Where’s the hacks?

Just noticed my last two posts are both about food. Nothing wrong with that. :)

However, since I’ve spent much of this year artist-in-residencing at Instructables and building stuff for Pinoccio and Hackster, my personal projects aren’t really being documented, at least not here. But you can find some fun things on my Instructables and Hackster profiles:

Besides that, the past few months have included talks at Hackeriet hackspace in Oslo, the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, and SF’s Sensored meetup… all about neuro-hardware-hacking! Just one more this year, at CCC in Hamburg (I bought piñatas for this!), and then I’m wrapping up a couple of projects that I’m really excited to share. But they must wait. :)


Listserve Lava Cupcakes


Let me tell you about The Listserve! 24,000 people have signed up for a mailing list. Every day, one is chosen to send out an email to the entire list. (By those odds, in 66.6 years you could get a chance. In reality, people sometimes miss the notifications or don’t write something in 48 hours, so they are replaced.)

They come in all languages, themes, and moods. This post was inspired by one of my recent favorites: yesterday’s How to buy people’s love, which included some cheeky commentary and a recipe for the most amazing-sounding cupcakes.

And, oh, they are. They are.

But first, in no particular order, here are a few of my favorite emails past:

Okay! So cupcakes, though.

The recipe is here, and here are my notes:

  • I used Baker’s brand chocolate: 1 bar of unsweetened and 3/4 bar of semi-sweet. (200g roughly equals 1 3/4 bars Baker’s chocolate; 1 3/4 sticks of butter; and 1 cup of sugar.)
  • Melting the chocolate and butter took 3 rounds of 30 seconds in the microwave, separated by bouts of stirring.
  • I preheated the oven for ages (including while mixing everything), then put the pan on the top rack and baked for 20 minutes. MOFO’ING PERFECT.




Look at these.






Okay, I was supposed to be a productive hacker today… time to run away. Make the lava cupcakes and have a fantastic day :)

soundtrack for this post:

“Eat Me” Marshmallows & Snapdragon: Fiery Treats Inspired by Alice

alexglow books

Autumn is upon us!!!

We don’t get much of one in San Francisco, but I’ll be going to New York for a couple of weeks this month with Pinoccio, and I am SO EXCITED. Even here, it’s been a tad chilly, just for Halloween. Amazing.

These two treats are perfect for Halloween, New Year’s, and everything in between. They’re dramatically pyro-friendly. And they’re both inspired by Lewis Carroll’s masterworks, which seem extra-popular this year.

Eat Me Marshmallows

I’d been trying to come up with a non-alcoholic “Drink Me” cocktail for CODAME’s Halloween party. Too late, I realized that all my prep work was for a hot drink, and the event would be fairly warm, so I was scrambling for an alternative. Then Jono’s friend Leo mentioned a soft drink with a toasted marshmallow on top, and Sam posted about having hot chocolate with a single giant marshmallow melted in. So I picked up some ginger ale and brown sugar on the way to to the event, and tried to make something happen with that or the cider. Turns out, soggy marshmallows in cold drinks are basically no fun.


I’d also brought my butane torch to coax a toasty flavor out of the marshmallows. I ended up using most of the bag on these ad-hoc treats:

  1. Stick a fork in a marshmallow (skewer would be better)
  2. Toast it all over with the torch (picture by Bruno!)
  3. Dip it in cider
  4. Roll it in brown sugar and ground cloves (about 1/2 teaspoon cloves to several tablespoons of sugar)
  5. Toast the whole thing again, until the sugar melts, bubbles, and re-hardens
  6. Let cool ten seconds, push the mallow off the fork with a pair of chopsticks, and offer it to the recipient.

They’re not technically the right kind of sweet, but Eat Me Marshmallows will make you bigger!


 ’90s hacker approved.

Jono came up with a quick alternative: dip a fresh mallow in Jim Beam and toast it. You get some nice blue flame, then the surface of the marshmallow bubbles wetly for a bit, and then it settles down and toasts evenly! I think we just discovered the secret to “perfect” toasting… though I like ‘em both ways.

