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38 Posts authored by: spannerspencer

Just saw this on Kickstarter, and I have to say I quite like the idea.



It doesn't look like it's very programmable, and the modular design is pretty basic, but that's no bad thing if it gets the kids interested in the idea of building cool electronics projects.


Kind of reminds me of Big Trak, in the way you can set the individual rotors to follow set commands



Sub-$100 too, which is always a good price point for a new device aimed at kids (not literally aimed at kids -- that'd be dangerous. Kids! Don't fly drones at each other!).


Feels like a good contender for hooking new kids (and parents, for that matter) on electronics, like we've been discussing over on the How Were You 'Bit by the Bug' of Engineering & Technology? page (have you all told your story about how you got into electronics yet? Post it here if not).


I'd be interested to hear what you guys think of the Airblock, Members and Top Members.

Okay, you guys are all pretty good with electronics, right? I mean, that's why you hang around at element14 in the first place.


Therefore, you'll all be acutely aware of the following affliction, that I un-lovingly call "Tech Support Syndrome":


Tech Support Syndrome


/' tek səˈpɔːt sɪn.drəʊm/

when a technologically adept individual is unwittingly established as the personal, on-call, 24-hour, 365-days-a-year free tech support service for friends and family, usually against their will:

"Dude, remember when you set up my wi-fi six years ago? Well, it's not working again. Can you fly back from your holiday and fix it immediately?"


You know what I'm talking about, I'm sure.


Well, this Christmas we have an opportunity to take our tech lives back, and save you some present-shopping money in the process! We're going to create a range of coupons that you can download, print out, and compile into a coupon book that you can give to friends and family as a gift. They can then redeem the coupons for the tech support you're somehow obliged to provide as part of your existence.


And I'm hopeful that these coupons will serve as something of a contract, and make those freeloading leeches friends and family think a little more carefully before requesting tech support, as there'd now be a conceptual cap on their demands.


But first, I need your help (and no, the irony of that isn't lost on me).


Tech Support Coupons, or "Maker Money"

Maker Coupons - Example.pngTo the right is an example coupon (Maker Money, jwatson and I have been calling them). Before we create the rest for you, we need to figure out as many eventualities as possible to ensure there's a coupon for all the major Tech Support Syndrome symptoms.


I'll get things started off (drawn from my own experience) and I'd like you guys to add more of these common requests in the comments section. We'll make sure the coupons are uploaded and ready for you in plenty of time to make yourself a last minute DIY Christmas gift for your "loved" ones!

  • One Free: Smashed Smartphone Screen Replacement
  • Two Free: Devices Setting Up on Your Wi-Fi
  • One Free: "My Computer Won't Start!"
  • Three Free: "No Picture on the TV" Fixes


Okay, over to you guys! What are the things you're always getting pestered for by the technologically illiterate in your life?


Edit: The Maker Money coupons are now available, so go make yourself an easy, last minute Christmas present that you'll regret giving to family and friends for the whole year! Click here to go get 'em!

Computer Security Day.jpgProbably the main reason Computer Security Day (which is today) exists, is because we -- as a species -- tend more toward cure than prevention. Most of us only ever change our passwords once the last one has been discovered and put to ill use.


Naturally you've taken heed already this year, and run through the Computer Security Day checklist to revisit your online life and update your digital door locks. But was it always thus?


We've probably all fallen foul of hackers, viruses, malware or some manner of online scam at one time or another. I've a couple of stories on this front, one of which you might recognise, while the other is a bit more of a head slapper.


Google Cheque-Out

WLW-TwoFactorAuthenticationWithGoogleAuthent_98DF-google_authenticator_icon_2.jpgIt was the early days of online payments, and Google set about contending with PayPal via its Google Checkout platform.


An insecure password, which was made public via a completely different site being hacked (I used the same password for both), let someone into my flimsily protected Google account. Naturally there was a credit card attached to the account, and someone kindly allowed me to buy half a dozen pay-as-you-go mobile phones for them. Awesome.


Aggravating as it all was, this security slip up on my part highlighted something interesting about paying for things using an online platform, like Google Checkout or PayPal. You see, I received an email receipt immediately after the purchase was made. Not from the bank, because they don't offer that feature even today, but from Google. So I immediately jumped on the phone to the nice credit card folk, and reported the fraudulent transaction.


