Speaking Out About Hackerspace Brisbane (HSBNE): Covering Up Misdeeds & Silencing Victims

Speaking Out About Hackerspace Brisbane (HSBNE): Covering Up Misdeeds & Silencing Victims

The following is a guest post by Mike’s partner and past HSBNE inc executive member Meka. This post has been reviewed by many others – current and past HSBNE members, multiple past HSBNE executives, and those who have no relationship with HSBNE – who all have seen the underlying evidence behind what follows and consider it to be true and accurate.

A toxic environment at HSBNE

First, I want to stress that Mike’s objective from the start of all this trouble was the protection of vulnerable people within HSBNE. Having been a very involved member for 8 years, he felt a responsibility for its members and assumed he carried a reasonable amount of respect there through his regular volunteering, assistance with fundraisers and long-term membership. Through our social networks, Mike and I ended up hearing from many dissatisfied and upset former members and guests who encountered cultural issues at HSBNE. That feedback helped both of us realise we were part of an organisation which enabled a culture of microaggressions, misogyny, and excusing unacceptable behaviour, and we were not content with that. However, when Mike tried to address the executive with concerns, he met a shocking level of resistance to every attempt at long-term institutional change. This post comes a long time after many of those incidents, and the reason for that is because the conciliation process through the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has only just recently finished, and it was not appropriate to publicly discuss these issues until all avenues for an amicable resolution had been explored. I’ll say more on that in a bit, but suffice it to say, HSBNE and Mike were unable to come to an agreement.

Therefore, the primary audience for this post is current or future HSBNE members/supporters who wish to be part of an inclusive and safe club, and more importantly, vulnerable people still considering attending HSBNE. And there is a second motivation for making this post. We’re hoping for some healing closure for Mike and me.

Mike has been in a state of crisis since the events that happened at HSBNE in 2020, which has had a devastating effect not only on his life, but on the lives of those who love him, including myself. As a result of prolonged abuse and becoming a target of aggression from his colleagues, he developed complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD), a serious condition causing physically and emotionally painful flashback attacks. cPTSD is a daily struggle, and having been his partner for almost 10 years, I can assert that the bullying and silencing by members in authority at HSBNE is the direct cause, as can his doctors who diagnosed the cPTSD and who have the continuity of care with him to be able to ascertain this. While they could not have predicted this specific effect on him, the members involved with the incidents were well aware that he is a vulnerable person, and I believe the behaviour he was subjected to goes well beyond the threshold anyone would tolerate.

I try to be compassionate when assessing these situations. I know most people are not terrible at heart, so I want to believe that the people involved in covering-up the abuses Mike experienced, spreading rumours about his mental health, blocking his ability to speak on his own behalf, and escalating the situation, did so out of ignorance or a misguided reaction to a dilemma. Yet actions have consequences, and even after finding out how damaging their actions had been to Mike, those people continued to cause harm. I was left with the question of whether their choices were being made in the best interests of the members or simply the well-being of the club as an entity, and whether these were conscious choices. Through much of the time I was a devoted member of the club, I dealt with my own cognitive dissonance about the culture there with excuses about lack of time, the belief that I was making small differences, and that my presence was a net benefit.

By the time I realised I had been deceiving myself, I had already seen the negative effects on my own behaviour that being deeply involved with a toxic social group had fostered, and I carry guilt over my role in enabling and expanding the reach of that group. My values demand that kindness and justice must come above personal gain or convenience, and reflecting on them revealed that HSBNE could not be saved for me. Ingrained cultural issues, the involvement of a small number of toxic individuals who had infected the group like a cancer, and the exodus of good people who were quicker to this realisation than me, were all clear indicators that I needed to leave. No matter how mentally strong a person is, the continued draining of emotional energy into an unwilling recipient is a fast track to burnout.

HSBNE’s actions have had lasting consequences for vulnerable members

Mike had more difficulty with the idea of just walking away, though. He feared that some of the more serious issues would continue to be perpetrated. As we had no small part in refining the club, he felt a responsibility to stay and swim against the tide to enforce some minimum acceptable boundaries. He settled on simply making sure Australian law was followed, particularly considering the reports we’d heard from some people regarding sexual misconduct and non-consensual touching. Unfortunately, taking these things to the police is hard in the most clear-cut circumstances. Add in the culture of protecting the club above all else, and the possible hostile witnesses that may produce, and you have a recipe for traumatised victims and no justice. It’s also near-impossible to fight someone else’s battles if they themselves do not have the willingness or ability to take on that fight, so that often leads to people with a strong sense of justice feeling overwhelmed with the weight of inequity and pain this leaves behind. Mike, therefore, decided he would focus on smaller battles, such as petty theft and destruction of member-donated & member-loaned property that he had experienced regularly over the years – easier to prove and of much less risk to the group’s reputation. Start small and build up.

As many know, group dynamics like this make disrupting the status quo a fairly risky move, but neither of us expected the extent to which some members would go to protect the establishment, nor how conditioned the inner circle members were to protect the group from all dissent without question. It was shocking, to say the least, to see people I regarded as friends suddenly turn on Mike, twisting facts beyond recognition or totally rewriting events in order to diminish the issues he brought to them. It was so fluid, so easy the way the truth reshaped into half-truths and then complete fiction in so little time, it has made me wonder about the club disagreements I weighed in on during my 7-year stint. How much did my rose-tinted glasses obscure my perspective, and was it “groupthink” or was there a pilot at the helm? The sudden and unexpected transition from in-group to out-group was eye-opening and revealed the situation was far worse than I had even begun to unravel. Again, I don’t believe most members of HSBNE have ill will towards others, nor do I think most were particularly cognisant of the specifics of their actions. Rather, we had a social structure that was ripe for exploitation by bad actors, and many members who were caught up in the pull of group dynamics. There were certainly those who tried to fight the tide, but they were always fighting a losing battle and I watched many paddle themselves to the end of their tether. All I can say to anyone I may have hurt due to my behaviour, decisions or passive approval of others’ actions, is that I’m sincerely sorry, and I hope that my late but eventual realisation of my role in your pain is enough to earn forgiveness.

I have walked away, and wise folk would tell me to forget about HSBNE and use this time to develop into the person I want to be. I work at looking after myself and developing as a person, yet I’m unable to forget. The cPTSD Mike suffers from affects us daily, and doesn’t let me clear HSBNE out of my life. I can only imagine what it’s like being him, stuck in that place, reliving betrayal from your best friend, finding out a number of people you trusted are conspiring to eject you from your main social group, clearly remembering every detail of the situation, but with no opportunity to defend your reputation amidst a torrent of ever more fanciful lies.

I gained some inkling of the pain Mike lives with when I had a brief experience of insomnia-induced mania after a surgery, and the filters that normally calm our unwelcome, intrusive thoughts and memories temporarily stopped working for me. With ADHD, I usually have trouble slowing down my mind, but this experience was particularly horrible and I couldn’t ignore it. cPTSD seems to be like this, giving painful memories amplification without context, no alternative to raw emotion except to distract it as best we can. Every day I regret not somehow convincing Mike to walk away from the group earlier, before he had to live through the social rejection and aggressions that now run on random repeat in his brain. Before an influential group of his peers solidified fears instilled by a life filled with bullying, abuse and betrayals. The disappointment I feel over the behaviour of people I once considered friends has been the hardest emotion for me to deal with.

Illegal discrimination is acceptable at HSBNE

For brevity’s sake I am only going to present evidence for one instance of the discrimination Mike experienced, as it levelled up the seriousness of the entire situation, however you can view more of the story here. I believe this particular example is of great importance to current and future members, as well as any other entities that may interact with HSBNE.

