Category Archives: Gadgets

All those toys we love.

Q&A With Joey Hudy, 14 Year Old Maker of the White House Marshmallow Cannon

14 year old Joe Hudy has been having fun. From promoting science at Maker Faires to shooting marshmallows with the President at the White House, he’s the embodiment of STEM education effectively motivating a new generation about science and engineering, while showing how it can take them to some pretty cool places. Along the way, he’s tackled challenges and found passion and talent — his mother Julie describes the transformation with excitement and pride. “He’s gone from a shy boy with Asperger Syndrome to now a young man that wants to talk to everyone!”

People want to talk with Joe too — the coverage he’s received from his endearing interaction with President Obama at the White House Science Faire has gone global (links:, HuffingtonPost, Daily Mail, Make blog, Gizmodothe Atlantic, ABC News, Washington Post, the Examiner, Popular Science, New York Times, and more). He’s recently been a featured author on Instructables, and received a special note of commendation on his Adafruit skills badge page. And not only is Joe an aspiring engineer, he’s also demonstrating a healthy entrepreneurial spirit, selling electronics kits via his website and fundraising to get him to three different Maker Faires in 2012.

Joe took time from his schedule to answer a few questions about how he got to the White House, and what he’s building next.

When did you start building?  I only started really seriously to build things a year ago. I’ve made stuff in the past just for fun.

How did you get so motivated?  I met a really cool man named Jeff from Elenco Electronics. I got in contact with them when my mom called to see if they had any Snap Circuits. Jeff Coda was the one who answered the phone. He helped me by giving me a soldering iron, oscilloscope, kits to learn to solder, bread boards, electrical components so I could learn more about electronics. He’s helped with with questions I’ve had too. He’s really cool.

What are some of the things you’ve made so far?  I have made the air cannon, 3x3x3 Led Cube Arduino Shield, catapult, lazer light show, blinky lights. My favorite was the air cannon.

Obviously, it’s a huge honor to get invited to be part of the White House Science Fair. How did that came about? What were your feelings like leading up to and during the event?  I was invited to go to the White House by Make and Cognizant. Make asked me and Cognizant sponsored me. I had met Make at Maker Faires. The whole experience was fun and exciting. I was nervous when I was talking to the president. I got to see a lot of sights while in DC.

Discovery channel casting for new show “Top Engineer”

For you engineers, tinkerers and makers with reality TV dreams — you’ve got until March 7th to submit yourself for a new Discovery show being produced by Pilgrim Studios —  the company that makes Dirty Jobs, American Choppers, and Ghost Hunters (among many others).

I have no connection with this show, so I can’t assist you in any way other than advising you to keep your energy up (general guideline for being on camera), and make sure your fly is zipped (general advice for life).



Are you a designer who can build? Are you a machinist who can design?

The Discovery Channel is looking for America’s most creative and daring techies, machinists, inventors and engineers to design, build, and BLAST their way to a Grand Prize on their new competition TV show TOP ENGINEER.

A handful of lucky men and women will be chosen to take on exciting challenges from various engineering fields at the state-of-the-art WET design facilities ( in California.

No, you don’t need to have an engineering degree to compete on this show, but you MUST be able to design, build, test and integrate an idea into a final product that WORKS. These will be fast-paced, hands-on, VISCERAL challenges! If your experience is strictly behind the keyboard, then this show is NOT for you.

We are looking for visual effects experts, accomplished home shop machinists, contractors and engineers with backgrounds in electrical, civil, structural or mechanical engineering.

If you have an outgoing personality and are ready to get your hands dirty for the chance to win a GRAND PRIZE and the title of TOP ENGINEER, then we want to hear from you.


Email with your name, age, location, phone number, a recent photo and a brief explanation of why you are perfect for this competition show.

Deadline to submit is March 7, 2012

Continue reading Discovery channel casting for new show “Top Engineer”

Eight things you can do about getting your data throttled by AT&T

Before getting throttled: 4.14 Mbps; after: 0.04 Mbps

Let me start by saying that right now, AT&T has customers in a sucky place, with only one decent option to fight back against their data throttling initiative. But first, a recap:

In the Fall of 2011, AT&T announced that it was going to start throttling its top mobile data users, hinting that these were the 100GB/mo torrenting bandits that were responsible for the sluggish data and dropped calls plaguing iPhone users since the 3G model came out. A few months later, the throttling began — but to the horror of longtime customers who were rewarded for their loyalty by being able to keep their now-discontinued unlimited plans, AT&T wasn’t just targeting users with unbelievably high consumption, but was cutting off anyone that moved past a mark generally around 2.2GB, saying they were in the top 5% of data users (read my writeup about this and the reader comments).

With throttled speeds at an unusable 1/100 of normal, it appears that AT&T is effectively trying to rid itself of the remaining unlimited data plans — these limitations are only only placed on unlimited accounts, not on the tiered plans. Their method is devilishly clever and frustrating — they are still offering as much data as you can ingest, they’ve just never said they’d deliver it at high speeds. Naturally, users are outraged and want to fight back.

