As music begins playing, a 5.1 earthquake shakes the ground beneath us. Car alarms start going off echoing their noise through the warehouse complex. A major shift in placement has just occurred.

After making sure no one was hurt, the music progresses and the fire spinning begins. Kevlar monkey fist poi sets are sprayed with lighter fluid and engulfed with flame. Butterfly techniques and associated wraps attract the attention of nearby members. Fireworks are lit shooting sparks of light into the sky as energy moves into the hackerspace. No one knows what will come next.

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Spreading TechShops across the country

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The maker movement is growing into an unstoppable wave of creativity that is surging through the minds of those looking to spark a revolution. Embracing the idea of do-it-yourself workshop spaces, cities everywhere can become playgrounds of innovation where individuals of all walks of life come together in an effort to build something new.  With the right tools and the support of a well-resourced community, just about anyone can change the world.

Setting the standard for membership-based fabrication studios is a company called TechShop. Founded in October 2006, their mission is to drive global innovation by engaging, enabling, and empowering creative communities to build dreams.  Based in San Jose, California, TechShop has locations nationwide and are extending to areas outside the United States in the near future. Their partnerships include Ford, General Electric, DARPA, the US Department of Labor, BMW, Autodesk, and a few other heavy players in various industries which helps give more access to the tools and information needed to produce a product. Laser cutters, CNC routers, industrial sewing machines, and welding equipment are all provided within each facility allowing members to make whatever they want.

The most recent expansion of TechShop is taking place in Los Angeles, CA. An event was held at the LA Mart building downtown on March 21, 2014 where CEO Mark Hatch presented an information session that was open to the public. Learning about the project goals while showcasing success stories was the primary focus. He spoke of the origins of the mobile payment device called Square that was developed by a glass blower from St. Louis and a co-founder of Twitter. They made their first prototypes in the Menlo Park TechShop which has turned into a $3.25 billion valuation. Other projects that have come out of TechShop range from cooling servers to illuminated popup LED books to opensource underwater robots and even lost-cost infant warmers, furthering the idea that anything is possible here.

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Jim Newton, a previous science advisor for the Mythbusters television show, was present at the event as well. He is now the Chairman and Founder of TechShop who created the company because he needed a place to build his own inventions. Talking with him brought out some insight into the interworkings of TechShop procedures. For instance, there is a minimum age requirement for someone to become a member. This is due to the fact that there are dangerous tools being used causing an increase in insurance protocols to keep everyone safe. Asking more questions led to conversations about ‘hacker cars’ and the potential to shake up the transportation industry. Discussing how to synthesize Kevlar briefly came up when showing him some newly crafted fire poi sets.

As the night wound down, connections were made as people intermingled with each other drinking wine and eating cheese. At least one person there was scouting out the collaborative nature of the TechShop environment as he planned to take this experience back to his own hackerspace in Fountain Valley, California. Others just wanted to meet the founders and leaders of the maker movement. Overall, it is good to see the influence that TechShop is already having on the Los Angeles co-creator community. It will be just a matter of time before more success stories flood out of this area thanks to the continued efforts of the TechShop team.

Links:

TechShop Website – http://www.techshop.ws/

TechShop Los Angeles Investment Page – http://invest.techshop.com/los-angeles

Mark Hatch Twitter – https://twitter.com/markhatch

Jim Newton Twitter – https://twitter.com/TechShopJim

Watch for the emerging music hacker culture

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There many types of co-working locations across the world. Some called themselves hackerspaces, other prefer the term makerspace or fab-labs. No matter what the classification is, what is evident is that niche spaces are being formed. Breaking from the software/hardware mold are places that cater to a specific group of people. One particular exciting trend that is surfacing combines the love for music and technology. Hackers are beginning to meetup to discuss projects they are creating in the music realm. This will be an exciting revolution that will blend sound, visuals, and vibrations like nothing we have seen before. Stay tuned for more information.

Examples:

LA Music Tech Hackers – http://www.meetup.com/LA-Music-Tech-Hackers/

Sound Puddle Project [developed at Solid State Depot] – http://www.soundpuddle.org/

Mini Keg Mp3 Player

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It’s been a long weekend of drinking. The house where a St. Patty’s day party was held is filled with empty beer cans and cluttered pizza boxes.  Among the trash is a mini Heineken keg that a college student brought over. After searching through the Intructable’s website for something to turn the stainless steel container into, a project by [gilgonza3] was found. The idea is to transform an empty keg into a music player that can be used for the next festivities.

