Hackupy.org – Hack Nights for the Occupy Movement

The Occupy Movement is an international protest movement which is primarily directed against social and economic inequality. Currently near by to us there are Occupy encampments in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley.

Noisebridge as always is open to those looking for a space to work on projects, and resources to make those projects a reality. We've been seeing more and more groups coming through seeking aid for things related to the Occupancy. Together we've built out interesting ways to recharge car and cell phone batteries, provided internet at camp, had meetings about web presence, document GA minutes and more.

We want to let participants of the Occupy Movement know that we're here and open to them. We've also started a site called hackupy.org. Hackupy are open hack nights at hackerspaces for Occupy related projects, and the site gives a listing of spaces which provide such nights. So far hackupy has been happening at NYC: Resistor and almost 24/7 at Noisebridge, and we look forward to seeing more hackerspaces jump in and provide time to those wanting to hack for excellence!

Violence in Cairo — 9-October-2011

From tweets and other postings, and stories from various news sources, I’ve been able to peace together this version of the big picture here in Egypt regarding tonight’s violence:

There is a powerful, small minority of ultra-right-wing Islamic theocrats called the Salafiyun, with ties to the supreme military council running the country. They want to rid the country of Coptic Christians (and, of course, Jews), and want to force Islamic law on Egypt.

Coptic Christians are angry at many violent and deadly attacks on them over recent days and months, and were demonstrating today in Cairo, when thugs of unknown association(s) attacked them. The Copts attacked back with weapons (perhaps ones taken from police or military).

There has been hatred exacerbated and promulgated by many religious groups: Sunni, Shiite, Sufi, Coptic Christian (with everyone hating the Jews). This is accelerating and getting worse. If this hatred and violence continues the “Freedom Revolution” is under threat of becoming a big win for the Salafiyun. (And many believe that it is being purposely spurred on by provocateurs from the previous Mubarak government and the Salfiyun.)

Let us hope that the majority of people here, who want to live in peace, and enjoy the freedom to be themselves, continue to prevail without violence (since, in my view, any apparent gains by violence will be of little long-term value).

Wall-O-Tubes v1

The internet is a hard problem, not really solved yet. Getting the internet into your hacker space is another hard problem. Thirdly making it easy for folks to diagnose their (own) network problems without taking down the internet for others or killing other network hardware is also hard.

At Noisebridge we've got a network rack named Susan The Rack (she might be old but she's got one hell of a rack), she held our internet important network gear. After a month people started throwing their own gear in there (because obviously a free hacker space wants to host your internet/power hungry torrent box), she thing turned into the rats nest of cables and junk and hacker STDs, and we couldn't tell what was internet important and what was just garbage hardware not doing anything. Eventually the DSL modem got shoved off the rack and was just hanging off by its phone cord. One night a couple hard working dedicated Noisebridge members aimed to fix this problem...


Behold, The Wall-O-Tubes! The idea is that everything that involves getting the internet into the building and back out through our wifi is bolted onto this wall. If the wall has power, the internet should work through our wifi network. If the internet goes down, it'll be easy to diagnose, and hard for someone who isn't dedicated to fix (you have to go get a stool or ladder or poking stick to do much of anything). Currently the image shows version 1 of the wall.

One of the biggest problems we had was someone's laptop would stop loading web pages, the person would freak out thinking the whole internet is down, and start unplugging and rebooting device without doing any sort of diagnostics. For version 2 we're setting up a machine called Minotaur! This guy will monitor different parts of the network (our internet links, the router, servers and services on the network, wifi link), and display a sort of heart beat message in plain English on a monitor under the wall. If all is green, then your "internet problem" might most likely be somewhere between you and the keyboard.

Let there be light

Today at Noisebridge I learned that you don’t have to wave your lightsaber around like a fool in order for it to make the cool lightsaber noises. You can just tap it gently on the handle where the motion sensor is. Mike Kan demonstrates.

Mike Kan with the meeting lightsaber

Mike explained to several people, during his signature “Telephone” tour of the space, that computer programming is difficult, a bit as if you were trying to teach someone how to make complicated origami over the telephone. It took me a minute to get this, but then I realized that in his parable the computer is making the beautiful origami for us and we are like these crazy monkeys screaming at the computer over a primitive communication medium.

