• Look at the size of this demonstration handcuff

    Pressed into service recently to teach handcuff escape workshops to high school students, I built this. The huge, functional, see-through demonstration handcuff.

    Learning how the ratchet and pawl mechanism works helped the students visualize the internals of the standard-issue cuffs; they were soon shimming their way out of behind-the-back cuffings using only a hair clip.

    More info on the huge demo handcuff here.

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    demo-cuff

  • Swiss Researchers solve side-scrolling immersion

    Researchers at the ETH Game Technology Center of the Swiss national technical institute in Zürich, have applied their considerable talents to the critical problem of immersion in 2D side-scrolling, 8-bit era games. Witness in this video the splendor of a 360° projected Mario world that unrolls across the walls as players reveal each subsequent tile of the game map.

    Robert Sumner, founder of the GTC explains:

     …we observed that the 8-bit era of gaming had a huge collective influence on so many people, but the actual gaming experience was typically an individual one. We wanted to turn this idea upside down, and elevate the NES console experience into a group experience where the game surrounds a large event, allowing multiple people to play in a collaborative setting. The panoramic stitching and 8-way controller multiplexing hardware were the main ways we accomplished this task.

    The group submitted the paper "Unfolding the 8-bit Era" to the European Conference on Visual Media Production, and then built the system to unveil at the Eurographics Conference. Utilizing a vintage 8-bit Famicom/NES system and a PC with a point-correspondence vision tracking algorithm, the researchers developed methods to detect the edge of each screen segment, adding it to a continuously expanding texture map in real-time. This panoramic texture is then seamlessly displayed on eight aligned projectors. The vision algorithm requires no prior knowledge about the game, so it is possible to play any side-scroller on this system, such as Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, Metroid, and the like.

    In order to increase the number of participants in the fun of this large-scale gaming spectacle, the researchers created novel eight-controller multiplexing hardware based upon Arduino that hands the controls from one player's gamepad to the next at a fixed time interval. Knowing that you're about to grab the reins and inherit the state in which the previous player has left the hero surely adds a new twist to venerable games.

    You can check out technical implementation details in the paper.

  • Help convince LEGO to produce "Lovelace and Babbage" play set / Raspberry Pi case

    This delightful Lovelace & Babbage Analytical Engine is gathering support on LEGO Ideas (formerly CUUSOO) where the community can up-vote fan-made play sets into consideration for production.

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    Featuring Lada Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, this set pays beautiful, Victorian tribute to their collaboration on the mechanical general-purpose computer of his design, including her pioneering work in creating the algorithm that would be used to program it.

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    What's more, the lovely, monochromatic Analytical Engine model can be used to house a Raspberry Pi Linux computer. Swoon.

    Creator Stewart Lamb Cromar also proposes two bonus sets, an "Ada Junior Classroom" and a "Babbage Tea Party".

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    If you're interested in making this set a reality, please head to LEGO Ideas and support the project. Currently at around 3000 votes, they require 10,000 to be reviewed by LEGO for possible production.

    Lovelace ande LEGO Ideas set 

  • An online Java course for kids, taught via Minecraft

    At the beginning of the summer my son Ronan, age 12, and I built him his first high-powered gaming PC. Me being a dad and all, I did so happily, but with one proviso — he'd have to dedicate time every day to learning a programming language. He was slightly sceptical of this, having taken a few less-than-interesting intro to programming classes in the past. Prepared for this, I recommended that we enroll him in Youth Digital's comprehensive Java course called Minecraft Server Desgin 1. This got his full attention, as he had dreams of creating his own custom servers and gameplay modes to host Minecraft sessions with his friends.

    We signed him up and dove in. Our immediate impression was that site and course are smartly designed and easy to navigate. All material is introduced through clear, well-produced, often funny videos that didn't talk down him, but instead did a great job of walking him through new concepts, then pausing while he took pop quizzes and did hands-on coding exercises.  

    The course includes a year of server hosting, 24-hour tech support (that was fast and helpful the few times he's needed it), and perhaps best of all, a browser-based integrated development environment (IDE) for editing the game, player, and team Java files. Within this Codenvy IDE (Windows and OSX only), you can launch the updated server with one button, which makes it fast to test code and correlate newly learned concepts with the "real world" Minecraft results.

