I’M A FIRIN MA LAZER! – Science Hack Day Berlin 2015

Finally I can put this category “hacking”, that I started when setting up this blog, to a good use.

This weekend, from the 23rd to the 25th of October, the Science Hack Day took place in the fab lab in Berlin. I was so lucky to hear about this one ahead of time, not like usual only 4 weeks later. So Doro registered me while I was in a car in Saxony (work, yay!) and some 2 weeks later I sat down on a red plastic chair in the fablab.berlin in Prenzlauer Berg.

After a few lightning talks that covered private space hacking, light installations and the hacks behind bee keeping it was time for some project pitches. In some weird turn of events I came first on stage and presented my idea: Building a physical interface to display digital data from public transport data sets. Not very sciency, but hey, data and visualization were ticked off the science hack bingo sheet.

The following pitches were more or less sophisticated, weird and interesting. Then we formed groups and much to my surprise a group of 5 or so people were interested to follow my idea and build an interface. We talked and joked and shared ideas before we went home to get some rest to prepare for the upcoming hackathon.

Saturday morning we brainstormed and planned our little project. The goal was to create an object that is once set up and customized to provide exactly one kind of information, much like a watch on the wall. There is no interaction needed to get the information you’re looking for. Of course all information is available on other channels, but always hidden behind several taps or clicks. Much like a clock on the wall, that could be replaced by a smartphone, which can even show time in different places on the world. The physical appearance of a piece of technology like a clock though provides a different feel for the interaction and provides a quicker but specific feedback.

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To keep things simple and straightforward we wanted to create an installation, that illustrates the distance of the next train to our station. To start our daily commute to work we could just look at our product to see, how far the next train is from our station and whether we have to run, can casually walk or still have plenty of time. Or even missed the connection. We chose the station on Prenzlauer Allee at fablab as an example. To avoid electronic parts we wanted to build a physical interface based on a moving train cart that physically approaches our station. A circular indicator provides information if we should go or stay and wait.

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Our little team, comprised of Canadian Matt, US American Michaela, German Tom, Gil and me started to work on the different parts of the project. The computer geeks started coding, grabbing live train data from the internet. Berlin unfortunately locked its data behind and authentication process, but we could find useful data in London. Matt took care of talking to the Arduino driving the stepper motor while Michaela took care of the mechanical problems involved in the project. I was designated designer and mostly played with the laser cutter. The wheel on the stepper motor to hold the piece of string to pull the train was one of my best designs. I measured, put a vector file together and had it cut to fit so perfectly on the axle that we didn’t even have to glue it. I love laser cutters.

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Our first prototype just consisted of a stepper motor hooked to the Arduino and a piece of string with tape to measure movement speed and precision of the stepper motor.

The thing below is from another group. It is science.

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The stylized map of the neighborhood was cut into a piece of MDF. I was amazed how well the laser cutter translates the vector files into super sharp marking on the wood.

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The train was designed and printed by Michaela. It even featured a hole for a LED, but we dropped that due to time restrictions.

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The whole thing is powered by an Arduino Uno and a motor shield, both of which are fed by some clever python code from a PC.

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I focused on the physical aspects of the build but it should not be forgotten how important the coding was. Gil, Tom and Matt managed to put some code together that worked really well not only for the demonstration purposes but is also easily adaptable to real application with live data from the public transport providers.

And this is the working train in action.

 

After the hacking comes the presentation on Sunday. Every team had 4 minutes to show their work. It was impressive what was pulled off in the short time. There was a PCR machine hack, a tunneling electron microscope, a visualization of CO2 production by websites and several health hacks, including a device to detect teeth grinding when sleeping. After these impressive presentations we were quite surprised to hear that we did not only win the best design price but also the audience favorite (shared with the teeth grinding detector). Now we can all look forward to 6 months of free 3D printing at fablab! Wooooooo! \o/

We quickly assembled for a group picture in the absence of Tom, who couldn’t make it on Sunday. And we will use our prize as an excuse to come back together and print things together, in 3D.