Meanwhile! Ben did a bunch of work today testing some of our overhead lights as we prepare to try and figure out how to be more energy efficient, helped for a while by me and Evan, who mostly just handed him things while he was up on the ladder.

ben testing some lights

ben testing the lights at noisebridge

I showed Evan a trick that Mike Kan taught me a while back. If you stick a screwdriver or a thin piece of metal into a used cable tie, you can unstick the little tab from the ridges and undo the cable tie to be reused. We un-did some cable ties and gave them to Ben so he could secure the light fixtures to each other. You can learn a lot of useful and interesting things talking with Mike.

Later, while Ed was making pizza, Evan and I had the following conversation.

Me: Hey, Top of the Head Ponytail Guy. What’s your name?
Top of the Head Ponytail Guy: I’m Evan.
Me: Hi Evan. I’m Liz.
Evan: I’m a unicorn!!!!!

Making Daleks and buttonholes

Tonight at Noisebridge there were a lot of different little projects and meetings happening all over the space. I wandered around and took some bad snapshots of them for your blogulating pleasure.

We got new soldering irons! Miloh arrayed them on a shelf near the entrance and they look very splendid. My guess is that they’re meant for Circuit Hacking Monday and other classes, as well as for general use. Someone left a bag of awesome donations including some xbee kits, some z-wave power switches, and some Raven thingamajigs. There was also a very fancy Weller soldering iron with a digital temperature controller. Do not steal it and try to sell it on the street somewhere in the city, because someone will see you.

a bunch of shiny new soldering irons

These guys were making some sort of Arduino-controlled flamethrower with a giant battery.

noisebridge dudes looking happy with their project

Here are their schematics. The giant, scary-looking battery is sadly hidden behind the lamp. Nothing was on fire yet when I left the space around 8pm.

battery thing with arduino and schematic

The sewing shop was full of people who I have never met who were going through the scrap bins and making stuff. I denied that my name was Rachel, and found out that they were learning to make button holes and then as I explained they were making buttonholes to everyone else, a plan was hatched to make the 3-D printers print some buttholes. BUTTONholes. BUTTONholes people. We don’t make buttholes at Noisebridge. Though perhaps you could say that buttholes make Noisebridge.

sewing area with smiley people doing things

There was a Replicator Wednesday meeting tonight from 5 to 9pm. I met Andrew who claims to be the Fastest MakerBot Assembler in the west — and Willie who came in to talk about the Thing-o-Matic he has at home. As I left a bunch of other people were Replicating very busily. Andrew gave me a glow in the dark Dalek bottle opener! He plans to ask for donations for them, perhaps to buy more spools of printer plastic.

noisebridge guy with 3d printers and daleks

Bonus link to a time-lapse video of people assembling a Makerbot. I am sure Andrew is faster.

Robert was working on his motorized bicycle. Also notably he was skateboarding around the space tonight along with Dan the Guy who Always Wears Rollerskates. His motor looks like it’s coming along nicely.

closeup of bike motor with wires sticking out

My new interest is in messing with MC Hawking, the Noisebridge powerchair robot, a joint project by Lilia and Jake and whoever else helps build it. You can ssh into MC Hawking and control his motors and cameras and Kinect and missiles with a library of Python scripts written by Lilia. The latest improvement to MC Hawking is a board screwed to the wall with a power outlet — so that in theory you could drive the robot remotely right up to plug itself in for a recharge.

the powerchair robot

Other stuff going on but not photographed: Caves full of people doing something linuxy. Re-working of the Network Rack and installation of minotaur, a new server. (If you like messing with network infrastructure you should read (and update) the Network resources page on the wiki, and join the Rack mailing list.) Coding with headphones on. Grumbling that the soda vending machine uses 3.5 kilowatt hours per day even after its lightbulbs were removed; more than a fridge and not really enough to justify having it to raise money. Soldering of things. More soldering. Kitchen cleaning by Wish the lady who is running for Mayor of San Francisco. Oh and earlier in the evening as part of the glory that is Tastebridge, Francisco made empanadas, and taught people how to do it, but sadly I have no photos and did not get to eat any delicious looking empanadas.

