Welcome to our new OSHWA Board Members!

via Open Source Hardware Association

Thank you to our members who voted for OSHWA’s new board members! Your vote is a major contribution as we need to reach quorum (at least 10% of our members) to make anything official in OSHWA. This year, we filled 3 board member seats which will be held for 2 years.

Please welcome our new board members! They are:

Toni Klopfenstein, Michael Weinberg, and Rose Swan Meacham

You can see the data here.

Thank you to all who participated in nominations!

FTDI Drivers and Counterfeit Chips

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

As you may or may not have heard by now, the latest driver update from chip manufacturer FTDI is disabling, semi-permanently, counterfeited chips. I’ll get more into the technical details later, but I’m going to open with this:

At this time, SparkFun does not believe any of our products to be compromised by this issue.

The FT232

Why does this matter so much? Well, the FTDI USB-to-Serial bridge IC (the FT232, specifically) has been a mainstay of the hardware hacking community for many years. The first USB-based Arduino boards used it; SparkFun’s RedBoard still does.

As soon as we heard about it (from Twitter, of course), we immediately began assessing our product line for products which might be of concern. At the moment, we have about 30 individual products using the FT232 chip. We immediately crossed most of them off the list; our in-house assemblies are all produced using chips from reputable suppliers (like Mouser, Digikey, Future, etc.).

We have less visibility into assemblies that come pre-made to us, however, so we immediately set about testing them for vulnerability to this change. Testing is still ongoing, but our preliminary tests show that current stock is not affected. We already had the discussion with suppliers in the past regarding counterfeit chips (you may recall that we had a brush with this issue in the past), so we’re quite confident in the product we’re currently selling.

If you think something you purchased from SparkFun is affected by this please contact our tech support team immediately. They’re really good at what they do, and they’ll get your problem sorted out in no time.

Okay, now that we’ve covered the business end, let’s talk nerdy.

From what we’ve been able to glean from other posts (as yet, we’ve not been able to duplicate this in house, since we don’t have any counterfeit FTDI chips), this is an intentional attempt by FTDI to address the growing population of counterfeit FTDI chips on the world market. With the release of Windows driver version on 26 August, a part of the driver’s functionality is to silently change the PID (which is the 16-bit code assigned to a product by its manufacturer to allow the OS to identify the driver which should be used for that part) from 0x6001 to 0x0000.

This change takes place in the target’s non-volatile memory, so even after the counterfeit device is removed from the system which altered it, that chip will no longer be recognized as an FTDI-compatible USB to serial bridge, on any computer, under any operating system.

Of course, it may be possible to change the PID back, but any Windows computer with v2.12.0.0 of the driver installed will immediately alter the PID again.

The reason this has become an issue recently (remember, the date on this driver is 26 August) is because the new driver recently hit Windows update. Anyone who’s used FTDI chips extensively under Windows has probably experienced the COM port proliferation issue: whenever an FTDI chip is plugged into a USB port that it’s not been plugged into before, Windows searches Windows Update for a new driver and assigns a new COM port number to that chip on that USB port. If you don’t tell Windows to stop looking online, it will automatically and silently load the new driver which will automatically and silently brick the counterfeit FTDI chips.

I haven’t heard anything suggesting Mac or Linux drivers have a similar function, although if they don’t now it’ll only be a matter of time until they do. It’s unclear at this time how the FTDI driver identifies counterfeit chips; until we know more about that process, if you think you may have received counterfeit parts (say, as a part of a knock-off Arduino clone purchased on Ebay at a suspiciously low price), avoiding updating your drivers is probably a wise thing to do.

Keep an eye on this post and the SparkFun (or SFE_Engineering) Twitter accounts; if we find out anything new we’ll update this post. I’ll be trying to find a non-destructive means for identifying the counterfeits, and if I don’t and someone else does, we’ll post it here.

