Make: Online

How Can Sony Extend an Olive Branch to Makers, Hackers, and Innovators?

Pt 101201

We’ve been covering Sony and their “war” on makers, hackers and innovators for awhile here and I wanted to share a thoughtful reader email, Kyle writes in…

On your post RE: Sony and GitHub/Linux on PS3, you and I had a bit of a spirited discussion. At the end of it, you encouraged me to write an email on how Sony can change for the better for makers. Well here is that email.

Sony’s biggest problem, is also why they have been successful. They are huge. It is hard not to consider purchasing Sony products when you are in the market for electronics because they generally make a good product at a good price. I think that you said this the best when you wrote “If you’re over the age of 25 you likely have a long history with Sony. They were the company we all had something from.” As companies grow larger, they typically become more litigious because they face lawsuits from people wanting a perceived piece of their success, and they also have to protect the products that they have innovated.

Keep reading… and post your suggestions in the comments!

It is rare for a company Sony’s size to stay nimble with changing technology and stay ahead of the game. This makes someone that is able to innovate based upon their products a threat. (Apple is probably one of the few exceptions to this, they have innovated and been able to be at the front of technology movements time after time, but it does not make them any less litigious.) So, how does a company that is large and ‘threatened’ by innovation embrace the maker movement?

Software Developer Kits are a good beginning. When Nintendo made the Wii, they were unprepared for the onslaught of makers trying to use their software in creative ways. Nintendo tried to continually update the Wii with system updates to thwart people from modifying the console, but did not make changes to their Bluetooth controllers and the maker community thrived. Microsoft also quickly reacted when this same thing start to happen with the release of the Kinect. Microsoft saw the community start to buy and “hack” the Kinect controller, they used their knowledge of working with software developers to release a Kinect SDK. This is the first avenue that is open for Sony to welcome makers back to their hardware. And it is not unprecedented within Sony, look at their Chumby-based Dash. They are encouraging writing applications for it at:

Open Source/Open Hardware is a tougher hill to climb for a company that has focused on closed source for as long as Sony has. They currently see that anyone that builds item X out of a Sony product as competition, I am guessing that internally someone has realized that Sony hardware modified to become item X is still a sale of a Sony product, but it’s hard to embrace that change. Sony has taken a small baby step in this direction by making their PS3 games region free, this shows that they understand the benefits of region free systems but the people pushing this internally have only gotten a little traction. Maybe Sony could look at releasing and supporting a firmware that vitrualizes the internal hardware of the PS3 so that the OtherOS option could safely become available again without direct access to the internal system hardware.

Finally, Sony could attempt to connect with maker groups and make available some older/depricated hardware specifications. They could even hold a contest to highlight some of the neat remakes/new products that could be produced on this hardware. If they positioned themselves correctly, it may be a “Stand on the shoulders of giants” moment, where Sony would be recognized for building a foundation for these new ideas.

As much as I would love to see this happen, corporate culture is historically glacially slow to implement changes. One thing that could impact their corporate culture faster than internal change is a repeal of the DMCA. If Sony (and other corporations) can no longer sue people because of this set of laws, they will have to adapt and the above options go from risky to safe bets. For the DCMA to be repealed and the club taken out of these corporations hands will require every maker/hacker to use their voices, dollars and votes to say that we are “for the people by the people”, not for the corporations by the people. If someone is hitting you with a stick, you can either take it away and end the issue, or start an arms race by getting a bigger stick. I think it is time to stop the arms race and just take away the stick!

Post your thoughts in the comments!


The ProtoSnap, Sparkfun’s New ‘Duino

I spent today at EYEO Festival in Minneapolis, a really cool interactive conference with an awesome makery twist. One of the seminars was Sparkfun’s introduction of a sweet new Arduino configuration they call the ProtoSnap. The cost was a hilariously low $20, but they were donating all the money to the Science Museum of Minnesota.

The basic idea is that you can snap apart all the components like, Arduino Pro Mini, buzzer, switch, and so on. Mysteriously, the ProtoSnap doesn’t have a web page or catalog entry for it yet, nor has Sparkfun sent out a press release. Eventually, presumably, they’ll sell ‘em but who knows how much they’ll be?