I’d been trying for a “Drink Me” mocktail because I was dressed up as Automated Alice, after a character by Jeff Noon (who also wrote my favorite book, VURT). I’d gotten hold of an amazing turquoise-blue dress, whose former owner urged me to be Alice for Halloween… but for an art+tech event, I wanted to put a cyborg twist on it (dyeing my mohawk to match the dress, with a silver “brain conduit” protruding from my neck). We had a 3d model made by ModBod!

Pic by Jono

As for the drink, at least we had plenty of cider and cherry juice. :) Here’s the original “Drink Me” description, from my childhood copy:

alexglow drink-me

However, this bottle was not marked “poison,” so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavor of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she very soon finished it off.

“What a curious feeling!” said Alice. “I must be shutting up like a telescope.”

Alice in Wonderland, Illustrated Junior Edition, p.8

I’ve been playing around with cherry juice, cider, cloves, butterscotch flavoring, and maybe salted caramel ice cream on the side. So far, it’s much too sweet. I may add hibiscus to counter that, and it adds such a pretty ruby color. Maybe some cardamom. More Christmas pudding spices. Banana flavoring? And brandy or butterscotch schnapps if a warm kick is desired.


I didn’t invent this, but I do try to spread it! We’ve played this game at parties in Ann Arbor, at Noisebridge, and for Christmas at the Convent last year.

alexglow snapdragon-2

Snapdragon (or flapdragon) is the name of a pastime that delighted Victorian children during the Christmas season. A shallow bowl was filled with brandy, raisins were tossed in, and the brandy set on fire. Players tried to snatch raisins from the flickering blue flames and pop them, still blazing, into their mouths. The burning raisins also were called snapdragons. – The Annotated Alice, p.223

Here are a few key recommendations:

  1. Use a wide, shallow vessel that is NOT MADE OF METAL! We used a pot once. We burned ourselves; it was stupid. A shallow pie tin works all right, but it isn’t heavy enough to be stable.
  2. Warm the brandy first, so that it catches fire better. You can do this in the microwave.
  3. Obviously, set it up on a stable surface, so that four or five people can easily reach in and won’t tip it over.

Recommended Editions

The two copies of Alice shown above are very beautiful. The Illustrated Junior Library edition was a present from Aunt Lori and Uncle Frank, when I was a little girl of six, still living in England.

alexglow dedication

It’s really very beautiful, and captures the weirdness and wonder well. You can see another peek at it behind my Jabberwocky playing card.

The other one, The Annotated Alice, I received in high school, I think – maybe as a book prize at school? I don’t actually remember. But it’s also marvelous! It contains all kinds of fascinating details and side stories, bits of history and so on, for the more grown-up reader.

I also have to mention Peter Yearsley’s Librivox recording of Alice in Wonderland. He has a wonderful, almost drowsy reading style that makes you feel like you’re being lulled to sleep, but he also dramatizes the characters with great personality. (I’ve just found out that he also did The King in Yellow! Will have to give that a listen.)

A couple of side notes: that VURT book gave me an occasional username, “Curious Yellow”, and it seems that yellow is often linked with insanity or weird, curious things. And of course, Alice’s key phrase is “curiouser and curiouser…” So they sort of feed into each other: creativity, curiosity, that color, and those two strange book-worlds. Part of why I wear gold polish :)

Also: Planning to go see Then She Fell in New York, and I guess I’ll have to bring the dress. :) I’ve heard only good things, and lots of them… so if you’re in the area, go see it!


P1040626 tricolor cropped

Gabe ran a Glowhacker workshop tonight! (That’s the thing where we put LED strips all over our bikes to make them safe, awesome, and unique.) (Plus, you learn soldering skills.) (Plus, you learn (again (ughhh)) how bad you are at not burning yourself with hot glue (seriously, it’s been how many decades since Girl Scouts?).)

This is delightful! He is the second person to run such a workshop independently. I recently appended a new appendix to the Instructable, on preparing for the workshop, in preparation for people attending this workshop.

It’s 2:30am and I’m wide awake. Bear with me.

P1040417 gabe-2001 glowhacker

A “2001″ moment

Noam got first blood; he finished this green backlight, with a yellow bit on it too. Nick built the red backlight on the right. Everybody was contending with some crazy solder-pad gunk issues! Not sure what the deal was, there.

