“The Amp Hour” Turns One

Congrats to The Amp Hour on a year of podcasts. 52 weeks and 52 episodes of electronic goodness!

Dave Jones from the EEVblog in Sydney Australia, and Chris Gammell in Cleveland Ohio USA discuss the world of electronics design in an hour long weekly show (The Amp HOUR, get it?), recorded “live” without editing or a mute button!
Also joined occasionally by Jeff Keyzer from Mightyohm, along with other special guests.

The Amp Hour is a non-scripted off-the-cuff format show that usually airs every Tuesday evening US time. It is the worlds largest and most respected electronics-oriented radio show.

Discussions range from hobbyist electronics to the state of the electronics industry, components, circuit design, and general on and off-topic rants.


Maker Faire Detroit: Interview with John Dunivant of Theatre Bizarre

Theatre Bizarre Detroit

The beauty of Maker Faire is that you never know what you might see there, but you’re guaranteed that it’s all a perfect fit. Our second Maker Faire Detroit is taking place this weekend, July 30 and 31, at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. One maker who likes to think big is John Dunivant, and his Theatre Bizarre will no doubt have a memorable presence at the Faire.

1. Tell us about Theatre Bizarre: what it is, how it started, and how you’ll be bringing it to Maker Faire.
Theatre Bizarre is an underground, illegal Halloween masquerade that’s been growing on the edge of Detroit since the turn of the century. It started when I was ejected from my old studio space and I needed to find a spot for my annual Halloween party. Ken Poirier (my current partner in Theatre Bizarre) had some land just south of the old Michigan State Fairgrounds and I managed to convince him to let me invade it. Since then, it just sort of blew up.

As for how we’ll be bringing Theatre Bizarre to Maker Faire, we have an old NYC Transit accordion bus that we’ll be using as an anchor to build a stage and a banner wall, complete with flamethrowers and our main stage marquee. We’ll be presenting some of our favorite acts on the stage alongside the record-breaking hi-striker that Grant Johnston built for the us. From what we’ve been able to determine, it’s the world’s tallest one and it shoots fire all the way up. It’s worth the price of admission all on its own.

2. Creating an immersive environment of this scale is a huge undertaking. How did the initial vision come to you? Did it grow to scale organically?
Theatre Bizarre grew out of my love of roadside attractions. I love simulated environments — dioramas, fake historical sites, amusement park attractions – so I wanted to build a place that ten-year-old-me would love. When we had that first party on the current grounds, I knew that I was on the way to having the playground I’d always wanted. It gets bigger every year. Last year, we added a vintage Ferris wheel and we built a ghost town — it’s got a bank, a whorehouse, an undertaker. It’s some of our best work. Unfortunately no one got to see it because the city shut us down before the show.

3. How has Theatre Bizarre continued on after the physical space was shut down?
Theatre Bizarre seems to be unkillable. Last year, we moved the entire show to the Fillmore within 24 hours of being shut down. Since then, we’ve launched and a documentary that’s currently being produced by Big Bang Films. And as far as the future of the show is concerned, there are big, secret things in the works.

Theatre Bizarre Detroit

4. How many artists are involved in Theatre Bizarre and how do you all collaborate?
The overall vision of Theatre Bizarre is mine. I design the grounds and paint all the signs and props, but I do work with other artists. In addition to Grant (who’s building the hi-striker), there’s Len Von Speedcult, who loans us his roller coaster and fire cages. There’s Dave Presnell, who sculpted and built our animatronic Fiji Mermaid and does a lot of our custom makeup. There’s Brett Carson, who’s our photographer, and there’s Kevin Skinner, who helps with printed materials and web stuff. Nichole Davila sews our costumes. There are too many people to mention them all because there are also tons of craftspeople and other volunteers who bring the whole thing together. Some are artists. Some are performers. Some are just Halloween enthusiasts. As for how we collaborate, it’s impossible to describe. It changes every day, but it always works out in the end.

5. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you decide to participate?
We heard about Maker Faire through BoingBoing. Why did we want to participate? How could we not?

Theatre Bizarre John Dunivant

6. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
I’ve got a bachelor’s in illustration from the College for Creative Studies here in Detroit. Painting is my first (and ongoing) love. I’ve always made things: Halloween costumes, toys… if you’re an artist, you’re probably a maker. My inspirations are all over the place: The Grand Guinol, medical illustration, religious iconography, 70s horror movies, and of course The Henry Ford Museum. It’s a real honor to be setting up shop there if only for a weekend. The village here, and all the places like it from my childhood, continue to inspire me to this day. My dream is to have a full-scale, fully immersive amusement park that’s just as complete and exacting as Greenfield Village.