On the way out a horde of Bitcoin meetup people were just coming in and I disconcerted them by realizing they were The Bitcoin People and screaming “BITCOIN!!!” at the top of my lungs.

I found a tiny geocache just sitting on the table! Also, I picked the lock on the donation box, took the money in there, counted it, pocketed it, transferred the amount to the Noisebridge account and emailed the treasurer. Thank you for donating, generous visitors! In fact if you enjoyed reading about Noisebridge and just wish you could be there you could donate to Noisebridge right now!

tiny geocache at Noisebridge

Updated dku-5 cable mod

Better instructions for modifying one of the PCB types found in DKU-5 cables. These contain a prolific 2303HX which works fine for many serial purposes, speed up to 115200 settable in the standard baud rate settings (not continuously)

I’ve seen 3 different layouts for the pcb’s in the DKU-5 cables so far, this is what I call “Type A”, the one I run into most often:

DKU 5 pcb type A, top side

DKU-5 pcb 'Type A', top side

DKU 5 pcb type A, bottom side

DKU-5 pcb 'Type A', bottom side

Make a cable for the 6 pin header on your volksduino, boarduino, or other compatible device. There should be a cap between pin 6 of the ‘ftdi’ 6 pin header (green) and the reset pin on the arduino’s atmega chip (pin 1)
I use PATA IDE cables for the 6 pin header (connecting the vertical wires so there’s 2 of the 6 pin rows)
See the previous blog post by me for a picture of one of these cut-up IDE cables.

If you run into different PCB’s, it’s easy to figure the pinout for different pcb layouts of these common prolific 2303hx boards on your own. A rough run down of the steps to do this (my steps require a DMM and some Linux system) follows:

1) Cut out the pcb from the cable and figure out VCC and GND with continuity settings on a DMM, I use a vised hacksaw and cut the sides off.
2) Plug the board into a usb hub and see if it shows up it in your system (Linux: use dmesg and ls /dev/ttyUSB*)
3) Figure out and label possible RX and TX subjects with the voltmeter setting of your DMM.
4) Find DTR# easily by opening the Arduino software and pressing send a sketch over the connected dku-5 board. Don’t hook up a arduino, hook up your dmm to GND and the test point. DTR# to GND voltage should be ~3.3v with the device first connected to your system, get pulled to ~0V when the Arduino software starts, and then blip high every time you attempt to send a sketch out. There’s a way to toggle DTR#, CTS#, and RTS#, all the modem lines using other tools like cu, stty, minicom, and IOCTL, but I don’t remember how since I first did this.
5) build a cable and solder it on to your dku-5 pcb. Test it by opening your device in the linux terminal program screen (‘screen /dev/yourdevice 9600′), connecting pin 4 to pin 5 with a wire for loopback between TX and RX, and looking for text echo on your screen terminal when typing. Follow that up with an Arduino test by uploading a sketch.

Note: These prolific chips work at 3.3v but supply the arduino at 5v. The RX from the ‘uino back into the 2303hx is
tolerant of 5v (from the 2303hx datasheet, page 10: Schmitt inputs, 5v tolerant http://www.prolific.com.tw/eng/downloads.asp?ID=23 )

goodbye ftdi, hello prolific

I said: "We gotta do something about these hard to obtain and pricey ftdi cables." Thanks to Jesse Welz telling me about old nokia phone cables with prolific usb to serial chip inside, and thanks to jake {jerkey} spaz for keeping it real simple with old ide cable cutups We now have $2/piece usb to serial cables at Noisebridge to use with projects like the Volksduino. Pictured below is the pinout for the prolific 2303HX, which is what I've seen used in the DKU-5 cables. It's connected to the Volksduino with an old IDE ribbon cable and a chopped IDE dual inline header with 6x2 plugs. The ribbon traces are doubled up. It fits great and is easily assembled. There's a spare Prolific pcb shown, they seem to have a little variety from part to part, but are consistent enough for someone to throw together a cable for their own Volksduino/boarduino/BBB cable in about 15-30 minutes. Prolific 2303 pinout cheapo usb-serial
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