Global Hackdays

Noisepages: Websites for smart artists.


Why bring in more people on the same project? It’s a fantastic way to get more variety. And in just one day of work, we got a stunning diversity of ideas about ways to make use of tracking physical objects as an interface. We’ll be following up with a hackday redux so that we can all work together on iterating these ideas, and I’ll have additional documentation both for people refining their projects and new people getting started. But check out what happens in just one day. I can’t wait for “day two.”

Tangible Collaboration on Canada’s Past and Environment

Location: London, Ontario, Canada

I said when we started this that I was curious how people would take something as generic as an “interface” and apply it to something unexpected. And I didn’t expect this: a first experiment by folks doing research on Canadian history and environment:

NiCHE brings together historians, geographers, and other researchers who study nature and humans in Canada’s past. We offer a forum for the field, support collaboration among scholars, and ensure that this research is shared with policymakers, scientists, and the Canadian public.

The leap: try applying the idea of the tangible interface as a way of managing collaboration between scholars in an interesting way. Using physical blocks, you can set up relationships by interest area. And they have a cool name:

Collaboratron [NiCHE Site]
More at the creators’ blogs: Devon Elliott + Adam Crymble / Thoughts on Public History

Tokyo: The Tangible Game

Location: Erlangen, Germany


Michael of i3games was inspired by a wooden block rendition of the Tokyo skyline, available from Japanese design shop Muji. Using Trackmate and Processing, he is starting a game involving the blocks. Perhaps a tangible Sim City? I’m not sure yet, but he has extensive documentation and some technical tips and supply ideas at his noisepages site:

One especially hot tip: PeasyCam makes it much easier dealing with the camera (the virtual one that looks at your screen, not your webcam) in Processing.
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The first day of any project is all about saying “Hello, World.” And a great way to get a project rolling is to have some physical evidence of your work — even if it’s just the first steps. So, taking “Hello, World” to another level, we get to share internationally.

By the way, if you have photos of your own, tag them “globalhackday” on Flickr, or contact us if you post elsewhere. (Google Web Albums, Radar, etc.)

The first-ever global hackday, with a theme of tangible interfaces, was a whole lot of fun. Highlights:

  • The creators of Trackmate and reacTIVision joined in on IRC and livestream (still editing those chat logs, folks – tons of helpful tips and troubleshooting techniques!)
  • Participants from around the world joined in from Germany to Argentina, as well as our folks in NYC.
  • We got a whole bunch of projects started and a few finished, with interfaces for music, visuals, and learning using everything from simple tags to soda bottles and drum heads.
  • In NYC, we had a few surprises, including digital magician and “augmented magic” creator Marco Tempest in for a demo, plus an interactive glove interface.
  • On chat, we had both Spanish and English being spoken (and native speakers of many more languages)!

At top, a look at some of the action at New Work City, the fabulous coworking space that donated Internet-connected workspace. We were able to absorb the lingering brain energy of lots of smart coders who work there during the week.

The event also generated some fascinating discussions. Jose (Estado Lateral Media Lab) and Valeria ( spoke to us about their experience in Argentina, what it’s like putting together communities of people to work and learn together, and about the experience of reading Processing code written in a mix of English and Spanish.

Jason Bunyan and gossip columnist (no, really) Kelly Will were on-hand from PepsiCo to cover Internet Week. They asked a really important question it’s easy to forget to ask – why do this? Here was my answer, off the top of my head.

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Follow the action at this site live (and with debriefs in the days afterward). And you can keep track of the projects using a variety of tools.

If you’re in New York, here’s where to go; you must present valid ID. Bring your own supplies and hack 11-7, or just party 7-9:30! (We have a Wii to play with, even – just in case our projects decide to stop working.)

Where to Follow Along Live

IRC: FreeNode #cdmblogs

Twitter: Hash tag #hackday or cdmblogs or follow the group of hackers at

Live Streaming Video (we hope!): livestream

Where to Leave Your Mark, See the Work

noiselab @ Google Code for Processing code via Mercurial (I expect some of this will get updated in the days after the event, naturally, notright away)

Flickr tag globalhackday

cdmblogs group @ Vimeo

Put a marker on our Google Map (Australia, Asia, Europe, and North and South America are all involved, so just waiting for more markers to pop in!)

View Global Hackday in a larger map

It’s only “Hackday Eve,” and already we’ve got a really interesting project. Michael Schieben in Hamburg has started experimenting, using the table to mix colors. Here’s a test video:

Fritzcrate Project / RGB Color Mixer from Michael Schieben on Vimeo.

And you can follow his project on his noisepages blog-in-progress (as always, apologies for the dust with noisepages – we’re making progress and should be making announcements about that soon):

Lastly, we’ve got some tips from Adam Kumpf, co-creator of Trackmate, on calibration. First, in response to someone who wasn’t getting effective tracking at all:

A couple of thoughts. First of all, make sure the X,Y sizes match the sheet you are calibrating with (for example, if you use the 4"x4" sheet, set the X,Y to 4,4 respectively).  Also, tags are only sensed when in one of the "debug" views or the "fast mode" view.  Finally, make sure your camera is not wildly over-saturated or dark, and then do the white illumination correction by playing a white sheet of paper on the surface and pressing the "w" key.

And second, regarding a question about calibration:

Calibrate the table to the final size you want.  You don’t have to use tags, just make sure it is indeed a rectangle (for example, your surface could be 9.5"x4.5", that would be fine).  Click the corners so that it will be flattened correctly and make sure to set the X,Y size to match the size of your input surface (9.5,4.5 in this example).  Then, you can place a sheet of tags on the surface to test how it is working.  Make sure you are in one of the "debug" views or the "fast mode" view to sense tags (the other views are for setup and don’t try to find tags in the scene).  Ideally, once things are setup, you can save the settings and then never need to move the camera.  I’ve found that I don’t need to resort to fiddling when things are setup correctly (you shouldn’t need to adjust thresholds much unless you are in very strange conditions).