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Robot volcanology

via Raspberry Pi

Earlier this week, we talked about Raspberry Pi robots under the sofa. Today, we’ve got a Raspberry Pi robot under a volcano to show you.


Dr Carolyn Parcheta studied volcanology in Hawaii, and now works as a NASA postdoctoral fellow in Pasadena. Her particular area of study is the geometry of volcanic fissure vents: something that’s very hard to map, because they’re inaccessibly narrow, coated with sharp glass from eruptions, and are often destroyed when magma flows through them.

Learning about that geometry is crucial in building an understanding of how eruptions work: how magma flows, and how gas escapes. So with the help of a Raspberry Pi, Dr Parcheta has built a wall-climbing robot to go where humans can’t, and is using it to model cracks and vents in much more detail than has been possible before.

She made this video about the project for a National Geographic award last month, where she placed in the finals.

Dr Parcheta’s eventual goal is to 3d-map all of the fissures in Kilauea, an active volcano on Hawaii. There are 54 in all, and she completed maps of two in May this year. We’ll be keeping an eye on her progress – and on the progress of that brave little robot!

The Internet of Things

via Nuts and Volts

Since the birth of the Internet, there has been talk of total connectivity — between people, people and their possessions, and things to things. Up until recently, the reality has been that such ecosystems existed only in academic and corporate research centers. Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a practical reality in many settings.

Watch That Windows Update: FTDI Drivers Are Killing Fake Chips

via Hackaday » » hardware


The FTDI FT232 chip is found in thousands of electronic baubles, from Arduinos to test equipment, and more than a few bits of consumer electronics. It’s a simple chip, converting USB to a serial port, but very useful and probably one of the most cloned pieces of silicon on Earth. Thanks to a recent Windows update, all those fake FTDI chips are at risk of being bricked. This isn’t a case where fake FTDI chips won’t work if plugged into a machine running the newest FTDI driver; the latest driver bricks the fake chips, rendering them inoperable with any computer.

Reports of problems with FTDI chips surfaced early this month, with an explanation of the behavior showing up in an EEVblog forum thread. The new driver for these chips from FTDI, delivered through a recent Windows update, reprograms the USB PID to 0, something Windows, Linux, and OS X don’t like. This renders the chip inaccessible from any OS, effectively bricking any device that happens to have one of these fake FTDI serial chips.

Because the FTDI USB to UART chip is so incredibly common,  the market is flooded with clones and counterfeits. it’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip.

The workaround for this driver update is to download the FT232 config tool from the FTDI website on a WinXP or Linux box, change the PID of the fake chip, and never using the new driver on a modern Windows system. There will surely be an automated tool to fix these chips automatically, but until then, take a good look at what Windows Update is installing – it’s very hard to tell if your devices have a fake FTDI chip by just looking at them.

Filed under: hardware, news

Twinkling Trick or Treat Bag

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Today we wanted to draw your attention to a great tutorial that’s just in time for Halloween - the Twinkling Trick or Treat Bag.

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This project adds a bit of bling to your standard trick or treat bag by incorporating a ProtoSnap LilyTwinkle into the design. This is a fairly straight-forward project that has a really cool and fun result! Your kids will love it - and it makes it easy to tell which ghost is yours.

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Check out the tutorial here to learn how to build your own! If you make one, we would love to see it - share it with us here! Happy haunting!

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Eben at Techcrunch Disrupt

via Raspberry Pi

Eben was speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in London yesterday, where he had a display board and HAT to show off, and some other bits of news. You’ll get to see a PiTop (a laptop kit that’s currently going great guns on Indiegogo), be tantalised with some details about the A+, and learn about what we think is important if you’re growing a hardware business: enjoy!


