The Origins of "Broken" Computers (and Software)

Organisms by Means of Natural Selection

A common misconception with evolution comes from the phrase “survival of the fittest”. It doesn’t mean the fastest or the strongest organism. It’s not about it’s fitness on the race track, it’s about it’s ability to fit in to it’s environment. Whilst some adaptations seem extremely fine tuned, a closer look reveals that organisms have bizarre features and traits. For example the recurrent laryngeal nerve.

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The recurrent laryngeal nerve, branches off from the vagus nerve that sprouts out of the back of a head. Instead of branching off and going directly to the larynx (the voice box), it takes a tour down to the chest, loops under the aortic arch and travels back up to the larynx. This could sprout out earlier and take a direct route to the larynx, but it doesn’t.

In fact it’s true for the the Giraffe too.

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Instead of being a direct 2 inches in length, it’s over several feet. No engineer would ever design a system like that…right? So why is it there? History and legacy.

In our fish-like ancestors the brain, the gills and heart were close together. It was more direct for the laryngeal-equivalent nerve to go from the brain to the gills. But over time, gradually, as the biology of the fish turned in to the biology of a mammal and the neck began to evolve the heart went in to the chest and the laryngeal nerve got “trapped”. There was no reason for the nerve to “jump” from one side of the aortic arch to the other. So when it comes to modern day animals, there’s no way that their going to spontaneously loose this trait. There’s too much legacy genetics.

However if modern futuristic super hero (or super villain) genetic engineers were to design a new giraffe with a short, direct laryngeal nerve, it could be a monumental task. As they tweak one gene, other things may get switched on or off, say the development of the eyes or an extra pair of nipples! They may get it to jump over the aortic arch but it still may be several feet in length. And that may be good enough before resources run out.

The main take away is that external constraints can cause natural or artificial selection to produce seemingly-illogical design decisions. It’s illogical to a modern day engineer, but when you take in the genetic cost to re-write things it just wouldn’t happen. In fact it’s perfectly reasonable why it is the way it is when you take in to consideration the cost and other environmental factors.

Computers and Software by Means of Environmental Selection

Over the course of a career in computer programming you come across bizarre, obscene and down right insecure code. In fact you don’t need to be a developer to hear the latest reports on how the Internet or some device is broken.

The Internet, its protocols, infrastructure and the devices connected to it are good enough to survive in the environment. If it weren’t they wouldn’t be here. They’re fast enough, cheap enough, secure enough, enough to survive and even thrive.

There’s a mix of devices and software out there, for different environments or markets. For the consumer, for the enterprise and for the state. Each with their own constraints on resources, legacy and history.

Every computer program written on a modern operating system is just a veneer of a dizzying spiral of complexity where so many things could go wrong. Each part with so many weaknesses or attack vectors.

These were created by error, lack of time or budget, by poor design or even because of the laws of physics.

Systems, like organisms, can often have glaring problems that can be trivially scoffed at but the cost of creating something that works in all scenarios, in all environments, is easy to use, cheap, is 100% secure and maintainable is unrealistic.

Conclusion

We may get frustrated with patches and updates every time we switch on our device of choice or start our game but there’s so much that could go wrong! It’s everything to do with the environmental pressures in which the computer, phone, operating system or piece of software arises from and how that environment is in constant flux.

A complete rewrite of the anscestry of your computer hardware or software is unlikely to happen!

That Maker Show Ep. 18

Intro

Hello World, and welcome to That Maker Show with me, chalkers, your host to all things new in the maker movement.

This week we’re talking about a new Raspberry Pi, Johnny Five Robots and an awesome Kickstarter project.

Raspberry Pi B+

Monday saw the release of the Raspberry Pi model B+. Described as not ““Raspberry Pi 2″, but rather the final evolution of the original Raspberry Pi.”

It sports 40 GPIO pings, 2 more USB ports, push-push micro SD socket, lower power consumption, better auto and a neater form factor with four squarely-placed mounting holes; all for the same price!

Most resellers had them for launch and they’re still in stock in most places. Ladyada did a full breakdown of improvements, changes and gotchas.

