New Off-The-Shelf-Hacker Series On

I recently started a brand new column on about hardware hacking. The series walks through tips, techniques and projects for the physical computing hardware hacker.

The first edition, Off-The-Shelf-Hacker: The Physical Computing Stack, introduced the reader to the exciting new world of off-the-shelf microcontrollers, sensors, actuators, Linux/Free software, NanoLinux systems and companion topics like the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, ESP8266, and other tools and designs of the DIY (do-it-yourself) and Maker movement.

Future stories will take readers through hands-on fabrication tutorials, using various programming tools/frameworks and discussions on using sensors, micro-controllers, nano-Linux systems and interfacing to various electronic/mechanical devices.

The articles will appear weekly, typically over the weekend.

If you want to get into hacking hardware and building physical computing projects, be sure to check it out.


1800 Lb-Ft Of Torque…Electric!

Imagine having 1800 lb-ft of torque under your right foot.

Mitch Medford came up with the idea of building high-end electric muscle cars, after seeing a story on the venerable White Zombie 1972 Datsun electric monster. Medford exited the corporate world to work full-time on his dream of building a specialty, high-performance electric classic car business. It’s appropriately named “Bloodshed Motors”. Sick!

His first project is the Zombie 222, a full-bodied, full-glass 1968 Mustang Fastback. Medford said the name came from “two motors, two controllers, and too damn fast”. It has a 1.5 megawatt battery pack and puts out 800 hp with 1800 lb-ft of torque.

Here’s a nice story about the car on the Verge.

Medford took the Zombie 222 to the Texas Mile event and eventually ran 174.2 mph, top-end. It’s zero-to-60 time is 2.4 seconds and quarter mile time is 10.7 seconds at 125 mph.

As you know, I love putting big motors in things. Big gas, big diesel, or big electric…it certainly works for me. The more torque the better.

Check out the Zombie 222 photo gallery.

It’s nice to see that radical innovation, with style, is still thriving in America.

Steampunk Name Badge – Version 1.0

After a lot of work, version 1.0 of my Steampunk Name Badge was unveiled at the recent Orlando Robotics and Maker Club meeting. It features a 1.8″ color TFT LCD screen, an Arduino Pro Mini microcontroller and a Dallas DS18B20 digital temperature sensor. It has an integrated micro-SD card and can display bitmaps at 160×128 resolution. The badge cycles through a “Dr Torq” bitmap and a text readout of the ambient temperature. It’s all wrapped up in a brass Steampunk-themed frame with several interesting aesthetic features.


You Are The Show

Once you get over the initial fright of doing presentations, I think you should start treating your appearances as “the show”.

I believe ALL presentations are a show. Some speakers speak to inform. Some entertain. Some advocate or persuade. Some highlight and solve a problem.

No matter what kind of presentation, they are all YOUR show. YOU, the speaker, are the show. Not the slides. Not the props or hardware being demoed. Say it with me, “the speaker is the show”.

Anybody can find information about your speech topic on the Web. They want to know how YOU did it. They want to hear YOUR use cases, in person. The audience is there to hear and see something from you, the expert, in the flesh. They are looking for someone to inspire them to take action or give them a direction or make them feel like they belong. They want to feel the passion. They want to feel the emotion. You make that connection while live and on-stage.

The speaker is the one to address all those things and more. You are the show.

Also, what would a show be without some drama, theatrics, and audio/video razzle-dazzle. Start using show biz tools for YOUR show. Being entertaining, while making your point helps the audience feel comfortable and receptive to what you are saying. Make it fun. Make it authentic. Make it loud, or soft, or mysterious, or manic. Have an angle. Have an opinion. Do cool, memorable stuff. They are there to see and hear YOU.

Years ago, I was mortified to hear some of my very capable, senior Toastmaster colleagues tell me that a speech wasn’t a show. Presentations are serious business, they said. Well of course they are! They are still a show. It’s all show business and the sooner you embrace the mindset, the sooner you’ll start to really enjoy the process. I like the spotlight. I like choreographing my presentation. I love to talk to audience members during Q&A and after my show.

Delivering a great show is why speakers find their calling in the trade. I think it’s a noble calling and takes a great deal of time and effort to master. I certainly can improve. We all are constantly honing our craft and pushing ourselves to get better.

Make your next presentation a show and make it the best show possible, for your audience.

At Least 3 Real-Time, Full-Dress Rehearsals


Many speakers get up on stage and just “wing it”. It might be due to poor planning, other obligations, travel contraints, or simply because no one has ever explained why and how you should rehearse for a tech talk. Throw in some hardware components, for a live demo and the risk of looking like an novice speaker, slides up a couple of notches. Break out of that white-knuckle-inducing old way and start rehearsing like a real pro.

You need to rehearse a minimum of three times, recommends Damian Conway, a nationally recognized speaker and programming luminary. You should attend his “Presentation Aikido” talk, if you can.

I’d add that you should take your rehearsal to the next level using the same props, slides, hardware and gestures you’ll use on stage…in real-time. In other words, do the speech just as you’d do it in front of the real audience. If you get to your venue a few days early, try to talk the room tech into letting you hook up your notebook and make some passes through your talk to the empty seats. Techs will sometimes let you do that after the normal sessions have ended.

Real-time rehearsals address several issues:

During the first full-on pass through the presentation, you’ll likely discover bottlenecks, rough spots, and parts of the speech that might be out of order. You can then rework your slides and cadence to fine tune your “show”. The problems will be immediately apparent. Resist the urge to stop and fix them. Instead, go through the whole thing making mental notes. If you stop and fix it, the first time through, you’ll also never have a base-line time for the whole speech.

That brings up the next point. Make sure to use a stopwatch or app on your smartphone to precisely time your rehearsal. Of course, you should time your actual presentation, as well. The last thing conference organizers, audience members and the next speaker want, is for your talk to run long. I put in a little cushion of 5 to 10 minutes. You decide what will work for you. You’ll need sufficient time to pack up your gear and possibly herd fans out into the hallway for further discussions. Respect the next speaker and his audience by exiting quickly.

Going through the talk at least 3 times, firmly anchors your topics and transitions in your head. Once you lock in your thoughts, adjusting for interruptions, equipment malfunction, or distactions becomes a no-brainer, since you’ll know your talk cold. You’ll be so comfortable with the material, that you can literally start in the middle and go to the end, without missing a beat. To get to that level of confidence, may take 4, 6 or even 8 times. I’ve done that many before. Believe me it’s an investment in your success and ultimately your reputation in front of your audience.

A while back, I did a local talk and for various reasons, just went to the venue without a rehearsal. Halfway into the presentation, the slides froze on the screen and I had to go through a reboot. The reboot didn’t work, so I just continued without slides and demo’d the hardware. If I had rehearsed, I would have remembered that slides made from large graphics files sometimes caused a lockup on that machine. Compressing all the images to a reasonable file size would have eliminated the problem all-together. Now we know and shame on me!

Moral of the story. Rehearse like a pro and you’ll get pro results.

  • Pro Tip #1: If you bring an HDMI cable (or VGA cable), with your computer, you can rehearse using your hotel room’s big screen.
  • Pro Tip #2: Check the conference schedule and see if you can convince the meeting organizer to give you a slot with a long break just before or after your talk. Before gives you more time to set up your gear and work out any last-minute glitches. After, gives you a chance to loosen up and have a longer Q&A time with the audience.