DefCon 22

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Picture taken by Aakin!

Sunday evening I collapsed on the couch with a nice big glass of red wine after having unloaded the very last of our stuff back into the house… thankful that I’m alive, in one piece, and that nothing critical went wrong this weekend. I have more awesome memories for the grey squishy hard drive. Here are the highlights on a few of my experiences :

Our Kids’ Second Big Recital >.<

DELTAS! They were there! This being our second time attending the con, we wanted to participate by bringing our own taste to the medicine. Friday night during the event of random fun and mischief, we had a nice dark sliver of space to set up all of our babies in. The best part being that we didn’t have any rules or restrictions for the space we were showing in like at Maker Faire. We could pretty much do anything we wanted; our own cooler filled with beer was present, our own speakers with music were set up, and we turned the back wall into a looming place of worship for those of us who accept robots into our hearts as personal overlords and saviors. ❤

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However, setup left a bad taste in my mouth. We had issues during load-in involving some things we were led to believe would be provided in the room yet weren’t. This in itself wasn’t the problem; the resistance we encountered while trying to fix it was.  A few of the Goons seemed to get off on our dilemma, being purposely withholding instead of doing what they could to help, and then became pissy and annoyed with us once we resorted to taking matters in our own hands to get what we needed. If the people running Defcon expect others to go out of their way to set up art and events at their convention with nothing to show for the effort, the very least they can be is accommodating and maybe a little gracious. The Defcon staff we encountered were all stressed out and moody which might have been due to the lack of organization, or it could stand that in an economy where everyone is being paid with perceived status rather than money, undies will get knotted up… and egos will inflate. =/

Anyhow, once we were ready to go- dismay aside, everything went fucking awesome. We received an excellent response and got great feedback from fellow hardware hackers. It was the most rewarding experience to see people interact and dance around with the robots while radiating that megalomaniacal hype we’re aiming to bring out of people. I had many interesting, insightful conversations with other techie avant-garde, as well as with those of the goons who weren’t ten feet up their own asses. =]

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At the end of the night Mark and I got to deconstruct our little ones alone in private. The hallways were silent, dark, and devoid of life, which was surreal in contrast to how congested they were at every other time. In our own zen we packed up the show, unloading at Mark’s place by 4:30 Saturday morning. I slept so hard I forgot where I was when I woke the next day back at the hotel.

Darknet was a huge success!

photo taken by hackerphotos.com

Photo taken by hackerphotos.com

Everyone was working until the final hour (minute) on every facet of this event to make sure it was loaded with kickass once Defcon began on Thursday. Of course, Smitty’s highly involved live RPG was all the rage this year. Holly shit. By the time I got down to the HHV in the morning, the DarkNet badge kits were sold out! I heard that on Saturday there were 600+ people in line to fight over the remaining 80!

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The few they had left were auctioned off before Crash and Compile for over a hundred dollars a piece! I am SO PROUD of the whole team for the amount of effort they poured into coordinating things this year. It was no easy task, so I’m glad that the Defcon lords recognized this by making Darknet a black badge event this year!

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We raised over four-thousand dollars for the EFF… and for me, the great part is knowing that we did it in style 😉 Darknet shirts happen to be sexy. Just saying. Virtual high-five team!

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Fellow Makers Rock Defcon with their Laser Robots!

Mark and I met two really cool people at Maker Faire this year, Kathryn and Alvaro. This tech savvy duo of robot wielding awesomeness had a laser shooting gallery in San Mateo. Being their area of expertise, they brought an amped up laser turret with them this year to compete in the DefCon Bots challenge. The goal was basically to create a robot that could scan and find blue balls (teehee!!) moving through a depth of dark space and then aim a laser to shoot at them. That’s no easy task! We came to cheer them on this Saturday and were happy to catch their big win! They were up late making last-minute improvements on their laser baby, but it paid off in the end… =] Great work guys!!!

The best badge is the one you make yourself.

In a pop-up culture of status dictated by the thing hanging around your neck, there is much talk of badges at Defcon. Black badges, human badges, modding, decoding, hacking, and alas… making your own, which a few people did. As for us, Mark and I created a board out of the key I designed for the Darknet propaganda. It’s a nice little memento for this year which we proudly bared as board designers. Purple FTW!

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We met someone who made an “Impostor” badge through OSH Park, which was the most snarky and creative rendition of the Defcon 22 badge at the entire con as far as I’m concerned :

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All of the text negated everything on the original, for example saying “light arc” instead of “dark tangent” on the back, and “found” instead of “1o57”. Tehe. In love. The UV SMT LEDs were a nice touch too.

Then there is sharpie and gaff tape :

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Because the better things in life are neon yellow.