P1040475 noam glowhacker
P1040478 nick glowhacker


Gabe was in it for the long haul. He’d been there since 6pm, and we hacked on until 1 in the morning.

The results were worth it!

P1040502 gabe triumphant glowhacker

He’s got bright, full-white front lights (thanks to the 8-AA battery pack he’s sporting), and a red forked backlight.

The AAs couldn’t handle the amperage for the all-on white, so he put a resistor inline and stopped them steaming. We admire tenacity!

Mine came out pretty sweet, too. I finished the back half of my design. They switch between green and red; the front will switch between green and off, on the same toggle, so that there’s full-green “cyber” mode and half-red “stealth” (just the backlight and ground-effects).

P1040506 rook green glowhacker

I’m trying out a battery pack I produced as part of my Autodesk residency, and it’s working fine so far! I’ll put up an instructable soon, with notes on that and the tweaks I want to make.

Then, I rode home and played around with Rook (the bike), the Glowmobile (my skateboard), and my room lights (which are mounted on the crown molding, pointing up, diffused by reflecting off the ceiling).

I freaking

P1040609 tricolor 2 glowhacker


P1040618 bg glowhacker



Music Tech Fest 2014

P1030834 music tech fest

This year’s MTF was even better than last year’s! Perhaps because I spent a whole afternoon there, instead of just turning up for the end show like last time (marvelous as it was!).

This time, we were at LSO St. Luke’s—headquarters of the London Symphony Orchestra—a beautiful and cavernous space, with significant cubist influences (according to my phone camera). I got a delightful whirlwind tour of the premises from the unquenchable DaveDave – aha! – Dave Green.

DSC_0256 music tech fest



It was a beautiful setting. They had Jason Singh back, and his music (partially based on beatboxing) was amazing, again. There was also a wonderfully chill performance from Shlomo, who at one point duetted with a man who stumbled in with a 3D-printed guitar (I believe it was Customuse).

The musical performances were interspersed with short talks from people in the industry.

One of my favorites was Paul Bennun, who described how the Papa Sangre games generate binaural audio on the fly using the “Papa engine“! I’ve always wondered why movies with 3D graphics don’t also incorporate 3D binaural audio. This game proves that it can truly create an immersive experience… and to deepen the immersion, you play with your eyes closed! The game’s creators set up an anechoic chamber and pointed 1000 (or 100? My handwriting is terrible) sources of white noise at the recording rig, for reference. Then, they used those recordings to model how audio sounds from every direction, with which they then shape the game’s audio so that it appears to come from the proper direction while you’re playing.

Moldover has told me that recording an album in binaural would be extra-complex because it needs to be recorded and mixed in weird and special ways, after you’ve built or bought your own recording head – and the overall quality suffers when it’s played on regular speakers. (I STILL WANT TO DO IT) (and a friend and I are slowly building a head!)

Paul added a few fascinating details: Using your ears to locate sound is a learned skill! So, this type of audio magic doesn’t work so well (if at all) on young children. Also, the game senses your physical orientation via your mobile device, using this to calculate the proper sound direction. Apparently, the inherent lag in this processing is practically imperceptible to our ears—and so avoids the Oculus Rift‘s problem, where even slight visual lag can produce headaches and/or nausea.

Note that this is a distinct technology from binaural beats, wherein tones of different frequencies are piped into each of your ears, with the aim of synchronizing your brainwaves to a frequency defined by the difference between the tones.

mtf horizontal

Shlomo and Paul Bennun

Rich Huxley also spoke, with magnetic delight, about his band Hope and Social and the many inventive projects they’ve run. These projects focus equally on drawing attention to the band, and using the band as a tool to draw people out. He told us about how they’d united people from different bars, like the twelve tribes of Israel but drunk, to participate in a music spectacle. How they rose to kick off the Tour de France this year in Leeds with a participatory concert, having embraced inclusive, social promotion methods after burning thousands of pounds on the traditional music business model. And his solo/acoustic song was a delight.

Besides that, I got to hang with a few rad individuals… I enjoyed exploring with the aforementioned Dave, who showed me around RS Components‘ 24-hour hack area and the rest of the place. (He was also the one who got me in last year, also after I’d just realized it was happening, also on the last day…) I know many a geek who has spoken reverently of Need to Know (NTK), the newsletter he ran for some years with [other fabulous human / possible robot] Danny O’Brien. Dave had run a hack session the previous day, using components like a “DJ Hero” turntable and viddyagame guitar controller. Sad to miss it!