Johnny Five

James of XRobots gave an update on his half size Johnny Five project. James was waiting for J5GURU and team to release the Johnny Five Robot CAD files, which has happened in the last month. Terry, the J5GURU, on his YouTube Channel goes over the history of the project, some awesome 3D printing tips and the current state of the project.

You can get access to the CAD files by emailing Terry. Details are on his Facebook page and on his videos.

Kickstarter of the Week

This week’s awesome Kickstarter project is BiscuitBoard.

BiscuitBoard is a solderless prototyping board. The main idea of the board is that you can make prototypes a lot faster with out the need of soldering.

You simply push the electronic components and wiring through and cut off the excess on the other side of the through-hole.

To illustrate how strong the grip on the components are, they show a wire in the Biscuit board lift a 500ml bottle of liquid. Awesome!

So if you want to rapidly create prototypes after you’ve nailed your breadboarded project, maybe the BiscuitBoard is for you!

Outro

Once again, thanks for watching, remember to subscribe for your weekly dose of maker news.

Notable mentions

Hit me up @chalkers on twitter if you have any stories you’d like me to cover. If they don’t make it into the show I’ll include them as notable mentions in the show notes.

Hosted and Written by: Andrew Chalkley (@chalkers)
Produced by: Michael Poley (@michaelpoley)

That Maker Show Ep. 17

Intro

Hello World, and welcome to That Maker Show with me, chalkers, your host to all things new in the maker movement.

This week we’re talking about DIY Gameboys, phones, crowd fabricated chairs and an awesome Kickstarter project.

PiGRRL

This week Adafruit launched a tutorial to build your own Gameboy clone called the PiGRRL. It uses a Raspberry Pi, a 2.8” TFT screen and a hacked SNES Controller. All you need access to is a 3D printer to print the enclosure. You can load up a NES or MAME emulator and play some 8-bit classics.

FONA

Also this week Adafruit released their first cell phone module FONA. It can be used for voice, SMS and data. It’s only 2G but should be good for most hobbyist projects.

If you’re building your own smart phone or need your project to send you data this module looks like a great solution to your DIY cellular problems.

Makerchairs

Joris Laarman Lab launched the Makerchair, a project to bring full size affordable furniture available to all. By breaking designs into many small parts they were able to radically expand the number of devices for the chairs to be made on. Basically, any consumer 3D printer. The 3D parts can be assembled into a piece of furniture like a big 3D puzzle.

Sign up to their project on Wevovler to get your hands on the beta files.

Kickstarter of the Week

This week’s awesome Kickstarter project is the mBuino.

The mBuino is a keychain based microcontroller. It can be programmed with the online mbed IDE. You can select a plain circuitboard to a fully functional populated board. There’s even pads on the back there you can attach a battery holder for a coin battery.

Outro

Once again, thanks for watching, remember to subscribe for your weekly dose of maker news.

Notable mentions

Hit me up @chalkers on twitter if you have any stories you’d like me to cover. If they don’t make it into the show I’ll include them as notable mentions in the show notes.

Hosted and Written by: Andrew Chalkley (@chalkers)
Produced by: Michael Poley (@michaelpoley)

That Maker Show Ep. 16

Intro

Hello World, and welcome to That Maker Show with me, chalkers, your host to all things new in the maker movement.

This week we’re talking about a Raspberry Pi Star Fox clone, DIY humanoid robots, Xenomorph cosplay and an awesome Kickstarter project.

PiFox

A group of first year students at the Imperial College London came together and created a version of Star Fox from scratch using the ARM assembly language. It’s a bare metal project, meaning there’s no need for an operating system. The game is the only thing that’s running.

For details check out their Github page which includes a pinout for a NES controller.

InMoov Robot

Project platform, Wevolver, shared a video on the InMoov robot. It’s the world’s first Open Source 3D printed humanoid life-sized robot.

You can 3D print it and put it together yourself. This is really amazing!

Go check out the project on the Wevolver site and see what you need to build it!

Alien Cosplay

James Bruton of XRobots is in the middle of a Xenomorph Alien Cosplay project.

In his latest video he shows how he printed the right arm, using Ninjaflex and ABS. In a previous video he did the hand. Subscribe to his channel for hint, tips and tutorials, including how to build your own Iron Man costume.