Crash and Compile

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Glitter. What? Nah… it wasn’t me. =]

So I didn’t wear a big penis this year. To change it up a little, my strategy was to annoy and systematically emasculate all of the competitors with dolls. I built a “Barbie bandolier” which held my many personas through which I communicated during the event. This got easier to do the more hopping drunk I became. – I was sure to make a doll-sized strap on as a throwback :

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Though I spent a lot of time trying to derail team Frink, the defending champions, I poured twice as much effort into bothering the team who won this year… Sprechen Sie Dick Picks. No one could get these dudes to make eye contact with them. They had the purpose of a bullet train and though they did a good job of kicking everyone’s ass, I think they missed one other very important aspect of the whole event : by the end it should feel like a circus on stage… and everyone seemed more sober than I remember last year (but that might just be because I was more drunk than the rest). Congrats to all of you for competing! (and for putting up with our shenanigans)

Jeff and his crew did a fantastic job of preparing for the event again (Jeff is a rock star, as he also designed the board in the Darknet kit again this year in addition to preparing for the contest). Between the contest holders and the teams programming, we polished off three kegs of beer over four hours. It all went by so very fast. Here is the sexy trophy he made this year, a shiny head-sized D12 :

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SYN Shop Teaches Soldering to the World

I’m happy to say that our local Hackerspace, SYN Shop, had a presence in the hardware hacking village this year! Brain along with several other volunteers manned the tables of tight and person soldering stations, happy to show those who had picked up a kit in the vendor area how to melt lead like a pro.

When Everything is Said and Done

The child-like wonder of falling down the rabbit hole was gone, but I felt like I found my own niche in the big picture this year. I’m proud of all my friends and the work they put forth to make the event what it was. =] Time to get back to work. We’ve got robots to ship and the rest of the world to take over.

This is another notch in our belt… or shiny thing on our wall. It’s all about enjoying the journey!

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The Road to DefCon 22

It’s that special time of year again (already!?). Summer is swiftly coming to a close and I’m stupid busy planning for that infamous weekend of mayhem known as DefCon. This conference is a good opportunity to learn something new while also bringing your own flavor to the stew. Here are a few ways I’m getting involved (and you can too!) :

The Darknet Project

Last year Jeff’s friend, Smitty, started a new type of competition called the Darknet Project, loosely based on the novel, Daemon. This event is a live RPG meant to lead you around the convention following clues, learning new skills in order to solve puzzles and ultimately progressing a quest line. Due to chance, he recruited me to develop his brand and make a bunch of spiffy propaganda to help promote the project. Long story short, the contest is going to span more this year and we had a larger budget for visual stuffs.

So far I’ve revamped the site… rebuilt the logo… and have prepared flyers, stickers and shirts for the occasion! The tangible forms of the digital images are looking sharp so far. I’m also relieved all of this is done well ahead of time.

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If you didn’t know about the contest last year, I strongly encourage you to check it out. There will be a kit to assemble in the Hardware Hacking Village that will yield a spiffy badge which will allow communication with other Darknet participants. There will also be a ton of other stuff to get involved with… so much that I shouldn’t attempt to scratch at the details of its scope.

My Own Personal Disruptions

With Smitty now running Darknet, Jeff picked up the torch last year and took charge of DefCon’s more classic contest, Crash and Compile. In addition to designing visuals for him, I was asked to be a part of the team whose role during the contest is to “distract” the competitors who are drinking… and simultaneously attempting to write code. As a means to do this effectively, I wore the “strap-on” Mark and I developed for our art project, Lick. It’s basically a fat piece of tubing attached to a thick belt that has a lollypop poking out of a gem encrusted 3D printed mushroom… which rotates on a stepper motor :

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I prompted competitors to lick the lollypop… and towards the end of the contest when they were good and drunk, some actually did. =]

This year I have to do something different of course, but how on earth do I one-up a flashy licking apparatus such as this? Well, I have an idea worked out that’ll do the trick… which I’ll reveal a build log for closer to the event. ::evil snicker:: It has to do with voices and ponies.

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I updated the logo for the Crash and Compile pint glasses again =] Jeff went ahead and got pilsner glasses this year for a change of pace. I think they look sharp! Everyone competing (or distracting) will get one of these :

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Our Name Badges

Last year I created name badges of working artistic circuitry for our immediate group. I drew the designs by hand and added SMT pads in Eagle, then etched them at home :

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This year Mark and I had our badge designs professionally fabricated with OSH Park. I can’t wait to document them… Pictures of the finished product will come in my next post (the unfinished boards alone look fabulous but they’re a secret for now)!

