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 – Has become the standard Arduino + MindFlex hack. – A Processing sketch to accompany the frontiernerds tutorial: it graphs the EEG data in real-time. – A more in-depth physical MindFlex hack that gets at the raw data stream. – 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? – This one went to the playa. – 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!

Woman in Progress


As of this month, I’ve been writing this blog for five years! This is the 98th post. I was trying to time it to hit 100, but that’ll come soon enough. :) I’ve been spending a lot of time writing instructables and making videos. There’s been so much to learn, I’ve often felt like I was treading water or not accomplishing anything.

Here’s a hint: If you’re spending upwards of 12 hours in the lab(s), feeling productive, and at the end of the day you feel like you’re not accomplishing anything… you’re probably learning more than you ever have before. In the past few months, I’ve leveled up hard in CAD, website design, programming, electronics, and video editing, plus numerous other things I’ve probably forgotten. And the result is that I feel like I’ve produced very little, because these things are new, and difficult, and I am still slow at them. But it’s a necessary process if you want to get anywhere. And when that feeling hits, just step back a bit and give yourself some credit.

In other news, I stayed up way too late last night working on a song, a ring, and a website.

• song •

No Romo, something I wrote a while back and was never able to record to satisfaction. But after talking with some musician friends, I realized that most published recordings are cobbled together from a potentially massive number of takes. That’s a relief, as I’ve always considered each non-perfect take a “failure” – which suddenly seems odd, as I don’t apply that mentality to anything else. It’s going to take a lot of dedicated time to produce something I’m really comfortable with, so here’s the WIP…

This is still one take. It was recorded in my bedroom, in GarageBand (using the “Female Dance Vocals” effect – the most low-key effect with a slight added resonance). I use a Blue Snowball microphone.

• ring •

I’m focusing my art-related urges on the Aeiu project, lately. Here’s a ring that I plan to get printed (via Ponoko or Shapeways? Haven’t looked into it, but I’d love to hear your suggestions) – or metallize myself via a lost-PLA cast. The prototypes so far have been modeled in Fusion 360 and printed on Autodesk’s Objet 500 3d printers, in Vero Black resin.


Here are a couple of good tutorial sites for Fusion: Autodesk site; YouTube channel

There’ll be a lot more to the ring, but we’ll get there, we’ll get there…

• website •

Likewise, I haven’t really built a website since creating Breadboard Dreams, which runs a customized WordPress template hosted on my own VPS (virtual private server). This time, I’m playing around with Bootstrap, hosted on Github Pages - which means that it’s all public, and anybody can dig right into my terrible, n00by code. Many of the links still redirect back to the original wiki, and sure, it doesn’t look like much yet – although hours have gone into it. But… it’s progress!

I got really into the new gTLDs around tax-refund time, so I bought a few domains that run with the Aeiu theme. Check out the new site here:


Luck and Instructables

alexglow fusion360 luck die

I recently printed up my first “real” CAD model! Taylor, Pier 9′s* intrepid Fusion 360 evangelist, gave me a bit of a tutorial.

What’s this thing? I’m not really superstitious, but do seem to have a deep wellspring of stupid luck (though it’s always best to note the influence of social privilege** as well as effort put in). I think it’s possible to pass a on a bit of that luck, if only through the placebo effect. This design also springs from my love for inventing symbol-systems and alphabets. The die represents embracing fortune, and forms my three-dot signature in the middle.

So, here’s a 3D-printable die with which you will always roll sixes. :)

To make your own, take that file and print it on a RepRap, Makerbot, Type A Machine(s), or whatever you have available. There are now dedicated 3D printing shops in Ann Arbor and LA, so the trend seems to be spreading, and you might just be able to send the file to one of them. Pier 9 has Objet Connex500 printers with ridiculously high resolution, so I used those.

alexglow luck die being printed

This printer is using UV light to cure deposited layers of resin. That makes it possible to achieve a glossy finish on the top and sides of your piece. The Objet also lays down a translucent support material, which has the feel of hard Jell-O and keeps pieces from buckling or deforming during printing. If you have “glossy” selected, that can cause unexpected issues because the printer tries to keep it smooth everywhere this material isn’t needed. That’s what happened on the first run of dice…

alexglow luck-die version 1

alexglow luck die grooves

See the grooves along the sides? That’s where the support material was placed to fill in the pips. The next run was done on the matte setting, so the entire die was embedded in support material. And it came out looking fantastically ghostly and weird!

alexglow luck die in support

I’d actually love to find a printer loaded up with two different clear resins, in order to print something permanent that looked like this.

