Monthly Archives: December 2016

2016 was a great year for York Hackspace

Many things happened in 2016. Lots of the people reading this probably have mixed feelings about this past year. But at least we can all agree, I hope, that it was a great year for York Hackspace.

As we, the hackspace went into 2016, we had our own space with 24 hour access. Members could make use of the space whenever they wanted to. This space was in Stonebow house. Sadly we had to leave Stonebow quite early into this year. We knew that this was coming and it helped us by forcing us to keep moving forward. Within six months we had moved into a bigger space with easier access and registered as a company. Our membership has grown and we hope that it continues to grow. If you’ve not seen our new home in Fulford business centre, you should come and check it out!

Our space at Fulford Business Centre

Our new space at Fulford Business CentreOur fifth birthday was this year, and it fell on a Wednesday, so we decided to have a celebration combined with a sort of space-warming party on our open evening. There was lots of food, including this giant cookie…

Our much-loved spaceship disaster game Spacehack has had another spin around the galaxy UK as we took it to four maker events. It was at the UK Maker Faire in newcastle, EMF Camp, Manchester Makefest and the Derby Mini Maker Faire.

Spacehack at Derby

Spacehack at Derby

The hackspace blog is also looking much more active than it did at the start of the year. We hope to engage with makers as much as we can, and sharing the interesting things that go on at the hackspace is something that helps us do that. We even got our fifteen minutes of fame from hackaday this year. Seven and a half of those minutes with a post about Spacehack. and the remaining seven and a half with a post about John’s LED tetris table.

John’s world-famous tetris table

So it’s [almost] time to say goodbye to 2016 and find out what exciting things 2017 has to offer. I hope you can join us and help to make it a good one.

Who’s been labelling things in the space?

It’s very nearly Christmas, but there’s time for us to share one more hack.

Lots of printing, some of it good.

Lots of test prints, one good badge.

A little while ago, John brought an old till receipt printer to the hackspace to be hacked. Recently the temptation to do something with it got the better of me. You may [or may not] remember from the post about all the retro computer projects in the space, that I have a ZX spectrum that I’ve been playing around with lately. It’s a 48k Spectrum and I’ve got a Kempston Centronics E Interface for it. The centronics interface lets it talk to any printer with a centronics connection. John’s printer is actually fairly modern. It certainly wasn’t around in the eighties when the spectrum was. I think it’s probably mid-noughties era. It’s an Epson TM-T88ii. Nevertheless, it’s fairly easy to get the spectrum to drive this modern printer.

After a little bit of trial and error to get all the right escape sequences for text size, boldness, justification and cutting the paper after a print, I was able to get the spectrum to print name badges. I wrote a program that asks for your name and prints a “Hi, my name is…” badge on receipt paper.

If you have a spectrum with a centronics interface and a suitable printer, you can give the program a try! The code is on github in the form of a wav file recorded direct from the spectrum used here.

A word of caution if you do though, you might get carried away with yourself. When it’s as easy as just typing in a string and pressing enter, you’ll print lots of badges. I will leave you with these photos of the many badges I left around the space.

Have a great Christmas.


Member project: How not to give away haribos

The free haribo box

Looks inviting?

If you weren’t at EMF Camp this year, then you missed one of the best weekends on the maker/hacker calendar. It’s not often you can get fibre-to-the-tent when camping.

I thought I’d tell you about a project that I took to EMF, you might have seen it if you were there. It didn’t go exactly to plan. The idea was fairly simple, a previous EMF badge was an arduino compatible board that could receive and transmit IR and so I decided to take a box that would unlock if you sent the right IR signals. I hoped that people would be able to use the badge to break into the box. Sadly there was no IR on this year’s badge. By the time I’d figured that out; it was too late. As a result, not many people were equipped to attempt to open the box. Nobody was able to get in to the box, but that’s not all that went wrong…

The box was laser cut from clear acrylic so that you could see the inner workings and the electronics and your potential prize. The prize, as the title of this blog post suggests, was a bag of haribo sweets.

Lock box

The infamous box

The design of the box is fairly simple, there is a latch that prevents the lid sliding open, you just have to push the slider to the left and lift the latch out of the way and the lid will slide open. What makes it tricky is that there is a cam blocking the path of the slider, you have to persuade the servo motor to move the cam out of the way before the slider will slide.

Lock prototype

An earlier prototype for the lock

A slight problem that I encountered was the speed of the transfer over IR and the relatively low reliability of the IR through the perspex that I accidentally made cloudy with superglue. It takes a while to open the box. The same hardware is used for the box and for the key. They each use an arduino pro-mini at 8MHz.