Robot Army @ Defcon

One of my biggest frustrations all summer has been in keeping our army of robots on the back burner. The project is still in a fetus stage of development due to the fact that most of our time has been spent in the fulfillment of our Kickstarter. Never-the-less, I’m trigger happy about showing the damned things off…

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As such… Mark and I will have a presence at DefCon this year on Friday night, which in the end, I’m quite excited about. The prospect of setting up and babysitting the display until 2am is sort of daunting, but having a chance to maraud around in a space all our own in an environment where anything goes is quite enticing.

At some point next month, Mark and I are shipping our little disassembled babies out into the world. We can’t wait to get feedback from our supporters, not to mention seeing what cool stuff people do with our design. By September we can return to our effort of completing the collective. From then on… it’s all about preparation for the next big thing (100+ robots strong).

We’re at no loss of crazy stuff to prepare for in the next week. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and some of the new ones we made at Maker Faire this spring. Conventions are just an excuse to travel and drink, right? Cheers to that! See you all in a week!

Robot Army : Family Photos

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While waiting for parts and components to funnel our way, Mark and I got around to taking some promotional photos of our brood. We have these 30 cool robots and soon enough we hope to start displaying them around town. Getting the word out about them is a must, and nothing conveys the idea of a dancing field of light wielding minions better than long exposure shots like these!

I can’t wait until all 200 of them are built and dancing. ^.^

To see the whole album visit here : Long Exposure Shoot

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Maybe we’ll try getting them to spell out words… =o

Robot Army : All Systems GO!

Ok, ok… I’m done lamenting about the late nights. They work… I’m happy. Time for a beer and some heavy hype building. Share this with your friends and stop by our booth at Maker Faire if you plan to be there. =] Robot Army FTW

Elemental Mood Lighting : Just Add Love

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We probably shouldn’t have taken on this side project amidst all the pressure to prepare on time for our display at Maker Faire, however I’m glad we have this awesome life relic to show for it!

Since my last update, I took the four complete 3D printed stones and gave their surface a rather sharp makeover. All those years in art school came in handy again. It surprises me just how many techies have never heard of gesso … so I’m tapping this apparent art secret for the sake of painting on an otherwise stubborn surface. ABS will take acrylic paint, however instead of priming it with anything you might get from Home Depot in the paint section… you can go to Blick and grab a pint of clear gesso (canvas primer). It may be a little more expensive, but it’s less volatile, doesn’t have any fumes, and has the best tooth when it dries for painting on… you’ll be thankful you spent the extra money.

So, I gessoed my rocks… and painted them over with a nice solid undercoat of dark muddy brown. The lighter color was dry brushed on top with a healthy amount of baby powder added to the paint to give it a matte, chunky appearance when it dried. The final texture is pretty sharp :

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After they were polished up, it was time to get them ready to fulfill their purpose. We ended up using an old revision of the board we designed for our delta robot Kickstarter kit as the brain to drive the LEDs and servos. They have an ATMega 328 on board, so we used the Arduino platform to upload our code onto them (This is Rev A of our delta brain from last year) :

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Since there is only one input for a single RGB LED we had to make some Y cables so that all three LEDs could be powered in parallel :

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guts splayed out :

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Also, the easiest and best way I’ve found to make excellent light diffusers is to go to the Container Store (or some place that has lots of plastic boxes for cheep) and buy something that has a frosted appearance. I found some boxes for under a dollar a piece with perfectly flat lids that I cut triangles into for the tops of these stones :

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Here is what the LED tiles inside look like again :

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Mark got some basic code on the brains to make them do :

As soon as they were ready we rushed to the living room and set up an altar around the sofa! It was late, but we wanted to test out how they worked as ‘mood lights’. Mark programmed the LEDs to pulse slowly… which was a cool effect because the overall color ambiance of the room would shift slightly as they all faded in and out at random intervals. I am pleased to report they definitely serve their purpose well! Right now each is powered with their own wall wart, but once we switch those out with battery packs they will become permanent fixtures in the living room!

Just add love…

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So… I’d call the mood lighting project a success, however like all projects there are some things we learned along the way and would improve if we had to do it all over…

Here is what we’d do better :

Mark and I plan on making the STLs for these available on our website so that anyone can potentially use up an entire role of filament and make their own set of stones too! Before we do that, we want to optimize the design so that they can be printed in fewer pieces giving them a more seamless appearance in the end. The top portion needs to be removable so that the mechanical bits can be installed, so we’ll explore a more aesthetically pleasing way to achieve both in the future.

The wedge pieces are a tad too snug in their slots now that they’re painted. As such, the little servos we used don’t have quite enough torque to push them out like they need to… so we’ll tweak that as well.

The segments of our next revision should lock together somehow, eliminating the need for foam core inside as structural support.