Kickstarter of the Week

This week’s awesome Kickstarter project is Printeer - a 3D printer for kids and schools.

This 3D printer doesn’t need a PC, complex software or fancy configuration settings. All you need is an iPad, WiFi and your finger.

Children can draw their creations on to the iPad and send them to the printer. This looks like a great first step on the 3d printing ladder for young children.

Outro

Once again, thanks for watching, remember to subscribe for your weekly dose of maker news.

Notable mentions

Hit me up @chalkers on twitter if you have any stories you’d like me to cover. If they don’t make it into the show I’ll include them as notable mentions in the show notes.

Hosted and Written by: Andrew Chalkley (@chalkers)
Produced by: Michael Poley (@michaelpoley)

That Maker Show Ep. 15

Intro

Hello World, and welcome to That Maker Show with me, chalkers, your host to all things new in the maker movement.

This week we’re talking about the National Day of Making, print recycled material, printed tattoos and an awesome Kickstarter project.

White House Maker Faire

Wednesday saw the first White House Maker Faire. A number of people from the Maker Movement were there, from the folks at Tindie to Massimo Banzi of Arduino.

For what it’s worth, Barack Obama, declared that June 18th is the National Day of Making. I say make everyday an international day of making, amirite?

Black Eye Peas rapper, Will.i.am, in his role as creative officer at 3D systems and co-founder of Ekocycle, is launching a PET plastic 3D printer. PET plastic is normally found in soft drink bottles.

It looks like you’ll still need to buy spools of the plastic, but it feels we’re getting closer to the future where we can recycle our household waste and create useful things with it.

Printed Tattoos

Over on instructables there’s project that converts a MakerBot into a tattoo printer. It’s both scary and awesome at the same time.

For some designs this could work really well and would test you trust in technology! I wouldn’t get a tattoo anyway, even if it was a human or robot doing it. But it’s interesting hack…I wonder when we’ll see your MakerBot doing keyhole surgery!

Kickstarter of the Week

This week’s awesome Kickstarter project is LazerBlade.

LazerBlade is a kit based laser cutter and engraver. It comes in kit form and looks simple to put together.

It cuts and engraves wood, paper, leather and acrylic. It includes all the software you need and looks user friendly.

If you want to get etching support the project now.

Outro

Once again, thanks for watching, remember to subscribe for your weekly dose of maker news.

Notable mentions

Hit me up @chalkers on twitter if you have any stories you’d like me to cover. If they don’t make it into the show I’ll include them as notable mentions in the show notes.

Hosted and Written by: Andrew Chalkley (@chalkers)
Produced by: Michael Poley (@michaelpoley)

That Maker Show Ep. 14

Intro

Hello World, and welcome to That Maker Show with me, chalkers, your host to all things new in the maker movement.

This week we’re talking about the biggest open source patent release in history, a NES Keytar, blazing baseball caps and an awesome Kickstarter project.

Tesla’s Patents

On Thursday, Tesla Motors announced that they are open sourcing all electric vehicle patents. This may allow smaller companies to get in to the market but ultimately will help create a common platform.

Whilst the hobbyist maker may not have the means to create an electric vehicle of their own, this kind of move could be the gold standard on how 3D printer manufacturers should behave.

Game of Keytars

Greig, the Theremin Hero, has created a keytar by mashing a NES, guitar hero controller, 3 mini Arduinos, a raspberry pi and some other bits and bobs.

Over on his channel there are renditions of Games of Thrones and Star Trek The Next Generation themes. He’s working on a build video so be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel.

LED Baseball Hat

This week’s wearable project over on Adafruit is the Sound Reactive LED Baseball Cap. It uses the Adafruit Arduino compatible wearable platform – FLORA.

The project has uses a mic to pick up sound from the environment and the LEDs light up depending on the intensity of the sound. It looks like an awesome project to do. Whoever if you’re looking for a more formal look there’s a similar project using a tie!

Kickstarter of the Week

This week’s awesome Kickstarter project is Lil’Bot.