What's interesting was that it hadn't even gone through yet. The credit card company hadn't even received the transaction info. Google's automated email system was significantly faster than the banks payment system, so they were able to block the card before anything had even gone through.


What Did We Learn?

Entirely my fault for having a rubbish password (easily fixed) and for leaving a credit card registered on an insecure online account (quickly removed). But as a payment platform, using that digital intermediary worked extremely well, as I found out about the fraudulent payment way before the bank even knew about it! Neither were the details of my credit cared shared with the hacker, as all they could do was make a payment using Google's system, and not a direct credit card transaction. A fortuitous safety net I've made use of ever since.


I've rambled on long enough already, so I'll save my other digital security face plant for later on. It's way better, and involved squatters getting into a Big Pharma sterile area because I effectively opened the door for them. Your turn first, though!


What I'd like to hear now is all about your cyber security horror stories, and how you fixed or overcame them.


Email hacked? Wi-fi inadvertently shared? IoT light bulb letting the North Korean government into your bathroom? What happened, how did you fix it, and what did you learn from the whole thing?



Don't forget! Now that you've secured your digital self, come and tell us how you can make yourself and others safe and sound in the physical world, in our brand new Safe and Sound Design Challenge.


There's an awesome free kit available to successful applicants that'll ensure you're safely tooled up for a great new project, and some ultra-cool quadcopter prizes to be had!

Computer Security Day.jpgAlthough this is likely to overrun November 30th, we feel it's no bad thing to raise a bit of extra awareness around World Computer Security Day (CSD), and we've created a badge for all those who are into the idea of locking down their online lives nice and securely.

To get the badge, follow these simple rules:

  • Update your element14 password.
  • Update your avatar with our CSD 2016 icon on the right (maybe overlay on your existing avatar for a few days? That's what I'm doing).
  • Post a blog about How to Secure Your Devices, ensuring you tag it with "Computer Security Day".
  • Vote in our Best Hacker Movie Ever poll.

Naturally it's no bad thing to go through the Computer Security Day motions on a regular basis, but in honour of the official day we'll aim to get everyone in the spirit a little sooner by only making the badge available for one month, so make sure you grab it before the end of December!

Oh, here's the icon for your avatar, should you want it: CSD-2016-30x30.png


And don't forget to tell us all about your ideas for making people safe and secure in the physical world in our brand new Design Challenge once you're done, as well as the digital one.

Computer Security Day.jpg

It's November 30th, which means it's A) Just under one month until New Year's Eve, and B) It's World Computer Security Day (CSD)!


You can find out a little more about the origins of the day itself over here, and tell us about your best practices when it comes to securing your digital life.


Beyond Computer Security

This is a long-lived awareness campaign already, but it's changing as fast as the computers it's based around.


CSD is a concept that increases in magnitude somewhere like the element14 Community. Here, we're interested in lots of different types of computers, microprocessors, systems and platforms; and most all of them involve some manner of digital security measures. A campaign that originally looked at encouraging people to change one, or maybe two passwords now involves something of an epic security endeavour for engineers, makers and tech-heads who are into all the available prototyping platforms out there now.


So is it also time to change the password on your Raspberry Pi root? Should your Internet of Things devices get a new login? Are there any concerns around your connected Arduino projects?


Updating a Windows password is easy, but updating a headless single board computer or homemade connected thermostat or wi-fi operated light fitting is something else entirely. Even those of us who take an active interest in these things might struggle to keep up to speed on every item we've built into a maker project.


So I'd like to encourage those of you in the know to pick a platform or process of your choice, and write a blog detailing how to change or update its passwords, logins or security features.


Tag it with "Computer Security Day" (and put a link to it in the comments here, if you like) and we'll compile all your cyber security instructions into a cyber security bible that will help keep our corner of the internet just a little bit safer. If we can enough blog posts together on the subject of cyber security, we could potentially edit these into an e-book that'll become a valuable reference for all of us.



Don't forget! Now that you've secured your digital self, come and tell us how you can make yourself and others safe and sound in the physical world, in our brand new Safe and Sound Design Challenge.


You could win a nice, safe quadcopter with which to "enhance" your neighbour's security and privacy!

Computer Security Day.jpg

There are multiple reasons to celebrate World Computer Security Day (CSD). We'll get to the primary reasons in a minute, but the other thing that's nice about it is there aren't any greeting cards associated with it. Not yet, anyway.