    He chose one of the four pre-built maps, learned to modify the default server file description text, whitelisted a few friend, and launched his Minecraft server within the first hour of instruction. Compared to a typical "Hello World" exercise, I think Ronan was thrilled that the programming was taught so he got results relevant to his interests.

    By the time he'd been through six lessons, Ronan had learned and was putting into practice fundamental programming concepts such as arrays, conditional statements, and while loops. He was using these to create lists of items that randomly appear in chests, and to place command blocks in his map that power up player health stood upon — providing their health is below a certain threshold. Somehow, this is much more enticing to him than learning to code arrays of grocery lists as some other courses do…

    Ronan did become impatient at times with the pace of the videos, wanting to get into the meat of a lesson. He would sometimes skip ahead in the videos, or start to code as soon as he got the gist of the lesson, before instructed. In his own (blunt) words:

    "The videos were good at explaining the points they needed to make. But they spent too much time bantering around. A lot of the video is usually skippable."

    I asked Ronan to say a few words about the course in general:

    "I learned a lot of Java from this course, such as how to use methods which came into play a lot. I also learned how to make an array because I needed different items to be placed in chests. Another thing I learned is how to use an If-Then statement. An example would be, if playerIsStandingOnBlock, then givePlayer(Item.stone_sword)."

    "I am now able to do all kinds of awesome things. I have an idea for a new server where there is a player-supported economy and town. Players could farm crops, set redstone monster traps with the click of a button, become shopkeepers, barter goods, and become rich!"

    "With my newfound Java skills I might be able to actually create it. I know how to assign values, set timers, spawn monsters, and all kinds of other things. Now that I've taken this course, I can make an awesome server! I would definitely recommend taking this course if you are new to Java and like Minecraft."

    The cost is $249.99 for roughly 30 hours of instruction/hands-on exercises, a year of server hosting for up to 5 players, and a year of 24-hour tech support. For the quality level of the instruction and the ease of setup/development/hosting the price seems fair, although you can often find discount coupons online if you search a bit.

    Youth Digital Server Design 1

  • Fixing a safe lock with a bullet casing

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    Manipulating safe locks can be fun and profitable! It also takes practice. I recently bought a used safe combination dial lock and mounted it to a  piece of reclaimed wood. Mounting a dial lock involves threading the dial spline bolt through the combination wheels, and then hammering a soft, brass "spline key" into the spline's notch so that the dial will turn the wheels.

    My lock came without a spline key, so I searched around the house for some brass to use. I found a spent bullet cartridge casing, and attacked it with a rotary tool cutoff wheel to get a sliver of brass.

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    After sanding off the rough edges, I folded it over to the proper thickness to fit snugly in the threaded spline.

    spline key

    One solid blow with a deadblow hammer, and the soft brass wedged in place. The dial now turns beautifully.

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    I'll be bringing this and some other cutaway locks to Boing Boing's Weekend of Wonder, where I'll be teaching lock picking workshops, so if you're attending, please come check it out.

  • Illustrator is drawing every item in his late grandfather's tool shed

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    Artist Lee John Phillips has begun to lovingly draw the over 100,000 items housed in his late grandfather's toolshed. He plans to catalog every single tool, part, gadget, and bit of hardware over the course of the next five years.

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    I adore old tools and hardware, and I find that his illustration style is wonderful at capturing their essence. I'll be following along on his Instagram page, and would certainly purchase a print edition should he make one available (hint, hint).

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    Artist Celebrates Late Grandfather by Drawing the 100,000+ Items in His Tool Shed (Thanks, Oh Soon!)

  • Imperial Melody Discharger – Stormtrooper helmet art build notes

    I built the Imperial Melody Discharger, an articulated Stormtrooper helmet music box, for the Star Wars Day ("May the 4th be with you") vinyl Stormtrooper helmet art show . For the event, artists across the Walt Disney Company, including DisneyToon Studios where I work, were invited to participate by using a blank 6" helmet as the canvas for their work. What follows are my build notes and work in progress images.

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