The Lil’Bot is a self balancing robot that allows you or your kids to learn about robotics and hacking. The bot is Arduino compatible and can be programmed using Blockly, a Scratch like visual programming tool. If this interests you why not back the project now?

Outro

Once again, thanks for watching, remember to subscribe for your weekly dose of maker news.

Notable mentions

Hit me up @chalkers on twitter if you have any stories you’d like me to cover. If they don’t make it into the show I’ll include them as notable mentions in the show notes.

Hosted and Written by: Andrew Chalkley (@chalkers)
Produced by: Michael Poley (@michaelpoley)

That Maker Show Ep. 13

Intro

Hello World, and welcome to That Maker Show with me, chalkers, your host to all things new in the maker movement.

This week we’re talking about stargazing smart phones, lunar phase clock, Kinect 2 and an awesome kickstarter project.

It’s Full of Stars

Over on Adafruit’s learning system there’s a 3D print project to mount a Celestron FirstScope telescope to a regular camera tripod to give it that extra height. Also in the project there’s an 3D printable adapter to mount your cell phone to the telescope so you can take epic space pictures!

Lunar Phase Clock

Keeping with the space theme, over on Instructables there’s a project on how to create your own clock that tells the phases of the moon.

It’s a project’s brains is a Raspberry Pi and look’s pretty fun for all you lunatics out there.

Kinect 2.0

Microsoft have announced the pre order phase for the Kinect 2 for Windows. The original Kinect 2 bundled with the Xbox One had a proprietary adaptor which prevented hackers and makers from using it like the original Kinect that was sold seperately for the Xbox 360.

Pre-orders ship in July, with a beta SDK. Stock is limited and once they’ve ran out the next batch will be available for general release later in the year.

I’m excited to see what makers can do with this version!

Kickstarter of the Week

This week’s awesome Kickstarter project is the PicassoBot.

The PicassoBot is a robotic arm drawbot kit. It is open source, Arduino compatible, and USB powered.

Kits start at $75 and looks really fun to play with and great project for geeky parents to work on with their kids.

Outro

Once again, thanks for watching, remember to subscribe for your weekly dose of maker news.

Notable mentions

Hit me up @chalkers on twitter if you have any stories you’d like me to cover. If they don’t make it into the show I’ll include them as notable mentions in the show notes.

Hosted and Written by: Andrew Chalkley (@chalkers)
Produced by: Michael Poley (@michaelpoley)

That Maker Show Ep. 12

Intro

Hello World, and welcome to That Maker Show with me, chalkers, your host to all things new in the maker movement.

This week we’re talking about a DIY drink mixing robot, a privacy pocket, a drawbot and an awesome kickstarter project.

Drink Mixing Robot

Want to build your own build your own automated drink mixing robot? Maker Yu Jiang, in part one of his tutorial shows you what you need and how to put the robot together. It costs about $180 to make the robot. His next tutorial will go over the software side. Keep your eyes on his blog to see it when it comes out.

Privacy Pocket

Adafruit’s Becky Stern uses a silver plated knit fabric to create a pocket or pouch for the privacy contentious.

Putting a your smartphone in this pocket will block WiFi and cell reception but it won’t block NFC tags. This is a extremely straight forward tutorial to follow and is a simple first wearable project!

TRS Drawbot

Over on the MAKE magazine’s blog there was ]a project posted called the TRS Drawbot. It’s a simple drawing robot with two servos that are controlled by audio output through a regular audio jack.

Just reading this project and watching the accompanying video makes feel that much more smarter!

Kickstarter of the Week

This week’s awesome Kickstarter project is Mr Beam.

Mr Beam is a DIY open source laser cutter and engraver kit. Mr Beam can be used on paper, wood, plastic, leather and other materials.

The endgame of the Mr Beam project is to make laser cutters easy to use and enjoyable for everyone.

Outro

Once again, thanks for watching, remember to subscribe for your weekly dose of maker news.

Notable mentions

Hit me up @chalkers on twitter if you have any stories you’d like me to cover. If they don’t make it into the show I’ll include them as notable mentions in the show notes.

Hosted and Written by: Andrew Chalkley (@chalkers)
Produced by: Michael Poley (@michaelpoley)

That Maker Show Ep. 11

Intro

Hello World, and welcome to That Maker Show with me, chalkers, your host to all things new in the maker movement.

