News From The Future: RFID In Your Food…


News From The Future: RFID In Your Food

What if your food were as rich in information as it is in nutrients? That’s the vision of an art student who recently  demonstrated online a prototype of a system where an edible chip embedded in your lunch communicates its nutritional information, provenance, travel miles, and so on to your phone via a reader in the plate. With this system, people could check ingredient lists for allergens, tally up the carbon footprint of their meal, or figure out whether they’ll still have calories left for dessert.

Sound fanciful? Perhaps. But such   radio-frequency identification chips, which are best known for use in automatic toll-paying devices and some credit cards, can be found in all sorts of unlikely places today, from hotel towels to casino chips to people. And there is in fact an edible version— Kodak patented it in 2007. The day when cupcakes reveal their secrets to your phone might not be as far off as you think.


Too Much Homework, Not Enough Time to be a Kid

My wife and I transferred our 13-year-old daughter to a new school this fall because her homework load was insane. She would come home from school, go to her room and do homework every night until 11 pm. She also did homework on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It was stressful for the entire family.

Ironically, the thing that triggered our decision to change schools was watching a screening of Race to Nowhere, a documentary about the national epidemic of homework overload, which her old school presented in the auditorium.

Now that she’s in a new “project-based” school that has much less homework, she has time to be a kid again and explore her interests in the same way I did as a kid her age. She spends much more time drawing, reading for pleasure, playing with her younger sister, and enjoying dinner with the family.

Here’s a statement from the filmmaker, Vicki Abeles:

When I first set out to create Race to Nowhere, I wanted to spark a meaningful conversation about how our pressure-cooker culture is resulting in an array of unintended consequences that are negatively affecting our children and our future.

Our children’s current and future health and preparation shouldn’t be sacrificed because of the narrow way we have come to define success. We need to pay more attention to helping our youth grow creatively, physically, socially and emotionally and we need education practices and policies that are innovative and reflect the latest positive research on teaching, learning and child development.

Here’s a video about the documentary and about the grassroots “Stop Homework” movement.


Light Painting a B-25 Bomber

LA Photographer Eric Curry’s series American Pride and Passion is just beautiful. Each piece is achieved using a very simple technique: The scene is staged in darkness, a camera positioned to record it, and different parts individually illuminated—say, with a flashlight—while a long exposure is recorded. The many resulting images are composited in appropriate software, and with considerable artistry, to create the glowing, ethereally-lit finished pieces.

This video nicely illustrates the process. Besides his evident talents as a photographer, Curry is a fairly skilled narrator, and a pleasure to listen to. Apart from vast patience, all that’s really required to do what he does is a digital camera and a computer with basic photo-editing software. [via]


Win a Mintronics MintDuino Kit and a MintyBoost!

Readers of the Weekend Projects Newsletter (sign up below!) have already been aware of this new giveaway challenge for a couple days, but now we’re opening the challenge to the wider public and upping the ante in the hopes of seeing some really sweet mods. The rules are simple but the challenge is great. Start one of our Weekend Projects with a rating of ‘moderate’ or ‘difficult’ and take it to the next level! In return, you could win a MintDuino and a MintyBoost kit from the Maker Shed for your efforts.

Ideas for project mods include embedding LEDs into a circuit-bent toy, perhaps powering that same toy with 3V of solar power, building an awesome stage-worthy enclosure for your Light Theremin, or devising a new function for our latest project the 555 Timer Ball Whacker! Anybody who successfully completes the Whack-a-Mole Game project would also qualify. Because of the value of this giveaway, please email us your ideas before you start building to see if your mod would qualify, as we’re limiting these prizes to the projects that impress.

The response we’ve gotten for our previous challenge in this series has been good, and in fact, we still have a few notebooks to giveaway from that challenge. But now we’re really looking for some “Aha!” projects that dazzle and amaze.

Sign up below for the Weekend Projects Newsletter to access the projects before anybody else does, get tips, see other makers’ builds, and more.