7. Is your project strictly a hobby or a budding business? Does it relate to your day job?
Theatre Bizarre has never been a huge moneymaker. Being an illegal, once-a-year event just isn’t a good business model. Plus, my desire to make it better every year means that we pour pretty much every penny we make into the grounds. But, now that we’ve been forced out into the light, we’re looking for ways to keep the show going, so it’d be fair to call it a budding business. It’s also my current day job, so it relates pretty directly.

8. What do you love most about Detroit?
I love that it took them a decade to care that we were running a fire-spitting carnival in the shadow of the old fairgrounds. I love that the people who shut us down regretted it even as they were doing it. I love that everyone is pulling together to keep us alive. I love the community of people who come to Theatre Bizarre, who build Theatre Bizarre, and who treat Theatre Bizarre as their family. What do I love most about Detroit? Every goddamn thing.

Theatre Bizarre Detroit

Thanks John!

For all the information you need to attend the Faire this weekend, head on over to the Maker Faire Detroit site.


OpenPCR in the Wild!

It’s a delight to see OpenPCR already on so many desktops! Josh and I spent the past year staring at mostly-disassembled prototypes, with wires all over the place. It makes it all worthwhile to see everyone assembling their kits, posting pictures of them, and having a blast doing so. At the end of this post, there are several pictures that I thought you’d enjoy — OpenPCR around the world!

Here are a couple of examples of what’s going on with OpenPCR just two weeks after shipping:

  • A high school in Hawaii is testing for genetically-modified foods, with plans to upgrade to identifying and tracking non-native species.
  • A college professor in Missouri is booting up her biotech class + gel electrophoresis and has successfully amplified DNA
  • A biotech company in Utah has amplified DNA to successfully test OpenPCR
  • OpenPCR assembled by Singularity University students in Mountainview, California

How you can help

Over the past year, we’ve designed, engineered, and shipped our first product. We’re now seeking seed funding to take our company to the next level (and build some more awesome stuff). If you know someone who would be interested in investing in OpenPCR, we’d love an introduction. Email me ( or send your friends to AngelList.

Also, note that we’ve raised the price of OpenPCR from $512 to $599. This allows us to get OpenPCR out to distributors around the world — if you’ve got a shop, give us a holler (

Join the OpenPCR Google group to chat. We’ve got some great conversations brewing and we’d love to hear from you.


OpenPCR pcr machine in the wild First OpenPCR assembled OpenPCR pcr machine at Singularity University OpenPCR pcr machine thermal cycler

From the OpenPCR Blog

Bio: MAKE citizen science author Tito Jankowski works on making biotech easier to do, including developing open source tools for gel electrophoresis and a thermal cycler. Got other citizen science or garage biotech projects you want to hear more about? Comment on this article in comments or email him at tito at


5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Things About Becky Stern

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Becky Stern never turns off. Her creativity is as boundless as her energy. She is constantly putting together tutorials, moderating comments, creating videos, teaching, and making incredible objects for her online shop. Everything that Becky does is accurate, measured, and legit- even her abstract art has a purpose and is well reasoned. She is determined to understand everything from knitting machines to welding machines, but understanding them is never enough. Becky masters them.

One Project You Are Particularly Proud Of

1: My ASCII heart necklace: one of my more balanced combinations of tech and craft.

Two Mistakes You’ve Made in the Past

1: In college I worked as a computer lab tech on campus. One sleep-deprived shift during finals, I forgot to retrieve the department’s new presentation laptop from a classroom before the end of the night, and it was stolen. Since the building was under construction, the security camera network was down and the laptop was lost forever. I felt so terrible about it. I’ve since established a “when in doubt, lock it down” philosophy toward computers, cameras, bikes, and other valuables. It was the only major mistake I had ever made on duty there, and my then-boss let me keep my job. (Thanks, Dave!)

2: Letting YouTube comments get to me: MAKE has a quarter million subscribers on YouTube, and they sure are chatty. Something about YouTube attracts the lowest of the trolls, and the hurtful comments used to get to me. Not anymore! My skin has grown thick and now all I see are Halloween costume suggestions like La Roux or Ron Weasley.