So how does it work?

First, the key sends a command to the box. There is a small set of commands that includes; setting the authentication type (or disabling authentication), pinging the box to test your authentication without unlocking, unlocking the box, forcing the box to unlock permanently, locking the box again after a permanent unlock, and some other commands. If the command needs authentication then the box will send a randomly generated challenge string to the key. In the default authentication mode, the key must then append the private key to the challenge string and then compute a Hashed Message Authentication Code (HMAC) and send that back to the box.

Nobody at EMF had to know all these details to get to the haribos. All of the code was on github and there was a link to it next to the box. I even put the mechanical design on github too. I didn’t provide the private key on github, part of the challenge was to figure out what that was, but that was fairly easy too. I left a small plastic key inside the box. Laser etched on this plastic key was the secret key text, and a misleading set of tabs and dots that looked important.

The biggest problem of all, however, was the sun. Besides making the weather beautiful for the whole of the EMF weekend, for which I am grateful, it melted the haribos in my accidental mini-greenhouse.

Lessons learned, perhaps I’ll try again at EMF 2018.


A bag of melted haribos. :-(

Haribo soup

Box and all parts

All the parts, including the haribo token that replaced the melted haribos.

Member Project: Ceranimation

Time for another blog post about a member’s project. This time it’s John Robinson’s abstract animations. This John is not to be confused with John Cooper, who made the tetris table from a recent blog post.

John has been collecting ceramics for about ten years, and has been playing around with abstract animations of his ceramic pieces. Naturally, the project had to be called “Ceranimation”.

John’s “ceranimations” are constructed with code. He’s using a tool called AVISynth to generate the movement of the images and put them in a sequence. Unfortunately the limitations of AVISynth quickly became quite restrictive and so, to avoid repetition, John has written some ruby scripts which generate AVISynth scripts.

But it’s not just us that think it’s great, one of John’s animations has been selected for the annual Animac animation festival. So if you’re going to Animac 2017, you might well see him and his animations there.

For more details about John’s ceranimation project, you can see his website.

So without further ado, here is ceranimation with an intro from the creator:

“A collection of studio pottery provides a treasury of shapes, colours and textures.  Still images of the pots are selected, trimmed and ordered by software.  Modern minimalist and ambient music provide a matching soundscape. The screen is full of colour and movement as the pots slide, turn, merge and dance.”

ceranimation from John Robinson on Vimeo.

Here’s John with some of his ceramics and some examples of how he creates his animations.

On the screens above you can see how some of his code generates groups of images in various patterns.

About John:

I have retired after programming computers for nearly half a century.  I have always loved animation, and I have made a few stop motion films as a hobby, first with Super-8 film, and more recently with digital tools.  I also make pottery, again as a hobby, and have built up a collection of studio ceramics which is threatening to take over the house.  I love going to animation festivals in the United Kindom and Europe.  Now I have had the time to combine all three pursuits in ‘Ceranimation’, my first film to be submitted to festivals.

Want to learn how to use Blender?

We’re having a workshop on the evening of Thursday the 15th of December. “Introduction to Blender”

Mark your calendars (or sign up to our google calendar) to make sure you don’t forget to join us.

Anyone is welcome to come along, it’s not just for members.

For all the details, you can see this wiki page:

The workshop will probably cover these features in approximately this order:

  • basic concepts
  • modeling
  • textures and lighting
  • rigging (armatures)
  • animation
  • basic physics simulation (including particle engines)

By the end of the workshop, you might be able to make something like this (or better)…


Let’s light the space for Christmas

We can’t avoid it any longer, Christmas is arriving soon.

The most import part of Christmas is, of course, finding as many flashing lights as you can and concentrating them all in one area. Any good hackspace should be full of flashy lights at Christmas. So if you have a cool project that’s mostly just flashing lights, you should definitely bring it to the hackspace next Wednesday and show us all how it works! Let’s light up the space with all the pretty LEDs we can.

To get us started, I’ve brought along a couple of my projects, repurposed slightly to create a more festive atmosphere.

But it’s not all about lights. Continuing the tradition of previous years, it’ll soon be time to gather in a pub somewhere in York city centre and have some drinks to celebrate. You’re welcome to join us if you like!

I found some LED strips that were not doing much, so they’re now decorating the mains trunking


I also threw together a raspberry pi and an old project that had a scrolling text display on it. It’s difficult to photograph, you’ll have to trust me that it looks okay to the human eye. You can send it a new message if you’re connected to the wifi.