Unable to persuade the executive of the need for any action, and blocked from speaking to other members about it or to even tell others that the mediation service exists if they need it, Mike found himself without recourse but to file a formal complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). This is an email that Mike received from HSBNE‘s executive within hours of them finding out he had filed the complaint:
Screenshot of an email dated 31 July 2020 at 9:35pm, from secretary@hsbne.org, subject "HSBNE Ban Notice". Email text as follows: Hello Mike, In light of your official complaint to the AHRC, The HSBNE Executive has voted to ban you for three months pursuant to the following policy: 'Making legal or other threats in an attempt to coerce, intimidate, or act in bad faith towards HSBNE or any member acting in the interest of HSBNE.', as the escalation process for AHRC complaints is mediation and then court. HSBNE cannot reasonably continue with your membership in light of an ongoing legal process. All future communications with HSBNE must be sent to executive@hsbne.org. We have removed your access to HSBNE resources as appropriate, effective immediately. Your Ban will Expire on November 1, 2021. Regards, HSBNE Executive

Mike was given HSBNE‘s toughest ban for simply submitting a human rights complaint, so apparently, reporting illegal behaviour to external entities can be a punishable act at HSBNE, despite their claim to be a “Safe Space”.

The Disability Discrimination Act (Part 2, Division 4, Section 42) clearly states it’s a criminal offence to punish someone for filing a Complaint, with a penalty of 6 months imprisonment. This also applies to those who incite, promote or threaten the illegal act, so whether or not you agree that all seven pages of Mike’s original AHRC complaint are valid, this unlawful ban by the executive shows a severe lack of judgement on their part.
Part 2, Division 4, Section 42 of the Disability Discrimination Act - Victimisation. Text as follows: (1) It is an offence for a person to commit an act of victimisation against another person. Penalty: Imprisonment for 6 months. (2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a person is taken to commit an act of victimisation against another person if the first‑mentioned person subjects, or threatens to subject, the other person to any detriment on the ground that the other person: (a) has made, or proposes to make, a complaint under this Act or the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986; or (b) has brought, or proposes to bring, proceedings under this Act or the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 against any person; or (c) has given, or proposes to give, any information, or has produced, or proposes to produce, any documents to a person exercising or performing any power or function under this Act or the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986; or (d) has attended, or proposes to attend, a conference held under this Act or the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986; or (e) has appeared, or proposes to appear, as a witness in a proceeding under this Act or the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986; or (f) has reasonably asserted, or proposes to assert, any rights of the person or the rights of any other person under this Act or the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986; or (g) has made an allegation that a person has done an act that is unlawful by reason of a provision of this Part; or on the ground that the first‑mentioned person believes that the other person has done, or proposes to do, an act or thing referred to in any of paragraphs (a) to (g) (inclusive).

Victimisation is a serious (and illegal) matter. HSBNE violated the Disability Discrimination Act, and with HSBNE’s rules still as they are, they are primed to repeat that if they so choose. Just having the relevant rule on the books constitutes an illegal threat. As such, I advise avoiding HSBNE if you are someone who feels you are at risk of discrimination due to your race, gender identity, sexual preference, disability, neuro-diversity, age, religion, or other protected class. My experience alongside Mike has shown that discrimination is not only accepted at HSBNE, but standing up for one’s own human rights is viewed as an unforgivable offence.

HSBNE is not a Safe Space

Due to conciliation dragging on so long, multiple executives were involved in the AHRC complaint, and no agreement could be reached with any of them, which leads me to believe they are all content for discrimination and issues of other kinds of safety to go unaddressed and to perpetuate that culture in the organisation. I say this as someone who served on the executive at one point, and I take the responsibility of serving on the committee of any not-for-profit very seriously. I believe individuals on the executive/committee/board of an organisation have a duty of care to maintain a safe and functional organisation, and if they lack the required skills or knowledge to do so and no other capable members are able to step up to take that role, then the only ethical option is to pause operations and divert efforts and funding to fulfil these minimum requirements. It is regrettable and unfortunate, but if volunteers cannot maintain the minimum standards, the remaining option is to scale back operations or close, not to cut corners and risk the safety and well-being of others. Therefore, HSBNE calling itself a “Safe Space” and giving itself labels like LGBTQ-friendly is, in my opinion, dangerously misleading. As demonstrated in Mike’s case, it has failed to meet the bare minimum required by law, let alone having the extra management, training and cultural awareness needed to create a Safe Space.

After conciliation concluded without success, Mike had to decide if he was going to proceed to the federal court with his complaint. Legal counsel advised that this would result in only financial compensation, expected to be in the mid-5 digits based on other similar cases and the clear-cut evidence of victimisation. Not only does Mike not want to see the complete financial destruction of HSBNE, but he also did not want to deprive Brisbane of a potentially valuable community resource due to the bad actions of a few. He simply wished to have his voice heard, for the club rules to be applied fairly to those who violated the Safe Space policy and the law, for harmful policies to be removed, for retractions to be issued about defamatory statements and for restitution over having to fight for years over his mistreatment. These are things money cannot fix, and the toll the whole process was going to take on him and me was likely to be severe.

In the interests of transparency, Mike is sharing the full, unmodified text of his AHRC complaint, which does not cover all the abuse Mike has experienced at HSBNE, only that which relates to his disability. This includes both direct and indirect discrimination, but does not include the additional discrimination that happened after filing the complaint, such as his ban or the further silencing by removing his Google review. The accompanying evidence and additional misc texts have been removed through caution of third-party privacy, however the document and supporting evidence spent nearly a month being reviewed for accuracy and objectivity by both current and past HSBNE members, multiple past HSBNE executives, those who have no relationship to HSBNE, a Justice of the Peace, and two lawyers. It was not filed lightly nor without great thought and consideration.

HSBNE has a problem with sexual misconduct

One issue needs to be made particularly clear: that of sexual misconduct at HSBNE. Mike was sexually assaulted at HSBNE, by someone who was an executive member at the time Mike first opened up about it on his website post. I myself have also been made to feel uncomfortable from non consensual touching by that same person, and another past executive member who has reviewed this post was also sexually harassed by that same person. Since Mike’s previous post, a decent number of other past members have contacted Mike, saying they had also been victims of sexual misconduct at HSBNE. One name keeps coming up again and again as the perpetrator for over half of the issues, but let me stress that while those who have reviewed this post agree that this individual is clearly an issue, this individual is not the only perpetrator. Banning that one person will not fix the structural and systemic issues of silencing, disbelieving and bullying those who report issues, and I have seen members openly expressing that they value HSBNE’s reputation more than preventing criminal acts within their organisation.

HSBNE silences victims

Mike opened up about his experience due to concern for others and to demonstrate the pattern of concerning behaviours within the club. He had been very clearly told he was not permitted to discuss anything that would shine a negative light on the club or challenge the status quo if he wanted his forum post approved on HSBNE’s forum, completely against what their own rules say about supporting member’s freedom of speech and avoiding censorship. With all his suggestions to improve the situation denied, not being permitted to discuss it with other members, all forms of internal communication being screened, denied posting rights and discussion at meetings blocked, Mike had no alternative but to warn members of these disturbing issues publicly on his website.

HSBNE members need to be aware that another victim who independently contacted Mike after reading his website post, has seriously considered leading a class-action lawsuit since finding out they aren’t alone in this experience. For as long as the executive prioritizes public image over safety, and the disgusting attitudes I saw on the HSBNE forums disregarding any claims of sexual assault at HSBNE continue to be voiced without strong opposition, the chance that it will happen again is tragically all too likely. Isolating and silencing victims of sexual abuse is the weapon of the abusers. Should further abuse occur, I hope that this post prevails as the start of support and validation for those who need it. With such a large number of past members willing to say it’s happened to them, any victim of future abuse at HSBNE now has supporters to make sure they don’t feel alone, and they will not need to suffer in silence like those before.

HSBNE members defamed Mike

As they apparently began to tire of Mike’s attempts to correct wrongdoings at the space, multiple HSBNE members in positions of authority made false claims that he had broken rules, or was guilty of unacceptable behaviours that hadn’t happened, which in my opinion stank of high-school clique manipulation tactics. Execs painted themselves as long-suffering heroes, who had been selflessly tolerating an unstable invalid all these years, despite the story being far different when Mike was (mostly) compliant. Some of their rumours about Mike’s mental state spread outside the organisation in a way that has damaged Mike’s income-earning potential, and has caused severe anxiety regarding the unknown knock-on effect it might have had on his reputation. I don’t know if these false stories came about because the author was being intentionally deceptive or if their own cognitive bias influenced them to selectively remember or create details, but I simply wish to encourage you all to approach these situations with compassion and curiosity, to consider the source and evidence, and to be aware of how emotion and bias might affect your willingness to accept or reject a certain person’s account.