I think other than some minor tweaks in proportion, that’s it. If you do want to print your own, the natural color filament really did work out nicely when painted over. Do keep in mind that we used up an entire role for the first three stones (and we printed on the lowest setting with 10% infill!) >.<

In addition… we want to have the stones active with sensors (instead of an on and off switch) so that they can truly be as theatrical as in the movie. We were thinking of using a collection off different types to detect an approximation of their corresponding element (you know… it would be unwise to set the fire stone on fire and all). We’re open to suggestions! Right now we’re pondering on anything from moisture seniors, photo resistors, pressor sensors, and those nifty magnetic sensors… =D

I think tonight we’ll watch the Fifth Element amidst our new life saving, light-giving stones of glowing awesomeness… I’ve seen the movie 409567209384760587217348 times, but it’ll feel a bit cooler now because I have this sense of ownership that I didn’t before. =]

Thanks for following our project! Show us yours if you decide to make them. We’d love to see improvements to our design!

Back to pooping out delta robots,

-Sarah & Mark

 

Elemental Mood Lighting : The Moving Bits

First I have to show off how nicely the prints turned out! Some of these larger pieces were printed over night for nine-hour periods and were completed without fail (which is surprising). In the morning there would be a loaf of stone sitting on the printer bed :

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Mark is responsible for creating these seamless linear designs on the face of the stones :

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We ran out of natural filament by the time we got to the ‘wind’ stone, so it’s in a silver/gray color instead. This one was printed last because unlike the other three stones, its design is on the upper portion which overlaps the wedge pieces that pop out. It called for a little more fuss and planning when designed :

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Over all, I’m extremely pleased with how they look so far. I can’t wait to paint them though….!

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I spent most of this past weekend getting the mechanical parts in working order. For this project, that’s actuating those three wedge slices on each face of the stone to slide out when ‘activated’ :

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I’ve had some tiny servo motors lying around from a couple of summers ago when I first started making delta robots… this is the perfect chance to finally use them. They fit nicely in the center of each column.

The LEDs also needed to be mounted somewhere on the top. The only realistic place to put them was in between the wedge pieces in the three corners. Luckily for Mark and I, we have a million little RGB LED boards for our Kickstarter kit (which we’re also working on fulfilling right now), so we were able to repurpose a few of those conveniently size squares. The mounting plate I design ended up looking like a very odd throwing star once it was printed :

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Alas, their design has two functions: to hold the LEDs, and to funnel the three push rods through the center to the motor, keeping them nicely aligned.

The servo bracket attaches to this LED throwing star piece like so :

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And the whole ‘core’ drops down the center of the stone through the top, resting on the foam core inside :

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This design is nice because all of the wires for the LEDs and motor fall straight down to the bottom plate of the stone, where one of our brain boards will be running the whole show (We also have a few prototypes of this board from our KS kit hanging around, and since they use the ATMegas 328 and already have designated servo and LED headers, they’re perfect for this job) :

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We have it rigged up so that when you hit a button, the stone opens and the LEDs slowly turn on. We also need to get all of the motors calibrated so that the wedges come out to the correct spot on cue and then suck back in all the way when deactivated.

The next step is to replace the button with some sensor input! Mark will likely work on perfecting that part while I texture and paint the outside of the stones. =]

 

Robot Army : Las Vegas Mini Maker Faire

I started composing an update a week ago… and never finished it. Now Mini Maker Faire is over. Oh well.

In any case… back then everything felt like it was falling apart. I wrote venting about how terrified, annoyed and disappointed I was that things wouldn’t just go the way they were suppose to. As we encountered one complication after another, each bump yielded an even better solution than what we were originally planning.

Long story short, all is going great again. Better in fact. We had an excellent Mini Maker Faire on Saturday. All of our friends and local backers came to see our kids perform and talk to us about our maniacal future schemes. Though we brought a soldering station and work lamp just in case an all systems failure occurred… nothing went wrong. Everything just worked…. the whole time (aside from the stupid Processing app crashing every now and then).

I could break it down in words and give you a play by play, but we decided to film it instead. So here’s a video to sum it all up :

Now that that’s over, time to start getting things ready for the real deal in San Mateo next month. We had originally planned on bringing 60 deltas with us to display (six pallets worth), but after experiencing the set up for just one with all the work it took to maintain them… Mark and I decided to lower that number to 30. This amount will fit in his Kia! So no mess with trailers and the like! We can’t wait! =]

Oh yeah… we ordered ALL of our servo motors today… for the kits and our installation. That’s 1000 servos….. =O Also, the largest purchase I’ve ever made in my life. Fun times. It’s happening!! The yellow onslaught is coming!

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