Hack the planet!!

The cool idea of hackerspace is growing fast:


DIY Freaks Flock to ‘Hacker Spaces’ Worldwide

A little more digging, and I find that there’s some already running in the UK, and one planned for Birmingham. Reminds me, I’ve been thinking about on organising an electronics masterclass/summer school. It would be mainly aimed at A-level students (the idea being to host it at the University as a means of attrcting students), but I guess that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case if you have a non-Uni based framework such as this in place.

Experimental Insights: The sample box

Following on from the posts about miniature circuits here and here, I thought I’d show some pictures of the sample box where the chips are housed before they are cooled down in the dilution refigerator.

As you might expect, there is more signal filtering before the DC lines enter the sample box. The filtering is again done by powder filters. These are housed in antechambers surrounding the main sample space. Here is a picture showing the coils which form the inductive component of these LC filters before they have been ‘potted’. You can also see the feedthrough capacitors entering the main sample chamber.


And here is one after showing the filters after they have been filled with stycast:


In the centre of the sample box is the sample space containing a chip carrier, the 4 filtered DC lines and 2 RF lines (which have not been connected yet here). It is important that the chip sits on a copper chip carrier which is screwed down tightly to the sample box. This is due to the physics of conductivity at low temperatures. If the chip carrier is glued down, there would not be very much thermal connection between the sample box and the chip carrier, as glues become very good thermal insulators at low temperatures. The best way to make thermal contact at low temperatures is to have two clean metal surfaces in hard contact. The sample box itself is attached to the mixing chamber of the dilution refrigerator, the part that does the cooling, so this too must be screwed down tightly.

The connectors on the outside of the box are MCX-style jacks for the DC lines and SMA jacks for the RF lines.

There is also a tapped hole on the back of the sample box where a calibrated Ruthenium Oxide thermometer is mounted.

Data mining in the twittersphere

I realised I’m spending an increasing amount of time online. The online world does seem to be developing into some form of alternate existence. I went outside for a walk, and it felt a little alien. Everyone was moving really slowly and it suddenly struck me that there wasn’t very much information coming in from my immediate surroundings…

It’s somewhat cool to spend a lot of time in information-overload mode; it makes relaxing seem easier (even in a hectic city-lifestyle).

To further my explorations, I performed a tentative investigation of Twitter. Hmmm, I really should work harder at this early adopter thing :S So I got thinking about Twitter and things you could do with it…


There is so much information available. All that information can be used… as metrics for ‘things’. For example lets think about, say, ‘Starbucks’. If twitter feed information links Starbucks with ‘good’ or ‘amazing’ or ‘:)’ then the ‘worth’ of the item can be used as a metric of public opinion based on association. You could do the same thing will politicians, banks, countries, decisions etc. A bit like an opinion-stock-market.

Also, why not try direct comparison metrics – See how many times ‘Google’ is mentioned, compared to ‘Microsoft’.

It’s also a lovely dataset for training an AI by extract information from feeds, to learn more about human behaviour and reactions.

You could use it as a metric of generally literacy / intelligence, or as a way of tracking the evolution of language. Tracking internet memes would also be fairly easy, or tracking society moods based on location (if you could also log IPs for instance). Like this recent study on well-being in European countries.

You could do all this with blogs too, but I’m guessing that the blogosphere would give a rather biased subset of the general population in several ways. In addition, blog posts tend to be longer and as such may be more difficult to mine data or trends.

It would potentially be difficult to extract absolute conclusions from this type of study, but monitoring time dependence (i.e. performing some form of normalisation) would be very interesting. If anyone knows of any studies such as this one, it would be interesting to read them.

Miniature filters II

I talked a little while ago about a prototype miniature low temperature LCR filter I made. Well I’m making the real things now, so I thought I’d share the process as they come together. Here is the first stage: The metalwork. This doesn’t actually take very long.


Each filter needs a base plate (top metal pieces with the crosses etched in) to secure the filter and provide the cryostat ground – which I’ll write about in a separate post, a flexible printed circuit board (the flat middle strips of Copper), a supporting wall with feedthrough holes (those ones are pretty obvious) and a lid (bottom metal pieces).

The walls are made just by bending the relatively thin copper plate around 4 times. The holes are made with a metal punch and are 3.18mm in diameter.

Let the mass production commence!! Well, I’m making 5 of these. I think I’ll need 4, and you always make a spare 🙂 I’m thinking of mounting them on the new fridge at 4.2K, 1.5K, 50mK and base temperature, but I haven’t quite decided yet.

Timewise this took a couple of hours (whilst I was waiting for the fridge dewar OVC to pump down – gotta love critical path analysis).

Here is a slightly more artsey photo of the same thing:


Shaping things by Bruce Sterling

shapingthings_sterling2 I’ve just been reading ‘Shaping Things’ by Bruce Sterling (2005). It’s a very interesting and cute book, I’d certainly recommend it. It’s about design, the interaction between people and objects, and how society can be catagorised into historical ‘eras’ determined by this interaction. The book talks about the SPIME – totally interactive and recyclable objects/material items, and how these items will infiltrate our future. The idea is that such objects will boast an incredible amount of information all built in to the design (how the object was made, material properties, the object’s complete history, etc.), although this is usually contained in a database external to the object (e.g. a weblink). The infrastructure for this technology is already mostly in place (barcodes/RFID) and can be extended (think micro/nanodots on each individual part of the object).

The book has some very interesting formatting – including lots of words ‘highlighted’ by the use of different fonts and paragraphs sporting background images. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it reinforces and enhances the main concept of the book, which is all about design.

The last few pages have a real posthumanism ‘feel good’ factor. Go read!