Hide and Seek

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I recently put a blog post on Hackster about treasure hunts, since it was VOLTRON HOLIDAY: Easter and Passover at once! Some fun stuff there. Also, I just finished reading Ready Player One, which is an excellent quest book saturated with ’80s pop culture and a frenetic worldwide competition for fabulous riches, inside of a shared immersive virtual world. Nerd candy.

In that spirit, I thought you might enjoy the techy riddle hunts I created years ago for Matt’s birthdays. In between, here’s the wonderfully layered packaging for a shipment of ESP8266 chips I just received.

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Quest #1: Ann Arbor, the Text Adventure

In December of 2011, Matt woke up with instructions to join a particular IRC channel. I’d written a Python-based IRC bot (the palindromic Tobybot), which sat in this channel. Tobybot emulated the style of an old-school text adventure game, set in a burned-out, monster-riddled version of our hometown, Ann Arbor.

The game’s text described him waking up and retrieving a “green key” and a “red key” from hiding places in our house. In reality, these were a silver key on a green ribbon – concealed in the medicine cabinet – and a copper plate with a key sketched on it, stuck to the fridge. He was then guided downtown, past our usual hangout spots (now beset with monstrous dangers), and to our hackerspace and favorite coffee shop, where he was to prompt certain people for a red box and a green box.

Each key had a magnet attached to it, such that when the keys were pressed against the boxes, they would undo makeshift magnetic latches that I’d (hastily and shoddily) constructed. There was no other way to open the boxes without destroying them. Wish I’d had more time to develop the latch-boxes; they were my favorite part of the riddle. Anyway, the boxes contained his gifts.

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Quest #2: Welcome to Startup City

The next year (2012), we had recently moved to San Francisco. I hid a birthday cupcake in a kitchen cupboard, along with my iPod, which drew him in by playing the Turret Wife Serenade from Portal 2 on loop – given Portal’s strong connection with cake. :)

Stuck to the iPod was a QR code, linking to an image of a gift I’d ordered, which hadn’t yet arrived. In order to turn off the music, he had to flip over the player and awaken it. This revealed a written note directing him to go to the mailroom of our office building. At the time, we both worked at a startup in 1 Market.

The mailroom held a package with his name on it, inside which was a “med kit” gift with a barcode on it, which had the date (12/6) written on, the “6″ circled dramatically. The barcode was our company’s phone number, whose phone tree I managed, and pressing 6 (a hidden option) played the Doctor Who theme. This hint pointed to his TARDIS-shaped mug, which should have contained the final present – except it didn’t fit… So instead, I left a note there indicating the box the mug came in, which contained the gift (a video game).

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There are a few others I’ve planned since, but never really executed; and in San Francisco, there are more than a few societies doing similar things all the time. Feels like I moved to the right place… Some are secret, and others have public faces, though they are somewhat or completely gone these days: SFZero, the Jejune Institute – which ended before I came to SF, although it lives on in a few current organizations, including the currently-active Elsewhere Philatelic Society

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Ann Arbor itself used to host an annual pirate-themed photo scavenger hunt for Halloween. Good times! :)

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…By the way, the ESP8266 is essentially a teeny-tiny, wireless server. I heard about it from this guy at the Phoenix stop on our “Hack to the Future” hackathon tour. It was hosted at Local Motors, where I got to ride in a Rally Fighter and go off a ramp in Nick’s mutant pickup truck!! Rad!

 

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. :)

cheers!

Listserve Lava Cupcakes

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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.

Seriously.

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Look at these.

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BONUS NOAM

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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

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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.

However!

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!

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 ’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!

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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:

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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.

Snapdragon

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.

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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.

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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!

☆_☆

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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

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 love

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Music Tech Fest 2014

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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.

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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.

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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* 

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