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See all of the RadioShack Weekend Projects posts (to date)


How to Build Giant Space Invaders as Public Art

Img 0712

I asked Jason Torchinsky, one of my favorite makers/artists, to describe how he built his gigantic Space Invader sculptures for the IndieCade Festival (the international conference festival of independent games taking place October 7-9 in Los Angeles). Jason used the original space invaders shapes as templates and scaled them up to one pixel per square foot. Here’s how he did it:

Img 0695The most important thing I learned while building Invaded! is also the most obvious: big things are big, heavy, and hard to move. We all know this, of course, but knowing it while making sketches in your notebook and knowing it while desperately trying to manhandle a 12′ x 8′ x 3′ wooden space invader into a truck is a vastly different thing.

Img 0625
My goal for these sculptures was to make something that would reference video games and just be fun to be surrounded by. They’re what I imagined happened after every Space Invaders game I played ended — the few remaining invaders make it to the surface and then, you know, hang around. In victory.

Invaded Sketch2
I suspect that my entry was selected by the IndieCade commission because of how basic it is. As outdoor works, the Invaders have to stand up to rain, sun, and all the abuses the general public likes to dish out to unattended objects. These Invader sculptures are built like wildly impractical outdoor sheds, so they’re well suited to outdoor living. They’re built from wood (or as I like to call it, “tree meat”) — specifically 3/4″ and 1/2″ plywood and many, many 2x4s — and lots of caulk. The basic structure is formed by the shaped faces, cut from multiple 4′ x 8′ panels of 3/4″ plywood, then held together with a series of 3′ 2×4 stringers, mounted mostly at the corners, of which, in something pixellated, there are many.

Invaded Earlyconceptsketch
The scale was determined by taking a single pixel and scaling it up to one square foot. All the pixel patterns are pretty much exactly from the original game, save for the saucer, which would have turned out to be 16 feet wide, and I just couldn’t manage something that big. The 12 foot wide invader was bad enough. 

Img 1616Another important lesson I learned that may prove useful to anyone deluded enough to make things this big is that the level of precision possible with plywood and hand tools isn’t great. At best, it seems to be about 1/8” of precision for cuts, and this is made worse if your working surface isn’t particularly level. Mine wasn’t. At all. I built these on an old brick driveway, and that alone made keeping the 90° angles square a nightmare of disappointingly diagonal lines. 

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I’m pleased with how they turned out, and people seem to like them, so far. When I looked at them before I placed them on site, all I could see were seams, paint drips, wonky edges, and lumps of screw heads. The good news is that in context, at this scale, those things sort of blur away. I’m sure a professional cabinet maker could have done these perfectly, but money and time made that impossible. 

If I had to do it again I’d make them in sections, for easier transport. Also, if anybody thinks they may enjoy one of these in their yard, home, or yacht, let me know! You just may be able to get a deal!

The Indiecade Conference and Festival runs from October 7-9, 2011


DNA Makers: Dawei Lin (video)

Dawei Lin studies DNA at UC, but also started building Lego models of DNA as a teaching tool for his young daughter. At Maker Faire Bay Area 2011 he displays the various DNA models he’s made, while explaining that the act of construction can often be the most valuable learning tool for many different topics.

Subscribe to the Maker Faire Podcast in iTunes, download the m4v
directly, or watch it on YouTube and Vimeo.

Check out more videos from Maker Faire Bay Area 2011.


Scratchbuilt: USS Enterprise CVN-65

Sixteen feet long, five feet wide, and four feet tall, this 1/72 replica of the US Navy’s “Big E” represents nineteen years of builder Gabriel Suryani’s hobby, and has been called “something that is close to the limits a single modeler can achieve.” It was featured on the 15th anniversary cover of Fine Scale Modeler, in 1997, the same year that Mr. Suryani himself was hosted aboard the real Enterprise for 2 days, compliments of the captain, in recognition of his work. No one photo is likely to do the model justice; fortunately this detailed page at has over 100. Be careful—it’s a major click-trap.