There aren’t many options, and those that exist have some hangups. But for those willing to duke it out, here’s a rundown of options that you can do.

Continue reading Eight things you can do about getting your data throttled by AT&T

“Sold,” a gripping short film about the illegal sex trade, and a look at filmmaker John Irwin’s indie/DIY film technique

John Irwin is a writer/director acquaintance who’s making some kick-ass projects. Commercial work, music video, short film — and all with impressive results. John recently showed me his short “Sold,” a very intense piece about the horrific world of human trafficking. Very well written and told, the tension and story grab the viewer quickly; suspension of disbelief can be hard to achieve when you’re watching a project that was made by someone you know, but this one had me wringing my hands from the start. Afterwards, I asked him for details about the film, the filming techniques used for some of the tighter spaces, and  the motivation behind it. He graciously supplied me with a thorough rundown — check it out below.


By John Irwin.

Sold is a short film that focuses on Maya and another young girl, Alexa, who are trapped in the trunk of a car on its way out of town, and their eventual confrontation with their captors.

Up until very close to filming, we didn’t know how we were going to film the interior trunk scenes with the time, money and resources we had. On good ol’ craigslist, we found someone with our “villain” car that agreed to let us rent it for a day. This is the car that shows up at the end of the short. We were desperately searching for a trunk lid in junkyards across LA that would match the make/model of this car (a Mercury Marquis). The plan was to put the lid on top of the trunk and cut holes in the four corners so we could lower our small DSLR camera down and film the inside from each hole. A great plan in theory aside from all the dangerous sharp metal that we would have had to deal with — but we called every single junkyard within 60 miles of Los Angeles and not a single one had a trunk lid that matched.

Continue reading “Sold,” a gripping short film about the illegal sex trade, and a look at filmmaker John Irwin’s indie/DIY film technique

Build Your Own White House Science Fair Marshmallow Cannon

Earlier this month, The White House hosted their second science fair, bringing innovating kids together from around the country to show off impressive creations and contraptions. A standout moment of the event occurred when President Obama spotted a peculiar looking device, and asked its creator for details; moments later, they had cleared a path to see if they could blast marshmallows against the wall on the other side of the room with it.

There’s something great about giving attention to the fun of building and working with science. That enthusiasm can be encouraged and shared, as the marshmallow cannon builder Joey Hudy is choosing to do with his detailed build notes on the Make website.

Here’s an overview:

“Extreme Marshmallow Cannon” by Joe Hudy

  • Hack saw
Relevant parts
  • 8oz PVC Cement Red Hot Low Voc
  • Pressure Gauge 0-100 PSI
  • Electronic Sprinkler Valve
  • 9V Battery (2)
  • Switch
  • Wire
  • Bike Tire Valve
  • Marshmallows
  • Altoids Box
  • PVC Tape
  • PB110 1/2″ x 1/4″ Brass Pipe Bushing
  • PB101 1/4″ Brass Pipe Tee
  • PB113 1/4″ Close Brass Pipe Nipple
  • PVC 1 1/2″ EL 90D EL (4)
  • PVC 3/4″ EL 90D EL
  • PVC 1″ x 1″ x 3/4″ Tee
  • PVC 3/4″ x 3/4″ Tee (2)
  • PVC 1-1/2″ x 1 1/2 x 1″ Tee (2)
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ Tee
  • PVC 1-1/2″ Cross
  • PVC 3/4″ Running Trap (2)
  • PVC 1″ Male Adapter (2)
  • PVC 1″ x 3/4″ Bushing (2)
  • PVC 1-1/2″ x 1″ Bushing
  • PVC 3/4″ x 1/2″ Bushing
  • PVC Marshmallow Barrel
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 12″ (2)
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 10″
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 6 1/2″
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ (4)
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 3 7/8″ (1)
  • PVC 3/4″ x 1 1/2″ (3)
  • PVC 1″ x 2 1/2″ (1)
  • PVC 1″ x 2″ (1)

Assembly is pretty straightforward, but you’ll likely want to build a turret for it that lets you aim and direct your marshmallows right at your target — the waiting mouth of your hungry friends.


One Guy, Alone at Home, Creates an Incredible Solar-System Exploration Software With UDK

With the ability to accurately depict the elements of our solar system like planetary size and movement, this awesome computer program looks to bring an easy-to-grasp understanding of the heavenly bodies closest to Earth. Feeling like something from Star Trek, the interface depicts the positions and orbits of the planets and their moons as they whip around each other and the sun in their respective orbits. With the ability to toggle between actual and adjusted scales, the user can choose to see the solar system from a user-friendly view, or the more accurate but ginormously Sun-centric view (unfortunately, not pictured in this video demonstration).

Most impressive, it’s all been designed by one person, Chris Albeluhn, working from home over the past year, utilizing the Unreal Development Kit — the hugely popular videogame development platform that has been used for titles like Gears of War, Infinity Blade, and many, many more (wiki page here). A large amount of additional details are available on the video’s youtube page and this reddit post.