Even if we had been able to secure some form of justice for Mike through the AHRC, he is still going to take a long time to heal from the cPTSD, and without resolution, the road is just longer and harder. Being treated with prejudice and contempt and having his name dragged through the mud is something even the most resilient person would have struggled with. Having to fight for two years in the hopes that someone would stand up and take some positive action to right the wrongs he experienced was more than we could take. He’s suffering almost constantly, and I have used up everything I had left to support him through to this point. We have failed to get HSBNE to make changes, so if we can’t make something safe, I feel it’s only ethical that we should warn others about the danger.

We are finished with HSBNE, and this post is our final attempt to minimise the harm we have feared is likely to continue if we don’t challenge the wrongdoing and try to pull back the veil. As a survivor of abuse, I could not stand by while I saw the same dynamics I recognised all too well unfold before me once more, and the danger I know comes from secrecy. It’s now up to HSBNE’s members if they want to actually change the way their organisation functions, otherwise we hope this post serves as a way for others to make an informed choice before interacting with that group. Whichever way it falls, I will try to move forward from whatever wrongs my own involvement may have caused, and to become a better person having learnt from my errors in judgement and behaviour. Others must make their own choices, and decide for themselves who or what they stand for.

– Meka, and all those who have reviewed & stand by this post

Riven Elementary Restored

Riven Elementary Restored

What’s that? Today’s Riven: the Sequel to Myst‘s 25th Anniversary? And because the whole game is based around the number 25, that makes it an extra special anniversary?? Time for me to release something extra special then!

Time for me to release a fully restored version of Riven Elementary.

Screenshot of the main title screen for Riven Elementary

Riven Elementary Restored. Playable once again, after so many years!

Download Riven Elementary Restored


What’s Riven Elementary?

Riven Elementary was a basic maths game inspired by the Wahrk counting number toy in the schoolroom in Riven (more information on it at the Guild of Archivists). The player has to work out what the D’ni symbols for the numbers 1-10 are by observing what happens when you play with the toy. Riven Elementary takes this a step further, and the player has to work out not only the D’ni symbols for numbers using the Wahrk toy but also the D’ni symbols for addition/subtraction/multiplication/division based on which questions they get right & wrong. It was originally released on the 26th of August 1998, 10 months after Riven’s original CD release and coinciding with Riven’s DVD release. A contest was also part of the original release of Riven Elementary – you could only submit your details if you won a perfect game, and there were two winners a week earning a free CD copy of Riven.

The game itself was made by Jig Interactive using Macromedia Director and designed to play in-browser using Macromedia Shockwave Player, the precursor to Adobe Shockwave. The original version went offline around 20 years ago, but fragments of it lived on in some mirrors. Before now, if you were dedicated it was possible to re-create most of the game to have a functional-but-not-with-original-graphics version you could get running with an old version of a web browser that still supported plug-ins (like I had it running on my Myst book). But what I’m releasing here is a restored version using not only all the original graphics, but in a form that’s easily playable on modern computers.

Wait, is this canon?

The all-authoritative RAWA has said many times that the mathematical operand symbols in Riven Elementary are officially not canon. But hey, they’re also the only mathematical symbols we’ve got, official/canon or not. So people have been hungry for them anyway.

Screenshot of the actual game portion of Riven Elementary showing the Wahrk counting number game, and two sums using D'ni symbols

D’ni Mathematics. As easy as one, two, three fah, bree, sehn!

How did you get this running again?

Huge thanks goes out to @tomysshadow for most of the effort! They managed to track down the old Jig Interactive employee, Gabe Jensen, who originally programmed the game (he’s now a children’s book author; you can check him out at https://gabejensenbooks.com). He still had the original source files, which filled all the gaps missing from the versions you could recreate from the Internet Archive. @tomysshadow also leveraged their experience dealing with old Shockwave files to create a projector for the ancient game so it could be played on modern Windows systems without needing an old web browser with the Shockwave plugin installed.

What’s the system requirements?

Riven Elementary was originally designed to run on Internet Explorer 4-era of Web Browsers with the Macromedia Shockwave Player plug-in installed. Thankfully the world has since moved on from such dark, primitive times. What I’m releasing has been tested & confirmed to run on Windows 10 and Windows 11, and it’ll probably run on earlier releases of Windows too. Sorry MacOS users; Apple’s long-term war against backwards compatibility and Adobe Director’s discontinuation in 2017 mean no easy export to a modern native .app for Shockwave files. Those who know how on MacOS/Linux may have some luck with Crossover, WINE, a virtual machine, or similar emulation/virtualisation environment; if you do, let me know in the comments! Other system requirements like RAM or CPU speed mattered back in the day, but today they’re so low a calculator app may be more demanding so they’re not worth mentioning.

Ok, let me at it!

Just download the zip file, extract everything somewhere, run rivenelem.exe, and you’re away!

Download Riven Elementary Restored


Some anti-virus providers may not like this game, likely just because it’s old Shockwave content. I’ve scanned these files thoroughly through the likes of VirusTotal and others, but to make sure nothing’s been tampered with here’s a description of the archive’s contents plus their SHA-1 hashes:

  • Riven_elementary_restored.zip – the whole archive
    SHA-1 hash: 0d026a3632e2e41e7235372a5822e585cd6edc36
  • rivenelem.exe – the Projector to play the game. This is what you want to run
    SHA-1 hash: 19bbe067c7ef3eae964c10bc8951e76d61b4e64f
  • rivenelemcheat.exe – a Projector with “cheat” mode enabled, in case you need a little help
    SHA-1 hash: cf718dc85e69d20fffb83c53cd2b35272dac53cb
  • rivenelem.dcr – the original Macromedia Shockwave file, used by the Projectors
    SHA-1 hash: a37395cad4bc9de20fef6f1eeafa8b89c7a62af2
  • dswMedia folder – images used by the game, originally pre-loaded during the intro screens


Speaking of early internet web games based on Riven (such an incredibly niche topic!), if you haven’t seen it before check out the Riven Journals Restored. It’s another online game based on Riven I’ve also restored, this one originally made as part of the lead-up to Riven’s release. The puzzles were originally written in Java but they’ve been rewritten in JavaScript to work on modern browsers.

Happy 25th anniversary, Riven!

HSBNE is not a Safe Space

So, first off, the primary intended audience of this post is current/future members of HSBNE aka Hackerspace Brisbane. If you’re wondering why I’m writing this here somewhere open & public, it’s partly because I’m being blocked from posting it in the forums, but also because saying these things only in private has only allowed the bad behaviour to flourish. This censorship is wrong; if you can’t discuss issues then you can’t hope to fix them. It’s even worse when this censoring is being used to hide evidence of wrongdoing so members don’t know what’s really happening at their own space. But that’s the currently acceptable standard at HSBNE, and frankly, I don’t think the average member would agree with what’s actually being enforced if they knew it was happening.

For the newer members who don’t know me, I’m Mike & I’ve been a very active HSBNE member & volunteer for 8 years until recently. I’ve spent nearly a decade helping build HSBNE up as best as I can, and I still want it to succeed as much as possible. It’s a one-of-a-kind place, after all. But I’m deeply concerned that the direction it’s taking will cause the place to implode, and the fact that members aren’t permitted to know the direction it’s taking is incredibly worrying to me. I think it’s fair to say that anyone who volunteers to improve HSBNE does so because they want to make it a better place, however what’s “better” is sometimes a matter of opinion. For instance, wanting to portray HSBNE in the best possible light has been a thing for as long as I can remember, and in general it’s a good thing. Unfortunately, with time that’s morphed at first into hiding structural issues that are wrong without fixing them, into discouraging members from bringing them up, into outright punishing anyone who mentions them. This is an incredibly dangerous anti-pattern, because it not only perpetuates the original problem, it ends up actively encouraging it and the problematic behaviour increases. Bad things happen at all organisations and HSBNE is not some magical exemption; it’s how you deal with them that matters most.

