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|About Hack Like Heck|
|Content Partner Program|
|Declaration of Intent|
|Hack Like Heck Project Progress|
Click the above link for a chance to win the project PCB!
Name: Benny Michaels
Element14 Community member since: March 9, 2018
Plan to Hack Like Heck: Make a device that is a lot more SNES-like!
Notable project in development: Open Source Desktop R2D2 (1:3 scale)
More about the contestant:
I know it can be important to have a "niche" to stand out online, similar to how Ben focuses on retro gaming builds. If you are looking for the answer to that – I like robotics and portable computing devices (and Star Wars), and that has driven a lot of the skill building I've done to date with regards to electronics.
How did I first get into electronics?
It's hard to identify the exact point in my life that started my passion for electronics – warning: unasked for life story incoming! It's been a combination of things over my life that have led me here. In fact, I am actually studying towards becoming a psychologist, but I'll get to that. Like most kids who end up with an interest in engineering, I was always more interested in taking toys apart, figuring out how they worked, and putting them back together rather than playing with them. In high school, there wasn't really much opportunity to explore electronics specifically. Instead, I found myself skipping maths and english classes to keep working on some technical drawing, engineering (I designed a portable BBQ in this class), or woodworking project. It was kind of strange because I would show up to a different class and the teacher would know I was skipping another class, but my grades never really suffered so they didn't say much (emphasis on much) about it.
After high school, I freelanced as a web developer (somewhat similar to Heck being a graphic artist.. except he was probably better paid) and completed a traineeship as part of Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) project. This was probably the earliest proper experience I had with any sort of serious electronics, but I was made redundant when the government and project scope changed. The experience was enough to make me consider starting an electrician apprenticeship after, but instead I followed the advice of my parents, and my partner's parents, and started studying as a mature aged student at university. But "why are you studying psychology then," I hear you ask!?
I knew which university I would go to long before I decided I would go to university, and they had a great mature access program that provides a bit of flexibility to switch your course early on if needed. So I was going to start both engineering and another major. But when I spoke to the engineering course advisors, they didn't know much about any opportunities for practicing practical engineering as an undergrad. This was important to me if I was going to learn engineering because I learn best by doing. The advisors from the psychology school caught my interest instead and I've developed quite an affinity for that as well since then. However, I missed working with my hands and was getting to the point that I was going to start a makerspace on campus if I couldn't find one. Thankfully, there was a group of 3D printing enthusiasts who were starting to feel similar, and realising that they could/should do more than just 3D printing. Long story short, I ended up becoming the president of that student group, and we now have a new and improved makerspace opening some time in April.
It's being a part of this group that has really intensified my interest in making and inventing things, and electronics especially. I've since participated in several hackathons, and learned a lot of technical skills from the other students involved with the group. I've built a few smaller projects and am starting to tackle larger and more challenging projects now, which are likely to be interesting to others - most of which have a huge electronics focus. And I've found some good friends and mentors who will continue to help me develop my skills and passion for electronics. So now I am a psychology student with a passion for electronics and makers/engineers. Plus I run a student makerspace and group, and am aiming towards being a professional maker until I eventually get my doctorate (which is at least 10 years away..). And of course there is little doubt that my psychology research will also have a technology and education focus.
What is the project I am most proud of?
Somewhat ironically, it's not the most technically challenging project, but I made a PCB breakout board for an ESP8266. My employer at the time had given me over a dozen of the 12S modules to use for a hackathon I was participating in last year. But i'd never used the ESP's before, no local suppliers had any breakout boards to use, and I hadn't designed or made a PCB since I was in year 9 (even that was a super basic hand drawn one). And of course, it had to be battery powered as well...
So I hand soldered jumper cables directly to the tiny pins, and made a breadboard version using the datasheets to guide me on what needed to be connected to what (it looks as ridiculous as it sounds). I also didn't have time to learn any ECAD software, so once I knew the schematic to use, I hand drew the board layout in a vector program and then taught myself how to etch. It was incredibly satisfying to manage to learn how to etch a PCB with a UV resist, connect the module electrically speaking so that it turned on and could be programmed, and get it working off battery power before the hackathon finished.