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Three Things That Make Your Work Unique

1: Alpha nerd: I work comfortably across disciplines in tech and craft.

2: Documentation: If it’s not online, it might as well not exist. I take pride in meticulous project videos, photos, and how-to instructions.

3: My sense of humor: I hope it comes across in projects like my Vicodin jewelry, laptop compubody sock, and Twitchie scorpion.

Four Tools You Love to Use

1: Olfa utility knife: Essentially a pro boxcutter, this thing holds its blade super steady and cuts like a hot knife through butter.

2: Olympus E-P2 camera: I wouldn’t be caught dead without my hip-snapping HD video-enabled sharp-shooter.

3: Foredom flex shaft: This pedal-operated rotary tool is like a Dremel on steroids, essential for jewelry production.

4: Rawhide jewelry mallet: This small soft-ish mallet doesn’t leave marks when I use it to flatten silver pieces against a steel anvil.

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Five Inspirations

1: New York City – always moving, provides a sense of urgency.

2: My coworkers – some of the most creative, hardworking people on the planet.

3: Fear: If it makes me nervous or uncomfortable, there must be something there to learn or explore. For example: knee surgery, scorpions, power tools, and fire.

4: The pursuit of new skills: I love to learn new creative techniques, and will seek out the people who can teach me.

5: Maker Faire: The inspirational awesomeness factor at Maker Faire is off the chart. At every turn is sheer maker joy, and it’s impossible to leave without the strong urge to go straight to the studio and get making.


Tool Review: ScreenFlow


When documenting how to make a technology project that involves the computer, it can sometimes feel a little tedious describing how to get things done within a particular program. On the other hand, glazing over those details can leave many people feeling intimidated by what sounds like a complex process. In those cases, recording a screen capture is an excellent way to show the process. ScreenFlow 2.1 for Mac OS X by Telestream helps you produce and share high quality screencasts with little fuss.

The application opens with a few simple recording options. In addition to recording the screen, you can have it record a video input (such as from a webcam), a separate audio input, and your computer’s audio. You don’t have to use these video and audio tracks in your final output, but of course if you don’t choose to record them now, you can’t use them later. After selecting your options and hitting the record button, you’re given a five second countdown and then the app disappears into a menu bar item while it records your screencast.

When you’re done with your recording, ScreenFlow opens your screencast as an editable document. If you’re at all familiar with non-linear video editing software, the interface will feel very familiar, complete with a timeline, preview window, and a tool palette. The best thing about ScreenFlow is the other paradigm it borrows from non-linear video editing software: non-destructive editing. Put simply, no matter how you modify your screencast within ScreenFlow, the source footage is left untouched and you can always go back to it. For example, when you record, ScreenFlow records the entire contents of your screen. If you decide you want to show the contents of a single, smaller window, you can crop out the rest of the screen. Let’s say that you decide later that you want to show the whole screen again, you can simply modify the cropping. ScreenFlow will not discard what you’ve cropped out.

The editing features within ScreenFlow are surprisingly powerful. They let you cut together different screen, video, and audio recordings; either back-to-back or simultaneously. For example, ScreenFlow automatically creates a picture-in-picture window of your webcam over the screencast if you chose to have it record from the webcam. Users who are familiar with key framing may feel a little confused by ScreenFlow’s analogy, the “action.” This feature lets you change properties of a clip over time and it helps give your screencast a nice polish. To give one example, you can have your screencast start with a full screen view of your desktop and then zoom into a particular window at whatever speed you want. While the feature doesn’t work exactly the way users of Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects would expect, getting used to the difference takes no time at all.

Another killer feature of ScreenFlow is its ability to output to a wide variety of video formats. You can export a YouTube-ready clip directly from the application, or you can export to a format that will behave better in a non-linear editor. While there is an abundance of video export presets that you can modify, I wish that I could add and rename presets for my own custom export settings.

ScreenFlow has become an indispensable tool for creating high-quality screencasts from my Mac (sorry Windows users, there’s no version for you). Initially, I wasn’t sure if I should sink $99 into a screen capture application when cheaper options exist, but the excellent output quality and the generous feature set of ScreenFlow make it a great value. For those of you who are on the fence about the product, Telestream offers a fully functional trial download which watermarks the exported video.