After drinking all the beer, preparations to the keg are made by drilling several holes on the face. This allows the pressure to seep out. Cutting the top off will give enough room to put a car speaker in. Luckily there are pick-your-part car lots all across the country where one can locate the parts needed. Nuts, bolts, and screws can be purchased at a local hardware store. Once put together, this MP3 player can be used just about anywhere.

Instructables for this Project: http://www.instructables.com/id/Mini-Keg-Mp3-Player/

Automated Solar Tracking Blinds for the Home Area Network

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[Nick Zibin] has created a way to track the sun and adjust the blinds depending on light is coming from. His project uses an Arduino Uno, Adafruit motor shield, headers, a digital luminosity sensor, Stepper motor with planetary gear box, a power supply, some 3D printed gear, and a variety of tools. Wiring together the Arduino and Digital Lumonisty Sensor and the motor is relatively straightforward. Latitude, longitude, altitude, and the angle of the window are all used in the code to automatically move the blinds in relation to the sun. [Nick] provides all the instruction details and code sample online.

Uses of this technology have a large potential to reduce energy consumption since it will block out or allow light to come inside a building. Cooling and heating a home becomes a less complicated task once this is installed. Now slap an open-source thermostat on that Home Area Network and watch the savings roll in!!

Project Details: http://www.instructables.com/id/A-solar-tracking-automatic-motorized-window-blind-/?ALLSTEPS

Learning to Write at the edge of Pomona

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It’s 6:45pm on a Friday night in Claremont Village. Restaurants, bars, clothing stores, and vinyl record shops line the streets. People are strolling along enjoying the sunny California weather. Some are on dates kissing their new love. Others are eating food outside as music is played by a guy with an accordion nearby. There are St. Patty’s Day decorations up along the building rafters as the annual drinking festivities begin. The place that I am at is called Buddamouse. It is a trinket shop that sells a variety of collectable items. There are religious symbols all around. Paintings of Hindi gods are embedded into the walls. In a back room, a group of writers are meeting up to learn new software. A total of six people, including myself, are here. The reason for this visit is to gather inspiration and learn some new writing techniques.

On my way out, the need to get some food arises. I look around and there are countless restaurants to choose from. An American style joint catches my eye. There are cops arresting a drunk guy on the corner so I navigate around the craziness and walk into the dimly-lit family night spot.  The hostess escorts me to the fire pit, but no one notices that I’m there. I get up and transition to the bar, order a La Rossa Birra Moretti , and 2 tiny burgers. Cooked medium-rare the meat melts in the mouth. The beer foams at the brim. The taste is delicious giving me the much needed energy to write.

A few U-turns later and the scene is re-located to the MAG Lab hackerspace. I met one of the founders at 23b a while ago and decided to pop-in on one of their weekly events. I take several photos of the place before anyone sees me. Once recognized as a new member, a guy by the name of Rod Steel greats me. He asks what I am building and gives me a thorough tour. Just under 1200 sq ft, the area holds a lot of tools and hardware. Motion sensors are strategically positioned around to catch movement as it occurs. More people start talking and the topics of conversations flow from the need for more makerspaces to how business related meetups can waste time and even to what issues are involved in the documentation of emerging projects. One lady named Jini scribbles ideas of something she is working on. She asks me what I see happening on planet earth in 5 years which gets me thinking.

More time goes on and I begin talking with a guy named Chuck who was a cryptologist during the Cold War with Russia. He worked with radio transmitters and tracked the movements of the Soviet armies. They would intercept the signals, decode them, and then notify the US of any events. As I inquire about his past, a fellow (who’s name will be anonymous) is making an AR-15. Once completed, he will go to a local shooting ranging to test his gun out. Although the MAG Lab is in just another warehouse, it seems like something special is happening here. It might have a little to do with the college that is a couple blocks away, or perhaps the people there are just more in-tune to the hacker mindset. Either way, this is definitely a spot to check out.

If you are feeling generous, the MAG Lab has a grocery list of items they need. Donate one if you have one:

1)      Kitchen scale

2)      More beer

3)      A computer with 8+GB of ram

4)      Horizontal drop saw for metal

Additional Links:

MAG Lab website: http://www.maglaboratory.org/

Developing Mobile Apps with Javascript

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With the LESS app release imminent, I decided to venture into the core city of Los Angeles to meetup with a phone gap development group. They were presenting how to make mobile websites with Apache Cordova at a co-working place called OPODZ. Located off of 2nd St, finding where to park becomes difficult and settling for an overpriced parking garage may be necessary. If you drive too far away from the nearby shopping center, you will be positioned in a local homeless community where dozens of people live with all their possessions kept loosely within stolen shopping carts and tattered tents. Entering the well-lit and comfortable area inside eases the transition from the hopelessness of the outside to the creative one within.

