You may have spotted a little while ago that we got a place at Maker Faire UK for the fourth year in a row.
For the past few years, setting up Spacehack hasn’t been a simple job, mainly because of how the server box (the gold pyramid) was a flimsy cardboard box with various things taped to it. We also had issues with the four consoles. Many LCDs were failing, pots not rotating correctly, switches not working or missing. So we had to do some upgrades.
One of the most ambitious upgrades was the server box upgrade. We wanted to get this one done before the Maker Faire this weekend, to make setup easier. I’m pleased to say that we have completed it on time! You can look forward to seeing the new server box this weekend.
The upgrades have enabled us to make the server more rugged and much more compact. We’ve eliminated the need for three of the five power supplies by making everything run on 5v. We even have a touch-screen GUI for managing the game. The GUI’s written in pascal, of course. 🙂
Just to be clear about why this needed doing; see this picture of the guts of the original server box. Yuk!
Despite crashing the USS guppy into the Life Science Centre’s unique exhibition space numerous times, somehow we’ve been invited back for the next Maker Faire UK.
This will be the fourth year that we’ve been at the Maker Faire UK. We will, of course, be taking spacehack. We’ll also be bringing along some other projects too. John’s tetris table shall be making an appearance and we’ll no doubt have some other goodies you can play around with.
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.
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.
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.
All the parts, including the haribo token that replaced the melted haribos.
We’ve been to lots of maker events. This weekend we went to Derby mini maker faire. This is the third year we’ve been to the event along with spacehack and some other projects from hackspace members. As usual the whole day had a great atmosphere.
Spacehack has now been to eighteen events and still it keeps going. We have a long list of problems to fix as spacehack slowly takes on the persona of the ageing and barely space-worthy spacecraft is was designed to simulate. We don’t have any events planned for spacehack at the moment, so perhaps we’ll have a chance to fix things before the next event.
Bob also brought some retro computing gear along. He was demoing the RC2014 Z80 Microcomputer he and the PiDP8 recreation of the PDP8 computer powered by a raspberry pi. To add some extra retro-tech into the mix, he was using a psion netbook as a serial terminal for the PiDP8.
John also brought along his tetris table. It’s a table with a grid of LEDs that plays tetris. Many people, including me, were very easily distracted by the tetris table and held up the queue of people wanting to play.
In the four years I have been to the Derby maker faire (as a visitor at first and now an exhibitor) it has always improved each year. We look forward to DMMF 2017 being even better.
I’ll leave you with this video of a dinosaur having a wander around the makerfaire.
We were in Manchester last weekend, we took Spacehack and some other things to MakeFest 2015.
As usual Spacehack was thoroughly enjoyed by many ambitious new crew members, who all exploded in the vast expanse of deep space. As usual, Spacehack came home with more failed controls than when it left.
There was also a great atmosphere in the pub on Saturday evening. John took plenty of photos while he was there, I have selected a few to put in this post, you can see them all here: https://flic.kr/s/aHski3i5Xo
On Saturday we took SpaceHack to Leeds to a Raspberry Jam event set up by Alan O’Donohoe and Claire Garside as part of their great JamPackedUK roadshow, in partnership with the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Google.org.
The day was well organized, and there was a variety of things to do and toys to play with. Makey Makey was set up with PlayDoh (and sweets), and was connected to a Pi running scratch, so people could program with it. Sonic Pi was also set up, which was fun to play with, and there was a demonstration set up with BareConductive paint. My personal favourite was WaterColorBot, a robot that can paint pictures with block paints. Bob even got it to draw our logo!
Apart from the ready-to-go demonstrations (which were very fun and interactive), there was also an area set up to tinker with some Raspberry Pi, and a room upstairs for the workshops that were running.
As usual, we had plenty of folk playing SpaceHack, and it was great to see so many different people around – teachers, kids, and other hackers. There were a few members from Preston Hackspace, who are relatively new; it’s always nice to see other local groups starting up!
All in all, it was a great day out, topped off nicely by the free water taxi back to the station!
Yes, we will be making a return to the Life Centre in Newcastle near the end of April to show off spacehack again and bring some interesting new stuff too.
Our setup from last year
The consoles are being upgraded and we should soon have four consoles fully functional. We’re hoping that new for this year will be: up to four player games or at least two simultaneous two player games, improved gameplay and streamlined startup, and then mostly just some bug fixes.
Bob has also mentioned that he plans to bring along an “out of body experience”. The fine details are being kept top secret right now but if all goes well, this should be ready to go for April too.
On Thursday evening I went to Sheffield to attend OSHUG 37 which was hosting talks from robot army commander Ben Gray and pirate captain Paul Beech, amongst others, compered by writer Gareth Halfacree – all good friends of ours. Video from the event is here: [YouTube] – do have a look at just after the 30 minute mark when I turn up unexpectedly on the projector screen – there was a shout out for Nick Moriarty too!
Was very good to catch up with Ben and Gareth, as well as Aaron from Oomlout, Paul and Gee from Pimoroni, Adrian and Patrick from DoES Liverpool, Andrew Back from Wuthering Bytes, Jeremy and Simon from Embecosm and more – beers in the Rutland Arms afterwards being as much an integral part of the event as the talks themselves. What a great Maker community we’re a part of.