Recommendations for tech to create a virtual hacker space?

Most of my hacking occurs in a vacuum: where I sit in my living room or in my home office and toil away silently on projects which occasionally get documented here, but which all too often are just my way of passing the time. On the way to work, I was asking myself what I could do to boost my own excitement about these projects, and provide some incentive to do more, and on a more regular basis.

So, I had an idea which is almost certainly not new: the idea of a virtual hackerspace.

For years, I used to donate my Friday evenings to the Chabot Amateur Telescope Makers workshop. I’d go down and spend three or four hours showing up, seeing who needed help on a telescope project, or I’d bring my own and work on that. I want to create a more generic “workshop network”, where people can meet regularly for a kind of hackerspace parallel play using video conferencing technology.

In some sense, it’s just an extension of Google Hangouts. The idea would be that each participant would have a webcam/microphone setup, and at the appointed time, we could all just open our cameras and mics, say “hi” to one another and then go about our business, potentially sharing our projects or asking questions of the group at large. I’ve mostly used Hangouts for simple one-to-one conversations, and have little experience with larger groups, and didn’t really find any obvious links about how to manage larger groups. Does anyone have any recommendations on how to setup such a network? I am not really interested in creating a “show”, but really more of a set of spaces which encourage mutual collaboration and interest.

I’m willing to entertain other technologies as well, if people have better suggestions.

And, if you would be interested in joining in this kind of “network”, drop me a note here or on twitter (@brainwagon). I’ll try to do an update of what I learn.


It was reported that an Iridium satellite and an “non-functional Russian satellite” collided yesterday. I was curious, so I did a bit of digging, and found out that NASA had reported that it was Iridium 33 and COSMOS-2251. A bit more work uncovered orbital elements for both objects, so I was able to plug in their numbers and determine the location of the collision. A bit more of scripting, and I had GMT generate the following map (click to zoom in some more):


According to my calculations, they passed within 100 meters of one another (but my code gives an uncertainty much greater than that.) Each satellite is travelling about 26,900 km/second hour (sorry for the typo, but the math holds). I don’t have the mass numbers for the satellite, but even if you think they are travelling at perfect right angles, each kilogram of the mass generates about 28M joules of energy. According to this page on bird strikes, a major league fastball is about 112 joules, a rifle bullet is about 5,000 joules, and a hand grenade is about 600,000 joules. This collision generated 28M joules per kilogram of mass. Ouch!

Addendum: It’s been a long time since I took basic physics. If you care, you shouldn’t trust my math, you should do it yourself and send me corrections. 🙂

Floam, Floam on the Range

Actually, you don’t need a range.

This recipe has shown up in my inbox twice today, so I guess I have to blog about it. Ellen Spertus has a nice recipe for making your own Floam on her website. What is Floam you ask? (I apologize in advance to linking to the annoying Flash infomercial). Well, it’s kind of like clay, except that it is colorful and full of tiny beads, so it is pretty lightweight.

Ellen’s recipe basically calls for a mixture of homemade slime with expanded polystyrene beads. The slime is basically a mix of glue and a solution of borax, so it’s not like this would be expensive. I made a cup full of the stuff awhile ago as an experiment, and it was oh so fun to play with.

Telecrapper 2000

Brilliant, courtesy of

First the TC2K computer (any standard PC) is connected to the phone line via a Caller ID modem or serial Caller ID device. The user creates a setup text file that declares all of the Caller ID strings he considers “annoying” and wants intercepted on the first ring. When a call on the users “hit list” arrives, the computer intercepts the call and picks up the extension. This feature alone is very valuable. It gives the ability to identify legitimate calls anywhere in the house by simply waiting to hear a second ring.

As if that feature wasn’t enough, the TC2K then plays a wave file over the extension for the telemarketer to hear. The user can declare a list of wave files, in a specific order, that he wishes to be played to calls on his “hit list”. The first wave file is played immediately after picking up the extension, the TC2K then waits for the telemarketer to respond, then the TC2K waits for silence (for the telemarketer to finish speaking), then plays the next wave file on the list. The cycle of play wave file, wait for response, wait for silence is repeated for each wave file the user has declared in his setup text file. This way the TC2K can carry on a “virtual” conversation with the telemarketer and the content of that conversation is completely up to the user. All the user needs to do is record his own set of wave files to be played and declare them in a setup file.

Perhaps best of all, the “virtual” conversation between the TC2K and the telemarketer is recorded for the user to enjoy and share with his friends and other TC2K users. We hope to have a forum in the near future to discuss and trade TC2K conversations. It is sure to be very entertaining.

Don’t miss the Flash animation which someone created to one of the soundtracks.

Boffins create zombie dogs

Beware of the pitter patter of little zombie feet!I had to look up the word “boffin”. Seemed timely given the release of Romero’s Land of the Dead. reports that scientists at Piottsburgh’s Safar Center revived dogs that have had their blood replaced with very cold saline for three hours. This basically seems like a form of induced hypothermia. Their hope is that it might save humans with traumatic injuries.

Okay, but if I hear the words “T-virus” come up, I’m gonna go fetch my gun.

Stuck inside for the holidays?

Bristol Centre for Applied Nonlinear Mathematics | Publications | 2004 | Abstract of preprint 2004.3
This paper explains how one can crochet the Lorenz manifold, the two-dimensional stable manifold of the origin of the Lorenz system.

My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was only five or six. I wonder how long it would take me to bat one of these out. I further wonder what could posess me to try…

How to Make Lava Lamps – Oozing Goo

Lava Lamp Patents!If you would like to wander back to the days of the Keith Partridge and Greg Brady and make a really groovy pad, you can go learn How to Make Lava Lamps at Oozing Goo. They also listed the two patents on the Lava Lamp, namely U.S. Patent 3,570,156 and U.S. Patent 3,387,396. Frankly, the idea of placing alcohol and turpentine in a closed container over a heat source sounds the teensiest bit dangerous to me, so if you end up with no eyebrows, don’t come crying to me. I’m not stupid enough to try it.


What’s really amazing about this invention to me is just the idea itself: that somebody would buy a lamp that consists of globs of goo floating around in liquid. How does one even get to the point where one asks this question?

Bonus Coverage: A Method for Animating Viscous Fluids

UNIX® on the Game Boy Advance

Unix on the Gameboy Advance!UNIX® on the Game Boy Advance is an implementation of the 5th version of the Unix Operating System for the ARM chip inside the gameboy. To do this, it runs SIMH, a PDP-11 simulator which has been ported to a bunch of different systems. The original RK05 disk image is combined with the PDP-11 simulator to make a functioning 5th Edition workstation.

It’s… just… brilliant.

On the right, you can see a screendump. Notice that it is compiling a simple Hello World C program.

If you are into this stuff, you can get lots of different PDP-11 software off the net with a minimum of searching.