New in the Maker Shed: littleBits Starter Kit

Two days after littleBits big announcements we have the littleBits Starter Kit available in the Maker Shed! These unique, space sensitive modules provide a simple, intuitive avenue into electronics. Each bit has a function (light, sound, sensors, buttons, thresholds, pulse, motors, etc), and modules snap together to make larger circuits. The kit includes 10 color coded modules (power, input, output, and wire) that snap together magnetically. The addictive fun of the littleBits Kit is guaranteed to keep kids (or you) occupied for hours. Comes beautifully packaged in an attractive case with a magnetic (of course) closure. Includes instruction sheet and a 9v battery.


Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Today I’m thinking about my older sister, an electrical engineer and all-around brilliant person who influenced me hugely growing up. I owe a lot of my geeky interests to her. So, sis, happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Who is your heroine?

Do you remember which women have influenced you over the years?

Perhaps your maths teacher, one of your university lecturers, or a colleague?

This Ada Lovelace Day on October 7, share your story about a woman — whether an engineer, a scientist, a technologist or mathematician — who has inspired you to become who you are today. Write a blog post, record a podcast, film a video, draw a comic, or pick any other way to talk about the women who have been guiding lights in your life. Give your heroine the credit she deserves!

Who was Ada? Ada Lovelace, AKA Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programs for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.

If you do anything at all this Ada Day, you have to check out Adafruit Industries‘ coverage of the event, as they mark each hour with a post describing another brilliant woman. If you have a daughter, niece, little sister, or heck, know anyone male or female who might be interested in technology, introduce them to these awesome role models. Plus, if you use the code ADA11 you can get 10% off at the Adafruit Store.

Please leave a comment describing your favorite woman engineer, programmer, technologist, hacker, mathematician, teacher, or whomever has influenced you with her love for technology!


MakeShift 27 Deadline in Three Weeks

The deadline to turn in solutions for Volume 27′s MakeShift challenge is in three weeks – October 28! Put on your thinking caps. You need to figure out a way to provide safe drinking water for your family after an accident at the nuclear power plant upstream from you.

The Scenario: You’ve just returned to your country home from a shopping trip to town, some 20 miles upriver, with all the fixings for a weekend barbecue with your family, including a fresh bag of your favorite mesquite charcoal and some other sundries: coffee filters, kitty litter for your pet Persian, Sheba, and some fresh aquarium sand for your daughter’s collection of goldfish — all of whom she’s named Moby Dick. No sooner are you in the door than the power goes out. And, calling the electric company to report the outage, you quickly discover the loss of power is now the least of your worries.

There’s been a serious accident at the nuclear power plant 5 miles upriver from town, and radioactive steam is now escaping into both the air and the river. Containment of the leak and restoration of power are both currently indefinite. You are advised to stay indoors and drink only bottled water until further notice, as they now presume the river water is contaminated well past your location.

The Challenge: You consider getting everyone into the car and evacuating. But, given the prevailing winds, your only way out would certainly put you right in the path of the leak — so that’s really not an option. And while your large house can be sealed up easily — and there’s enough food for a week or more if need be — aside from some beer and a few bottles of soda, you have no bottled water! So what are you going to drink? You must devise a way to provide enough safe drinking water for your family of four to weather the crisis for at least a week.

What You’ve Got: In addition to everything mentioned, you have a garage full of tools, a 5-gallon plastic jug your family uses to collect spare change, and anything else that would normally be found in a typical house. So prepare to hunker down, break out the board games, and protect your nuclear family. Good luck (to all of us).

Send a detailed description of your MakeShift solution with sketches and/or photos to by Oct. 28, 2011. If duplicate solutions are submitted, the winner will be determined by the quality of the explanation and presentation. The most plausible and most creative solutions will each win a MAKE T-shirt and a MAKE Pocket Ref. Think positive and include your shirt size and contact information with your solution. Good luck! For readers’ solutions to previous MakeShift challenges, visit

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