Anyways, since these ones were matte all over, they looked decent, but they still weren’t smooth. I wanted something a bit more refined, so I dabbed gold nail polish into three of the pips (the same stuff I wear), to highlight the three-dot symbol. Then, the sides were sanded down with three grits of sandpaper for a frosted finish: 120, 180, and 400. This also took care of any polish spillover.

alexglow luck die sanded gold

And that’s it! A little, giftable symbol of luck.

The image has a history; here’s the Illustrator version that Sam made last year so I could vinyl-cut it:

alexglow luck die ai

And another representation in my bedroom tapestries:

alexglow tapestries

Along with a few others, this motif has become part of the Aeiu Society - a personal philosophy whose chief precepts are “have adventures” and “try not to be a dick”.


* Note 1. Hold up, though… what’s this Pier 9, eh? It’s the second half of my twofold plan for TOTAL MAKER DOMINATION!!!

pinstructio cropped

Remember this?

I’ve been hanging out lately with Anouk, an international wearables-maker of mystery, and in early March she gave me a tour of the Autodesk offices where she’s an Artist in Residence. We ran into Vanessa, the AiR program coordinator, so I applied, and now I have 24/7 access to – and free classes regarding – their mind-blowing machine shop. The AiRs get to keep everything we make! All they ask is for us to write instructables, since Autodesk, a well-regarded CAD software company, owns Instructables, the maker-tutorials site. My residency lasts until the end of June.

This meshes very well with my Pinoccio gig, which also involves being creative and publishing things… which I already did for fun. I’ve printed up a few enclosures and other related doohickeys. Plus, I get to work alongside an assortment of friends from TechShop who have wandered over (several people teach classes at both locations), in a sunny industrial wonderland with a view of the Bay Bridge. Simply put, this spring is pretty much the perfect storm of marvelous, aside from the occasional apocalyptic nightmare (which may stem from too much late-night Heathers).

Some luck…


** Note 2. SOCIAL PRIVILEGE! BIG SCARY WORDS! POLITICS! For once, we’re gonna talk about these things. I favor the description of “privilege” as living life on easy mode. Most everybody has some kinds of privilege that subtly let them get away with things, or be taken more seriously than others, and some that detract from their social credibility or access. For example, I can be reasonably sure that if I were to lose my job and bank account tomorrow, worst-case scenario, I could crash with some branch of my family while sorting things out. That privilege isn’t universal. So, it’s a lot easier to take risks like working half-time and spending the other half on an unpaid part-time residency, which lead to even more opportunities doing what I love in the future. And that’s a large part of luck: as long as you can keep rolling, you’re likely to to hit a natural 20 someday.

Similarly, I was recommended to work with the crazy, amazing Pinoccio team partly because of this blog. And it only happens because I’ve had time to build things outside of work (no children or extra jobs or night school or crazy commute). I’ve lived near hackerspaces. I’ve usually held jobs that covered basic material costs and didn’t hagfish my energy. I’ve had the excellent education, passionate and literate parents, Internet access, peer encouragement, and (again) free time to write about those projects. I chose not to pursue a developer position at Sauce because I would rather spend extra time making things – and that was reasonable because I don’t yet need to support anyone else financially.

In this case, it all seems to boil down to having time. I am inexpressibly thankful for that priceless treasure. Beyond Maslow, it is the most important thing.

…Anyway, recognizing privilege is one thing. The next step is realizing that it isn’t a zero-sum game: put your privilege to work helping others succeed, and it improves everyone’s lives. This means promoting excellent work by other makers, especially those who aren’t well-known already. It means helping creators make social connections that can benefit everyone. And like any other human, I have a wealth of fairly suspect advice to share. ;) So, reach out!

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life: Pinoccio!

pinstructio cropped

Two months since my last blog post! Two months, and two new gigs. That’s my excuse…

This is gonna be about Pinoccio, where I’m rolling into my third month as Hacker in Residence — a magnificent offer that swept me off my feet and ended my term at Sauce Labs. (Next time’s ramblings will be about a residency with Instructables!)

I still love Sauce dearly, but Sally and Eric held the keys to my little hardware-hacker heart: a half-time gig, working from anywhere (mainly TechShop), making strange things and talking to people and writing docs for an open-source-tastic company. We make a microcontroller that’s compatible with the Arduino DIY project platform, but which comes with its own battery (!!!) and does mesh-networking out of the box. That means that all your bits of hardware can talk to each other, and to the internet, within about five minutes of opening your kit! (This is me doing my best to explain what I do without getting commercial, but SERIOUSLY GUYS this thing is AWESOME and I am SO EXCITED to work on it.)

instructable 1: nose tickler

Photo on 2-25-14 at 4.35 PM #2

 Exclusive glamour shot! Available here only!