All eight planets are included (sorry Pluto! Neil Tyson Degrasse, you win again), with breakdowns of information like composition and temperatures for each. It even includes a visualizer for constellations. There’s some discussion about what additional planetary objects might be incorporated (man-made satellites would be great), and if this will ever be released as an actual product; in the meantime, enjoy the video and make sure to check Chris’ page about this project.

Also, a quick clip about the UDK package used for this:

The United States of Craigslist Map

An active CL community is a requirement for anywhere I live, and this awesome “chalkboard map” by  John Nelson of IDV Solutions shows a re-imagining  of the USA, broken down by the cities with a craigslist community and the zipcode area that is serviced by those.

The USA of CL IDV page has notes about using this data as an overlay for online mapping services. It also gives a fascinating breakdown of the process involved in compiling the data and creating the map information:

Nerdy Bits
• Scrape the list of Craig’s cities at
• Split joint-locations into individual locations (like “Odessa / Midland”)
• Geocode place-specific locations.
• Manually position the more regional locations (like “Southeast Iowa”).
• Divide locations into three geographically distinct regions (split by the Continental Divide along the spine of the Rockies and the Mississippi); duplicate any locations that meaningfully straddle a border, like St. Louis. I do this to introduce some true-cost of crossing either of those features, in the face of an algorithm that would otherwise treat the whole country as a smooth unfettered plain.
• Run Voronoi (Thiessen) algorithm to generate best-fit zones for the points, for all three regions.
• Clip Voronoi zones by a “land” shape to cut out the oceans and provide a common border between the three regions (my “land” was constructed from the Census Bureau’s tracts file).
• Merge the 3 regional Voronoi sets into a unified nation-wide set.
• Dissolve boundaries between same-website Voronoi zones (to re-combine the joint-locations up there in step 2) into merged chunky polygons.
• Manually re-assign oddly-orphaned or split areas (common along complicated shorelines).

For any of you data-hounds, or those who just like infographics, check out all the cool maps and visualizations these guys are creating.

Update: Mr. Nelson left a nice comment with some details about an additional Craigslist map he created a few months after this one, that plots the actual zip code details instead of polygon shapes based on the general areas they represent. Check it out below, and if you want the actual zip code data table (like one Linkedin user did), navigate to the page for the dropbox link and notes.

Quadrotor Nanocopter Robot Swarm

Take twenty hand-sized quadcopters and sync them up to fly in autonomous configurations that would make the most fearless pilot anxious. This is the future of aerial technology — from construction to surveillance to robotic warfare.

Check out the way they deftly move through obstacles and perform a seamless figure-8. There’s some speculation that the lights in the corner of the room are helping monitor and configure the flying array, but regardless, this is a fascinating and hypnotic video to observe.

From youtube:

Experiments performed with a team of nano quadrotors at the GRASP Lab, University of Pennsylvania. Vehicles developed by KMel Robotics. Special thanks to Professor Daniel Lee for his support.

My notes and information about the ATT Free Msg: Your data usage is among the top 5% of users. Data speeds for this bill cycle may be reduced.

(Note: if AT&T’s throttling is affecting you too, please follow me on twitter as I’ll be continuing to broadcast my investigation there)

Looks like AT&T has a new system to rid itself of the remaining unlimited data plan accounts: throttling.

Last month, I got a troubling text message from the cell phone carrier with some news — not one of their updates to let me know that the card on file has expired — this was something new, something domineering in its faux-friendly tone.

ATT Free Msg: Your data use is approaching the top 5% of users. Avoid reduced data speeds, use Wi-Fi where available. Visit or call 8663447584.

A confusing message — I’ve been with AT&T since the early iPhone days, and still have their unlimited data plan. Who were these “top 5%?” What type of use were they seeing? Had someone hacked into my phone account and started torrenting BlueRay movies? I checked my data usage for the month: a very mediocre  2.4gb — and this was about three weeks into the billing cycle (btw, I’m on a family plan, but data is reported separately).

Continue reading My notes and information about the ATT Free Msg: Your data usage is among the top 5% of users. Data speeds for this bill cycle may be reduced.

Free Workbench Plans – The $175 Homemade Workbench

Build this DIY workbench for cheap!

Need a workbench for your shop, something solid that will likely last longer than you will? Something you can do serious woodworking on? Mount a vice? Build shelves and cabinets and a crib for the new baby? Well, be prepared to plunk down a ton of cash,  because workbenches like that don’t come cheap.

Or, seeing as you’re the type that wants to build stuff, why not skip buying something pricey and build the very workbench you’ll be using for your future projects? Thanks to the good people at Popular Woodworking, here are the plans to put together your own high-quality, heavy duty bench with laminated top, and the whole thing will set you back just $175 — less than many new powertools cost. And that include the vise.

The free plans are available via PDF, with an accompanying set of notes on the Popular Woodworking website. Enjoy!