We also ran into Adam Williams, who has built his own cyborg beatbox-looping glove. It’s similar in spirit to the Bionic Orchestra‘s sensored looping glove that Ezra demoed at MTF last year – but looks much more cyborgy, and was produced by a single person on (I believe) a very constrained schedule. Also, the previous glove uses a gyro, accelerometer, and flex sensors to control the sound, whereas Adam’s simply has five flex sensors (one for each finger)… and uses BINARY! He sends a number over the wires to the controller, using his thumb for the ones place, index finger for two, middle finger for four, etc. This enables him to send 31 different commands to the Arduino tucked into that holster thingy. Neat!

adam williams looping glove

Finally, Mirai of Intelligentsia dropped a CD into my hands in the café downstairs. He told me a bit about the IBVA Brainmachine, plus some Japanese dance groups who are integrating electronic lighting into their live shows. I have yet to locate my external optical drive and pop the CD in, but I’m sure it’s going to be an excellent experience, and you should definitely check them out! Mirai and Bronwen use wearable trigger pads, built into shirts and jackets, as part of their live show. [EDIT: I have listened, and it is AMAZING. Super heavy cyborg techno, with echoes of Bowie and 80s scifi soundtracks. Glorious.]

There were also some awards and things, I guess. :) There was a really cool one where a couple of hackers put piezos in a tub of water, to sense disturbances and create music from them. There were also a bunch of cool projects from children and young people. Also a quadcopter, whose connection to music I couldn’t figure out. And an NFC app that you could use to control the background music in a live performance… and a DIY flex sensor prongy instrument… and some strange woman with a keytar and 3D visualizations…

I would love, and I fully intend, to catch the whole thing next year. Thanks to fellow cyborg Rain for helping me find a way in, once again to Dave, and to the enthusiasts who make this kind of weird shit happen for the music/tech community.

Ooh—also, since I didn’t have my notebook with me, I could only take notes on various receipts from my bag. The bottom-right one is a bunch of doodled particle ideas for Anouk’s Element Dress, based on this “iris notation” I recently created for music. More on that later… for now, goodnight!

gagarin irisp.s. 100th post!!! *streamers* *confetti* *indifference* 

Bring Out Your Brains! – EEG Hacking Guide


bhax cutoff

Buckle up, folks…

EEG, or electroencephalography, is the measurement of the brain’s electrical activity through sensors placed on the head. This activity manifests as electrical waves oscillating at different frequencies (as sound waves do, or even regular ocean waves). You’re producing many different frequencies of brainwaves at a time, and each frequency range is associated with certain types of mental activity, and tends to originate from certain areas of the brain.

EEG’s getting big! Since it’s been in my project stable for a while, many people have been asking for advice, so here’s a primer with pretty much everything I’ve written on the subject and some previously-unpublished FAQs. (I also just did a talk covering much of this at EMF Camp, and as soon as the recording goes up, I’ll embed it here—the dryness is abated somewhat when accompanied by arm-waving.)

EEG & Me

My brain explorations began at the University of Michigan, where a voluntary sleep study required me to spend a couple of nights in a lab, having electrodes glued to my head while F. Murray Abraham and David Attenborough revealed mysteries of the oceans. After graduating, I became (very) briefly involved with the Ann Arbor-based MiND Ensemble, who were using EEG devices to create stirring live performances. Unfortunately, I moved to San Francisco about a month later. (Suby says they’ve been getting a lot of press all of a sudden, probably because of the recent surge of interest in brainwave tech.)

mind ensemble smallA long, long time ago, at a university far, far away…


My first legit, hands-on experience started with a pair of Necomimi (robotic cat ears that respond to brainwaves) from Neurowear in late 2012. Soon afterward, I posted a Necomimi teardown on this blog.

After that, I turned two sets of Necomimi into new, brainwave-controlled animatronic accessories for the sizzling Hot Couture fashion show at the Crucible. These included a set of horns…

…and a pair of wings.

(You can see video of them in the show via the “Hot Couture” link above, and also here.)