I have been experiencing discrimination and defamation at HSBNE and I’m both being blocked from even telling other members this has occurred and also being actively prevented from having any opportunity to clear my name. This has even gone as low as lying about and attacking me for my disability. Because all my attempts to get these issues resolved internally have failed, I’m forced to take it externally with legal options. As such, I’ve filed a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission about the treatment I’ve received at HSBNE. I would like to share more details, but out of respect for the process & the current executive it’s best to avoid publicly discussing active complaints. So I’d ask anyone reading this to withhold your judgement if you have heard rumours about me as I have evidence backing me up that multiple members have been lying about me.

I’d also like to bring attention to sexual assault & sexual harassment happening at HSBNE. Yes, this is clearly against HSBNE’s rules, but that would require the rules to be enforced. A few years ago I was sexually assaulted by another member. I mostly shrugged it off at the time, until I was at a party last year where I mentioned HSBNE and the person I was speaking to said they quit after they were sexually harassed by the same member. Another person at the party overheard us and said they were also sexually harassed at HSBNE, but by a different member, and they said the place has a reputation for providing safe harbour to sexual predators. I messaged some other ex members that I felt left for suspicious reasons, and before I knew it the number was over half a dozen. This appears to have been happening for a period of time and there’s potentially more cases out there too. This is a perfect example of how silence is helping perpetuate this system as those responsible can keep getting away with it. I’ve debated how much information I should share about my case to warn others, but the fact that the systems are so broken at HSBNE that this keeps happening is far more worrying to me than my own incident, so I’ll just say that there are still active HSBNE members who have sexually harassed other members and visitors. I won’t be naming people for my own safety, fearing retribution, but I’ll simply recommend that women, fem presenting and vulnerable people avoid HSBNE, as my experience has shown that no action will be taken by the HSBNE executives to protect victims of these crimes.

In saying all this, I withdraw all past recommendations I’ve given for HSBNE aka Hackerspace Brisbane, particularly if you’re a woman, fem presenting, vulnerable or disabled person. I cannot in good conscience continue to endorse a place that is not a safe space and where the rules are borderline worthless and enforced unequally.

EDIT: Since I originally posted this, I’ve been private messaged by some ex HSBNE members. The number of incidents of sexual harassment I’m aware of has now increased by 3. Tell me with a straight face there isn’t a problem.

EDIT2: In case anyone tried to write off this post as just one member’s ranting, another core member has made a similar blog post, covering the above plus other issues I also agree with but was scared of mentioning myself lest I suffer retaliation for calling them out. Speaking of retaliation, I’ve been given a Schedule Three 3-month ban aka the toughest ban available, for filing a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission. This is not an exaggeration or misleading or putting words in their mouth; filing the complaint was the only reason given for the ban. I’m saying this as a warning to any current/future members about what the current executive consider punishable/forbidden behaviour, such as trying to enforce the law when it’s been broken. Also, the rule used to justify this punishment was not brought in through the usual public discussion/vote by membership route, it bypassed all this to be rushed in unilaterally by the current executive under their override powers with just an announcement that it was now in effect, placing the onus entirely on them. I will not be commenting further on this ban as it will be addressed as part of the AHRC proceedings.

Myst Island Cake

Myst Island Cake

On the 7th of November 2020, Cyan Worlds announced the first annual Myst Island Cake Baking Contest, under the #MystIslandCake hashtag. I couldn’t resist having a go… Around 60 hours of work between us later, here’s the end result!

Myst Island Cake Myst Island Cake - front view Myst Island Cake - rear 2 Myst Island Cake - rear 1

We started with planing the design – specifically, how could we make a unique approach to this cake, so it wasn’t just another iteration of Myst island. That’s when I had the idea to show a cross-section of the island to display the subterranean caverns. Meka loved this idea, and with his background in architecture, he was well equipped to visualise the final product.

As a way to take stock of what ingredients are available to make this edible diorama, we took a few trips to different stores to find the best ingredients for sculpting and cake decorating. The grocery store had a decent selection that would have been fine, but the trip to a specialist cake decorating shop had fantastic things such as bronze food paint & powdered food colouring.

Myst Island Cake ingredients

The making process begun with choosing an appropriate scale to make the cake. Using a 3D model of Myst Island, we found a size that would allow Meka to sculpt the smallest models we wanted to include, as well as considering how much fruit cake we can realistically eat (side note: this is Australian-style fruit cake, which is far more edible & tastes far better than its international counterpart). The board is around 600mm by 300mm, or around 2′ by 1′. I then printed out scaled drawings of the plan view of the island for Meka to start sculpting. Being able to consult these wireframe images, as well as measure dimensions straight off the 3D model, was super handy to make sure everything was scaled correctly & in the right place. Sculpting all the individual buildings, trees & artefacts took many days of fiddly work until we had the majority of the chocolate and sugar cake toppers finished.

Myst Island Wireframe - top/aerial/above view Myst Island Wireframe - side view Myst Island Wireframe - front view

Myst Island Cake - Library Myst Island Cake - Mechanical Age gears Myst Island Cake - Planetarium Myst Island Cake - Stoneship Age ship

2 days put from the deadline, the cake sculpting began. A copy of the island plan was made on baking paper, which was used to make approximate placement of the landscape, contours, buildings & the dock. Again I was in charge of scaling the elevations of the landscape, while Meka’s sticky but far steadier hands sliced away at the cake.

Myst Island fruitcake

Once we were happy with the overall shape of the island (taking into consideration the underwater portion of the island that Meka approximated), the cake was generously drenched in rum so that it would stay preserved for weeks. There was also the added bonus that the rum helped pull the crumbling cake together after much cutting & piecing together.

It was now time to put on some top soil. A thin layer of brown fondant was stretched across the fruitcake & massaged into shape. The rock portions of the island were painted with a palate of royal icing in different colours to approximate granite, and a layer of moulding chocolate put on the cake board, ready for the ocean water (a mistake we would soon find out) The tricky job of making the sectional view of the internal chambers took a little planing & creative licence. As many Myst fans may know, the chambers don’t exactly fit in the island faithfully, and to make a clean section, a small amount of artistic license was required.

Myst Island Cake - cutout view

Grass made of crushed digestive biscuits mixed with shredded coconut was applied to the appropriate areas. The buildings, pathways, stairs, ships, pillars & trees were positioned and blended into the landscape, before a dam of packing tape & cardboard was constructed around the cake ready for the sea water. The ocean water was made with agar powder, water, sugar & flavouring, which was cooled to 40’C/105’F before being poured around the cake. The underwater chocolate & the fondant of the island began to dissolve in the agar, even though the jelly was hard. This was not a major problem as the colour stayed in the jelly, and the dissolving fondant dripped slowly, which we continued to mop up.

Myst Island Cake - Selenitic Age rocketship

After removing the jelly mould, the cake was almost done, but there was a blank space on the side where the island was cut off. Meka had a plan for this – literally! He drew out the plan view of the island, as though Atrus was still in the process of writing the island into existence. It was finished with a chocolate version of Atrus’s quill and ink, along with his memorable words.
Myst Island Cake - Quill
Aside from some small amounts of armature wire to hold up things like the trees, everything else in this cake is edible. Most importantly, most of the sculptures are chocolate-based instead of being fondant-based, so it actually tastes good too (eg the quill is entirely white chocolate). And now that it’s finally done, it’s time for us to enjoy some cake after staring at it all week! *nom*
Myst Island Cake - top/aerial/above view

Myst Island Cake - side view

Mad Scientist Knife Switch Extension Cord

Mad Scientist Knife Switch Extension Cord

There’s a running joke amongst my friends that I’m an actual time-travelling mad scientist – mostly because it’s more true than false. So I figured, why not run with it a little and have some fun with it. So that’s what I’ve done here – I’ve restored this old Mad Scientist’s Knife Switch into perfect working order!