So, what's today's rather nebulous-sounding pseudo celebration all about? Read on.


World Computer Security Day

As woolly as it might initially sound, this is actually a great idea. The purpose behind it is simple; to raise awareness of cyber security, and to encourage us all to refresh our digital security practices, if only once a year. Admittedly even that's probably not quite enough, but it's still an improvement for a lot of people, which makes CSD worth spreading.


The exact origins of Computer Security Day are surprisingly far reaching. It's always held on November 30th, with the first one dating back almost 30 years to 1988.


This, some of you older computer nerds will recall, was when the (in)famous Jerusalem virus first appeared, and spread itself far and wide just as computers were becoming commonplace within homes and offices. It was a pernicious little chap, was Jerusalem, and squirrelled itself away within a minuscule amount of memory to deliver its volatile payload every Friday 13th.


How Do You Join in With World Computer Security Day?

On face value this is a pretty easy question to answer.

  • Change your password(s). Not just for your computer, but also for your online accounts, of course.
  • New lock for your smartphone and tablet.
  • Update your anti-virus, malware and other security precautions.
  • Set up a new password for your wi-fi.
  • Run a full, deep-level spyware, virus and malware scan.


Pretty obvious stuff really, and it's where everyone should begin. There's even a brand new element14 badge to go with it all.


Before we delve any further into CSD throughout today, tell me if you've updated your security today or recently, and what are your best practises when updating your computer security. Help us spread the good CSD word!


Looking ̥̗f̙̝̝͍̖͡o̦r̙̤̰͈̭w̰̲͚͙͜a̲͈͇r͙̲͎͎͈d̠̟̘̟ ̻͙̫̝̠ṯ̠̮͕̖̱̩o̗͕͡ ͏͙h̦̰̝̠ḛ̷̼̺̫̜̯ͅạ̸̘͕̪̻̩̘r̝i̦̝̗̰͞n͚̘͍̦̞g̛̱͇̯̠͈̮ͅ y͔̹̮̬͖̫̤ͅo̴̺̖͖̞̘̬ų̷̞͎̮͔̙͇̬r̮͍̠͕̘̙͘̕͡ ̳̯͜͡t̷̡͔͙̩̰̼̪̦̯h̨̙̘̫̗͍̬̮o҉͚͙͈̼͘u̦͉̼̟g͖̬͔̪̫͜͠h͇̤̮̺̭̟́ͅt̝̘̥̦̖̱̀̀͢s̹͜ͅ ҉̨̯͉̩o̶͉͓̞̠̗̝͙n̴̸͍̟ ͚̳͍̭̤͕ͅĆ̬̩̭͙̭̣͎ͅo͏̰͎̕m̶̝͎͙̕͡ͅp͏̨̮̯̩̱͎̼̼ṷ͕̣͉͞t̻̼̠̳̻e͏̢͎͎̬͍̖̰͈r͙̗̯͕͢ S̶͉̟̫̭̙̪̭̻̘͙͕͍͠e̶͘͏̢̗͖̮͓̩̯͕̠̻͇̬̙c̨̛̮̩͈̥̻͉̙̮͘u̴̢̨̪̟͙̘̭͔̜̙r̷̷̡҉͏̻̥̠͉į̶̦̰̟͎͈̕͠t͈̣̘͙̣͚̹̖̳̼͍̝̲̜͎̪̱͙̳͟͜͠y̨̙̜̩̦̳̺͔͖̮͕̖͜͢͜ ̷̛͜͏̷̭̠̝D̫͈͘͝ͅa͏̵͏̛̟̬̻͈̬͎͡ͅy̵͎͕͔̩̙̘͈̙͖̝͢͞ ̵̡̭͖̠̜̫̜̪͕́͡i̡̦͕̭̰͎̜̣͚͠ṉ̸̳͍̼̙̖͍̝̭̀͡͠ͅ ̢̢҉̶̱̪͓̯͈̦͙͙̜̥͎̥͉̞͇t҉͓̬̘̥̞̠͇h̢͡͏̼̞͍̮̩̳̟̮͎̭̰̳̪̹̥̠̪e̵͍̮͖͉̺̕͟͝ ̵̛̯͓͚͙̪͠͠c̷̖̟̳̣̗̦͕̱̝͡͝ò̲͈̳̦̖̤͇̖̘͓̺̳̣̜͘͜m̴̢͈̹̟̲͎͍͚̣͍͉͠m̴̶̢̛̠͕̺̘͍̼͚̳̲̰̳̲̀è̡̛͇̺̳͕͉̹̝̜̟͈̮̪̖̤̫͞ǹ̛͉͖̥̘͠t̴̡͖̝̰̙̯̱̰̼ͅs̡̻̥̹̣̜̩͚͔͙̗̱̖̹̜̯͙͇̹̀͟͜͡ ̸̢̺̠̤̼̺͝ś͎̥͙̮̲̻̱̤͈͎͍͝e̢̧̨̺̼̞͎͎̻̣̞̬̙̘̯̣̬̰̘͢͠ͅç͏͠͏̮̻̙͚͍̪̟͈͉̣̩̖̳̳͈̱̼͟t́̕҉͖͚͚̥͢i̷̧̜̖̪̹̯͙̭͉͈̦̞̯̮͘͞ͅǫ̵̝͍͓̯͟ń̢̼͚̹͖̻̞͚̩̗̜͍͖̙̦̯̞͉ ̷҉̻̘̭͔̥̝̝̙̜̩̳̤̙̭͙̲̥͡b̛́҉̛̠̝̺̺͙̦̣̦̗̘̬̺̝̳̪̹̪e̡̺̻͙̠̮̞̼̙̙͎͙̟͍̝͈͟l̨͠҉͇̰̝͕̼̗̪͉͚͚̺̙̜̰̮̟̫̻̞͝o̬̻͉̺̙̭̜̝̻̹͘͜͞͞ẃ̮̣̝̲̣̫̳̯̳̣͖͚̗̕͠͝!̷̤̥̞̠͠͠ͅ ͝҉͈͇̖̗͓̰̬̞̘͖̥͍̞͚̯̹̯̀ ̢͖̦̩̗͉̬̞͔̱̗̬̳̗̯̞͙͡ͅ ҉́̀҉̫̬͕̥̩̯̞͓̱̦̦̥̻̞͈̖ͅ ̗̰̙̰̟̟͍̹͔͎̕͜͟ͅ ̧̹̘̳̘̮̹͈͍̮̖̮̰̥̙̥̼͡͠ ̢̗͙̬͔͞...