Experience sound multi-sensorially with Ocho Tonos

via Arduino Blog


Some of you may have noticed that words like rhythm, texture, pattern, can be used both to describe fabrics, as well as sound. Focused on building an interface as a whole, using mostly textiles, OCHO TONOS invites the user to interact through touch, and experience sound in a multi-sensorial way. Ocho Tonos is an interactive installation by EJTech duo (Esteban de la Torre and Judit Eszter Kárpáti) I met last July during etextile summer camp while they were working on this experimental textile interface for tactile/sonic interaction by means of tangibles:

Exploring the relation between sound and textile and experimenting with the boundaries of our senses whilst changing the way we perceive fabric, surfaces and their manifestation as sound. Recontextualizing our tactile interaction with textile acting as an interface, where each element triggers, affects and modifies the generated sound’s properties. Creating a soundscape through sensor technology enticing audiophiles to interact and explore with reactive textile elements.The nexus of the body, the senses and technology.
OCHO TONOS is a symbiosis of the unique hand-crafted traditional textile techniques and the immaterial digital media.

Thanks to Arduino Mega ADK , all inputs coming from the touch of the user on the soft sensors are translated into a digital platform, parsed and filtered through MaxMSP, in order to control the generation of a soundscape in Ableton Live.

Ocho Tonos was chopped, spiced and cooked at Kitchen Budapest. Sounds used are samples from the working machinery at  TextielLab.

SparkFun’s Rapid Prototyping Lab (Part II)

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

In Part I of this series, we talked about my professional inspirations and how they can inform the layout of SparkFun’s new Rapid Prototyping Lab. In this second and (maybe) final entry, we’ll talk about the layout of a flexible workspace and the process of shopping for furniture and tools.

When I started this project, I asked for SparkFun to set aside $5k for a communal workspace. It would be my primary work area for product demos but it would also be open to anyone here who needed a place to work on SparkFun-related stuff. My budget request was graciously approved and I moved on to devising a floorplan. Creating a floorplan will help you avoid outgrowing your space as well as divide your shopping list into categories: fixtures, bench tools, hand tools, materials handling, storage, etc.

In order to lay out my floorplan, I had to pick the major fixtures like shelving and workbenches. I didn’t necessarily need to pick a brand or a source, just find a standard size to use as a template. If you recall the previous post, you’ll remember that we decided on two benches. One where some bench tools can live and a second for pure, clean workspace. Because we often end up shooting video in my workspace, I thought it would be nice to use the kitchen set from a cooking show as my model. A large counter behind the presenter makes a good place for things like stand mixers or ovens and a smaller island in front of the presenter serves as a cutting board and a range top. I sized out a larger (96"x36") and a smaller (48"x30") workbench and began to make a (roughly) scale drawing.

Between the two standing height benches I planned out space for an anti-fatigue floor mat. This keeps my feet and back from killing me for standing up all day and also formalizes the area of the workspace. For those times when I absolutely need to sit down and work, I planned to pick up a drafting stool. Some accommodation had to be made for my computer, so a space on the bench was marked off for that. Finally, I knew that I wanted some kind of wire shelving and some wheelie-carts for storage and flexible work space, so I took a stab at some measurements and draw everything up in a Google Doc:

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As you can see, I labeled all of the fixtures not only with what they are but also the function they serve in the shop. There’s a bench for electrical work and there’s a bench for auxiliary use. There are individual wheelie-carts for 3D printing and model fabrication. Part bins and project bins are on separate shelving units. Since there were a number of benches and carts planned, and because this is supposed to serve more than one person at a time, I decided to throw in a few more chairs.

Now that I had a place for everything, I needed some everything to put in those places. Let the shopping begin! There are a couple of approaches to finding suppliers. If you have particular brands that you’re fond of when it comes to particular items, you can hunt down their distributors and make your orders piecemeal. I tend to like one-stop shopping when it comes to large orders because it makes it easy to track your budget (and your shipping). Shopping on Amazon, for instance, isn’t a bad way to put your shop together. That said, because we’re working within a slightly smaller category of products than “stuff Amazon sells” we can look at slightly more specialized distributors.