Weekend Projects: USB Webcam Microscope

Do you want to build some sweet projects in next-to-no time, over the weekend? Of course you do. Look no further than the new Weekend Projects section of Make: Projects, brought to you by RadioShack and The Great Create. Each week over the coming months we’ll be building clever, fun, mostly beginner-friendly, electronics projects. Using recommended parts sourced from RadioShack — along with other parts and tools you may already have in your shop or studio — we’ll be detailing projects you can build in a weekend — this weekend! We’re excited to get things rolling with this webcam-enabled microscope hack.

Within a few hours work, you’ll graft a webcam onto a microscope and be able to see, up close on your monitor, everything from microfibers in currency to trichome (hairs) on plants from your garden. This hack also allows you to utilize webcam software to capture screenshots or record video.

Sign up for the Weekend Projects Newsletter below to access the projects before anybody else does, get tips, see other makers’ builds, and more. And please email us your project build notes, images, stories, and your own mods. You may end up in a future newsletter!

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Hackerspace Happenings: Power Racing Series Gears Up for Maker Faire

Imagine grown men and women racing souped-up Power Wheels and similar ride-on children’s toy cars. We’re talking about the Power Racing Series (PPPRS), a hackerspace-centric competition that tests makers’ machining and electronics acumen while encouraging style and moxie. Conceived by Jim Burke of PumpingStation:One, the PPPRS has attracted entries from a bunch of Midwestern hackerspaces including Milwaukee Makerspace, Sector67, i3Detroit, and more.

I interviewed Jim to find out what it was all about:

John: Tell us a little about the Power Racing Series.

Jim: The Power Racing Series is a sort-of racing series where makers and hackers compete with heavily modified children’s electric ride-on toy cars over a gauntlet of races for not-too-incredible prizes. Teams have a $500 budget to convert a stock Power Wheel (or Little Tikes or other brands) and add bigger batteries, faster motors, and a whole lot of moxie to squeeze themselves into their newly christened pint-sized racing machines. They face off in drag races, road courses and a climatic 75-minute endurance race as they beat (with foam swords), break, or sometimes catch on fire in their bid for the somewhat glorious championship.

John: Let’s talk names. How exactly do you get PPPRS from Power Racing Series?

Jim: Remember those Power Wheel commercials from the 90s? If so you may recall, the theme tune with an overly excited voice singing “Pow-Pow-Power Wheels.” So we put that kind of enthusiasm in our acronym: PPPRS (Pow-Pow-Power Wheels Racing Series). Of course, for legal reasons, we don’t actually say Power Wheels Racing, but our abbreviation is our nod to that ad.

John: What sorts of components fail in a PPPRS race?

Jim: Well, It would be easier to list what doesn’t fail on a our power wheels. However, if you are looking for the most consistent points of failure you can look no further than the motors and controllers. The cheap motors most teams run love to fry themselves in the July heat. After that, you would look at structural failures from all the extra weight these machines carry via batteries and other components, not to mention the 140 to 220lb makers at the wheel.

John: What is the Constructors’ Championship?

Jim: We have two championships for PPPRS; one Driver’s Championship and one Constructor’s Championship. The Driver’s tallies both race points and Moxie Points while the Constructor’s takes into account strictly race points. So what are Moxie Points? Well, in order to make sure an actual race doesn’t break out we’ve created a crowd-sourced award system that takes into account audience “votes” for what teams they find entertaining, fun, ridiculous, or even a gallant failure. We usually have a PPPRS official walk around with this nifty Arduino -controlled scoreboard o’ buttons during the race and the crowd can select what teams they prefer. This allows teams to have a good time pleasing the crowd out there, while still rewarding teams for building a successful and fast race car. By virtue of this event, speed isn’t everything, but when you work on a car for a few months it is good to get some recognition for it.

John: Why is the PPPRS such a natural fit with the hackerspace scene?

Jim: PPPRS exists for makers. I simply wouldn’t do this if hackerspaces weren’t in some way involved. Rather, I simply couldn’t do this without them. In 2010, when I was goaded by my hackerspace (Pumping Station: One in Chicago) to continue expanding the series to midwest spaces, I was psyched by the idea of using this over-the-top event as an excuse to meet other hackerspaces.

The purpose of the event is to be a serious enough event for people to really put something cool together, but not nearly serious enough for them to get too competitive. Having that balance results in this immensely creative and collaborative environment, where teams are sharing tools, parts and ideas to get everyone on the grid. Teams want everyone to make it, so even if they fried a motor they’re scrambling to help each other out and get back in the race. I wanted that since day one, and the idea of spaces from all over the country getting together and making is the single biggest reward for putting on this event.