And hey! Now that you've secured your digital self, come and tell us how you can make yourself and others safe and sound in the physical world, in our brand new Safe and Sound Design Challenge.

The Kit -- The Prizes

Fathers-Day-Day-of-the-Dad.pngAnd here we are! Happy Father's Day, everyone!


We've had quite a rollercoaster ride of patriarchal point winning, and now it's time to round things out with one last Father's Day Badge-a-Thon badge.


Firstly, of course, you need to be proudly sporting the previous days' badges before you can land this one:


Got 'em? Good.


To round things out, let's get the dads involved. Today you're tasked with something nicely celebratory.


  • Post a status update with any "Happy Father's Day"-type message of your choice, and...

  • Update your avatar to a photo of your dad, granddad, or other fatherly figure who's had a strong (ideally positive) influence on your life.


The seven Father's Day Badges will remain live for a further week, given there's quite a lot to do if you want to bag all seven, after which they'll close down and you'll have to wait until next year.


In the meantime, have a great Father's Day, and give the old man a slap on the back from everyone here at element14!

Fathers-Day-Quality-Time-King.pngAdaptability is the cornerstone of fatherhood. Well, it probably should be. Whether it is or not, I'll leave for mothers and partners to decide upon!


But, in an effort to embrace this notion, today's Father's Day badge has taken a twist. I've adjusted it in accord with some excellent suggestions you guys about creating projects with the kids.


"Did anyone else see the title and expect that it'd be "what toys have you made for your boys (or girls)". That's what being a dad's really all about," Fred27 astutely pointed out, which jkutzsch agreed with.


"Perhaps one of the future days will cover Projects on the Dads To Do List," he says. "Cool things like Retro Arcade System, Club house, Doll house and of course expanding the body disposal area for when your girls reach the teen years and you need to get rid of "problems" ;-)"


So, other than undetectable methods of dissolving the tormented remains of your daughter's boyfriend in industrial chemicals, tell us about any projects, games, kits or other activities your parents made with you (all those long years ago) that got you into electronics, so we can take some inspiration for enthusing future generations.