Knife Switch 1

A 2x DPDT knife switch, rated for 500V 60A, with arc suppressors

Just cleaning it & replacing the springs was the easy part. Safety is important – especially when you’re going to have “exposed” bare copper like I have here. For this knife switch the exposed bare copper is only ever running at 5 Volts, and those +5V connections are used to open/close some relays, with additional protection if the exposed areas ever go too high in voltage or current. You could lick the bare copper if you wanted without feeling so much as a tingle. But I don’t recommend licking copper; it tastes bad.

Knife Switch 2

“Pull the Lever, Kronk!”

Fully restored/repaired/running, this knife switch is now sitting around my house as a random extension cord you can use to turn on/off any appliance it’s paired with. Because why not make turning on a lamp a little bit more Mad Sciencey.

DeLorean Door Card Foam Replacement

DeLorean Door Card Foam Replacement

My DeLorean‘s now 39 years old, which means it’s got a long list of “nice to haves” that aren’t critical but they either need some attention or outright replacing. One example is the foam in the door trim panel upholstery – that collapsed into a black powder a long time ago and left the door interiors completely flat, hard, and with no depth or shape to them. So let’s fix that! DeLorean Go offer a Door Card Foam Repair Kit with what you need. Since I’m in Australia with shipping restrictions on certain chemicals I ordered the kit with 2 tubes of glue instead of the tin of glue. I personally would’ve found it better to use 3 tubes of glue and I would recommend you buy 3 tubes just in case, but you can definitely make do with just 2 tubes. You could probably DIY this cheaper by finding a suitable foam in the 1/4″ or 6-8mm thickness range but I’m not sure what the best density/firmness you would want, let alone the right foam material; I’m sticking with the vendor-provided option for this job.

DeLorean Door Upholstery Padding Before

DeLorean Door Upholstery Padding Before

As far as jobs go this one is more fiddly than actually tricky. There’s a trick to popping the door trim panels out – have your the window down while you do it and use an upholstery fork/fir tree/trim removal tool to pop the fir tree fasteners one at a time. You can use a screwdriver if you must, but I highly recommend even the cheap plastic trim/fir tree removal tools to save you time. Carefully peel the vinyl off your fibreglass/plastic inner door frame. The dust from the old disintegrated foam will want to go everywhere; make sure you completely vacuum out the old foam dust from all the pockets otherwise you might accidentally get some on the adhesives and they won’t stick as well. Cut to size and insert the new foam – the roll would do maybe 3 doors worth so there’s plenty if you mess up, but remember the old advice that it’s easier to make a bigger piece smaller than a smaller piece bigger. The doors are theoretically mirror images, but these cars were hand-made so there might be a tiny bit of variance between them. When gluing, apply the glue to both surfaces and let them dry a little bit before pressing them together. It’s also important to keep the vinyl stretched taut over the backing piece as you work when gluing it on to avoid any bunching or ripples. Finally, this is a good time to replace your door’s fir tree fasteners if your old ones have gotten all mangled up over the decades.

The end result should look something like this – the extra curves & shaped definition in the vinyl are subtle, but definitely there and make it look that little bit better! I’ve done my best to take both of these photos from the same position/angle with as close to identical natural lighting as I could, to make the comparison easier to see. By now all DeLoreans will have collapsed door foam if it wasn’t already replaced; whether or not you think this needs doing to your car is entirely down to your personal opinion.

DeLorean Door Upholstery Padding After

DeLorean Door Upholstery Padding After

25-Hour Digital Myst Clock/Chronometer

25-Hour Digital Myst Clock/Chronometer

My wall clock in my house recently died, and with there being a running joke that I’m a time traveller thanks to my DeLorean, I thought I might as well build a replacement clock myself so it could be extra unique. Here’s what I came up with: a self-setting, self-correcting, self-adjusting wall clock/chronometer that tells time both in our timekeeping system and in the 25-hour D’ni timekeeping system used in the Myst series of video games. This is actually pretty handy if you want to know if it’s the right time to log in for certain events in Myst Online: Uru Live.

Digital D'ni Clock

It tells you the time both in our “surface” time and in the D’ni cavern!

Technically it’s more a “chronometer” than a “clock” – the main difference between the two is that chronometers have far higher accuracy & precision, to the point that they can be used for scientific experiments. For this one, it’s generally safe to assume it shouldn’t read outside 0.003s of the actual time, but in practice it’s usually under 0.001s of the actual time. It’s no atomic clock, but it’ll do for most of my slow-mo needs. The whole project’s been designed to be as cheap, low-tech, skill-free, and expensive-tool-free as possible.

(Youtube Link in case the above video doesn’t work for you)

First up, a little primer – the digits used in the Myst games, aka D’ni digits, are a base-25 numbering system. This means they count up using symbols like [1], [2], [3], [4] … [22], [23], [24], [1][0]. That is, what they call “10”, we call “25” – the same way that in hexadecimal “10” represents what we call “16”. The numbers themselves are based on the numbers 0-4, which are then rotated anticlockwise 90° to represent 5/10/15/20. Here’s an example of D’ni numbers, showing how you add the row & column header symbols together to get the final number symbol:​

D'ni Numbers

Each D’ni “day”, or “yahr”, is roughly 30 hours, 14 minutes long and each D’ni “second”, or “prorahn”, is roughly 1.4 seconds. The Guild of Archivists has more details on how the actual D’ni timekeeping system works if that interests you. There’s nothing like these digits anywhere out there on the market, aside from something crazy like using LCD displays, but that didn’t interest me much and wouldn’t meet the goals of cheap or low-tech. So I had to come up with my own… And here’s how that turned out!

Prototype 25-Segment D'ni Display

Animation of 7-segment style Digital D'ni Numbers

There’s so many places I could start with describing how this project was made so I’m gonna pick the one that probably interests most people reading this – the custom D’ni digit 25-segment displays! These are basically like my own custom 7-segment displays, but they’re easier to read with much higher contrast than store-bought 7-segs. I couldn’t find any instructions or guides out there on how to make your own (I’m sure there has to be some out there somewhere), so I had to work it all out myself from trial and error. The design itself was all made in Inkscape. Laser cutting holes in sheet acrylic and filling them with translucent resin was the way to go. The trickiest part is to have even light diffusion throughout an entire cell. The black parts are made from laser-cut 4.5mm black acrylic.

Laser-cutting D'ni digits out of acrylic

Laser-cutting D’ni digits out of acrylic

To help bounce light around inside each cell as much as possible, I airbrushed them with a thin white paint before filling them with resin. For the side that was to be the “front”, aka the good-quality side, I wanted the poured resin cells to be smooth & flush with the surface of the acrylic, which is tricky. I placed a piece of clear packing tape on a table with the sticky side up, stretched it out as far as I could, then carefully placed the front of the acrylic piece on the stretched tape. This kept the packing tape under constant tension, so that the resin cured against a smooth flat surface. The empty cells were filled with a 7:1 mixture of clear resin with super fine plaster of paris (mixed before pouring, obviously), which was the best-looking diffusing medium I tried. If you try this, sift the plaster into the resin while stirring to make it as evenly distributed as possible and to reduce plaster clumps in the resin. Use a needle to break up the remaining clumps and to remove any air bubbles that might be stuck in the corners. I recommend carefully picking up the cured acrylic blocks and looking at them from underneath to check for any plaster clumps or bubbles too. A vacuum chamber would be great if you’ve got one to remove the bubbles, but I didn’t have one. Once the resin was cured I carefully removed the packing tape and the segments were ready.

(Youtube Link in case the above video doesn’t work for you)

At 4.5mm thick, a single layer of diffusion from this material is likely good enough for most people, but just to make the light segments look extra smooth I used two layers of resin-filled acrylic. However, in this video you can see that there’s a lot of light bleeding from one cell to another, so to seal the edges well, I laser-cut some cardboard gaskets out of 2mm thick black cardboard backing board. I painted the interior edges with a silver pen to increase reflection. I used these gaskets between the two layers of acrylic as well as between the acrylic and the circuit board. I tried adding layers of proper light diffusion film between the gaskets, but they did so little and they would’ve been so fiddly to place in each cell that I didn’t bother.

