Hi all.

The FreakLabs Store will be shutdown from 6/28 to 7/18 for me to take a much needed vacation. I'll be heading to sunny California to hang out with my family, check out the hackermoms space, play with my nieces, and generally unwind. Sorry about the inconvenience.


It's been a long time since I blogged on my site. I was burned out from the radiation monitoring buildout and having multiple things going on at the same time. The time away was good so that I could focus on projects I've been wanting to do for a long time. Since then, I've started on a lot of interesting projects and I've actually wanted to talk more about them. Posting bits and pieces on social media outlets is not the same. I've also had a lot of time to think about many different things. I guess this means that I'm going to restart blogging again. This post is mostly just to get things going so I don't have that huge mental barrier to overcome. More later :) 

I just released the latest version of the chibiArduino code. There are two main changes:

1) The code was modified and tested to be compatible with the Arduino v1.0 IDE as well as previous versions.

2) The code has been moved to github.

I think that's about it. Sorry I didn't make the changes for the Arduino 1.0 compatibility sooner. It was actually pretty painless. The move to github is nice too. Its much nicer to have the repo online rather than having to juggle the version control on my local computer. 

Here's the project link:

Link to chibiArduino Project

I recently got into an interesting discussion on Twitter with some other engineers regarding the parallels between dancing and engineering. I often get a surprised look from people when I tell them I used to be a professional dancer. Perhaps its because I look like a nerd, or perhaps its because I am one. In any case, its true and its something that I spent many years and countless hours doing. 

The strange thing is really that it's nothing different from engineering. Engineering is also something that I've spent many years and countless hours doing. In both cases, they started out mostly just for fun, and once you get good, you can make money off it. But that's not what I really want to talk about either. 

This is just a node testbed



 I'm happy to announce a new product today and it's kind of an interesting one. The idea for it didn't exactly come from me, and it will be used to do something wonderful. It's called the FredBoard (aka FreakLabs Breadboard) and it started its life as a learning tool inside Tokyo Hackerspace . We needed something that could be used to teach electronics and Arduino programming since the line between the two has gotten blurrier over time. I was discussing it with one of the workshop instructors (Emery Premaux) and he was using separate breadboards and Freakduinos to teach the class. I casually mentioned that we should combine the two, and like chocolate and peanut butter, it turned out quite nice. We've been using the FredBoard in Tokyo Hackerspace for about six months now for the classes and the occasional presents and they've gotten excellent reviews.

  That brings me to the second part of this story. I was visiting my sister (Sho SHo Smith) a few months ago in Oakland and we were having a conversation over some macaroni and cheese. I was talking about all the cool things that go on inside a hackerspace and she was complaining that being a mom means that you don't have any time to do things like that. She then casually mentioned that it'd be cool if there was a hackerspace specifically for moms since they have a lot of constraints they need to deal with. I thought that was a great idea. The next morning, my sister and I were having breakfast with her friends (a bunch of artist-parents) and we started talking about what it'd be like to have a hackerspace for moms. Some of the ideas were hilarious. One of the parents wanted to learn about Arduino to get revenge on drunk people peeing on their fence at night. It involved a temperature sensor and a water gun that returned fire. Another mom wanted to do graffiti on buildings with things that a mother would say like: "Eat your vegetables - your mom".  About two months ago, my sister actually started up the hackerspace and it's called Mothership HackerMoms. Its a bay area hackerspace specifically for moms and they meet every Thursday at one of the members' houses.

I just released chibiArduino v0.54 which fixed the broken release known as v0.52. I had thought I tested v0.52 before releasing it into the wild, however an experimental configuration header file got into the release and was wreaking major havoc with the stack. I recommend anyone that downloaded v0.52 to not use it and switch over to v0.54 immediately. It is tested and working with Arduino v021 and v022 IDEs. If there are any questions, please feel free to email me or post on the forums.

Link to chibiArduino Project

The Safecast bGeigie is an Arduino-based radiation data logger that is being used to generate data for the safecast radiation map . It uses the Freakduino-Chibi board and a customized data logger that interfaces to an International Medcom geiger counter to geotag all the radiation data. Within Safecast, we're currently trying to have one bGeigie travel to hackerspaces around the world and measure the radiation in those areas.


Link to Make Magazine

Ugh. Analog Devices put up a great video tutorial on Thermocouples, but had incoherent links to the 8-part series. They were meant to be watched in series but Youtube doesn't organize the videos properly. Here arelinks to each part in the series in the correct order they should be watched in.

Part 1: Thermocouple 101: What is a Thermocouple?

Part 2: Thermocouple 101: Cold Junction Compensation

Part 3: Thermocouple 101: Measuring the Tiny Signal

Part 4: Thermocouple 101: Setting the Common Mode Voltage

Part 5: Thermocouple 101: Open Thermocouple Detection

Part 6: Thermocouple 101: Filtering a Thermocouple

Part 7: Thermocouple 101: Thermocouple Nonlinearity

Part 8: Thermocouple 101: Compensating for Nonlinearity

I recently got a very nice surprise in the mail.  @wa7iut, aka Bob, from Ambient Sensors sent me one of his latest breakout boards. I've been itching to try out the LTC3108 for a while because it can boost input voltages as low as 20 mV up to a very usable 3.3V. People have been sticking probes into plants to power their sensor nodes using these chips.