  • Tell us all about them in the comments below, and maybe include a few photos to really help us set that nostalgic mood!
  • @mention another element14 member in your comment, and nominate them to post their parental project story.


And remember you'll need to already have the previous Father's Day badges in order to be crowned a Quality Time King.

Fathers-Day-The-Maker.pngAccording to my dad, there's a correct tool for every job. And it's called a hammer.


It's a life lesson that's always stuck with me and has helped me get through a great many difficulties in my days as an engineer, a maker and a DIY desperado. So as we plummet deeper and deeper into our Father's Day Badge-a-Thon rabbit hole, we're now looking at ways that dads can pass along their lifetime of invaluable knowledge and wisdom as their kids blossom into dedicated hammer-wielders themselves.


Today's badge asks for thoughts on the new project ideas for parents to do with their kids that could indoctrinate them into the exciting world of electronics, and making.


For inspiration, here are a few projects from around element14 that I feel would make particularly father/parent/son/daughter projects.


To get today's badge, remember that you first need the previous days' badges, and then...

1) Post your idea for a brand new parental project in the comments, and...

2) Bookmark your favourite project from anywhere on the element14 Community that'd serve this purpose for other parents looking to inspire their kids!


You have until 26th June, 2016, to get all the badges, so don't delay!


You don't have to bookmark one of these, but for inspiration...


Fathers Day Badge-a-thon - The IoT of Chaps.pngWhat-o chaps! Splendid day, what?


Well, as you know it'll be Father's Day shortly, which is rather splendid, and we're clapping politely in anticipation of the grand show by handing out a week's worth of exclusive Father's Day badges for all you smashing chaps.


Ah yes, chaps! Just what is a chap? According to Mr. B:

"A proper chap knows exactly where it's at. A proper chap is a rogue, in well-heeled brogues, and knows exactly when it's right to wear a hat.


"He wears it outdoors and takes it off when he gets in, and never matches pocket square and tie.


"A proper chap drinks tea or a lovely drop of gin, and a proper chap knows exactly why."

A tad unfairly, the chap can be seen by the uncouth as somewhat old fashioned. Such tosh, of course!


However, perhaps you fine fellows can help the chap community to update their already spiffing image by incorporating the Internet of Things into their dandy repertoire? No small task, my good chum.


Here's the conundrum I'm chucking toward your mental wickets, and if you'd be good enough to add your idea into the comments so we can have a nice chin wag about it, that'd be splendid. And it simply wouldn't be cricket if we didn't have a proper conversation, so I'll also ask you to stop back a little later on, and post a second comment in response to one of the other chaps' clever notions, too.


So that's two comments to land the badge, my good chum!


How do we bring together the Internet of Things and chaps? Consider the following components of the chap, and then give them some digital, connected dazzle in the comments section below:

  • A well groomed moustache.
  • A shiny walking cane.
  • A fine pipe.
  • A nice cup of tea.
  • A prim bow tie, or cravat.
  • A dashing tweed jacket.
  • A splendid hat.
  • A lovely drop of gin.
  • A sturdy cricket bat.


Remember you'll need the previous Father's Day japes, including the Shed Dweller, Boys' Toys and DIY Ninja badges before you can pin this number to your tweed lapel.


You have until 26th June, 2016, to get all the badges, so don't delay!


To put a bit of fuel in your inspiration pipe, here's Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer to get your dander up. Cheerio old sport!

Fathers Day Badge-a-thon - Shed Dweller.pngThe shed is the universal domain of the dad. This probably isn't news to you.


But that's nothing to do with the shed itself. What draws the old man to the garden construct is the solitude it promises (aside from the colony of spiders, but their company is necessary to facilitate the absence of other humans), and the tools and toys he can tinker with therein.


So to kick off our week's worth of exclusive Father's Day badges, I'd like you to post a comment below, with an accompanying photo, about your current favourite piece of tech that you enjoy playing with alone; whether it's in the shed, your workshop, your office or the cupboard under the stairs where you're allowed to keep all your junk.


And let's all show our appreciation for that most noble of structure, the garden shed, by liking this blog post, too!


Remember, to get the rest of the Father's Day badges this week, you'll first need to earn this one!


You have until 26th June, 2016, to get all the badges, so don't delay!

Admittedly, I don't have any kids, but my dad always said that the first 20 years are the worst. And he should know.