The 5 layers in the 25-segment digital D'ni display modules - acrylic layers on the left, cardboard gaskets in the middle, circuit board on the right

The 5 layers in the 25-segment digital D’ni display modules – acrylic layers on the left, cardboard gaskets in the middle, circuit board on the right

The custom circuit boards were all made in EasyEDA, which is simple enough to use that it runs in your web browser. The layout was imported from Inkscape’s SVG and I used that to properly position the LEDs. Each board has 50 individual LEDS in strings ranging from 1 LED to 4 LEDs long. There’s 36 discrete cells, or resin-filled holes in the acrylic, but some are always lit up together so there’s only 26 controllable segments. There were 2 different voltages used for these boards – 9 Volts for the strings of 4 & 3 LEDs, and 5 Volts for the strings of 2 & 1 LEDs.

EasyEDA's logic-level layout of the 25-segment displays

EasyEDA’s logic-level layout of the 25-segment D’ni Display

25-segment D'ni Display silkscreen layout

Silkscreen layout of the 25-segment D’ni Display

I know a lot of people like to rag on the autorouter feature of EDA software, but for something like this it works perfectly. Aside from a few starting obvious straight traces I put down myself, and a few extra links added right at the end to reduce the chances of the top or bottom planes acting like antennae, everything else was autorouted.

LEDs and a couple traces placed on the 25-segment D'ni Display circuit layout

LEDs and a couple traces placed on the 25-segment D’ni Display circuit layout

Final circuit layout of the 25-segment D'ni Display circuit, mostly autorouted

Final circuit layout of the 25-segment D’ni Display circuit, mostly autorouted – I didn’t draw this, it was automatically drawn for me

With so many tiny SMD LEDs needing soldering, I definitely recommend paying extra to order a solder stencil along with your circuit board. I have pretty shaky hands due to some medication I’m currently on, but I could manage placing them on the small pads of solder paste left by the stencils. It’s called solder paste but it’s easier to work with (and more accurate) if you think of it as a bunch of tiny beads in oil, rather than an actual paste. If you’ve ever wondered what solder paste looks like up close, here’s some microscope photos!

Circuit Board Solder Paste up close with a Microscope Circuit Board Solder Paste up close with a Microscope Circuit Board Solder Paste up close with a Microscope Circuit Board Solder Paste up close with a Microscope Circuit Board Solder Paste up close with a Microscope

You can use a fancy reflow oven or an electronics hot plate to fuse the solder, but you can also just use a frying pan on a stove, so long as your pan is actually properly flat. Getting the right temperature is important so check with your brand of solder paste – I used Maker Paste which needs 140’C/284’F. Note that standard cheap IR spot thermometers won’t normally work on metal pans (the pan will reflect the IR light giving a wrong reading), but thermal cameras or cooking thermometers work. One clever hack is to add a few drops of water to the pan & count how long it takes for those drops to boil, add half of that time again, and you should be at around 140’C. Preheat the frying pan and the moment the paste all melts & goes shiny, remove the board from heat – this should take under 10 seconds.

SMD reflow using a frying pan and a thermal camera

Frying pans totally work as reflow ovens

Pro tip – you can use baking paper to help make it easier to pick up when you’re done, but make sure you use paper that’s rated for whatever temperature you’re using. This is what happens when you use cheap paper that’s not rated that high. Oops. Made a super pretty pattern, though.

Failed SMD reflow attempt resulting in a burnt board

I asked a couple dozen people for guesses on what made this bubble-like burn pattern and no one guessed baking paper on fire. Go figure.

And here’s what they look like with the solder paste melted solid. Note that you don’t have to actually get the LEDs perfectly lined up when you’re using solder paste to do SMD soldering, if you’re slightly off then surface tension will (hopefully) pull them all into near perfect alignment.

Microscope photo of a soldered SMD 0603 LED

I tried 0804 LEDs but they were too big to fit within the segments so I dropped down to 0603, which if you don’t know what that means, they’re 0.06 inches by 0.03 inches, or around 1.5mm by 0.76mm. This is 100% tweezer territory. Here’s a size comparison for you.

0603 SMD LED compared to a US penny and an Australian 5c coin

Hi I’m a tiny 0603 LED! These are my friends, a US penny and an Australian 5c coin!

Here’s what the circuit board looks like all lit up

(Youtube Link in case the above video doesn’t work for you)

Here’s what the final thing looks like with only one layer of diffuser over the top! It honestly could’ve been fine like this, but because I went the extra mile and made 2 diffuser layers, those segments are more evenly lit than the standard 7-segments I used for the normal digits!

(Youtube Link in case the above video doesn’t work for you)

Just because, this is what the digit circuit boards look like with a thermal camera, which is a great way to make sure that all the connections are good. This step certainly isn’t necessary, but I have access to a thermal camera with work, so I figured why not use it.

Thermal camera photo of a D'ni digit

Thermal camera photo of a D’ni digit

Put this all together, and you get a finished 25-segment display module for showing D’ni digits! The screws are carefully positioned so the threads will go through the case but the head of the screws overlap the modules to hold them in place. Here’s what they look like – layered like an onion, or maybe an Ogre.

Overview of the layers of a 25-segment D'ni Display Module

Overview of the layers of a 25-segment D’ni Display Module

Here’s what the insides look like without any wires connected. Bottom left in pink are some TLC5947 constant-current variable brightness LED drivers, and they’re sitting in standard off-the-shelf breakout boards with heatsinks attachedto them. These are what turn on/off all the LEDs behind the D’ni digits. Bottom right is some power supplies to convert the 9V in to the 5V some chips require (this takes some of the heat load off the TLC5947’s for the segments with only 1 or 2 LEDs in them).

The inside of my 25-hour D'ni clock, without any wires connected

The inside of my 25-hour D’ni clock, without any wires connected. The top right is a voltage level converter that I screwed up its size in the circuit board design step, so I just extended it up to have enough room to fix the error

Top middle is another custom circuit board with high-current shift registers to display the “normal” digits. This whole board was designed to be through-hole, as an “easy” design for a beginner solderer to start with. The reason why I’m using a bank of shift registers to control all the LEDs instead of just alternating between them in banks is that this means the display has no flicker and still works during high-speed/slow-motion photography experiments – which is part of what makes it a chronometer and not just yet another fancy clock. Rounding it off is the guts, a branded (not Chinese knock-off; they often have bad power regulators) WeMos/Lolin D1 Mini ESP8266. Having 802.11n-speed WiFi capabilities means it’s already equipped with a reasonably accurate Quartz crystal, to the point that I found an external timekeeping regulator like a temperature/oven based crystal to be unnecessary. The logic it runs isn’t too complicated – connect to the nearest available WiFi point, perform a geoIP lookup, perform a timezone lookup for that location, then poll a few of the nearest NTP servers every few hours. The initial sync is pretty much always within 3ms, and by keeping track of the ESP8266’s clock drift as well as the latency/jitter to the nearest NTP servers (plus a few additional tricks like time of day to estimate the crystal’s temperature variance and waiting for a quiet moment on the WiFi network before transmitting to reduce jitter), its accuracy is refined with each update. Internally it calculates its accuracy in picoseconds (that’s the unit prefix smaller than nanoseconds), but that’s mostly because I’ve been stung enough times by weird edge cases that I try to avoid floating-point maths wherever possible. Officially I’m only calling it accurate to within a best-case of 1ms because that’s a nice round number & is already beyond my home DIY abilities to measure or improve, and just to make extra sure I’m not “overselling” its accuracy that’s why the display only shows a 100ms & a 10ms digit, but not a 1ms digit. One hidden feature of this chronometer is because of the choice of drivers used for the LEDs, I can fully control their brightness and not just turn them on or off – for instance, at night the display dims and the squares around the D’ni digits turn off so it isn’t blindingly bright if you have to go to the bathroom at 2am.

Surface Circuit Board Front Surface Circuit Board Back

These circuit boards are held up by custom 3D printed standoffs – sure, I could’ve just bought some, but 3D printing some was cheaper.

3D-printed circuit board standoffs

This design was very cheap and very modular, but its one problem was a ridiculous number of wires were involved – over 450 (!) connection points, all of which have to be connected to wires long enough that you’ve still got enough space to access them, which occasionally gives signal integrity flickers. If I was doing this again, I absolutely would design the digit circuit boards to at least have the shift registers included on them, to drastically reduce the number of potential failure points.