One of my first actions with Pinoccio was to give a demo at Rachel Kalmar’s Sensored meetup. In order to demonstrate the board’s ability to tie together smartphones, WiFi, and radio, I built the Sneeze-Ray Remote-Controlled Nose Tickler! It’s the latest in human-computer-interface (short for “humans with computers in, on, or about the face”) technology. :) This little assembly (including glasses, controller pendant, and nose-feather) enables anyone, anywhere, to tickle your nose with the push of an Internet button.

Every time I see “Sneeze-Ray”, Dr. Horrible starts playing in my head…

I think this was much more successful as an instructable than a presentation: although the audience really dug it (and everybody wanted to give it a try), it was pretty tough for them to tell what was going on, since the nose-tickling motion isn’t obvious from a distance.

instructable 2: PONG!

alexglow side scout

Oh, right: this is what a Pinoccio Scout looks like (with a couple of LEDs on it). :)

So, for Nick Pinkston’s Hardware Startup Meetup, I planned something a bit more flashy. It turned into a demonstration of one of my most precious acquired skills: pulling together something cool at the last minute. If you’re pressed for time, you’ve got to push aside any feelings of hopelessness, reassess the situation constantly, consider what minimal investment will get you the maximum effect, and take stock of all materials available to you. Don’t be afraid to discard plans! There’ll be time to build them later.

In this case, we started shipping to our IndieGogo backers the same day I’d been planning to spend building my demo. So, I spent the afternoon polishing documentation and sending updates to our backers and friends, and by the time that was done, I had only an hour or so left to build. The worktable held a number of cheap light-up yo-yos, some clear HexBug packaging spheres, and an array of microcontrollers. 30 minutes later, my grand scheme clearly wasn’t going to happen. I socketed bright white LEDs into a couple of Scouts and packed everything up, resolving to come up with something on the Caltrain down to South San Francisco.

On the train, I modified the Sneeze-Ray’s code slightly to include an extra output pin and pointed the LEDs in different directions. Now, when I typed “blaze” into the console on my computer, a message would be sent via WiFi to one board (“Leonardo”), and relayed via radio from there to another board (“Michelangelo”). This would enable us to live-demo the radio communication range, which is one of the things people ask about most frequently.

A number of things were less than ideal: I’d have to set up WiFi access once I got there, I wouldn’t have a chance to test before running the demo, and dammit, I was tired. But Cédric helped bolster my spirits, and our gracious hosts at Counsyl got me last-minute network access. So, when my turn came, I picked on Drix to help me. When I entered the “blaze” command, I shouted “PING!”, and he moved steadily away from me, shouting “PONG!” when his board lit up. Soon, the whole room was shouting “PONG!” as he held the beacon aloft; when we finally lost the signal, it was certainly near the 100m quoted range for the radio chip, and around a corner. Also, two minutes over the allotted time — Nick had decided to let us go double because of the crowd’s interest.


• ann arbor •

A little background on the Pinoccio linkage: They’re based in Ann Arbor (where I spent 6 years studying languages and getting into hackerspaces), and they were pointed at me by Dug Song, security rockstar / cofounder of Duo Security and a creative polymath. Looking forward to potential collaborations there as well! :D

I took a trip back, this January, to catch up with some old friends. AHA, the local hackerspace, is going stronger than ever. Since the last time I visited, they’ve really opened it up, and they’re still America’s friendliest hackerspace. Larry was running a group for an upcoming Coursera course, and Josh had rigged up a 3D scanning apparatus. I believe they’re using a PrimeSense scanning unit, from the company that was bought by Microsoft to create Kinect. May be wrong there. (Sadly, I’ve lost my photos from that trip — but rest assured, the space looks amazing!)

alexglow 3dscan top

Print your own teeny Merlin!

Also happy to see that Alex, my Norse Biker Fashion Legend friend, is actually creating new jobs (in Michigan!) with his chainmail business, Metal Artisan Studios. And I got to introduce him to Suby, a kickass composer whom I met through a short stint with the neuro-integrated MiND Ensemble at Michigan. (Those two make for one hell of a brunch!) I didn’t get a chance to check in on Maker Works, but from what I hear, they’re still tearing it up.

Continuing the sorta-thread, I think I’mma talk some about 3D modeling next, and then a bit about the Autodesk Artist in Residence thing… Woo!

Sketches now on Tumblr

scribble round 3

This is just a drive-by to say that I’m moving my sketches off of this site and onto a dedicated Tumblr, merlinscribbles. I may still add them here as posts, but it’s much easier to do them as individual Tumblr posts. Plus, I can throw stuff on there directly from my phone! Which means more sketches and more opportunity for others’ embarrassment.

I’m starting with a batch from a Sensored meetup in April 2013, and there’s a backlog of maybe ten events whose sketches have never seen the light of camera. The rest will percolate over from here eventually. And I’ll probably revive the tradition of tweeting ‘em to their unfortunate subjects. :)


WordPress Themes