Fathers Day Badge-a-thon.png

June 19th marks Father's Day, in most parts of the world, so we thought it'd be fun to celebrate the occasion with a week's worth of exclusive Dad's Day badges!


You don't have to be a dad to join in, of course, or even be a bloke. We all have (or have had) fathers, or at the least some manner of father figure, so the week's antics are for anyone and everyone who wants to give a hearty digital handshake to the old man.


Bagging the Badges

Starting on Monday 13th June and continuing until Sunday 19th (being Father's Day) there's be a brand new badge for you to earn each day. The badges will expire the week after (26th June) so make sure you're online and ready when they go live next Monday, or you could miss out.


To get them, all you have to do is complete that day's required tasks, whatever they might be.


But, in order to get a badge, you first have to earn the previous day's badge! After all, it's important for any father figure to be as complete as possible in his efforts to raise the next generation, right?


And let's be honest. Isn't it part of the fatherly definition that you're an expert on all matters? Fellas? Isn't it?


It's okay, you can answer. She probably isn't reading this


You have until 26th June, 2016, to get all the badges, so don't delay!


So, is anyone near the Toon next weekend? Our techno-cousins from CPC are heading up to Newcastle to host a stand at the country's biggest Maker Faire, and they want to meet as many Community members as possible!


It's shaping up to be a pretty splendid affair, as a couple of our PIK3A Retro Gaming Tables are going with them, along with some other great demos:

Dance Mat of Doom

Dance on the mat and trigger all manner of Raspberry Pi powered interactions including funky drum patterns and flashing neopixel light effects.



A desktop Pi and Arduino powered memory and reaction game, remember the Neopixel colour sequences and replicate on the coloured arcade buttons.


Maker Tombola

Our free to enter Maker tombola was a huge hit at the Pi Party so we’re going to do it again. Sign up to receive our Makerspace brochure to have a go. Lots of maker goodies including Pi 3’s to be won.


Nice! There are more details on the location over here: Maker Faire UK, 2016 -- and we'll look at getting some photos and videos from the show floor for those who can't get there.


Put your name on the list if you're going along, and be extra nice to our CPC brothers and sisters if you see them. Enjoy!

NXP brought its IoT World Tour truck home today, visiting its long-standing offices just outside Manchester in the north of England. Given that it's only just over the Pennines from us here in Leeds, we thought it'd be rude if we didn't drop in to play with all those awesome hyper-connected toys advanced electronics equipment.


The Internet of Trucks

20160321_120650.jpgelement14 actually sponsored the European leg of the NXP IoT Truck's global tour, which has seen it visit major cities all across the continent, into Asia and around the US. But until today, we'd never actually seen inside.


It's a pretty simple set up, in many respects, but the gear you'll find inside is a real candy store for element14 Community types!


It's all laid out in different sections, such as Automotive, Home Automation, Industrial Automation, Digital Networking, and some central pillars that show how NXP's semiconductors have made their way into a wide array of startup tech companies in recent months and years. Here there are drones, SBCs, sensors aplenty and even the highly anticipated BBC micro:bit. They've all been brought to life in one way or another using NXP's range of silicon.


I don't know which wall of the high-tech truck was most appealing. Even the more traditionally sedate topics, like industrial electronics, offered more than its share of intrigue. There are some superb insights into smart cities, smart power and smart commerce, which are delivered right next door to home automation, giving a great sense of flow that tells a story of working, available Internet of Things that begins on a massive scale and takes you through to miniaturised applications within your own home.


The automotive section, among many other things, has a great section regarding security, and how NXP has been working to embed powerful hardware encryption into any data that comes into, or leaves, a connected car. With autodriving vehicles quickly speeding over the horizon, this is becoming a particularly hot topic and it's good to see it isn't being overlooked by the tech industry. NXP even told us about its "Blue Box" technology that's currently providing the brains of self-driving test cars and turns data from cameras, radar, and even lidar sensors.


20160321_110606.jpgHome automation has been struggling, like many branches of the IoT, with a lack of standardisation, but the NXP Truck boasts an intriguing gateway module that's able to accept all current standards (with a preference for Thread, it seems) and seamlessly hook all the connected devices and sensors around the house together. Running on embedded Linux, this also looks like an inspiring step in the right direction.