D'ni Clock Chronometer insides D'ni Clock Chronometer insides D'ni Clock Chronometer insides

The final step was to laser cut a box to fit this all within. I used the fantastic online tool Boxes.py to make this happen – this is the “Display Case” option. All I had to do here was place holes for the displays & power cable, then get laser cutting. I recommend doing a small test first to make sure you get the play or burn correction settings right depending on how snug a fit you want. This also shows what the box actually looks like, since it’s so hard to photograph glossy black acrylic.

Laser-cut Acrylic D'ni Clock Box

The warning label is true – lasers are awesome.

Oh and before I forget – don’t ever give up on your electronics projects just because they seem too hard. I started trying to build this clock nineteen years ago by trying to assemble it out of individual transistors, because modern cheap easy-to-use microcontrollers like Arduinos weren’t a thing, and higher-speed wireless-enabled ones like the ESP8266 were even further away. Building things with electronics is literally getting both easier and cheaper every single year. So if you think something is “too hard” right now, wait a few years and you’d be surprised what other options might be available for you! Here’s one of my failed attempts to build this project from back in 2002 (yes really that old!).

My first attempt to build a digital Myst clock on a breadboard My original digital Myst clock design docs from 2002

Finally, here’s the SVG of the D’ni Digits including segment numbers, and Gerber files of both the SMD 25-Segment D’ni Display Digit circuit boards and the through-hole normal digit shift register circuit board. You’re free to create whatever you want with these – just credit & link back to me plus let me know so I can see what cool stuff you make! I officially unveiled & presented this chronometer at Mysterium 2019, the annual fan convention for Myst fans. My slides are here, and you can watch my presentation below – I skip over some of the more technical areas but I go more into actual D’ni timekeeping than I do on here.

(Youtube Link in case the above video doesn’t work for you)

D'ni Clock front

One final final thing – just to show that the 10ms digit really works and isn’t just a random blur, here’s a slow-mo recording of it at 240fps.

(Before anyone tries to correct me – yes I know there are technically 36 discrete light cells making up 26 controllable segments in these displays, neither of which are 25. But I asked myself “what will people search for when looking to find this project?”, and since D’ni numbers are base-25 that’s what people are likely to use, so that’s why I decided to call them 25-segment displays instead. So there. 😉 )

Silicon Wafer Wall Artwork

Silicon Wafer Wall Artwork

I needed some new art for one of my walls and I thought that this time I’d try making something myself. So I came up with this – an array of 21 Silicon Wafers of various types, styles and sizes. The front and back pieces are made from laser-cut acrylic, and the wafers are held in place with 3D-printed/laser-cut clips based on the Chevrons around the Stargate.

Silicon Wafer Artwork

Silicon Wafer Closeup showing rainbow patterns

Silicon Wafer Closeup showing rainbow patterns

The selection of wafers is as varied as I could make it, made by multiple manufacturers across both Europe & America, from 76mm/3 inches to 150mm/6 inches in diameter, from the late 1970s though to the 2000s. Examples include an 8051-compatible microcontroller, a monitor driver chip, military/industrial grade ruggedised memory, a thermometer (DS1775), a Lexmark printer cartridge lockout chip, an Operational Amplifier (DS4812), a MIPS R3010 floating-point co-processor similar to that used in the PlayStation 1 and the SGI workstations used to render 90s things like Jurassic Park and my favourite game Riven: The Sequel to Myst, Solar Photovoltaic panels, interposers, test patterns, bare unpolished Silicon, and even a thin layer of pure 24k gold.

Because the etchings on the wafers are so small, a lot of them produce fantastically vibrant rainbow patterns when the light catches them at the right angle.

Silicon Wafer Closeup showing rainbow patterns

Some background if you don’t know what these are: computer chips are created by first growing giant cylindrical crystals of almost-pure Silicon. These are then sliced up into thin wafers and these wafers are chemically etched with all the wires & transistors using mask & a UV light source. Think of it like creating an image on photography paper using shadow puppets & a flashlight. Each wafer normally has hundreds of individual chips, or dies, etched into it. Then they’re cut up, tested, and packaged into their final form. Companies don’t normally sell the raw whole wafers but you can often buy them on eBay, mostly for older wafers and/or manufacturing runs that had defects and were destined for the bin. Prices for etched Silicon wafers vary anywhere between a few dollars to a few ten thousand dollars per wafer, depending on what it is. In total, the whole artwork is made up of many thousands of dies, far too many for me to try and count.

Silicon Wafer Closeup showing rainbow patterns

The first step in producing this wall artwork was to create a smaller test version, to see if the whole concept would work & how it’d look, and to iron out any kinks in the process. The prototype I created was made with just one wafer. This wafer was held in place by just the raw screw threads, which didn’t really do a good job to hold it securely in place. Valuable experience gained – come up with a better mounting system for the large design. I used a laser cutter at a lower power level to engrave-remove a few millimetres of acrylic to countersink the screw heads so they didn’t stick out. It took some trial & error but eventually I had it dialled in perfectly so the screws were perfectly flush with the acrylic. This test run was to be a present for my mother, so I picked a wafer that was made the year I was born and shines mostly pinkish (her favourite colour). The actual chips are 256K SRAM memory, so the back’s got a cheesy engraving text about “memories” on it.

A Silicon Wafer in a custom pink Acrylic holder. It shines pink and green in the light. Engraved on it are hundreds of SRAM memory chips.

Despite some of the wafers being supposedly the same size, I noticed that a lot varied in size a little bit. To account for this, and to hold them in place so they wouldn’t rattle or rotate, each wafer was individually measured and individual mounting spacers were laser cut out of 2mm thick black backing cardboard. Since the wafers are round, I modelled the top holding clips to look like the Chevrons that surround the Stargate. These Chevron clips were 3D-printed on a resin printer – resin printers might be normally slow but when you can print 18 clips at a time, they’re not only quicker than an FDM 3D printer, the end quality is far better too.

3D-printed Stargate Chevrons and individual laser-cut spacers

3D model of the clip holding on the Silicon Wafers. It's based on the Chevrons around the Stargate

Close-up of the Stargate showing its chevrons

The whole display piece was far too large (730mm high * 830mm wide) to be cut in one go on a laser cutter, so the piece was broken into 4 smaller pieces and glued together. A brutalist aesthetic was adopted for both the jigsaw-like interlocking lines as well as the whole shape. This worked well to hide some of the size limitations so I could get the maximum usable area possible out of the raw sheets of acrylic. For instance, the notch cut out on the middle left isn’t just there for aesthetics, it gives me a couple more centimetres of length for both the upper left and the bottom pieces. Without that notch, neither piece would fit within standard 300mm * 600mm sheets of Acrylic. A top layer of clear acrylic was added to both keep dust away and to protect the wafers. Some of these wafers are so delicate even a single gentle wipe with a fresh microfibre cloth will instantly destroy them (which I accidentally did trying to clean fingerprints off one, oops). It took around 9 months to build, most of which was taken up with trying to acquire as wide a variety of wafers as I could.

When doing any project involving lots of something, it’s important to remember that the time required can quickly balloon if you have to do that job many times over. For instance, there’s 63 3D-printed Chevron clips in this project – spending 8 minutes per object cleaning them up means over 8 hours just cleaning. I tried to keep the part count to a minimum, but even still there’s 21 wafers held in place by 63 3D-printed clips and 63 laser-cut mounting spacers, held together with 63 bolts plus 63 nuts and 63 black end caps, mounted on 4 sheets of black acrylic with 4 sheets of protective clear acrylic over the top, separated by 16 bolts with 48 nuts and 16 end caps… Phew. This all means the total part count for this project was 424 pieces. If I could do it again I would consider removing the laser-cut spacers and merging them with the 3D-printed Chevron clips to reduce the number of parts a little & eliminate one of the construction materials.

Silicon Wafer Artwork

In the spirit of encouraging others to build cool stuff too, here’s the Stargate Chevron .STL (3.0MB) and the Silicon Wafer layout .SVG. Go nuts with them!