Arduino Goes to War

Shown uppermost is the first prototype of a handheld artillery spotting device developed as a student capstone project at West Point. The blue board to upper left is pretty clearly an Arduino Mega. You can see, in the near upper corner of that board, where the DC power jack has been desoldered and the pads hardwired (presumably) to a battery pack.. The system, called DemonEye, is now reportedly undergoing field testing:

West Point cadet Derek Wales, an electrical engineering major, was watching Internet video of a firefight in Afghanistan and saw that U.S. soldiers pinpointing enemy snipers for artillery fire were fumbling with GPS equipment and compasses. Wales, with fellow EE majors John Eischer and George Hopkins, designed a lightweight target-location module. Called DemonEye, the device incorporates a laser rangefinder, digital compass, GPS and mini computer to calculate target locations rapidly and accurately. Using commercial off-the-shelf components, the DemonEye prototype cost $1,000.

Hack a Day reader and cybersecurity blogger Miguel A. Hernandez gets credit for the spot. Good lookin’ out, Miguel!


Math Monday: Star Sphericon

By George Hart for the Museum of Mathematics


A sphericon is a shape that you get by: (1) rotating a symmetric polygon about a mirror axis to get a solid of revolution, (2) cutting the solid into two equal pieces, and (3) putting the pieces back together differently. With a lathe or a 3D printing machine, it is easy to make many kinds of sphericons, with different starting polygons. Here is one based on a star.

Start by rotating an ordinary 5-pointed star about any of its five mirror lines to create a kind of funny hat. Now cut the hat in half to reveal the original star cross section. I designed these halves to include cylindrical recesses for small magnets. I glued five magnets with North outwards in one half and five with South outwards on the other half. Other than that, the halves are identical.

Because the star is symmetrical, the two parts can be put back together in five different ways. One way is the “hat” shape above and the others are simple to describe yet surprisingly difficult to visualize.

Two of the ways are basically different and the other two are just their mirror images. They each follow a meandering path when you roll them on a flat surface.

If you have access to a 3D printer, the STL file to make your own copies of this star sphericon are here.

See all of George Hart’s Math Monday columns


Direct Recycling of PET Bottles as Product Packaging

I have very little information about this project, but it appears to be the work of a Brazilian designer who goes by veroicono. If you are s/he, or know anything about him/her, any info you can provide in the comments below or by e-mail will be appreciated. This is a cool idea, and I want to make sure the right person gets credit for it. [Thanks, Kevin Groce!]



DIY Fiber Optic Chandelier

MAKE subscriber Bill from Rochester, NY, created this cool chandelier that can be programmed via XBee.


In the Maker Shed: USB Infrared Toy

USB Infrared Toy

The USB Infrared Toy, available in the Maker Shed, is an assembled, open source, USB infrared remote control receiver/transmitter designed by DangerousPrototypes. Use it as a remote control with your computer, to view infrared signals on a logic analyzer, to capture and clone infrared signals, and to play IR codes. Alternate firmware also allows it to be used as a TV-B-Gone. Consider it a real universal remote. (Note: Does not include 5 pin programming header.)


Cream-of-the-crop DIY Softbox Designs

Thanks to Flickr user Matt Jones for hipping me to Udi Tirosh’s recent homemade softbox design contest over on For those, like myself, who may be unsure, a “softbox” or “soft box” is simply a diffuse lighting source for taking photos, commonly with a reflective interior and one or more diffusing panels that scatter the light and help prevent it from casting harsh shadows. The contest had seventy submissions, reportedly, and Udi has winnowed it down to his top 24. My personal favorite is one of the runners-up, shown above, by Minneapolis photographer Frank Syse. It consists of two bright CFL bulbs, an IKEA lamp cordset, a socket Y-adapter, and a cut-and-paste foamcore box.



Transform a Student Desk into a Spin Art Station

SpinArt Desk
If these little student desks conjure up images of exams, sustained silent reading, and learning fractions, take a look at Pete Mills’ SpinArt Desk, which puts an artistic “spin” on these boring mini workstations. Pete found the desk for $10 at a local ReUse Center and added a box fan motor to make a piece of furniture that creates art suitable for proud display on the kitchen ‘fridge. As a nice touch, Pete used spin art to embellish the desktop, ridding it of its academic look even when the lid is closed.

Build the Giant Spin Art Rig from MAKE Volume 25


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