Obviously, you’ll want to hang out on IRC tomorrow – FreeNode #cdmblogs – and watch the stream and blog, or follow folks on Twitter, and we’ll all be sharing tips and tribulations. We’ll also debrief after the event. Should be a good chance to share some knowledge.


If you’re using the PS3 Eye (our camera of choice), a gentleman who goes by the name Peau Productions has worked out a handy calculator for determining the relationship of the distance from the surface to the viewable surface area. I’m taking this with me to IKEA to see if I can find a solution for a housing that gets roughly the right proportions.


And his super, super-handy blog:

Of course, what’d be really nice is a lens that allows you to shorten this distance. One trick you’ll notice in the Trackmate project – in the “hardwood curio” project, they put the camera at the top of the box, and use a mirror to halve the distance. That’s the reason that project uses the big border.

The hackday is global, but our planetary headquarters will be in Manhattan, with a nice, fresh Internet connection to keep up with the rest of you. I’ll be sleeping during some of the time you Europeans are working, but will get to check in morning NY time.

Details on the space:

New Work City - Coworking NYC style.

New Work City is sort of a magical hub of digital productivity in New York, so the perfect spot and partner for our New York Internet Week shindig, which celebrates all that’s happening in tech in NYC. They’ve got a bright, cheery workspace for us, and of course the all-important white board and connection to all of the rest of the planet via a reliable Internet connection. (Don’t ask about that screwup with streaming at the last Handmade Music. I’ll be testing this week as I start work on prototypes.)

We’ll have a status update page for Saturday so those of you coming to the space can let us know when you’re arriving. Be sure to be there at 11am promptly if you can, though, for a walkthrough of what we’re doing.

One last material tip: EndLighten could be a great choice for a surface. It’s a beautiful material that lights up when illuminated from the side. I’m currently researching where you might find it; there are some plastic stores in New York. Buying a whole piece of it is likely to get really pricey, but then a group buy may also be possible.

Various references to it, but here’s one supplier (pictured):

Plexiglas EndLighten / Evonik

For our first hackday, we’re working to assemble dirt-cheap tangible interfaces, with the Trackmate project as inspiration. I’m really interested to see people try different solutions. Tracking software that uses tags (or “augmented reality,” if you want to use the more metaphysical description) is attractive because it can use things in the physical world. That means some opportunity for creativity.

We have two basic models for this project on Instructables. One is designed for maximum portability by using a clamp for the surface and eliminating the housing. As a result, it can use a conventional lightbulb. The other makes a housing and uses LEDs – and uses a picture frame for extra character. Now, personally, I’m a fan of the materials used in the portable version and the LEDs and housing in the other, but you’re welcome to go whichever direction you feel is best. Here are those two examples:

Trackmate :: Classy Hardwood CurioMore DIY How To Projects

Trackmate :: Portable Plexi CliffhangerMore cool how to projects

You won’t need much, but you will need some materials before you get started. Basically, you want:

1. A light source
2. A webcam
3. A housing of some kind (a box, or a stand, etc., which will put some distance between your surface and your camera and light.)
4. A surface
5. Some objects to tag (blocks, etc.)

Most of this is open to creative interpretation and hacks, but there are a couple of items that are pretty critical:

1. Webcam: The Sony PS3Eye webcam is currently the widely preferred camera for this sort of application, because it’s cheap, and — with the right drivers — extremely high performance. Game and toy stores carry it all over the place, and it lists for $40. GameStop the day before the hackday, anyone?

Windows drivers (heavily updated, lots of notes!)
Mac drivers (you want the latest binary version – grab it from CVS in the link on that page)
A Linux thread (more complicated for this camera, so you may actually want a class-compliant webcam for Linux … I’ll try it on my build, though)

2. Lights: If you want to put this in an enclosure, LED lights are what you’ll need; conventional bulbs are too large and too hot. Search “LED strip” and you’ll find some options. I opted for a shady-looking car accessory parts dealer, which is shipping from China. I’ve since learned the smarter way to go is a vendor called Environmental Lights. See their LED ribbon flex line, and look for a sample kit (cheap, 9″ worth) in superbright white-only (not the color changing ones. These guys also make the only IR LED strips I’ve seen, which you won’t need or want here, but are ideal for tracking applications that use light only and not tags. And they have some nice tutorials, as well! Those of you not in the US, you may need to check out alternative sources for shipping, sadly.

Other than that, of course, room for some creative thinking! Comment or contact me if you have any questions. A huge thanks to Nathanaël Lécaudé, developer of the Python-based multitouch PyMT project for tips on supply sourcing! And, of course, enormous thanks to the team at MIT working on Trackmate for the inspiration, as well as to Martin of ReacTable.

For our first Global Hackday, join us as makers and experimenters worldwide create their own tangible interfaces for music, visuals, and data. We’ll be hacking together internationally on Saturday, June 6. If you’re in New York and want to meet up in person, be sure to sign up for the hackday or (if you just want to chill out and see what people have done) the party. If you’re anywhere else in the world, join us online – and if you have friends, you can get them involved, as well.

Sign up here (and give us some details on what you’d like to do, or let us know any questions/comments):
Hack in NYC at New Work City, 6/6 11am (or RSVP on Meetup, if you prefer)

Party with us at New Work City, 6/6 7pm (no need to make anything)

Hack around the world!