Finally, since I know some people love them, here’s some photos of the Silicon Wafers taken with a 500x digital microscope so you can see what they look like up close. The patterns vary widely depending on the wafer – memory tends to look like repeating structures, logic gates tend to look like a random mess, and sensors/anything analogue/test patterns tend to look like some abstract painting. I could swear that one of them has Silicon art of an OR-gate with one leg shorter to make it look more like the Star Trek logo, but it’s just slightly beyond the magnification limits of my microscope so I can’t photograph it. Most of these are from the wafers you see in this artwork, but there’s a few from other wafers I didn’t use.

Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 1 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 2 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 3 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 4 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 5 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 6 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 7 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 8 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 9 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 10 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 11 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 12 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 13 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 14 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 15 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 16 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 17 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 18 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 19 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 20 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 21 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 22 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 23 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 24 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 25 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 26 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 27 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 28 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 29 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 30 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 31 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 32 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 33 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 34 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 35 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 36 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 37 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 38 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 39 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 40 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 41 Silicon Wafer Detail Scan 42

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Banana Cosplay, Red Sound Box

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Banana Cosplay, Red Sound Box

For the 2018 Supanova pop culture convention in Brisbane, Australia I had the crazy idea to make three very similar costumes following three rules:

  1. Internet memes
  2. That are at least 15 years old
  3. Involving a giant banana

I still can’t believe that I managed to get three costumes out of something so restrictive.

To go with this costume I made a red sound box to play music that I could dance to. That’s mostly what I want to write about on here, but let’s just get the costume photos out of the way first.

Friday’s costume: ring ring ring ring ring ring ring, BANANAPHONE!

A man wearing a bright yellow banana costume, carrying a giant 75cm long inflatable phone. A black box with a big red button & speaker is dangling around his neck.
It’s not baloney, it ain’t a phoney!

Saturday’s costume: it’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

A man wearing a bright yellow banana costume, with white pom-poms in each hand. A black box with a big red button & speaker is dangling around his neck.
Where you at? Now there you go!

Sunday’s costume: Rejected by Don Hertzfeldt’s My Spoon Is Too Big (which, by pure luck, was re-released in 1080p just two weeks before the convention)

A man wearing a bright yellow banana costume, carrying a small bowl of cereal in one hand & a 75cm long wooden spoon in the other. A black box with a big red button & speaker is dangling around his neck.
I am a BANANA!

As you can no doubt tell, I spared no expense with these costumes.

The red sound box was one of those things that “should” have been easy, but because I used cheap Chinese parts & left it to the last minute, it became a giant cascade of one hack after another. The idea was to have a button that when pressed played a short piece of music to accompany that day’s costume variation. I wanted the front button to be super enticing so other people would want to press it, and nothing’s more enticing than a giant glowing red button. I eventually got there with everything, but it ended up way more complicated than I had anticipated.

The software on the box isn’t too complicated – press the button, music plays for a bit (just the first stanza). Press it again while it’s still running, it’ll play a little longer. The list of stanza stopping points was all pre-calculated per song. I’ll say right now, with anything like this it’s very important to consider how trolls could abuse what you’re building. In this case if someone ran up, pressed it a dozen times in quick succession then ran off, it only extended the music by at most one stanza beyond what’s currently playing – if you wanted to keep the music going you had to stay there and keep on pressing it as each stanza plays. And yes, many people tried doing that – much to their frustration when it didn’t work.

Here’s a numbered photo of the box’s innards, showing that copious quantities of hot glue & electrical tape are totally valid mounting & insulating techniques.

A small black plastic box with lots of electronics haphazardly thrown inside it
1) Arduino Nano 168p 2) 5V relay board 3) Red button light & microswitch 4) Capacitors 5) USB power bank 6) Speaker 7) MP3 board

Hacks & Slashes

Now for some of those hacks I mentioned:

  • The cheap Chinese Arduino Nano’s (#1) that I had bought were supposed to be based on the ATmega328P chip, however when I plugged them in they were actually using the ATmega168P. The 168 has only 1024 bytes of RAM instead of 2048, and that’s not enough to read data off a microSD card & send it to an MP3 shield for playback. This meant I had to use a different music shield with its own on-board microSD card that accepts play/stop control commands. I probably should’ve bought the right Arduino instead, but hindsight & all that.
  • The second cheapo MP3 shield I tried had no on-board amplifier. I bought a cheap eBay amplifier for it, but for whatever reason the amplified sound quality was atrocious – worse than a fast food drive-through speaker. So I had to change to yet another music board (#7), this one even simpler – apply power, it played the first song on its microSD card, and it had manual buttons I could tap into to control it beyond that.
  • This worked great on a breadboard on my desk, but when all installed into the box there was too much electrical interference – likely because the speaker’s (#6) magnetic coil was right below the music board (#7). I could start the board, and control playback when it was playing music very quietly, but I lost the ability to control it or even stop it when playing music above a certain volume. Given I was running out of time and all I really needed was to just start & stop the music, I decided to use the sledge hammer approach. By which I mean I added a 5V relay board (#2) to manually supply & cut all power to the music board (#7) to control it that way instead. Insert an “I’m done asking nicely” reference here.
  • This worked, but only intermittently – the relay’s (#2) inrush current was large enough to cause the Arduino to sometimes reset from the voltage sag, particularly when running off the battery and not my bench power supply. So, I added a ceramic & electrolytic capacitor that I had lying around (#4), and this fixed the voltage droop problem.
  • …But it created another problem. The USB power bank (#5) I was using couldn’t handle the huge inrush current required to charge up the capacitors when you first turned it on. Rather than do something sensible like swap batteries or reduce the capacitor values, I wired them up so the USB bank went straight to the Arduino’s USB point (#1) but the capacitors were connected via the Arduino’s pins, in effect using the thin traces on my knock-off Arduino as inrush current limiters to the capacitors. This is what peak hack looks like.
  • The USB power bank (#5) had another issue – since this was a power bank not a power supply, it was designed for charging things, not powering devices. As such, it automatically turned off if it thought the device it was connected to was fully charged. The clever hack to get around this was to reduce the value of the resistor to the glowing red button (#3), making it use more current & shine brighter, and altering the button’s pulsing pattern. This was enough to trick the USB power bank into staying on. Remember folks, if it’s a stupid hack but it works, it’s not stupid.
  • For whatever reason, at the convention centre the button kept on accidentally triggering. Experienced cosplayers know that it’s always a good idea to shield, isolate & over-build anything electronic on your cosplay – the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre main hall is well known as having a lot of stray RF noise inside it during a con. As I had access to a laptop during the convention, I ended up modifying the code multiple times throughout the convention to incrementally harden it. I ended up adding my own external pullup/pulldown resistors around the place as I didn’t trust my knockoff boards to actually have them, I switched from a digital input pin to an analogue input pin for the button, I required reading a value of at least 992 out of 1023 from the button’s pin (which for a 5V system is around 4.85V or higher), for 200ms straight without dipping for even a single moment, to trigger the music. This still resulted in a random trigger every couple of hours. Dat RF noise.
  • Finally, hot gluing the speaker (#6) in place introduced a lot of reverb from mounting it by a mostly-solid method to the case’s fixed plastic. A sheet of ~1cm thick EVA foam was used as a decoupling spacer between the speaker & the case, and this solved all the bad audio quality issues.

If I had one piece of advice I learned from this project, it’s that knock-off parts from China can get you by if you’re on a budget or while you’re testing things, but for the final version I absolutely recommend purchasing the genuine products. This project would’ve taken me a fraction of the time it did if I had just spent a little extra for quality parts in the beginning.

(If I had a second piece of advice, it would be to set yourself a deadline well before something’s due. That way you’re not stuck hacking things together at the last minute from whatever you’ve got on hand plus what you can buy locally at exorbitant prices… But we both know neither you nor I are ever gonna actually do that one)

This audio box’s going to be disassembled shortly, because I need some of its parts for another project (and it also served as a semi prototype of yet another underway project… I have too many things in progress).

Happy hacking!

It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!
It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!