My favorite place to look for things like workbenches, tools and heavy-duty paper towel holders? Industrial Supply stores. ULINE, Grainger, Grizzly, Northern Tool, MSC and Global are just a handful of companies that specialize (if you can call it that) in having just about everything that a warehouse, shop or office building might need. My love for industrial supply catalogs started when I was but a wee boy, I couldn’t even lift a Grainger catalog! To be fair, though, the printed catalog probably weighed 30lbs…

[Picture of a stack of Industrial Supply Catalogs]

Luckily, these days, all of the major industrial supply shops have an online catalog so there’s no need to get the forklift and flip through one of these massive paperstacks. I will say, however, that flipping through a printed copy of the catalog is an awesome way to brainstorm and I hope they never discontinue the annual catalog.

I chose an industrial supply based solely on their workbenches. SparkFun had the privilege recently of sponsoring an electronics lab at a local High School, and during my tour of the space I snapped a cellphone pic of the beautiful butcher’s block benches they had. Stamped right on the side? Global Industrial. That’s good advertising. So there you go, I started browsing the Global site for everything I’d need to set up shop!

This involved browsing the Global site on one monitor while compiling a spreadsheet on the other. My first objective? Just grab everything that you think you might need. You can narrow it down after you total it up, but for now just see what your “pie in the sky” costs would be. Instead of boring you with the details of how I chose one magnifying lamp over another, why don’t I just walk you through my spreadsheet and explain the things I did end up buying!


I know you can’t read this, it’s OK.

Furniture and Fixtures

Looking at the floorplan, it’s obvious that the first thing on our shopping list is going to be the furniture and shop fixtures. In a space like mine this is especially important because without walls to define the space, it’s up to the furniture to mark out the boundaries of the shop.

Fixed Height Mobile Maple Benches

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These are the workbenches that I saw at the High School innovation lab and had to have. They’re simple, they’re sturdy and they come in a variety of sizes. I decided that I want everything in the shop to be on casters so that if my initial layout didn’t work out, I could switch it up on the fly and find something better. Possibly the best thing about these benches is the catalog of add-on parts that’s available. I added a riser to my 96" bench and an electrical outlet to the 48" bench.

Plastic Flat Top Service Carts

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Flat top service carts makes excellent mobile work stations! In Part I of this post, I mentioned Casey Neistat’s policy of leaving power tools plugged in and ready to go at all times. These carts are my method for implementing that policy. Each cart has its own powerstrip with a 15' cable so that I can power an entire cart’s worth of tools at once. This also gives me the ability to work on installations throughout the building without having to take stuff back to the shop.

Flammable Storage Cabinet

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This probably isn’t something that you’ll buy for your home shop, but when you work in a large industrial building there are rules about where you can put your flammables. There are already a number of fire cabinets scattered around the building and anyone is welcome to use them, but keeping a stash of spray paints, glues and solvents under the workbench keeps me from having to run around the building checking all of the fire cabinets. Our Facilities Manager was so proud of me for buying my own fire cabinet, although if you’re shopping for your employer you might want to double check their standards for things like this and make your Facilities crew aware of its location.

Dual Monitor Sit-Stand Workstation

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Sometimes you have to do a computer thing. Like right now, for instance, no tool in my shop is capable of posting to the blog except for my computer. Computers also do nifty things like email, instructional YouTubes, recreational YouTubes and CAD! So I need a place where I can work on the computer without it taking up all of my bench space. I chose this workstation because it gets my monitors and other peripherals up off of the worksurface. It’s adjustable, so that if you have it clamped to a sitting-height desk it can telescope to standing height. At my standing height workbench, however, this guy gets pretty out-of-hand at full extension.

Captain’s Chair

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Everyone needs a place to sit. I am no exception. Since my workbench is standing-height, I decided to go with a drafting stool. These tractor seat drafting stool are inexpensive and relatively sturdy, just don’t lean back too hard… They’re also just comfortable enough to actually use and just uncomfortable enough to keep me on my feet.

