Get Grossed Out This Thursday!

Update: Online ticket sales are closed. A limited number of tickets will be available tonight to PAFA members and those who want to sign up for membership.

The other day, Sean mentioned that we’re helping with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ After Dark event this Thursday 3/31, called “Grossed Out”. Here’s another teaser.

PAFA has been opening up their beautiful, cavernous spaces on North Broad Street so people can get down with music, drinks and hands-on diy projects, all surrounded by super classy art. This Thursday’s event, Grossed Out, celebrates the famed “Gross Clinic” and PAFA’s new exhibit Anatomy/Academy. The exhibit examines “how Philadelphia’s dynamic art and science communities… fostered knowledge of the human body… transformed the attitudes of the public towards mental and physical health, and challenged conceptions about beauty.” Music and body-bending entertainment are courtesy of the Olde City Sideshow. Yes, glass eaters at the Academy!

Hive76 and The Hacktory are building four (!) different activities for this Thursday’s event. The Hacktory has posted some updates on our progress. Here are descriptions of the activities:

Continue reading “Get Grossed Out This Thursday!”

From China with Love: A Hacker Spy Story

OG Hacker Spies

With all the anti-China, anti-globalization fearmongering lately, its instructive to take products we know and love and trace them back to their source, whether to marvel at or be disgusted by the depth of America’s economic interconnectedness with the rest of the world (I’m a marveler, myself). This week, I’ve been working on an invention I plan to manufacture in China — and I found some great websites for globalization super-sleuthing. They are really fun to poke around on.

As a starting point, I noticed that my invention, a light-up playing dice, is pretty similar to one that is already made by ThinkGeek — their “Critical Hit D20 Dice.” Since they retail it on their site for only $9.99, I figured they must be outsourcing its production, and I was dying to know where.  So I checked out a free trial of ImportGenius here (promo code: IMEXHELP).  It is is so cool!  Kinda like  that stream of numbers that make up The Matrix, ImportGenius is a portal to the huge database of shipping manifests collected by every port authority in the U.S — anything that goes in or out of our country is searchable there. Even the notoriously secretive Apple spilled the beans on their upcoming iPhone2 release by shipping a “New Awesome Phone Thingy” (or something to that effect) months beforehand.   With my ImportGenius account, I could get down to some serious industrial espionage.

Actually, all I did was search ImportGenius for shipments “ThinkGeek” signed for in the past year, and I’ll be darned if “Critical Hit D20 Dice” wasn’t the very first search result! Apparently Thinkgeek ordered a 900lb shipment  a few months ago from Trendex Inc. in Ninbo, China. F**k yeah Ningbo!

OK, so now that I had identified a supplier in Ningbo to churn out my dice, I tried to find a source for my most expensive components — the batteries and battery holders. I had been prototyping with a great battery holder made by Linx Technologies in Oregon, and at $0.18 it was the cheapest American brand — suspiciously cheap to have been made here.  Import Genius came up empty-handed, so I searched the exact part number on, a global storefront for the devoloping world’s overeager manufacturing sector. Sure enough, the exact same part was being made in Shenzhen for $.04 a pop– Linx was simply etching their name on it and selling it with a 400% markup. They didn’t even bother to change the part number. Good ol’ American industriousness at work.

The amazing thing is that Chinese re-sellers often undercut even the original manufacturer’s prices. For example, Microchip sells the PIC10F200 direct for $0.32, whereas I quickly found the same chip in China for $0.25. They are undercutting their own supplier!  And they love giving free samples!  The heck you say!

By the way, Chris gave me a great tip: if you plan on getting quotes from suppliers on, you shouldn’t use your primary email address, unless you want to keep up to date on the latest discount Viagra deals. Another tip is to send your request late at night/early morning, during Chinese business hours. One more tip: Alibaba’s search tool is pretty bad, so try Google instead — just include “” in the search field. FYI.

Another fun reverse-engineering webtool I found is the reverse-image search at It lets you search by image-similarity. Since Alibaba is a little spotty about describing products in English, I figure searching by image instead might be easier. I haven’t had any success stories yet with Gazopa, but it sure is fun anyways. For example, I wanted some inspiration for a rainbow-themed boardgame I’m helping to develop, so I searched for similar images to this one: Got some really trippy results, including lots of screenshots from the Simpsons, weirdly.

Well, thats my spy story. Hit me back with your own outsourcing stories and tips in the comments section!

The white whale of 3D printing

Late last night I succeeded at something that I have been obsessing over for almost a year: printing City Hall.

City Hall
Thar she blows!

Last year, when I really started to get into printing on Hive76’s Makerbot 3D–PO, someone suggested printing Philadelphia’s grand City Hall. It took me many months of casual attempts before I was able to clean up the model I downloaded form Google’s 3D warehouse for printing. Once I had something that wasn’t full of holes, I dived in. After just a few attempts, I successfully printed City Hall in blue PLA and posted the whole thing to Thingiverse.