I expect my project for the contest will be the next thing I will be most proud of, because I will be similarly challenging myself to combine existing skills in ways I haven't before, and learn new skills under a time pressure again.
Why do I want to Hack like Heck?
To prove to myself that I can build more inspiring things than breakout boards haha. Nah, my motivation is the obvious. I want to prove to Element14 that I can produce interesting content before a deadline, and that I have what it takes to become the next Ben Heck for Element14. Developing a similar show to Ben's in my own style is something I've thought about for a couple of years now, and this seems like the best opportunity I may ever get to chase that. I have such an intense passion for inspiring others to make things, both for practical use and for whimsy, and I hope that I can use that to encourage more adults and children to explore the practical side of STEM careers.
Importantly, I see electronics as one of the most fundamental skills makers and engineers should understand and appreciate if they are are going to make technology for others. I have a lot of interest in designing around the user experience, encouraging others to consider the commercial viability of their project, and of course an interest in exploring new and novel digital fabrication techniques. But at the same time, I've learnt that electronics are incredibly neat. You can often develop a functional prototype for an idea with just electronics (and code most of the time) before you even need to go too deep into the mechanical side of things, and that is very powerful when it comes to testing ideas fast.
I aim to post at least half a dozen blog updates over the course of this build. Some of them may be pretty short – I have to save some things for the video after all – and some may focus more on what I hope to make in the future for the entertainment of the community here. Regardless, they should all be interesting in their own way. You can see where I should be up to in the table below so you can follow along, and also let me know if you have any suggestions, comments, or questions in the comment section!
|Stage 1: Declaration of Intent & Outline|
|"Failing to plan is planning to fail," so it's probably best to avoid that. It's relatively easy to work backwards from the final deadline though once you know the different tasks that need to be done.. so that has been done! There was also a few other official tasks that needed to be done.||9th March, 2018|
|Stage 2: Begin Case Design||Done||Whilst waiting to find out if I have won the BOM Ben used in his original build, I will begin testing different designs using a laser cutter or 3D printer. The SN35 won't be the same size as the original controller because of the screen, so I need to establish how big I can actually go before it becomes too awkward to use. (UPDATE: almost everything about this summary was wrong...)||21th March, 2018|
|Stage 3: Find Components||WIP||Once I know what parts I do or don't have access to, I will begin working on figuring out the rest of the BOM needed for my own build. So far, I know I will need a DAC if I want speakers as I am using a RPi0, and possibly an Atmel or TI chip (personal preference) of some description for the analog joysticks.||22nd March, 2018|
|Stage 4: Design the PCB||WIP||To have any chance of being able to order a PCB and have it shipped to me in time, I need to have the PCB designed and ready to order about a week and a half prior to needing it for assembly and debugging. Otherwise it will be the UV resist method for me!||23rd March, 2018|
|Stage 5: Fabricate the Enclosure||Pending||Once I am (hopefully) waiting for the PCB to arrive, I'll move onto finalising the case design, printing/cutting it, and possibly paint it. Any guesses on how many last minute changes I will have to make? Bodging it for the win!||26th March, 2018|
|Stage 6: Mad Assembly Skillz||Pending||In an ideal world, I'd have the project itself totally built and finished by the Wednesday before the video should be submitted. In a realistic one, it will probably end up finished being assembled by the Saturday.||28th March, 2018|
|Stage 7: Upload Final Video & Vote!||Pending||With some luck, I'll aim to have the weekend before the deadline to start and finish the production of the video (the actual recording will take place most of the month). Ironically, this is also around the same time my universities makerspace is supposed to re-open... ah universe, why make things difficult?||Video due: 2nd April, 2018|
- Github coming soon. Maybe.
Want to know more? Ask in the comments below and tag me! binaryben