Ensign Chairs

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I hadn’t actually planned on having additional seating in the shop but these wheelie-chair versions of my drafting stool were too good to pass up. At full extension, they’re tall enough for most people to sit and work at the bench. They make a great complement to the wheelie-carts for mobile workshoppery.

Storage and Organization

Next on the list? How about some places to keep things?

Nexelate Wire Shelving

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Behold, wire shelving: Learn it. Love it. Live it.

It’s inexpensive, expandable and adaptable. I got mine with casters and a few extra shelves. You can even get them with slide-out plastic bins, which I totally did.

Various Plastic Boxes and Containers

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Plastic Organizer with Removable Bins - These inexpensive Homak brand organizers are going to be my answer to Adam Savage’s insane Sortimo boxes. They latch closed, they have removable bins and they’re the perfect size for my wire shelving. I wouldn’t fill one with small parts and try to carry it like a briefcase, but they come in cases of 16 for under 200 bucks!!

Distribution Containers - One of my personal goals for the shop is to have a place for everything and nowhere to hide “assorted” items. Unfortunately, in the meantime, I still need a place to stash large items while I sort everything out. These distribution containers are a good catch-all, but eventually they’ll only be used for large projects or tools.

Stackable Shelf Bins - We use bins like these in our inventory to shelve and organize components. They’re a nice place to keep mid-sized items that you might need fairly often. They’re even dividable if you want to get granular.

Magnifying LED Lamps

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I snagged two of these magnifying lamps, one to put on each workbench. Why go with LED instead of the classic flourescent tube? Honestly, I plan on leaving these guys on basically all of the time. Having a nice big magnifier always at arm’s reach is amazing, especially when you’re doing a lot of soldering.


This isn’t a complete list of tools in the shop, because I have a lot of tools worth keeping already. Instead, this is a list of the tools that I decided to buy brand new and guard closely so that I’d be sure to always have one on hand in good condition.

  • T-Handle Hex Keys, Metric and Imperial - Uhhh, T-Handle drivers are incredible. I know that not everyone agrees, but try one out sometime.
  • 10-Piece Standard Screw Driver Set - This goes back to the Phillips 1,2,3 things we talked about in Part I. A good set of screwdrivers is the cornerstone of a good tool chest.
  • 25-Piece Precision Driver Set - Sometimes (often, in fact) a standard screwdriver is far too large to do the job. Standard, Phillips, and Hex drivers are your keys to just about any pesky product enclosure.
  • Flush Cutters & Needle Nose Pliers - Indispensable tool for the electronics hobbyist. We sell them, everyone sells them. You should buy them.
  • Automatic Wire Strippers - Automatic strippers don’t work for every job, but when you’re working on a project with a wicked wiring harness, they’re a total life saver. They also make it easy to strip the middle portion of a wire which comes in handy for wiring up big matrices of LEDs, for instance.
  • Proxxon Rotary Tool - We have a mech shop here at SparkFun HQ so I don’t need to be equipped for large griding or cutting operations. But when it comes to small enclosure mods or model-building, a rotary tool (like a Dremel) is exactly what the doctor ordered. This one in particular is nice because the speed is adjustable and the external power supply makes the tool itself small and lightweight.
  • Proxxon Drill Stand - Rotary tools make awesome precision drills but they can be hard to maneuver. A drill stand turns it into a tiny drill press. Great for clearing through-holes and the like.
  • Proxxon Ball Joint Vice - Sometimes the tool isn’t the difficult thing to maneuver. A ball joint vice makes it possible to hold your work piece (securely) in any position imaginable. This thing is great for soldering, too.