Shitty Hall
Shitty Hall

Since then I have been trying to replicate my succes in other materials. Some combination of the continuously–breaking Makerbot, the black PLA and my fledgling skills produced a monumental pile of failure I like to call Shitty Hall. The extruder would jam, the heated build platform would cool down, the X or Y axis would lose steps; everything went wrong repeatedly. I had enough failed prints that I clamped and welded them together to form the tallest shitty print ever printed at Hive76. After tweaking, greasing, cleaning, and learning just exactly every way that a Cupcake CNC can break, I gave it a shot in ABS. Once the first few critical layers went down well and the material was feeding properly from above, I relaxed. Two and a half hours later, I had my prize: a 3D printed City Hall in white ABS. Here’s a picture of the whole City Hall family, including Jordan’s successful first attempt at 1.5x. Now I need to print it again!

City Halls
City Halls

Week of 3/16/11 Open House Recap

Hello readers,

No recap last week because I wasn’t at open house then, but I was back for this week’s. The place was already busy by the time I got there at around 7:30 PM. It was great to see everybody, and to check out what they were doing, as it felt like I hadn’t been there in awhile.  We saw some new faces tonight (new to me at least), and people I hadn’t seen in some time.

Sean McBeth showed off his latest project: a multiplayer tetris clone. As far as I know, it’s the first computer game that was developed at Hive, and also the first Hive 76 themed game.  100% original code, 100% original graphics, and with some interesting planned features. There’s ingenuity for you.

Jack Zylkin showed me a cool 3D model of a narwhal he did in Blender, and Chris Tompson showed me some gears he printed for a major ongoing project. I’m constantly amazed at the stuff Chris and Jordan Miller are printing these days.

I mentioned new faces earlier, and we had a guest come by from our IRC channel. Kate aka “inquiryqueue” stopped in and completed an awesome dual-output device for practicing morse code. She came up with some pretty amazing solutions to some of the problems she faced with the project.

A Look At the Inner Workings
Kate Testing Her Device












As with most open houses now, we capped off the night with another great karaoke session. Some highlights were Brendan Schrader doing “Africa” by Toto, Kate doing “Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline, PJ Santoro doing “Rainbow Connection” with a spot on (and I kid you not) Kermit the Frog impersonation, me (at least in my opinion) doing “Closer to the Heart” by Rush, Sean McBeth doing “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees, Chris Thompson doing “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, and last but not least, our very own Hive 76 group chorus version of “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie.

We’ll see ya at next week’s open house!

Wednesday, March 23rd @ 8:00 PM

SketchUp class wrap up

Sorry for the delay, but on February 26th we had a successful class based on using SketchUp for 3D printing.


We had a few members and 2 strangers show up for the class. They learned how to make simple forms in SketchUp and design around the size limitations of the makerbot. The designed and printed objects included a Shuriken pictured here, a Barbie toilet, a rook, a laptop lid webcam mount, and a decorative unicorn. Class members: if you’re reading this, I highly recommend you upload your designs to Thingiverse so the rest of the world can print them!

Thanks for learning at Hive76!


2011-03-13 Board Meeting Notes

Hive’s Board had a meeting, check out the Notes Here.

We reviewed officer reports, financial outlook, strategic planning, events coordination, and planning the first Hive76 annual report. Lots more planned for the coming year!

TIWrap makes your LaunchPad steak house handle like an Arduino bistro

We whipped up a Wiring-ish wrapper for the MSP430 a while back in order to simplify the task of porting Arduino libraries for use with MSP430 microcontrollers.  It turns out, we weren’t the only ones that thought of it.  PJ spotted a post on Hack A Day where someone unveiled something remarkably similar, and that post resulted in at least two other folks besides us posting their similar ideas — so there are at least four of these wrapper libraries out there.

Naturally, we’d like to think that ours is the best of the bunch, and the best named too — TIWrap.  Seriously, though, we seem to be genuinely different in that that we have bundled in actual libraries ported from Arduino, such as the HD44780 and MAX7221 libraries.  There are some piezo buzzer libraries and we expect to add some Charlieplexing utilities soon.  You can get a copy of TiWrap here.

The demo above is a “Fancy Flashlight” concept proposed by Matt Torbin.   It’s just one MSP430, two LEDs, a button and a bit of code which you can find in the TiWrap examples.

And in case the title left you puzzled …

March Philadelphia Robotics Group Meeting Wrap-Up

Hey guys,

Another great meeting of the Philadelphia Robotics Group has gone by and it was awesome! I must say that this has been one of our more populated meetings thus far (although not the most by a bit). In addition to regular Philly Robotics members and Hive 76 members, we had a few new people show up for the group, newish people coming back from the previous month, and even a returning member from long ago.

We talked about everything from Lady Ada and her beginner Arduino kits, the work being done on our own Web presence (, to a project concerning a radio controlled Dalek (of Doctor Who fame).

All in all a great 3rd meeting for the year. See you all next month on the 14th!