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Maker Faire Detroit 2011

It’s that time of year again, time for Maker Faire Detroit!

This year, I’m showing the FRETS1 satellite.  We’ve been hard at work on the design of the satellite’s systems, the ion engine, and frankly, learning a lot about space.   I also learned quite a bit from just talking with people a couple of months ago at the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire.  It was hot, well over 100F in the open air buildings at AAMMF.  Several of the builders had to pack up early because of the heat.  Throughout it all, people kept coming to our display and talking a lot about the satellite project.  Everyone was uncomfortable on the concrete, in the heat, with no air flow and yet the enthusiasm for a satellite project they could relate to never stopped.  I don’t have words for just how inspiring that experience was and hope Maker Faire Detroit brings the same energy – just more comfortably for everyone.

There is now a separate blog about the satellite and engine’s progress, at  Check it out, especially the gallery of high resolution satellite prototype photos.

I hope to see everyone at the Maker Faire Detroit in just a few days (July 30-31 in Dearborn, Michigan at The Henry Ford).



T-11 Months

We’re building and flying an actual Earth-orbiting satellite.  It’s a TubeSat from Interorbital Systems and will fly in late 2011.

The primary mission is to test one of 3 satellite thrusters on the drawing boards: an ion engine, a low thrust field effect engine, and a plasma-based magnetorquer.  The ion engine has the best chance of good thrust but is the most difficult to build and power.  Special techniques are needed to build something not yet tried, exploiting quantum tunneling and laser effects on the Debye Sheath. A field effect engine is theoretically possible but thrust is so low, no one has tried it yet in space.  We’re hoping to use the power of modern GPUs to get the absolute best thrust through FDTD simulation and genetic algorithms.  The last idea isn’t technically an engine per se.  It uses RF waves to push electrons around and around a loop of plasma.  The resulting current is exceedingly large and interacts strongly with Earth’s magnetic field to provide strong torque for attitude control.

The next milestone is a satellite kit kickoff party, complete with a cake in the shape of an astronaut (red velvet cake – more interesting to cut into).  There might even be tin foil hats.


3D part two

Ok, ok, ok.  It’s been a while.  How about a status update on the 3D project?  Don and I did in fact present at the Detroit Maker Faire.  We even wrote about it, honest.  Over a couple of days, we talked to nearly 1,500 people and even won an Editor’s Choice blue ribbon!  The great people at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories that made the Peggy2 board stopped by and took this amazing photo.  Note the jaw dropped stare.  Kids weren’t the only ones with that, myself included!  Some of the best scenes were father’s getting giddy and pulling their whole family over to check it out.  Here’s our display in action:

As if the Maker Faire wasn’t awesome enough, we were later contacted by Jonathan Gordon, a student at Johns Hopkins University!  He had an amazing semester and did a very nice version of the display complete with animation.


Preparing for the Detroit Maker Faire

Don and I are building for the upcoming Detroit Maker Faire (July 31 & Aug 1, 2010 at The Henry Ford, Dearborn, MI).  We went to the Ann Arbor Mini-Maker Faire a few weeks ago and really enjoyed the energy of the whole place.  Relaxing over lunch later, Don leans over and asks what we should build for the Detroit faire!  There was a lot of brainstorming and quite a list to do.  The first item on the list, but not the only thing we’ll be showing, is a 3D LED volumetric display.  YouTube has many 3D LED displays, but very few like this.  The key difference is the word “volumetric”.  Most of the displays work by taking a strip of LEDs and rotating them.  The effect is like writing on a ribbon wrapped around a ball.  It is a 2D display on a 3D surface and, while a work of great precision, it is unable to show any detail within the ball/3D object.  Our approach is to take a LED panel and rotate it.  Being a rotating plane, it creates slices through 3D objects and is able to show interior detail.  (“Detail” is a fuzzy word as the LED panel is low-res, but you get the point.)  We put a YouTube video of the early work with a handful of LEDs at Next steps are to add a hall-effect sensor so the board knows where it is, write some animation code, and solder on the remaining 600+ LEDs.


post Processing CodeMash

Whew!  CodeMash was busy and my brain hurts.  There are a lot of techniques to make a programmer’s job easier, more fun, more productive, and more secure.  I hope everyone reading this had a great, mind-expanding time there as well.

My Processing presentation went over well.  Several people seem quite interested and connected with the idea of using data visualizations to get into even more projects and to better engage their current clients.

As promised, the presentation slides and code are now in the wild.  The presentation is available on Google Docs here.  The presented source code is open source, free to use and profit from and is posted to here.  Note: doesn’t allow OpenGL, so I commented out the line that does it.  Send a note or comment if you’d like the original source zip file.


Time for CodeMash!

CodeMash 2010It’s cold.  It’s snowing.  There’s too much work to even consider a vacation.  That can only mean one thing: it’s time for CodeMash!  3 days of coding, talking about coding, talking with coders, an indoor tropical themed water park, and a fireplace in the hotel room.  Yeah, this is going to be terrible.

I’m fortunate enough to be presenting again at CodeMash.  Last year it was Cloud Computing.  This year, it’s all about Processing – the open-source IDE/language/toolkit that makes data visualization fun again.

“Wait, what?” you say.  Yes, data visualization.  No, not Excel.  I happen to like the ease of graphing data in Excel and there’s no way I want to recreate all of its features and there are plenty of libraries out there that try to do so.  I’m not talking about graphs/charts/pies.  I’m talking about using our coding skills to really show people their data.  Too often software development gets done by engineers, HR people, and sales staff.  They all have a need, often temporary, that software can meet.  They all would rather be engineers, HR people, and sales staff than a software developer.  They all believe the hype that programming is easy and try to do it themselves.  Imagine instead a world where a trained software development professional would and could step in to quickly meet their needs.  Would not they be happier with the quality and ability of the solution?  Would not our jobs as developers be more secure as we become useful and visible to every organizational unit?  Would you like to increase your visibility?  Be the hero that let an engineer give a killer presentation on how idea X can make/save millions of dollars.  Be the hero that enabled a manager to verify the engineer’s claims.  Be the secure developer that gets a wide, rich variety of interesting problems: embrace visualization.

Well, that’s my philosophy and I’m sticking to it.  Come by and check out my presentation “See Processing Run.  Run Processing, Run.” where we’ll practice the mantra: Motivate, Educate, Inspire.



Anyons are pseudo particles.  They are waves in a 2D electron cloud, but their wave functions are just like the wave functions of traditional particles.  They even exhibit quantum entanglement.   Quantum computers are even being proposed using not real particles but these pseudo particles.

This is akin to realizing that waves in the ocean are not the water, but the energy traveling through it.  The waves are pure energy following a mathematical construct acting upon a local medium.  The local medium can be measured, but the wave itself cannot be without a local medium to affect.

Without even getting into faith issues, one realizes our brains are a medium for electrical and chemical waves of activity.  That makes our consciousness like the energy behind the ocean waves – mathematical constructs acting on a local medium.

Others have argued that the universe is an illusion of our senses.  Thinking of ourselves as abstract mathematical constructs only able to act on another medium, perhaps the universe is not the illusion, we are.