Here are my notes from building the wings. If you’re doing something that only requires a couple of small moving parts, I highly recommend using Necomimi!

OCZ NIA & NeuroSky MindWave

I didn’t write about brainwave sensing for a while. I did buy an OCZ NIA (while I had a reasonably lucrative full-time job in support), to track my brainwaves while sleeping. However, it only works with Windows, and I’m not setting up dual-boot just for that… but I’ll soon be collaborating with a neighbor on this! I also picked up a NeuroSky MindWave—their Bluetooth-enabled, mobile-friendly headset—and started building a world in Unity that I could travel through with my brain. That’s still a work in progress.

NeuroSky MindFlex


Next came my artist residency at Instructables. I’ve been working on another animatronic project—but this time, I wanted to build it almost entirely from scratch. I’m still working on the animatronics themselves, but the EEG part is all done. I’m using a Pinoccio Scout microcontroller to slurp up the signal from a hacked NeuroSky MindFlex headset.

Here’s my “Mesh Your Brain” tutorial on getting the signal out of the MindFlex with Pinoccio. (If you haven’t been following along, Pinoccio is an open-source microcontroller, compatible with the Arduino, that has a built-in radio network and a rechargeable battery. This makes it great for wearables and remote-controlled robot swarms!)

And here’s my guide to making the MindFlex more comfortable and attractive (which, by its nature, includes a pretty exhaustive MindFlex teardown).

And… I think I might be driving up the price for secondhand ones, haha. At least ten people have gone out to buy NeuroSky headsets since seeing the EMF talk, reading the tutorials, or having a chat about best methods. And now they’re saying that the prices I paid don’t match up with what’s out there. So, if you want a cheap used set, you’d best jump on it!


So, here are the questions I’m most often asked about EEG hacking. (Largely compiled from my EMF talk and conversations with Behnaz Farahi. Thanks for the prompting, Behnaz!)

Q. What is the best EEG system for what I’m trying to build?

Here’s a quick rundown on the available consumer systems:

  • NEUROSKY. I’m most familiar with these. Compared to the Emotiv and open-source systems, they are inexpensive and easy to use, but limited in scope. I consider them ajarware. These sets have a single forehead sensor, to pick up the brain activity, and a clip that sandwiches your earlobe between two metal contacts: a reference point for the current (to filter out sensor data caused by blood flowing, etc.), and a ground wire. The NeuroSky headsets detect “attention” (roughly corresponding to beta frequencies), “meditation” (~alpha), and—in some systems—eye blinks. “Attention” and “meditation” are normalized to a 0-100 scale. (I go into this more in my tutorials.)
    • MindWave: A wireless headset with Bluetooth built in, which can talk to computers and mobile devices innately. You can build your own software for it without hacking into the set. It can detect eye blinks, which I think would be useful for switching “modes” if you’re controlling something. Uses a single AAA battery.
    • MindFlex: A game system from Mattel, very popular among EEG enthusiasts. Several published hacks exist, most notably the frontiernerds tutorial (and accompanying Arduino library), upon which I based my Pinoccio hack. The hack doesn’t interfere with normal function of the game. The usual hack doesn’t get you eye-blink data, though that might be accessible if you do Darren Mothersele’s hard-mode one for the raw data. (You might want to do that anyway, since the normal reporting rate of the MindFlex is 1Hz, or one set of data per second. The raw data stream is much faster.) You can usually get these for cheaper than retail, via Amazon—although, as mentioned before, they’re becoming more scarce as people catch on. Often it makes more sense to buy the MindFlex Duel set, which nets you two headsets and might cost you less. It has a bigger battery pack: 3 AAAs.
    • NecomimiI put these under NeuroSky because they use the same chip and algorithm, although they are manufactured by a company called Neurowear and have additional programming added to make them move organically. Also has a “calibration” indicator mode. Has a biggish battery pack. Doesn’t do Bluetooth. But it’s great for wearables if you just need to modify a couple of sensors.
    • MindSetHaven’t used this. It’s like a MindWave had a baby with a pair of headphones and a mic. You don’t see it around much, these days.
  • EMOTIV. I haven’t personally hacked on these; this information comes from research and personal conversations with Emotiv users and developers. Requires moist sensor contacts and more open head-space, and costs more, but gives you more information than the NeuroSky sets do.
    • Epoc: The Emotiv set that most brain-hackers I know use, it reads 14 channels of data from different areas of the brain. Reports from others indicate that it’s about as reliable as the NeuroSky sets; it requires saline solution to provide good conductivity between your skin and the electrodes, which apparently makes for some connectivity issues. However, you get more information: reading from the premotor cortex, it can also detect mental signals for forwardbackleftrightdisappear. I’d love to play with that last one! (Plus, it does eye blinks.) You have to hack it, or else spring for the SDK (software development kit).
    • InsightThe pretty, new set, not yet commercially available, it comes packed with extra sensors that detect the physical orientation of your head, as well as eye blinks, etc. I got a look at the SDK for this one back in February, and even then, it was impressively responsive, powerful, and intuitive. However, you might have to drop a few hundo if you want the raw data. This guy isn’t shipping yet.
  • OPEN-SOURCE. I haven’t used these, because I tend to focus on the higher-level function and don’t care so much about building my own custom system. Information comes chiefly from online research.
    • OpenEEG: Oh, so you’re gonna build your own system, eh? I guess this is the place for you. They have parts lists and everything from the ground up. I’m not sure how the cost compares to pre-built sets like the MindFlex, since you’d be buying all the components on a small scale, unless you wanted to just go bananas and make like fifty of these.
    • OpenBCI: You fancy! This baby has 16 channels and will set you back a few hundred. Also, it’s not shipping yet (you can preorder). But it’s ☆☆!!!open!!!☆☆