Cleaning and Organization

Keeping the space clean and relatively free of detritus will be an ongoing struggle. I have increased my likelihood of success with the two following items:

  • Wall Mounted ShopVac - Yup. It’s a thing. It’s a glorious thing. I always know where to find it and it’s always plugged in and ready to go. Making it easy to sweep up after a messy sanding operation.
  • Kind of Expensive Paper Towel Holder - Why do I need an aluminum alloy paper towel holder? Do you know how angry I would be if my paper towel holder broke? Also, I love those blue shop towels and they have a tendency to pull off of standard paper towel holders because they’re so heavy.

Wow, Look at the Time…

I hate to do this, but this one might have to be a three-parter! You all must surely have had enough of me for one day… Next time we’ll wrap this thing up with an in-depth tour of the new shop!

The discussion in the comments section for Part I was awesome, you wanna talk about your favorite industrial catalogs and suppliers this time? Go ahead, tell me how much cheaper I could’ve gotten that workbench!

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ToyCollect. A robot under the sofa.

via Raspberry Pi

On Saturday December 6 (we’re letting you know ahead of time so you’ve got absolutely no excuse for not finishing your build in time), there’s going to be a special event at the Cambridge Raspberry Jam, held at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. Pi Wars is a robot competition: unlike the televised Robot Wars you’ve seen in the past, though, nobody’s robot is going to be destroyed. There are a number of challenges to compete in (none of which involve circular saws, which will please some of you and sadden others), some additional prizes for things like innovation and feature-richness – along with the Jim Darby Prize for Excessive Blinkiness, and more. We’re absurdly excited about it. You can listen to Mike Horne, the organiser of the Cam Jam (and writer of The Raspberry Pi Pod blog, and occasional helper-outer at Pi Towers) explain more about what’ll happen on the day, on this episode of the Raspi Today podcast.

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Mike’s expecting people to come from all over the country (it’s amazing how far people travel to come to the Cam Jam – I bumped into friends from Sheffield and from Devon at the last one). It should be a blast. We hope to see you there.

I was thinking about Pi Wars this morning, when an email arrived from Austria, complete with some robot video. Dr Alexander Seewald used a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino to build a tiny little robot, small enough to fit under the sofa, to rummage around and rescue his two-year-old daughter’s lost toys. (I do not have a two-year-old daughter, but I do have cats, who take great delight in hiding things under the sofa. Once, horrifyingly, we found a mummified burger down there. It had been some months since we’d eaten burgers. I could use one of these robots.)

The robot has a Pi camera on the front, with a nice bright LED, so the operator (using a tablet) can see where the bits of LEGO are. The voiceover’s in German, but even if you don’t speak the language you should be able to get a clear idea of what’s going on here.

Dr Seewald has made complete instructions available, so you can make your own ToyCollect robot: there’s everything you need from a parts list to code on his website (in English). It’s a nice, complete project to get you started on building a robot that has some use around the house – let us know if you attempt your own. And see you at Pi Wars!

Pololu 25D mm Metal Gearmotor Bracket Pair

via Pololu - New Products

These aluminum gearmotor brackets let you securely mount Pololu’s 25D mm metal gearmotors to your project. The brackets are sold in pairs, and each bracket includes four M3 screws for securing the motor to the bracket. Each bracket also features seven mounting holes and twelve mounting slots for M3 or #4-size screws (not included), giving you a variety of mounting options.

A digital nose detecting air pollution and dust particles

via Arduino Blog


After Anywhere, Turbo-gusli and Solaris, Dmitry Morozov shared with us Digioxide, a new interactive work using Arduino Nano, hc-06 bluetooth module, gas and dust sensors, LG mobile printer :

This project aims to raise public awareness of the environmental pollution by artistic means.
Digioxide is a portable wireless device equipped with sensors of air pollution gases and dust particles that is connected to computer via bluetooth. This allows a person with digioxide to freely move around a city, seek out ecologically problematic places and turn their data into digital artworks.