The NXP IoT Truck is a serious fun house for all you (well, us) tech heads who spend so much time here on the element14 Community, so don't miss a chance to get on board if it's in, or near, your area. You'll have a lot to talk about with the NXP team, and a lot to get your hands on (that you'll want to bring away with you, but can't. Well, not easily, anyway...).


In the meantime, here's a virtual tour, courtesy of element14!


Google's put its doodle to use today in remembering Clara Rockmore; a highly accomplished musician from the early 20th Century, most famous for her expert use of one of the first ever electronic instruments, the theremin. Today would mark Clara's 105th birthday, and seeing the superb doodle this morning (which let's you play a virtual theremin) I was put in mind of my days while learning electronics, and the section that covered oscillators. It's a fascinating subject in itself, but there's a human story behind it that, today, I feel like retelling.


The Etherphone and Espionage

The theremin is, as you probably know, named after its Russian inventor Leon Theremin. Born in Saint Petersberg at the end of the 19th Century, Theremin is something of an unspoken hero of the early electronics age. It works by using two antennas that create oscillations in the electronic circuits, and are affected by the position of the player's hands.



Moving yours hand near the horizontal loop antenna and the vertical antenna alters the theremin's volume and amplitude, and the signal is then amplified and fed straight into a speaker. The result is that eerie, ethereal, warbling tone that's become so synonymous with sci-fi soundtracks. Originally, it was called an etherphone, and it's easy to see why.


We know about his musical invention, but did you know that he also invented video interlacing? This is the process that made CRT televisions actually watchable, by drawing every other line of the image and then going back to the top and filling in the blanks. It's use helps the human eye to overlook the flickering that occurs when the whole image is redrawn in one go; an essential part of older TVs.


The theremin's invention actually traces back to Leon's electronics speciality, proximity sensing. This research, refined by the development of his musical instrument, helped him to pioneer various types of listening technology that the KGB's predecessor made extensive use of during the Cold War, including laser microphones and the ancestor of RFID technology called The Thing, which was secreted inside a US Great Seal and hung inside the American embassy in Moscow, allowing the Russians to intercept messages for decades.


Fascinating stuff, but tragic for Leon. Rumour has it he was kidnapped by the Russian secret service from his new home in America in 1938, imprisoned in Butyrka and put to work in the Kolyma gold mines. This was a common tactic used to recruit people with special skills, like Leon. After the horrors of the prison and the mines, an offer to work for the secret service became far more appealing than his current existence, and made him much more compliant in creating these espionage devices.


Prior to this he'd married young African American ballet dancer Lavinia Williams, which caused controversy as both were socially ostracised for being a mixed race couple in the 1930. After Theremin was forcibly removed from the US and imprisoned in Russia, she never saw him again.


Electronics, so far, had given Leon little beyond a very tough life.


Leon and Clara

Theremin and Rockmore.pngBorn Clara Reisenberg in Vilnius, Lithuania, at the age of five Clara was, and still is, the youngest student to ever have been admitted to the St Petersberg Conservatory; one of the world's most renowend music schools -- with alumni including Tchaikovsky and Kapp -- which now resides on the site of the Bolshoi Theatre. She was a natural with the violin, but a bone disorder tragically prevented her playing beyond her teen years. But Clara refused to give up her musical aspirations, and found a brand new instrument that she was still able to play. The theremin.


Before his forced indoctrination into the world of Cold War spies, Leon Theremin had toured Europe and the US demonstrating his musical instrument, and captured the attention of the global musical community. During this period he met Clara, and worked with her to refine his invention into an instrument worthy of inclusion in a classical orchestra. Clara became a virtuosos with the machine, and, not unexpectedly, Leon quickly fell in love with her.


Beginning decades of tragedy for the inventor, she refused his marriage proposal multiple times, eventually marrying an attorney called Robert Rockmore. But what feelings she lacked for the inventor were poured upon the invention, and her classical training alongside perfect pitch, precise dexterity influenced her redesign of the instrument to take it from three octaves to five, and adjusting its physical design to better suit the performer. Her input into the development of the theremin was ultimately comparable to Leon's.

Theremin and Rockmore reunited.gif

She toured many of the major orchestral venues throughout her life, demonstrating the artistry that was capable with the theremin, which few have ever achieved. It wasn't until the 1970s when her playing was actually recorded, but her concerts had invariably sold out whenever she performed.


In 1991, two years before he died, Leon was brought to New York as part of a feature length documentary about his life and work, where he was reunited with Clara.