John: I saw that you guys got corporate sponsorship in 2010 but aren’t seeking it for 2011, what’s up with that?

Jim: Honestly? It came down to time. Initially I wasn’t planning on doing PPPRS this year. My friend Jordan Bunker and a few of my other friends set out to shoot a documentary this year on the maker movement called Re:Made and I have been focusing all of my spare time helping film and write for that project. It was hard enough to do that with location travel and work a regular full time job, let alone run this event too. However all the other hackerspaces from the prior season contacted me and asked if I could do it again this year because they had so much fun. So I requested the help from a bunch of spaces, namely CCCKC, i3Detroit and Pumping Station:One to help me run the event for this season.

I really intend to bring sponsorship back for next season, but only when I have the time and focus to dedicate to it. This year I was simply spread too thin, but I’m grateful for all the people, hackerspaces and Make for stepping up to help make this possible. There was no way I could have done it without them. So yes, we are running on a very shoe-string budget.

John: How has the PPRS evolved since 2009?

Jim: We started in 2009 with just members from our hackerspace. It was just six teams, and our cars were barely modified but we managed to have a blast with them. We had access to an empty but derelict dirt lot from our landlord and basically set up the event there. It was a massive amount of work and it was the first time I ever ran an event. It was a hot and sticky August weekend, but we managed with drinks, cupcakes and a DJ. There weren’t many spectators but everyone had a great time.

This year we have over 20 teams. It was overwhelming! We’re getting so many requests now that we will have to cap the field number next year and limit how many entries a hackerspace can enter. The more hackerspaces the merrier. In short, these are great “problems” to have.

John: What PPPRS excitement can we expect at Maker Faire Detroit?

Jim: Look out for Sector 67 from Madison, Wisconsin. They have built quite possibly the most impressive machine I’ve ever seen. They are dominating the series currently but they still have a title battle with Milwaukee Makerspace with Grave Digger and Pumping Station: One’s Cop Bike. Also you have the the home-town heroes from i3Detroit and Omni Corp Detroit, and they’ll be fielding a shared total of seven cars this race. It should be very hilarious because I’ve heard rumors that most of them are not racing for wins, but for Moxie. I can’t forget the family-run team Duct Tape & Zip Ties, who have competed successfully in FIRST robotics competitions and are also in the chase this year. There will also be teams from CCCKC, Hack Pittsburgh, All Hands Active, and a few others.

This season featured three events, with two points races; the first was at Kansas City Maker Faire this past June and we had an exhibition race in Milwaukee in May. Our big finale though is at Maker Faire Detroit, so you will get to see new champions crowned next week.

Come on Saturday to see the drag race and the road course race, which will have 2 heats and a 15 lap elimination round. For those of you who are going to be around on Sunday you will be treated to the massive 75 minute endurance race, where teams make it or bust while pushing the absolute limits of their batteries and motors.

Photo credit: Anne Petersen.


Core77 Design Awards DIY/Hack/Mod Winners

Staff Editor Arwen O’Reilly Griffith was recently a judge in the Core77 Design awards. Over on CRAFT, she writes:

The Core77 Design Award DIY/Hack/Mod category winners were just posted. I was one of the jurors, and loved getting to see all of the submissions; we had a hard time choosing the winner! In the end, Tall Furniture carried the day, with its simple but brilliant idea of raising performers up above the audience to transform anywhere into performance space. I was also particularly enamored by the Secret Passageway Light Switch, which used a book as a light switch, and the Nimble, a flexible candle-holder which makes wax clean-up easy. (I want one!) Congrats to the award recipients!


Kickstarter: Thumb Drive That Emulates an Optical Drive

If you have ever tried to install (or re-install) an OS from a thumb-drive on a netbook, small laptop, or other computer without a built-in optical drive, you may have learned the frustrating lesson, as I did, that they are not always hardware equivalent. Many laptops and netbooks will cheerfully boot from an optical drive attached to a USB port, but gronk at the exact same files, or ISO image, on a thumb drive attached to the same port. It’s enough to make you want to throw things. Who wants to buy and keep track of a USB optical drive just for that one purpose?

Which is why this Kickstarter for the IsoStick—a thumbdrive that will fool any machine into thinking it’s an optical drive—is the first Kickstarter I’ve ever pitched in for, and the first one that I’ve ever plugged here. Good luck, folks! [via Hack a Day]


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