Beyond these, you have the Muse, the Melon, and other sculptured “lifestyle” EEG sets that I haven’t looked into much. Plus the NIA. And, of course, the heavy-grade stuff that universities use… but that’s beyond the scope of this FAQ.

Besides all this, I have a couple of friends who have developed their own systems. Be sure to check out the work of Jonathan Toomim (who’s doing some weird experiments with holding your breath) and Masahiro Kahata.

Aaaarrrrggghhhhhhhhhhh, there’s so much of this stuff! Next question!!!


Brain by Samuel Dion-Girardeau from The Noun Project

Q. You can read my mind?!

Noooooo. Commercial EEG rigs can pretty much pick up channels relating to premotor (directional) impulses, some mental-state indicators, muscle movements like eye-blinks, and little else. Even detecting “emotions” (happiness, sadness) is tricky. Granted, there have been studies with some other REALLY INTERESTING stuff: the P300 “recognition” spike, identifying objects out of a set, etc. But you don’t generally get that on a normal person’s salary.

Q. So, what can I do?

Figure out what the capacities of your headset are. Then, learn to tweak your brain’s activity to control those metrics.

For example, with the MindFlex, you have “attention” and “meditation” metrics. For me, these things elevate “attention”:

  • Pick large numbers and add/multiply them in my head
  • Write emails
  • Listen to an unfamiliar song and try to transcribe the lyrics
  • Visualize: if you have a readout or feedback of the current activity, will it to go higher.

And for “meditation”, it’s pretty much your standard meditation exercises:

  • Close my eyes (A couple of my friends, Amanda and Pokey of AHA, made a recording of the frequencies present while Pokes opened and closed his eyes. Then, they converted it into sound. The difference is actually audible!)
  • Breathe slowly and deeply

Note that the alpha and beta frequencies aren’t necessarily in opposition. When you’re both highly focused and highly relaxed, they may both be peaking. Then someone calls your name, and focus spikes upward, while relaxation shows a radical dropoff. Fascinatin’!


Brain by Anisha Varghese from The Noun Project

Q. Are you really controlling that thing with your brain? Or is it basically random signals and coincidence?

Of course, it’s a bit of both. Yes, I’m able to reliably toggle something on/off by setting a threshold (say, maintaining ≥80% attention) that corresponds to “on”. For beginners, it will be tougher. And there’s often a fair amount of up/down mobility in the numbers; the data are noisy, especially with the MindFlex, where you only have one channel.

Q. How can I increase connectivity?

This is a big problem with EEG devices. It can be difficult to maintain a good signal with the electrodes.

First, clean your contact surfaces. Wipe your skin and the electrode with an alcohol or saline wipe.