The demographics of this software group is mostly older. Just about everyone arrives early, with a few exceptions coming in minutes later. The younger section keeps their laptops closed and focuses on the people speaking rather than the program itself. Whispers of cross-platform issues surface as the discussions continue. As time ticks on, it becomes clear that html and javascript is quicker to pick up than native Android or iOS programming which brings out the need for simpler coding environments. The features are limited but the knowledge transfer is faster with solutions like Phone Gap. This allows many wanna-be coders to dip their toes into the mobile developer world sooner than later by creating an app in just a few hours that will work on multiple platforms.

Programming here is relatively quiet. Highspeed WiFi, 24/7 access via key card, mailboxes & storage is all advertised as membership perks of OPODZ.  The kitchen is fully stoked with coffee, tea, and alcohol. Computers are laid across the walls and desks of the upper floor. Ideas and thoughts are drawn in various colors on a black chalkboard. As groups correlate below, the people above work on their own projects. As a mathematician writes algorithms on a nearby whiteboard and others pear into their laptop screens, I glance down at the individuals learning below. Of the 21 devices, 12 were Apple and 9 were Windows. Each personal computer has a new project on it that no has yet seen. Only the future holds the secrets of what will come out of nights like this. Following the events helps to see the beginning stages of work and places like OPODZ tend breed polished products before they hit the market. Go there if you want to relax and work on something new.

Additional Links:

OPODZ: http://www.opodz.com/

Programming outside an LA Warehouse

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After moving from Florida into California, the last reserves of my cash funds have been running low. Most of the money that was saved up before this trip has been spent driving through the center scenic route of the country running along the I-70 highway taking me into some of the most iconic cities in the US. An effort to sell fire poi sets on Etsy has started to pay off, but it has yet to make a real dent in the high cost of living in LA. The real way that I am making money at this time is coming from developing a mobile application with a Tallahasse company called LESS. It isn’t a steady income, but the Android app that is being produced will be worth the effort. If done right, it could influence thousands of people once released into the market. The only problem I have been encountering is the gradual decline in interest while working tediously during the polishing part of the production cycle. I needed a place to spark inspiration pushing me passed the last stages of this project. Big Art Labs in Los Angeles became the perfect place to visit in between coding sessions to help motivate me to finish up the work that I had started.

What makes this art collective great is the seamless integration of wide reaching creative outlets. A software hackerspace called Droplabs is what brought me here, but the friendly community is what kept me coming back. Parking can be a little tricky, making it easier to find a spot on the streets outside. Sounds of heavy duty machinery are usually interlaced between people playing music and the ever prevalent sounds of laughter once you’re inside. There is something going on here at all moments, especially around the time before Burning Man when the burners of this area are preparing to travel into the black rock desert of Nevada.

The key to getting app work done here is to utilize the widespread internet connection that streams evenly throughout the warehouse arena. The easiest way to access the world wide web is to walk into Droplabs and look at the back corner of one of the whiteboards where the password credentials are written down. If you stay for too long in the designated hackerspace it is expected to donate a little bit of money to help support the place. $5 is typical for daily use which is very cheap for the LA area. My favorite spot is over at the benches positioned outside in the middle of the warehouse complex. With the wind steady and a brightly shining sun in the sky, this location can feel like a day at the beach. If you get there at the right time you might be able to catch some big players in various industries. Skrillex was once rumored to have played a secret show here while Stefano Novelli and his team built the Skrillex Spaceship stage that was taken on tour in 2012. The individuals who started this place are heavily involved in Burning Man as well causing many types of people to float around here at any given time. Returning frequently is the best way to really get connected with everyone. Not to mention while you’re there, you can grab some vegetables from the secret community garden before leaving. There is mint, sage, and thyme to name a few. The overall abundance of art, music, software, and tools, along with a unique community makes Big Art Labs a fantastic place to get work done. I highly recommend checking it out sometime soon.

Additional Links:

– Big Art Labs: http://www.bigartlabs.com/bigartlabs_home.html

– Droplabs: https://droplabs.net/

– Stefano Novelli Designs and Fabrication http://www.stefanonovelli.com/

– LESS: https://lessutility.com/

– Fire Wizards Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/FireWizards