The information about the concentration of dust and harmful gases, such as CO, CO2, HCHO, CH4 and C3H8 and spme others is algorithmically transformed into generative graphics, forming an abstract image. The device’s mobile printer allows instant printing of this air “snapshot” that can be left as an evidence on the place, or given as a present to a passerby.



Open House Halloween Party Reminder!

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Mondays are a bummer, we know, but the good news is that our friends, family and fellow geeks in Colorado can start the countdown to SparkFun’s Open House Halloween party this week!

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This guy is READY.

This Saturday, October 25th, from 3 p.m. - 9 p.m., come check out our awesome (and occasionally maze-like) new building as we celebrate with a Halloween-themed Manufacturing Day Open House. We’ll have food trucks and an open beer/cocktail bar by Asher Brewing (bring cash to tip your bartenders!). There will also be entertainment, music, a costume contest, door prizes, games, kids' activities & tours of the new building. We’ll provide family-friendly tours and activities from 3-5 p.m. Then from 6-9 p.m., we’ll turn up the music, turn down the lights and start up some classic monster movies as we create a space for adults to let their geek shine. The festivities are free and open to the public.

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We hope you can join us! If you are planning on coming, please sign up using the form below or on our EventBrite page. This will help us make sure we have food, drinks and fake cobwebs for the party!

It’s going to be one heck of a party, and we’re looking forward to celebrating with you on the 25th!

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Digital Naturalism: Hiking Hacks in the Wild

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

The Hiking Hack is the first of a proposed series of research expeditions led by Andrew Quitmeyer, a Ph.D. researcher at Georgia Tech, investigating the role of situated design for wild animal interaction. This workshop trekked through the Panamanian Rainforest (with some SparkFun gear!) to explore how context shapes the crafting of technology and to probe the limits of constructing and utilizing DIY physical computing systems in harsh environments.

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From Andrew:

My goal is to lead a series of “Hiking Hackathons” across various ecosystems throughout the world; I research how field biologists use digital technology. In my research, I look to discover techniques with field biologists for crafting inexpensive sensors and tools specialized to their own specific target ecosystems.

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Digital Technology is changing the way we do science, but almost all this innovation targets and is built within the laboratory. In contrast, comparatively fewer research tools are being developed with field biologists, and within proximate feedback to their experimentation in the wild. To confront this problem, I gathered funding for, and lead an expedition we called the Hiking Hack. I assembled a diverse crew of biologists, documentarians, and hackers, for a transect across Panamanian Neotropical rainforests. We set up a basecamp hackerspace midway through the expedition, and using only the tools we could carry in, built instruments and robots to probe the behavior of nearby animals.


My original Hiking Hack expedition had a shoestring budget of $1500 which I funded through small art grants and personal cash.

  • $17,000 for equipment (Hiking, Hacking, and Documentation Gear) (If you would like more details about specific equipment, like sensors, drones, etc… just ask!)
  • $33,000 / 5 = $6,600 per expedition Per Expedition Budget:
  • $4,500 Travel (Personal, Scholarships)
  • $600 Permits and Fees
  • $800 Food
  • $700 Documentation and Editing

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On top of the standard hardships of living in and traversing little known jungle routes, came the additional challenges of carrying extremely heavy gear, teaching first-timers electronics, and building in low-light conditions. There were many problems also atypical of your average hackathon, such as bullet ant stings, venomous snake encounters, contagious infections, and even an army ant raid in the middle of a workshop. Despite these complications, the Hiking Hack was successful and taught us an incredible amount about packing technology, power requirements, forest crafting, weather proofing, and animal interaction.

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I plan to carry out five different hacking hikes around the world. We will hack through a diverse range of biomes such as deserts, tundra, taiga, grasslands, and rainforest. Everything in this series will be thoroughly documented and shared as open hardware and software licensed into the public domain, so that others can learn and contribute to these ideas.

The success of the first hiking hack has led talented volunteers from various fields to sign up for the next iteration. Hopefully we can all make these adventures happen!

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