Then, apply something conductive. For the Epoc, make sure that the saline pads don’t dry out. They have to be wet. For other headsets, it still helps. here’s single-purpose conductive EEG paste available; or, you can add salt to some lotion or water and apply that.

Finally, make sure your electrode(s) are positioned correctly. Move ‘em around until you get something good. You may need to press fairly hard; even the commercial headsets usually leave a bit of a mark on my forehead, and the ear clips may hurt a bit after a while.

Q. Is it comfortable?

They’re designed for wearability, so they’re usually pretty comfortable… but both Necomimi and MindWave headsets have rigid plastic headbands that, in my experience, start to dig in after a while. (It’s pretty inevitable, since they’re supporting the weight of batteries and other hardware.) And as mentioned above, you’ll probably want to take off the ear clip after a while. I do recommend my comfort upgrade, which moves the weight down around your neck—where it’s about the same as a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and also looks a little more intentionally cyberpunk. :)


Brain by Blake Ferguson from The Noun Project

Q. Stumbling blocks?

I had the most trouble with the Necomimi wings. First, that headset got stuck in calibration mode for a long time, pretty much the entire time I was constructing the wings. So, I oriented the wings’ servos such that they would look good when that behavior was active. Of course, on the day of the show, suddenly the headset started working again… and the right wing decided to flop over to the left and stay there for minutes at a time, which looked pretty weird (although still passable).

Also, remember that you’re working with servos that are designed to support a load of light foam, close to the pivot point. I knew the wings were a bit of a stretch, so I used the lightest materials possible. Still, the left servo has given out since the show. If you need something more heavy-duty, build it yourself.

Besides that, conductivity. Always the conductivity!

Q. With the Arduino/Pinoccio hack: what should I use?

If you want your headpiece to remote-control hardware or wearables, or communicate with a computer, I highly recommend going with Pinoccio. It’s got this communication built-in, and has its own rechargeable battery attached, so you’re truly wireless.

If you’re only ever planning to be within USB-cable range of a computer, or you’re building a self-contained apparatus that won’t communicate with anything else, a plain Arduino Uno will work just fine.


Brain by SuperAtic LABS from The Noun Project

Q. What’s the data stream look like? Can it be smoothed?

Normally, it’s at 1Hz, and it jumps around a fair bit. Behnaz asked about this and ended up using the VarSpeedSevo library. It sounds like that’s going really well. I also suggested a couple of rough hacks that took the difference between the old value and the new value and moved between them in increments (basically the same as adjusting the servo speed), but this would of course introduce lag as well.

You can get faster data reporting with Darren’s raw-data hardware hack.

Q. Can you use this to control your mind?

Not directly. It’s super useful for getting feedback, which is of course instrumental in voluntary mental exercises. You might have heard of transcranial direct-current stimulation (TDCS), which takes about 15 minutes to set in and can help people focus… or its alternating-current equivalent (TACS), which was recently in the news as a means to induce lucid dreaming… or even transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in relation to mood control. But all of these involve passing electromagnetic stimulation into the brain. Anything you do to yourself with these EEG headsets is a self-induced change; it’s simply a method of measuring what’s going on in there, from the outside signals that make it through the skull.


Brain by Eric Bird from The Noun Project

Further Reading

http://frontiernerds.com/brain-hack – Has become the standard Arduino + MindFlex hack.

https://github.com/kitschpatrol/BrainGrapher – A Processing sketch to accompany the frontiernerds tutorial: it graphs the EEG data in real-time.

http://darrenmothersele.com/blog/2013/10/07/mindflex-raw-eeg-data/ – A more in-depth physical MindFlex hack that gets at the raw data stream.

http://hackaday.com/tag/eeg/ – Hackaday is smitten with EEG mods.

And two awesome projects—weirdly, two of my friend-groups independently decided, this year, to build giant brains with LED patterns controlled by EEG data. Great minds blink alike?

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dr-brainlove – This one went to the playa.

http://thinktank.uchicago.edu/ – This one operates out of UChicago, traveling the world for education!

I’m going to go ahead and publish this now, since there’s another talk tomorrow and I’d like to have this available as a reference. I may update it later, though, with more info for y’all. Happy hacking!

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