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A spicy note of Korea – Pojangmacha Korean Street Food Friday in Berlin

Friday. What better thing is there to do than to try out some new food on a Friday night, after  a week of work and canteen lunch? Doro directed my attention towards Pojangmacha, the Korean Street Food Friday in the Platoon Kunsthalle in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg.  She wanted to go there with her work people and I used the opportunity to get some bibimbap in my face.

Ara Güler in Berlin

Before we headed to celebrate the Day of the Great Country of Convict Descent we stopped by the Ara Güller exhibition in the Willy-Brandt Haus in Kreuzberg. 

Wilmersdorf. It’s a weird place.

Although I was born in the far west of Germany with its knives and karneval and other nonsense, I was raised from young age in Wilmersdorf. I was lucky to living close to the far cooler Schöneberg, so I could escape the quarter with an age average of around 246 from time to time.

Yesterday and today I revisited Wilmersdorf. There is no real reason to go there, except for visiting parents and looking at stuff in stores.

In and around the fête de la musique

Simon lent me his Fuji X100 after I read so many pages about it. For some reason too many people take my opinion on cameras serious and so I ended up reading about all that stuff that is out there.

It began with the A7 from Sony, a full frame package in a tiny body. But an unjustified over the top pricing, especially for lenses, made me quickly turn away from it and look at the Fuji X100S. It looked super exciting and I remembered that Simon had a X100 for his own. A text message and a trip to Steglitz later I had it in my hands, ready to discover its features during the upcoming fête de la musique.

Sciency science at Spectrum Berlin

Before I start recapitulating the amazing and astonishing events of our journey to the burg of ham I want to talk about something completely different. If you can’t wait for it, go get your fix over at Tegan’s place, she got most of the dirty details already written down and backed up by colour pictures.

Doro’s cousins from the frenchland were in town and so we met them to get into and through the spectrum Berlin Science museum that has just been renewed. The last time I went must have been ten years ago, and the exhibition was already old back then. The museum is a separated part of the Museum für Verkehr und Technik, that displays all kinds of machinery and sciency bits, but relies more on an exhibition than a hands on concept. That’s were the spectrum comes into the picture. It is where young and old aspiring scientists can perform experiments to understand the basic principles of physics.

The Big Meh.

Street musicians. Internet Artists. City Events. All of that only evokes a “meh” from me. 

We spent Friday and Saturday in Hamburg and today, on Sunday, Doro and I went to the Mauerpark after our voting duty. It was there when I realized that I am tired of so many things.

The Waiting Game: Olympus Photography Playground

Disclaimer: Contains fictional interpretation of real events.

This morning — while the cats happily slept on different body parts — I was pulled out of my dreams by Andy ringing my phone. Barely awake I heard him talking about some photography playground. He wanted me to come there. As I oppose any photographing of children in playgrounds I politely but firmly declined his offer. He then had to go, I guess he was overheard by the many women in his house.

I turned over, pulled a cat under the blanket and held it there until it stopped fighting me. Everything was fine. I went back to sleep.

#rp14: my favourite talks: Appelbaum and York on PGP

Two days after re:publica 14 I finally slept enough again and am now slowly recapitulating the events. Some guy on twitter accused the whole event of being self centred attention whoreism that is not influencing anything outside the event location. To counter this opinion I want to share now a few of my favourite experiences of #rp14

#rp14: nearly there

A few months ago Doro asked if I wanted to get some early bird tickets for the re:publica conference in Berlin. Transforming into a blogging hipster I said yes.

And here we are now, the re:publica or #rp14 starts tomorrow and happens until Thursday. Today Doro and I got our badges and bracelets and each a jute-Tasche filled with flyers and some cookies and I can’t wait for the action to begin. I am actually excited about an event and I nearly forgot my cynicism because of it.