This week we’re talking about virtual reality hoverboards, musical disk drives, a littleBits Arduino module and an awesome kickstarter project.

Story 1: Virtual Reality Hoverboard

Whilst there’s still a year for the Hoverboard to get invented, you’ll have to make do with a virtual reality version.

Over on the Hack A Day blog, a post showcases a project by YouTube user cratesmith. It’s a virtual reality version of a hoverboard using an Oculus Rift and a Wii Balance Board.

It’s great to see off the shelf hardware being mashed together to make awesome projects like this.

Story 2: Musical Disk Drives

Sticking with the Back to the Future theme, YouTube user Arganalth built a project that combines an Arduino, Raspberry Pi and a mixture of floppy and hard drives to create an orchestra in a box.

The Pi sends information to the Arduino, then the Arduino controls the disk drives, which produce a sound. The result is an awesome rendition of the Back to the Future theme. Over on his channel there’s plenty of other examples, so check them out!

Story 3: littleBits Arduino Module

Snappable electronics kit, littleBits have just gone digital. littleBits allows you to create analog circuits by snapping magnetised boards together. Now they’ve released an Arduino compatible board for you to write your own logic and take your circuits to the next level and get digital!

Story 4: Kickstarter of the Week

This week’s awesome Kickstarter project is the MagicBox.

MagicBox is a fully enclosed system to give a professional finish to your 3D prints. Place your print in the the chamber, the chamber becomes pressurised and acetone vapor smooths those rough ridges on your 3D prints.

If you want to make a professional 3D print, why not back the project now!

Outro

Once again, thanks for watching, remember to subscribe for your weekly dose of maker news.

Notable mentions

Hit me up @chalkers on twitter if you have any stories you’d like me to cover. If they don’t make it into the show I’ll include them as notable mentions in the show notes.

Hosted and Written by: Andrew Chalkley (@chalkers)
Produced by: Michael Poley (@michaelpoley)

That Maker Show Ep. 10

Intro

Hello World, and welcome to That Maker Show with me, chalkers, your host to all things new in the maker movement.

This week we’re talking about a software giant getting into 3D printing hardware, the Arduino Zero, NFC manicures and an awesome kickstarter project.

Autodesk’s 3D Printer

The leading 3D modelling software-maker, Autodesk, is going into hardware. They’re releasing their own stereolithographic 3D printer.

Autodesk wants drive the adoption of its new Spark software. Autodesk wants Spark to be used by 3D-printer manufacturer startups, in the same way Android has been used for smartphone manufacturers. Other manufacturers can use Spark to power their 3D printers while experimenting with the design and polymers.

Arduino Zero

Arduino have officially announced the Arduino Zero. A 32-bit big brother to the 8-bit Arduino Uno.

All digital pins (except the transmit and receive pins) are now PWM. The Analog pins now offer 12-bits of resolution opposed to the 10-bits on the UNO. It also sports an embedded debugger so no additional hardware is needed. Details on pricing and availability are sparse but for more technical details check out the Arduino site.

NFC Manicure

Becky Stern over on the Adafruit YouTube channel shows a couple of experiments with NFC. She embeds them in novel places so it’s easy to unlock your Android smartphone.

She shows a couple of examples of embedding NFC tags into rings but the most fascinating example is painting an NFC tag on to your thumb nail with nail polish. Funky!

Kickstarter of the Week

This week’s awesome Kickstarter project is an ISP shield.

ISP or In System Programming is a way to shrink your projects down. If you don’t want to embed your full Arduino in your projects and want to program the Atmel chips to embed them instead, this shield is for you. It’s compatible with Arduino Uno and Leonardo and their compatible clones.

Outro

Once again, thanks for watching, remember to subscribe for your weekly dose of maker news.

Notable mentions

Hit me up @chalkers on twitter if you have any stories you’d like me to cover. If they don’t make it into the show I’ll include them as notable mentions in the show notes.

Hosted and Written by: Andrew Chalkley (@chalkers)
Produced by: Michael Poley (@michaelpoley)