Bob is well known in the open hardware scene and also has been doing a lot of interesting work in the sensor network field. My personal favorites are measuring the impact of tackles in high school football and setting up irrigation monitoring at a wine vineyard.


I'm sure a lot of you reading this are familiar with the situation in Japan right now. A horrible earthquake and tsunami occurred and along with all the destruction, it also caused a meltdown at a nuclear reactor near Tokyo. Since then, Tokyo has been suffering from nuclear fallout and tainted food and water. As of this post, we've just been informed that the tap water in Tokyo is tainted with radiation, there seems to have been a run on bottled water, and the situation is getting very disturbing (as if a nuclear meltdown in your backyard is not disturbing enough).

The day after the nuclear problems started occurring at the plant, geiger counters started popping up on Ustream. After that, Pachube set up special accounts for radiation data feeds in Japan (thank you Pachube). Unfortunately, geiger counters were sold out everywhere. The fear of nuclear disaster and radiation spread internationally and there was a run on geiger counters. Luckily, Tokyo Hackerspace was able to obtain two of them from Reuseum . They had actually bent over backwards getting them to us quickly and was calling their warehouse for stock and UPS and FedEx to see who would still deliver to Japan. We received them two days ago and I brought them to Tokyo Hackerspace yesterday to show people how to use it. We're keeping one at the space so that people can borrow it to check out their living area and reassure their families that its safe. Here's a pic of me scanning Karamoon , another Tokyo Hackerspace member. His head was looking very suspicious...

I wanted to put the other geiger counter up publicly and as quickly as possible to share the data with others in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the geiger counters are completely analog and there was no way to pull data from it. So, being the nerd that I am, I proceeded to hack it into what I wanted. These are the project details of the process of converting a cold-war era, analog geiger counter into a device that can digitally send data to Pachube, a public sensor feed aggregator. 

Also, I wanted to mention that I decided that this geiger counter would reside outside on my balcony, although inside a cardboard box. The reason for this is that most of the geiger feeds in Tokyo right now are indoors and I noticed a larger variance in geiger measurements outdoors versus indoors. I checked the measurements of this geiger inside my apartment and they follow closely with the official government numbers as well as other geiger counters around Tokyo. I figured its better to have it outdoors so that people can get an idea of what they're being exposed to when walking around. Most of the fallout is particulate matter. As a point of reference, the normal background radiation in Shinjuku is 0.035 uSv/Hr .

You can download the Arduino and Processing code that collects the data and sends it up to Pachube after the jump. The pics are also there.

Things are calming down somewhat here in Tokyo and the local foodbank said they have enough volunteers for the time being. So I figured I would get to work on helping out with the collaborative geiger counter project being hosted at SEEED studio . Tokyo Hackerspace has 10 SBM-20 geiger tubes on their way and we need to get to work designing the circuit schematic and PCBs for the geiger counters. We have a status update on all the projects that are going on currently due to the past events and you can see it here:


Anyways, the first order of business is generating the 500V DC needed to run the geiger tubes. This is one of the main challenges since it's not easy generating those types of DC voltages. Luckily, the geiger tube does not consume a lot of current. The 500V is just used to set up an electric field strong enough to generate an avalanche process. The quick background is that a photon ionizes a molecule into positive and negative charged components. Under normal circumstances, they would just recombine immediately. However in a strong electric field, the charged components separate and move towards their respective sides of the electric field. If the electric field is strong enough, ie: the voltage is high enough, then the charged particles ionize other particles in the gas inside the tube. This becomes an avalanche effect and when all the charged particles hit the walls of the electric field, a voltage pulse can be detected. This becomes an "event" and a geiger counter counts the number of events per minute. 

The Tokyo Hackerspace site is offline at the moment due to a tremendous surge in traffic. The members with IT expertise are working on it now. In the meantime, if you want to send material donations, you can send them to us at the hackerspace and we can box them up into care packages and have runners distribute them to the local drop points for relief efforts. Here is a list of what's needed, compiled from various organizations and also hackerspace members. We deliberately trimmed items that are heavy due to international shipping costs.

The address to ship material donations to is:

Tokyo Hackerspace
Tokyo-to Minato-ku
Shirokanedai 5-11-11

  • Ear plugs
  • earphones
  • eye masks
  • baby bottles
  • powdered baby formula
  • energy bars
  • portable water tanks (collapsible)
  • portable water filters
  • paper cups
  • lanterns
  • first aid kit
  • dust masks
  • soaps
  • towels
  • blankets
  • gloves
  • flash lights
  • slippers
  • candles
  • lighters
  • pocket knives
  • trash bags
  • aspirin/ibuprofen
  • pain killers
  • sanitizing gel
  • paper plates/cups/spoons/forks/chopsticks
  • Nappies
  • Moist wipes
  • Warm Jackets - Baby/kids/adult
  • Toys
  • Dry goods
  • Kids activity books
  • Kids coloring books

Thanks for the huge amount of support and encouragement that we're getting internationally.